Thursday, August 11, 2011

Just The Facts...About 3D TV

By Damon Della Greca
Owner of Premier Audio Video Designs, Westchester, NY

3D is one of the biggest buzzwords in Hollywood and consumer electronics today.  Take a look at the movie listings for your local theater – chances are at least one movie is being presented in 3D.  If you are in the market for a sexy new flat panel TV, you will find many 3D-ready models available.  Most of the higher-end models come with 3D capabilities as a standard feature.  Of course, what would a newly (re)introduced technology be without a lot of debate and misconceptions?  Probably a boring one.

I recently brought up the subject of 3D TVs with some prospective clients.  Their response was somewhat interesting and unexpected.  Several of them said that they don’t want one, because they believed it would only display 3D at all times.  It was important for them to know that 3D is simply an included option and not a full-time function of the TV.  Much like a luxury car, the better the model, the more options you get.  3D happens to be just that – an option.  Good old 2D is the standard for virtually every video source.  Even if you were to purchase a 3D movie on blu-ray, there are typically 2D and 3D versions available on the disc.  The best of both worlds are available, based on personal preference to watch in 3D or not.

A common question I get about 3D TVs is if glasses are required to view 3D content.  As much as enthusiasts would love to see a 3D picture without wearing glasses, they are required to view anything in 3D…for now.  Keep in mind that the 3D glasses aren’t the old red and blue glasses from years ago.  These look more like high tech sunglasses than anything else.  Manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and Panasonic currently make their own glasses, but they only work with their respective brand.  The technology to view video content on 3D TVs without glasses is being developed, but it has yet to be perfected.  Toshiba has been quoted for saying they expect to have glasses-free 3D TVs available as early as 2011, but the reality is that the technology is expected to take a few years longer before it is ready for the general public.  In the meanwhile, there are glasses-free 3D products available in stores today. Some of these include Nintendo’s 3DS portable game system, digital and video cameras by Panasonic and Sony, and most recently, the EVO 3D cell phone.  Those items will all display 3D images on their LCD screens without the need for glasses.  With their screens only being several inches, they are a reasonable first step of the technology to come.

There is still some confusion about what people should come to expect.  What 3D does can be incredibly interesting and exciting.  Many people are under the impression that images will be “jumping out” of the screen.  That’s not exactly accurate.  While some images do appear to float in front of the screen, what 3D TV technology actually does is create a convincing illusion of depth.  Companies like IMAX have released some truly breathtaking movies in 3D.  The experience comes across as being life-like.  One example of this level of realism can be found in “Into The Deep” from IMAX.  Certain scenes are convincing enough to make one feel that they are looking right into a tank at the New England Aquarium.

What many people are not aware of is that several manufacturers have included an impressive feature into their 3D TVs.  For some reason, it has not been promoted nearly enough though.  Imagine watching a regular 2D source and turning it into 3D at the push of a button.  You can!  Some TVs are able to take a standard 2D video source and convert it to simulated 3D.  You can use cable, satellite, VCR, DVD or any other source you can connect.  This is a big deal, because they have essentially eliminated any concerns about not having enough 3D content to watch.  With some content it works better though.  Maybe you’re waiting for Star Wars to be released (again) in 3D in 2012.  Why wait?  With a 3D TV, you can pop in the DVD, switch to 3D mode and get a sneak preview a year early!  If you or other members of the household enjoy video games – this can be considered the holy grail of the gaming experience for them.
Now that you know what 3D has to offer today, there are a few key items you will need to enjoy the experience.  You will need a 3D-capable TV and 3D glasses.  The 3D glasses should be the same brand as the TV, to ensure proper compatibility.  Some cable companies are offering networks that are being broadcast in 3D and also on-demand 3D programming.  If you really want the ultimate picture, a 3D-ready blu-ray player will produce the highest quality image available from 3D blu-ray discs.

The best advice I can give is this: think of 3D like surround sound.  While it’s not required, it is a fantastic enhancement for those who want to enjoy a more immersive entertainment experience.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Take Control - Make Your Audio/Video System Easy To Use

By Damon Della Greca
Owner of Premier Audio Video Designs, Westchester, NY

If I asked you what the most important part of your audio/video entertainment system is, what would you say?  The TV?  The speakers?  Sure, a properly calibrated TV gives you a great picture and high-performance speakers give you realistic sound.  However, there is only one thing that means the difference between a system you are happy with and one that makes you wonder why you spent the money in the first place.  It’s probably not any of the things you think.

Many of my clients have reached out to me to fix systems that their previous installers had setup for them.  Interestingly, most of the systems did work as they were designed to.  The problem is that they were often a bit complicated to use and were not being operated properly.  People are busy and have hectic schedules.  By the time they sat down to relax, they forgot which remote does what.  This is why the most important part of your entertainment system is not your TV or your speakers.  It’s your remote control.

Each of your components probably came with its own remote, so they can add up pretty quickly.  However, a well-programmed universal remote provides some very useful advantages.  One of the more common requests I get is to eliminate the clutter and confusion caused by having multiple remotes.  My clients want to be able to pick up the remote and not think about how the system works or which input they must switch their TV to, in order to watch cable or a blu-ray movie.  They want it fairly self-explanatory when they pick it up.  That’s where good programming comes in.  Even a good remote that may not have been programmed to be simple could take away from your experience.  When the system is easy to use, everyone is happy.

Many quality universal remotes, such as those made by Universal Remote Control Inc, RTI and Crestron share a common capability in their programming called a “macro” (also known as an “activity”).  Basically, a macro is a sequence of steps, triggered by pressing a single button.  One example of a macro is a “watch TV” button.  When you press that button, the remote will send out the proper commands to turn on your TV, turn on your A/V receiver and turn on your cable box, then set the TV and A/V receiver to the correct inputs to watch TV and finally changes its buttons’ functionality to control the cable box so you can channel surf as you please.  Without a universal remote control handling all of those steps, you would need three separate remote controls to do the same thing, along with at least five button presses.  A single button press on one remote is far more efficient and eliminates the possibility of pressing an incorrect button or needing to know which inputs to switch to.

Aside from macros, all of the remotes mentioned above can be programmed to go directly to your favorite TV channels.  The idea and function is the same as a macro, but the way it works is to have the remote automatically type in a TV station.  If you want to watch HBO and the station is 501, press a button labeled “HBO” on the remote and it will tell the cable box to tune to 501.  This is quite a useful feature, since not many of us know the station numbers without looking at the channel guide.

Moving up to higher-end remote controls, there are many which offer 2-way communication with certain components.  What does that mean to you?  When the remote sends a command to a component, the component will send information back that you can see.  The best example of this is when you are controlling an iPod.  With 2-way communication, you are able to navigate the iPod from the remote as though the iPod was right in your hand.  You can see the list of artists, albums and songs, giving you the ability to choose exactly what you want to listen to.  Some other amazing 2-way functionality is used with home automation.  You can see if your lights are on, control how bright they are or turn them off, check the temperature and change it to be more comfortable, and adjust the shades to raise or lower to the level you want.  Of course, there are many more applications, but these are a few of more common ones.

Perhaps one of the most useful advancements many remote controls have incorporated over the past several years is the use of RF (radio frequency).  RF-capable universal remotes do not directly control RF devices, but send signals to a RF receiver.  That receiver then translates RF into IR (infrared) commands and sends those commands to the components.  This allows you to control components that are not directly in front of you or perhaps inside a cabinet behind closed doors.  You can place components out of sight and not worry about having them in plain view or within reach of children.  Not only is this aesthetically pleasing for most people, but also keeps everything safely tucked away.

Programming a powerful universal remote is typically done by computer, especially if you want the remote to be customized to your preferences and take advantage of macros or 2-way communication.  The best thing to do is have an expert program it for you.  It’s likely that you’ll get what you want faster and more effectively.   Making the remote as simple as possible is important, so you can sit back and enjoy your entertainment system.

Happy channel surfing!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Record Stores, Video Stores And Dinosaurs - Music And Movies In The Digital Age

By Damon Della Greca
Owner of Premier Audio Video Designs, Westchester, NY

The internet has become one of the most revolutionary creations since the automobile.  In less than 10 years, it has changed the way the world works and how business is done. Over the past few years, there has become a shortage of local stores for us to rent movies or purchase music from.  Places that seemed too big to simply vanish. So what is killing off the giants?  That question can be answered in two words: digital media.

Digital media is basically any kind of content delivered in digital form.  For example, when you watch TV, you are looking at a type of digital media.  The TV program is being sent to you digitally, rather than on a physical disc or cassette.  Now that the stores you knew are gone or changing, what do you do?  Don’t be afraid to embrace the change.  There are many devices making it easier to access digital content and they are very simple to use.  Tower Records and Blockbuster Video may not be in your neighborhood anymore, but there are some really great alternatives.  In most cases, all you need is an internet connection and a device capable of delivering digital content, such as a network-ready blu-ray player or TV.
Movie, video and music services are finding their way into the mainstream in a big way.  There are a number of companies who are ready and able to give you exactly what you’re looking for right now.  In order to satisfy our insatiable hunger for digital media, many of these companies are serving their content on-demand, offering instant gratification.  If you’re looking for movies, Netflix is currently the king. They offer a subscription service, which allows you to select from a vast library of movies to watch on-demand, as well as rent physical DVDs or blu-ray discs.  The discs are sent to you by mail and returned in the same envelope when you are done with them – postage prepaid by Netflix.  When you return your movies, they can be exchanged for others.  Vudu and iTunes (Apple’s dominant online megastore) also offer movies for rent and purchase right over the internet.  Cable companies and subscription broadcast services have been offering pay-per-view programming for a very long time, but it has evolved quite a bit since the early days and now much of their pay-per-view programming is available on-demand.  Last (and very far from least) is the ever-popular YouTube, where people post their own videos and content for the world to see.
If music is your thing, there are even more options ready to serve up your favorite songs!  Sure, you can purchase your favorite music online.  That’s nothing new.  There are many new services and devices being made available to provide you with content for free or for a price, depending on the service.  You may even discover new, independent artists you’ve never heard of, since it’s easy and inexpensive for anyone to distribute their music digitally.  Internet radio and music services have become huge over the past few years, thanks to portable devices, such as smartphones (Android, Blackberry and iPhone).  Other devices like Sonos and Squeezebox make enjoying online music at home as easy as turning on your stereo.  Pandora is one such service, which is found on just about any device that will run their software app.  They are special because when you search for a specific song or artist, Pandora makes recommendations of other songs and artists, based on your original search.  From there, you can rate songs, which helps their service provide you with more songs and artists you will like.  Rhapsody is different for the fact that it offers a music-on-demand service.  If it’s in their library, you can listen to exactly what you want, when you want.  In order to keep the music going, they will also offer recommendations if you have no music queued up.  Other services like Slacker and Last.FM are great services you may enjoy.  They are all appearing on so many devices that you may have one of them in your home already!
Well, now you know what types of services are available and why the traditional disc-in-hand media is going away.  Aside from the huge amount of available content, instant gratification and the portability of digital media, there is another significant benefit which should be strongly noted – digital media is environmentally friendly!  Think of all the energy being saved by not producing the discs, the chemicals that aren’t being used to create plastic that the discs are made of and the production plants that have reduced their pollution into the environment.  Having less discs may mean less going to our landfills.  Digital media could be one step in breaking a cycle of pollution and cleaning that much more of our environment.
Digital media has officially etched its place in society.  Are you connected?