Posted by: htguys | August 21, 2015

Podcast #701: DIY Automation Controls

Today’s Show:

DIY Automation Controls using Amazon’s Dash Buttons

Amazon released a new little product a couple months ago, to very little fanfare. The Dash Button is a tiny device that allows you to instantly order a specific product for Amazon Prime delivery. We thought it was a bit of a novelty and didn’t see much use for it, but as with just about anything in technology these days, give it time and someone will find a way to repurpose it and put it to better use.

About the Dash Button

Each button is about the size of a portable USB drive and, in Amazon’s own words, it “…comes with a reusable adhesive and a hook so you can hang, stick, or place it right where you need it. Keep Dash Button handy in the kitchen, bath, laundry, or anywhere you store your favorite products. When you’re running low, simply press Dash Button, and Amazon quickly delivers household favorites so you can skip the last-minute trip to the store.” They are currently available in limited quantities to Prime members only.

Each Dash Button costs $4.99. Not bad for the convenience factor. When we first heard about them, we thought it could be pretty neat. Buy a button, tell it what product you want it to order for you, and place it in a convenient location. Do you use a lot of AA batteries for remote controls, kids toys, etc? Place the Dash Button by where you store your batteries and when you’re running low, click it and you’ll have more on your doorstep in two days. But that’s not exactly how it works.

The idea is the same, but the Buttons aren’t nearly that configurable. Each Button corresponds to a predetermined product, and includes that product’s logo on it. If you find yourself constantly ordering and reordering one of the available products, it could be great for you. If not, the Dash Button may seem useless. That is, unless you find your own unique way to hack the Dash Button to get it to do something else that makes sense for you.

Right now there are 18 Dash Buttons available: Tide Detergent, Bounty Paper Towels, Cottonelle Toilet Paper, Glad Trash Bags, Gillette Razor Blade Refills, SmartWater Water Bottles, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Gatorade Sports Drinks, Huggies Diapers, Larabar Nutrition Bars, Izze Sparkling Juices, Wellness Natural Pet Food, Amazon Elements Baby Wipes, Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Maxwell House Coffee, Olay Skin Care, Gerber Baby Formula, and L’Oreal Youth Skin Care.

Repurposing the Dash Button

The whole idea comes from a post at Medium.com by Ted Benson called How I Hacked Amazon’s $5 WiFi Button to track Baby Data. Which, we’ll admit, sounds a bit creepy, but it isn’t. It was a dad’s quest to track when and how often his baby woke up at night. You can get the full details if you read the post, but he had tried baby tracker apps, but wasn’t satisfied, so he decided to put the Amazon Dash Button to use for just that purpose.

Those familiar with networking know that any devices you connect to your home network must have a unique identifier so your router can tell it apart from all the other devices on your network. This identifier is called a MAC address. The Dash Button is no different. Each one has a Mac address so it can connect to your home Wifi, then connect to Amazon over the Internet to make your product order. That MAC address, and the Dash Button’s ability to connect to your home Wifi are the secret to unlocking the device’s full potential.

To save battery life, the Dash Button completely shuts off when not in use. This means that when you click the button it has to wake up, connect to your Wifi network, then place the order. So if you can track when it connects to your network, you can get an alert every time the button is pressed. The author decided to monitor his network with a simple python script running on his computer. The source code is available at the post if you want it. But if you’re inventive, there are multiple ways to detect a new device joining your network.

Since each Dash button has to have a unique MAC address, you can have as many as you want and detect each one independently when they’re pressed. The author went on to enhance his python script to add a line to a google spreadsheet. He was able to use two different Dash Buttons to track two different baby activities at night, without having to turn his phone on, launch the app, track the activity, etc. Just click a Dash Button and you’re set. Of course, as he points out, you want to make sure the Dash Button isn’t actually associated with an item at Amazon so you don’t end up ordering something every time you click it.

But instead of writing a line to a Google spreadsheet, this is where the world becomes your oyster. Yours can do anything you can script to occur from the computer tracking the network for Dash Button activity. If that computer happens to be your automation server, imagine the possibilities. Do you have an automation activity you perform constantly that a single button press would make so much easier when a light switch isn’t within reach? Lights on or off from the bedside table. Air Conditioning on or off from the couch? Lights on or off from the car? Music on or off from the patio. Unlimited possibilities.

By now, if you’re a DIY automation enthusiast, you’ve probably come up with at least one or two ideas for the Dash Button. Sure, they’re all things you can do from your phone if you wake it up, open the right app, click the right action. Or from a wall switch if you get off your lazy butt and walk over to click it. Or from any of a plethora of other automation interfaces. The point isn’t that this a new or novel concept, it’s a new or novel way to put a $5 device from Amazon to work for you in creative and unique ways.

If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are options for tabletop controllers so you can get the simplicity of single click without having to repurpose a Dash Button. For example, if you’ve got an Insteon based system, you can pick up the 6-button scene control keypad in black or whitefor around $100. Not a bad deal. You get 6 buttons instead of having the keep track of 6 different Dash Buttons, but you pay quite a bit more as well. But, on the upside, it’ll be an instant addition to your automation system, so there’s still programming work to get it to do what you want, but less DIY work to get it into your ecosystem.

If you end up hacking up a Dash Button, we’d love to hear your story. If you’ve done something similar, hacked a device to automate your home or otherwise enhance your life, we’d love to hear about that too. Our listeners are quite sophisticated and inventive, we’d love to share your successful automation or home theater life hacks with the rest of the listeners.

Download Episode #701

Posted by: htguys | August 14, 2015

Podcast #700: Mobile HDTV

Today’s Show:

Mobile HDTV

Motorola Mobility, one time subsidiary of Google, now a part of Lenovo, just released a new app in the Google Play Store called, yep, you guessed it, Mobile HDTV.  The app enables select phones and portable devices, with the proper hardware, to watch live, over-the-air HDTV right on your Android device. The concept is pretty simple, and you’d think very compelling, but it turns out most people can’t use it. The question is, why not?

According to the description of the app, “Digital HDTV brings the broadcast TV experience to mobile devices with HD quality, making the experience more personal and more universally available.” The app is both a tuner and a DVR, so it allows you to…

  • “Watch TV while away from home: Digital HDTV brings the HD broadcast TV experience to the mobile device, with the additional support of the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) and Ginga, for user interactivity.”
  • “Record the TV program that you like: You may record the program you are watching, so that you can see it again later, or share something you liked with others.”
  • “Choose when to watch your favorite program: You may love a TV program but you may not necessarily be available to watch it when it plays. This feature gives you the ability to schedule it to be recorded, so that you can watch it later, when you like it.”

However, “This application has been designed to work on the Motorola models that support Mobile HDTV.” That’s the catch. So how many Motorola devices support Mobile HDTV? Turns out we weren’t able to find any for the US market that include the necessary hardware. Google and Amazon searches for devices with built-in DTV tuners came up empty. There are a handful of external DTV tuner/antennas at Amazon, but they’re based on the now defunct Dyle TV platform. So what gives?

TV on your Phone

According to the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), “The process of integrating mobile TV transmission with an existing ATSC broadcast TV plant is not difficult. These are the basic devices required for local origination and network services:

  • A video (AVC) and audio (HE AAC v2) encoder for each added program stream
  • An IP path into the facility (for remote component ingest)
  • An IP encapsulator to encapsulate all program streams and non-real-time files into the appropriate transport protocol
  • A service multiplexer to multiplex the conventional ATSC stream with mobile TV data
  • A mobile TV enabled exciter to replace the existing exciter in the ATSC transmitter
  • The Mobile TV architecture provides full compatibility with all industry-standard ATSC equipment. Additionally, the system is compatible with all current microwave and fiber STL systems.

And they list a ton of benefits for the broadcaster, “When a mobile TV system is implemented, broadcasters can expect the following operational and financial benefits:

  • Leveraged investment in ATSC transmission
  • Delivery of robust digital TV signals to mobile TV receiving devices
  • Extension of local branding to mobile users
  • The ability to redirect local news, weather, sports and traffic information to “consumers on the go”
  • The addition of up to eight program (streams) of mobile content per station
  • New revenue opportunities based on subscription, advertising and sell-through transactions”

We (The HT Guys) started talking seriously about Mobile HDTV back in 2010 when a group called Mobile Content Venture (MCV), a joint venture of 12 major broadcasters, announced a commitment to upgrade TV stations in 20 markets in order to deliver live video to portable devices. Their goal was to deliver mobile video service in markets representing more than 40% of the US population by late 2011. That group eventually released a platform of hardware and applications called Dyle TV. But as of May 22, 2015, Dyle mobile TV is no longer in service, and Dyle-enabled devices and their apps will no longer be supported.

Some may remember that Qualcomm tried and failed as well. They developed a technology called MediaFLO for transmitting audio, video and data to portable devices for mobile television and branded it in the US as FLO TV. But in October 2010, they announced they were suspending all new sales of the service to consumers and in December 2010, AT&T acquired Qualcomm’s broadcast spectrum licenses in the 700 MHz band. FLO TV was officially shut down as a service in March of 2011.

What gives?

Many of us remember how many portable TVs were sold in the 1980’s. How many Watchman TVs Sony was flooding the market with. And back then you had to carry a separate device with you just to watch TV. Often they were only black and white screens, and sure they were “portable,” but not nearly as portable as today’s cell phones. How is it that free, over-the-air television, with no cost to consumers – no data charges, no minutes used – isn’t a feature on every cell phone and tablet in America?

This is very different than the Aereo situation. With Mobile HDTV the same broadcaster is airing the same content in the same market. They’re just broadcasting it to an entirely new set of screens. We don’t know for sure, but it’s entirely possible that the number of cell phones and tablets exceeds the number of TV screens in a lot of urban markets. Why wouldn’t broadcasters want their content on those screens? Why wouldn’t users want the ability to tune into live TV when they’re stuck shopping at the mall all day on a Saturday? Or every tablet made, for any kid in a carset or at a restaurant. There’s no cost to watch it. You don’t even need a data connection.

There has to be some technical challenges with the technology that we weren’t able to uncover, and we’re hoping some of our listeners can shed some light on it. Because, as of right now, an app like Mobile HDTV from Motorola Mobility seems like a pretty big no-brainer. We just don’t know why nobody has been able to get it to catch on.

Download Episode #700

Today’s Show:

Sorting Through Atmos and DTS:X Receivers and Pre-Pros by Rob H.

A Couple of Thoughts on Immersive Audio Setups

There are differing opinions on which additional speakers beyond the standard 5.1 layout deliver the most immersive experience:

– Mark Henninger, Senior Writer at AVS Forum, stated during an episode of the Home Theater Geeks Podcast that he feels that four overhead speakers are necessary in order to get a good sense of panning and movement of the audio objects. If he were limited to 9 speakers, he would favor 5.1.4 over 7.1.2:

https://youtu.be/GTaBj-L8etI?t=1h1m42s

– Representatives from THX, Matt Severaid and Craig Buckley, stated on an episode of the AV Forums Podcast that they feel the Surround Back speakers actually play a critical role. They also feel that the Surround and Surround Back speakers should still be elevated as opposed to being at seated ear level, which is the new recommendation from Dolby. With elevated Surround and Surround Back speakers, they would opt for 7.1.2 with Surround Back and Top Middle speakers if limited to 9 speakers total.

https://youtu.be/hx_uOquSs44?t=18m4s

General statements that might help you to quickly narrow down the field:

1) There are quite a few models that can decode Dolby Atmos but are unable to decode DTS:X (and will never get an update to do so). This is the case with ALL models that were released in 2014 – except for the flagship Denon AVR-X7200W Receiver and Marantz AV8802 Pre-Pro; those are the only two models that were released in 2014 that can be updated to decode DTS:X. There are also some 2015 models that decode Dolby Atmos but do not decode DTS:X.

This list from High Def Digest has done an excellent job of separating the DTS:X + Dolby Atmos models from the Dolby Atmos-only models:

LINK:http://www.highdefdigest.com/news/show/DTS/dtsx/Dolby/Atmos/Receivers/Home_Audio/Speakers/Pioneer/Denon/Marantz/Integra/Onkyo/Yamaha/KEF/Klipsch/hdds-dtsx-dolby-atmos-gear-buying-guide/24564

2) There were no models released in 2014 that included HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2. While several 2014 Onkyo & Integra models touted HDCP 2.2 support, those ports were limited to 10.2 Gbps, which is insufficient for High Dynamic Range video signals that require the full 18 Gbps bandwidth of HDMI 2.0a. Once again, the only exceptions were the Denon AVR-X7200W and Marantz AV8802, which can have a hardware upgrade performed. No other 2014 models can be upgraded. Since the bandwidth (10.2 Gbps or 18 Gbps) is rarely listed on any spec sheets, the key features to look for are support for UltraHD/4K at 60 fps along with 4:4:4 chroma subsampling. Those features are the “code” that lets you know if a model has the full 18 Gbps bandwidth.

3) So far, in 2015, Pioneer & Pioneer Elite have not announced any models that can decode DTS:X or are able to receive an update to do so. This could change if they announce new models.

4) So far, in 2015, Onkyo & Integra have not announced any models capable of using more than 7 speakers simultaneously (5.2.2). This could change with the announcement of new models.

5) Denon & Marantz are the only mass market brands offering any models capable of decoding the Auro-3D immersive audio format. It is a $200 optional upgrade. It is only available on all models capable of using 9 or 11 speakers simultaneously.

6) In 2015, Denon & Marantz are the only mass market brands offering any models capable of using Front Wide speakers.

Getting into some of the finer details:

7) Denon & Marantz have announced several models that are not yet listed in the High Def Digest article linked above. That is because the official announcements were made in Europe, but they have not yet been officially announced in North America. The official North American announcements are expected soon – certainly during or before CEDIA Expo 2015. You can view an English language translation of the European announcements below:

LINK: https://translate.google.com/translate?depth=1&hl=en&ie=UTF8&nv=1&prev=_t&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=auto&tl=en&u=http://www.areadvd.de/tests/special-dm-neuheiten-und-highlights-aus-dem-bereich-core-und-new-media/

8) The additional Denon & Marantz models listed in a similar fashion as the High Def Digest article:

DTS:X & Dolby Atmos Receivers

Denon

AVR-X6200W – ($2299, October) 9.2 Channel A/V Receiver, Supports Additional Amp for 11.2 Channels, 4K HDCP 2.2 Compliant, Auro-3D ($200 option)

Marantz

SR6010 – ($1199, September) 7.2 Channel A/V Receiver, Supports Additional Amp for 9.2 Channels, 4K HDCP 2.2 Compliant, Auro-3D ($200 option)

SR7010 – ($1699, September) 9.2 Channel A/V Receiver, Supports Additional Amp for 11.2 Channels, 4K HDCP 2.2 Compliant, Auro-3D ($200 option)

AV7702 Mk. II – ($1999, October) 11.2 Channel A/V Pre-Amp/Processor, 4K HDCP 2.2 Compliant, Auro-3D ($200 option)

9) If you would like to be able to use 11 speakers simultaneously, the number of mass market DTS:X options is limited:

Denon

AVR-X7200WA AV Receiver with 9 internal amps – $2999, available now, the ‘A’ on the end of the model number is important and indicates HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 and DTS:X.

AVR-X7200W AV Receiver with 9 internal amps – $2999, available now. These do NOT have HDCP 2.2 nor DTS:X, but Denon will upgrade these units to AVR-X7200WA for free, although you have to pay to ship it to New York for the HDMI hardware upgrade.

AVR-X6200W AV Receiver with 9 internal amps – $2299, October.

Marantz

AV8802A Pre-amp/Processor with 13.2 XLR & 13.2 RCA – $3999, available now, the ‘A’ on the end of the model number is important and indicates HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 and DTS:X.

AV8802 Pre-amp/Processor with 13.2 XLR & 13.2 RCA – $3999, available now. These do NOT have HDCP 2.2 nor DTS:X, but Marantz will upgrade these units to AV8802A for free, although you have to pay to ship it to New York for the HDMI hardware upgrade.

AV7702 Mk. II Pre-amp/Processor with 11.2 XLR & 13.2 RCA – $1999, October. The “Mk. II” on the end of the model number is extremely important and indicates HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 and DTS:X. In 2014, there was an AV7702 model; it did NOT have HDCP 2.2 nor DTS:X, and it could NOT be upgraded. So be cautious about the “Mk. II” model number.

SR7010 AV Receiver with 9 internal amps – $1699, September.

Yamaha

RX-A3050 AV Receiver with 9 internal amps – $2199, September.

10) If you’re ok with “only” using 9 speakers simultaneously, the number of mass market DTS:X options is even smaller:

Denon

AVR-X4200W AV Receiver with 7 internal amps – $1499, August.

Marantz

SR6010 AV Receiver with 7 internal amps – $1199, September.

Yamaha

RX-A2050 AV Receiver with 9 internal amps – $1699, available now.

11) Since Denon & Marantz, and Yamaha are the only mass market options right now for 9 or 11 speaker models that support DTS:X, what are some of the differences that might help you decide on a brand?

  1. a) If you want Auro-3D and/or Front Wide speakers, only Denon & Marantz offer those features.
  2. b) Room correction / auto-setup:

– Denon & Marantz use Audyssey MultEQ XT32 with SubEQ HT and LFC (Low Frequency Containment) in all of their 9 and 11 speaker models.

– Yamaha uses YPAO with RSC (Reflected Sound Control) and multi-point measurement. The RX-A3050 adds 3D angle measurement, but the speaker azimuth and elevation angles are only used by Yamaha’s own proprietary Cinema DSP 3D Listening Mode.

  1. c) Since Denon & Marantz use Audyssey, they also offer the Audyssey DSX Listening Mode, which expands 2-channel, 5.1, and 7.1 content to make use of Front Height and Front Wide speakers.
  2. d) Denon & Marantz include ISFccc video calibration controls.
  3. e) Denon & Marantz offer a greater number of potential speaker configurations for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

– In addition to the 7 main speakers (Front L/R, Center, Surround L/R, Surround Back L/R), Yamaha allows you to connect “Front Presence L/R”, and “Rear Presence L/R” speakers. The Front Presence L/R speakers can be identified as Front Height, Top Front, or FRONT Dolby speakers. The Rear Presence L/R speakers can be identified as Rear Height, Top Rear, or REAR Dolby.

– In addition to the 7 main speakers and the optional Front Wide speakers, Denon & Marantz allow you to connect “Height 1” and “Height 2” speakers. The Height 1 speakers can be identified as Front Height, Top Front, Top Middle, FRONT Dolby, or SURROUND Dolby speakers. The Height 2 speakers can be identified as Top Middle, Top Rear, Rear Height, SURROUND Dolby, or REAR Dolby speakers.

Having the additional speaker position options allows you to better match the name of the speakers with their physical location in your room. This allows the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Renderers to position audio objects more precisely.

Download Episode #699

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

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