I love the walk down (short-term) memory lane that accompanies the preparation of our annual Top Picks of the Year feature. At the forefront of that is the great pride I take in revisiting all the hard work our reviewers and edit/art staff have put in throughout the prior 12 months.
Have you been throttled lately? If you have, Home Theater wants to hear about it.
Okay, I'll explain.
In this brave new world where streaming media from the likes of Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu have virtually eliminated video rental stores and threaten to carry away our beloved reference-qualty Blu-rays on a river of rushing bits, the notion of "internet access" takes on new meaning. The capacity of the data pipeline running into our homes affects both the quality and quantity of the video content we can download, not to mention our ability to upload, store, and share our personal media in the Cloud.
And on this front, I'm afraid all is not well in Streamville...
Thanks to a kind invitation from The Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing, I was lucky enough this week to get a backstage tour of the Staples Center in Los Angeles just as rehearsals for the 55th Annual Grammy Awards were getting underway. This was Thursday afternoon around 2pm, a little more than three days before tonight’s broadcast of what’s become known as “Music’s Biggest Night.”
It was quite the scene over there and the energy level was already pretty high...
In recent months we've received a number of letters at Home Theater complaining about our coverage of the new 3D video technology and of the Web-streaming capabilities appearing in everything from TVs to Blu-ray players to set-top boxes. Most of our video reviews now have a dedicated section describing 3D performance and a short discussion of what content is available on each product's streaming platform. Some readers who are skeptical or not interested in these new part-time features think we shouldn't be wasting their time by writing about them, while others have defended us and acknowledged our obligation to report on any significant new features and assess their performance.
As a consumer electronics editor and reporter, I’ve never been a big fan of company profiles. We are frequently contacted by public relations reps who think their client has a good backstory worth telling consumers. But I usually prefer to let those company’s products speak for them in the Court of Test Reports, believing that hands-on feedback about the equipment is what readers really want, and that positive observations we might report in an article do a disservice if the gear fails to live up to it. Matters are complicated further when the company is one that advertises in our magazine or on our Website. Any upbeat comments naturally become suspect, and might cast doubt on a good product review arrived at independently and fairly. We never want to look like we’re in bed with any manufacturer, so why even go there?
Such was the case with Emotiva, a Web-based direct-sale audio company out of Nashville, TN that has carved a niche for itself delivering what’s best described as “affordable high-end.”
A lot of consumer electronics editors and reviewers have a love-hate relationship with product ratings. The love side comes from knowing they make readers happy. Assuming the ratings structure is well thought out (that is, simple and easy to understand) and the ratings are applied with fairness and accuracy, they wrap the whole product up in a nice little ball and tell you, at a quick glance, whether it's a winner, loser, or in-betweener. Perhaps most important, a good rating, or a good rating coupled with a seal of approval like our Top Picks designation, is validation that the product is worthy of the money you plan to spend on it. Given the sea of black boxes, identically thin TVs, and similar speaker systems out there, we recognize that giving you this validation is really the essence of our job at Home Theater.
It’s not unreasonable that any regular reader of Home Theater may lust, if only in his heart, for a two-piece projection system that genuinely matches, if only at a smaller scale, the experience we have in our local multiplex.
Hold your index finger up to the air for a moment. Can you feel that? It’s the fresh breeze of good sound wafting ever so gently across the horizon.
After years of living in a desert of low-res MP3s, crappy white ear buds, wafer-thin flat-panel TV speakers pointed away from the listener (come on!), and increasingly anemic AVRs, there is a revolution afoot.
I made it a point this weekend to be among the first to view Peter Jackson’s latest epic, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure, in its native 48 frames-per-second frame rate. If you’ve not been keeping up with the news surrounding this movie, Jackson made the decision early on to shoot it digitally at twice the 24 fps rate used for the last 80 years or so. The 24 fps rate is closely associated with the look of film as we’ve come to know it. Increasing that rate can greatly reduce blurring and judder on fast motion and camera pans, allowing for extra detail that would otherwise be lost when shooting either film or video at 24 fps. Fast frame rates also improve the 3D experience, making viewing easier on the eyes and reducing the instance of crosstalk or “ghosting” artifacts. But it imparts a sheen that most of us would more closely associate with native video rather than film. If you’ve looked at film-based content on any LCD television that has its 120 Hz or 240 Hz motion enhancement features turned on, you know what I’m talking about. Such circuits cause content originally shot at 24 fps to look like video — the so-called “soap opera” effect. Some folks like the look and some don’t. Whichever side you fall on, there’s no arguing that the look these circuits impart to 24 fps native content is an artifice—it’s clearly not what the director was watching when he composed the film or what he intended for your viewing.
I took the invitation a while back to visit the Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory in Los Angeles, where the company introduced its 3D Innovation Center to members of the press. PHL is a research and mastering center where Panasonic works with filmmakers on new camera, editing, encoding and playback technologies.
At Home Theater, we’ve long been fans of set-up DVDs and Blu-ray discs that allow you to tune your television or projector for the optimum image. Now, just in time for the Super Bowl, THX has launched a mobile app designed to help sports fans and movie lovers do just that.
“THX tune-up” is an iOS app for iPad (2 and higher), iPad mini, iPhone (4 and higher), and iPod touch (Gen 4 and higher). To commemorate the Big Game and assist as many as possible of the 7.5 million people expected to purchase a new set just for the occasion, THX is offering the app as a free download from the iTunes store through Monday, February 4th. After that, it’ll cost $1.99. An Android version is expected to be released next spring.
Before your inner geek gets too worked up, neither the THX tune-up app nor any set-up disc...
With great gear, it's all about the "something special."
Reviewers at Home Theater have a near-impossible task. Their job is to communicate, with words on a page accompanied by a few photographs, an experience with an audio or video component that can only be rightly conveyed viscerally. That is to say, in real life we don’t just listen to or view components, we react to them: physically, emotionally, intuitively.
You may have heard that sales of soundbars are skyrocketing today. I’m excited about that. The best of the new premium soundbars sound pretty great, and with their unassuming presence, lack of speaker wires, and relatively simple installation, they stand to introduce legions of new ears to the joys of a high-quality home theater experience.