Consumer electronics vendors are always looking for the next thing that will convince us to upgrade to the latest and greatest. For screens and TVs this use to be a race of resolution and frame rate however things began to stall once 1080p became ubiquitous. 3D and 4K were the last two features which screen manufacturers used to tempt us although neither of them really proved to be a compelling reason for many to upgrade. Faced with flagging sales the race was on to find another must-have feature and the result is the bevy of curved screens that are now flooding the market. Like their predecessors though curved screens don’t provide anything that’s worth having and, all things considered, might be a detrimental attribute.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a curved screen is a premium product as they’re most certainly priced that way. Most curved screens usually tack on an extra thousand or two over an equivalent flat and should you want any other premium feature (like say it being thin) then you’re going to be paying some serious coin. The benefits of a curved screen, according to the manufacturers, is that they provide a more theatrical experience, making the screen appear bigger as more of it is in your field of view. Others will say that it reduces picture distortion as objects in the middle of a flat screen will appear larger than those at the edge. The hard fact of the matter is that, for almost all use cases, none of these attributes will be true.
As Ars Technica demonstrated last year the idea that a curved screen can have a larger apparent size than its flat counterpart only works in scenarios that aren’t likely to occur with regular viewing. Should you find yourself 3 feet away from your 55″ screen (an absolutely ludicrous prospect for any living room) then yes, the curve may make the screen appear slightly larger than it actually is. If you’re in a much more typical setting, I.E. not directly in front of it and at a more reasonable distance, then the effect vanishes. Suffice to say you’re much better off actually buying a bigger set than investing in a curved one to try and get the same effect.
The picture distortion argument is similarly flawed as most reviewers report seeing increased geometric distortions when viewing content on a curved screen. The fundamental problem here is that the content wasn’t created with a curved screen in mind. Cameras use rectilinear lenses to capture images onto a flat sensor plane, something which isn’t taken into account when the resulting image is displayed on a curved screen. Thus the image is by definition distorted and since none of the manufacturers I’ve seen talk about their image correction technology for curved screens it’s safe to assume they’re doing nothing to correct it.
So if you’ve been eyeing off a new TV upgrade (like I recently have) and are thinking about going curved the simple answer is: don’t. The premium charged for that feature nets no benefits in typical usage scenarios and is far more likely to create problems than it is to solve them. Thankfully there are still many great flat screens available, typically with all the same features of their curved brethrens for a much lower price. Hopefully we don’t have to wait too long for this fad to pass as it’s honestly worse than 3D and 4K as they at least had some partial benefits for certain situations.
I remember buying my first high definition TV way back when my wife and I moved into our first house. Back when I was living in a share house (this was around 5~6 years ago now) one of my room mates made the decision to get one. After moving out I figured that I could go without one for a while since I had a relatively large CRT screen that I could use in the interim. It didn’t take long before the urge hit me and I set out to get one for myself.
My requirements were simple: I wanted a LCD that could do 1080p so that it would last me a fair while. Back then you were lucky to find any content that was greater than 480p that wasn’t on a DVD so I figured a 1080p screen would suit me for the foreseeable future. I had a budget limit too, $3000 was the top price I could pay and not a cent more. Of course all the sets that had my required feature set were well out of my price range, but I eventually lucked out when I found one that had a “bonus” 27″ set that I convinced them to take back and remove the price of it off the larger set. Flush with victory I walked out of there with a brilliant Samsung 46″ LCD display that still sits prominently in my living room today, and probably will for a few more years to come.
Now I consider myself something of an audio/visual buff (not to the point of stupidity, mind you) so there was another reason why I wanted something capable of 1080p. You see our eyes, well ones with 20/20 vision at least, are able to perceive details down to a resolution of about 1/60th of a degree of an arc. With this information in mind we can then extrapolate whether or not a screen of a certain size at a certain viewing distance will show any perceivable difference. At the time I relied on some helpful forums that had rough guides as to what resolutions needed to be viewed at what distances but I just recently found this chart which demonstrates the principle much more clearly:
Looking at my choice of screen (46″, 1080p) with my view distance (around 6~7ft) it’s clear that I made the right choice. Interestingly enough though should I want to go for the next resolution up and get the full benefit of it I’d have to get a screen that’s almost triple the size, which makes sense considering just how much higher resolution 4K footage is compared to 1080p. I’d strongly recommend using this as a guide if you’re considering buying a HDTV in the near future as there’s simply no reason to go for the biggest/highest resolution screen you can get if you’re not going to be able to tell the difference between it and a cheaper set.
This is all rendered somewhat moot by the fact that a set that’s very comparable to mine now retails for just $799 thanks to Kogan. Back when the choice between the biggest/best and the appropriate was on the order of a couple thousand dollars it really did matter. Today it’s not so much of a big deal as a very nice set can be had for under a third of the cost that it used to be and the differences between them are usually limited to the screen size.
You’d think that this kind of price differential would make my blood boil but it’s just the way technology works. If you want something like a HDTV there’s really no point in delaying it for the next model as there will always be something better and cheaper just around the corner. I committed to the purchase fully aware of what I was getting into but I also made sure that my cash would see use over many, many years. So in reality I’ve pretty much came out even and I have never felt wanting for a new HDTV.
Well another year has gone by since my last post on the iPad so that must mean its time for Apple to release another one. The tech media has been all abuzz about what Apple had in store for us today (like there was any doubt) ever since Apple sent out invites to the event that, as of writing, is still taking place. Speculation has been running rampant as to what will be included in the next version and what will be left by the wayside. Not wanting to disappoint their fans Apple has announced the next version of the iPad (strangely bereft of any nomenclature denoting its version) and it’s pretty much met expectations.
Usually I’d chuck a photo of the device up here for good measure but the new iPad is basically identical to the last one as far as looks go, being only slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor. Honestly there’s little room for innovation in looks as far as tablets go, just look at any other tablet for comparison, so it’s no surprise that Apple has decided to continue with the same original design. Of course this might come to the dismay of Apple fans out there, but there’s at least one defining feature that will visually set the new iPad apart from its predecessors.
That feature is the screen.
If you cast your mind back a year (or just read the first linked post) you’ll notice that rumours of a retina level screen for the iPad have been circulating around for quite some time. At the time many commented that such a resolution would be quite ludicrous, like near the resolution of Apple’s 30″ cinema dislpays kind of ludicrous. Sure enough the now current generation of iPad sports a 2048 by 1536 resolution display which gives it a PPIof 264, double that of the iPad 2. Whilst everyone is calling this a “retina” level display its actually far from it as the screen in the iPhone 4s sports 326 PPI or about 20% more pixels. The display will still look quite incredible, hell even monitors with a lower resolution and an order of magnitude more size manage to look great, but calling it a retina display is at best disingenuous.
Of course to power that monster of a screen Apple has had to upgrade the processor. The new chip is dubbed the A5X and sports a dual core general CPU and a quad core graphics chip. As always Apple is keeping the gritty details a closely guarded secret but it’s safe to assume that it sports a faster clock rate and has more integrated RAM than its predecessor. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something along the lines of 1.2GHz with 1024MB of RAM as that would put it on par with many other devices currently on the market. We’ll have to wait for the tear downs to know for sure though.
Apart from that there’s little more that’s changed with the new iPad. The camera is slightly better being able to take 5MP stills and film 1080p video. Whilst you won’t find Siri on this yet you will now be given the option of doing speech-to-text on the iPad. That’s pretty much it for what’s new with the iPad and whilst I wouldn’t think that’d be a compelling reason to upgrade from the 2 I’m sure there will be many who do exactly that.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been eyeing off an iPad for quite some time now. I had had my eye on many an Android tablet for a while but the fact remains that the iPad has the greatest tablet ecosystem and for the use cases I have in mind (read: mostly gaming) there’s really no competition. The new iPad then, whilst not being worth the upgrade in my opinion, has reached a feature level where it represents good value for those looking to enter into the tablet market. If you’re just looking for a general tablet however there are many other options which would provide far more value, bar the insanely high resolution screen.
Apple’s yearly release schedule seems to be doing wonders for them and the new iPad will not likely be an exception to that. Past the screen and new processor there’s really nothing new about the now current generation iPad but I can see many people justifying their purchase based on those two things alone. The really interesting thing to watch from now will be how Apple goes about developing their ecosystem as whilst the iPad can boast the best tablet experience Google’s not too far behind, just waiting for the chance at the crown.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of my Samsung Galaxy S2, mostly because the specifications are enough to make any geek weak at the knees. It’s not just geeks that are obsessed with the phone either as Samsung has moved an impressive 10 million of them in the 5 months that its been available. Samsung has made something of a name for itself in being the phone manufacturer to have if you’re looking for an Android handset, especially when you consider Google used their original Galaxy S as the basis for their flagship phone the Nexus S. Rumours have been circulating for a while that Samsung would once again be the manufacturer of choice, a surprising rumour considering they had just sunk a few billion into acquiring Motorola.
Yesterday however saw the announcement of Google’s new flagship phone the Galaxy Nexus and sure enough it’s Samsung hardware that’s under the hood.
The stand out feature of the Galaxy Nexus is the gigantic screen, coming in at an incredible 4.65 inches and a resolution of 1280 x 720 (the industry standard for 720p). That gives you a PPI of 315 which is slightly below the iPhone 4/4S’ retina screen which comes in at 326 PPI which is amazing when you consider it’s well over an inch bigger. As far as I can tell it’s the highest resolution on a smart phone in the market currently and there’s only a handful of handsets that boast a similar sized screen. Whether this monster of a screen will be a draw card though is up for debate as not all of us are blessed with the giant hands to take full advantage of it.
Under the hood it’s a bit of a strange beast, especially when compared to its predecessors. It uses a Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 processor (dual core, 1.2GHz) instead of the usual ARM A9 or Samsung’s own Exynos SOC coupled with a whopping 1GB of RAM. The accompanying hardware includes a 5MP camera capable of 1080p video, all the usual connectivity options with the addition of NFC and wireless N and, strangely enough, a barometer. The Galaxy Nexus does not feature expandable storage like most of its predecessors did, instead coming in 16GB and 32GB variants. All up it makes for a phone that’s definitely a step up from the Galaxy S2 but not in every regard with some features on par or below that of the S2.
Looking at the design of the Galaxy Nexus I couldn’t help but notice that it had sort of regressed back to the previous design style, being more like the Galaxy S rather than the S2. As it turns out this is quite deliberate as Samsung designed the Galaxy Nexus in such a way as to avoid more lawsuits from Apple. It’s rather unfortunate as the design of the Galaxy S2 is really quite nice and I’m not particularly partial to the rounded look at all. Still I can understand why they want to avoid more problems with Apple, it’s a costly exercise and neither of them are going to come out the other side smelling of roses.
Hand in hand with the Galaxy Nexus announcement Google has also debuted Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of the Android OS. There’s a myriad of improvements that I won’t go through here (follow the link for a full run down) but notable features are the ability to unlock your phone by it recognizing your face, integrated screen capture (yes, that hasn’t been a default feature for this long), a NFC sharing app called Android Beam and a better interface for seeing how much data you’re using that includes the ability to kill data hogging apps. Like the Galaxy Nexus itself Ice Cream Sandwich is more of an evolutionary step rather than being revolutionary but it looks like a worthy compliment to Google’s new flagship phone.
The Galaxy Nexus shows that Samsung is very capable of delivering impressive smart phones over and over again. The hardware, for the most part, is quite incredible bringing features to the table that haven’t yet been seen before. Ice Cream Sandwich looks to be a good upgrade to the Android operating system and coupled with the Galaxy Nexus the pair will make one very desirable smart phone. Will I be getting one of them? Probably not as my S2 is more than enough to last me until next year when I’ll be looking to upgrade again, but I can’t say I’m not tempted 😉