CES: The Progress of 3D

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One of the biggest things at CES last year was definitely 3D. 3D TVs, 3D tablets, 3D Projectors. But there were a few reasons that I hated them.

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First of all, you had to wear Active 3D glasses. These basically flicker each lens so fast that you can’t see, and it does it in rhythm with the TV. That’s how you could see two different images in each eye, giving you that 3D effect. As you can see, they tended to be a bit ridiculous. They were bulky and giant, needed to be charged, and were extremely expensive to replace. They also darkened the screen you were looking at quite a bit.

The other issue with 3D was that the colors were degraded. The saturation and contrast was reduced, and you give up everything in picture quality just to get that 3D effect. Basically, you were trading the convenience of TV just so you could get two pictures simultaneously.

This year, things have changed.

Exhibit A would be LG. They have created an amazing 3D smart TV that uses passive 3D glasses. These are the same glasses that you wear in a movie theatre, and are just plastic lenses that aren’t electronic at all. In fact, LG had a giant wall of these 3D TVs playing an awesome sequence of 3D footage. They were handing out tons of 3D glasses, because each one costs less than $0.05 to manufacture in China. You can keep it, break it, or lose it, and it won’t be a disaster.

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Another benefit of passive 3D glasses is that you lose the bulk.

19d6bb35 reald glasses

These are very light and thin glasses. In fact, some people even call them stylish – you may see people walking around in these glasses with the 3D plastic lenses popped out.

The nice thing about these new TVs is that you still have that beautiful color contrast and saturation that high-end TVs are known for. The brightness is still a bit reduced, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was last year.

3D still has a ways to go – the need to wear glasses in general is a bit annoying, and the screens that don’t require 3D glasses (called autostereoscopy) are absolutely awful and disgusting. But the progress is obvious, and it seems like 3D is going from a stupid gimmick that was awfully executed to something that you might actually be able to enjoy in your living room.

Dolby Ok, go event

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I recently attended an event at dolby labs with Ok, go there. If you don’t know who Ok, go is, look at this video. I bet you’ve seen it somewhere sometime…. Now why is ok, go at dolby? Well, lets think. Ok, go=music. Dolby=sound. Music, sound, see the connection? The real reason the band was there is because dolby took their latest music video “this too shall pass” and converted it into 7.1 surround sound. They didn’t just expand the two tracks of stereo over all 8 speakers, but they actually got the individual microphone clips and used those to create a quality surround sound experience. The video was played back in full surround sound and quite high volume in the dolby labs theatre, which features some of the best in dolby surround sound technology. If you watch the video and say “I could totally imagine this on dolby surround sound!, ” then you’re wrong. You can’t imagine it. You have to hear it to believe it. It is scary how music can literally invade you if you have the right quality and the right system. If I had this theatre in my house and I played this at the same volume level, the neighbors would call the police who would come to my door for sound violations. The event was fun, as we crowded into the theatre and watched the video without the left and right channels (they had a server error, welcome to a PC dependent company). Then, Ok, go came on stage and did some Q&A with the audience. They emphasized how they are welcoming open source music and how they think that everybody should be able to take songs and remix them to their likings. They also talked about how they really aren’t too crazy about illegal downloads of their songs and it’s really the music labels that go crazy, as ok, go is more on the music side of things than the business (which will really come in handy for creating some great songs). What happened was we crowded into the theatre, they played the video without the left and right channels (server error) and then Ok, go did some Q&A. Every couple of questions they would play a song then get back to the Q&A. And when we were almost out of time they played the video this time with all channels included. Dolby said that they were interested in taking music and upping it into dolby surround sound as it gets publicity for everyone. Dolby gets publicity for converting artists’ music, and the artists get publicity because dolby wants to show off their amazing surround sound technology using their music. Now in addition to Ok, go there was something else extremely great there. Dolby Home theater four is not available to the public yet and who will be vending it is not known either. All of this information will be announced at CES2011. But I was lucky enough to get a preview of the software anyways. Dolby Home Theater v4 can do two exceptionally amazing things: it is able to take computer speakers and extreeeeeeeemely amplify them and it is also able to take standard stereo headphones and make them sound surround soundy. First of all would be computer speaker amplification. He played us a video without dolby on, then he turned it on.  It is amazing the difference. My mother is hard of hearing and without dolby on couldn’t hear the video at all. With it on she could. I think that this is great especially if you are on a train or on a bus. You can’t hear the video/music at all, but with dolby on you can. In addition to amplifying it can make it feel like the sound is coming from a wider range than tiny speakers inside of your computer. It can also boost dialoge in particular, so you can hear voices extremely clearly. The speakers have to be tuned to work best with the speakers which is why the software must be shipped with computers instead of a download. Each computer will have the software a tiny bit different to match the speakers. In addition to this amazing internal speaker improvement, they have added capability that you can use standard stereo headphones to make them like surround sound headphones. I was with my family and a family friend (Same one that did the ergonomics video of the magic mouse) and Kevin (a sound engineer) played for us a channel check. What it does is says “front left. front right. center. back left. back right.” through the corresponding channels. Without dolby turned on, you could barely hear a difference between each one. but with dolby turned on you wanted to look behind you to see who was saying that. The scary part about this is how it actually works. Here is a picture of vivienne’s reaction:

wait...What? Huh? How?!

As you can tell this is extremely perplexing. We have six channels going in through two speakers. I must make note that these aren’t special headphones at all. These headphones aren’t even made by dolby. These are just normal headphones. Now another thing in addition to this is that it can take the sound out of your ear and put the sound around your ear. Dolby makes it sound more like you are in a room, less like sound is being shoved into your ear. Usually using headphones if fatiguing, but dolby solved that problem. Having surround sound in your own personal speakers allows movies to have much more character and much more impact. It sounds more…. real. It’s amazing how people are cramming in 6 speakers into headphones, when really all you need is dolby. :) If you are at CES 2011, I highly suggest you head over to the dolby booth and try this stuff out. Dolby has some great stuff planned and they really know what their doing when it comes to their sound. Here’s a couple of pictures from the event.

Altec Lansing expressionist ULTRA

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Disclaimer: All opinions in this post are only my own and were not influenced in any form by employees or representatives of Altec Lansing.

I have quite a thing for Altec Lansing speakers. I had a pair of extremely old speakers which were working beautifully, and I could pump them pretty loud. But then I was introduced to these. Thanks quite a lot to Altec Lansing for sending me these speakers to review and for keeps. I really enjoy ‘em!

Design

These speakers are quite elegant, and feature a beautiful glass design that leaves absolutely no impression of these speakers being “sub-standard”, in fact quite the contrary.

Geometrically simple glass with 3" drivers and 1" tweeters

The large sub shared the same geometry as the other speakers, elegantly linking them.

Another quite interesting aspect of the system is the control unit.

Cool controller design!

To change the volume, simply twist the middle section of the control unit. You can determine your level of volume using the lights that appear. Also, while playing music, the lights flash in some cool patterns that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. Press the Treble and Bass buttons to control the levels of, well, treble and bass. On the side you will find a headphone jack and an AUX input, both very convenient!

But in this side of the review I came across a pretty minor problem. The cables for the sound system had an incredibly hard time stretching across my three monitor array and back down under my desk. I was barely able to squeeze the cables to fit, but I eventually did accomplish that. This may not be an obstacle for all persons, but if you have a huge multiple yard monitor array to stretch across, you may need to find some kind of workaround (try putting the subwoofer on the desk!).

Sound

I must say that as far as speakers go, these deliver crisp, separated, clean sound. The large subwoofer delivers bass that can literally shake the ground. The best thing about the system is that you can hear each range of sound incredibly clearly. It doesn’t seem to merge them together, almost as if every range was being played from a different speaker. This thing can get up to quite a bit of decibalage… How much, I have no idea as I don’t have one. But I’d bet it’s pretty high! The sound is really amazing even when at full blast. At full blast there is no muffling or distortion. You may go deaf (EXPRESSION!), but other than that it’s quite a remarkable sound system. You really just can’t describe the sound that this amazing system emits. On bass rich songs, you can literally feel the bass drum hit you (almost). The ground shakes and it just about literally emits a shock wave of sound that will hit you with force (literally!). You might as well just be at the concert itself.

Yet I have come across a problem. When there is no music pumping through the system, you get a fair amount of quite annoying background noise. Like a hissing kind of sound… No, this is not a particular manufacturing defect, I have heard of it on many forums online.

But I actually think of it as a reminder to turn the speakers off to save energy, as that may benefit the cause of this high energy bill; after all, 200 watts is quite a bit of power sucking, plus I’m starting to get worried about the structural integrity of my floor, and I hope that I won’t be falling through anytime soon.

Conclusion

Here is a basic list of pros and cons:

Pros:

  1. Rich, deep sound
  2. Can blast right through the floor (almost)
  3. Clean elegant design
  4. Bass rich, but not too much!
  5. Real glass, not cheap plastic
  6. 200-watt power

Cons:

  1. A fair bit of background noise
  2. Cables a bit short for multiple monitor arrays

I’m not going to count that last con as very few will encounter this same problem, and as I said, this can be worked around by putting the sub on the desk, which may result in an investment in a new desk after the sub blasts right through it (almost).

So the average score averages out to 8.7/10… OR FOUR [point 3] OUT OF FIVE STARS!

The Altec Lansing expressionist ULTRA system sells online for $199.95, which I think is a great price for this quality.

Once again, thanks a lot to Altec Lansing for sending me this speaker system for free to review and keep!

For more info and purchases, visit the links below!

Altec Lansing homepage

expressionist ULTRA

Altec Lansing OrbitM

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I recently attended the TeensInTech conference, which was quite fun. But they also gave out so maby goodies, that I paid $35 to go and came back with more than $100 of free stuff and I got to meet Steve “The Woz” Wozniak. Worth it? Ya. One of the things they gave away was the Altec Lansing OrbitM portable speaker. And it’s worth far more than the money I paid for it.

The design is overall very simple and elegant.

As you can tell, it is very small and cylinder shaped. It plugs in through a standard 3.0mm jack on and iPod or mp3 player. It also comes with an adapter to plug it into the 2.5mm Jack on a cell phone. It runs on 3 AAA batteries and even comes with this convirnient carrying case, complete with caribiner.

The unit comes with a slip of paper that says to turn off all base or treble enhancement settings. I must agree with them!
The sound is full and deep. The tiny little thing can go really loud too! The sound is just simply pleasing, and you don’t need a small speaker preset to get great sound out if this thing.

Basically, this is probably one of the best speakers of it’s size in current existence. It usually runs for $40, but they were given out fir free at the Teens In Tech Conference, held annually. This speaker totally rocks, and I got it for free!