TVs become art & Augmented Reality for all – new tech

New tv technology tech gdgetsThe holidays are one of the busiest times of year for technology. Retailers are getting ready for the rush by learning about what’s new. I recently had the chance to attend a mini technology trade show as manufacturers touted their newest gadgets and tech to London Drugs.

Smart TVs are amazing

TVs are no longer giant furniture-sized room hogs. Today’s newest TVs can blend seamlessly into your room by doubling as art. Samsung’s Frame TV is one of them. Engineered to hang on a wall with a slim and near-invisible cable, the Frame also has a large built in art gallery of masterworks and photography so when it’s not broadcasting television, it displays hyper-real art that looks like an actual painting, not like a shiny TV screen. It’s impossible to describe accurately in words; the effect is worth seeing for yourself.

LG has also gone the route of TV-as-art. Its new set is a sheet of glass that also features access to professional artworks. While it doesn’t have the option of getting wrapped in a wooden frame like Samsung’s does, it’s still ultra thin and the video picture is stunningly realistic in 4K resolution.

Sony showed off its near-flat TV that also features something called Acoustic Surface. Essentially it’s got a speaker built into the TV screen so the audio on a singer’s lips, actually sounds like it’s coming from her lips, not a tinny speaker under the set.

See how these Art TVs work in my YouTube video.

Augmented Reality for real people

One of the most amazing demonstrations I saw came from ASUS. The company showed off its new phones that come equipped with Augmented Reality capabilities.  Why might you need that? ASUS demonstrated the ability to virtually place furniture in your room using the Wayfair app; just use the phone’s video camera to view your room, then virtually place the furniture in your exact space. The effect is amazing, and brilliant.

Asus Zen Phone Augmented reality demo BMW car tourI saw an amazing demonstration from BMW and ASUS where you can take a virtual tur inside and outside a car, using Augmented reality and just your phone.

New tv technology tech gdgets samsung gear iconxWireless earbuds are getting better

If you’ve looked into wireless earbuds recently, you know battery life has been an issue. After all, getting just 2 hours on average from a set of buds isn’t going to do much for anyone. Fortunately manufacturers have been working hard to improve the hardware. Samsung’s IconX earbuds now boast more than double the battery life of before, going from about 2-3 hours to 7.

Similarly Jabra is now making its own fully wireless earbuds that delivers 4.5 hours of play time, coupled with a portable charging case that gives you a total 13.5 hours of power at your disposal. The Elite Sport earbuds are small and completely wire-free making them perfect for athletes or commuters.New tv technology tech gdgets

Both of these wireless earbud options now making investing in a pair of these worthwhile.

That’s just a snippet of the cool new tech I was able to see and test out in 24 hours. Watch for all the products named here to be in stores and online at London Drugs.

 

Roku Ultra – My review of 4K TV streaming gadget

roku-ultra-boxThere are plenty of TV streaming gadgets to chose from; AppleTV, Google Chromecast, and a whole array of devices from Roku. Roku Ultra is a new, top of the line media streamer with all the bells and whistles you could want. It will stream content from hundreds of online channels, it’s 4K/UHD compatible, it’s got HDR support for better colour, and it has an enhanced remote with voice search and private listening options.

I had a chance to spend several weeks with a Roku Ultra device. Here’s what I learned:

Getting Connected to Roku Ultra

Getting the Roku Ultra set up was easy, as it has been with more than half a dozen other Roku devices I’ve tested. The user interface is easy to follow and understand, even for newbies.how to connect older TV to new streaming device google chromecast, apple TV, Roku Express

The device will get you to connect to the internet first using Wi-Fi (or ethernet). After you put in your home’s Wi-Fi password it will likely download a software or firmware update.

Next, you have the option of letting the Roku Ultra to automatically select your display or TV type, i.e. HD or 4K resolution. The Ultra will blank the screen for a few seconds to auto-detect your TV’s display capabilities, then set itself to the correct choice for your TV, and ask you to confirm the setting.

Once that’s finished you will need to ‘activate’ your Roku to access content. From your PC, phone, or tablet go to roku.com/link then enter the code displayed on your TV screen. Once done, the screen will automatically advance and allow you access to the device.

Auto update is easy

roku-ultra-5With that process complete, you’ll log into your Roku account. Then, very helpfully, Roku will automatically update your preferred channels, if you already have an account with them. That means that if you have more than one Roku device, you can access the same stuff on all of them without having to set each one up individually. The setup process couldn’t be simpler. The longest portion of it will be creating a new account if you don’t already have one.

What you need to use Roku Ultra in 4K

Roku Ultra is one of the company’s three devices which is made to support 4K resolution. 4K TVs are a higher quality TV than HD, and have four times as many pixels as HD TV, so there’s a sharper, clearer video picture, but there are some things you must have in your set up to make it work.

For starters, you’ll need a 4K TV. As I noted, 4K TVs have higher resolution, and more pixels in each screen, so you’ll need one to display the 4K picture correctly. You’ll also need 4K content; including made-in-4K movies, or TV shows. Fortunately there are many dedicated 4K channels, and you can search for 4-only K content, so it’s easy enough to find.

HDR support

Another advancement in TV technology is HDR.  HDR provides better colour replication in video. Roku says it allows you to get, “rich, realistic color detail—even in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights—when you stream HDR content on a compatible HDR TV. HDR displays a wider range of colors, brighter whites, and deeper blacks to create more natural, beautiful, and true-to-life imagery.” Similar to 4K, you’ll need a TV that’s HDR compatible, as well as content optimized for HDR to get the most from this technology.

Using Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra is easy to navigate, with a simple main menu. You can search for or add shortcuts to your favourite channels so everything is easy to get to. Speaking of easy to get to, the Roku remote has a couple of shortcut buttons. You can navigate to Netflix, for example, with the touch of a button.

Roku Ultra Remoteroku-ultra-remote- erinLYYC-review

While you can use your smartphone as a remote control for many streaming devices, this one included, Roku comes with a physical remote too. I like the convenience of having a dedicated remote because I sometimes fund it clunky to grab my phone, access the lock screen, find the remote app, open it and then make my move. Assuming the remote isn’t under the sofa, it’s quicker to use.

Lost Remote Finder

But even if it IS under the sofa, you’ll know in an instant. There’s a built-in lost remote finder. You push a small button on the Ultra box, and the remote beeps loudly. I tested this with the remote stuffed under a cushion and could still hear it well enough to locate it.

Built-in Voice Search

The Roku Ultra remote has voice search capabilities. Just push and hold the search button while you talk. For the most part this works well, but you need to push it and wait half a sec, or you’ll clip your request, and the device will get confused. The Ultra does have some trouble with some words, mainly more obscure names.

If you’d asked me, I’d have said the voice search worked correctly ‘most’ of the time, but then I did some testing on the tool by running repeated requests. I did 20 searches, and the device got only 11 correct. Some searches took multiple tries to find, but found them eventually, others, it never found via voice but did locate using text search. I wouldn’t say the voice search was frustrating, but it could use some improvements. You definitely need to speak slowly and clearly.

Private Listening

The remote also features private listening. I love this feature, since it allows you to effectively silence what’s being watched, without a need for additional or complicated wireless headphone set up. You plug the included earbuds into the side of the remote, and voila! Instant quiet. It’s great for kids when you don’t want to hear Toopy and Beanoo for the millionth time.

Streaming Speed

The Roku Ultra was fast enough for my needs, and I never experienced any buffering or delays. It was quick and responsive. Roku says that’s thanks to its “fast quad-core processor and 802.11ac dual-band wireless”. Of course some of this is dependent on your homes Wi-fi speeds and in some cases you’ll be at the mercy of your service provider. Before you go looking for a device like the Ultra, it’s best to check with your internet provider to make sure your home has enough bandwidth to allow it to work properly.

Overall thoughts on Roku Ultra

I definitely recommend this device, and frankly, I don’t hesitate to recommend all Roku devices. They’re very easy to use, easy to set up and after testing numerous Roku devices, I have yet to encounter any major (or minor) problems with them. They’re consistently bug-free. I own two Roku devices already (both Streaming Sticks) and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the Ultra for my 4K TV set up, or for the additional features like the enhanced remote and private listening.

erin-roku-ultra-thumbnail

Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016

I’ve tested a lot of gadgets and gear this year. Picking favourites is hard, because unlike previous years, many of the items that have come into the tech test kitchen in 2016 are really high quality, and work well, so picking the cream of the crop is a challenge. Nevertheless, here are the Top 10 tech gadgets I highly recommend having in your life. Continue reading “Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016”

Great gear for back to school – CTV Tech Talk

tech-talk-sept16This week on CTV Tech Talk I showed you three cool gadgets that can make back to school easier and more fun.

Moleskine Smart Writing Set

moleskine-smart-writing-set-erinlyycThis gadget has really surprised me in terms of how versatile it is, and how well it works. It would be great for students, artists or just compulsive note-takers who never want to lose their notes, or who need an easy way to share them with others.

We barely had time to scratch the surface of everything this device can do on Tech Talk, so be sure to click the link below and read the full review.

The Moleskine Smart Writing Set  consists of a thick notebook in traditional Moleskine style; a bound and wrapped cover with an elastic to keep it closed, plus a special pen (called Pen+) that has the ability to connect to your smartphone, and automatically and seamlessly transfer whatever you draw or write in the notebook, direct to digital format, using the free Moleskine app.

The pen is larger than a standard pen and has built-in technology.  You push a button on the end of the pen, and connect it to Moleskine’s M+ Notes app.  Then, it tracks where you write on the page, and transfers it in real time to the app, in your own handwriting, or converted to text. The uses for this really cool technology are almost endless.

Read more about exactly how the Smart Writing Set works, and my full review of it here.

Roku Insignia Smart 4K TV4k-UHD-Insignia-Roku-TV-Best-Buy-Canada-1024x536

4K TV is the newest innovation in TV technology, and it’s all about the pixels. A 4K TV has millions more than the next best TV which is 1080p.

If you think of a TV screen as a giant grid made up of minuscule squares, a 4K image has about 4,000 horizontal pixels (that’s where the name “4K” comes from). In total, it has about 8 million pixels on the screen, or about 4 times as many as the next best TV. To explain it in a visual way, manufacturers are jamming as many total pixels as there are in all of a 1080p set, into about a quarter of a 4K screen. That’s a lot of pixels.

While the screen resolution is amazing, the Roku Insignia TV is also smart. You can stream shows with it, using Netflix, and you don’t need a seperate streaming device.  You can also surf the web, watch YouTube or play digital content. A 4K Roku TV brings you the best available resolution plus all the smartest TV features.

Click here to read the full review I did of this TV, as well as more about 4K technology.

Epson Ecotank ET-2550 Printer

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve had a printer in my home.  I haven’t missed having one for many years, that is until I started testing some new ones.

It’s not that I haven’t needed to print anything, but you know, you find other ways around that; snapshot photos, email copies, and yes, printing stuff at the office.

I have to say, that since I’ve re-adopted having a printer in the house, I’ve found them quite handy; and so has my family. Particularly because they’re now easier to use, more versatile, and there’s less fussing with ink and cartridges.

No ink cartridges in this printer!

epson-ecotankOn Tech Talk I showed off the Epson Expression ET 2550 EcoTank Printer. It’s a wireless printer/copier/scanner/fax/ethernet, which has a unique feature: it doesn’t use printer cartridges.  Instead it contains “eco-tank” ink bottles that are equivalent to about 20 cartridge sets. The printer I have includes enough ink to print up to 4000 pages in black or 6500 pages in color. That’s a long, long time before I’ll need to worry about running out of juice; possibly a couple years.

I reviewed a different model of EcoTank printer, one that has a slightly higher print capacity; read that review of the Epson Workforce ET-4550 here.

Whether it’s watching documentaries in glorious 4K resolution, printing book reports without the fuss of cartridges, or taking and sharing notes instantly and digitally, these three gadgets can help make back to school season easier, more productive, and more fun.

Contest – Enter to Win!

Want to enter the contest we talked about on CTV? Click here to be re-directed to the contest page. (*not active until Tuesday Sept 13)

Roku’s new 4K TV is easy to use with a gorgeous picture

roky tv4K or Ultra HD is the newest revolution in TV technology.

If you’re new to this TV term, 4K is all about the pixels. Millions of pixels. Millions more than the next best TV which is 1080p.

If you think of a TV screen as a giant grid made up of minuscule squares, a 4K image has about 4,000 horizontal pixels (that’s where the name “4K” comes from). In total, it has about 8 million pixels on the screen, or about 4 times as many as the next best TV. To explain it in a visual way, manufacturers are jamming as many total pixels as there are in all of a 1080p set, into about a quarter of a 4K screen. That’s a lot of pixels.

4K TVs are becoming much more common, and even though there are complaints there’s not enough content to watch, that’s starting to change.

Meeting the 50” Insignia Roku LED 4K/UHD TV

I had several weeks to test and review a new 4K TV to see what all the fuss is about. I cobbled together a temporary set up in my basement to test it out. The TV is the 50” Insignia Roku LED 4K/UHD TV. For the newbies, Insignia is the manufacturer, and Roku is the smart software or operating system platform that the TV uses. Roku is a well known maker of smart streaming devices like the Roku Streaming stick, and it’s a platform that’s bug-free and easy to use.

Set Up – Insignia Roku LED 4K/UHD TV

detail

Setting this TV up is very easy. Unpack it, plug it in, and connect to your home’s Wi-Fi. You’re ready! You can of course also connect to a 4K Blu-ray player (I tested it with the Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player) or other 4K compatible device. Yes, you can connect other non-4K devices, but the whole point of a 4K set up is to enjoy maximum resolution.

The full review of this TV was done for Best Buy’s Plug In blog.  Check it out HERE.

Another new TV acronym: What’s HDR TV?

hdr3If you’re in the market for a new TV, there’s a new acronym you’re likely seeing.  And if you haven’t yet, you will. “HDR” is a new TV feature that again raises the bar on video quality, colour, contrast and overall viewing experience.

What is HDR?Samsung-2015-TV-640

The Consumer Electronics Association or CEA, (which is the standards and industry organization for the US that’s kind of like the United Nations of electronics and gadgets) says HDR or High Dynamic Range TV “is a new capability that promises to deliver an expansive range of brightness and shadow detail, further enhancing the viewing experience.”

In a press release about HDR the organization explains, “HDR provides a significant step-up in delivering an incredible viewing experience for the consumer,” said Brian Markwalter, senior vice president, research and standards, CEA.”

So in a nutshell, a very small and simplified one, HDR is a format improvement that will make TV look better.  But how? And what will that mean to you if you buy a new TV?

This article was written for Best Buy’s blog. Click here to read the full article.

hdr2

VIZIO TV Review

Vizio-M551dYou’re probably not familiar with VIZIO TVs. They are a brand-new entry into Canada, launching just last fall. VIZIO markets their TVs as ‘smart’ TVs. So what makes them smart? Well, they have a lot of built in features that allow you to access social media, YouTube, Netflix and other streaming services, it’s all built right in, and it all works seamlessly.

I tested out a 60 inch M-Series model. For its size, the TV is extremely thin and light. There is only a very small bezel around the TV itself; it’s tall and lean and slim and beautiful.

My testing focused mainly on the social media and other included smart apps in the TV package, mainly because that’s what differentiates this TV from many others.

What Smart TV is included?

Apps in the VIZIO package include YouTube, Yahoo News and Yahoo Weather, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, and Crackle.

Setupvizio remote

The setup was very easy. Straight out of the box I just hooked it up to the power, connected to Wifi, and it was ready to go: nothing complicated. One of my favorite things about this TV is its remote control. There’s a regular remote on the top, but flip it over and there’s a full backlit keyboard on the bottom of the remote. Pure genius. That makes it so much easier to enter passwords into Twitter or Facebook to get them up and running, which you’re going to want to do on this TV, since that’s one of the features that makes it so fun to use.

Yes, someone thought of the keyboard remote before, but including it in a Smart TV is the perfect marriage of click and QWERTY.  Plenty of streaming TV devices give you a remote, yes, or allow you to input passwords or write social media postings on-screen, but having the keyboard remote makes it as easy as can be, because, after all, no one wants to use the on screen keyboard. N-O–O-N-E.

Social Media Integration

The social media apps run in a smaller window to the left of the screen; almost a picture in picture setup. I really like this because during a season finale of a TV program, or during a big game, or other event, I could definitely see myself loading up a hashtag in the twitter window, while watching the program itself to the right side of the screen. It basically lets you watch things unfold both live, and online, all at the same time. It’s the ultimate way to multitask.

One of the things I didn’t like so much was that in order to link up another family member’s social media accounts, you have to log out completely, and then the other person logs in. Plus the log out screen is buried deep inside the social media menus; not exactly quick and easy.  A nice add on for the next generation VIZIOs would be to have the ability to switch back and forth between user accounts without starting over.

Picture Quality

Though I was mainly focusing on videos from services like Netflix, and YouTube, the video quality and speeds were great. The picture was clear, crisp and didn’t appear to me to need any kind of re-calibration or adjustment.

vizio2So who is this “VIZIO”, anyway?

VIZIO bills itself as “America’s #1 Smart TV Company, #1 Large Size LCD Company and #1 Sound Bar Brand”.  The company is based in the USA, in Irvine, California, and its mission is all about making great TVs that are user friendly, but also TV that come, “at a significant savings that we can pass along to our consumers”.  As I mentioned earlier, they launched in Canada in September 2014.

VIZIO has started out its lineup in Canada with the brand’s popular E- and M-Series Full-Array LED Smart TVs and a range of audio solutions, including 2.1 and 5.1-channel sound bar systems.

The Bottom Line

One of the things I like best about the VIZIO TVs, are how easy they are to use. (I just had the displeasure recently of testing out a gadget that was definitely not user-friendly and was a huge headache right from box opening, so I’m all about simplicity this week!) I could see anyone from a teenager, to a senior, having no problems running any apps or programs on this TV; you can turn it on, and basically figure out exactly what you need to do, and don’t need a complicated and unwieldy manual to help you figure it out.

Yes, you could get yourself a streaming TV stick or peripheral to use things like Netflix or YouTube, and yes, you can access Facebook and Twitter on your phone, but the way more and more of us are using TVs, is not just for TV watching.  For starters, TVs are increasingly becoming the main home computer; we’re watching streaming video there, and using it to communicate with others (think about the way video game players are using services like Twitch), so it’s only natural that instead of having a phone, a tablet and a TV, we’re finding a way to integrate what they all do into one device.  Remember back when you carried a clamshell phone, a camera, a Palm Pilot or other organizer, a watch, and a calculator?  This is where TVs get a chance to fold all the good stuff into one package too. It makes sense, and when it’s as easy to operate as the VIZIO pack, it’s a treat.  In fact, between the easy to use features, the slick and slim profile, the great picture quality, not to mention the great value, the people I work with were so impressed with the 60” VIZIO M Series we tested, we purchased it on the spot so we wouldn’t have to give it up.

Now that’s saying something.

**This review was originally published on the Future Shop Tech Blog.  Watch for it to reappear on the BestBuy.ca Plug In blog soon. VIZIO TVs are available at Best Buy.