Tech

OK, iTunes: It’s Not Me, It’s You

I gotta say, I’m starting to feel a lot like that dude in the recent Samsung Galaxy commercial—the one who’s been an Apple fanboy from Day One yet finally decides to make the switch to a Galaxy smartphone. Only, in my case, I don’t necessarily want to break up with my iPhone—I just want to break up with iTunes.

 

Almost every computer I’ve owned over the past 20-plus years has been a Mac. I do own one Lenovo PC laptop that I only use when measuring/calibrating display devices and checking any PC-centric things that might pop up when conducting AV reviews. But for the vast majority of my computer operations, I use and love my MacBook Pro.

 

Since its release in 2001, iTunes has been my music-management software of choice. I’ve ripped a lot of CDs using that software program. (Of course, I can’t do that anymore unless I want to buy an external disc drive—my one beef with newer MacBooks.) I’ve also bought a lot of music through the iTunes Store and still own a lot older, copy-protected AAC files. And ever since the day I purchased my first iPhone (the only smartphone brand I’ve ever owned), I have synced all that iTunes music between phone and computer.

 

These days, my iPhone is my primary music source. I use it in my car. I use it on my walks. I use it at home, streaming music via AirPlay to my Onkyo AV receiver and, more frequently, to a couple of excellent Oppo Sonica tabletop speakers. (Farewell, Oppo—I’m gonna miss you!) And you know the one thing I demand from my primary music source? That it works the way it’s supposed to, without hassle or complication.

 

For years, as colleagues touted the benefits of other music-management software, I’ve remained loyal to iTunes. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe it’s fear of change. Or maybe it’s because for so long the syncing process between my Mac and iPhone was too seamless for me to abandon it. I didn’t want to mess with a system that just worked.

Then Apple went and messed with it. Again . . . and again . . . and again. Each version seemingly getting worse than the one before it. I blame the Cloud. The woes all began with the arrival of iCloud and the music-matching nightmares that go along with it.

 

So many things I would have done, but clouds got in the way . . .

iTunes

There was a time when I could add a song to a playlist on my iPhone, and, when I synced with iTunes, it would just add the song to the same playlist on my Mac. I know this happened. I remember. Now, when I do this, I end up with two versions of that playlist on my phone: One with the song and one without the song. 

 

Then there are the times when I’ve synced my phone and computer and, for no reason I can explain, several playlists are completely empty on both devices. Just . . . empty.  Songs are suddenly grayed out and need to be downloaded again from the cloud. I regularly have to tell the iPhone to “trust” my computer again, even though these two devices have known each other for years.

 

Always something breaking us in two . . .

 

I think my favorite is when, out of the blue, I start getting messages that I can’t sync my iPhone because there isn’t enough space. (I assure you, there’s enough space.) I try various suggested fixes and ultimately have to restore my phone—that’s right, completely wipe it and reboot—to get the two devices to sync.

 

Maybe there are simple explanations for these problems. Maybe there are quick fixes I haven’t been able to find. Maybe it really is me after all. Maybe my older operating system just ain’t compatible with the newest version of iTunes.

 

The fact remains that I’ve officially reached the end of a very long and generous rope. My frustration now outweighs my laziness and fear of change. It’s time to find myself a new music manager.

 

Been down one time, been down two times, I’m never going back again.

 

Suggestions are welcome.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

Oppo is Dead, Long Live Oppo

Oppo

How’s this for timing? Just days after pimping my Oppo Ultra HD audiophile disc player as the king of the hill in my media room entertainment system, this happens. As of this week, the company has announced that production of its lauded disc players, audio systems, and headphones is winding down.

 

“As announced on April 2nd, 2018, OPPO Digital will gradually stop manufacturing new products,” reads a letter linked on the company’s homepage. “Existing products will continue to be supported, warranties will still be valid, and both in-warranty and out-of-warranty repair services will continue to be available. Firmware will continue to be maintained and updates released from time to time.”

 

To say the least, this is a sad day for videophiles. You could chalk this up to the gradual decline of disc sales, the prominence of streaming, the fact that people who rent their movies almost never rent physical media anymore. And you’d probably be right, to a degree.

 

The one argument I would make to counter that is that there’s still a very healthy market for discs. The massive decline in sales that everyone keeps touting? It was 14% last year. 10% the year before—the first year in which streaming overtook disc sales. That’s hardly doom and gloom.

 

What makes all of this so much worse is that there just isn’t another Oppo out there. Pick your favorite display manufacturer. Or speaker manufacturer. Or receiver manufacturer. If they disappeared tomorrow, you’d still have plenty of high-end alternatives.

 

Oppo, though, so thoroughly defined the high-end disc-player market that any alternatives I can think of off the top of my head were actually Oppo players at the core, perhaps with a different power supply or digital-to-analog converter chip.

 

When the last Oppo is boxed up and shipped to its last customer, what option does the up-and-coming videophile have? Get an Xbox One X, I guess. Or be done with discs once and for all and embrace Kaleidescape’s pixel-perfect digital downloads. The former is great as a disc player and a heck of a media streamer to boot, and the latter is undoubtedly the videophile future.

 

Still, losing Oppo feels like losing a friend. In its 14-year run, I’ve owned at least one player from every generation of the company’s offerings, and the latest are, without question, its greatest. I suppose there’s something to be said for going out on top of your game. There’s also something to be said about the fact that the UDP-205 was probably going to be the last disc player I would ever need anyway—especially given that I’m still using the company’s first-ever Blu-ray player in a spare bedroom, and it still works like the day I pulled it out of the box.

 

Is it silly to mourn the passing of a company? Perhaps. But when that company literally has no peers, what can we do but mourn?

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

How the XBox Became My Favorite Video Player

Xbox One X

I just finished reading Dennis Burger’s ode to his Roku Ultra, and it inspired me to write one of my own—to my Xbox One X gaming console, which has positioned itself as the preferred video playback device in my everyday home entertainment system.

 

I reviewed the Xbox One X for HomeTheaterReview.com a few months back. As I stressed in that review, I’m not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but I have reviewed my fair share of Ultra HD Blu-ray players, as well as many generations of streaming media players from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and Nvidia. My approach to the Xbox review was to answer this question: Does this gaming console succeed as a complete all-in-one media player? Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the review: It does.

 

What’s my proof? Well, four months later, the Xbox One X remains the sole set-top box connected to my living-room TV, while an Apple TV 4K, Roku 4, and Amazon Fire TV sit idle in a box in my office/test studio. Sure, I’ll pull one of those players out when I’m reviewing a TV or projector, along with my Oppo UDP-103 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

But the player I choose to use on an everyday basis is the Xbox. Why? Because it really does give me everything I want in one box, with one common user experience.

 

First of all, the Xbox One X is the only gaming console to sport an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, so I can pop in UHD Blu-ray discs when I want the highest-quality video experience. I use a Polk MagniFi Mini soundbar in this everyday space—but if I had a surround sound/Atmos system here, the Xbox One X could accommodate it, too. I can also pop CDs into the disc drive . . . and only listen to them halfway through.

 

Second, the Microsoft Store includes all the streaming apps my kiddo and I use on a regular basis. That includes Netflix, Prime Video, Sling TV, Vudu, Tablo, PBS Kids, YouTube, and Pandora. Here I will confess that I do miss the convenience of voice search offered by Roku, Amazon, and Apple . . . but apparently not enough to make a switch.

 

As a cord cutter, I no longer have a cable or satellite set-top box. If I did, though, I could pass it through the Xbox’s HDMI input and unite that source into the user experience as well.

Xbox One X

And then there are the games. Over the years, the kiddo and I have casually enjoyed the simple, family-friendly games that are available through platforms like Fire TV and Apple TV—such as Crossy Road, Pacman 256, and Hill Climb Racing. But now my daughter’s eyes have been opened to a glorious new world filled with Minecraft, Super Lucky’s Tale, Star Wars Battlefront, and Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure—and I’m afraid there ain’t no going back to Minion Rush.

 

As I said in my original review, if you look at each of the above categories individually—UHD Blu-ray player, streaming media player, or music player—of course you’ll find better performers. Products that deliver a higher level of AV performance or a better user interface. But the Xbox One X does it all quite well, and for me the convenience of being able to jump from a game like Minecraft to a streaming source like Netflix to live TV through Tablo and then to Planet Earth II on UHD Blu-ray—without having to switch inputs or remotes—is just too darn enticing to pass up.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

An Ode to My Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra

In her latest missive in our ongoing back-and-forth about media rooms—how to define them, how to design them, how to get the most out of them—Adrienne Maxwell made a point I want to make sure doesn’t get overlooked. In her discussion of sources that support High Dynamic Range, Ultra High Definition video, she points out that streaming media players like Roku are a great way to bring some truly great video content into your media room without breaking the bank.

 

Nothing could be truer. But I hope readers don’t mistakenly think Adrienne is positioning the Roku Ultra (or new Apple TV, or the Nvidia Shield—take your pick) as merely the low rung on the ladder of AV bliss.

 

Sure, if pixel-perfect presentation is the only criterion we’re talking about, my Roku Ultra fits into the “better” box of the good/better/best hierarchy in my own media room, with my satellite receiver holding down the “good enough” fort and my Oppo Ultra HD audiophile disc player currently sitting at the top of the hill.

 

But are perfect pixels the only thing I care about? When I’m watching Blade Runner 2049, absolutely. I’ll accept no less than perfection. At times like that, only a shiny silver disc will do. But what about the nightly news program I stream via YouTube? Or my weekly fix of The Star Wars Show? Honestly, nearly every box connected to my home theater system will stream those programs just fine. But none do so nearly as well as my Roku Ultra, with its instant-on accessibility and its ridiculously intuitive user interface.

 

All of the bonus features for The Last Jedi I recently reviewed? I didn’t plop in the bonus Blu-ray disc. I redeemed the digital code and streamed them via my Roku. It loads faster and is easier to navigate. When my mother-in-law visited last week and wanted to catch up on This is Us? I didn’t slog through the OnDemand menus from my satellite provider and wait for each episode to buffer. I turned to my Roku Ultra and asked it which streaming service had past episodes available for free.

 

If I won the lottery tomorrow and had the opportunity to build the home theater of my dreams, I can assure you, without question, that my first purchase would be a Kaleidescape Premiere System with banks of servers to store my massive movie collection. But I can also guarantee you this: Alongside those racks of hard drives—out of view, perhaps, but never out of mind—there would still be a space reserved for my lowly Roku Ultra.

 

Because other source components may outclass it, but nothing can replace it.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

What are the Media Room Essentials?

media rooms

Continuing our conversation about media rooms, I’m going to run with Dennis Burger’s initial premise that, for a room to qualify as a media room, some thought and effort have to go into creating the highest quality AV experience your space and budget will allow. Simply plopping a 55-inch HDTV, cheap soundbar, and set-top box on a TV stand in your family room doesn’t magically transform the space into a media room.

 

I contend that a high-quality media room system does two things: It offers great AV performance and it embraces the advanced technologies of the day. The beauty is, in today’s AV landscape, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to get both of these things.

 

Here’s what I consider to be the core elements of a modern media room system:

 

A Large-Screen UHD Display

Just like in a dedicated home theater, a media room needs a large screen that draws you in and allows you to feel truly immersed in the source content, be it a movie, TV show, or game. The display should be the focus of your eye (at least when the system is turned on), and the room’s seating and layout should reinforce that principle.

 

What constitutes a large screen? It kind of depends on your room and how far the display is from the seating area. I’d say the screen needs to be at least 65 inches in a smaller room and 75 inches or more in a larger room. At these screen sizes, 4K resolution on its own isn’t crucial, but the other aspects of Ultra HD—namely, High Dynamic Range and expanded color—represent the best of what the video world has to offer right now. Once you see high-quality HDR content on a high-performance TV like an OLED, you won’t want to go back to standard dynamic range.

 

A word of warning: This is one area where you may get what you pay for. Lots of budget LED/LCD TVs support HDR but don’t deliver the level of contrast needed to fully exploit it. You really need an OLED or a good LED/LCD TV with a full-array backlight and local dimming technology to make the most of HDR.

 

An Ultra HD Source

You can’t enjoy HDR if your sources don’t support it, and it’s not difficult or even terribly expensive to upgrade to UHD-friendly source devices. Pretty much every new UHD TV is also a smart TV with UHD-capable streaming sources like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Vudu built right in. The newest streaming boxes from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and NVIDIA support HDR and are priced under $200 (some of them are priced way under that).

 

For those who have more to spend, it’s tough to beat the user experience of a Kaleidescape 4K movie server. And the company’s Movie Store offers 4K downloads that match the AV specs for Ultra HD Blu-ray.

 

We’ve also reached the point where every major Blu-ray player manufacturer now offers at least one Ultra HD model (if not more), and entry-level models are priced around $150. Many of these players also support hi-res audio playback via disc, USB, or streaming, so they can serve as a high-performance audio source, too.

 

Gamers can enjoy a complete 4K multimedia experience in one box, thanks to consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 that support 4K/HDR gaming and streaming video. The Xbox One even adds an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

Surround Sound

Just as the big screen will immerse you visually in the source, surround sound is a must for creating that “you are there” experience. If you hate the idea of running wires across the room, there are now plenty of creative ways to incorporate wireless surrounds. A 5.1-channel system is the minimum, but I’ll take it a step further and suggest that your system at least needs to be upgradeable to support 3D formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

 

3D audio adds a height element to complete the soundstage, and you can get Atmos and DTS:X decoding in 7.2-channel receivers costing as little as $400. A 7.2-channel receiver only gives you two height channels, but it’s better than nothing. There’s no shortage of in-ceiling speakers at all price points that can serve as the height channels. But if your room can’t support overhead speakers, check out all the Atmos modules designed to sit atop your existing speakers and bounce sound off the ceiling. This path provides an easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your system as your budget allows.

 

A Unified Control Experience

Nobody wants to look at a pile of remotes on the coffee table, let alone have to use them all in order to launch media playback. A universal remote control is essential. Logitech’s Harmony brand still reigns supreme in the world of third-party universal remotes, and TV manufacturers like LG and Samsung have really upped their game in the control department, making it easer to control multiple sources with the TV remote and adding support for Alexa and Google Home voice control.

 

The wide range of smart lighting systems and window treatments makes it easier and cheaper than ever to add automation elements to your media system without having to invest in a full-fledged control system—although there’s no denying the appeal of a well-executed Control4 or Crestron setup, should you choose to go that route.

 

There you have it: My list of must-have components in a media room. Do you agree or disagree?

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

The Story of Kaleidescape’s Movie Store

Kaleidescape Movie Store

I was so pleased with John Sciacca’s article on the Kaleidescape Movie Store that I thought I would tell a story . . .

 

For as long as Kaleidescape has existed, we have endeavored to present the finest cinematic experience in the comfort of your home.

 

For nearly a decade, we have offered metadata to precisely position the screen masking based on the measured aspect ratio of the movie, and the ability to play the movie with other user preferences such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD soundtracks, language preferences, subtitles on playback, etc., so that everything is automated. This can be done on a per-player basis, of course, so each room can be tailored to meet the needs of that audience. It is like having an automated projectionist at home.

 

To this day, whether you purchase a movie on a disc or from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, we offer event cues to control lightinglights down when the movie begins and lights slowly coming back up when the end-credits rollto reproduce the cinema experience.

 

Our user interface was designed to appeal to different user preferences. It has always been responsive and intuitive to use. Each view has a purpose: If you know something about what you want, use the List View and the sorting feature. If you wish to find movies similar to the one you have chosen, then select the Covers View for suggestions. If you want to create custom categories for films in your library, choose the Collection View. The Collections View also automatically remembers the new film, paused movies, movies with favorite scenes, and titles with the bookmarked Play Song feature for concerts and musicals.

 

Kaleidescape earned its reputation as a system designed for movie lovers who had DVDs and Blu-ray discs, so we didn’t want the ability to buy movies for download from our online store to add clutter to the onscreen display. To purchase movies, the browser-based Movie Store has incredible filters, 80 curated collections, and the ability to browse movies by parental control and different movie formats. We also developed a powerful search function so users can find the content they want easily. Our goal was to deliver the same engaging experience whether someone is browsing through the titles in the Movie Store or in their personal movie library.

Kaleidescape Movie Store

As we rolled out the Strato Movie Player and populated the Movie Store with amazing 4K HDR titles, we realized we could use our creative, patented Covers View to integrate the Store into the onscreen display. It took us a few iterations, but we believe we have come up with something our customers will love.

 

Rather than the arcane “browse and move to the next page repeatedly,” we decided to offer a Pivot function as a powerful filter that can instantly take you to a page full of great movies comparable to the one you selected. Our powerful metadata allows us to present an enormous amount of details about each film so you can change your mind as often as you want as you look for exactly what you would like to purchase.

 

We offer thousands of movies in our store, but our focus is less on the number of titles and more on their quality. Of course, we need a critical mass of titles from the best brands of content providers to have a credible offering, and we do, having licensed titles from the Top 24 of the 25 content providers in the United States. The real difference lies in our quest to help customers find hidden gems when they seek movie entertainment, including those that may not have broad appeal.

 

Our value proposition is: Kaleidescape is the only way to experience an Internet-delivered motion picture in true 4K Ultra HD and lossless surround sound.

 

“The truth is, for me, it’s obvious that 70, 80 percent of a movie is sound.”

Danny Boyle, Director

Steve Jobs, Trance, 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire

 

Kaleidescape focuses exclusively on luxury home cinema. We offer the premier online store for purchasing Hollywood movies. It is essential that we present the full motion picturenot throttled video and a stereo soundtrack. To put it differently, Kaleidescape delivers more playback bandwidth for the soundtrack alone than internet streaming services provide for the whole motion picture.

 

The Kaleidescape Movie Store on Strato is an exemplary feature of a brand that strives to be different because there will always be an audience that wants the best product or service within that category.

—Cheena Srinivasan

Cheena Srinivasan is the co-founder and CEO of Kaleidescape.

What Streaming Music Algorithms Really Measure

streaming music algorithms

photo by Kaboompics / Karolina from Pexels

It’s no secret that streaming music services are collecting data about us and using it to serve up other music we might like. I’m a diehard Spotify user, and they offer this feature in a few ways—there’s the Release Radar playlist, which curates new releases from artists you listen to often or might like, and Discover Weekly, which pulls in artists you may or may not know but are similar to ones in your universe. Then there’s the “radio station” option, originally pioneered by Pandora.

 

I left Pandora a long, long time ago because I found its suggestions vapid, poorly curated, and lazy. But there’s an even bigger debate happening among music lovers about the validity and quality of algorithms in any service and their ability to truly pinpoint our musical tastes.

 

A recent (informal) survey of several friends who are avid users of streaming services all pointed to a similar sentiment: Algorithms are crap. As one friend described, “It wants to pigeonhole me as either a get-off-my-lawn Freedom Rocker or a 19-year-old young woman.” The problem with algorithms is the same problem with generalizations—even 19-year-old women don’t all listen to the same kind of thing. And yet nuance is hard for a machine to learn.

 

My experience is similar to theirs—out of every curated playlist I pour over, there are maybe two or three songs that resonate. But I keep going back to those playlists because it’s kind of like eating trail mix that has dark chocolate bits inside. Sure, most handfuls are going to deliver raisins and sunflower seeds and little chunks of dried fruit—but once in a while, you’re going to find a few pieces of delicious, creamy chocolate. So you keep plunging your hand in the bag.

streaming-music algorithms

Streaming-music platforms may give us access to a plethora of choices and options in mere seconds, but why is it so hard to pinpoint our musical tastes? I went back and listened to my Discover Weekly playlist and tried to analyze each piece. They were all mostly about being strong and overcoming hard things—probably because I’ve been listening to a lot of what some might call motivational material lately, trying to psych myself into being strong enough to deal with a big life event that’s in the works.

 

And then it hit me. Algorithms aren’t measuring our musical likes and dislikes so much as they are mapping our emotional states at any given point. They’re trying to capture the mood, melody, tone, and overall feel of each piece we listen to and then spit similar songs back at us, mirroring what they think we’re feeling.

 

The problem with this is that we’re humans. Our moods change, all the damn time. Most of us have very diversified music tastes, and we listen based on how we feel. On a foggy early-spring New England day, I have a strong penchant for Andrew Bird. But don’t play me a song off Noble Beast on a hot July day for the love of god.

 

With all the buzz about robots and their impending takeover of all the jobs, we can rest assured that predicting human moods and therefore musical tastes is probably best left to us humans. Machine-generated melodies just don’t quite get it right.

—Ashley Daigneault

Ashley Daigneault knew she was a writer before she left kindergarten and has a particular
love for writing about tech, literature, music, and politics. She is currently the VP at Caster
Communications
, a full-service tech PR and social-media firm, and works with B2B and
B2C tech brands. She lives in New England with her family, which includes kids and dogs
who think they are kids.

Kaleidescape’s Interface Gets Even Better

Kaleidescape

Going back through previous posts I’ve written, I discovered it’s been more than five years since Kaleidescape launched its industry-leading online download store at store.kaleidescape.com.

 

In that post on the Movie Store’s beta launch, I reminisced about a conversation I’d had with company founder and now CEO, Cheena Srinivasan, back when I was sent the first Kaleidescape server to review. The concept of a movie server was completely new at the time, and generic descriptions like, “It’s like a giant iPod for movies” didn’t nearly do the product or experience justice. And they didn’t begin to do justice to Cheena’s vision for the company. “We want to be more than just a media-management company,” he told me. “We want to eventually get into content delivery.”

 

I’m sure Cheena had no idea back in 2002 exactly what would be involved with accomplishing that, as we’ve had numerous conversations since where he’s discussed the challenges of negotiating and building relationships with the Hollywood studios as the company secures digital rights for films in the highest audio and video quality.

 

Over the past five years, Kaleidescape has continued to grow and develop its online Movie Store from standard-definition (DVD-quality) titles at launch to adding a slate of Blu-ray-quality titles to now featuring films, concerts, and TV content from more than 25 studiosincluding 400 Ultra HD titles, many of which feature HDR and next-generation audio formats like Dolby Atmos. The company has also increased its bandwidth, and can now deliver content at speeds up to 300 Mbps.

 

One fundamental thing that hasn’t changed since the Movie Store was launched is the way you browse and buy movies, which requires using a Web browser. While this approach has served the company’s user base for yearsand, in fact, is a great way to buy movies when you’re not at home, so they’re ready for viewing later that dayit lacks the elegance of the rest of the Kaleidescape user experience.

 

When I visited the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA last November, I was given a sneak peak at the team’s latest development for the Movie Store—integrating the Store into the onscreen interface. Finally, this past week, Kaleidescape unlocked the onscreen Movie Store for dealers in a beta test prior to releasing the feature to customers.

 

I’ve had a chance to play with the new Store interface for a bit, and it is really terrific, retaining the slickness and user-friendliness the Kaleidescape experience and interface is known for.

You access the Store by pressing the Menu button on the remote, which brings up browsing options that include Listwhere you can browse your movie library sorted by title, actors, director, release date, running time, genre, or ratingCovers, Collections, and Movie Store. The Parental Controls tab has been moved to a tab of its own.

 

Once inside the Store, it’s easy to browse films sorted into a variety of collections, including Featured, New Releases, and 4K HDR, as well as popular genres like Action, Drama, and Comedy. The Store also has some dynamic collections that will regularly change, such as 2018 Oscar Nominees and Superheroes.

 

Pressing Enter on a film brings up the familiar movie-details screen, which includes information like running time, rating, aspect ratio, Rotten Tomatoes scores, a brief synopsis, genre, cast, director, and studio. It also displays the versions the film is available inHDR, UHD, HD, and SDas well as the price of each. You can also see the audio tracks available for each version.

 

The onscreen Store has some terrific options for browsing and exploring collections as well, letting you dive into a specific genre or actor, or view similar films. There’s a simple three-icon screen for navigating as well, with one icon for exploring similar films, another to go back a level, and a third that takes you home to the top screen.

 

An intuitive yet powerful search function also lets you hunt for films, actors, directors, or collections, so you can find exactly what you’re looking for.

 

Clicking Purchase prompts for a 4-digit passcode to confirm, keeping guests or young ones from racking up a massive download bill.

 

Check out the video above, where I provide a thorough look at browsing the new Store. This feature is currently available to dealers, and will go into a wide release to all owners shortly.

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The Evolution of Front Projection

front projection

In his recent contribution to our ongoing discussion about media rooms, Theo Kalomirakis wrote about the need, as an AV system integrator, to approach the media room concept with an open mind. Whereas he once shunned media rooms as a lesser alternative to a dedicated home theater, he now acknowledges that the demand for more casual home entertainment spaces is growing, and the industry needs to creatively adapt.

 

Perhaps no segment of the home theater market has needed to adapt as much as the front projection category. Nothing screams dedicated home theater like a projector, and getting people to embrace the use of a two-piece video system over a big-screen TV in a den or living room is certainly a challenge. It has forced both projector and screen manufacturers to think outside the light-controlled box known as the theater room.

 

Projectors used to be divided into two main categories: home and business. Now the home market has further splintered into home theater and home entertainment. For a home theater projector, black level is king. You want a projector that can serve up lusciously deep blacks to give the entire image a greater sense of contrast and depth in your fully light-controlled room.

 

But, when people move out of the theater and into a den or media room—where the lights often stay on and daytime TV watching is an expected practice—a projector’s light output becomes a lot more important. These days we see a lot more 2,500- to 3,200-lumen projectors at lower price points. Epson’s premium Pro Cinema line even includes several ultra-bright models in the 4,800- to 6,000-lumen range.

 

Projector manufacturers have also been forced to make their products a bit more TV-like in their features, adding things like TV tuners, built-in speakers (which, in most cases, sound even worse than the speakers in flat-panel TVs, if you can believe it), instant on/off light sources, and MHL/MiraCast support to stream media content from mobile devices. LG has incorporated its WebOS smart platform into some of its DLP projectors.

front projection

Of course, no matter how bright a projector is, your basic matte white 1.0-gain screen just isn’t going to cut it in a well-lit room where people want to watch NFL football on Sunday afternoon. Screen manufacturers have also had to adapt, which has given rise to the hugely popular ambient-light rejecting (ALR) screen. As the name suggests, screen materials like Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond (shown above) are designed to reject light from nearby windows and lamps to improve image contrast. We’re also seeing a lot of “zero bezel” frames with sleeker designs meant to mimic the look of a flat-panel TV.

 

But there’s still that whole “two-piece system” problem. A TV is a nice, self-contained unit, and that’s what a lot of people want. They don’t want a projector on one side of the room and a screen on the other. Enter the ultra-short-throw projector, which can cast a big image from a small distance.

front projection

One of the more interesting categories to emerge is what I’ll call the all-in-one AV projection system—like Hisense’s new Laser TV system, which combines a 4K-friendly ultra-short-throw projector with a 100-inch screen and a Harman/Kardon sound system. In the same vein, Sony’s upcoming LSPX-A1 (shown at the top of the page) omits the screen but builds the native 4K projector and sound system into an attractive furniture cabinet (shown above) that blends into the room’s aesthetic when it’s not delivering an immersive AV experience. While pricey, these designs represent exactly the kind of creative thinking the AV industry needs as it moves outside the home theater.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

I Think, Therefore I Game

mind control games

You’ve probably seen segments on programs like 60 Minutes that feature a disabled person with a bunch of electrodes attached to their head and shows how they can control a computer screen just by thinking about a letter of the alphabet or something like that. You might have even heard about using mind control for virtual reality gaming.

 

Recent articles in IEEE Spectrum, Wired, MIT Technology Review, and elsewhere have made me realize mind-control gaming is closer than you might think—as in, it’s already here.

 

A company called Neurable (sounds like something out of a William Gibson novel) has created a game called Awakening where players can move and affect objects in a virtual environment just by concentrating on them. It works via a brain-scanning headband and related software that read and interpret EEG signals from the brain to control the gaming elements. The headband is compatible with existing VR headsets like the HTC Vive.

Neurable will be introducing Awakening in VR arcades throughout the world this year. While there are currently only a handful of these arcades in the U.S. and Europe, they’re already wildly popular in China and parts of East Asia.

 

There’s no doubt VR arcades will proliferate. I was impressed by both the size and scope of the Virtual Reality installation at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which I happened upon during CES 2018And there’s already a VR arcade called Virtual Realms near where I live on Long Island. (Lay that waiver and release form on me!) 

 

While mind-control games are just beginning to appear in arcades, it’s a sure bet they’ll soon enough become as commonplace at home as your TV’s remote control. Neurable isn’t alone. Other companies like Looxid Labs (which exhibited at CES 2018), Qneuro, and InteraXon are working on or have already demonstrated some type of brain/computer interface (or “BCI”). And games like Throw Trucks With Your Mind (I’d love to try that one!) have been shown at events like the Experiential Technology Conference & Expo in San Francisco. 

 

Heck, there’s already at least one discontinued BCI gameMindflex, produced by Mattel from 2009 to 2011, which purported to sense brain activity to control objects. (There was some question as to whether the headset actually measured brain activity or something like muscle activity instead.)

mind control games

True, the current mind-control games only let you do simple things like push numbers on a keypad, and it will probably take more advanced technology like brain implants to give you more control. But I’m confident BCI headsets will improve.

 

And here’s another wrinkle in mind: Consumer Reports says future games could change content based on a user’s mood. Imagine the possibilities: A game that could sense whether you wanted an apocalyptic zombie shootout after a bad day at work or a relaxing session of mind-control Tetris.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.