Royal Caribbean is offering “virtual balcony staterooms”

Every cruise-goer wants the ability to recreate the Jack and Rose experience of“flying” on the bow of the ship from their room, but unless you book a window suite early, getting that experience can pose a Titanic-sized challenge. For latecomers who want the waterside experience, Royal Caribbean is offering “virtual balcony staterooms” with 80-inch floor-to-ceiling HD displays framed to look like an actual balcony. The TVs display close to real-time video from the bow and stern of the ship shot on RED Epic HD cinema cameras, complete with audio. Guests can set the mood by switching between cams using an in-room remote, or close the curtains on the display if it gets too romantic.

Sound nauseating? Control Group, the company behind creating the rooms, worked with experts from M.I.T and Harvard on a special fibre-channel delivery system to make sure the experience of moving differently than what you see on the screen doesn’t make you want to toss your cookies. Eighty of the new rooms set sail for the first time February 5th on Royal Caribbean’s ship Navigator of the Seas. You can book a romantic television-side stay for future voyages now on the company’s website.


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Recent Shea Home Project

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The Sperling Heavyweight Turntable L-1

The Sperling Heavyweight Turntable L-1

(Credit: Sperling)

Audioarts imports the Sperling Heavyweight Turntable L-1 from Germany, and even before you hear this incredible work of art your eyes tell you this is one serious machine. The Heavyweight Turntable L-1 can accommodate two tone arms, and that allows owners to instantly choose the sound they want for the LP they’re going to play. With two arms they can enjoy two, very different-sounding phono cartridges, maybe a mellowKoetsu for 1950s jazz, and a state-of-the-art Lyra for the Black Keys. The Heavyweight Turntable L-1′s flexibility makes this possible.

Ansgar Sperling, the company’s founder, started out as a radio and television electronics technician before earning an engineering degree. He next tackled a number of studio construction projects, but his real passion was analog sound. The Heavyweight Turntable L-1 demonstrates his commitment to extracting the very best sound from LPs

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2014 CES Preview

There’s usually some degree of difficulty involved with figuring out what to expect from CES. Although we head in to the show pre-briefed on most of what will be shown, nearly every manufacturer keeps something a secret in order to surprise us. And even with all that foreknowledge, it’s always tough to gauge what will be a hit in the eyes of showgoers. This year, however, things are different. It has become abundantly clear that CES 2014 will be dominated by a single technology topic: Ultra HD 4K.

Never mind that nobody knows exactly what to call it (Ultra HD 4K, 4K Ultra HD, UHD, just Ultra HD, or just 4K), the industry has settled on the next big thing for television and, unlike the tepid response 3D technology received in years prior, Ultra HD is in a strong position to take over in the years to come. It won’t just be Ultra HD televisions that will be making headlines this year, either. 4K content and the means by which it will be delivered to viewers is also coming. That fact alone will change the conversation around Ultra HD, which has typically revolved about the glaring lack of said content and delivery methods.

LG 77 inch OLED Ultra HD TVAs announcements are made and embargoes are lifted, we’ll see that every TV manufacturer has beefed up its Ultra HD television line-up and trimmed down its 1080p TV line. Everyone wants in, even Polaroid. Prices on Ultra HD sets will fall (though not by huge margins) while embedded features and technology will have advanced.HDMI 2.0 will be the new input standard, and upscaling chips will be promoted as bridging the gap between now and that time when Ultra HD content is bountiful.

We already know that Netflix will begin streaming Ultra HD content sometime this month, but we expect some bigger announcements from the streaming media king regarding more content availability and partnerships with certain TV manufacturers. Netflix may not be the only media delivery outfit talking Ultra HD, either. We’ll also see wireless Ultra HD streaming demonstrations attempting to prove that not only is streaming Ultra HD over a Wi-Fi network feasible, it is easy and looks great.

What about OLED?

OLED televisions will make their presence known, with LG providing the brightest beacon for the TV technology. But Ultra HD will probably cast a pretty big shadow, as it clearly has  priority backing from the rest of the industry.

High-resolution audio: The Yin to Ultra HD’s Yang

Thankfully, CES 2014 will offer plenty of diversions from all the Ultra HD madness, but to get at some of the hottest stuff on display, A/V enthusiasts will have to abandon the show floor at the Las Vegas convention center and claw their way to Venetian Hotel.  Just as high-resolution video has garnered attention, so too has high-res audio. Some amazing things are happening in the world of digital audio delivery, and that’s attracting more attention to audio manufacturers’ speakers and amplifiers. This year, Digital Trends will spend more time than ever at the high-end audio suites in the Venetian to bring you a close look at what’s being done in this suddenly blossoming category.

Sound bars and sound platters

HW-H600 Sound Stand

Sound bars continue to be popular, and we expect we’ll see and hear some high-performance models at the show, but there’s a new product category that we expect to take the audio booths by storm this year: Sound platforms – also known as sound plates, sound bases, sound pedestals, etc – are the new hotness in one-box audio solutions. These devices sit flat on an entertainment stand or cabinet and function as a base for a television. Their increased cabinet volume allows for richer sound with more bass, even without an external subwoofer. LG is already onto the second generation of  its Sound Plate, Samsung just announced the introduction of its Sound Stand; and that’s just the start. We expect nearly every audio manufacturer will have one of these on display this year.

Wireless audio

When high-resolution audio isn’t stealing headlines, count on wireless audio solutions to step in. Naturally, there will be countless portable Bluetooth speakers, but we also expect to see more wireless surround sound systems and more companies taking on Sonos and its mesh network-based approach to whole-home wireless audio solutions.

What about the headphones?

Could it be that the headphone bubble has finally burst? We think so, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty on display st the show this year. We’re looking forward to checking in with well-established brands such as Sennheiser and Audio-Technica, as well as those relative newcomers which we expect will survive the implosion, such as Klipsch, Sol Republic and, of course, Monster.


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Smart Phones Have Come a Long Way!

Considering where phones were just 12 years ago—the Kyocera 6035 was introduced in 2001, one of the first smartphones to reach North America—and where they are now, it’s hard to argue that any technology has become as entrenched in our daily lives. And in that space, Apple’s iPhone, introduced in 2007, has been one of the most disruptive and significant influences on the technology world; the iPhone not only changed our lives and the way we interact with technology, but shaped the landscape of how future smartphones should look and perform.

Coupled with high-speed Internet and the growing app marketplace, smartphones are often the most important tech device in many of our lives, with phone calling often the least used feature. The exciting news for techies is the amount of control available for your home from anywhere in the world, and much of this amazing tech is affordable and DIY-friendly to install!

A/V Control
Automation systems like those from Crestron, Control4, and AMX have been leveraging the smartphone’s power for system control for some time, but now standalone users can get in on the fun. Many modern A/V receivers, TVs, Blu-ray players, or streamers include free app-based control with a rich user interface. Both the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 include built-in infrared blasters, enabling basic control over your A/V gear. Turning your smartphone into a universal remote control replacement can be done with devices like the Griffin Beacon, Peel Universal Remote, and Gear4 UnityRemote. And the newly released Harmony Hub promises to bring the power and simplicity of Harmony’s programming setup and activity-based control to Android and iOS phones.

One of the coolest devices I’ve added to my own home recently was the sub-$100 Chamberlain CIGWC (Craftsman and Liftmaster models are also available, covering about 80 percent of the garage door market). This Internet gateway took about 15 minutes and a screwdriver to install, and now I can check my garage door’s status—and open/close it, or be notified around specific events—via my smartphone from anywhere in the Internet-connected world. It’s great for when my wife asks me at midnight if I remembered to close the garage.

For smartphone-based lighting control, check out the Phillips Hue, which can replace from one to 50 light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs. Hue delivers control not only over dimming but also color changing—perfect for when you want to go from a dimly lit romantic evening to re-creating The Matrix’s green cast for sci-fi movie night. Former CEO and Chairman of CEDIA, Utz Baldwin, knows a few things about automation and integration, and his new company, Ube, offers what appears to be an interesting twist on lighting control, with an affordable housewide solution that’s due to launch in November. With affordable dimmers and outlets, Ube hopes to bring lighting control to the masses.

Most security panels can be upgraded with a cellular module as a backup form of protection. This also lets you utilize services like those offered by, allowing you to monitor your home and arm or disarm the security system from your smartphone from anywhere.

If you’ve ever been riding down the road and wondered if you remembered to lock the front door—or needed to let someone into your home while you were away—then you will appreciate the smartphone-compatible locks from Kwikset, Schlage, and Yale. Simply open the app and lock/unlock the door to your heart’s delight.

Whether you’re worried about security or just want to keep an eye on your cat all day, Web cams are cheap, easy to install, and can be viewed on your smartphone. Some cams can even pan, tilt, and zoom, allowing you to track and capture the next keyboard cat in action.

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Whole Home Wiring 101

Q: I’m having a new house built. What wires for control and audio/video should I have run to each room?

A: Congratulations on building a new home! This is one of the most exciting experiences we can have, and if you’re like me, you want every product and feature to be high quality, low cost and installed quickly. Residential audio/video (AV) technologies and products are always improving in quality and lowering in cost. As a result, this area is growing in importance for consumers and integration companies.

My first recommendation is to meet with a qualified, experienced AV consultant during the planning phases. This person will take a look at your blue prints and talk you through the necessary solutions for wiring your home. A true pro will listen to your vision, provide feedback and work their hardest to meet your expectations.

Of course, there are many questions to be asked about wiring, like “will this be a centralized automation system or a localized system?” The technician will be able to answer each technical question and build a detailed wiring plan.

The wiring will be slightly different for each new home built, but there are several standards that you will likely incorporate into your house. You will need Cat5 or Cat6 Ethernet cabling, 16/2 speaker wire (can be costly, shop around). Also, coaxial cabling should run throughout the house. It’s also essential nowadays to install electrical conduit, which will ensure that you’ll be able to run the necessary wiring for new technological products that are release in the future. Good luck with your new home!

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Consulting With A Tech Installer

A realtor wouldn’t dream of selling you a house without understanding your needs and wants (or “must-haves” as they’re known these days). The same goes for the professional who designs and installs A/V and automation systems into homes. In order to provide a customer with technology that will truly enhance the convenience, comfort and entertainment value of a home, he needs to learn about how those homeowners live in their home now, what they’d like to improve about the house and how they envision life in an automated residence, among other tidbits.

So what are some of the areas you can expect your CE pro to ask you about?

The House Itself
Certainly, he’ll need to know whether you plan to automate an existing house, will be remodeling or would like to put the system into a house that’s on the drawing boards. Some of your first meetings with a CE pro could take place at your house; this will give the installer an opportunity to gauge the complexity of the job. He’ll need to see if there’s an attic, basement or crawlspace through which to fish cabling; if not, he may investigate other wiring avenues. He’ll be able to see first-hand if there are any materials like concrete and stucco that could make the project more difficult. Also, he’ll probably ask you about current technologies your home might already have: built-in speakers, a computer network, a security system? With a clear understanding of your home’s makeup, a CE pro will be able to determine the types of tools and manpower he will need to get the job done, and what types of products and systems—for example, wireless or hardwired—will work best.

Inconvenient Truths
Everybody can rattle off a few items they find annoying or inconvenient about their home. Maybe it’s the closet and bathroom lights that nobody bothers to turn off, or the tedium of locking up and shutting things off before bedtime. A CE pro wants to hear your pet peeves you so he can design your system that takes care of those trouble spots. Don’t hold back, and make sure every member of the family has a say.

Comfort with Technology
How do you use technology in your home now? For example, are you a fan ofstreaming music and video services? Are you a PC or Mac user? Do your kids do much of their homework online? What about mobile devices? Are they loaded with apps? A CE pro can tell a lot by your current use of and familiarity with technology. For example, if everyone in family is an avid user of an iPad, your CE pro may design a system that lets you use this device to manage and monitor your home systems. If you have thousands of CDs, then those might be prioritized within a whole-house audio system over streaming services, for example (or perhaps you’d rather pare down the collection and simplify to the streaming route).

Way of Life
Lifestyle is a big buzzword in the home technology industry, and for good reason. A candid discussion of your way of life will likely reveal the most important pieces of information a CE pro needs to design and implement a system so in sync with you and your family that you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it. At the very least, expect to divulge your household status (single, married, kids, elderly parents), your family’s schedule (work, school, travel), your social life (do you entertain frequently) and your hobbies (sports, exercise, photography, art collecting, etc.). If your daily routine involves a half hour on the treadmill, perhaps you’d like to have some music piped in over in-ceiling speakers rather than be tethered to an iPod; or maybe create the proper lighting environment for displaying artwork.

Aesthetic Preferences
Do you want to show off your home electronics investment or keep it under wraps?Your aesthetic preferences will help a CE pro decide whether he should install speakers that recess into the walls or models that stand out in the open, for example. If you like the idea of having all of the A/V components (amplifiers, processors, Blu-ray players, etc.) hidden completely from view, by all means tell your CE pro. There are lots of clever ways to hide technology.

On the Clock
Prepare to have an idea of when you’d like the project started and finished. Do you want everything installed by the holidays? Is there a special event by which you’d like the project buttoned up? Based on answers to earlier questions, a CE pro is probably visualizing a system, but when you say you want it done in six weeks, he may have to rethink the plan, or may even bow out if you’re firm on the deadline. Be clear with your time frame; be flexible if you can.

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Director’s Choice 100 from Stewart Flimscreens

Stewart Filmscreen’s Director’s Choice 100 is the ultimate marriage of the world’s best screen material and the most precise masking system available. The DC-100 represents an improvement to Director’s Choice and Director’s Choice 2.0 systems up to 14’ image widths.  Upgrades include full horizontal masking closure, and a slimmer 10” frame profile.

The Director’s Choice is easy to tune and operate ensuring a perfectly masked image no matter what the aspect ratio. Never again must you cope with unsightly black bars or image cropping.

Optimize your Director’s Choice with Stewart’s award-winning front or rear projection materials. Microperf X2 is available when acoustic transparency is required (acoustically transparent panels also available upon request).

Stewart’s exclusive VeLux™ black-velvet appliqué gives the Director’s Choice a luxurious look and feel. This specialized frame finish absorbs possible over-scan while boosting perceived contrast.

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Samsung UN75ES9000 LED TV

Samsung’s UN75ES9000 Smart LED TV brings together a design that makes heads turn, cutting-edge technologies that deliver clear images in both 2D and 3D, and interactive ways to control the TV. The 75-inch TV delivers a larger-than-life, extra-premium experience along with a timeless new design concept that incorporates a beautiful rose-gold-colored finish and super-slim 0.31-inch curved bezel with no visible seams.

With Micro Dimming Ultimate and Precision Black Local Dimming, the ES9000 LED TV offers one of the most amazing picture quality available on the market. Micro Dimming Ultimate analyzes the picture in hundreds of zones to optimize the LED backlight and video signal for each zone in real time, increasing peak whites in areas of lower gradation. This leads to an overall 20 percent increase in brightness and allows home entertainment enthusiasts to enjoy richer colors, brighter pictures and higher contrast ratios. Precision Black Local Dimming delivers richer contrast by dimming the LEDs behind dark areas of the picture, thus making blacks darker without affecting brighter elements of the picture.

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Samsung E8000 Smart Plasma TV

Samsung’s E8000 Series Smart Plasma TV offers enhanced display technologies in a slim design for the most exceptional plasma TV experience Samsung has created to date.

The E8000 provides a true-to-life picture for a viewing experience that is sure to please any movie lover. This Smart TV brings together clear images in both 2D and 3D, an elegant black bezel design and the interactivity of voice and gesture control.

Users experience some of the deepest black levels ever achieved on a Samsung TV, thanks to the E8000’s innovative Real Black Pro Panel. The state-of-the-art panel combines advancements in the structure of the plasma panel with software improvements, yielding blacker blacks, bolder colors, higher contrasts, and exceptional picture quality. This technological enhancement improves black levels by 10%, creating an incredible cinematic viewing experience.

The E8000 also provides consumers with the latest smart features such as Smart Interaction, Smart Smart Hub and AllShare Play. With Smart Interaction, viewers can control the TV by simply saying their commands or using their hand as a remote control. Samsung’s Smart Hub offers the industry’s most robust selection of premium content brands on a TV. With the recent addition of Amazon Instant Video, Samsung Smart TV owners have direct access to a portfolio of leading streaming services such as Hulu Plus, Netflix, Blockbuster, YouTube, Vudu, AOL On, Vimeo, BBC News and many others. Samsung is also the first TV maker to make available a gesture-controlled version of the popular Angry Birds game on its flagship TVs. Samsung AllShare Play allows content to be streamed wirelessly to the Smart TV from a connected Samsung device, such as a laptop or tablet.

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