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Android on Plair 2 HDMI wireless streaming dongle

Plair beat Google to the punch with its wireless streaming HDMI dongle that was announced at last year’s CES, but had the wind sucked from it sails with the arrival of Chromecast. So, the company went back to the lab and today, it’s ready to reveal Plair 2, a dongle that looks the same as the original, but comes running a customized version of Android. That means instead of simply being a conduit for streaming video from the cloud, it runs most any app found on Google Play on your TV. It works via an Android companion app (for devices running version 4.3 or iOS 5 and up) that lets you connect the dongle to your home WiFi network and acts as a remote control for the device after setup’s complete. Oh, and with the added functionality comes a sizable drop in price — while the original Plair cost $99, this new version costs just $49.

Setting up Plair 2 is a simple affair. Just like the Chromecast, you simply stick the dongle into an HDMI port on your TV, plug in the microUSB power cord, then load up the companion app. The app prompts you to log the dongle into your home network, then switches to remote mode once your done — it takes no more than a minute or two. After that, your TV will load up Plair’s home screen, which displays a row of apps onscreen in a cover flow fashion. Navigation via the companion app’s accomplished via swipes and taps or a virtualized touchpad and cursor. Once you’ve chosen your content portal, the tablet version of that app is displayed onscreen, and you make your selections with the cursor.

While the remote app is a good idea in theory, we found using it to be a bit difficult. Swipes failed to register regularly, and scrolling up and down was often a dicey affair — scrolling down usually worked, but we often had to lift our finger off the screen and try multiple times to get it to scroll up. Additionally, while video quality is largely comparable to what you’ll see via Chromecast, buffering takes a bit longer, and we had playback issues during our brief testing with Plair 2. Hulu Plus and Netflix froze on us several times when trying to load content, and playback on Comcast’s Xfinity app froze a couple times as well. We also played a bit of Angry Birds on the device, and found the experience enjoyable. Control via the companion app worked well, and we experienced none of the issues we had when streaming video.

In short, while the Plair 2 costs $14 more than Chromecast, it also offers a lot more functionality. The ability to run any Android app or game is really handy, and well worth the additional cash outlay. In general, the fact of the matter is that Chromecast is less expensive, currently streams video better than Plair does and its native app control paradigm is superior to Plair’s proprietary remote. However, the ability to play games and run Android apps on the TV is valuable, and the company tells us that it’s working on improving the user experience. That’s good, because improvement’s needed if it hopes to carve out some market space alongside Google’s offering.

 

 

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UHD to the Home – Ultra HD over the Internet

As part of its presence at the Commonwealth Games, BBC Research & Development currently has a number of ultra high definition (UHD) television screens at both the Science Centre in Glasgow and New Broadcasting House in London showing live coverage of the games. These screens are open to the public for the duration of the Commonwealth Games and free to view for visitors between 10am and 5pm in Glasgow and 12 midday to 3.30pm in London.

The pictures and sound for these screens is being delivered over the internet – from capture, through the full production chain, and finally to decoders and displays in the demonstration areas. This entire process normally requires very specialised and expensive television broadcast equipment but in this case it is all being handled using normal IP networks and commercially available computing equipment. Below you can see a short video produced by R&D engineer Alia Sheikh which explains the work the department has been engaged with in this area and the reasons why BBC R&D thinks IP delivery is the future for TV delivery.

For the Commonwealth Games BBC R&D’s IP TV delivery infrastructure is spread over a number of different locations to demonstrate the flexibility that an IP based production system brings. While pictures and sound are being captured in the venues, the audio gallery providing the commentary is in London and the television production gallery is located in Glasgow. Below you can see how our IP based end to end infrastructure is spread across the UK to deliver UHD TV to our public demonstration areas.

While delivery of television by IP is on the increase, a lot of people still receive their television using traditional transmitters and receivers and will do so for some time to come. Not all of the UK has reliable high speed internet connections so alongside IP delivery, the department is also demonstrating the transmission of UHD content over the existing Digital Television Transmission (DTT) network. BBC R&D are working with the rest of the broadcasting industry to ensure that the standards exist to distribute UHD content to as many people as possible no matter the delivery method.

Motion Blur – The Challenges of UHD

Beyond the challenges of delivering UHD content to people’s homes there’s also the issue of how to get it working properly once it gets there. One challenge is that with higher visual definitions motion blur becomes more of a problem for video images, especially with fast moving subjects like the athletes at the Commonwealth Games.

One solution is to increase the frame rate of the television (the rate at which the image on screen is refreshed) from 50fps to 100fps. To sharpen motion, you can also shorten the camera shutter speed, but at conventional frame rates this leads to judder. A frame rate of 100 fps enables the eye to fuse motion in a realistic manner, even with a short shutter opening and is also high enough to avoid visible flicker. BBC R&D is involved in ongoing discussions with other European broadcasters to create standards for UHD frame rates. The image below shows a comparison of shutter speeds of 1/100 and 1/300 of a second.

Exciting New Opportunities

Along with the technical challenges IP-delivered UHD TV presents to the engineers at BBC R&D, it also provides a host of new production and editorial opportunities. One major advantage of building an IP based system is how configurable it is.

A television studio is a collection of very specialised pieces of equipment, very often with only one purpose each – a vision mixing desk for example or a preview monitor. Moving from a hardware to a software based system means that devices can be reconfigured to the needs of different production teams quickly and at little expense. The gallery production equipment in R&D’s experimental IP based television production gallery uses consumer computing hardware so a tablet can be a production schedule one day and a sound mixing desk the next. Or both. This reconfigurable nature of IP based production drastically reduces cost and increases working flexibility.

The BBC has always delivered high quality crafted television, first in black and white, then colour, using both analogue then digital delivery methods and most recently moving from standard definition to HD. UHD TV and IP based production are another evolution of the art form that provides the organisation with yet more exciting opportunities to make the best television we can and deliver it to audiences in increasingly cost effective ways. BBC Research & Development’s work ensures that when the UK is ready to switch to UHD, the BBC will be as well.

To take a look behind the scenes at a working IP television production gallery please visit us at the Glasgow Science Centre between 10am & 5pm for the duration of the Commonwealth Games. You can also watch live UHD coverage of the Commonwealth Games delivered both over IP and using digital television transmitters. Finally you can get hands on with some of the exciting new experiences that UHD video and IP delivered TV make possible including a chance to look around a 3D live video of the Hydro Stadium using the Oculus Rift headset.

 

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Top 4K TVs Compared

Both Netflix and Amazon stream in 4K. Cameras like the Sony a7S and the Panasonic Lumix GH4 can shoot in 4K. Even smartphones have been getting in on the act, with handsets like the LG G Pro 2 and Sony Xperia Z2 capable of recording 4K video. So with the amount of 4K content available increasing every day, you may have been thinking about buying a 4K set so you too can bask in the glow of 3,840 x 2,160 resolution. But 4K sets don’t come cheap, and you’re going to want to do a bit of research before dropping that much cash. While we don’t really review televisions here at Engadget, we’ve done the next best thing, compiling the opinions of trusted critics from across the web. Which set offers you the most bang for your buck? Do bells and whistles like a curved screen make a difference? Check out a few members of the 4K Class of 2014 below.

Panasonic Life+Screen AX800

At first blush, the Panasonic AX800 series has a lot going for it. It’s a nice-looking set that PC Mag says is “minimalist and unique,” suited for both TV stands and entertainment centers. Turn it on, and the picture is equally impressive, delivering what AVForums calls “rich textures and nuanced lighting,” while Reviewed.com thinks this LCD could stand toe to toe with a good plasma set, due to its “good black levels, accurate colors and reliable screen uniformity.” But if you’re looking to sit down and enjoy some House of Cards in beautiful 4K, you’ll be disappointed — Netflix on the AX800 is limited to 1080p (and lower). Given the relative scarcity of commercial 4K content, the inability to watch a major provider like Netflix is a big ding on an otherwise stellar UHD set.

Price: $2,300 and up

Samsung U9000

Walk into a room and the first thing you’ll notice about the Samsung U9000 is its curved screen, which CNET says adds a “unique, futuristic look” to a set that is overall “drop-dead gorgeous.” It says the picture is equally stunning, offering “deep black levels, accurate color and great bright-room viewing qualities.” But what about that curve? Though it’s meant to create a feeling of depth and immersion, CNET found it “didn’t have any major effect on the picture aside from reducing reflections somewhat,” and Reviewed.com found it actually made some reflections worse, such that “lamps and lights are occasionally stretched across the entire arc of the screen.” It’s worth noting that the U9000 also includes an improved Smart Hub experience, but you can also find other Samsung sets that are a lot cheaper (and less curvy).

Price: $3,297 and up

Samsung U8550

The Samsung U8550 is a set that eschews the curved screen of its high-end sibling U9000 in favor of “trim bezels and a very narrow panel” that Reviewed.com says “lend this television a modern air.” The picture also does it credit, with LCD TV Buying Guide complimenting its “brilliant images in 4K,” while Sound+Vision was impressed with the “crisp detail and the clean, smooth clarity” of its upconversions. As on the U9000, the Smart Hub has been upgraded with “subtle improvements” that “hit the mark” according to LCD TV Buying Guide, and Reviewed.com says it provides “all of the streaming content and web-browsing functions you’d expect for the price.” And that’s a price that undercuts the competition by $1,000, leaving you some extra cash for an awesome sound or gaming system on the side.

Price: $1,597 and up

Sony X900B

At first glance, it’s clear that the Sony X900B is very different from other UHD sets, and even many regular ol’ HDTVs, due to its huge set of front-facing speakers. The sacrifice of a slim bezel is well worth it, though, as What Hi-Fi compliments its “rich, open and detailed sound quality,” while CNET calls it the “best sound of any TV we’ve heard, bar none.” The picture is also up to the challenge, offering quality that HDTVTest calls “spectacular” and CNET says is the “best picture quality of any 4K TV we’ve tested so far.” Sure, the X900B isn’t as cheap as some other sets, but unlike the AX800, it supports Netflix and, with those massive speakers flanking the screen, you won’t need to fork out the extra dough for a quality sound system.

Price: $2,998 and up

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Epson 3LCD Laser Projectors

Epson has caused quite a stir at CEDIA Expo with the launch of its Pro Cinema LS10000 and LS9600e 3LCD projectors with reflective laser technology.

The LS10000 is a 4K model, while the LS9600e is a wireless 1080p projector. Both use a laser light source to deliver “unprecedented Absolute Black contrast ratio and one of the industry’s largest colour gamuts,” says Epson.

The 4K unit can project images with up to 1500 Lumens of colour brightness and the same for white brightness, while the Full HD one delivers 1300 Lumens.

Advantages of the laser light source are said to be rapid warm-up and cool down, high-speed contrast control for bright and dark scenes, and up to 30,000 hours of use. The ‘Instant On/Off’ function means pictures appear on screen or shut down with virtually no wait, says Epson.

Bright 3D Drive is designed for greater brightness when viewing 3D content, and both projectors can handle Full HD 1080p in 2D and 3D.

Operation is said to be “whisper quiet”, and on the LS9600e a WirelessHD transmitter connects up to five HDMI devices simultaneously. It also has MHL connectivity to display content from compatible smartphones and tablets.

Both models have 2.1 x power zoom, power focus, lens shift up to 90 per cent vertical and 40 per cent horizontal, as well as a lens position memory that can store up to 10 settings for 16:9 or 4:3 projection areas.

Epson says its new Pro Cinema projectors will be available in the US this autumn for prices “below $8000″.

Also new from Epson are three 3LCD Full HD/3D projectors: the Home Cinema 3600e ($1999), Home Cinema 3500 ($1699) and Home Cinema 3000 ($1299).

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Virgin Media makeover its TiVo UI

If you were one of Virgin Media’s early TiVo adopters, you won’t have noticed the user interface change much over the last four years. Well, Virgin’s decided it’s high time for a significant redesign, and it’ll begin hitting several thousand set-top boxes next week, with a wider rollout starting late October. We were treated to a preview of the update today, and the visual differences are immediately obvious. The red background has been ousted by a new “plum” colour (that’s purple, to you and me), and is joined by a new font and minimalist logo that’s part of Virgin Media’s ongoing rebrand. The whole menu system is displayed in a higher-resolution than before, too, but it’s not just a reskin, and should be quicker and slicker to navigate.

The visual refresh is accompanied by new features, which Virgin tells us are a reaction to how customers usage has changed over time. Most of these are changes to the menu tree. The layout is more or less the same, though, with a picture-in-picture of the current channel top right, and the contextual recommendation panel alongside it. This pane is still a work in progress, mind, so it looks kinda funky in the preview build. Basically, the idea behind the new menu system is to make everything accessible in fewer “clicks,” which is why catch-up and on-demand categories now have their own spots at the highest level of the tree.

The “What to Watch Now” section is a brand new way of finding what’s hot, and uses a similar “intelligent” algorithm already at work in the general search feature. It serves up recommendations based on a combo of your viewing habits and what’s popular with other Virgin viewers at the time. Right now, it only scans live TV, but will grow to include on-demand services in the future. “Suggestions,” a similar feature that pre-records content based on what you already watch, used to be buried within the general list of recordings, but now has its own spot in the menu for quicker access. Another revamp to the “My Shows & Recordings” section is a new list dedicated to partially watched programs, making it easy to find that episode of Sherlock you couldn’t stay awake to finish last night. Recommendations are getting increasingly more attention from various content providers, and they’re a big part of Sky’s recently updated program guide.

There are some behind the scenes changes to Virgin’s TiVo platform that may not be immediately obvious, too, including HTML5 support for newer apps. An extra app store, courtesy of Opera, will also be added to set-top boxes some time in early 2015, and will include video portals like Vimeo and TED talks that are currently inaccessible. Finally, a setup guide has been added for those wanting to take advantage of the upcoming “self-install” option for new or upgrading subscribers. This means if you’re comfortable plugging in a few cables and following an on-screen setup guide, you can dodge the installation fee.

To bring them in line with the new TiVo UI, Virgin’s TV Anywhere apps will receive a complimentary plum makeover, too. The iOS version is almost ready to go, and might even be updated before the UI refresh hits set-top boxes, but the Android app is still a few months from completion, as it’s being rebuilt from scratch. As mentioned previously, the TiVo update will start popping up for the majority of subscribers in late October, but with a couple million boxes across the UK to push it to, you might not see it until late December — so don’t worry if you’re still looking at a sea of red in several weeks’ time.

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Philips’ – Curved TV, 4k Media Player run on Android.

  • Philips 8900 is the first curved TV powered by Android™ featuring acknowledged high-class 4K Ultra HD picture quality
  • Striking appearance through outstanding design with  a contoured ribbon chrome stand
  • Great processing power and AndroidTM operating system combine to deliver the most fluent and responsive Smart TV experience
  • Smart interaction through typing, pointing, voice and gesturing

Amsterdam, September 4th, 2014 – Today, TP Vision presented the first-ever curved Philips TV. The 139cm (55’’) Philips 8900 4k Ultra HD TV is powered by AndroidTM and certified by GoogleTM . This provides easy access to Google Play Store with its wealth of apps, games and content. In addition, massive processing power together with an AndroidTM operating system allows for the most fluent user interface. The curved Philips 8900 features 3-sided Ambilight and will be available during the third quarter in Europe and Russia.

High-class picture quality
The Philips 8900 has 1000 Hz Perfect Motion Rate Ultra and Ultra Resolution to ensure superb motion sharpness. It also features Local Contrast, to further improve the screens’ excellent contrast, and Micro Dimming Pro, a sensor-based technology that dynamically adapts the LED backlight depending on the ambient room light. The latter delivers impressive contrast through deep blacks and bright whites.

Bended ‘ribbon stand’ harmoniously contrasts with curved display 
The Philips 8900 TV has a 139cm (55’’) curved display that stands on a new ‘ribbon stand’. This creates a bold look, which is enhanced by the high-quality polished chrome finish.

3-sided Ambilight for an even more immersive viewing experience
3-sided Ambilight complements the outstanding appearance of the 8900 series. Ambilight is now capable of following really fast moving scenes in action and sports games.

Certified Android UHD TV to enhance the Smart TV experience
All Philips 4K Ultra HD TVs powered by Android™ – including the Philips 8900 – are certified by Google. This means that they have access to all apps, services, and content in the Google Play Store that are suitable for TVs. This app and service offering is provided on top of the existing Philips Smart TV portfolio.

Smart interaction through pointing, typing, voice and gesturing 
Philips 8900’s remote control makes navigating the large screen easy. It lets users choose the way they want to communicate with their Philips TV. The pointer operates like a mouse allowing pointing, clicking, and scrolling through on screen menus. On the remote’s rear is a full keyboard for easy text entry. The remote control also enables users to control the TV via voice commands to facilitate search for content. Last but not least, the integrated camera allows gestures to be detected and they are then translated into pre-defined commands.

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Bidirectional IP channel also ETHERNET Signal Mackuna HDMI Cable

The Mackuna 2m hdmi cable range has been optimized not only in its design but it is mainly conceived to marry the philosophy of apple users, sporting a crisp white design and many market leading innovations. Enables home theater owners with advanced AV sources and displays to achieve the same high resolution picture definition as that of commercial digital cinemas. This Mackuna 2m have been 3D TV Support, the 1.4 range of HDMI cables supports dual Stream 3D, allowing you to watch 3D content of any legacy or current generation. Finally the ability to a range of resolutions, comfortably exceeding todays market expectations, supporting display resolutions of up to 4k/2k Look and feel The Specific optimization for the Apple user begins with our cables being now manufactured in an alluring white colour, with patented rubber grips for an ergonomically comfortable connection and disconnection. The mackuna cable  is produced offering HIGH SPEED Data for Video and through the use of a Bidirectional IP channel also ETHERNET Signal, thus enabling you to use just one cable to carry Audio, Video and Data signals.Cablesson  is proud to announce its newest range of HDMI cables, the MacKuna™, a range of products especially designed to fit the MAC users market. Apple products have been resilient to the adoption of the new HDMI/Blue ray standards, and have been backing the DisplayPort format. Whilst also providing display port cables and adapters we chose to create a range of HDMI products for those who do not with to compromise their HIGH DEFINITION experience by producing cables and adapters that allow Any Hdmi device to be connected to an Apple device through the use of our own Cablesson MacKuna Mini DisplayPort to Hdmi adapter.  Innovations to give you more options One more of our very own innovations is the inclusion of a Stress relief system, where by the cable hood is designed with a flexible neck so as to permit users to bend up to and beyond 90 degrees. Cable gauge, First Indication of quality To reinforce the quality of the products, all cables in the MacKuna range, starting from the 0.5m / 0.5metre all the way to the 5m/ 5 metres.the Cablesson MacKuna 2m / 2 metres High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet (Sky HD, Virgin HD, 1.4, 1.4a, 3D Ready with Audio Return and Ethernet Channel) comes widely respected and is always a regular choice with lots of people. Cablesson have included some nice touches and this results in good value for money.

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PS3 720p limitations – HDMI 1.4

There has been much talk on our forums about the Playstations 720p 3D gaming limitation. Many people have assumed that the issue is with the hardware but Sony have stated that it is actually the HDMI 1.4 standard which is the cause of the resolution limitation.

                                                                    

HDMI 1.4 is a standard which calls for the following restrictions – 720p 60fps, 720p 50fps, and 1080p 24fps. Sony have therefore taken the route of forcing all 3D game related content to 720p which means they can use the higher frame rates for a smoother gaming experience. Obviously this is not an ideal situation as the PC environment does allow for dual DVI configurations to achieve higher frame rates at 1080p but unfortunately this is not possible on a PS3.

The graphics hardware in the Playstation 3 is still quite capable, although its obviously looking rather outdated by PC standards so perhaps the HDMI 1.4 standard has worked in Sonys favour, especially when trying to power a modern gaming engine at high resolutions.

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Bikes, Cars and now AV Yahama goes full force

Yamaha has announced a new line of AV receivers, Aventage, designed to put a greater focus on performance, with Yamaha claiming that the new models have been redesigned from the ground up. For those of you counting, Aventage is now the fourth separate line of Yamaha AV receivers, in addition to the existing RX-V, HTR, and NeoHD lines. Aventage consists of five new models–RX-A700 ($650 list), RX-A800 ($800), RX-A1000 ($1,100), RX-A2000 ($1,500), and the RX-A3000 ($1,900)–which will be released throughout August and September.

 
Yamaha’s low-end Aventage model, the RX-A700.

(Credit: Yamaha) In terms of features, the low-end RX-A700 doesn’t offer much that’s different from a standard midrange AV receiver, although its 27.56 pound weight hints at its beefier sonic capabilities. At the high-end, the RX-A3000 is loaded with features, including two HDMI outputs, eight HDMI inputs, built-in HD radio, networking capabilities, and HQV video processing. Yahama is fighting back to Onkyo domance in the market the units come with hdmi 1.4 technology allowing more punch for less.

Though there’s certainly a market for AV receivers with superior sound quality, we can’t help but be a little skeptical of some of the claims, such as, “the addition of a specially designed fifth foot to improve structural rigidity, reduce vibration, and improve sound.” On the other hand, the inclusion of the new HQV “Vida” video-processing chip in higher-end models is a good sign given our experience with HQV’s previous offerings, although with nearly all video sources using HDMI, video processing is less important than it used to be.

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Wireworld – Platinum Starlight HDMI Cable

wireworldplatinumstarlightHDMI 1.4 compatible devices are right around the corner, and the new capabilities are intriguing.  3D, 4K, and Ethernet over HDMI mean that the new standard may actually be something worth looking forward to.  Wireworld is looking forward as well, with the addition of their new flagship HDMI cable.
The Platinum Starlight HDMI cable sports a huge array of exciting sounding things like the company’s new 24-conductor DNA Helix design, solid silver conductors, and molded carbon fiber connectors.  It even exceeds HDMI 1.4 specifications for Ethernet speed with a transfer rate of 21Gbits/second.  It’s priced at $1,000 for a one meter cable.

Wireworld President David Salz speaks to the need for extremely high end cables for digital transmission, saying that “Now that Blu-Ray players are the primary source for both movies and music in home theater systems, the HDMI cable connecting the player to the system has become the most important audio cable in the entire system.  The Platinum Starlight HDMI cable addresses the need to provide the highest possible audio and video fidelity in high end home theater installations.”

The cable will be available in sizes from 0.3m all the way up to 30 meters, though the latter may cost more than the system you’re hooking it up to.

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