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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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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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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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LG’s Swarovski-encrusted OLED TV

There are few things that scream class more loudly than coating a piece of consumer electronics in gold. Except, perhaps, for doing the same thing, but with Swarovski crystals. That’s the truth-bomb that LG has just deposited into our laps, having announced it’s bringing an OLED HDTV with such glittery detailing here at IFA. Why? We can’t even begin to answer that question, but LG claims the 460-crystal pattern “turns a cutting-edge television into a work of art.” There’s no word on a price, but LG says this TV will go on sale in Europe this year — we’d rather forego the crystals to get OLED down to a price that competes with the best LCDs and Ultra HD TVs instead.

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Samsung UHD TV to Get Amazon Streaming & Video Pack

Samsung has just struck a deal with Amazon and several other partners to expand its ultra high-definition (UHD) content offerings. The partnerships will give Samsung TVs access to new services including live 4K broadcasting, video-on-demand (VoD) and a long-awaited UHD video pack (at least in the UK and Europe).

4K TV, also known as Ultra-High Definition television, provides a whopping 3,840×2160 pixel resolution – four times regular Full HD. But as good as it looks, the vast majority of 4K TVs are more expensive than 1080p HDTVs, and there’s a real scarcity of native content that makes it hard to justify shelling out for one.

That conundrum means it’s in the interests of TV manufacturers to do everything they can to ensure their customers get more Ultra HD content to watch, and that’s exactly why Samsung is embracing Amazon. From October, Samsung’s UHD TVs will be able to stream content (both movies and TV shows) directly from Amazon’s on-demand video streaming service. Samsung says the service will be available “globally”, although we wouldn’t be surprised to see some countries excluded from the deal.

Amazon’s 4K Ultra HD VoD service, called Prime Instant Video, is scheduled to launch this October, and will compete with the likes of Netflix, which already offers 4K streaming, and DirecTV, which plans to stream 4K content on-demand later this year. For now it appears as though Amazon’s service will be exclusive to Samsung – although Amazon probably won’t be able to resist the temptation of selling its service to other brands once it’s up and running.

Besides Amazon, Samsung is also teaming up with content providers including Chili, Maxdome and Wuaki.tv., to provide even more 4K content. The company gave scant details of these partnerships so we can’t say for sure what countries these services will be offered too.

Finally, the Korean firm says it will show off its long-awaited “UHD video pack” at next month’s IFA show in Berlin. The video pack, which has been produced in association with Fox Home Entertainment and consists of no less than forty 4K movies including Life Of Pi and Star Trek: Into Darkness preloaded on a 500GB media player, was first teased at last January’s CES show in Las Vegas and subsequently released in the USA, but was delayed in the United Kingdom and Europe due to licensing issues. We assume that those problems have now been resolved, and that Samsung UHDTV owners on these shores can look forward to more native 4K content.

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Introducing Cablesson Ivuna Micro HDMI Cable

Micro HDMI Cable

The HDMI 1.4 specification introduces a new HDMI Micro “Type D” connector designed for cell phones, pocket cameras, and other portable devices. Approximately the size of a Micro USB connector. Featuring a full nineteen-pin array like other HDMI connectors, the HDMI Micro Connector can handle video signals up to 1080p. This new connector is approximately 50% smaller than the size of the existing HDMI Mini Connector.

A Micro HDMI Connector (HDMI Type D) defined in the HDMI 1.4 specification, keeps the standard 19 pins of Types A (Standard HDMI Connector) and C (Mini HDMI Connector) but shrinks the connector size to something resembling a micro-USB connector. The Type D HDMI Connector is 2.8 mm × 6.4 mm, whereas the Type C connector is 2.42 mm × 10.42 mm; for comparison, a micro-USB connector is 2.94 mm × 7.8 mm and USB Type A is 11.5 mm × 4.5 mm.

The NEW Ivuna Micro HDMI “Type D” Cable can handle digital video signals up to full 1080p HD from your handheld devices such as Mobile Phones, Pocket Digital Cameras, and other portable digital devices.

The NEW Ivuna Cable is a Type A to Type D HDMI Cable. Type D is a Micro HDMI connector and version 1.4 HDMI cable. The pin configuration keeps the standard 19 pins but shrinks the connector size (approximately 50% smaller then the size of the existing HDMI Mini Connector). Designed for mobile phones, cameras, video cameras and other portable devices where connector space is limited.

The NEW Ivuna Micro HDMI “Type D” Cable, although small in size will not compromise in quality. Also capable of handling and functioning with the same power and capability of any Standard HDMI cable. The highly advanced design of this Ivuna cable incorporates a special stress relief (SR) mechanism that permits the cable to bend with minimum stress on the HDMI port when connected horizontally or vertically to your digital devices.

Compatible with:

  • Digital Cameras
  • Smart Mobile Phones
  • Digital Camcorders

Specification

  • High quality Type A to Type D HDMI cable
  • Input:  HDMI Micro “Type D”
  • Output: HDMI Standard “Type A”
  • 24K Gold-plated Connector Plug Contacts
  • Supports full 1080p HD video
  • 30AWG cable
  • Mylar Backed Foil
  • HDMI 1.4 
  • Fully HDCP compliant
  • Allows compact devices to have all the benefits of HDMI
  • Lengths Available: 0.5 – 5 Metres Micro HDMI Cable

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Samsung’s 46-inch 3D LCD TV out now

If you have been waiting for a moderately priced 3D TV with a decent screen size to start shipping from a known maker of TVs, there is some good news today. Samsung is now shipping one of its new 46-inch 3D TVs.

The set is the LN46C750 and it can be ordered on Amazon today for $1452.55 with free super saver shipping. The set is in stock and Amazon shows six of them are available.

The resolution for the TV is 1080p and it has dual 10W speakers, wide color enhancer feature, and supports Skype on Samsung TV. This is certainly a cheap way to get into a 3D TV if you are in the market.

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Google TV and Intel CPU snub

If Google thought it would be easy to get home entertainment companies to sign up to their Google TV project then they should probably think again.  Panasonic has become the latest company to turn their nose up at the idea of Android and Intel nesting in their HDTVs, claiming that the open-source OS’ processing demands would require too expensive a CPU to keep prices sufficiently low.

The move follows Samsung’s lead, the company having announced last month that it would be continuing with its own internet and widget platform rather than adopting one of Google’s design.  Panasonic will continue to use its own proprietary system, which allows for Netflix and YouTube access, together with basic internet-sourced information widgets, but which falls short of the full browser functionality that Google TV promises.

Still, Google may also have plans to bypass HDTV manufacturers altogether and push a set-top box that would daisy-chain in-between existing cable or satellite boxes and televisions.  However, they’re also rumored to be looking to work with media providers so as to reduce the cost of such a STB for end-users.

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Samsung’s 3D Blu-ray player

Having been spotted up for sale once before, before being unceremoniously yanked from the virtual shelves a few hours later, Samsung’s 3D-capable Blu ray player, the BD-C6900, is now finally shipping.  Announced back in January at CES 2010, the BD-C6900 obviously supports Full HD 1080p content but also includes both wired and WiFi connectivity for streaming media and internet-connected widgets.

There’s also DVD upscaling to 1080p, BD-Live support and 1GB of onboard storage, together with a skinny 39mm-thick design.  DLNA support means the BD-C6900 can be used as a media-stream receiver, and there’s support for Dolby Digital TruHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

Of course, many people will be looking at the deck for its 3D capabilities, and it’s compatible both with Samsung’s own 3D HDTVs and the general Blu ray 3D standard.

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