4K goodness continued…

A while ago I picked up my new Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray player and 9-channel AV receiver with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X to go with my new OLED 4K TV set. Since then I have had some experience with my new gear and I am indeed quite happy with it so here’s some ramblings from me about OLED, 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos.

DMP-UB700EFLet’s start with the OLED TV together with the 4K Blu-ray player. The image is just great. The biggest improvement is actually not so much the resolution, the AV receiver is pretty good at upscaling a normal Blu-ray, but the HDR colors. The picture just pops out at you in stunning, smooth color. Sure the increased resolution is quite visible as well but it is really the color that adds the most. Together the improved color and resolution makes for some stunning images, at least as far as I am concerned.

Moving on to the receiver. This is the other big advantage. I got my rig configured as a 5.1.4 system. A “normal” 5.1 system with 4 height channels added. Sadly I, as is probably the case for most people, could not go for “real” ceiling mounted height speakers so I had to settle for the “Atmos enabled” kind of up-firing add on speakers. Maybe this is the reason why I feel the height dimension is not as present as I hoped it would be. It is there for sure but I have yet to listen to a track where you really her a plane or whatever fly across the ceiling of the room.

Marantz SR7001However, I was still awed when I fired up the first movie with my new receiver. I thought my old Onkyo 876 was a pretty good receiver but this Marantz SR7011 is even better. The precision is really fantastic. The sound is crisp and clear and that includes boom effects like explosions etc. The first movie I fired up was The Magnificent Seven remake. If you have watched it you know there are a couple of big explosions in the beginning. I was almost chocked when the loud but incredibly precise explosions rolled out of the speakers without any annoying rumbling effects whatsoever.

The surround effects and the positioning of the sound was also incredible. Again I thought my old 5.1 system was great for bullets swishing past in big shootouts but the new rig brought it to a different level entirely. You almost felt the draft when bullets where flying past your head. I have not yet tried to make a comparison between the rig with and without height channels but, even though the height effects is not as noticeable as I hoped, they definitely seems to add to a really realistic end emerging sound field.

I am really happy and for the first week I could not wait to quit my job and rush home to slap a movie into the player. The one thing that I am a bit unhappy with is that the Panasonic player do not have a function/button for changing the subtitles on-the-fly. What the f… is that? Quite often you forget to set the subtitles or you do set them but when the film starts they did not stick. I am Swedish, I live in France, I work in Switzerland and has English as my preferred language. Also, my oldest kid prefers English sound with French subtitles. My youngest kids prefer French sound without subtitles. I prefer the original sound, if I can understand it, and no subtitles and English subtitles if the movie is in a language I cannot understand. So this is quite a big deal for me.

Well, appart from that I am a happy puppy.

4K goodness here I come!

Over lunch today I picked up the last missing bits of my 4K-capable home cinema setup, a Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray player and a 9-channel AV receiver that can handle Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

Tonight I will go straight from work and start installing and setting it up. I can hardly wait. I will probably forget to eat tonight 🙂

I suspect that there will be another post once I have installed it and been able to use it for a while. I hope it will be a good one and not a disappointed rant. Fingers crossed!

Got myself a new OLED TV

Recently I caved in to my dark desires and replaced my old(ish) LED-LCD TV for a new and shining 55″ OLED one. A Philips 55POS901F/12 to be exact.

As usual I, as someone having grown up in a time when the TV-repair guy actually made house calls to repair your TV, am a bit saddened about the fact that I was replacing a well working piece of hardware just to get one with the latest bells and whistles. Well I wanted a bigger one than my old 46″ screen as well but still…

Anyway, I felt like sharing a few words about this new gadget of mine. Yes I call it a gadget since I can not really claim that a 55″ OLED TV with all its bells and whistles is one of life’s essential requirements (it is damned close though, I can tell you 🙂 ).

I looked around for a while before I decided which model to buy. There are a lot of interesting models out there but I draw the line when you can buy a small car for the price of a TV set. That price level is just ridiculous for even the one percenters. You got to be in the 0.1% or be seriously fanatic about your home cinema gear to accept that kind of price.

I also ruled out the models with those silly curved screens. Curved screen is a hyped up marketing gimmick, nothing else. At the distances and sizes we are talking about for a TV installed in a normal home a curved screen is a big minus if anything. The guy who sits in the sweet spot may have some (debatable) benefit from it but every one else will be suffering.

Philips 55POS901F (2)
Philips Ultra HD 4K OLED TV

The Philips brand was on the list quite early since I do like their Ambilight technology. It produces a wonderful relaxing atmosphere when watching movies in the evening and you can synchronize your Hue lights to it as well. So when Philips came out with their first OLED TV and it generally got very good reviews I went for it.

So, is it any good? The first thing that comes to mind is that the picture is simply stunning! When I bought my old Philips it was supposed to have one of the best picture on the market and up until I got my new beast installed I thought it was pretty damned good. I still is I guess but the OLED one is just wow. The color reproduction is just so much better than on any LCD screen that I have seen. On my PS3 I have a theme with a background of a post-apocalyptic city with lots of smoke and fires. On the LCD screen there where a lot of dark, almost black, smokey areas. On my new TV there are loads and loads of details in those areas. It is like it is a whole new image. The fantastic picture alone is worth replacing my old TV. There are also plenty of settings to adjust the picture, apply software corrections etc. etc.

The other big reason that I wanted to replace my old TV was that I wanted a 4K capable one. I have already started to buy some of my new additions to my movie collection in Ultra HD Blu-ray. At least for the time being the Ultra HD Blu-ray’s always seems to include a standard Blu-ray as well so, given that I planned to upgrade to a 4K set at some point, it seemed logical to get some of the more visually extravagant movies at least as Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Unfortunately I have not yet upgraded the rest of my system (receiver and Blu-ray player) so I cannot yet comment on how proper 4K material looks on the TV. The missing hardware (including a Atmos/DTS:X setup) is coming soon though so I guess I will have make another post on this subject by that time. I do get Netflix’s version of 4K via the Netflix app on the TV though and it looks pretty good. However, as with all the streaming services, it is compressed as hell to reduce the bandwidth requirements. Even a standard Blu-ray has up to three times the bitrate compared to what Netflix offers. Also, the sound quality when streaming is plain Dolby 5.1 at best so I refrain from any in depth comments on 4K images for now.

Philips 55POS901F - Connections
In / Out Connections

I have played a fair bit of HD and SD material from Blu-ray, Netflix, Hulu and basic TV out of my Internet/TV box though and I have to say that the set is doing a pretty good job of it. The Blu-ray’s are magnificent when upscaled to 4K and displayed in splendid OLED colors by the TV. It has a function to “upscale” the colors as well by oversampling and it is doing a decent job of it. SD material is of course looking like … SD material. You cannot create information out of thin air so upscaling a 480p signal to 4K is a rather tall order. Having said that the TV is doing as good a job as can be expected. The image certainly do not look any worse than on my old TV and that is good enough for me.

The one drawback I see is that it is indeed not as bright as my old TV. Whether it was a sunny day or in the middle of night, I could still enjoy watching TV. I still can but the OLED screen is struggling a bit on a sunny day.

Okay, stunning image but what about the rest? Well I guess there are speakers built in. Okay, yes there are speakers built in but I have not used the built in speakers of any TV set for 15 or so years. I always feed the sound through my AV receiver.

The user interface and the remote I can say a few things about though. The remote(s) are somewhat disappointing compared to the slick metal remote of my previous Philips TV. They have a plastic feel and are just average on ergonomy. Actually, the cheapest of the two controls are the best one to use since the more advanced one has a stupid combination of track pad and arrow keys in the center which at the slightest touch decides that you wanted to do something completely different than what you really wanted. After setting up my Logitech universal remote the Philips ones promptly got delegated to the box-of-electronic-gadgets-that-I-probably-never-will-use-again.

Unfortunately the on screen user interface is about as dull as the interface on my previous TV. Philips should really hire some professional GUI designers. It does what it is expected to do but not really anything more. It also seems somewhat unfinished and inconsistent. Sometimes you gan navigate with the arrow keys and sometime you have to use the back button and it seems to be anyone’s guess whether or not back brings you back one step or all the way out. The user interface is simply unacceptably poor for a high end TV today.

Philips uses Android as it Smart TV OS and people that are better at reviewing has written enough reviews about Android on a TV so I am just going to say that I do not really like it. Dull user interface, not really that many apps that I actually care for and, as usual, it comes pre-loaded with a lot of crap (including a lot of useless Google apps) that I really do not want. Yes I do not have to use them but I have to scroll through all that crap when I navigate around in the OS.

Well there is probably a lot more I could praise or harp about but to me this TV boils down to one thing. Stunning picture quality and that is what I buy a TV for. The fact that the design looks good in my living room even when the TV is turned off is just a bit of icing on the cake. It is a shame that the remotes are a bit shoddy but I almost never use them anyway and neither do I muck around in the on screen menus that often so … I am a happy puppy.

Got myself some smart lights.

Unlike in the US where most new homes a prewired and equipped with lights, heating etc. ready to be controlled remotely this is, unfortunately, not the case in most of Europe. Heck, construction of my apartment was completed on the 1st of April last year (no joke) and the park it resides in is supposed to be of a fairly high standing, yet there is not a shred of equipment that can be automated in it. So anyone from the US will probably fail to see why I am a wee bit exited about automated lights since it is probably old business for them. To me it is a new experience which I found quite fun to play with and in addition I am a gadget freak after all.

philips-hue-app-rooms-page
Philips Hue app

I already have my home cinema well “wired up” so that it can be controlled from my Harmony Elite universal remote, phone or tablet(s) so I decided to get myself some smart lights. The main provider, at least in Europe, is Philips with their Philips Hue lineup so I decided to go for that brand.

 

At first I only wanted to automatically control my lights. For example turn on all or a set of lights in a room when I came home or when I woke up but I pretty soon found out that there are just so many fun things to do with home automation once you get started.

huedynamic-ambiences
hueDynamics ambiances

You can of course use any of the multitude of apps on your phone or tablet as a simple remote to turn on and off lights manually. I use hueDynamics on my Windows phone and Windows tablets. It is a stable and well done app. It’s main drawback is that you can only use the predefined scenes on it. You cannot create your own personal settings. There are plenty of usable scenes so it is not that big a deal. I also use a dirt cheap 7 inch Android tablet as a glorified remote with the Hue app from Philips and the Harmony app from Logitech since some apps do not come for Windows 10. A fact that I find really crappy, at least from large companies. Both can control your lights in different ways. You can also add motion sensors to you setup.

 

philips-hue-app-scenes
Philips Hue scenes

The Philips Hue app can control your lights one room at the time or individually. You can save your settings in scenes for later reuse. You can set the intensity and color of each light but that is about it. If you want animations and such like fancy stuff you have to find another app. You can however set a certain scene to start at a predefined time. For instance, I have set the lights in my bedroom to turn on slowly over a 5 minute period at the same time as my alarm goes off.

 

Depending on you apps capabilities you can set lights to go off on certain events like start when the sun rises (the hub keeps track of sunrise in your local time zone) or flash when you get new email or SMS etc. There are a huge number of possibilities.

That brings me to my Harmony Elite universal remote. It can of course turn on and off the lights manually using an activity on the remote but what is more interesting is that you can tie Hue settings to any activity. That is, you can automatically dim your lights when you start a movie watching activity and bring them back up to normal strength when you finished. Just for fun I also programmed my ambiance light beside the TV set to change color depending on what activity I was starting.

Philips Hue lights waching Blu-ray
Watching Blu-ray

For instance a blue tone when watching Blu-ray, a orange one for Orange TV, red one for Netflix etc… Normally you do not want to turn on the lights during daytime (unless you have a dedicated home cinema without exterior daylight coming in of course) so you can program the Hue related parts of the activity to only happen after sunset.

By the way, the photos are not showing the actual effect very well. The light is much more uniform and soft in reality, it is not so somber in the rest of the room and it is certainly without that horrible bright blooms where the camera sensor got saturated.

Philips Hue lights watching Netflix
Watching Netflix

All in all smart lights are quite fun, at least I think so, as well as practical. No more running around and turning on or off all the lights. You can turn them off automatically when the sun comes up, at a certain time or when you are not at home in order to save energy. The bulbs themselves are somewhat expensive, especially if you go for the ones that can do colors,  but they are LED powered so theoretically the should last a very long time, certainly longer than normal lightbulbs for sure.

 

Another wonderful Saturday with the kids.

logitech-harmony-eliteActually this particular Saturday has been even better than most Saturdays so far. Yesterday I got my new gadget delivered. A new Logitech Harmony Elite universal remote to replace my old Logitech One remote. Although my old one was still working it had a broken screen with a big black blotch on it as was beginning to become a wee bit unreliable. The new one is using the Harmony Hub so you do not have to point it at the equipment. You can even use it in another room and you can have it control not just your AV equipment but also things like your lights, termostat etc if you have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth enabled such equipment. It is also a lot faster and more reliable than the old IR only Harmony One.

Just before lunch I got another pleasant surprise. The postman was using the port telephone to ping me. At first I wondered why he did that. I did not expect a package and he does have the port code. On my way down to meet him my little lightbulb finally lit up. My French drivers license would be delivered via registered letter and sure enough there was one waiting for me and when I opened it my French drivers license was finally there. Yeah!

Still, the main enjoyment of the day was of course the kids coming. We just finished watching the 2016 Christmas special of Doctor Who while eating a lamb stew and bread from the village bakery that I had prepared. The featured image of the post is the stew being prepared.

The bloody crap did it again !

CanalSat Le Cube is CrapYes this is another rant about that crap-box (+Le Cube) from CanalSat so you can probably stop reading now. If you happen to be a CanalSat employee you probably will since that company do not seem to care one bit about what services they provide to the customers. Anyway, I need to write something to get my frustrations out of my system so here it is…

It is bloody unbelievable what crap hardware this is. A while ago we wanted to record the last two episodes of Warehouse 13 since we could not watch them when we had planned. So I set them to be recorded by the above mentioned crap-box. Actually I do not like that series very much but Jonathan does so we are watching it.

When I looked the day after it looked like they were recorded and everything was well. However, when we sat down to watch them we found out that it had recorded everything with a 3(!) second delay between the picture and the sound. What the f…?

And only a few days after that debacle we realized that SyFy had decided to give four episodes of the second season of Alphas on the same evening. I hate it when they do that. Why the hell do the French always always rush through all the TV-series by forcing in at least two episodes every evening?

Anyway, we realized this when the third one started so we said, let us record it. When I clicked on the record button in the menu the bloody crap just hung. Totally unbelievable. Nothing we did could unblock it. We really wanted to go to bed, it was a working day the next day, so we just went “to hell with it” and left it there. The next morning it was working again but both episodes that we had set up to record was just showing failure.

It is f… unbelievable what kind of utter useless crap this is. I’m getting closer and closer to spend, and possibly waste if it doesn’t work, some money on getting some other hardware for this.

Okay, rant over.

Grumble, bloody cheap CanalSat receiver

CanalSat Le Cube is CrapLast evening we where planning to watch the last two episodes of Warehouse 13. The last two that have been recorded that is. There’s more episodes on their way in April for this season.

However, we where never able to watch anything. It was not really any particularly nasty weather or anything but the signal just broke up every so often and gave us a black picture with the sound still going. Flipping to another channel and then back gave us back the picture but only for a little while. Naturally this incredibly cheaply designed and manufactured CanalSat “+Le Cube” receiver didn’t give us something useful like “Lost signal” but just screwed up the image over and over again.

I tried to power down the receiver and power it up again but then of course we get to the next issue with this cheap pile of crap. It takes forever for it to power up. Especially when there seems to be reception problems. We’re talking 10 minutes or more. That’s just plain ridiculous. I’m sure whoever coded the firmware didn’t bother with any form of error handling nor did anyone apply any form of quality assurance to the work so it sits and waits forever on some timeouts trying to connect to the satellite signal before giving up and booting with the last known data.

So, even if we would have gotten the crap to work again, it would have been too late with half the episode gone so we switched over to the ground based TV network and watched the last half of Scary Movie 3 on one of the few channels available. Not my first choice of stuff to watch but better than nothing.

It is really a shame that CanalSat pretty much holds a monopoly on satellite transmissions in France. I would have bought myself a satellite receiver from one of the known brands some time ago if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m worried whether it will actually work or if CanalSat have screwed around with something and deliberately made their stuff incompatible with standard equipment.