Today’s Show:

Vinyl Records: A Love/Hate Relationship

We have spent a lot of time discussing high vs low quality audio on the show lately. A full feature on the subject is still in the works and should be available sometime in the summer. But along the way we have had a few of you tell us that you still listen to Vinyl on turntables. At the same time we have seen a few companies reintroduce turntables to the market so figured why not take a listen and more specifically introduce some younger ears to how we used to listen to music back in the day.

The purpose of this is not to say vinyl is better or worse than digital, but to discuss how the digital age has totally changed how we listen to our music. There are some out there that say vinyl is better because there is no compression and it captures exactly what the artist wanted you to hear. Others say that it just sounds warmer. Regardless of what you think of the quality listening to music on vinyl is a dedicated experience that can’t be taken on the road or while you workout or pretty much anything else. The experience is about the music.

Pioneer PL-30-K

For our listening experience we chose the Pioneer PL-30-K Audiophile Turntable (Buy Now $299).

Features:

  • Full-Automatic Operation
  • Dual-Layered Chassis with 4 mm-Thick Metal Plate
  • Low Center of Gravity
  • Built-in Phono Equalizer

It took about ten minutes to setup the turntable. A nice feature of the PL-30-K is that you have an option to connect it to your receiver through a normal RCA input because of the built-in phono equalizer. There is also an adjustment of the amount of weight the needle puts down on your albums which is there to help in tracking and skipping. That’s something you don’t think about with digital files.

Experience

I (Ara) pulled out all my old albums, some in atrocious condition and some in nearly pristine condition. As a control I bought the latest Taylor Swift album, 1989. I needed something my kids would want to hear plus they are very familiar with the digital version so their young ears should be able to hear any difference in sound.

My kids were very amused at the spectacle of removing this large black disc and carefully handling it only by the edges and then placing it on the turntable. Then with the press of a single button the arm lifted and moved its way over to the first track which resulted in Taylor’s dulcet tones emanating from my Kef speakers. I was quickly taken back to when I was a kid. I grabbed the album cover from my kids and immediately started looking at the pictures on front and back and on the inside. I even showed my kids that they would put the words to the songs on the album sleeve.

My youngest was enjoying the song and her non-critical ears really didn’t hear any difference. That is until I pointed out some static that was barely noticeable on some quiet passages. This surprised me, even on a brand new album pressed in Germany I was hearing static. Perhaps the arm adjustment could have been made to eliminate/minimize the static, but I was not accustomed to hearing pops and clicks no matter how hard I listened for them in my music.

Then the song ended and my daughter wanted to hear a song that was on another disc. I hit the stop button, take the disc off the turntable and put it back into the sleeve, then I pull out the new disc place the correct side on the turntable, and finally raise the arm move over to the track she wanted to hear and miss the starting point. I lift the arm reposition it and lower the needle at the beginning of the song. My daughter laughs and says if I knew it was going to be so complicated I would have just listened to the next song. Sigh…

I explained that, for the most part, we would listen to albums in a linear fashion and that many albums tracks were selected in a particular order to convey some sort of meaning. Of course there were plenty of pop albums that had one or two good tracks and the rest were just filler.

My oldest daughter kind of liked the experience and wanted to have a party with her friends to listen to my old albums. I think it was more of a retro thing than anything else. But she could see how you could make an evening out of listening to music. When it was all said and done, I think there is no way my daughters will give up their portable music that can go anywhere they go and allow them to create playlists on the fly to compliment their mood of the moment.

Although my kids were done with the experiment I still had stacks of old LPs to listen to. So I dug through disco, rock, pop, and even comedy albums from the early 70’s to the late 80’s. And what I found was that I took atrocious care of my old LPs. On the stuff I listened to over and over in highschool you could hear pops and clicks that ruined the music. But still I had a smile on my face. The only thing I could think of was that not only was I listening to the music of my youth, which I can do at a moment’s notice on my iPhone, but I was ACTUALLY listening to the music of my youth. I fondly remembered sitting in my room playing my Japanese import of Cheap Trick at Budokan. Then it hit me… I was listening to the Japanese import of Cheap trick at Budokan! That goes back to the late 70’s and sure I had a pristine version on my iPhone and yes so do my kids (they love Cheap Trick). It sounded like crap but I was smiling. I even called my kids back into the room to take a listen. After listening for a few seconds my youngest said, “Poor Daddy, how did you guys ever make it through highschool without iPods?”. I explained that the albums sounded better when they were new. But I think her point was that it was so cumbersome to listen to music. After all, how did we setup party mixes?

I searched for my Dire Straits albums since they were among the last that I bought before I got my first CD player. I figured those would be in the best shape. Indeed they were! It was 1985 and thanks to MTV I had discovered that Dire Straits had more music than just Sultan’s of Swing. I went down to Tower Records bought a bunch of their old Albums. I remember that day very clearly because the guy at the counter made a comment that he was selling a lot of Dire Straits due to the popularity of the Brother’s in Arms album. Even buying music was an experience! I didn’t discover the song Skateaway for many years and as such was never really played on my old turntable so I knew it would be in perfect condition. It was and it sounded great! I sat there and remembered the old times and how much I missed actively listening to music.

Before my listening session was over I had listened to at least one track on almost all my albums. Some sounded great and some sounded downright horrible. Not due in any part to the turntable of course. This is what I learned:

At their best, vinyl sounds as good as CD. Is it warmer or more analog? I don’t know, but it does sound slightly different . On pristine tracks I was still able to tell which was digital and which was vinyl. But who cares, they both sounded excellent.

Listening to music on records is a dedicated endeavor. Sure you can turn on the turntable and play the A side of your favorite album while you pay your bills or clean the kitchen, but that’s not typically what’s done. Instead you find some time, pull out your music, and listen. No multitasking, just you and the music. Read the liner notes, look at the artwork, and drift off to wherever the music takes you. Yes you can do that with digital, but seriously, how many of you listen to an entire album on your portable music player? I am sure some of you do but you are the exception.

With all that said, I don’t think digital music has anything to worry about. As much as I loved going down memory lane, I hated how careful you had to be with records.  One slip or drop of the LP and your fantastic sounding record was ruined. Hearing pops on some of my old stuff brought back memories of being upset because a friend scratched my favorite album. Your digital files will sound as good 100 years from now as they do today. Listening to Surrender with static was fine once but not over and over. Then there’s portability, I can take my music anywhere I go. Not just a few albums but all my albums. Going back to my daughter’s comment about party mixes, it becomes trivial to setup a playlist that can run all night without any intervention. Its easy to buy, discover, and stream music with digital files. The list goes on and on. Even if you think the digital music sounds soulless, you can’t argue that it still sounds pretty good.

Here is my compromise. At $300 the Pioneer PL-30-K makes it possible for you to have the best of both worlds. Take your digital music on your runs or in your car. But when you want to really get lost in the experience, pull out your records and let the music take you away!

Download Episode #688

Posted by: htguys | May 14, 2015

Podcast #687: What to watch, What not to watch

Today’s Show:

What to watch, What not to watch

It’s that time of year again. The time when television executives clean the slate to prepare room for the new shows that will debut next fall. Also the time when you get to go through your scheduled or recurring recordings, your season passes, and clean out the ones that have been cancelled. Every year something gets cut too early. Hopefully one of your favorites isn’t on that list.

We pulled this data from http://tvline.com. Our sincerest thanks to them for assembling all the info in one place.

CBS

Officially renewed:

  • 2 Broke Girls: Officially renewed for Season 5.
  • The Amazing Race
  • The Big Bang Theory: Already renewed for Seasons 9 and 10.
  • Big Brother: Season 17 premieres June 24; Already renewed for Season 18.
  • Blue Bloods
  • Criminal Minds
  • CSI: Cyber
  • Elementary
  • Extant: Season 2 premieres July 1.
  • The Good Wife
  • Hawaii Five-0
  • Madam Secretary: Picked up for a full season; Officially renewed for Season 2.
  • Mike & Molly: Officially renewed for Season 6.
  • Mom: Officially renewed for Season 3.
  • NCIS
  • NCIS: Los Angeles
  • NCIS: New Orleans: Officially renewed for Season 2.
  • The Odd Couple
  • Person of Interest
  • Scorpion:Officially renewed for Season 2.
  • Survivor
  • Under the Dome: Season 3 premieres June 25.
  • Undercover Boss

Officially cancelled:

  • Battle Creek
  • CSI: Officially cancelled, but with a cool twist
  • The McCarthys
  • The Mentalist: series finale aired Feb. 18.
  • The Millers
  • Reckless
  • Stalker
  • Two and a Half Men: series finale aired Feb. 19.
  • Unforgettable: Officially cancelled. Possibly renewed by A&E for Season 4.

ABC

Officially renewed:

  • American Crime
  • America’s Funniest Home Videos
  • The Bachelor
  • black-ish
  • Castle
  • Dancing With the Stars
  • Extreme Weight Loss: Already renewed for Season 5.
  • Fresh Off the Boat
  • Galavant
  • The Goldbergs
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • How to Get Away With Murder
  • Last Man Standing
  • Marvel’s Agent Carter
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • The Middle
  • Mistresses: Season 3 premieres Summer 2015 (minus Alyssa Milano).
  • Modern Family
  • Nashville
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Rookie Blue: Season 6 premieres Summer 2015.
  • Scandal
  • Secrets and Lies
  • Shark Tank

Officially cancelled:

  • Cristela
  • Forever
  • Manhattan Love Story
  • Members Only
  • Resurrection
  • Revenge
  • Selfie
  • The Taste

New shows:

  • The Astronaut Wives Club: Premieres in 2015.
  • The Whispers: Premieres in 2015.

NBC

Officially renewed:

  • The Biggest Loser
  • The Blacklist
  • Celebrity Apprentice
  • Chicago Fire
  • Chicago P.D.
  • Grimm
  • Hannibal: Season 3 premieres June 4.
  • Hollywood Game Night
  • Law & Order: SVU
  • The Mysteries of Laura
  • The Night Shift
  • Undateable
  • The Voice

Officially cancelled:

  • About a Boy
  • Allegiance
  • A to Z
  • Bad Judge
  • Constantine
  • Marry Me
  • One Big Happy
  • Parenthood: series finale aired Jan.29.
  • Parks and Recreation: series finale aired Feb. 24.
  • State of Affairs
  • Taxi Brooklyn

Unknown fate:

  • A.D.: A long-shot.
  • American Odyssey: A long-shot.

New shows:

  • Aquarius: Series premieres May 28.
  • Heroes Reborn: Premieres Fall 2015.
  • Mr. Robinson: Premieres Summer 2015.

Fox

Officially renewed:

  • American Idol: Renewed for a 15th and final season.
  • Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
  • Bob’s Burgers
  • Bones
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Officially renewed for Season 3.
  • Empire: Officially renewed for Season 2.
  • Family Guy
  • Gotham: Officially renewed for Season 2.
  • Hell’s Kitchen
  • The Last Man on Earth: Officially renewed for Season 2.
  • MasterChef: Season 6 premieres May 20. Already renewed for next season.
  • MasterChef Junior: Officially renewed for Season 4
  • New Girl
  • The Simpsons
  • Sleepy Hollow: Officially renewed for Season 3.
  • So You Think You Can Dance: Season 12 (with a tweak to the format) premieres June 1.
  • World’s Funniest

Officially cancelled:

  • Backstrom
  • The Following
  • Gang Related
  • Glee: series finale aired March 20.
  • Gracepoint
  • Kitchen Nightmares
  • The Mindy Project: Officially cancelled; may live on at Hulu.
  • Mulaney
  • Red Band Society
  • Utopia
  • Weird Loners
  • The X Factor

New shows:

  • Bordertown: Premieres in 2016.
  • Wayward Pines: Series premieres May 14.

The CW

Officially renewed:

  • The 100: Season 2 finale airs March 11; Renewed for Season 3.
  • America’s Next Top Model: Officially renewed for Cycle 22 (to debut in 2015).
  • Arrow: Officially renewed for Season 4.
  • Beauty and the Beast: Season 3 premieres May 21; Already renewed for Season 4
  • The Flash: Picked up for full season; Officially renewed for Season 2.
  • iZombie: Officially renewed for Season 2.
  • Jane the Virgin: Officially renewed for Season 2.
  • Masters of Illusion: Officially renewed for Season 2 (to debut in 2015).
  • The Originals: Officially renewed for Season 3.
  • Penn & Teller: Fool Us: Officially renewed for Season 2 (to debut in 2015).
  • Reign: Officially renewed for Season 3.
  • Supernatural: Officially renewed for Season 11.
  • The Vampire Diaries: Officially renewed for Season 7.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway?: Already renewed for Season 3.

Officially cancelled:

  • Hart of Dixie: Season 4 finale aired March 27
  • The Messengers

A&E

  • Bates Motel: Season 4 is a sure thing
  • The Glades: Officially cancelled
  • Longmire: Renewed by Netflix for a 10-episode Season 4.
  • The Returned: Season 1 premiered March 9; Season 2 could go either way.

AMC

Officially renewed:

  • Better Call Saul: Officially renewed for Season 2
  • Breaking Bad: Series finale aired Sept. 29
  • Halt and Catch Fire: Renewed for Season 2
  • Hell on Wheels: Renewed for Season 5/final season
  • TURN: Washington’s Spies: Season 2 premieres Spring 2015
  • The Walking Dead: Officially renewed for Season 6

Officially cancelled:

  • Low Winter Sun
  • Mad Men: Part 2 of Season 7/finale season to premiered April 5

CINEMAX

Officially renewed:

  • Banshee: Season 3 premiered Jan. 9; Renewed for Season 4
  • The Knick: Season 2 to premiere in Fall 2015

Officially cancelled:

  • Hunted: Season 1 ended December 2012; Spin-off miniseries in the works
  • Strike Back: Delayed Season 4/final season to premiere in Summer 2015

FX/FXX

Officially renewed:

  • American Horror Story: Renewed for Season 5
  • The Americans: Season 3 finale airs April 22. Officially renewed for Season 4.
  • Archer: Renewed for Season 7
  • Fargo: Renewed for “prequel” Season 2, to debut in Fall 2015
  • It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 10 premiered Jan. 14 (FXX); Already renewed for Seasons 11 and 12
  • The League: Renewed for Season 7/final season
  • Man Seeking Woman: Renewed for Season 2
  • Married: Renewed for Season 2
  • The Strain: Renewed for Season 2
  • Tyrant: Renewed for Season 2
  • You’re the Worst: Renewed for Season 2 on FXX

Officially cancelled:

  • Anger Management: Series finale aired Dec. 22
  • The Bridge
  • Chozen
  • Justified: Season 6/final season ended April 14
  • Legit
  • Sons of Anarchy: Series finale aired Dec. 2
  • Wilfred: Series finale aired Aug. 13 (FXX)

Unknown fate:

  • The Comedians: Series premiered April 9; Season 2 is too early to tell
  • Louie: Abbreviated Season 5 premiered April 9

HBO

Officially renewed:

  • Game of Thrones: Renewed through Season 6
  • Getting On: Renewed for Season 3/final season
  • Girls
  • The Leftovers: Renewed for Season 2
  • Real Time With Bill Maher: Season 13 premiered Jan 9; Already renewed for Seasons 14 and 15
  • Silicon Valley: Season 2 premiered April 12; Renewed for Season 3
  • Togetherness: Renewed for Season 2
  • True Detective: Season 2 (with a new cast) premieres in 2015
  • Veep: Season 4 premiered April 12; Renewed for Season 5

Officially cancelled:

  • Boardwalk Empire: Series finale aired Oct. 26
  • Eastbound & Down: Series finale aired Nov. 17
  • Enlightened
  • Family Tree
  • Hello Ladies
  • Looking: Officially cancelled, with a twist.
  • The Newsroom: Series finale aired Dec. 14
  • True Blood: Series finale aired Aug. 24

Unknown fate:

  • The Comeback: Season 2 finale aired Dec. 28; Season 3 could go either way
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 8 ended Sept. 2011; Season 9 could go either way

SHOWTIME

Officially renewed:

  • The Affair: Season 1 finale aired Dec. 21; Renewed for Season 2
  • Homeland: Season 4 finale aired Dec. 21; Renewed for Season 5
  • House of Lies: Officially renewed for Season 5
  • Masters of Sex: Renewed for Season 3
  • Penny Dreadful: Season 2 premieres April 26
  • Ray Donovan: Renewed for Season 3
  • Shameless: Renewed for Season 6

Officially cancelled:

  • Californication: Series finale aired June 29
  • Nurse Jackie: Season 7/final season premieres April 26

Unknown fate:

  • Episodes: Season 4 premiered Jan. 11; Season 5 is a safe bet
  • Web Therapy: Season 4 finale aired Jan. 28; Season 5 is a safe bet

New shows:

  • Happyish: Season 1 premieres April 26

STARZ

Officially renewed:

  • Black Sails: Season 2 premiered Jan. 24; Renewed for Season 3
  • Da Vinci’s Demons: Renewed for Season 3
  • Outlander: Season 1B premieres April 4, 2015; Renewed for Season 2
  • Power: Renewed for Season 2
  • Survivor’s Remorse: Season 1 finale aired Nov. 8; Renewed for Season 2

Officially cancelled:

  • Magic City
  • The White Queen: Series finale aired August 2014; possible “prequel” series in the works

SYFY

Officially renewed:

  • 12 Monkeys: Season 1 finale aired April 10; Renewed for Season 2
  • Bitten: Season 2 premieres Stateside on April 17
  • Defiance: Season 3 premieres Summer 2015
  • Dominion: Renewed for Season 2
  • Lost Girl: Season 5/final season premiered Stateside on April 17
  • Z Nation: Season 1 finale aired Dec. 5; Renewed for Season 2

Officially cancelled:

  • Being Human: Series finale aired April 7
  • Continuum: Renewed for 6-episode Season 4/final season
  • Haven: Season 5a finale aired Dec. 5
  • Helix: Officially cancelled.

TBS

Officially cancelled:

  • Cougar Town: Series finale aired March 31
  • Ground Floor: series finale aired Feb. 10
  • Sullivan & Son
  • Men at Work

TNT

Officially renewed:

  • Falling Skies: Renewed for Season 5/final season
  • The Last Ship: Renewed for Season 2
  • Legends: Renewed for Season 2
  • The Librarians: Season 1 finale aired Jan. 18; Renewed for Season 2
  • Major Crimes: Season 3 finale aired Jan. 19; Renewed for Season 4
  • Murder in the First: Renewed for Season 2
  • Rizzoli & Isles: Season 5b premiered Feb. 17; Renewed for Season 6

Officially cancelled:

  • Dallas
  • Franklin & Bash
  • King & Maxwell
  • Perception

USA NETWORK

Officially renewed:

  • Graceland: Renewed for Season 3
  • Playing House: Renewed for Season 2
  • Royal Pains: Officially renewed for Seasons 7 and 8
  • Satisfaction: Renewed for Season 2
  • Suits: Season 4b premiered Jan. 28; Renewed for Season 5

Officially cancelled:

  • Benched
  • Covert Affairs
  • Necessary Roughness
  • Psych: Series finale aired March 26
  • Rush
  • Sirens
  • White Collar: Series finale aired Dec. 18

Unknown fate:

  • DIG: Series premiered March 5; Season 2 is a long-shot.

New shows:

  • Complications: Series premieres summer 2015.

AMAZON PRIME INSTANT VIDEO

  • The After: Pilot available; Season 1 releases in 2015. Series order cancelled.
  • Alpha House: Season 2 released Oct. 24
  • Bosch: Pilot available; Season 1 released Feb. 13
  • Hand of God: Pilot available; Season 1 releases in 2015
  • Mad Dogs: Pilot available; Ordered to series
  • The Man in the High Castle: Pilot available; Ordered to series
  • Mozart in the Jungle: Season 1 released Dec. 24; Renewed for Season 2
  • The New Yorker Presents: Pilot available; Ordered to series
  • Red Oaks: Pilot available; Season 1 releases in 2015
  • Ripper Street: Season 3 released Nov. 14 on Amazon UK; No U.S. date set yet
  • Transparent: Renewed for Season 2

NETFLIX

  • Bojack Horseman: Renewed for Season 2
  • Bloodline: Season 1 released March 20; Renewed for Season 2
  • Daredevil: Season 1 released April 10; Renewed for Season 2
  • Grace and Frankie: Season 1 to be released May 8
  • Hemlock Grove: Season 3/final season to release in 2015
  • House of Cards: Officially renewed for Season 4
  • The Killing: Season 4/final season was released Aug. 1
  • Lilyhammer: Season 3 released Nov. 21; Season 4 could go either way
  • Longmire: Season 4 to be released in 2015
  • Marco Polo: Season 1 released Dec. 12; Season 2 is a long shot
  • Orange Is the New Black: Season 3 drops June 12; already renewed for Season 4
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 1 released March 6; Already renewed for Season 2

Download Episode #687

Posted by: htguys | May 7, 2015

Podcast #686: Dolby Vision

Today’s Show:

Dolby Vision

There has been a lot of talk about the HDR content for our new 4K TVs. There have been a lot of questions too. We decided it was best to go to a well respected source for some answers. On this podcast we speak with Roland Vlaicu Vice President of Consumer Imaging at Dolby and we discuss Dolby Vision.

A Dramatically Different Viewing Experience

Feel the drama of a blazing orange sunset over deep turquoise waters, or the power of red metallic muscle cars racing through city streets at night. Be moved as Dolby Vision™ images captivate your senses with astonishing brightness, incomparable contrast, and brilliant color you can feel.

With a wider color gamut and high dynamic range (HDR), Dolby Vision revolutionizes the viewing experience in cinema and on TV, complementing ultra high-definition (UHD) TV (4K), so even the best TVs get better.

More information can be found at Dolby’s Website

Posted by: htguys | May 1, 2015

Podcast #685: How to care for your HDTV

Today’s Show:

How to care for your HDTV

Most of us want to preserve the life of our home theater investments. Some, who want to upgrade, may not. For those, do the exact opposite of what we talk about. For the rest of us who want to protect our hard-earned investment, to make sure our televisions to last as long as possible, there are a few simple things to remember to make sure you get the most hours you can from it. Most of these apply to any piece of electronics you have in your theater: receivers, DVRs, Blu-ray players, projectors, you name it.

Keep it cool

Nothing kills a TV prematurely like heat. The TV, especially if you have a plasma, will heat up quite easily on its own. All this heat, if it can’t dissipate, can destroy the internal components of your television. If you don’t allow for adequate air flow or ventilation around the television, you may be killing your set off before its prime. Your television manufacturer will typically list ventilation requirements in your manual.

If you live in a very hot climate, you should be concerned about the life of your TV. Not that it needs its own cooling system or dedicated air conditioning unit, but if it is difficult to get heat to leave the room, it will be that much more difficult to get heat to leave the TV. Proper ventilation is key, but you may also want to consider installing some small fans, either in your TV cabinet or near the television, to make sure the air is always moving. Some after-market thermal controlled fans can be used to turn on only when a specific heat threshold is met.

It isn’t just heat, humidity can also cause severe damage to a television set. Liquid is the enemy of electrical components and humidity is no different. Do your best to keep the area clean and dry. If you don’t keep it clean, the moisture in the air could mix with the dust in the TV set and form some very damaging gunk on your sensitive circuit boards. More on keeping them clean later. But make sure you keep them dry.

While very cold temperatures can impact the performance of the TV, very rarely will they have a negative impact on the life of the TV, unless the extreme cold is also coupled with moisture of some kind. However, rapid swings in temperature, where the set goes from very cold to very hot and then back again, in a short amount of time, can wreak havoc as well. The electronics are tested for extreme temperatures, but assuming you’ll be in Arizona if its hot or Alaska if it’s cold. Try to keep the environment consistent.

Keep it clean

Dust and dirt are another plague on the extended life of an HDTV. As we mentioned before, dust, especially when mixed with moisture from humidity or anything else, can cause severe damage to the TV. The dust-moisture mixture can cause electrical circuits to connect to the wrong chips, shorting them or overloading them. It’s like the classic problem of “bugs” in mainframe days. Anything on the circuit board that isn’t supposed to be there can cause problems.

Proper ventilation is very helpful to reduce dust formation, but even with good airflow, dust still builds up on and around your television set. Routine cleaning is critical. Don’t allow the dust to build up long enough that it can cause an issue. Use a soft rag to remove the dust from the exterior of the television cabinet. If there are vents in the cabinet, blowing them out with a can of compressed air can be quite helpful. You’ll want to be careful with this, though. You don’t want to blow all the dust deeper into the TV and cause your own build-up mess deep inside the bowels of the television.

Keep the usage smooth

Your television likes to do what you ask of it. It likes to perform for you. But it doesn’t like to do tricks. The less you make your TV work, the longer it will last. For example, the climate issue of quick changes in temperature is not good for the TV. Keep the air temperature consistent  as much as possible. Also, constantly turning the TV on and off can cause problems. It shouldn’t. And all manufacturers test this (or at least should be testing it), but the power up/self test/initialize sequence can be intensive. Performing that rapidly and repeatedly could be problematic.

You should also look to keep the power going into the TV as smooth and consistent as possible. This more than likely means the use of a power center with power conditioning. Something that will sit between your TV and the wall outlet to make sure that a sudden jolt in power, or a momentary dip in power, won’t make it through to the TV. If you’re using a UPS to maintain power to the TV even if you lose power in your home, make sure the UPS provides smooth (sine wave) power, not choppy (stepped wave) power.

For many years to come

In the end some simple rules to follow and a couple quick maintenance steps can make sure you get the maximum life out of any HDTV, or any home theater component for that matter. Whether you want to preserve your TV or projector, receiver or amplifier, the rules are pretty much the same. If you’re in the market for an upgrade and need an excuse, ignore everything we said. In fact, do the exact opposite. Your TV will come to a screeching halt in no time.

It is important to remember that despite your best efforts, home electronics aren’t perfect. You may put all the love and attention into your television that you humanly can, and it can still fail. There may be a component failure that is completely outside your control. Chips fail, boards die, pixels stick. It just happens. Doing the simple things we talked about won’t guarantee your TV will last for a long time, but it will improve your odds significantly.
Download Episode #685

Today’s Show:

ZyXEL 1200 Mbps Powerline

If you have been with us for a while you know that we have been testing powerline adapters since the beginning. Our first product claimed that it could achieve 85Mbps. And in a controlled world it probably could, but in our homes we were lucky that we got 10Mbps. Still at the time, that was enough bandwidth to support Blu-ray players that didn’t come with built in WiFi. Fast forward to today and almost every device in your home theater needs an Internet connection and almost all come with WiFi. That should be good right? Well with all these connected devices and all your neighbors running wireless routers WiFi may not actually be enough, Especially if you want to stream 4K content.

The good news is that the Powerline technology has improved leaps and bounds from the early days, and now there are devices that support the new AV2 MIMO technology. We saw some of these devices at CES and were told they would be available in the Spring. And wouldn’t you know it, its Spring and we have one that is actually available for sale! The ZyXEL 1200 Mbps Powerline adapter supports AV2 and can be had for less than $95 (Buy Now $93).

The big improvement with this device is that it can use the ground wire to transmit data. The acronym MIMO stands for multiple input multiple output. Theoretically this improves speed and reliability of the connection. ZyXEL claims that it will double the speed and improve reliability by a factor of four of their non-MIMO (600Mbps) devices. But will that translate to actual results?

Setup

Setup really doesn’t need its own heading because it will only take a few words to describe. Plug one adapter into power and connect it to your router. Plug the other adapter into power near the device you want to connect and then plug in your Ethernet cables. That’s it! ZyXEL recommends that you do not plug the adapter into a power strip or even and extension cord. The whole process take about two minutes.

Performance

We can say that these devices have come a long way! ZyXEL have speed Indicator LEDs that let you know how fast your connection is. This is the LED that looks like a house with a plug in it. Green means greater than 80Mbps, amber is between 20 and 80 Mbps, and red is 0 to 20Mbps. Our device was green but when measured with our network tools we were getting between 65 and 75 Mbps. The error could have been in our tool but we feel that the device itself was over estimating the speed.

Regardless, 75Mbps is the fastest we have every seen over our power lines. Not gigabit buy a long shot but fast enough to stream 4K content, browse the web, and listen to music simultaneously. The fastest ZyXEL product we tested prior to this was the ZyXEL 500 back in Podcast #596 where we were able to get 48 Mbps out of it. We didn’t double the speed but we did improve it by 56%. At the time we tested the 500 it cost $75. Now two years later for 25% more money you get almost a 60% improvement in performance. Of course your mileage will vary depending on your wiring and devices you have plugged in.

Conclusion

There is no easier, or cheaper, way to bring a very fast wired connection to your devices. While it is unlikely that you will ever get gigabit speeds through one of these devices, it it very likely that you will have more than enough bandwidth to stream 4K content as it becomes available.

Download Episode #684

Posted by: htguys | April 16, 2015

Podcast #683: Panasonic Home Automation

Today’s Show:

Panasonic Home Automation

Panasonic may not make plasma TVs anymore, forgive us for not being over that, but it still hurts. But they have jumped into the Home Automation game with a system they’re calling thePanasonic Home Network System. We got a chance to check out two of the bundles they have available to get you up and running quickly, the Home Monitoring & Control Kit (Buy Now $249.95) and the Home Surveillance System (Buy now $299.95).

Setup

We chose to setup the Home Monitoring & Control Kit first. The kit includes the control Hub, a smart plug, two window/door sensors, a motion sensor and a digital cordless phone. Setup is pretty easy, especially for the included devices. It takes a bit of time, but it isn’t complicated. Once you have the hub connected to the app on your mobile phone, each device has its own installation guide to help get that device installed and configured.

Adding the included devices is very simple. If you already have them installed when you plug in and setup the hub, the initial installation wizard will add them to your system automatically. If not, or if you decide to add additional devices to your system, it’s as easy as using the app to tell the hub to look for the device and pressing the ‘add device’ button on the smart device itself. Discounting the time it takes to connect a sensor to a wall, windows or door, adding new devices takes seconds.

Like plasma TV, Panasonic has also been in the telephone business for a long time. They have a solid history with both corded and cordless phones and business phone systems. Leveraging that expertise, the hub and the compatible home automation devices actually use radio waves to communicate. They use DECT 6.0 (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) that runs in the 1.92-1.93 GHz band. The same thing your cordless phone may use.

The Russell house where we tested the gear no longer has a landline at all, so we weren’t able to test any potential interaction issues between existing cordless phones and the Panasonic Home Network System. And we also weren’t able to test the system’s use of the home phone line for additional automation functionality. While you don’t need a landline, it if you want the system to call you when the alarm is tripped, you’ll need one.

For maximum coverage and noise-free communications, Panasonic recommends you place your hub at a convenient, high and central location with no obstructions between the devices and the hub in an indoor environment, which obviously isn’t practical. It should also be placed away from electronic appliances such as TVs, radios, personal computers, wireless devices or other phones.  The wireless range of each device in the system is approximately 160 feet or 50 meters indoors.

As far as range and installation goes, we would periodically see delay between when we  clicked a button in the app and the action fired, like a light turning on or off. We never had a delay for automatic actions like turning on a light due to a motion sensor or camera. It feels like the issues could have been more smartphone or app related, or maybe even WiFi to hub to DECT conversion related, but we couldn’t tell for sure. But it didn’t feel like we had any issues with commands due to the range of the devices from the hub or the placement of the hub during testing.

Automation

Once you have all your devices installed and added to the hub, you can begin to automate them. Automation is all done through the smartphone app. It is very easy to do, but also quite rudimentary. Of course you can manually turn lights on or off, or you can set a scheduled (time-based) on/off trigger, a sensor based trigger or both, but only one of each. So the lights can automatically turn on at a set time, off at a set time, and/or on based on a sensor (door opens when you get home), but that’s it.

You cannot setup activity groups in the smartphone app currently. Each device gets its own Smart Control settings and has to be configured independently. You can set multiple devices to trigger on the same event, so it feels like you have them grouped, but there isn’t a notion of groups or scenes for devices. There is an all on and all off button for the lights, and you can configure what happens when you arm the system for Stay or Away.

The system includes high level actions to Arm or Disarm the entire system, much like a security system, but Panasonic is careful to point out that their equipment isn’t designed for security, but for surveillance. When armed, the windows and door sensors are put in an alert mode, armed for Stay the motion sensor is ignored, armed for Away the motion sensor is also put into alert mode. If triggered, the hub will play an alarm tone. It isn’t very loud, but you can hear it if you’re in the same room or closeby.

Without a landline we couldn’t get the system to remotely notify us of any activity. You should be able to get alerts on your phone if you’re connected to the local Wifi, but we couldn’t get that to happen. When connecting remotely, the app will automatically disconnect if you aren’t using it, probably to conserve battery life. But if you don’t have an active connection to the hub, we don’t imagine you could get alerts on your phone – even if you had it working with a steady connection via local wifi.

Home Surveillance System

The Home Surveillance System includes a hub and two cameras, one for indoor and one for outdoor.  Of course you can use the outdoor camera inside if you want to, but not vice versa. The outdoor camera is waterproof; both have night vision capabilities to allow you to see things in very low light conditions. Once added to your system, the cameras can also function as motion detectors to enable or disable other actions in the system.

Camera quality is quite good. We couldn’t see a difference in the quality or lag between being connected to the hub on the local Wifi or connecting to it over the Internet. We even tried over 3G and it still worked great. While viewing the camera you get picture and sound. You can press a button to speak through the camera to communicate with whoever is on the other end, which is pretty cool. The low light feature actually works quite well. We were able to monitor rooms at night that were otherwise pitch black.

Use

Using the Panasonic system is super easy. It isn’t wildly configurable, so use is limited, which makes it really easy. As with anything in life, the more you can do with it, the more complicated it must be to support that functionality. If you limit functionality, you can keep things very simple. The hub can be accessed remotely, which is awesome. Ours worked for remote access out of the box, no special configuration required. If it doesn’t work for you, there are advanced settings like port forwarding to get it working. Only one device can be connected to it at a time, either locally or remotely.

Let’s say you want to turn a light on, and leave it on for 5 minutes, when you open the front door. Totally doable. Let’s say you only want to do that at certain times of the day, because turning the lights on in full daylight is silly, not doable. Let’s say you want to turn your landscaping lights outside on at a set time in the evening and have them turn off a couple hours later. Totally doable. Let’s say you want to do it automatically at dusk, not doable. Or you want to do it in the morning and at night, also not doable. Simple tasks are very easy, but this ease limits how customizable the system is.

The Future

While the Panasonic system is easy, it is limited both in automation capabilities and devices. Because they don’t use an industry standard automation protocol like Z-Wave, you have to buy Panasonic devices. That wouldn’t be a huge deal if they had all the devices you need, but they are pretty limited right now. The most obvious missing device from what they have and what they’ve announced or are contemplating is a wall switch. So if you have any built-in lighting, like porch lights, can lights, track lights, a chandelier or a ceiling fan, you can’t automate those. LED bulbs could help there, but without the ability to group devices, that could get quite cumbersome.

And dimmers. Gotta have dimmers for the home theater.

Panasonic has announced a few accessories that will be available later this year:

  • Water Leak Sensor – June
  • Glass Break Sensor – June
  • Indoor Siren – due 2nd half of 2015
  • Battery Box – due 2nd half of 2015
  • Key Pad – due 2nd half of 2015
  • Key Fob – due 2nd half of 2015

And here are a few more that they are considering:

  • Outdoor LED Light
  • Outdoor Weather Sensor
  • Garage Door Opener
  • Smoke/CO Sensor
  • Thermostat
  • LED Bulb

We’d love to see Panasonic work on some bridging technology to allow their system to communicate with other systems like those that support Insteon, Z-Wave or ZigBee. This would allow those of us with existing automation equipment to use the Panasonic gear without having to maintain two independent systems. It would also get past the hurdle of the missing automated wall switch.

If you haven’t started automating yet, the Panasonic is really easy.  Basic, but really easy.

Download Episode #683

Posted by: htguys | April 9, 2015

Podcast #682: Next Generation Broadcast TV

Today’s Show:

Next Generation Broadcast TV

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have their year meeting in Las Vegas in the Spring every year. When we worked for Sony Pictures we would get excited about going and demonstrating the gear we were developing as well as seeing what other companies were showing off. It was not quite as hectic as CES but it was still a great time. Nowadays we are a little more focused on what we take away from the NAB show. In particular of interest this year is the ATSC 3.0 specification.  This year there will be some demos of the technology.

Layered Division Multiplexing

This technology will cram more data into a single channel. Think of this as a bus traveling down the road where the road is the channel on your tuner. You can only get one lane of busses through that road. But what if now you had a double decker bus. On that same road you have doubled the data coming through to you. Its not as simple as just adding levels to the bus. Imaging a three level bus trying to go under an over pass. The main takeaway is that this technology will enable you to get UHD over the air while using only one channel.

HEVC H.265

Compression is key to getting UHD content to you. Right now ATSC uses mpeg 2 and Blu-ray uses mpeg 4. With mp4 you get about a doubling of the data as you do with mp2. If you look at the current ATSC spec, television stations are transmitting streams of anywhere between 10 and 18 Mbps in mp2. You can get the same quality mp4 picture with streams of about 5 to 9 Mbps. And if you are using H.265 that drops to about 2.5 to 4.5 Mbps. But rather than give us current quality in less space, the goal is to give us better than Blu-ray quality picture and sound in the same spectrum (channel).  The National Engineering Center for DTV from Shanghai, China will be demonstrating  a full-chain Ultra HD TV system, which includes a UHD TV presentation system, as well as realtime UHD TV encoding, broadcasting, receiving and decoding.

Targeted Ads, Better EPG, and Interactivity

A US company will be showing off interactivity and rich media that won’t require a second screen like a tablet or phone. Broadcasters will be able to insert local ads more easily and the EPG gets a makeover. Broadcasters will be able to transmit HTML 5 applications that will support voting and polling. Now you’ll be able to vote for your favorite performer on whatever talent show you are watching right from your TVs remote.

Object Based Surround

We’re quite happy that its not too late to add this to the ATSC 3.0 spec. There are three competing standards to bring three dimensional sound into your living room. Of course you would expect Dolby’s Atmos and DTS’s DTS:X. But there is also one from Qualcomm and Technicolor. They are testing 60 sound tracks with each of the three systems.

When is it all going to Happen?

There is still plenty of time to enjoy your ATSC 2.0 TV. The specification won’t be finalized until 2016 and then it will take years before the broadcasters and manufacturers have equipment ready to accept OTA UHD. Look for there to be a brief period where you will be able to buy an external UHD tuner. We wonder if they will provide vouchers to buy UHD to HDTV converters.

Download Episode #682

Today’s Show:

Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote and Hub

If memory serves, the very first product review we ever did on the HDTV Podcast was a very early Harmony remote.  Back in the days before Harmony was acquired by Logitech. Before the touchscreen models came out. But the remote was revolutionary in how simple it made it for anyone to control even a complex home theater with a single remote, and often just a single button.

Continuing in the tradition of changing the game for home theater enthusiasts, the newest member of the Harmony family, the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote and Hub ($334) is the next generation of what Harmony started several years ago. As a side note, we paid $299 for it at Amazon when we bought it, so the price fluctuates. If you wait a little while, it could come back down.

About the remote

From the Manufacturer:

  • One remote easily controls entertainment devices plus connected lights, locks, thermostats, blinds, sensors, and more
  • Intuitive color touch screen: Simply swipe and tap to control channels, movies, 50 customizable channel Favorites and home automation devices such as Philips hue lights or Nest Learning Thermostat
  • Harmony app turns iOS or Android smartphones or tablets into a second, personal universal remote control
  • The Harmony Home Hub lets you control devices in closed cabinets
  • Simple setup on computer or mobile app for control of 15 home entertainment devices and unlimited home automation devices: Works with over 270,000 devices, including your TV, satellite or cable box, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, Roku, Sonos, game consoles, Philips hue lights and more.

Setup

Getting the remote up and running is pretty simple. Getting it dialed in to exactly what you want takes a bit more time. The remote itself, just like the iOS or Android app, doesn’t send any commands directly to your devices. It sends the command to the Hub and the hub relays the commands to your devices. So to get started you plug in the remote to start it charging, plug in the Hub and position its two included IR blasters to transmit to your home theater devices. That step takes about a minute.

 Next step is to download the app to your smartphone or tablet. Once you have it installed, the real setup begins. If you’re used to programming harmony remotes, you can skip the app step and program it directly with your computer. Or if your smartphone or tablet doesn’t have bluetooth. But we went the new user route and did it all through the app, for the full experience. The app itself is very clean, simple and intuitive.

First step is to connect the app to your Hub using bluetooth. When the app prompts, you press a button on the back of the hub to pair the devices. Once paired, you can connect the Hub to your home wifi network. After you get the Hub on wifi, you’re ready to start doing the real programming. This step took a couple minutes, but mostly waiting for devices to connect.

When the hub connects to wifi, it will automatically discover a bunch of compatible devices and make them available for you to control. Ours found a few Sonos players, and a few streaming boxes like the Fire TV. That was pretty cool, but not what we needed to setup the home theater, so we left them alone and manually added our receiver, tuner box, blu-ray player and projector. All of the devices were instantly recognized. That took another couple minutes.

If you’ve ever programmed a universal remote, you know that the next step is activities. The app does a good job of walking you through a step by step wizard to configure each device for the various activities like Watch TV, Watch a Movie, Listen to Music, etc. In many cases, you’d be done after this step. We have more complicated HDMI issues, so we had to do some fine tuning, but all told, it took about 15-20 minutes to get up and running using the app to program the remote.

Performance

The Ultimate remote has the same form factor as overall usage style as the Harmony Touch Universal Remote ($178) we reviewed a couple years ago.  The remote maintains a few hard buttons, but really wants you to drive with the touch screen.  It feels nice, but has some shortcomings on usability. For full details on the remote itself, read our review of the Touch fromEpisode 554. It’s a great remote, but not perfect.

The addition of the Hub is really great for some use cases. Removing the requirement for line of sight to the devices eliminates issues you may have if you want to store your equipment in a cabinet, have a coffee table in the way, or constantly have people walking in front of you when you’re trying to use the remote. It really cuts down on the number of times you have to hit the help button. We liked that quite a bit.

The app worked pretty well, but we found that it had issues at times connecting to the Hub. It would search the wifi network for the presence of the Hub and report that it was missing. We had to manually reconnect them several times. This somewhat diminished the usefulness of the app. It would have been nice if they fell back to bluetooth, but we never saw that happen, nor do we know if its even a possibility. When connected, the app was a pretty cool quick way to control the theater.

Automation

Perhaps the biggest differentiator about the Ultimate Remote and Hub is the ability to also control home automation devices. To do this with most home theater remotes you have to buy an IR module for your automation system, program the IR module to control the devices and teach your remote how to send the correct IR codes. All doable, but all very rigid and sometimes very painful. With the Harmony Hub you get a lot of this built right in.

 The Hub supports a multitude of wifi based devices such as those from from Nest, Lutron, August, pēq and more.  They claim support for 270,000 devices from more than 6,000 brands but it isn’t clear how many of those are home theater components and how many are home automation devices. A yet-to-be released add on module call the Harmony Home Hub Extender will allow for even more automation possibilities by connecting the Hub to ZigBee and Z-Wave Plus devices.

But the Hub isn’t designed to be a true automation hub.  One big catch, for example, is that it currently isn’t possible to access the Hub from the Internet. You could probably cobble your own VPN system together to allow you to get to it, but it wouldn’t be trivial. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of the Hub as an automation device. Having control of your home: lights, door locks, leak sensors, from anywhere in the world is a key feature. Without it you can do some cool things to augment the home theater experience, but it isn’t a very robust automation hub.

The Hub also doesn’t provide the automated programming with timers, triggers, and scenes that you need from a true automation server or Hub.  So let’s not bill it as something it isn’t, it’s a cool home theater remote that can also control some of your automated devices. You won’t use it to control your automation, but you can use it to make adjustments, like dimming the lights when you hit play, or adjusting the thermostat if the room gets too hot.

We tested the remote at Braden’s house and he’s all Insteon all the time. He has an IR module, but we know that works, so we didn’t take the time to get it up and running. So if the Hub controls some devices you have, or you can adjust what devices you plan to purchase to align with what the Hub supports, it could work well as in interface into your automation equipment. If not, you’re out of luck.

Conclusion

As a concept, the Harmony Ultimate Remote and Hub is awesome. Taken as its component parts, it’s cool, but perhaps not the next big thing.  Removing line of sight is perhaps its biggest selling feature. After that, if you have the lights that it works with, being able to dim and brighten lights as part of the home theater experience is pretty compelling. It’s a great remote, not the best Harmony has ever made, but not bad either.

Download Episode #681

Posted by: htguys | March 26, 2015

Podcast #680: Wireless Surrounds that Work

Today’s Show:

Wireless Surrounds that Work!

We have been on a quest to find a wireless surround solution that not only works but works well! Maybe its because we live in a noisy home or neighborhood but we have not found a solution that has worked well. Either we would get static or in many cases we got nothing. Our last ditch effort took a product that worked with laptops and mp3 players and adapted it to work with our AVR.

The centerpiece of the solution is the Audioengine W3 Wireless Adapter (Buy Now $149). The W3 can process USB audio up to 16 bits/48KHz with no compression. However, for our application we used the analog audio input via a 3.5mm minijack which should be just fine for a surround application.

For use in a home theater application you would take the surround left and right preouts and hook them up to an RCA to 3.5mm minijack cable. If your receiver has a USB input you could connect the W3 to that and you would have power.

In our case we had neither. To get audio to the transmitter we used an adapter to convert speaker outputs to RCA (Rockford Fosgate RF-HLC High Level Speaker Signal to Low Level RCA Adapter $17.50) and then we used the RCA to 3.5mm adapter cable. The W3 includes a power adapter for either the transmitter or receiver. We used it for the transmitter.

The final connection to the Cerwin Vega VE5Ms requires an amplifier and the W3 receiver. The amplifier we decided to use is the Audioengine N22 (Buy Now $199) for two reasons. One, its has great specs! Two, it has a powered USB port to plug the W3 receiver unit into.

  • Power output – 22W RMS / 40W peak per channel (AES)
  • THD+N – <0.02% at all power settings
  • Frequency response – 20Hz-22kHz ±1dB
  • SNR – >95dB A-weighted

We could have gone with a much less expensive amp, and you can too to save the some money, but we felt the power and quality of the amp was worth it on our application. An alternative amp costing about $175 less that you could substitute is the Kinter 12V 2 CH Mini Digital Audio Power Amplifier (Buy Now $10.50) but then you would also need to use an adapter to provide USB power for the W3 receiver.

Performance

One word, success!! Ara’s wife had been giving him grief about having the surround speakers in the room just sitting there not making sound. The ultimatum was given, either get the speakers doing something or get them out of the room. This was the solution that not only got sound coming through the speakers but did so cleanly. The W3 has been transmitting sound to the surrounds for about four weeks now. There has not been one pop, click, or hiss in that entire time. And this is in an environment that has seen no less than three other wireless solutions fail miserably.

Another complaint some have with wireless solutions is that it may affect the wifi performance in your home. In the same period no one has complained about spotty wifi or sluggish performance. At one point Ara thought that some of the issues he experienced with Cox Communications cable may have been a result of the the W3 interfering with his wifi. the good news is that after changing his DNS servers those issues have been cleared up and all is good.

Final Thoughts

If you have invested a lot of money in your speakers and are in a position where you can’t run speaker wire to your surrounds, we recommend this exact solution. The N22 can provide enough clean power with little distortion which will put a smile on your face each time something blows up or flies over your head. If you need something that works but just don’t want to invest a lot of money, swap out the amp with a lower cost model and you’ll still be happy when you hear something fly over your head!

Download Episode #680

Posted by: htguys | March 19, 2015

Podcast #679: Speaker Terminology

Today’s Show:

Speaker Terminology

Ara has recently started a new hobby of building his own speakers at home. In the course of building them, talking about them and creating videos to show how he does it, we realized there quite a few speaker terms and some tech jargon we may throw around that not everyone is familiar with. Some of you may know this inside and out, for others it’ll be a refresher and for some, parts of this may be brand new, but we’ve compiled a glossary of sorts, based on some prior episodes and some new stuff, to make sure we’re all in on the conversation when talking about speakers.

Frequency Response

Measures the range of audible frequencies a speaker reproduces across the entire audio spectrum. This spec helps you assemble a set of speakers that allow you to hear everything you’re supposed to. The general rule of thumb is that we humans, with young, undamaged eardrums, can hear really low sounds down to 20 Hz all the way up to really high-pitch, piercing sound at 20 kHz. Many argue that the highest and lowest frequencies are less important because the human ear doesn’t hear them as well – and for some of us, not at all.  But for the lower range, it may not be as important to hear it as it is to feel it.

Driver

The scientific name for a speaker, or a loudspeaker, is an electroacoustic transducer. The transducer converts an electrical signal into the sound you hear when watching movies or listening to music. The individual transducers themselves are often referred to as drivers. The term speaker and driver can sometimes be used interchangeably. The word speaker is also used to describe a set of drivers in an enclosure – the speakers you buy at the store, online or in some cases, build at home. There are three basic types of drivers: tweeter, midrange and woofer.

  • Tweeter – A tweeter is a driver designed to produce high audio frequencies (typically 2,000 Hz to 20 kHz).
  • Midrange – Midrange drivers, sometimes called “squawkers,” are designed to reproduce the frequency range from approximately 300–5000 Hz.
  • Woofer – A woofer is the driver designed to produce the lowest frequency sound, typically from 20 Hz to 1000 Hz.
  • Full Range – A full-range driver is designed to reproduces as much of the audible frequency range as possible.

Larger speakers tend to cover a wider range of frequencies, which is why you typically want larger speakers for your front and center channels.  You can get away with smaller speakers in the surround channels because the sound there doesn’t tend to be as dynamic as the front of the room.  Although some very large speakers will cover the lowest end of the spectrum, down to 20 Hz, most home theater speakers don’t go that low, so you need a subwoofer to fill that gap. Without the really the low end frequencies, a home theater tends to lack punch and the audio doesn’t feel as full.

Crossover

The Crossover is an electrical filter that could be a high-pass, low-pass or band-pass filter. It is used to divide the audible frequency spectrum (20 Hz – 20 kHz). Since most loudspeaker drivers are incapable of reproducing the entire audio spectrum, the crossover is used to make sure the correct frequencies are sent to the drivers that are built to reproduce a particular sound range. Without a crossover every driver would be sent the entire frequency range, resulting in muddied and sub-optimal audio experience.

Porting

A port in a speaker cabinet is a hole or vent that allows air to escape from inside the enclosure. A speaker without a port is referred to as a sealed enclosure, where no air is supposed to escape from inside. This design yields a more accurate response and produces a speaker with a bit more punch. A ported enclosure is more difficult to design, it requires a more scientific approach, and they tend to be larger than sealed cabinets. But a ported subwoofer allows for extended bass response, resulting in deeper bass and a stronger physical impact: you can feel the rumble.  Ported speakers are also more efficient. They increase the bass output of a speaker by around 3 dB, and that cuts the power requirements for your amplifier in half. More on that in a moment…

Decibel

Decibels, or dBs, are a measurement of sound level. Our ears detect changes in volume in a non-linear fashion. A decibel is a logarithmic scale of loudness. A difference of 1 decibel is an almost imperceptible change in volume. It takes about 3 dB for most humans to hear a difference and 10 decibels is perceived by the listener as a doubling of volume. On your receiver or amplifier when you go from -15 dB to -5 dB the sound volume hitting your ears is doubled. As a side note, it takes a doubling of wattage in your amp for an increase of 3 dB. That’s why paying an extra $200 for the next model up just because it is 125W instead of 100W is a waste of money. Provided, of course, that’s the only additional feature.

Sensitivity

This is the spec we use routinely to rank speakers when purley going by paper, not by sound.  If you’re doing your homework on Amazon or another online retailer, keep an eye out for sensitivity.  It gives you an idea of how efficient a speaker is; in other words, how hard it is going to make your receiver or amplifier work to play back those explosions you want to hear louder than you probably should.  What it really measures is how loud the speaker will play when given a standard test input and measured at a specific distance,  typically 1 meter.

As you can imagine, when fed the same test signal, the louder a speaker will play, the more efficient it is.  So sensitivity is a measure of the speaker’s volume, expressed (as volume often is) in decibels. The higher the number, the higher the efficiency and the better your speaker will perform.  Your receiver or amplifier won’t have to work as hard to produce the same volume level. Typical numbers are in the mid to high 80s; anything over 90 is considered excellent. Sensitivity won’t tell you how good a speaker sounds, but it will tell you how easy it will be to crank it up.

Impedance

This is another measurement, like sensitivity, that is of no value when it comes to the pure audio quality of the speaker, but it can help guide some buying decisions.  Where sensitivity tells you how hard the amplifier needs to work to produce a particular volume level, impedance tells you how much strain the speaker itself puts on your amplifier.  Most speakers are rated at 8 ohms, and most receiver specs are quoted assuming an 8 ohm speaker load. The lower the impedance number, the more strain, so if you come across a sweet pair of 4 or 6 ohm speakers, you’ll need to make sure your receiver can handle them.

Also keep in mind that impedance is something you can influence if you decide to add more speakers to your home theater. You can’t simply add more speakers to the same channel. When you do, you change the overall load or impedance for that amplifier channel. Adding a second speaker to a channel, when connected in parallel, will actually cut the impedance in half, so instead of the amplifier working to run one 8 ohm speaker, it now has to work as if it is connected to one 4 ohm speaker. This could have a negative impact on your amp. Connecting speakers in series, however, actually has the opposite impact, but that may be too deep a discussion for this episode. Bottom line, make sure you know what you’re doing if you decide to add multiple speakers to the same surround sound channel.

Power Handling

This tells you the maximum amount of power you can run into a speaker without damaging it. To be honest, the spec is somewhat useless. A 200 watt per channel amplifier will rarely, if ever, run at the full 200 watts to each channel.  If you tried it, you’d probably have blood coming from your ears before your speakers, that may be rated for 100 or 125 max watts per channel, would give out or blow.  The 180 watt or 200 watt receiver is probably going to be a higher quality item than a 50 or 80 watt unit, so even though the smaller ones will never have the chance to ruin your speakers, they won’t sound as good either. Use common sense and you should be just fine.

Download Episode #679

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.