Today’s Show:

UHD Blu-ray

Many of you either have or will soon have a new UHD TV that will be begging you to throw some UHD content at it. Right now you can stream UHD content from Netflix and Amazon but while good, its not nearly as good as you can get from disc. There aren’t any discs, or players, out there that can support UHD. But there will be in the near future. The Blu-ray Disc Association has released a new specification that may help you justify the purchase of a shiny new UHD TV. So what do the new players and disc give you?

Better Color

Simply put, the new specification allows your TV to display more colors than your current HDTV. You probably are thinking that your TV already does a good job with this but it can only display about 30% of what your eye can see. The new specification will display about 75%. At this writing we don’t know of UHD TV that supports this spec nor do we know when we will see content that does. But its nice to know that your player will be ready when the content is there!

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

If you have a relatively new smartphone you may have heard of this term. On your phone your camera takes two (or more) shots of the same image, one with the darkest exposure and one with the lightest. Then it combines the best of the images to create one that shows great detail in all areas, nothing washed out and blacks looking black. This will provide depth and greater contrast on screen.

10-bit

Bottom line on this one is that it makes better color and HDR possible.

Higher Frame Rates

Until Hollywood shoots at 60 frames a second, think of this as future proofing the standard. This will help 3D as well.

Better Compression

There is a lot of data that needs to be stored on a disc for 4K so a more efficient way of compressing it is required. That’s where H.265 comes into play. The High Efficiency Video Codec (HVEC) is twice as efficient as H.264 (mpeg4). As a side note, HVEC is what makes streaming 4K from Netflix and Amazon possible at 7 to 10Mbps. Now imagine how good it would be at a little more than 100Mbps. Yes it will be a while before streaming catches up to fixed media.

Larger Capacity

All those bits need to be stored someplace. The new discs will have capacities of 66GB or 100GB

Audio

TBD

Interview – Gary Yacoubian President of SVS Speakers

From the SVS Website:

SVS was founded in 1998 by four audiophile/engineers who noted that customers were paying too much for lackluster subwoofer performance because of a manufacturing to sales process that was stacked against the consumer. The conventional model, where just good enough subs were sold at high markups did a disservice to customers who wanted great audio experiences but didn’t have unlimited funds.

To fix a broken system, SVS pioneered a disruptive, future-facing model by investing heavily in product engineering and performance and reducing operational costs by selling direct to its customers over the Internet. Customers could demo world-class subwoofers and speakers in their homes exactly where the products would be installed, allowing them to make the most informed purchase decision possible, without risk. This strategy allowed SVS to establish a global presence and continues to earn acclaim from professional and amateur reviewers, in forums, and at audio shows, while continuing to grow retail and direct distribution.

Download Episode #676

Posted by: htguys | February 19, 2015

Podcast #675: Sling TV Review

Today’s Show:

Sling TV Review

The idea of cutting the cord, removing your reliance on Cable or Satellite to provide the hundreds of channels you rarely watch, has been a pipe dream for many of us. Sure, for those close enough to a transmitter, an over the air antenna really helps fill the void. Netflix and Hulu are great as well. But if you like to watch a lot of TV, you’re still left wanting. Until now. Sling TV may actually be the answer.

You’re right, Sling TV isn’t really cutting the cord. It’s just swapping one TV service for another. But it does allow you to trade in a bill of $80 or $120 or more per month for only $20 a month. So you haven’t cut the cord, but you’ve slimmed it down quite a bit. It’s like the cord on Zumba or P90X.

What is Sling TV?

According to the website, “Sling is the way TV should be. It’s watching the season finale of your favorite show the moment it airs. It’s the latest episodes of your favorite shows and hot new movies on-demand. It’s ESPN, TNT, Adult Swim, and more without the cable company…With Sling TV, there’s no commitment, no installation, and no crazy miscellaneous fees. Just great TV for only $20/mo. Cancel anytime online.”

Bottom line, Sling TV is Live and On Demand television over your Internet connection. Whatever your friends with Cable or Satellite are watching, you can watch at the same time. The base $20 package includes 15 channels:

  • ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, Travel Channel, HGTV, El Rey, Adult Swim, Maker, Disney, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, CNN, Galavision

For an additional $5/mo, the optional Sports Extra package adds 9 more channels

  • ESPNEWS, ESPNU, SEC Network, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, Universal Sports, Univision Deportes, beIN Sports

Also for an additional $5/mo, the optional Kids Extra package adds 5 more channels

  • Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV, Duck TV

And for yet another $5/mo, you can opt for the News & Info Extra package for 4 more channels:

  • Cooking Channel, DIY Network, Bloomberg, HLN

And it’s more than just channels. You also have the freedom to watch on whatever device suits you, or is most convenient at the time. If you want to watch on a TV in your home theater or a secondary room in the house, you can put a Sling TV app on your Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick, Roku, and coming soon, Xbox and Nexus Player. The Apple TV requires the use of the iOS app for Sling TV with Airplay. If you want to watch on the go, add the app to your iOS or Android device. Or for ultimate flexibility, just install the player on your Windows or Mac computer or laptop.

Performance

The streaming quality of Sling TV is pretty good.  Coming from the company that practically invented place-shifting, you’d think they have some solid history with streaming video quality, and it shows. The video when watched over a high bandwidth connection looked great. Sharp and crisp. They support Dolby Digital 5.1 as well, so you can get some surround sound from the TV connected devices.

Content looked great on a high bandwidth connection including WiFi, only a few stutters occasionally. Things were a bit more hit or miss over 4G – but mostly hit. Our first test over 4G was terrible. Granted it was Sprint 4G, but it was really bad, nearly unwatchable. Ara, being the more methodical of the two of us demanded a recount. Testing over Verizon and AT&T 4G was actually very good. Further tests over Sprint 4G also yielded much better results.

When things were bad over 4G, video would come in sporadically but spent more time stuck on a random frame or a blank screen than actually streaming TV. It is obvious to most, but as you would expect, the quality of the stream is totally dependent on the quality of the data connection. Sling TV is more than capable of looking really good on a phone or tablet over 4G, but if your connection is spotty, the video will reflect that. No streaming technology can overcome a really bad data connection.

Then there are the limitations in the service. For one, you can only watch one thing at a time. So if you have a couple devices in your home that can connect to Sling TV, they’ll all be watching the same thing – or you’ll have to get multiple accounts. Which somewhat defeats the purpose of the $20/month.

Most channels do not provide the ability to pause, rewind or fast forward live television. A few others like HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, and a couple others do. On those channels skipping back or forwards is a bit slow since the stream needs to rebuffer. Often the skip buttons didn’t work at all. It would just stutter for a second and start back up right where you were before.  You are better of dragging the timeline slider and moving forward once enough of the stream has buffered.

So while getting TV over the Internet is super cool, and super high tech, handicapping the essentials we’ve all come to love in the DVR is like going a decade back in time. To a time before DVRs and the freedom to stop anything for a snack break or skip commercials. Some channels allow you to watch previously aired shows as if you had recorded them. Some channels don’t have that ability, probably due to the contracts they have with the owners of the syndicated shows.

The user interface is pretty easy to use, although it is a bit quirky and takes some getting used to. But the overall usage patterns are the same for any device, so once you figure it out on one, you’ll have it nailed on any.  We can envision some pretty major usability changes over the next few months as they gather feedback from real users, but it isn’t bad, just…different.

Conclusion

All in all, the Sling TV service is a a great idea, but it may not be the next big thing quite yet.  For a secondary TV in your home that doesn’t have a coax connection, or maybe for a college student, it could be really cool.  As a replacement for your Cable or Satellite service, and especially if you use a DVR, it’ll probably come up a bit short at least at this point in time.

Download Episode #675

Today’s Show:

Dayton Audio XRA25 Wireless Rear Channel Amplifier

Since the beginning of this podcast we have been on the lookout for a product that will wirelessly transmit audio from your receiver to the surround speakers. To date there have been a few that sort of got the job done. To be fair, a lot depends on where your live. In areas that do not have a lot of interference you have a much better chance of success with most products. In areas where home are right on top of each other, or have a lot of wireless devices you may be better off running cable.

About six months ago I (Ara) went through the process of finding a product that would get me a 5.1 system in my master bedroom via wireless surround speakers. I tried three products all of which failed miserably. Again, it may have been because the environment has a lot of interference but the bottom line was no joy on the wireless solution. I had resolved myself to running cable to my speakers. Because of the layout of my bedroom I would need about 100 feet of speaker wire and speaker hiding channels (Wiremold C110 White Cordmate Kit) to run cables along the baseboards. The actual surround speakers are only about 15 feet away from the receiver but require a path along the baseboard that pretty much run the entire perimeter of the bedroom. Since I had to move all the furniture to snake the cable I had put off the project instead enjoying a 3.1 system. Then I found the Dayton Audio XRA25 Wireless Amplifier (Buy Now $99) and decided to give it one more shot.

Features:

  • Subwoofer channel for placement of a powered subwoofer at the rear of the room
  • 25 watts per channel output power at 4 ohms, 12.5 watts at 8 ohms
  • 2.4 GHz transmission band with 34 transmitting channels
  • Transmitting range up to 100 ft.
  • Adjustable output level for achieving proper volume balance

Setup:

Connect the transmitter to the receiver surround speaker outputs with either RCA or speaker cable. The receiver we used did not have pre-outs so we used speaker wire. On the receiver side you connect the speakers via speaker wire. If you made the subwoofer connection then you connect the subwoofer out to the subwoofer via RCA cable. Power on both units and you are good to go! To pair the devices you simultaneously press and hold the “M” button on both the receiver and transmitter. The LED on the front of the units will blink green and blue. When they are both blue they have found an open frequency on the 2.4 GHz spectrum.

Performance:

Or lack or performance as it were. The issues I had started right out of the gate. I could not get the units to sync. The receiver would show a solid blue LED but the transmitter never would. The manual says to make sure there is a signal so I put a test tone on the surround channels. I even disconnected the speaker cable running from the AVR to the wireless transmitter and connected directly into a speaker to make sure there was a tone.

Next, thinking that there could be interference, I turned off my wifi and cordless phone and tried again. Still nothing! The next morning I called customer support and verified that I did everything as I should. In the end I decided to send the unit back.

Apartment dwellers would be ideal candidates for a product like this, but that environment is even noisier than living in a tract home. I have one last hope but its expensive. I am going to use a couple of devices from Audioengine and see if I can get this to work.

The system will consist of an Audioengine W3 Wireless Audio Adapter (Buy Now $149) which is primarily for sending music from your PC to some powered speakers but can definitely work for this application. On the speaker side I will use the Audioengine N22 desktop amplifier (Buy Now $199) to bring the speakers to life. The N22 has a USB port so it can power the receiver side of the W3 without need of a power adapter. Like I said its on the expensive side but I know it will work because we reviewed the W3 with great success a couple of years ago.

Download Episode #674

Posted by: htguys | February 6, 2015

Podcast #673: Dish Upgrade Time

Today’s Show:

Dish Upgrade Time

This is the time of the year when HDTV and Home Theater take a quick nap.  CES has come and gone, the Super Bowl is done, and there’s a bit of a lull in activity until March Madness kicks in. Sure there may be some mid-season shows that pop up, but we’re always looking for ways to spice things up. So what better way than a full revamp of our Dish Network gear?

In some areas we strive to be early adopters. Braden, the Dish representative in the HT Guys duo, jumped in on the Hopper and Joey system as quick as possible almost three years ago (Episode 527). Sure Dish may not have been the first to the party, but the Hopper has been a consistent innovator for them, and has kept them in the news, both good and somewhat controversially, quite regularly.

For those not familiar, the Hopper is Dish’s whole-home DVR. The Hopper itself isn’t much more than a standard DVR, other than a few killer features we’ll talk about later. But it uses MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) to also alloy the little Joey boxes to playback any live content coming into the Hopper tuners, or any recorded content sitting on the DVR’s hard drive, in any room in your house. Any room with a coax cable.

Our upgrade involved swapping out the original version 1 Hopper for the updated Hopper v2 and swapping out two Joeys for more modern ones, a Super Joey and a Wireless Joey. The Super Joey works like a standard Joey, but also adds two additional satellite tuners to pair with the three already in the Hopper. That gives you five tuners, and during prime time, allows you to record up to eight shows simultaneously. The Wireless Joey is exactly what it sounds like, a Joey you can use even in rooms without coax.

Hopper Features

The standard features on the original Hopper, like Auto-Hop, or the ability to automatically skip all commercials in a show recorded using Prime Time Anytime the day after it aired, or Prime Time Anytime itself, which is the ability to automatically record all primetime shows on the big four networks: ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, using only one of the DVR’s three tuners, are all still there on the Hopper version 2. But the update adds a couple great new tricks.

First and most importantly, the new Hopper has Sling technology built right in. With Sling you get the ability to watch live shows anywhere in the world where you can get an Internet connection, and you can browse your guide and schedule recordings from anywhere as well. A little added bonus is the ability to transfer recordings to your iPad for offline viewing later, like on a plane, a train or a long road trip.

Second is the Netflix app. You no longer need to jump out of your TV experience to fire up an Apple TV or a Roku to watch Netflix. You now get it natively in the same interface. This isn’t anything groundbreaking, Tivo has had this for years, but they are the first major pay TV provider to offer it. And, although it isn’t there yet, a future update will include Netflix results in a standard search on your Hopper, in addition to the live, recorded and On Demand results you get now. The Netflix app should be rolling out to the Joeys soon as well.

Third are the little bonus features and easter eggs you get just by having the new Hopper. One example is the recent reverse Auto-Hop feature they added for the Super Bowl. If you’re a fan of Super Bowl commercials, you’d love this. It gave you the ability to watch the game the day after it aired, but skip all the pesky football parts and just watch the commercials. Maybe not the most useful feature, but a fun one, and a good indicator of how Dish plans to use the Hopper.

Super Joey Features

The Super Joey isn’t much more to talk about than the original Joey. It is quite a bit larger, and requires special installation to make it work, but once you’ve got it, you can’t really tell any difference – other than the fact that you can now record up to eight shows at once during prime time, five shows at once during other times. The Super Joey doesn’t have any hard drives of its own, it just adds the tuners and the content is still recorded on the Hopper.

Wireless Joey Features

The Wireless Joey is pretty awesome. Not because it does anything more than you’d expect, but because it does exactly what you’d expect. Want to add a big TV to a room without coax? Go for it. Put a TV in the garage, a shop or work room, wherever you want. The Wireless Joey uses a custom Wifi network, so you don’t have to worry about any other devices on your home Wifi killing the HDTV on your Joey. To make it work, you just plug the Wireless Joey access point into a coax connection somewhere in your house, ideally somewhere fairly close to where the wireless Joey will be, and you’re done. It takes all of 5 minutes to get it running.

What’s Next

One thing we’ve noticed over the years is that Dish installers are typically big fans of Dish Network. You can be positive because they sign your paycheck, but that’s different than being an evangelist when you’re already doing an install. You already have a closed deal. This time was no different. Our installer couldn’t stop talking about what’s coming next for the Hopper. Since some of it sounded pretty cool, we thought you may be interested as well.

Evidently in the coming months Dish will be jumping into the Sonos killer game just like everyone else. They’ll allow you to stream music to your Joeys, either all of them in sync, or different content, or a mix of both. You’ll use your smartphone to decide what plays in each room and also control the volume. To us, it looks like the TVs will need to be on in each room to take advantage of the TV speakers, but the Joeys do have stereo audio output jacks, so you could probably connect a pair of powered speakers just as easily.

But perhaps the killer app may be Hopper automation integration. The Hopper already integrates with the big Automation platforms like Crestron, AMX and Control4, but the next big move, coming in the fall, is DIY integration with support for Zigbee and Z-Wave. The setup will require a USB dongle plugged into the back of the Hopper. Once you have the dongle plugged in, you’ll get access to all your automation devices from directly within the Hopper UI. You’ll be able to monitor and operate your lights, thermostats, cameras, door locks, and we assume many other devices as well.

The automation server part of the Hopper will also be able to fire events based on information in the electronic programming guide. So the standard use case of wanting to dim the lights when you play a movie, or brighten them when you pause it, will be built right in – no need for an IR adapter or anything like that. If the doorbell rings, the system can pause what you’re watching and switch over to your front door camera so you can see who’s there. All your cameras show up in the guide as unique channels, which means you can view them, or a couple of the with PiP, from anywhere at home or away from home using the Sling technology.

Conclusion

In all, Dish continues to innovate, perhaps more than any other Pay TV provider. They push the envelope of what you can do with a DVR and are doing the most to provide an experience that matches what you and I the viewers are really after. Top that off with great prices and really good customer service, and Dish is a really strong option if you’re fed up with what you’ve got. If you’re a die hard football fan, you may be locked in with DirecTV, but if not, Dish is an excellent option for those who like to be on the cutting edge.

Download Episode #673

Posted by: htguys | January 29, 2015

Podcast #672: Howard and Joe Rogers of RSL Speakers

Today’s Show:

Top Ten Blu-rays At Amazon for Week Ending 1/30/15

  1. Big Hero 6 (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD) Pre Order $18.90 With all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, BIG HERO 6 is an action-packed comedy adventure that introduces Baymax, a lovable, personal companion robot, who forms a special bond with robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to Baymax and his diverse group of friends — adrenaline junky Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred — who transform into a band of unlikely heroes. Bring home Disney’s BIG HERO 6, featuring comic-book-style action and hilarious, unforgettable characters — it’s fun for the whole family!
  2. Interstellar [Blu-Ray+ DVD+ HD] $22.99 With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history; traveling beyond this galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars.
  3. Fury [Blu-ray] $19.96 April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened Army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.
  4. Game of Thrones: Season 4 (Blu-Ray+Digital Copy) $39.96 Game of Thrones is one of HBO’s signature series and a huge runaway hit for the network. This year, a plethora of compelling storylines will play out to their inevitable, and bloody, conclusions.
  5. Masterpiece: Downton Abbey Season 5 [Blu-ray] $27.99 Season 5 of the international hit finds the Crawley family and the staff struggling with responsibilities and choices as they adjust to life in the Roaring Twenties. Over 40 Minutes of bonus video.
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy (3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + Digital Copy) $24.96 An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits—Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last desperate stand—with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.
  7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 [Blu-ray] Pre Order $22.93  Katniss Everdeen is in District 13 after she shatters the games forever. Under the leadership of President Coin and the advice of her trusted friends, Katniss spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta and a nation moved by her courage.
  8. Lucy (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet) $19.99 From La Femme Nikita and The Professional to The Fifth Element, writer/director Luc Besson has created some of the toughest, most memorable female action heroes in cinematic history. Now, Besson directs Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, an action-thriller that tracks a woman accidentally caught in a dark deal who turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic. Lucy also stars Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman.
  9. American Sniper (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack) Pre Order $29.99Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle’s pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.
  10. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack) Pre Order $27.99 Bilbo and Company are forced to engage in a war against an array of combatants and keep the Lonely Mountain from falling into the hands of a rising darkness.

Interview: Howard and Joe Rogers from RSL Speakers

We received an email from a listener in early January asking us to take a listen to some speakers manufactured by RSL Speakers. We are still in the process of setting up the review samples but we thought that RSL had such a great history that we asked Howard and Joe Rogers to come on the show and share with us their experiences in the speaker industry. We hope you enjoy!

Download Episode #672

Posted by: htguys | January 22, 2015

Podcast #671: Best of CES 2015 Winners

Today’s Show:

Best of CES 2015 Winners

We did our personal roundup of CES and told you about our favorites, but it is nearly impossible for the two of us to see everything, much less take the time to absorb it all even if we caught a glimpse of it. There are a couple items in the official winners list for Best of CES 2015 that we didn’t talk about it our prior roundup.

Presenting the Best of CES 2015 winners!

This year the Best of CES Awards were chosen and presented by Engadget, a {hopefully}  neutral third party, to eliminate at least some of the potential for talk about conspiracy and conflict of interest. For those who don’t remember, last year’s controversy was over Dish’s Hopper being snubbed by the awards because they were chosen and presented by CNET, whose parent company CBS was in a legal battle with Dish over the Hopper and it’s ability to auto-hop over commercials.

Sling TV

So this year Engadget took over, and the big winner, receiving the Best of the Best award was…Sling TV (a Dish Network Company). Sling TV took home two individual category awards for Best Home Theater Product and Best Software / App. We would tend to agree. Although there were a lot of great televisions at the show, and some cool whole house audio products, the thing we went away most excited to try was the new Sling TV service. Could really be the cord cutter’s dream.

Engadget says: “In a show where software and apps rarely take center stage, Sling TV was an obvious choice for both candidate and overall winner of this category. The $20-a-month service by Dish makes cord-cutting that much easier, offering premium content from the likes of ESPN and HGTV right off the bat. Not only that, but also the app itself — available on Android, iOS and select set-top boxes — is intuitive, user-friendly and surprisingly well-done.

Energous WattUp

One of the products we didn’t get a chance to check out, the Energous WattUp, won two awards: Best (Connected) Home Product and Best Innovation (Disruptive Tech). It sound part science fiction and part death trap, but they claim to be able to wirelessly charge your portable devices from up to 15 feet away.  It sounds very intriguing. Just drop your phone on the counter or your normal resting place and it’ll charge all by itself: Even keep it in your pocket.

…it works using a mix of RF, Bluetooth and a lot of patent-pending technology. The transmitter is where most of the magic happens. It communicates with and locates compatible devices using low-energy Bluetooth. Once they’ve established contact with a device, they send out focused RF signals on the same bands as WiFi that are then absorbed and converted into DC power by a tiny chip embedded in the device. These transmitters can be built into household appliances, TVs, speakers and standalone “energy routers.”

LG Art Slim 4K OLED

The official winner in the Best TV Product category was the LG Art Slim 4K OLED. We agree. We liked the LG OLEDs. There was something very striking about OLED color and 4k detail. Very impressive.  Like Engadget, we’re also concerned about the pricing. As good as they look, will they ever hit price points that will allow them to get mass adoption? Or will they be able to do it fast enough before something else, like quantum dot, comes along that makes them irrelevant?

Engadget says “So how could LG improve on last year’s OLEDs and their impressive picture quality? Show an impressive pace of price drops, crank up the resolution and give us a flatter option — and that’s just what it did. Despite a strong showing of quantum dot-loaded LCDs, this “Art Slim” OLED packing webOS 2.0 is the one we most want on our wall. The only question remaining is how much will it cost to get it there?

Razer Forge TV

Another product we didn’t get to see, one that took home both the Best Gaming Product award and was also the People’s Choice winner was a little gaming set top box called Razer Forge TV. Perhaps not being gamers we don’t quite get the appeal, but for hard-core PC gamers, it could be great. It is an Android TV based system, so you get the same games you can get on something like the Amazon Fire TV. But it doesn’t stop there. The box is well powered, they have a bunch of peripheral aimed at gamers, and it can stream games from your PC.

That must be the secret ingredient. For the dedicated PC gamer, you no longer have to have a big loud computer connected to your TV. Instead you can use the tiny Razer Forge TV box and use their “Cortex: Stream” technology to play the games on your big screen. It is supposed to be much better than the “laggy PC streaming of other systems” and it will give you up to 1080p resolution.  It can operate over WiFi or a wired Ethernet connection and supports any DirectX 9 or higher game.

Download Episode #671

Posted by: htguys | January 15, 2015

Podcast #670: DIY Speaker Project

Today’s Show:

DIY Speaker Project

The HT Guys are very DIY oriented and we love new projects! When some of our listeners emailed us about their DIY speakers we just had build one ourselves. Many of you told us about Parts Express, an online retailer for electronics, and how they have some nice speaker kits. For our first build we didn’t want to get too fancy so we went with one that didn’t require any assembly of the speaker cabinet but did require some soldering.

Dayton Audio BR-1 6-1/2″ 2-Way Bookshelf Monitor Speaker Kit Pair $160 with no shipping costs. The Kit includes:

  • Dayton Audio BR-1CAB BR-1 6-1/2″ 2-Way Speaker Cabinet Pair
  • Two Dayton Audio DC160-8 6-1/2″ woofers
  • Two Dayton Audio DC28F-8 1-1/8″ silk dome tweeters
  • Two crossover boards
  • All the required capacitors, resistors, inductors, and cables

To build this kit you’ll need a soldering iron, solder, hot glue gun, wire cutters/strippers, and a screwdriver. Parts Express has some great online video showing you how to build your speakers that we found extremely valuable.

We put a quick video together not so much for how to purposes but so you get a better feel for the speakers and what is involved in the process.

For $160 and a few hours you end up with speakers that sound and look great! We are very impressed with the sound that these speakers create. We tested them down to 50 Hz on the low end and 16KHz on the high end. Ara’s daughters had to confirm audio tones beyond 12KHz. The specification says the speakers produce sound between 43Hz and 18KHz.

When we listened to music we were surprised by how much bass they would produce. Highs were good but the speakers performed better on the low end. They aren’t the most efficient speakers but they aren’t that bad either with a sensitivity rating of 88 dB 1W/1m. We have no problem saying that they perform as well as speakers that cost two or three times more.

But here is the cool thing! If you want you can design your own speaker by picking woofers, tweeters, and crossovers that are more to your liking, you can! Parts Express sells fully assembled crossovers so that you don’t even have to solder. If you want to spend $1,000 on components you can. Likewise if all you need are some inexpensive speakers with good sound you can spend less. We can’t wait to try different woofers and tweeters and build out an entire 7.1 set including the subwoofer. The only complaint is that there aren’t some smaller prebuilt speaker cabinets. Maybe its time to go to some yard sales and pick up old speakers and turn them into something incredible!

Download Episode #670

Posted by: htguys | January 8, 2015

Podcast #669: CES 2015

Today’s Show:

CES 2015

No more virtual Vegas for us, we jumped in the HT Guys bus and made the trek back to Las Vegas this year for another round of CES. The show was as huge as ever; we lamented the passing of plasma TV, noticed that there was a significant lack of 3D demonstrations, and really enjoyed all the 4k and 8k we saw. As always, there is a lot of exiting news and product announcements to share. Here are the highlights.

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Posted by: htguys | January 1, 2015

Podcast #668: Predictions for 2015

Today’s Show:

Predictions for 2015

Time for the HT Guys to look into our crystal ball and try and predict the HDTV and Home Theater landscape for 2015. Our crystal ball is never as clears as a good HDTV but we give it a shot nonetheless. And no gimmies this year since we can’t even get those right!

Ara’s Predictions

There will be a 65 inch production OLED TV for less than $5,000

Look for LG and Samsung to continue to push OLED technology. They’ll finally figure out that no one wants a curved model and produce a 65 inch flat panel OLED. Bonus prediction – It will be LG that makes this prediction a win for me!

There will be a production Quantum Dot TV available for sale

This is my hedge against the OLED prediction totally failing. We saw the first quantum dot TVs at CES about three years ago. LG is pushing forward with the technology. It produces higher yields than OLED and better pictures than current LEDs so this is a no brainer technology to pursue.

Apple will open up the AppleTV to developers

After seeing the potential of the FireTV from Amazon, Apple will realize the AppleTV is falling behind the competition. Look for a new model (AppleTV 4) with game support that will use iPhones and iPads as controllers. By the way, the 4 in AppleTV 4 stands for 4K. I can dream can’t I??

Apple to stream 4K movies and television programming

If you are going to dream might as well dream big! What good is a new set top box capable of 4K content if you don’t have 4K content. Sure they will support Netflix 4K streams but the real deal will be buying and renting movies and TV shows from iTunes in 4K.

Sonos to debut a dedicated 7.1 home theater system

One of the main reasons people don’t have full surround systems is the need to string speaker wire everyplace. Sure the front is easy enough but why should you have to string wire when you can have freedom to place speakers wherever you want. Sonos has the best sounding wireless solution we have heard to date. So why not make a complete 7.1 system without the need of speaker wires? It would be easy to setup with almost no configuration required. When your aren’t watching movies you could repurpose the speakers for music without the need of turning on an amplifier. Now if we can only do something about those pesky power cords!

Braden’s Predictions

At least 5 major studio movie releases will be available online concurrent with cinema release

With “The Interview” now out there as a pilot for what is possible, Sony will do it again at least once, and other major studios will try their hand at it as well. Theater owners will threaten not to run the movie(s), but if the studios choose wisely, theater owners will be forced to run them because they’d stand to lose too much in ticket sales if they didn’t.

Curved televisions will go away

Nobody really gets it. Manufacturers seem to be the only ones that understand the value in the curved screen. Realizing there’s no demand for it, manufacturers will make them disappear.  This means we’ll be on the hunt for another gimmick to boost television sales. Look for 4k to try to fill that gap. But it’ll still be a bit niche, so look for something else as well. Automation integration in your smart TV? Could this be the year of home automation?

Live television streaming won’t be coming to your town

Did an Aereo 180 on this prediction, but none of the big players in streaming set top boxes: Apple, Google, Microsoft or Amazon, will add live TV streaming to their box. Despite rumors, it ain’t happening this year. Aereo showed that there’s no way around the retransmission fees, and there’s no way a streaming provider would get premium channels for less than the others pay, so there would be no cost advantage to the consumer. And in most markets streaming would be inferior quality to Cable or Satellite, so it’s a lose-lose for consumers.

80” Televisions for under $2000

The biggest TVs on the consumer market right now, at reasonable prices, are a few models at 84, 85 and 90 inches. But there are a bunch of options at 80” from all the major manufacturers. The lowest price for an 80” at Amazon is a Vizio model for $2999. Costco has a Sharp 80” for $2499. Manufacturers may see that the next round of upgrades could be driven simply by larger screen sizes. Everyone has an HDTV, but it is somewhere between 40 and 60 inches, and they know they can go bigger. If the price is right, they will. So that price will drop to under $2000 at some point this year. Maybe Black Friday, maybe for another event, but it’ll drop.

Amazon to release a full length motion picture

In an attempt to leapfrog Netflix, Amazon will beat them to the punch with the first original full length motion picture, with all of the production value of a major studio release. They’ve already roped in stars like John Goodman and Jeffrey Tambor for their original TV shows. They’ll get a big name and a good script for their movie. We’ll see a huge PR blast with it, and it’s availability on the Fire TV and Fire Phone, just to show Netflix that two can play in the streaming game.

Posted by: htguys | December 24, 2014

Podcast #667: Prediction Review for 2014

Today’s Show:

Prediction Review for 2014

Had we just waited about 11 months on our predictions for 2014, we could have done much, much better. Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say. Our crystal ball didn’t improve very much for 2014, so this year’s prediction review is about as rough as years past.  But we got pretty close on a few.

Ara’s Predictions:

Netflix will have at least 50 4K titles for streaming – Its not really going out on a limb predicting that Netflix will have 4K titles. They’ve said as much. Its the number that I think is the real prediction. If you have a high speed connection and a 4K TV you will have some content display. Look for Youtube to have 4K content as well.

Result: There appears to be somewhere around 21-22 Ultra HD titles at Netflix. A couple of which are test streams. If you count individual episodes of shows like House of Cards, Breaking Bad and The Blacklist, you’re way over 50. But since the intent was actual titles I can’t even take partial credit.

OLED TV market share will remain insignificant – We have seen OLED TVs that have blown us away but when compared side by side with plasma or even the Elite LCDs they are not worth the huge price differential. Sure they can be extremely thin but is a ½ in too thick? Who cares if an OLED is half that size. Its a catch 22, until quantities go up price won’t go down. And since the quality differential isn’t worth the price I see no reason for quantities to go up.

Result: Nailed it. Anyone you know own an OLED TV? They sold 1,000 OLED TVs in Korea last month.

Cable and Satellite providers will offer cloud based DVR services – Imagine a world where you can have unlimited storage for your DVR recording. We see cloud storage all over the place so why not with your DVR. With better compression and a downspeed of about 4 Mbps you could watch most of your programs with little quality difference. Translate, anything the wife and kids want to record goes to the cloud. All of your programming goes to the hard drive at full quality!

Result: Comcast has a cloud DVR that let’s you watch your content anywhere on many devices but the hard drive is at your home. So close but no cigar. Tivo actually has a product that is exactly what I was talking about but its only available to cable operators, but I couldn’t find a company that has deployed it. So close but no cigar again. Then there are On Demand services, that integrate titles with the program guide so you can watch many shows anytime you want.  Again, close but no cigar. Bottom line, no true cloud based DVR, but I am still going to take half credit because between the three scenarios just mentioned get me exactly the device I was talking about.

Aereo to win in the Supreme Court – This case has been going on for a while. The broadcasters would love to see Aereo shut down. I think this is the year that Aereo expands to new cities without the burden of lawsuits hanging around their necks.

Result: Swing and a miss. Struck out on this one. In fact, not only was Aereo run out of business, the Broadcasters are now trying to keep them from selling off their assets in liquidation. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Illegal downloads to exceed traditional broadcast viewership for top three pirated  shows - Game of Thrones is already illegally downloaded more than its watched on television. Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are still viewed more on TV than downloaded illegally.

Result: Still wating on torrentfreak.com to publish its numbers for 2014. Will have to update later. But here are the numbers for last year:

Most downloaded TV-shows on BitTorrent, 2013

rank show est. downloads est. US TV viewers
1 Game of Thrones 5,900,000 5,500,000
2 Breaking Bad 4,200,000 10,280,000
3 The Walking Dead 3,600,000 16,110,000
4 The Big Bang Theory 3,400,000 20,440,000
5 Dexter 3,100,000 2,800,000
6 How I Met Your Mother 3,000,000 9,400,000
7 Suits 2,600,000 3,520,000
8 Homeland 2,400,000 2,380,000
9 Vikings 2,300,000 6,000,000
10 Arrow 2,200,000 3,240,000

Braden’s Predictions:

The year of 4K – Manufacturers will push 4K as the new upgrade cycle for 2014. We’ll see many, many more models and prices will come down quickly. Driven down primarily by Chinese manufacturers. 3D didn’t do it; OLED is still too far off. Queue the endless debates and hand wringing over 1080p vs 4K, just like the 720p vs 1080p of yesteryear. I may have just described a few of our shows for 2014…

Result: Partial credit. 4k prices have fallen significantly, there are many more models to choose from, but penetration is still very minimal.  Strong showing for 4k, but not really the year of 4k yet.

Netflix will win at least one Content Award – Netflix is pushing into the original content space with a vengeance, trying to become the next online HBO. The industry will take them seriously this year and you’ll even see a Netflix show or Actor/Actress win an award. It may not be an Emmy, but maybe a People’s Choice or something else, but we’ll see Netflix get a trophy.

Results (updated Jan 16, 2014): People’s Choice Awards (Jan. 8) Favorite streaming series: Orange Is the New Black (Netflix); Golden Globes (Jan. 12) Best actress in a TV series, drama: Robin Wright, “House of Cards” (Netflix)

9 Channel Surround goes Mainstream – Most home theater receivers on the market are 7.1. The low cost, entry models are 5.1, some of the higher end units support 9.1. In 2014 we’ll see 9.1 receivers replace 7.1 as the standard and only the low cost, entry models will remain 7.1. The 5.1 receiver will be a relic. Dolby and DTS will both have native, discrete 9.1 support but it’ll take a while for it to show up in any content.

Result: Close. Atmos made it into the home, and Atmos supports up to 34 speakers. They don’t call them channels anymore, but it’s a similar concept. There are more than a few 9.1 receivers to choose from as well. We’ll take a strong almost on this one.

Intel and Wal-mart Shock the World – If there are any companies big enough to pull off a major disruptive change in the home theater business, its Walmart and Intel. They’re already working together with Vudu and UltraViolet, so 2014 will see them take the next step to do something really unique. It could be first run TV shows available for streaming the same time they air, or an all-you-can-eat, a la carte TV subscription, or the ability to watch first run movies at home via…

Result: Complete whiff. Air ball. Zero.

Virtual Movie Going Experience – The major studios will work in partnership with local movie theaters, to allow you to buy tickets but watch the movie in the comfort of your own home. The theater will sell the tickets, hopefully at a discount, so they share in the revenue, and everybody wins.  This sets the stage to remove the theater as the middle man altogether.

Result: Keep dreaming. Not a reality anywhere.

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