Shane Buettner

Shane Buettner  |  Nov 21, 2010  |  18 comments
I’m just putting together HT’s February Letters section, and one letter really stood out to me. A reader who’s Blu-ray centric and has built a quality surround sound system around lossless audio wrote in lamenting that streaming from Netflix and other platforms is gaining momentum even though the sound is not only lossy, but often limited to stereo instead of discrete 5.1. He wondered whether sound quality is going to continue to go by the wayside or whether, as bandwidth increases, these platforms will offer improved sound quality. Even the Vudu platform, which offers the highest quality streams I’m aware of, offers 5.1-channel surround at 640kbps lossy Dolby Digital at best. These are excellent questions, even if for now we’re ignoring the video quality issues (Apple’s iTunes movie downloads are limited to 720p, the high-def minimum). In the future, if bandwidth improves, it seems possible that high quality streams or downloads could be offered with lossless surround sound. But it would probably be at a cost premium, and people will have to be willing to pay more. To be willing to pay more people need to be educated that not all 5.1-channel surround sound is created equal, and be taught to aspire to lossless. HT’s readers are sophisticated on subjects like these, but I wonder, what about your friends and family? How many of them have component based home theater systems that would allow them to hear the difference? How many of your friends are using the speakers built-in to their TVs? Are these people into streaming? When they come to your house, and hear and see Blu-ray in its full glory does it make a difference? Do they ask you questions that suggest they’re interested in learning more and maybe elevating their experience at their house? I’m just curious, because for high quality options to exist in the streaming ecosystems, there needs to be demand.
Shane Buettner, Thomas J. Norton  |  Nov 15, 2010  |  0 comments
It’s getting better all the time.

When we wrote this feature for last year’s HDTV Buyer’s Guide issue, the flat-panel HDTV market was much simpler. 3D was nowhere in sight, and much of our analysis boiled down to the pros and cons of LCD and plasma technology. This year, 3D is just one of the newer wrinkles in the market. The number of plasmas in the market isn’t what it was just a few years ago, but plasma is not only hanging on, the best plasmas still stake a legitimate claim to being the best flat panels available. With LCDs, manufacturers are aggressively using the backlighting techniques to market the sets. In fact, LCDs are getting more and more sophisticated and offering serious potential value. There’s a lot to learn, so let’s get going.

Shane Buettner  |  Nov 13, 2010  |  22 comments
Answering a reader letter for a recent print issue provided an opportunity to look at how the flat panel TV has evolved since the demise of the best flat panel TVs yet devised, the gone but hardly forgotten Pioneer KURO line of plasmas. These sets looked better, and the measurements demonstrated that in many key respects, they were in fact better than the competition. In blacks and contrast, objective and subjective, we’ve not yet seen their equal let alone their better. My question is whether anyone is really trying any more. The KURO in a short time built an incredible reputation and brand equity and identification. To this day, when readers email me about these sets, they say “KURO,” not Pioneer or Pioneer Elite. That mark stuck with people. When the KURO walked the Earth the other manufacturers were forced to catch up. Within a short time LCD flat panel manufacturers had to answer, and they did. LCDs improved dramatically, primarily through the advent of full array local dimming. Blacks and contrast with LCDs suddenly stood where no LCD had stood before. When the KUROs were here it seemed LED backlighting with local dimming and the performance increases it afforded LCDs were the next big thing. But the KURO went away. Edge lighting came about and is far more prevalent than full array local dimming, making TVs almost iPhone thin. But these sets don’t compete with local dimmers in blacks and contrast and have uniformity issues that may bother purists. The full-array local dimmers are now apparently confined to premium models from LG and Sony, with only VIZIO offering more affordable models. Since thin has been in, there’s also been a massive fixation on Internet streaming apps and of course, 3D. Rumors persist that engineering talent from project KURO now resides at Panasonic, and that the next KURO-like performance will emerge from there. Panasonic’s latest plasmas are definitely the closest we’ve seen from plasmas, but they’re not quite at KURO level in blacks and contrast even though Panasonic has a full suite of Internet apps and excellent 3D.
Shane Buettner  |  Nov 07, 2010  |  13 comments
In the next few issues we’re going to be diving headfirst into the emerging Google TV ecosystem in the form of Logitech’s Revue and a Sony Google TV-equipped BD player. It occurred to me in planning this coverage that I’ve seen some of this before. Just a few years ago this merging of the computer world with consumer electronics was called convergence by its proponents, and collision by its many detractors. Its first clumsy steps were really little more than dragging a full blown PC into your theater system and using your TV as a really big computer monitor with a wireless keyboard and/or mouse. Instead of enhancing functionality, it combined the worst aspects of both worlds. People using computers all day for business had no interest in taking all the issues with computer interfaces and mucking up their leisure time with it. In response to its failure to catch on in the home theater world, computer monitors got bigger, desktop audio systems got better, and the home theater and computer/Internet worlds each went to their respective rooms.
Shane Buettner  |  Oct 30, 2010  |  32 comments
An industry colleague and I spent some time together the other day, and in kibbitzing about the state of the industry as we see it, he wondered aloud whether we’re now in the beginning of the end of the era of the AV receiver. Blu-ray players are now equipped with full decoding capabilities for both legacy lossy and full lossless Dolby and DTS audio. In addition to playing back Blu-ray Discs, these players are now full media hubs with hosts of streaming apps for both audio and video. Other set-top box media hub devices are entering the market as I write this, and some even integrate cable and satellite broadcast content into a unified interface that manages all of this content. It doesn’t seem a stretch to think these devices could evolve to include the base level audio decoding found in BD players, or that more with integrated BD drives will emerge. And full range wireless audio is something that’s been around the corner for some time, clearly a question of when not if. So, my colleague wondered, if you add powered loudspeaker systems with wireless capability into this equation is that a look at the future? The dazzling capabilities of the AV receiver are both its strength and weakness. AVRs are intimidating. How much of all that capability do people really bother to use? How many people could get by with a lot less capability in favor of usability? I don’t know the answers to these questions but found them provocative enough to bring to you, and get your opinion. Are these the end days of the AVR as we know it?
Shane Buettner  |  Oct 20, 2010  |  6 comments
These last two weeks have been very tight to find blogging time, but this is too cool not to share even if it’s a copout in the form of a quickie to those keeping score at home. A Home Theater reader named Andrew Lambert just emailed over a link to this YouTube video of his dedicated home theater.
Shane Buettner  |  Oct 09, 2010  |  8 comments
So, here’s a little slice of the Editor’s life. I live in the Pacific Northwest and work from home, traveling to Home Theater’s Los Angeles offices about a week per month to close each print issue. Last week and next week are back to back closes for HT’s December issue and the massive Buyer’s Guide annual. Coming home from these work trips, after catching up with the family my favorite ritual is opening up my stack of packages that inevitably arrive in my absence, which always includes my supplementary/impulse buys from Amazon. Yes, movies and music.
Shane Buettner  |  Sep 30, 2010  |  23 comments
Everyone seems to have a “for” or “against” position on 3D. In my last Blog most who chimed in were against. Very against. But what I’m wondering is, when people say they don’t like 3D, are they referring to the artistic merit of 3D or the technical limitations of many 3D presentations?
Shane Buettner  |  Sep 20, 2010  |  0 comments

Price: $16,470 (as tested) At A Glance: One-of-a-kind, best-in-class movie interface • Very expensive • Music management not at same level • Blu-ray playback currently cumbersome • Standout pure performance

Escape Physical Media

Going back several years, I remember my first reaction to learning of the Kaleidescape paradigm. Then, media servers didn’t exist, and a Kaleidescape starter system cost a startling $30,000. On paper, it looked like its principal novelty was ripping and playing back DVD movies without having to load a disc into a player. My first thought was something like, “Wow, life is really expensive for people who don’t want to get up and walk a few feet to grab a disc and put it into a DVD player.” Of course, this was exceptionally ignorant and shortsighted. My cynicism lasted roughly two and a half to three seconds into actually using a Kaleidescape system. Much like the Apple products that are so near and dear to my heart, Kaleidescape’s power is in the interface. The library management and organization is a metadata-enriched, best-in-class experience. It’s about changing the way you browse and experience your content at least as much as it’s about storing your digital content on a server. What’s better still, it’s dead simple to use. You could hand the remote to your mom, and she’d be watching a movie in seconds. But power users can dig deeper and find movies by their favorite actors, directors, genres, and more.

Shane Buettner  |  Sep 16, 2010  |  22 comments
Yes, 3D is upon us and with it has come a surprising promotional turn of events. To grab your 3D dollars TV manufacturers are lining up as many hot titles as exclusives as they can get their hands on, including four of the hottest 3D titles of the holiday shopping season: Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, How to Train Your Dragon, and Shrek Forever After (and really, how far behind can an announcement be for a 3D exclusive on Toy Story 3?). All of these Blu-ray 3D titles, and others, can only be obtained by consumers who buy a 3DTV and Blu-ray 3D player in a bundle from certain manufacturers.