Tuesday, November 25, 2014

So Many Headphones, Only Two Ears!

Listening to music can be an intensely personal experience: thats why no two peoples collection of music is the same. But one thing in common is the desire to listen to music without being interrupted or bothered by the outside world. Its for that reason that headphones are so useful. At their core, headphones are two speakers, one each for each ear, providing audio up close and personal. Today the audio doesnt have to come through a cable from the headphones that is connected to the audio source: thats where technologies like Bluetooth come into play as they enable the music to stream wirelessly. But it can get confusing with so many choices of how to listen to music, lets concentrate on something that definitely affects how it is being heard: the shape of the headphones themselves.

Over the Ear
These are the headphones that date back to antiquity in that weve all seen people wearing what looks like cups placed over the ears. Obviously they are comfortable because they dont pinch against the flesh and they provide a strong seal against outside noise. Their large size also allows for large drivers (i.e., speakers) to be installed in the chassis for greater sound depth and clarity.  This type of headphones traditionally has a high quality of sound reproduction.

On The Ear
These headphones take a more compact route because the ear cups dont have to be so large. Thats because the headphones are placed against the ears, rather than having them going over them. Theres room in the cups for all kinds of technologies as well as fairly large speakers too. And the lesser weight of these type of headphones means wearing them for longer periods of time becomes possible. Prices for these type of headphones vary, depending on what the brand makes available in them.

In The Ear
These are the type of headphones that the digital age has made us used to: they are often called earbuds because they fit inside the ear canal and so theres no outer seal between the listener and the world as there is with a pair of over- or on-the-ear headphones. There are many advantages to using these type of headphones; the most obvious being they are the least obtrusive to the eye. These type of headphones often come with varying types of interchangeable ear-tips that make for a better fit, since not each persons ears are the same as the next. Often used with smartphones (and tablets too), in-line tabs for controlling the music being played, along with taking/answering phone calls through a built-in microphone, can be found attached to the cord. Or accessed from the headphones directly if wireless. The quality of these type of headphones affect the price, with the range being from super affordable to professional-grade.

Which type of headphones will best suit you will depend on what you want to listen to and where you want to listen. But its great having so many choices.

Monday, November 03, 2014

New Tech Makes Watching TV Better Than Ever

The holidays are approaching and for many, that means it is time to get a new TV for the living room, for the kids, for the in-laws or even for oneself. But choosing a TV shouldn’t be relegated solely to what it looks like in the showroom: there’s a lot of technology that makes for a great picture. Reading through the specifications for any given set will be helpful, but so is considering a few basics. So let’s pretend we’ve X-ray vision and take a look inside.

The Number of Pixels
There’s many terms to designate that a TV has high definition: a 720p HDTV, a 1080p HDTV, a 4K Ultra HD TV — these are all numbers that refer to how the TV’s screen displays images. An image is made out of pixels, and the more of them they are, the more densely they are packed together. This results in a “tighter” and more focused image, where there is greater detail. On a practical level, this also means how far away you have to be from the TV for the image to resolve. For example, stick your face right up to the screen of a 4K UHD (careful not to touch!). You’ll find that the image isn’t being broken up and blurry. That’s because of the high pixel count. On a practical level this means you can be closer to the TV without suffering any negative viewing effects (i.e., the picture is sharp and clear). Depending on the size of the room or number of people viewing, this can be significant.

The Contrast Ratio
Contrast is defined as the difference between light and dark. On a TV this means the difference between the brightest white and the blackest black that can be generated. Specs for TVs note numbers like 10,000:1 or 50,000:1 or higher, but on a practical level the contrast serves to help define the objects on the screen from other objects — a “dry” way of saying that a person walking across a street doesn’t get blended into the background, or that you can “see” into a dark alley rather than it looking like a black wall. Contrast also works to sharpen a scene and so aids in making details seen. New technologies like those found in an Organic LED (OLED) 4K UHD TV are so designed so as to be able to provide an infinite contrast where the blacks, for example, are so near-perfect that the TV turned off looks the same as when on (from the “black” point of view).

The Backlighting
LCD flat panel TVs are a mainstay today, and as amazingly thin as they are, there are still technologies between the back the display and the front affecting the view being seen. These backlighting technologies work to illuminate the image. One type is called “Edge-Lit”, because the lights are set at the edges of the frame encompassing the display, while the other is “Full-Array” and is inside and against the screen in a grid-like pattern. A visual difference between the two is that “Edge-Lit” allows for a thinner display, but otherwise “looking” at the picture is still the best guide to which is preferred. With that in mind, both of these types can also include “local dimming” which enables local areas to be illuminated independently. This greatly enhances the picture of the TV, as does the use of LED for the backlighting — keeping the set slim and adding brightness, clarity and color detail.

Choosing a TV is personal so don’t let all the tech terms confuse. Combine checking into the specs with how the picture looks to you. Then figure in where you want to put it and where you’ll be sitting when it’s first turned on. That will be a joyous experience.