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The UK’s best value tablet – Tesco Hudl2

A supermarket turned tablet maker doesn’t sound like the wisest of career progressions. Tesco’s not your average supermarket, though. When you consider the Tesco machine also operates video- and music-streaming services, an e-book store and an online emporium selling everything from garden furniture to jewelry, having a low-cost, own-brand tablet to publicise them on makes a considerable amount of sense. Amazon makes it work with a similar potpourri of digital properties, after all. Tesco first explored the idea with its £119 Hudl tablet, launched around this time last year. And, having shifted over three quarters of a million units during that period, it’s hoping to keep the ball rolling with the new Hudl2, which boasts a bigger display, upgraded hardware, a more refined look and a similarly wallet-friendly £129 price tag. Tesco’s still a fish in the tablet game, and yet, with the Hudl2, it’s managed to deliver not just another great value product, but also the best affordable slate on the market right now.

Tesco Hudl2

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Beautiful 1080p display
  • Superb performance
  • Robust parental controls
  • Exceptional value for the money

Cons

  • Short battery life
  • Heavy for a tablet this size
  • Underwhelming stereo speakers
Summary Tesco’s Hudl2 tablet is a vast improvement over its predecessor. It’s well-built, with a lovely 8.3-inch 1080p display, and performs impeccably, whether you’re browsing the web or playing processor-intensive 3D games. First-time tablet buyers will appreciate its user-friendly approach, while parents will like its robust child-safety measures. Despite short battery life and mediocre cameras, at £129 the Hudl2 is currently the best value tablet available in the UK.

Hardware

As Tesco did with the first Hudl, the company has kept the unboxing process as Luddite-friendly as possible. The tablet’s plastic screen guard explains the meaning of all ports and buttons, while separate labeled compartments in the box clarify the difference between a USB cable and a wall plug. Meanwhile, there’s a picture-driven manual on hand to walk you through the initial setup and basic features. Freephone numbers for the Hudl2 support line are also printed on the well of the packaging in case you need any assistance from the get-go.

Once unwrapped, the Hudl2 looks more like a distant cousin to its predecessor than a direct relation. Gone are the overgenerous bezels and soft curves, supplanted by a squarer, more distinguished appearance you may be less inclined to let sticky fingers run amuck on. Using the same building materials, Tesco’s nipped and tucked its way to creating a slate with all the visual appeal and finesse you might expect from a more experienced manufacturer. The shiny, embossed Hudl logo is pretty much the only familiar design element to have made the cut.

Most of the Hudl2 is clad in hard, durable plastic that has a slight rubbery texture to give your fingers some extra purchase. It covers the back, sides and spills over to the front to fill any space not covered by glass. My review unit’s cloaked in a modest, dark grey plastic, but there are also white and vibrant red, pink, orange, purple and blue models available for those who want something with a little more personality.

If you were in any doubt what orientation you’re supposed to hold the tablet in, the direction of the reflective Hudl logo on the back panel tells you it’s primarily intended for landscape use. Beneath that is a discreet, light grey “From Tesco” banner alongside small print like the model number, et cetera. The top-rear corners of the device are home to stereo speaker grilles, with one a tad smaller than the other to leave space for the main camera lens. Both grilles are made from several circular holes poked in the plastic shell, and could almost be considered ornate compared to the first Hudl’s simpler, slit pattern. They also sit higher on the back this time around, away from your hands.

The front of the device is dominated by the Hudl2′s 8.3-inch display, with the front-facing camera and a large charging notification LED off to the left. On the top edge, you’ll find the power key and volume rocker, while the opposite border hosts a HDMI Micro-out socket and microSD card slot. The headphone jack and micro-USB port for charging/data transfer are positioned on the left and right edges, respectively.

The Hudl2 might be an all-plastic affair, but there’s nothing cheap about its build quality. The seam that runs along the plastic perimeter of the device is consistently tight; the power button and volume rocker sit almost flush with the top edge and don’t wiggle around in their sockets; and every port hole is neatly cut. You have to expend a fair amount of energy to get any flex out of the device, and even then, it won’t creak or squeal in protest. Overall, it’s a very well put-together tablet, and the fact it’s also a relatively heavy tablet makes it feel extra sturdy.

With a weight of 410g, however, the Hudl2 is substantially heftier than its 370g predecessor. The increase isn’t totally unexpected given the larger screen, but Android tablets in the 7- to 8-inch range don’t tend to go above the 350g mark, making the Hudl2 one of the heavier members of its peer group. It’s something to keep in mind when clumsy tykes with delicate toes are in command, but grown-ups shouldn’t find its weight too much of a problem. Chances are it’ll be resting on your knees, a table or propped up in a case the majority of the time, but as long as you have somewhere to rest your elbows, you can easily clutch it with two hands for extended periods of use. One-handed operation is where things start to get a little uncomfortable, though. It’s simply too heavy to hold freely for any length of time, especially if you’re trying to tap out an extensive email. This is particularly true in landscape orientation, as the tablet’s wide enough that its centre of gravity is constantly working against your best efforts to keep it stable.

Despite its larger screen, Tesco’s newer tablet is ever so slightly shorter and thinner than the first-gen Hudl, but a good 30mm wider. The height saving is down to a leaner bezel above and below the display. The bezel to the left and right of the screen is much healthier, but it doesn’t look bloated or out of proportion. If anything, they’re parking spaces for your thumbs that keep them from obstructing the view.

If you feel Tesco deserves more than £129 for its latest tablet, you can always supplement that purchase with any of the various accessories the supermarket has to offer. You have your pick of black leather or colourful “soft touch” (polyurethane) folio cases, shells that look like a chaotic version of Apple’s iPhone 5c case and chunkier “bumper” covers for butterfingered kids. Hudl-branded styli and headphones are also available if you’re ready to fully commit to the Hudl brand.

Display and Audio

The most significant upgrade to the second iteration of Hudl hardware has to be its display. It’s not only bigger at 8.3 inches, but also sports a higher, 1,920 x 1,200 resolution (273 ppi). This means you’re always looking at a glorious, full HD (1080p) image, with those surplus pixels making room for the on-screen Android navigation keys. Numbers don’t always tell the full story, but the Hudl2′s panel is a good-quality one, too. Colours are realistic and well-saturated; whites are pure; and blacks are pretty much as good as they get where LCD technology is concerned. The display also has excellent viewing angles, so anyone huddled close to the screen (get it?!) will be getting more or less the same experience as the person directly in front of it. There’s not much else to say apart from it’s a great device to view media on.

Sunlight readability is really the only minor flaw here. The screen’s brightness setting goes high enough to cope with the artificial lighting in your home or local cafe, but it’s not so powerful that it can cut through the sun’s rays on a cloudless day. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still be able to frame that picture of you and your chums picnicking on your favourite London field, but glare will become a frustration if you want to polish off that e-book you’ve been reading on a park bench.

The quality of sound the Hudl2′s onboard stereo speakers are capable of producing is pretty underwhelming. For starters, they’re facing away from the screen, giving audio a distant, rather than immersive feel. What does get thrown out lacks clear definition and any semblance of deep bass. Higher-frequency tones, on the other hand, are overly edgy to the point of being raspy and abrasive. The speakers can kick out more volume than you’ll realistically ever need, but in terms of quality, they’re more suited to providing audio for funny YouTube clips than feature-length films or impromptu raves.

Plug a set of headphones into the “Dolby-optimised” Hudl2, however, and it becomes a completely different beast. Audio quality instantly goes from mediocre to superb. Sound is well-balanced and highly defined. And every subtle bass tone comes through perfectly, making the tablet a joy to watch a movie or listen to music on. You certainly won’t be left wanting in the volume department, either.

Software

The Hudl2 runs, for the most part, a stock build of Android 4.4.2 KitKat. As much as Tesco wants you to buy its hardware, the supermarket is just as keen to tie you up in its software and services. Like the first Hudl, this means there’s a fair amount of Tesco-issued bloatware populating the device. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for first-time tablet users, though, as they can do a lot with the slate right out of the box. For true beginners, there’s a slick instructions app that explains how to customize the tablet, hop online, listen to music, take a picture and other basics. This is complemented by an app that lists some recommended games, streaming services, news outlets and the like to get you started.

Once you’re up and running, the hope is that you’ll start to explore Tesco’s Blinkbox video, music and e-book services. The e-book store is, well, exactly what it sounds like, and Blinkbox music lets you stream millions of tunes bound in artist- and theme-driven “stations.” It’s a free, ad-supported service, but sign up to the premium tier for £1 per week and you can create your own playlists, listen to specific albums and, of course, cut ads out of the equation. Blinkbox skips the subscription model when it comes to streaming video, instead offering movies and TV box sets for purchase or rental. Recently, Tesco also started letting you link UltraViolet libraries to Blinkbox accounts, allowing you to stream the digital copies of any supported DVDs and Blu-rays you own to the Hudl2 (and all other devices that have a Blinkbox app). To tempt you onto the hook, every Hudl2 purchase includes 25 quid’s worth of bait credit to spend across the three services.

As well as offering content for you to consume on the Hudl2, Tesco runs a bank, photo-printing service and grocery/fashion/everything else stores that are all predictably easy to access on the tablet. Only a couple have dedicated apps, but a folder on the Hudl2′s home screen contains website shortcuts to anything that doesn’t. Not content with simply preinstalling its apps, Tesco’s also added a non-removable panel to the home screen carousel called “My Tesco.” It looks and functions a lot like Google Now, with a dynamic, card-based UI. These cards suggest content to stream, recipes to try, Hudl2 accessories to buy and highlight the top deals at Tesco’s various stores. It shows you what time your nearest supermarket closes, and if you can plug in your Blinkbox, Clubcard and Groceries account details, it’ll also tell you what time your online food order will be delivered, how many loyalty points you’ve racked up and other personalised info. A static menu you can get to from within the “My Tesco” pane again points you in the direction of every Tesco store and service available. Really, it just collates many of the apps and shortcuts found elsewhere and presents them in a more accessible way.

Tesco’s custom home screen panel is more or less a dedicated advertising space, though I can see it being useful to those fully entrenched in the supermarket’s retail and service ecosystem. But, if you’re not at that stage, “My Tesco” is easily ignored as long as you don’t touch the T button or swipe right on the home screen. The anchored home screen pane is pretty much the only visual customisation from Tesco that sits on top of stock Android. Other than that, there are a few prepositioned widgets you can easily remove, and an overly positive default wallpaper depicting a group of friends apparently on a surfing trip in the middle of a field.

Tesco’s latest tablet is pitched as a device for the whole family. The original Hudl was too, but its child-safety measures amounted to an on-device guide of what settings to change, and what apps parents could use to control what their little ones were able to access. This time around, Tesco’s built a more comprehensive solution that’s similar to Amazon’s Kindle FreeTime feature. You can create individual profiles for each child in the household, and then choose what types of websites they’re allowed to access from a list of categories. There’s also a whitelist for each profile, so you can allow specific sites that might come under a wider category of content you’d rather your kids avoid. You can also set weekday and weekend time limits on general usage, as well as specify what apps will show up on the device for each profile. Furthermore, there’s an advice section within the child-safety app that talks about everything you should consider when letting young’uns loose on the slate. Overall, the new measures are a big improvement over the first Hudl, and for parents, it could be considered more of a selling point than a simple app.

Camera

Taking pictures on tablets doesn’t do anything for your street cred, but we get it: Sometimes, the Hudl2 may be the only camera-equipped device to hand. Tesco’s bumped the main camera up to five megapixels, from 3MP on the first Hudl, but curiously, it’s done the opposite with the front-facing unit. What used to be a 2-megapixel shooter is now only 1.2MP, which is kind of strange given that you’re more likely to use a tablet for video calling than you are to shoot landscape stills.

The Hudl2′s camera app is extremely basic. You’ve only got still, video, panorama, photo sphere and lens blur modes, the latter of which can be used to inject bokeh into macro shots. The only things you can do from within the viewfinder are add a framing grid and set a countdown timer, but even in the deeper settings menu, you can only adjust the resolution and quality of images each lens spits out. Head to the “advanced” section of this menu, and you’ll find an option to add a manual exposure setting to the viewfinder — everything else is taken care of automatically. I don’t consider this a negative, though, because who really wants to faff around with white balance and scene-selection settings when you’re simply trying to grab an opportunistic shot on your tablet?

Camera performance on the first Hudl was thoroughly disappointing, but the Hudl2 demonstrates some notable improvements. Firstly, image quality is better by default thanks to the higher resolution. Beyond that, though, colours are way more vibrant and realistic in scenarios where natural light is on your side. Shutter speed and response times are pretty good, too. Some photos still come out a little overexposed and washed out, and the auto-white balance setting isn’t always accurate (especially when shooting landscapes), but more often than not, you’ll be happy with the output. The main camera doesn’t fare so well with artificial lighting. Images tend to be either extremely washed out, or take on the general hue of whatever bulb’s illuminating the scene. In twilight, the camera simply jacks the exposure setting up to its maximum, resulting in horribly pale images. In much darker situations, however, you get a more realistic image even if it is on the grainy side. At this light level, though, the shutter speed has dropped so low you need to hold the tablet steady for well over a second to achieve anything but a blurry mess.

I don’t have a great deal of positive things to say about the Hudl2′s 1.2MP front-facing camera. On a bright, sunny day, it’ll take a perfectly good selfie, but stray from those ideal conditions and image noise starts to become a real issue. This is particularly true in low-light situations, where banding noise turns photos into streaky mosaics. The front-facing shooter is capable of recording 720p video, while the main camera can capture clips at 1080p. Don’t let the resolutions fool you, though, as they’re not particularly handy in this department. The front-facer has the same problems with video as it does with stills, and the primary camera doesn’t do a markedly better job. While the frame rate of video is fine, noticeable pixelation and fidgety autofocus/exposure settings mean you won’t want to use the Hudl2 to capture any meaningful moments. The quality of recorded audio is quite simply terrible, with ill-defined sound all but hidden under the loud hiss of static.

Performance and Battery Life

A more sophisticated design and a bigger, better display aren’t the only enhancements Tesco’s bestowed upon its second-generation tablet. The Hudl2 also has a faster quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor (with turbo boost up to 1.83GHz), this time paired with 2GB of RAM, double the amount of memory its predecessor offered. It also has the same 16GB of internal storage as the first Hudl, with a microSD card slot allowing you to add more. Tesco says the slate is compatible with cards as large as 32GB, but then again, it said the same about the original Hudl, yet that handled a 64GB card without issue. Sadly, I don’t have anything of that size on hand to test whether the Hudl2 is capable of the same overachievement.

The Hudl2 has all the processing power it needs to deal with typical tablet use cases effortlessly. I’m talking about cycling through the app drawer, jumping into Gmail, browsing YouTube — that sort of thing. It’s generally a slick and responsive affair, though I did notice a few infrequent hiccups. Occasionally, the on-screen keyboard would take a split second longer to appear than normal, for example, or the tablet would hang briefly when switching from the lockscreen to the home screen. These minor indiscretions have practically no impact on the general user experience, though. On a related note, the transition from the normal home screen to the immovable “My Tesco” pane isn’t a particularly smooth one. It stutters across to fill the screen, but I’m certain this is down to poor optimisation on Tesco’s part, rather than any fault of the hardware.

Browsing the web on the Hudl2 is a great experience, making it a perfect couch-surfing companion. Sites load quickly on the device (using the Chrome browser), and I haven’t noticed any scroll lag, tiling or other performance issues of that nature. I wasn’t sure the Intel Atom chip would deal with processor-intensive tasks as well, but my reservations were unfounded. The 3D games Real Racing 3 and Shadowgun: Deadzone run fantastically, and Asphalt 8: Airborne only starts dropping frames when pushed to the highest graphics setting (it’s fine on the recommended medium setting). When running power-hungry apps, the tablet does have a tendency to heat up around the primary camera lens, so prepare for your left palm to get sweaty during extended gaming sessions. Aside from this observation, I’d be lying if I said I expected Tesco’s £129 tablet to perform as well as it does in all areas.

The Hudl2′s connectivity options aren’t exhaustive, but it’s got everything a regular punter will need: dual-band WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS/GLONASS (it’s a WiFi-only tablet, remember, so it isn’t exactly an ideal satnav replacement). The tablet also has a HDMI Micro-out port, so you can mirror its screen on your living room TV with the right cable.

For whatever reason, Tesco doesn’t specify the actual capacity of the batteries in either of its tablets. The Hudl2 is said to be good for up to eight hours of use, but in the standard Engadget video-looping test, it only managed six and a half before giving up the ghost. The original Hudl (which Tesco claimed had a nine-hour battery life) didn’t do too much better, clocking in a time of just over seven hours. (Neither result is particularly impressive, but several, admittedly older, Android tablets have put in comparable performances.) Under normal usage conditions at medium screen brightness, you can expect to get roughly six hours of Hudl2 time before needing to recharge. Run a lot of processor-intensive apps and games, however, and you’re looking at more like four hours. The Hudl2′s battery life is definitely one of its weakest points, and you wouldn’t want the tablet as your sole source of entertainment on a long-haul flight. That being said, if it’s going to spend most of its life on the living room coffee table, I doubt you’ll find plugging it in every other evening a huge inconvenience.

Conclusion

Tesco’s in a rather unique position — it’s a brand trusted for providing millions of Brits with the everyday essentials, meaning it has a huge captive audience to sell the Hudl2 and its digital services to. The supermarket’s been clever to make its second-gen slate as technophobe-friendly as its first, while also improving child-safety measures to appeal to families that plan to share a single device. With both of these selling points, and a target market that may not be au fait with all the other tablet options out there, Tesco isn’t under the same level of pressure to compete in the spec wars as other manufacturers are. And yet, it’s crafted a product that’s not only attractive to regular consumers looking for an affordable tablet, but also to the type of person, like me, who’s interested in pixel density and processor speeds.

The truth is, you get a hell of a lot for your money. A gorgeous 8.3-inch display makes the Hudl2 a fantastic tablet to consume media on, complemented by superb audio quality when you’ve got headphones plugged in. The tablet might be made from relatively cheap materials, but it’s well-designed with robust build quality. It’s no slouch under the hood either, with all the processing power it needs to handle casual browsing and 3D gaming alike. Yes, Tesco bloatware is hiding in every nook and cranny, but you can simply ignore anything you don’t want to use and enjoy the full stock Android experience. Now, the Hudl2′s battery life is nothing to write home about, and its stereo speakers could be better. But, all things considered, the Hudl2 is hands-down the best value tablet you can buy in the UK right now.

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Alienware’s new gaming desktop and 13-inch laptop.

If you liked the looks of Alienware’s new thin-and-light 13-inch laptop or its bigass, futuristic-looking Area-51 desktop, then listen up: Both are on sale beginning tomorrow, with shipments starting in November, and we finally know the full specs. Starting with the Alienware 13, it goes from $999 (£949 in the UK) with a dual-core Core i5-4210U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce 860M GPU, 1TB 5,400RPM disk and a fairly low-res 1,366 x 768, non-touch matte display. If you like, you can step up to 16GB of RAM, either a hybrid hard drive or up to a 512GB SSD, and either a 1080p non-touch display or a 2,560 x 1,440 touchscreen. It would seem, though, that despite those various upgrade options, there’s only one choice for the CPU and graphics card. Regardless of the configuration you get, the whole thing comes wrapped in a slimmed-down package that weighs about four and a half pounds and measures an inch thick.

Meanwhile, the Area-51 starts at $1,699 (£1,299 in the UK) with a six-core Intel Core i7-5820K processor, a 2GB AMD RadeonTM R9 270 GPU, 8GB of RAM, a 2TB 7,200RPM hard drive and a slot-loading DVD burner. From there, you’ve got lots of upgrade options — way more than on the Alienware 13 laptop. On the CPU side, there’s a slightly faster six-core Intel Core i7-5930K processor (clocked at 3.5GHz instead of 3.3GHz), as well as an eight-core Intel Core i7-5960X chip. In total, there are four memory slots; Dell will ship the machine with eight, 16 or 32GB. When it comes to storage, you can step up to a 128GB SSD plus a 2TB 7,200RPM drive; a 256GB SSD with a 4TB HDD; or a 512GB solid-state drive, also with a 4TB disk.

As for graphics, well, this might take a few sentences: The Area-51 is available in single-, double- and triple-GPU configs. If all you can afford is one graphics card, your upgrade options include a 2GB NVIDIA GTX 770, a 3GB GTX 780, a 4GB GTX 980 or the GTX Titan Z with 12GB of GDDR5 VRAM. Ready to hear the dual-card options? You can get the GTX 770 with 4GB (2 x 2GB), the GTX 780 with 6GB (2 x 3GB), the GTX 980 with 8GB (2 x 4GB) or the Titan Z with 24GB (2 x 12GB). Across the board, NVIDIA’s SLI technology is enabled. Finally, the three-GPU options include a mix of both NVIDIA and AMD cards (but mostly NVIDIA). There’s the GTX 770 with 6GB (3 x 2GB), the GTX 780 with 9GB (3 x 3GB) and the GTX 980 with 12GB (3 x 4GB). If you’re an AMD fan, meanwhile, you an score the Radeon R9 290X with 12 gigs (again, 3 x 4GB). Depending on which brand of graphics card you choose, you’ll get either NVIDIA’s SLI technology or AMD Crossfire. Lastly, there’s a Blu-ray drive option, in case you haven’t quite ditched physical media.

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Fastest Wi-Fi ever from Samsung, coming in 2015

We’re all aware of how actual Wi-Fi speeds fall short of what’s promised, but Samsung may have just cracked the case with its latest breakthrough.

The company says it’s developed a 60GHz Wi-Fi technology that will offer data speeds of up to 4.6Gbps, or 575 MB per second, which is about five times faster than what current consumer devices offer.

Theoretically, Samsung points out, a 1GB movie would take “less than three seconds” to transfer between devices. That’s assuming a best case scenario where everything else is working perfectly, but even so, it’s pretty awesome.

Max Power

Even better, Samsung says that devices with its new 60GHz Wi-Fi band could start appearing as early as next year. The plan is to apply the new tech to a “wide range” of products, including audio and visual medical devices, phones, and devices related to the Internet of Things.

That last one is particularly significant, as the new tech will be able to maintain its top speed no matter how many other devices are using the network.

“Unlike the existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi technologies, Samsung’s 802.11ad standard 60GHz Wi-Fi technology maintains maximum speeds by eliminating co-channel interference, regardless of the number of devices using the same network,” said the statement from Samsung.

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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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Matchstick’s Firefox OS adapter – Media to your TV for $25

Looking for a streaming media stick that’s more accessible than Google’s Chromecast? You might have found it. After a few teasers, Matchstick has revealed the first Firefox OS-based media sharing adapter. The self-titled gadget lets you “fling” video, websites and other content from Firefox (naturally), Chrome and supporting apps to your TV. While the hardware should be a bit more powerful than Chromecast, the real allure is a completely open platform — you can tinker with the software and even build your own hardware if you’re the entreprenurial sort. A low price will help, too. Matchstick hopes to sell its stick for $25 this February, and that’s assuming you don’t back the upcoming Kickstarter project — get in early and it will cost $18. Even if Matchstick doesn’t get as much app support as Google’s device, it may be worth a look.

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Microsoft Wireless TV Adapter for Microsoft Surface or Android to a TV.

Want to wirelessly share video from your Surface without worrying about whether or not your TV can handle it? Microsoft now has you covered. Its simply titled (and previously hinted at) Wireless Display Adapter can beam content from Miracast-capable Windows 8.1 PCs and Android devices to any HDMI-equipped screen. Since you’re just mirroring your output, you can easily watch movies and presentations on a grander scale without requiring explicit app support, like you do with Chromecast. The add-on should reach North America in October for $60 — a fairly reasonable outlay if you want to avoid tethering yourself to the living room set.

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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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Samsung 105-inch Curved UHD 4K TV

Today Samsung announced the availability of its biggest curved screen TV ever. First shown at the 2014 CES, the 105-inch UN105S9W UHD 4K TV sells for $119,999.99 . Unlike Samsung’s other curved models which incorporate the HDTV and UHDTV standard 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this one uses an ultra wide panel with 2.37:1 aspect ratio. More details after the break.

The UN105S9W can be ordered this week at Samsung.com. It joins the other S9 flat UHD 4K models which are available in 85- and 110-Inch screens. The UN105S9W is a full array LED backlit LCD with local dimming using Samsung’s propriety UHD dimming and Precision Black technology.

Due to its wider aspect ratio the native screen resolution is 5120 x 2160 making the UN105S9W the highest resolution TV (with over 11 million pixels) available.

The UN105S9W comes with the floor stand, however the LCD panel can be detached and mounted to a specialty wall mount (price and model number TBA).

Each 105inch TV will be made to order.

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