Sunday, February 9, 2014

TV Type & Format Options (Pro's / Con's)

Lets go over the pros and cons of the four most popular TV technologies available today

  • * PRO's:: Best Picture of the current cheap classes (Usually). Great Color reproduction/matching when calibrated. Black-level reproduction great. Highest Refresh Rate. No light bleed.
  • * CON's:: Power Consumption is Highest per inch. Most Heat Generation. Weight is highest per inch. Not as good in bright locations.
  • * PRO's:: Cheapest Class. Most Variety of sizes.
  • * CON's:: Poor color reproduction. Image Ghosting. Wide Bezels.
  •  PRO's:: Can be extremely bright and useful in bright area's. Can use local dimming to increase contrast ratio. Slightly better color handling due to backlight vs CCFL.
  • CON's:: Light bleed can be more intense depending on Edge-Lit vs Full Array. Image Ghosting. 
  •  PRO's:: Most accurate colors. Can turn OFF individual pixels so excellent black representations. Flexible screen avoids damage.
  • CON's:: Cost. Size restrictions currently. Cost. Did I mention cost?

The differences in these types make each one acceptable if a certain set of environmental criteria are met.
  • If you have a room with fewer windows than average or night-time watching will be the primary use a Plasma is going to be the best option for a set top. Enthusiasts swear by by them as long as the company producing keep the build quality up to the right standards. Panasonic Plasma's are the current go-to brand for HQ Plasma's.
  •  If your budget is limited and size is the most important factor. A standard CCFL LCD is going to be what gets you the best bang per inch. It falters when absolute quality is a concern but can usually fill a blank wall for less and can perform perfectly fine for the news, video games consoles or kitchen/kids room duties. Toshiba, Samsung and Vizio litter the marketplace for the best of the low tier displays.
  •  LED tv's and the above LCD tv's are essentially the same display tech with a different back-light delivery methods. LED's allow for the lower power consumption, thinner bezels, and brighter room playback capabilities. A bright sun drenched room or the NEED for for a thin bezel (Array Lit) or thin profile (edge lit) are reason 1 to get an LED TV over another type. The only other real advantage is the power consumption is much lower so sustained hour after hour use will not hurt your checkbook as much as other formats. Samsung and Vizio have the best quality sets in this category
  • Oled If you can afford one you can put it anywhere you want. Don't worry about bezel size or power consumption. Since it is an emerging tech most units currently out have been pains-tauntingly designed to be best of breed. I assume once they try and go mass market they will find MANY corners to cut resulting in on par to todays units, units. So get them while they are new and expensive. No idea what brands to look at. Maybe Sony.


Smart TV's - Do you want your TV to be the smart item? I personally do NOT want the smart features built in permanently to my $400, $700, $2,000 TV that I don't plan to upgrade at least a few years. It should be the job of the TV to do ONE THING.. Produce a beautiful picture. That is it. No web surfing, no media playback and if I had my way and no reproduction of audio at all!

Instead ignore the smart TV craze and look for a Smart Blu-Ray Player, or dedicated media streaming devices such as a Roku, Boxee, Apple TV, Western Digital Live.


How big?

Do yourself a HUGE favor and grab some cardboard (a big piece). Place it on the wall, table, stand or wherever and measure out 40", 50", 55", 65" and keep bezel size around that in mind. You may be surprised at just how small that HUGE tv is going to look.


1080P or 720?

As for 720p vs 1080p refer to this chart and after you determine your ideal size and placement you can see if going 720p can actually be an alternative. Don't go out of your way to get a lower res TV but don't dismiss the possible savings if you won't benefit at your distance/size.

A/V Definitions & Explainations


Lumens : - The measure of brightness of the projector. This is important when you are using the projector in a lit room (lights on or many windows) 2000 is the average. Anything higher would perform better in a lit room, anything lower requires a darkened room BUT will likely have a better contrast ratio. Higher not always better.

Contrast Ratio : - The difference between white and black. Unfortunately not all manufacturers use the same measurements (ANSI vs Full on/off) so this spec can be very misleading and I am NOT going to list any here. Projectors with lower lumens usually have better blacks/contrast until you climb the price ladder. Higher is always better when the same standards are used.

3D : - Well 3D means it can be used with 3D glasses to reproduce 3D content from movies but this also means it must support a 120Hz refresh rate. So gaming will be amazing on it. I personally don't give a rats about 3D.

DLP : - Digital Light Processing- *Essentially a million microscopic moving mirrors bounce white light through a quickly spinning color wheel to make the picture. Believe it or not this is the cheapest method and usually have very good black levels but this system can make a "rainbow effect" occur if the color-wheel is even slightly out of sync or during high motion scenes.

3LCD : - Three Liquid Crystal Display- *The LCD technology we all know and love, times three and squeezed down to about an inch across with light shined through a red, green and blue LCD that gets combined in a prism and delivered to your screen. This method can have better contrast and higher brightness then DLP but costs a premium. Instead of the rainbow effect 3xlcd's can suffer from a microscopic mis-alignment of the panels causing convergence issues but is far less noticeable at normal distances then the rainbow.

D-ILA/SXRD : - These are proprietary forms of image generation based on other methods but implemented more exotically. Want details? Me too.

Laser / LED : - This is a new tech that uses either an LED or a Laser and LED to generate the light instead of a bulb. After that it is pretty much still one of the above systems.

3DLP : - Combines the DLP chips and 3LCD lens system and has three times the micro-mirror arrays so it no longer suffers from the rainbow effect but now inherits convergence issues and a gargantuan price bump. This is the best system.

720p : - Due to the lower resolution of a 720P display the pixels themselves are larger and therefore carry more light out of the projector. This means almost all lower resolution projectors are brighter then their FullHD counterparts and usually 40% cheaper. At certain placements it makes perfect sense to seek out a lower definition projector that can overcome brighter environments.

1080p : - The current gold standard FullHD resolution (ie what bluray's use). It is what you want so make sure any projector you look at states the NATIVE resolution is 1920x1080 and not the MAXIMUM.. Getting those two confused will leave you will a low def projector that can simply accept and resize down your beautiful 1080p signal.

XGA and WXGA : - These are PC aspects that are commonly found on business projectors. 1024x768 and 1280x800 are not really HDTV resolutions (HDTV is 1280x720) Be weary of anything labeled as a "business projector" as it will usually have high brightness but poor contrast and color and be very lightweight.

Keystone Correction : - Can be found digitally or physically. Digital keystone is usually only used in a temporary presentation situation it can be used to distort the image to fix "square" due to the improper placement of a projector. Digital keystone is NOT used on a home theater projector as it destroys image quality by not using the native resolution for each 1 pixel. Physical or Lens keystone can be used as it twists the light emitting from the lens and leaves the resolution intact. 99% of the time meticulous placement of the screen and projector is all that is needed to create a square, flat, correct image.

Lens-Shift : - Usually found on higher-end projectors but creeping down to the entry level is this ability to place the projector almost anywhere behind the viewer and *Shift* the image without using a Keystone up, down left or right to an extent. This can make life MUCH easier then trying to move the physical projector to align with the screen knowing you have to avoid digital keystone correction.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Basic Rules of Audio Buying and Setup

An incomplete and ever-expanding list of basic buying, setups and usage tips along with some insight into hardware specifics and which numbers actually matter when buying audio equipment.


1. Don't Buy Audio Equipment from TV Manufacturers - 99% of the time a company like Sony, LG, Vizio, Westinghouse, Panasonic, Samsung, etc don't invest their profits back into their audio lineup. They R&D tv's and phones and answering machines and audio gets very little love. Sony is the only brand that has passable headphones and peripherals.(Don't buy their amps!). This is a general rule and easy to remember.

2. Ignore Wattage on Both Speakers and Amplifiers - MOSTLY *Only on the rarest occasion will wattage actually play a part in getting the most out of your setup. On average no more than 10-15 watts is used to play even the largest floor-standing speakers and since wattage is logarithmic gain where you need to at least double it to have even a 3db bump. That said you never want to drive an amplifier at full tilt, ever. If you find yourself doing this you may need a bigger amp or more efficient° speakers.*

 *Speaker Efficiency is usually written as the value Sensitivity. It tells you how loud you can expect your speaker to get and is measured with 1 watt of power from 1 meter away. Higher than 90db is considered very efficient, lower than 90 isn't and means your speakers are hard to drive loud*

3. Placement is Everything - *Even the cheapest logitech 2.0 or samsung HTiB speakers can be improved if you simply place them in the right spot. A good starting point for Stereo 2.0 is this for 2.1 the same rules apply only you need to consider sub placement. A 5.1 setup works best like this and a full 7.1 expands on that to look like this. Keeping everything at ear height or slightly higher is always my recommendation.* Want a Bit More Insanity?

4. The Room you are in Matters - *This falls into the same category as the above rule. Placement around the listener is important but placing speakers in an all-Italian Marble bathroom is MORE important. Sound bounces. It hops skips and jumps all around you. This can be very very bad and ruin even the most impressive speakers. Huge empty room reverberate and hit you with the same sound 50 times in a fraction of a second. Fight this with carpets, Furniture and if needed seek out or DIY acoustical treatments which can make a BIG difference (note this video isn't showing a very good or practical job)*

5. Audition Speakers if you Can - *Playing speakers on a shelf in a best buy doesn't tell you a damned thing about how they are going to sound in your den, living room, on your desk or any place else. Higher end audio shops will usually allow you to test speakers in your own home before you flat out buy them. Other big retailers you may have to check return policies and purchase with the full intention of taking a set speakers back in a week. Any way you test be sure to listen to music you are familiar with so you know exactly how a set of speakers sounds compared to what you have heard previously. The radio or a demo CD you don't know can cloud your judgement*

6. Wireless is a Four Letter Word - *Running wires for a rear channel or to get analog signals across a room can be awkward, difficult and sometimes ugly. BUT the audio benefits, cost savings and extra work will ALWAYS outweigh the... Well there aren't any benefits going wireless. You see it is impossible. If you wanted wireless rear surround speakers you will at some point be plugging in a transmitter behind your AV equipment and then one or BOTH speakers to a wall outlet which has far more constraints than just hiding some 16ga zip cord along your moldings. You also have to deal with Audio encoding/decoding via wireless (digital low bandwidth or Analog and noisy) and amplification that will most certainly be sub-standard and housed inside the speaker or in a small plastic box. So you still have wires and you can't customize the length and it will sound worse. Case Closed.*

7. Soundbars are a Very Bad Thing - *Although Convenient and Sleek, A bar <40" wide cannot perform as well as even two small bookshelves placed in a proper stereo position which will give far more presence and soundstage in comparison. The fact that the bar is usually made of plastic is a poor choice as I don't know of any Violin's, guitars or piano's made from that material. A speaker is the same as any instrument and what it is made of matters. Now include an amplifier small enough to fit inside said bar and mount it flush against a wall with no breathing room and you will just start to scratch the surface as to why they are bad.*

8. Home Theater in a Box Systems Suck - *First they are usually by those brands we discussed earlier (TV manufacturers). Second the receivers tend to be below the bottom of the line for even respectable audio companies (Onkyo). Lastly the speakers and subwoofer are the worst, cheap, high-fashion garbage and hold no love in this world for you or I. These setups also lack even basic features and inputs found on a run of the mill ~$250 entry level Standalone receiver and usually have very over-rated and dirty power (1,100 watts my ass) so changing to real speakers instead of the plastic garbage can damage both parties. If you want 5.1 and can't afford a real one. Start with Stereo and move up. This post ( helps with that.*

9. Don't be Afraid to Buy Used - *A $1,000 set of speakers/headphones/amplifiers bought brand new five years ago will still sound as good as $1,000 speakers/headphones/amplifiers but will cost a lot less! Most hardcore audio people like to try and experiment with as many different setups as they can and will buy new equipment once a year, two years, six months. Keep an eye out on craigslist, ebay, audiogon and /r/AVexchange for deals on speakers that might give you a leg up over what you can buy new. Don't think that used means obsolete or broken, it is just used.*

10. Distortion is the Enemy - *A 1,000 watt amplifier means nothing if the Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) of said amp isn't listed or IS listed and is horrible. A high THD% means you can get metal out of your speakers when playing smooth jazz. A THD% should be posted on all decent amplification equipment and a value under 1% is acceptable (barely), under 0.5% is good and 0.1 is great (Note some ClassD Digital amps can maintain very low distortion at wattages under full and skyrocket to 10% at full power!)*

11. Ohm's (Ω) explained like you are 5 - *Imagine twisting your speaker wire ends together with no speaker. That would be the equivalent of a 0Ω speaker connected to your amp. After doing that your amp would get toasty warm and catch fire. This is because all the power it is sending out it is getting right back.. and out and back and out and BOOM. A violent cycle. What you need is a speaker to absorb that power and only send a fraction back to the amp. How much power your speaker eats is dependent on the ohms. 2Ω is very little so the amp still gets a load back and only a SUPER high power/quality amp will be able to run it. A 4Ω speaker is easier to drive than a 2 but still requires a good amp to handle and most AVR's won't do without special care. 6 to 8Ω speakers are the "normal" or average you will find. They are relatively easy to power and most bookshelves and towers fall here. HTiB speakers usually either run a higher OHM speaker so the built in amplifiers can have an easier time or a Lower OHM speaker to claim 1,000,000 watts.*

12. Bigger Actually is Better Sometimes - *It is hard to define this one as it applies to many items. Small speakers often sound small and limited, but at close range this may work fine. Trying to put small speakers in a BIG room or far away means you are mis-using them. The bigger the room the more air you need to displace to have sound travel across it properly. The same with subwoofers. An amplifier that is very small MUST be low power because to make clean high power an amp needs space for BIG cooling and a BIG power supply

13. Don't buy Expensive Cables - *Some wires you buy because they are built well and will survive a year or two of getting yanked and pulled, that is fine. On the other hand sometimes people will try to sell you wires that make things sound or look better. When in the digital realm don't bother. HDMI, COAX-Digital and Fiber Optic wires are either working perfectly or are broken. Never better or worse. Analog wires like RCA's, 3.5mm headphone wires and speaker cables can require a better quality than any-old-thing but never as much as you are told. often has cheap cables that will do an above-distinguishable-from-expensive-cables job. Also power cables don't matter, 110V and low load items work on anything and don't effect actual sound quality. Most interference can usually be contributed to power issues and a UPS or power conditioner can help.*


Any suggestions to add or correct the rules feel free to post.