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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jul 22, 2015 3 comments

2D Performance
3D Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $6,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
First-rate blacks and shadow detail
Superb resolution—in both 4K and 1080p Full HD
Impressive sense of image depth—even in 2D
Best 3D seen anywhere
Minus
Image degrades significantly off center
Annoying remote control
Glitchy voice- and gesture-control features

THE VERDICT
This is the first consumer Ultra HDTV out of the gate offering more than just four times the resolution of 1080p HD. While it will require more UHD program material to fully judge its ability to provide 10-bit color, a wider color gamut, and higher dynamic range than today’s content, this Samsung is still a strong candidate for the best LCD set launched to date.

Ultra HD remains very much a work in progress. Source material is still scarce, and while some is available through various forms of downloading and streaming, the promised delivery of Ultra HD on Blu-ray (the route most likely to offer the best UHD quality) is still months away. Furthermore, the UHD sets that have appeared to date offer little more than enhanced resolution—resolution that isn’t really significant unless you see it on the biggest screen you can afford and sit closer than some folks prefer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a UHD set isn’t desirable...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jul 21, 2015 10 comments
While many of you can’t recall when the VCR shook up the TV landscape, I remember the transition to color television. It was an exciting time, but those new sets were very expensive relative to the average middle class income. They were also seldom larger than 21-inches—about the size of many of today’s computer monitors.

Understandably, many consumers waited years for color television to come down in price. I still remember relatives and family friends claiming that they were waiting for them to be perfected. If by “perfected” they meant that they wanted to see the technology stabilize, they’re waiting!

Technology is never stable. While the Ian Malcolm character in Jurassic Park may have said, “Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should,” (truly an odd statement coming from a scientist—oh wait, it came from a screenwriter) there’s always something new and enticing just over the next hill.

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jul 07, 2015 2 comments
If you asked me if my passion for things audio and video began with music or movies, I'd have a hard time answering. But one of the things that attract me to movies is their music. Movie scores (instrumental, not the string of pop tunes that often passes for a soundtrack) are certainly far down the list of the most popular music genres, but their importance to the success of a film can't be denied. Most film critics mention the score only if it's prominent enough to annoy them. But for me a great score can turn a middling movie into to good one. It can also (though less often) turn a good film into a great one.

The art of film scoring attracts a wide range of talents, but we recently lost one of the best. James Horner died late last month when the private plane he was piloting crashed in a California forest.

I first discovered Horner's work in 1982...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jun 16, 2015 4 comments
Last time around I wrote about my experience in viewing Dolby Vision projection, part of Dolby’s Digital Cinema initiative. It features a laser projector from Christie Digital designed specifically to offer higher dynamic range in a theatrical venue. The result was spectacular, but there was an additional reason for my trip back to California. The annual Orange county Hi-Fi show was held on the last weekend in May, and I spent three days there.

The OC show is more properly known as T.H.E. Show (The Home Entertainment Show) Newport Beach (though it was actually in Irvine). “Home Entertainment” is really too broad a term to describe its emphasis. It was, with only one or two exceptions, an exclusively two-channel audio show. There are a number of similar shows in the U.S. and Canada each year—far more than as little as three years ago. The reason for the growth of these shows is the shrinking number of dedicated audio dealers. Yes, the Best Buys, Targets, Costcos, and Walmarts of the world sell their share of audio-only gear. But with rare exceptions (most prominently the Magnolia shops located in or near a select number of Best Buys), the type of audio gear you’ll find in such stores rarely interests audiophiles.

In wide swaths of the country serious audio products simply cannot be auditioned anywhere...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Jun 02, 2015 0 comments
A couple of blogs back I addressed the subject of Dolby Cinema, a combination of technologies, both audio and video, being promoted by Dolby as a dramatic improvement in theatrical presentations. They’re right. It most certainly is.

But first a little background. I stated in that other blog that Dolby Vision (which promotes a wider color gamut and high dynamic range, or HDR) was primarily developed for flat screen sets, which can produce greater brightness (practically speaking, up to around 300 foot-lamberts in an affordable consumer display—though Dolby’s pro display can do much better at considerable cost). For commercial film presentations, Christie Digital has developed, in cooperation with Dolby, a new, laser-lit projector capable of 30 ft-L (in 2D and, of course, depending on screen size and gain).

If that doesn’t sound like a patch on 300 ft-L, keep in mind that most theatrical projectors are lucky to hit 15-16 ft-L (again in 2D, and far lower in 3D)...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: May 19, 2015 2 comments
A bit of an eclectic mix this time around with two topics, the first somewhat controversial, the second a useful (I hope) tip.

Elsewhere on this site, and in our June Q&A column, we recommended using the same amplifier power for the front, surround and height speakers in an Atmos setup. I don’t entirely agree, though my personal experience with Atmos is limited so far to trade demos and theatrical presentations. Most Atmos-ready AVRs will, of course, have matched power—that’s just the nature of the beasts. But if you have a pre-pro and, say, 200Wpc amps driving the front speakers, do you really need 200Wpc on the other six (for 5.1.4 Atmos) “full range” surround and height channels?

One consideration here is the sensitivity of the surround and height speakers...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: May 05, 2015 3 comments
The history of audio and video, both in the movie theater and at home, has been a back and forth tug of war for decades. Stereo, for example, started in the theater and was only adapted to the home much later (a couple of decades later if you count Disney’s Fantasia as the multichannel theatrical milestone. But a small bump in the road they called World War II delayed the widespread theatrical adoption of multichannel audio, and therefore the impetus for home stereo, for years).

Digital projection also appeared first in the movie theater, followed soon afterword by affordable digital displays for the home. But as each trickle down from theater to home enhanced the home experience and therefore threatened the viability of movie houses, theaters and studios moved to counteract the threat. That gave us today’s enhanced (or at least louder!) multichannel surround theater sound, vibrating seats, widescreen films, high resolution digital projection, and last but least, 3D.

The best movie theaters are now equipped with every trick in the AV book...

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Apr 21, 2015 7 comments
Moving is never fun, and my move from southern California to northwest Florida was particularly challenging. The packing and unpacking were chores I don’t wish on anyone, though the actual transportation from point A to (a distant) point B was, thankfully, relatively uneventful. Some of you may be faced with a similar situation, as spring is invariably the busiest moving season. For the AV fan, with a likely collection of valued components and program software, it can be particularly traumatic.
Thomas J. Norton Posted: Apr 17, 2015 0 comments
2D Performance
3D Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,199

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Bright, punchy picture
Excellent color
Compact size
Minus
Mediocre blacks
High vertical offset with limited lens shift

THE VERDICT
You wouldn’t expect the type of performance this BenQ delivers for the price, but it will impress even a fussy videophile and blow away the newbie.

Flat-screen 1080p HDTVs have been dropping in price. Nonetheless, short of a blowout sale, a really big-screen set—say, 70 inches diagonal or larger, even in plain old 1080p, will probably set you back a minimum of $1,500. Compared with prices even two years ago, that’s cheap, but for most buyers it’s still significant cash.

What if you discovered that for less money you could get a picture that’s three or more times the size (by area) of that 70-inch flat-screen set? How does $1,200 sound?

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Thomas J. Norton Posted: Apr 07, 2015 3 comments
Last week Samsung held a launch party for its new SUHD Ultra HDTVs (forgive the redundancy!) in New York City. They kindly flew me from my new digs in northwest Florida to attend. New York based S&&V Editor Rob Sabin was there also, along with most of the consumer electronics press.

Two of the new Samsung SUHD LCD sets are the first consumer sets to support the new high dynamic range (HDR) technology that, along with a wider color gamut, a deeper color bit depth, and (of course) 4K resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels) are all central to a complete picture of what Ultra HD is all about...

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