Posted by: htguys | July 31, 2015

Podcast #698: 2015 HDTV Shootout

Today’s Show:

2015 HDTV Shootout

Each year Value Electronics, an audio/video integrator with a showroom in Scarsdale New York, pits the top TVs from big name manufacturers against each other to determine the  King of HDTV. This year there were four contenders, one each from Panasonic, Sony, Samsung and LG.

Panasonic 65” Pro 4K Ultra HD Smart TV 240hz- CX850 Series- TC-65CX850U ($3,200)

  • Studio Master Drive- Helps 4K TV’s reproduce more detail and richer, more natural colors during dark scenes
  • An advanced LED Backlight Design, DCI 90-98% Color Space, which produces a wider color range
  • Firefox© OS to ensure ease for you to access smart apps and content
  • Voice Assistant Pro allowing to operate your TV just by talking to it with a remote control
  • Netflix© Recommended TV

Sony XBR75X940C 75-Inch 4K Ultra HD 120Hz 3D Smart LED TV  ($8,000)

  • HD is upscaled to impressive 4K Ultra HD
  • Our best contrast ever with up to 3x brightness range
  • Brilliant, expanded color with TRILUMINOS™ display
  • Streaming 4K Ultra HD is enhanced for improved clarity
  • Android TV with Google Cast, voice search & Play Store apps
  • Powerful front-facing speakers and built-in subwoofers
  • Precise motion clarity with Motionflow™ XR 1440
  • Stream PS3® games directly to your TV
  • Black levels of plasma, brightness of LED

Samsung UN78JS9500 Curved 78-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV ($10,000)

  • Experience our Most Superior Level of Color, Contrast, and Brightness
  • Enjoy a Brighter, More True-to-Life Picture with a Wider Range of Colors
  • Experience the Full Vibrancy of your Favorite Media and Entertainment
  • Experience a Greater Sense of Depth with Optimized Contrast

LG Electronics 65EG9600 65-inch 4K Ultra HD 3D Curved Smart OLED ($7,000)

  • Curved 4K OLED TV
  • webOS 2.0 SMART TV
  • Magic Remote
  • Harmon/Kardon Sound
  • Netflix Recommended TV

The competition was conducted over two days with both professional and consumer evaluators. All in all just over 80 judges rated the TVs for Black Level, Contrast, Color, Off Angle Viewing, Screen Uniformity, Motion Clarity, and Day Mode viewing on professionally calibrated sets. Each category carries equal weight. The average scores for each category and overall average is listed at htguys.com.

Observations

  • Consumers were tougher than the experts in their ratings except for when it came to off angle viewing. This translated to lower overall and average scores when rated by consumers. However the difference was small, less than percent or two.
  • The difference between the best TV and the worst TV was 1.51 | 1.38
  • The price difference between the number one and two TVs are $3,000. With the number two Samsung costing more! The lowest scoring TV and highest scoring TV’s price difference is $3,800. You can decide if the curved OLED is worth it based on the scores.
  • LED technology has come a long way in off axis viewing but apparently it still has a ways to go. OLED beat the other TVs by a wide margin.
  • As far as color accuracy goes, OLED was tied for last with the SONY when viewed by experts but it won the category when viewed by consumers.
  • If you do a lot of daylight viewing of TV you may want to go with the Samsung although the other TVs are only about a point lower in rating.
  • OLED had the worst screen uniformity.
  • OLED really won this competition based on three categories, Black Levels, Contrast, and Off Angle viewing.

Download Episode #698

Posted by: htguys | July 24, 2015

Podcast #697: Costco Shootout: Curved vs. Flat

Today’s Show:

Costco Shootout: Curved vs. Flat

Costco has multiple TVs all lined up side by side. Some are worth comparing to each other, some are like comparing a Ferrari to a Kia. Both great for their own purpose and budget, but not at all similar enough to be compared. We happened to stumble into a Costco recently that had two 55 inch 4K LCD TVs side by side, one curved and one flat. And you can imagine we saw the challenge in that.

We decided, right then and there, to do our own shootout of Curved TVs and Flat TVs, all other factors being the same. Both TVs in this case were made by Samsung. Both were side by side on industrial shelves with horrible fluorescent lighting. Both seemed to be set to the default, full bright, dynamic/showroom setting. Neither were professionally calibrated for sure. Both were 4k; both were LCD.

As of this recording, Costco.com has multiple Curved and Flat TV sets available online. We compared two Samsung 55” TVs. They also have 65” versions of both styles available. There are many 55” models available at Costco.com two of them are the same ones we saw in store:

Visual Performance

As you can imagine, both televisions are visually stunning, even without being calibrated. Both are 4K or Ultra HD sets, so the clarity of the picture was impeccable. Neither showed any signs of pixelation nor motion blur. The colors on both sets were very good. Neither showed like an OLED TV, but neither showed like the overly bright, washed out colors of the LCD TVs of yesteryear. Both can produce very respectable black levels – we aren’t talking Kuro plasma – but a solid ‘A’ for effort.

No detail is ever lost in a dark scene; everything shows up with perfect detail.  Which leads us to the actually clarity and detail in the picture.  With the HD demo content we saw, the TV looked perfect. It was probably either a Blu-ray playing or a Blu-ray quality demo feed, so with high-quality 1080p the TVs are both amazing. We can only imagine that native 4k content will look at least as good and probably even better. We didn’t see any overly compressed HD or standard definition content on the screen, but it stands to reason that both TVs would perform just like any other HDTV with ugly input. Garbage in, garbage out.

To Curve or Not to Curve

That is the question. If you buy the hype, and they typical price bump you see on curved TVs, you would naturally assume the curved set is better for some reason. Maybe not an important reason, but at least for some reason. The typical reason you get is that the picture will look more natural, because the screen matches the curve of your eye. From our side-by-side comparison, that was not true at all. From straight on, it was nearly impossible to tell a difference in picture quality or overall viewing experience.

Moving away from a straight-on viewing angle the TVs did differentiate a little.  The flat model seems to hold the most consistent off-angle viewing experience, while the curved TV could look different from wide angles. We couldn’t tell for sure if the curve itself just reduce the off angle capabilities of the TV, or if some of the differences were similar to the geometric issues the cnet author mentioned, but either way, the flat TV had a better off-angle experience.

Some articles online report the curved TV is better for a room with a lot of ambient light, the curve minimizes the reflection surface. Other sites claim the exact opposite, that the ambient light is reflected in strange, fun-house, hall of mirrors style – distorting the reflection and making it even more distracting. We had the same, consistent florescent lighting for both, so we weren’t able to really verify either point of view. In our observations, they were roughly the same on ambient light reflection.

Conclusion

In our limited test and sample, we came to the same conclusion cnet came to, the curve is cosmetic. There’s no real benefit in viewing experience nor picture quality on the curved screen. If anything, it reduces where you can use the screen by wanting to have the vast majority of your viewers coming from a straight-on seating position. Curved is like 3D: if that’s what you’re into, go for it. Have a blast. But if you end up buying a flat TV instead of a curved one, you certainly aren’t missing out on anything.

Download Episode #697

Posted by: htguys | July 17, 2015

Podcast #696: Atmos Processor Options

Today’s Show:

Atmos Processor Discussion with Dipinjeet Sehdev

Today we discuss some receiver options for Atmos. We are joined by Dipinjeet Sehdev Internet Marketing & Brand Relations of Kef Speakers.  Here are a few receivers/pre-amps that support Atmos.

Download Episode #696

Posted by: htguys | July 9, 2015

Podcast #695: Top Selling HDTVs

Today’s Show:

Top Ten Selling TVs at Amazon

Best Sellers in Televisions

  1. LG Electronics 42LF5800 42-Inch 1080p Smart LED TV (2015 Model) – $398.00, 4.1 out of 5 stars
  1. Samsung UN40H5003 40-Inch 1080p 60Hz LED TV (2014 Model) – $327.99, 4.2 out of 5 stars
  1. Samsung UN32J4000 32-Inch 720p 60Hz LED TV (2015 Model) – $237.99, 4.3 out of 5 stars
  1. LG Electronics 42LF5800 42-Inch 1080p Smart LED TV (2015 Model) – $398.00, 4.8 out of 5 stars
  1. Samsung UN32J5003 32-Inch 1080p LED TV (2015 Model) – $247.99, 3.7 out of 5 stars
  1. VIZIO E32-C1 32-Inch 1080p Smart LED HDTV – $269.99, 4.1 out of 5 stars
  1. Samsung UN40H5203 40-Inch 1080p 60Hz Smart LED TV (2014 Model) – $377.99, 4.3 out of 5 stars
  1. VIZIO E50-C1 50-Inch 1080p Smart LED HDTV – $528.00, 4.1 out of 5 stars
  1. VIZIO E24-C1 24-Inch 1080p Smart LED HDTV – $168.00, 4.1 out of 5 stars
  1. LG Electronics 42LF5600 42-Inch 1080p LED TV (2015 Model) – $348.00, 4.5 out of 5 stars

Statistics:

  • By Brand
    • Samsung : 4
    • VIZIO : 3
    • LG : 3
  • By size:
    • <30″ : 1
    • 30-49″ : 8
    • >49″ : 1
  • By Price
    • <$300 : 4
    • $300-500 : 5
    • >$500 : 1
  • By Resolution:
    • 1080p : 9
    • 720p : 1
  • By Display Technology
    • LED / LCD : 10

Top UltraHD / 4K TVs:

  1. VIZIO M50-C1 50-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED HDTV – $798.00, 4.2 out of 5 stars
  1. Samsung UN55JU6500 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV (2015 Model) – $1,097.99, 3.6 out of 5 stars

The #100 selling TV is #3660 overall in electronics. No OLED TVs appear in the top 100. The #1 selling OLED TV is #5132 overall in electronics; #2 is #15374 overall. The #1 selling plasma TV is #6641.

Best Sellers in OLED TVs

  1. LG Electronics 55EC9300 55-Inch 1080p 3D Curved OLED TV (2015 Model) – $2,499.00, 4.5 out of 5 stars
  1. LG Electronics 55EG9600 55-inch 4K Ultra HD 3D Curved Smart OLED TV (2015 Model) – $4,999.00, 4.3 out of 5 stars

Best Sellers in Plasma TVs

  1. LG Electronics 50PB6650 50-Inch 1080p 600Hz PLASMA TV (2014 Model) – $699.00, 4.3 out of 5 stars

Download Episode #695

Posted by: htguys | July 3, 2015

Podcast #694: High Resolution Audio vs CD

Today’s Show:

High Resolution Audio vs CD

Over the past few months you have heard us mention high resolution audio on the show. There are audiophiles out there that swear that if you want the best quality audio then you must listen to high resolution audio. Others out there will tell you that CD quality is just as good. Then there are some that say mp3 or AAC files will suffice for the kind of listening most of us do.

On today’s show we will take both an objective and subjective look at the subject. But this will be a different type of show this week. We’ll discuss the subject on the podcast but there is a companion video that will greatly help in the understanding of the topics discussed. Its available on our Youtube channel (HT Guys) or you can find it embedded on the website for today’s post.

Before we get into the discussion let’s define a few terms for the purposes of our discussion:

Hi-Res Audio – (From Wikipedia) There is no standard definition for what constitutes high-resolution audio, but it is generally used to describe audio signals with bandwidth and/or dynamic range greater than that of Compact Disc Digital Audio (CD-DA). This includes pulse-code modulation (PCM) encoded audio with sampling rates greater than 44100 Hz and with bit-depths greater than 16, or their equivalents using other encoding techniques such as pulse-density modulation (PDM).

High-resolution audio file formats include FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF and DSD, the format used by Super Audio Compact Discs (SACD). It should be noted, however, that audio encoded into one of these file formats is not necessarily high-resolution audio. For example, a WAV file could contain audio sampled at 11,025 Hz and quantized at eight bits, which is lower quality than CD-DA.

CD Audio – (From Wikipedia) Digital audio encoding: 2-channel signed 16-bit Linear PCM sampled at 44,100 Hz.

Objective Comparison

For the objective comparison we start out with a Hi-Res audio file (24 bit 96KHz Sample Rate) and then we encode a CD version (16 bit 44.1KHz Sample Rate) from that. We also created 256Kbps AAC file from the CD version for the subjective test. We imported the 24 bit version into Audacity then we did the same but inverted the track. If the files are identical they should cancel out and the only thing you would hear is silence. That is exactly what happened.

The next step was to import the both the 16 and 24 bit files and then invert the 24 bit track. We expected to see a difference but not by much. What we saw was a resultant audio track with audio from 14KHz to 20KHz. The audio was not loud enough to hear. Our conclusion is that the two tracks are virtually identical.

Subjective Comparison

For this portion of the test we used an application called ABX. ABX is a cross platform (Java Required) blind audio test application that makes this type of testing fool proof. Our setup was a Macbook Pro, Audio Engine D1 24bit DAC (Buy Now $169), and Bowers and Wilkins P5 Headphones (Buy Now $250). While not audiophile territory, it’s a far cry from earbuds connected to your phone.

We had friends and colleagues listen to the Hi-Res vs the AAC file and we found that Ara and two self proclaimed audiophiles were able to hear a difference between these files about 70% of the time. The remainder of the participants could not hear a difference . No one could hear a difference between the 24 and 16 bit audio tracks.

Some Thoughts

Is this a conclusive test? Not really. We will never say that no one can hear a difference between hi-res audio, CD, and AAC/mp3. So much has to do with the quality of the recordings, the hearing of the listener, and the equipment being used.

On the video we import some music that has been mastered since the loud wars started (late 90s) and it’s pretty obvious that there is not much dynamic range. Do you really need 24 bits when everything is maxed out? If you are used to listening to music that is loud with little or no dynamic range then you listen to something that is pure and full of dynamic range you are amazed. Truth be told you would be impressed even if you weren’t  listening to a hi-res recording. When there are just a few instruments and a vocal you can hear everything including little nuances in the recording. That’s why almost every demo I have heard used artists like Norah Jones or Chris Botti.  Its because their music has a lot of dynamic range and the detail in the recording usually blows you away. You can also get that detail with CD quality while saving some money and being just as blown away.

Our recommendation is that you rip your CDs in two formats. Do a lossless version for listening at home in a dedicated environment. Then create a compressed version for your portable devices. If you try the test and can’t hear a difference then just go compressed. If you try the test and you can hear a difference, congratulations on having some fantastic hearing skill. This is a blessing and a curse.

Finally, don’t get so caught up in listening at the music to find flaws or a reason to not be happy. You can spend thousands of dollars to diminishing returns. Instead do some simple things like listen in an environment that is comfortable and noise free. Pour yourself a drink and let the sounds take you away to someplace that makes you happy and stress free.

Download Episode #694

Posted by: htguys | June 25, 2015

Podcast #693: What the H?

Today’s Show:

What the H?

In the transition from High Definition Television to Ultra High Definition TV, we’ve seen the acronym dictionary go from bad to worse. On the good side, HDTV was multiple video resolutions and display formats, like 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p, while UHD is essentially just one. Some call it 4K, some call it UHD, some call it 2160p, but it all really boils down to the same thing for the TVs we’ll buy as consumers – 4 times the resolution of 1080p.

HDTV to UHD

There are differences between what the professional video industry considers 4K, which is a resolution of 4,096 by 2,160, and what the rest of of get when we buy a 4K TV, or an Ultra High Definition television set, which is typically 3,840 by 2,160 resolution, but the two are quite close. Some TVs support the slightly higher resolution, but for the most part we’re dealing with the one, quad-HD format, that defines UHD.

In some ways, this makes the transition from HDTV to UHD very simple. In early HDTV days, there were the EDTVs: plasma TV sets that could display HDTV content but scaled it down to a native resolution of 480p. Then there were two dominant resolution formats, 720p and 1080i. 720p was better for fast moving action while 1080i had better resolution and produced sharper images. Eventually we got 1080p sets, the best of both worlds, and the debate was solved. With UHD, we don’t have to worry about it,. We get 2160p televisions. That’s it. Nice and simple.

But that’s not the whole story. It isn’t just a resolution change in the migration from HDTV to UHD. There are so many more changes under the covers, so many more changes built into the transition that are intended to improve our lives and make the entire viewing experience better and more advanced. We’ve talked about many of them before, but sometimes it’s easy to get them confused or to gloss over the relationships between all of them. They build a somewhat twisted web of interconnected relationships it’s easy to get turned around. It happens to us all the time.

HDMI 2.0

The High-Definition Multimedia Interface 2.0 specification is typically considered part of the UHD or 4K transition. HDMI cables have been heaven-sent. One cable that carries high definition audio and video in the same connection makes wiring up your home theater soe much easier – so much simpler than the days of old with a coax or SPDIF audio cable and three component video cables, or one DVI cable if you were so lucky to have digital video support on both ends.

As the demands for what you can watch on your HDTVs evolves, the HDMI spec has had to evolve as well to support the better video. HDMI 1.4 actually supports 4k resolution, but only at 24 or 30 frames per second. If you want full 4k resolution at 60 fps, you have to get a system that supports HDMI 2.0. In addition to the higher frame rates, the higher bandwidth supported by HDMI 2.0 also allows more audio and video information to travel across the cable. For example, HDMI 1.4 is limited to 8-bit color, HDMI 2.0 can go to 12-bit. That higher bandwidth paves the way for something called HDR or High Dynamic Range.

HDCP 2.2

But before we get to HDR, let’s take a brief detour to discuss HDCP 2.2, the next rev of the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection spec also commonly associated with Ultra High Def TV. HDCP has been around since the beginning of HDMI. It is the copy protection part of the spec aimed to keep pirates from getting their hands on pristine, high quality digital formats that they could turn right around and post on the Internet for anyone to download. It is designed to protect the content owners from the evil pirates who want to post movies and TV shows on bit torrent and other file sharing sites.

However, what it typically does is just make all of our lives harder. Many of the HDMI communication issues we’ve all experienced between set top boxes, receivers, and other home theater devices are due to the copy protection part of the spec. A part of the spec that probably, in most cases, isn’t even enabled for the content we’re viewing. But HDCP 2.2 is the next evolution, so if you want to make sure you’ll be able to watch copy protected 4K content, you’ll need gear that supports HDCP 2.2.

Odds are they’ll never turn on the content protection for most of what we watch, because it would create so many issues with people trying to view it that it wouldn’t be worth it, but if they do decide to enable it, all the devices in the chain: set top box, blu-ray player, receiver, television, etc. will all need to support it for you to see the content. The biggest bummer is that we’ll probably have a whole new batch for HDMI incompatibility issues as some devices begin to roll out with HDCP 2.2 and try to talk with legacy devices that don’t support it. HDMI, for all its benefits, hasn’t been without its issues, and HDCP will most likely compound them, not make them any better.

HDR

If you can get past the copy protection, and get your devices all talking with HDMI 2.0, you might very well be able to enjoy HDR content, or High Dynamic Range video. High dynamic range video is, in a nutshell, a better luminance range than typical video, providing whiter whites and blacker blacks, this gives you better contrast, better color response and better shadow detail in the videos you watch on TV. You don’t get better resolution, but you get more realistic, more lifelike images because the contrast more closely resembles what we see in the world around us.

HDR isn’t an essential part of UHD or 4K TV. You don’t even need 4K resolution to enjoy the better color and contrast you can get from HDR video, but in most cases you’ll need to upgrade to a 4K set if you want a TV that will display the High Dynamic Range content – not because the two are required or connected, but just because the latest and greatest TVs, the ones that support HDR, just so happen to be 4K sets. There may be 1080p OLED TVs in the future that have support for HDR, but why would you upgrade to that?

HEVC

The last piece in the puzzle is our last ‘H’ acronym: HEVC or High Efficiency Video Coding. It is the successor to the standard H.264/MPEG4 AVC codec used predominantly for our current HDTV content and is the codec used most often to encode or transmit UHD content. It has twice the compression capabilities without sacrificing video quality, or it can be used to transmit much higher quality video, up to 8K resolution, in the same bandwidth currently used for 1080p HDTV content.

One important note about HEVC is that it is currently the only mainstream codec that supports HDR content. so while it is possible to get HDR in your 1080p HDTV movies, you’d need those movies to be encoded with HEVC, not the old-school H.264 codec you have now. So you’d need a TV and a player that both support HDR and HEVC to get the benefit of higher dynamic range. Since HEVC is typically associated with UHD, it isn’t likely that many manufacturers will introduce support for it in non-UHD devices. so while it might be possible to watch 1080p content with HDR, you’d probably need to do that on a 4k set anyways.

Conclusion

The move from tons of resolution options in the HDTV spec to essentially one in the UHD world should have made our lives easier, but content providers and manufacturers wouldn’t stand for it, so they gave us a bunch of new ‘H’ acronyms we’d have to worry about to keep us on our toes. The good news is that in a couple years, when UHD is commonplace and reaches mass adoption, everything will support all the new acronyms and it won’t really matter anymore. But for those of us on the early adopter curve, it can be tricky. For now, make sure you read the specs on everything you buy to make sure it’ll support what you want now and in the near future. And if you have any questions, give us a shout.

Download Episode #693

Posted by: htguys | June 18, 2015

Podcast #692: Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Receiver

Today’s Show:

Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Receiver

Both iOS and Android device users have easy ways to wirelessly transmit audio. For Apple users, Airplay sends music to the AppleTV and various Airplay speakers. Android users have Chromecast which has similar functionality. But what if you want to OS agnostic solution? Fortunately for you there is the Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Receiver (Buy Now $189).

The B1 streams high-quality audio from your Bluetooth enabled smartphone, computer, or tablet to any music system or powered speakers. Audioengine used the aptX codec which enables your mobile device to transmit 24 bit audio to the B1. The aptX® audio codec algorithm originated in the late 1980s at Queen’s University Belfast. The research was focused on bit rate reduction and achieved significant bit rate efficiencies while preserving audio quality.

Features:

  • Fast Setup
  • Plug-n-play, no software to install
  • Superior sound and extended range
  • Streams audio from any media player (iTunes, Amarra, Youtube, etc.)
  • Connects to any music system with an audio input

Setup:

The physical part of the setup is pretty straight forward. Connect power via USB and connect the audio, either RCA or Optical. Then pair your source device through its Bluetooth settings. That’s it! The entire process is less than 5 minutes. Then on your device you select the B1 in your bluetooth settings and anything you listen to will be routed to the device. That means all apps work with the B1. If you have a player that makes use of 24bit audio you are good to go! If your app is only 16 bits, the B1 will pad out the bits to 24 which will get you a better signal to noise ratio.

Audio:

We tested the B1 with four songs played on an iPhone, Macbook, and Samsung S5. We tried to find music that had a lot dynamic range, (Diana Krall – Fly Me to the Moon, Eagles – Hotel California) as well as some Rock from our youth (Van Halen – Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love) and finally some current stuff (Imagine Dragons – Its Time).

The sound was quite good. Highs on the first two songs were crisp and airy. You could swear the piano was in the room with you. The mid-range was smoother than a fresh jar of skippy. Bass was tight and felt full. In all you could close your eyes image the soundstage in front of you. The music was easy to listen to and didn’t sound cluttered or muddy.

Summary:

Now we’re not saying that the B1 made the music better or clearer but we are saying that it didn’t add any artifacts that would distract from listening to it. If you are looking for a cross platform cross device product that allows you to share your music in crystal clear quality, the Audioengine B1 is made for you.

Download Episode #692

Posted by: htguys | June 11, 2015

Podcast #691: 4DX: The Savior of Cinema?

Today’s Show:

4DX: The Savior of Cinema?

Movie theaters are faltering, at least in our opinion. The large format home theater has reached a price point where it is attainable for many of us. And TVs are so big, you can practically create a large format home theater with just an LCD TV. No need for a projector or a screen or the hassle of running wires to the back of the room. And if anyone can have a huge home theater, what’s the allure of the traditional movie theater?

We’ve talked for a long time about the cinema owners and operators needing to modernize. They can no longer rely on being the only game in town. To date, the biggest moves in making the old school cinema house more attractive have come at the concession stand. Full restuarants with in theater service, full bars with beer, wine and cocktails delivered to you while you watch. It totally transforms the experience and some of those theaters are doing really well.

Other theaters have renovated the room itself. They have larger, more plush seating that fully reclines, or small couches you can share with a date. The rooms themselves are more elegant, mores intimate than the giant sticky packed houses we’ve been used to in the past. Some even allow you to reserve your seat in advance so you don’t have to worry about getting bad seats. This helps, but even so, most of us would still prefer our couch at home.

4DX To the Rescue

But what if the cinema owners could differentiate on technology again. They used to be the only game in town for big screens, surround sound, booming subwoofers. But now we all have those. Then they were the only option for watching movies in 3D. Then that technology made its way home, where we all hate it just as much as we did in the theaters. The next big thing very well may be what South Korean company CJ 4DPLEX is calling 4DX technology.

If you’ve been to a 4D movie experience at a theme park, odds are you’re familiar with the concept. 4DX is more than just picture and sound. It combines 3D video and multi-channel surround sound with moving seats, wind, mist, and event scents and smells, al synchronized to the movie, to provide a totally immersive experience. Your chair moves in sync with the movie, wind blows when you’re moving or something flies past you on screen, It all works in harmony to bring you into the movie going experience.

A theater can be built or retrofitted with special equipment to support 4DX features, which include:

  • Seat Motion (tilt left, tilt right, tilt forward, tilt backward, raise up, drop down)
  • Vibration
  • Leg Tickler
  • Back Poker
  • Face Air Jets
  • Left and Right Neck Air Jets
  • Water Spray
  • Wind
  • Lightning
  • Fog
  • Scents (from a collection of 1000 scents)
  • Bubbles
  • Rainstorm
  • Snowstorm
  • Heated Air

Due to the complexity of the equipment needed to provide this total body experience, theaters must be specially built or retrofitted to accommodate it. In many cases, the work is so drastic theaters can’t even be retrofitted but need to be totally stripped down and rebuilt. And it isn’t cheap. In 2011, the cineplex company Cinépolis invested $25 million and partnered with CJ Group to open up to 11 4DX theaters. That’s roughly $2.3 million per room, and there’s no telling how much the partnership offset the total cost.

For starters, every seat has to move, and they all move independently. So you have the seats and the actuators to buy and install, and the wiring to the control unit to make sure they move on time. Then there are the fans and misters, some have these built into the seatbacks, so that’s already included, unless you’re in the front row. Then there are the scent bubble machines. And of course the controlling units to make sure all of these items fire at just the right time to draw you into the movie. It’s complex and complicated.

Getting 4DX at Home

So what are the odds we’ll ever get anything like 4DX in the home? That’s a tough one. Looking at the surface, it’s probably a long shot. But there are so many technologies in the home today that we never could have fathomed would be there had we took a guess 10 years ago, so if history has taught us anything, it’s that someone will find a way to make it happen. Entrepreneurs listen up. We’re looking for you to show up on Shark Tank with an idea, or set of ideas, for getting 4DX into the home.

There are multiple challenges in making this a reality. First are the chairs. Sure there are things like D-Box controlled seats available now, but the 4DX seats take it to the next level. And you have to have one for anyone that may come over to watch a movie. Its almost like the 3D glasses dilemma, but instead of a couple hundred dollars for a few extra pairs of glasses, you’re talking about tens of thousands to add additional seating. Braden’s family alone would need 7 chairs – not even sure 7 of them would fit in the theater room.

Next you’d need devices for the wind and mist and maybe even the smells.  You might be able to get away with one scent delivery unit to fill the whole room with an odor, but who knows if that would even work. And unless you want to soak the whole theater, you’ll need individual misters to hit each person or a small group of viewers. Same thing for the fans to control wind. Not a trivial install to say the least.

A reason to go out to the Movies?

So let’s assume we’re at least a good 5 to 10 years away from anything like 4DX appearing in our homes – at least at a price that would make it attainable for most of us, is the experience compelling enough to pull you out of your home theater and into a cineplex? For kids of course, they’ll love it. But they go to the movies anyways. For horror movies it could be great – get sprayed by mist when blood splatters off the screen. But for most movies it just feels too gimmicky. Like it would be fun for the first half of the movie, then you’d just want it to stop so you could watch in peace. Can you imagine a two hour long Star Tours at Disneyland?

Try it out

If you want to give it a shot for yourself, there are options out there for you. Maybe nothing close by, but if you happen to be travelling somewhere with a 4DX cinema, it might be worth checking out. According to Wikipedia, as of November 2014, the 4DX technology is currently active in 28 countries: South Korea, Venezuela, China, Cambodia, Israel, Thailand, Russia, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Hungary, Japan, Poland, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Bulgaria, Vietnam, Taiwan, Chile, UAE, Croatia, Ukraine, India, Indonesia, United Kingdom and the Philippines, with new theaters being prepared in the United States, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Jordan, Bahamas, and Costa Rica.

There is actually now one 4DX theater in the US. It is at Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium 14 in Downtown Los Angeles – the first of many planned locations according to Regal. It is located at 800 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, California.

Download Episode #691

Posted by: htguys | June 4, 2015

Podcast #690: T.H.E. Show

Today’s Show:

T.H.E. Show

The Home Entertainment Show (The Show) was in Irvine last week and we had an opportunity to stop by and see some really cool products. The Show is like CEDIA and CES but on a much smaller scale and with a focus on high end audio. It is a much more intimate way of seeing some of the most expensive products in the home audio world.

Since the attendance is a fraction of what you would see at CES or CEDIA you get more hands on time with the gear and direct contact with representatives who can spend a little more time with you discussing their products as well as those of other vendors.   There were more than a hundred exhibitors from all over the world. Next year’s show will be June 3 – 5 and if you live in Southern California or are looking for a reason to visit you should start making plans now.

There were amps, speakers, turntables, headphones, cables and pretty much anything the audio lover would want to see and hear. Too many products to checkout in the afternoon that we had at the show. We want to highlight a few and recommend that you look for a reason to attend next year.

Woo Audio

We met with Mike Liang of Woo Audio and he gave us a great demo of their vacuum tube headphone amplifiers. These amplifiers not only sounded great but looked like art. The WA7 Fireflies goes for $999 with a solid state power supply and $1398 for the vacuum tube WA7tp linear power supply. They sounded incredible.

I (Ara) even had my daughters in on the action. This is a picture of myself and my daughter Stephanie checking out the equipment.

They had a prototype portable DAC that is also tube based and will run about $1,000 when it’s released. Its a bit bigger and heavier than the Audioengine D1.

But the coolest thing we saw at Woo Audio was their $16,000 WA-234 multiblock headphone and speaker amplifier. One for each channel. This amp comes with multiple tubes so you can optimize your experience based on the music you are listening to. An amp of this caliber required something more than ear buds and for today I used a pair of Abyss AB-1266 Planar Magnetic headphones (MSRP $5495). Imagine… I had $21,500 worth of gear creating music for my ears! I listened to Classical, Jazz, and Rock and was amazed at how full the music sounded.

Abyss AB-1266 Planar Magnetic headphones

These headphones do not go over your ears in the typical way. They are supposed to rest on your head and stay just off your ears. As a result the are extremely comfortable and can be worn for long periods of time. The frequency response on these phones go from 5 Hz to 28KHz. That would be overkill for most humans but the range I can hear sounded good.

ELAC Speakers

Elac showed a line of speakers created by noted speaker designer Andrew Jones called Debut. This was my favorite thing I saw for two reasons, one they sounded fantastic, incredible low end from a bookshelf speaker, and two, they are affordable. The frequency response on the bookshelf is 44Hz to 20KHz. A pair will run about $275.

They will also sell these as a set that supports Dolby ATMOS with a speaker that sits on top of the bookshelf or floor standing speakers and aimed towards the ceiling.

They also showed a subwoofer that can be calibrated via your Smartphone. Friend of the show Ray Coronado posted a video detailing the process:

Nordost Audio and Video Cables

Way up on the 14th floor where all the really expensive gear is was a cable company called Nordost. So we figured that a cable company on the 14th floor must mean really expensive cables. And boy were we right. Nordost showed off their ODIN 2 line of cables. Which just might be the most expensive cables you have ever heard. For instance:

  • RCA or XLR .6 M $20,000 for the stereo pair.
  • Power Cords 1.25 M $17,000
  • Speaker Wire 1M pair $30,000

It was a fun show. It had a completely different vibe than CEDIA or CES. There is little chance that we will ever be able to afford the gear that was demoed at the show. But for those who can afford it, there is plenty of manufacturers that cater to your needs. Most of the equipment is handmade with much of it made right here in the USA.

Download Episode #690

Posted by: htguys | May 29, 2015

Podcast #689: What is the Future of TV?

Today’s Show:

What is the Future of TV?

We came across an article written by Jason Hirschhorn posted at LinkedIn titled 7 Deadly Sins: Where Hollywood is Wrong about the Future of TV. It is a very well written, thought provoking article with a great deal of supporting data. And charts. Lots of charts. This is our re-tweet/re-linkedin of Jason’s post, with a bit of our own reaction to and discussion of his points.

“Over the past few years, the television landscape has been as dramatic and character-filled as the best of Game of Thrones episodes. To that end, it should come as no surprise that there have been threats that have gone unseen or under-addressed by the major and minor television networks. After a few lively conversations … we came up with “7 Deadly Sins: Where Hollywood is Wrong about the Future of TV”… Not every threat applies to every network – nor are they equally menacing – but as a whole, we believe they’re critical to both understanding and planning for the future of television.” – Jason Hirschhorn

1. By the Time You’re Ready for OTT, You’ve Already Been Supplanted

The article surmises that the traditional TV networks are still playing a wait and see game with respect to Over-The-Top content delivery. Not eager to disrupt the existing revenue model, they will hold onto their cash cow for as long as possible before making any drastic shifts in delivery. But this is a risky strategy. While they wait, the OTT providers are growing, expanding, generating more content and gaining viewers. It might even be too late already for some of the traditional providers.

“In the first quarter of 2015, Netflix’s 41M US accounts averaged nearly 2 hours of video on the service each day – making the “network” bigger than two of the four major US broadcasters and twice as large as the largest cable network. At its current pace, the OTT giant will become the most popular video provider in the US by the end of 2015. Not to be forgotten, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu are roughly 75th and 100th largest respectively, and continue to grow quarter over quarter.”

Our take:

We agree, this is certainly a risky move, but we do see the networks starting to embrace OTT. In fact, CBS’s Video Streaming Service Now Offers Live TV In Over 60% Of The U.S. Live TV is something the big OTT providers still aren’t doing. Nothing live on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. With the advent of time-shifting, live may not be all that important anymore, except for events and some contest shows. As long as traditional TV is the only place to get the content live, at the time it is occurring, they still hold a very strong hand. It’ll all go OTT eventually. But if traditional TV can hang onto the live content, or if Netflix and Amazon ignore that segment, traditional TV will still be in high demand, either via OTT or the good old living room set.

2. The Future of Millennials and Pay TV

Here the article discusses how the younger generations may not reach the point where they want to buy into traditional TV. The theory is that they all will eventually, when they make enough money, have a family, buy a house, etc. But what if that isn’t true? What if they decide the right way to consume content is the same way they’ve gotten used to since adolescence? What impact would that have on traditional TVs revenue model?

“However, Millennials and Gen-Z’s are first generations to have these non-traditional substitutes available – and they show levels of engagement with this content that far exceeds that of traditional TV. As a result, we truly cannot know what the future holds. What we do know is that young audiences love these substitutes today.”

Our take:

This is a genuine risk. Our children love the big TVs and projectors we have, and they demand watching movies and sports in the traditional way, however they watch a ton of content on their phones and tablets. Braden’s two year old is just as content with an iPad as he is with a 100” screen. And when they grown and have kids of their own, their kids will probably be fine with tablets too, so why go traditional TV?

There will always be the enthusiast, the one who wants a big screen and traditional TV for movies, sports, etc. But could this become the exception, not the norm? During the 2000s, pay TV service penetrated nearly 90% of US households. Imagine if even half the households in America didn’t have a traditional TV set. This would be a huge cultural shift, but would also be a gigantic blow to traditional TV. There’s no reason the big networks couldn’t go OTT and thrive in that model, but they’re behind.

3. Outdated Organization Model and Priorities

The argument here is that the model of thousands of channels to try to appeal to anyone and everyone at any time of the day is broken. Pay TV providers continue to add more channels in an attempt to gain more eyeballs. Love golf? We have a channel for that. Love game shows? Yep, we have that too. But with these extra channels comes a substantial increase in price. Something that is driving millions to cut the cord and drop traditional pay TV.

“In a digital environment, “TV networks” face none of the limits of the linear television model. There’s no limit to the amount of programming a network can offer, no cap to the number of genres and demographics it can serve, “no one size fits all” lead in show and no single performance metric. Netflix, for example, is targeting TV and film viewers of all kinds – even kids – under a single brand. This not only creates a simpler consumer offering, but provides Netflix with numerous strategic benefits, such as the ability to program for the individual, rather than a specific channel or genre. Though this approach defies years of industry beliefs around building audiences and launching series, the results speak for themselves. In the first quarter of 2015, Netflix delivered more minutes of video in the United States than two of the four broadcast networks, twice as many as the industry’s largest cable network (The Disney Channel) and more than the bottom 117 (of some 200) cable networks combined. What’s more, this figure is up an estimated 45% (or 38 billion minutes) year over year.”

Our take:

Netflix represents both the broadcaster responsible for generating content and the pay TV provider, like a cable or satellite company, responsible for aggregating it and getting it into your home. This advantage cannot be overstated. CBS generates enough content for their network. A standalone CBS app can’t compete with Netflix or Amazon. Same with NBC, ABC, FOX, and others. Either the broadcasters will need to work together to provide a single interface to aggregate all the content in once place, or they will continue to be outpaced by the large digital providers.

4. “Winner Takes Most” Competition

This point builds on number 3 and expands it somewhat. The thinking is that all networks benefit in the current model by being in the same distribution package. You can’t get just Viacom shows or just Time Warner shows. You get them all, whether you like it or not, and everyone gets paid, whether they deserve it or not. However, online the networks are currently running as separate apps, almost like a la carte programming. Users are free to pick what channels they pay for. This could really hurt traditional TV and make it very difficult to pick up new viewers.

“The average Pay TV household today watches roughly 210 unique hours of television each month, spread across only 17.5 of the roughly 200 channels it receives. Given the surplus of content available and the breadth of content offered by each of the major network groups (which count 13 to 25 24-hour channels apiece), many households will likely find they need only 2-3 consolidated offerings to meet their video needs. What’s more, the friction involved in paying for and managing multiple apps will give subscribers an incentive to watch more of the content they’ve already paid for instead of adding a third or fourth network for another $10 or $20 each.”

Our take:

This is a very interesting point that actually applies to any a la carte programming scheme. If you have to pay more to add a channel, will you really do it for just one or two shows, or will you instead find other shows you can enjoy on the networks you’re already paying for? This could have a dramatic impact on traditional TV’s move to OTT. Competing with the total volume of content available at the digital providers isn’t going to be easy. You may be able to pick up a few viewers who really love your shows, but probably not nearly as many as who would have watched something simply because they stumbled onto it while channel surfing.

5. The New TV Bundle

“Historically, the TV business has been an end in and of itself, but as Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe has demonstrated, video can also play a far more lucrative role: establishing or supporting a broader storytelling platform. In fact, many digital-first content companies already depend on brand extensions (e.g. events and apparel) to make video ends meet. As the TV bundle is reconstituted and diversified, what role will pureplay TV networks (as opposed to production companies) play? How much value will they be able to capture? How many can survive?”

Our take:

This one feels like a non-factor. We may have edited the list down to the 6 deadly sins. There’s nothing preventing the traditional TV providers from doing the same bundling available on the digital-first options. Sure, they need to figure out that model, but the only risk here is that they refuse to do so and try to just move the same pureplay content delivery style to OTT. Doing that would be foolish.

6. Loss of the “Middle”

This sin points to the fundamental difference between traditional TV viewership and on-demand viewership. In the traditional model, total viewers is king. Ratings are all that matter. Sure ratings in key demographics are important, but you really just want to attract as many viewers as possible. In the on-demand paradigm, user devotion or dedication is what matters. How passionate your viewers are, not how many there are.

“This shift has profound consequences for content monetization – and not just because it challenges decades of network television performance metrics (i.e. ratings). First, true hits will be more valuable than ever before (and thanks to OTT distribution, they’ll be bigger, too). Second, content that connects with a passionate but niche audience becomes an asset – not a missed opportunity or failure that needs to “broaden its base” to be renewed. However, the remaining content (shows people watch “if it’s on”, but never specifically look for or plan around; broadly targeted but “well-rated” series) will be severely squeezed. Not only does this “middle” content represent the majority of programming today, it dominates the industry’s most lucrative revenue stream: syndication. Similarly, the shift to on-demand consumption means that middling content can no longer rely on a strong lead-in program to boost or incubate its ratings. Finally, this tightening will also make select genres particularly hard to program. Much has been said about the death of the sitcom, but comedy tends to be the most particular of tastes. In the on-demand era, comedy lovers no longer need to settle for “I guess that’s funny” – making sitcom audiences inevitably small in size.”

Our take:

This is a very interesting point. The article quotes Amazon Studios head Roy Price and his claim that a lesser watched show with a more devoted audience is more important to him. He isn’t charging for advertising, his viewer has already paid for their subscription. He needs to ensure that user will continue to renew their subscription, which only happens if they have something on the service that they really want. If they’re somewhat lackluster about the content, they won’t be as likely to return. This is true in our own lives. We watch a bunch of decent shows because they’re there. But if we had to pay for them, we might reconsider.

7. The Original Series Crash

“In 2014, there were roughly 400 original scripted series on television, up from only 125 at the turn of the century. Though this growth is often attributed to the proliferation of television networks, the majority has stemmed from what might be called the “AMC Effect”. For nearly 25 years, AMC existed as a stable, if unambitious Tier 2 cable network. Ratings were reliable, but unexciting; content was strong, but also old; profits reliable, but far from lucrative. With the start of its original series (Mad Men in July 2007, Breaking Bad in January 2008), the network began a rapid turnaround that transformed it into one of the strongest, most prestigious brands in cable. With this newfound fame came increased ratings and added MVPD negotiating power that helped the network grow ad revenue by nearly 200% and affiliate fees by more than 75% over the next seven years.”

“Solving the original series crunch will therefore require a profound change to the television business model, as well as its key performance metrics (not that this isn’t already overdue #3). Consider the programming model today. For most of the major networks, programming efforts and spend focus on the “primetime” window, during which the US television audience typically peaks. Though the duration and type (scripted v. unscripted) of content varies, it’s the timeslot that defines the number of original series. For digital video providers such as Netflix or Amazon, however, there is no “right” or “required” amount of programming. Are 12 series enough? 13? 20? 40?”

Our take:

Obviously original content isn’t going away. But if the traditional providers can no longer rely on the primetime window to artificially boost the popularity of a show. And they can’t count on strong lead-ins, they’re going to have a glut of unsuccessful shows on their hands. This, for us the viewers, could be awesome. Shows will survive based on how good they are, how many dedicated fans they can draw. Shows we’ve loved, like Alcatraz and Backstrom, would have a high chance of survival, while other shows that have clearly outlived their prime, would be eliminated. We don’t want to see shows eliminated, but if that’s what it takes to keep the good ones, we’re all for it.

Download Episode #689

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