WATCHING AND RECORDING digital cable TV on your PC should be simple. Modern CPUs and videocards pack considerably more processing power than what you’ll find in even the highest-end DVR your cable company provides; and hard drives—while temporarily pricey, due to the flooding in Thailand—offer plenty of recording capacity.
In short, there is no technical reason why every interested TV viewer shouldn’t be able to enjoy this harmonious technological convergence. Ceton’s InfiniTV 4 USB certainly does its part, rendering the process as easy as can be, considering DRM issues restrict you to using Windows 7 (Linux users need not apply) and subscribing to your local cable company (satellite TV viewers need not apply).
In an ideal world, hardware like this would work seamlessly. You’d buy a multistream CableCard from your favorite retailer, plug it into your InfiniTV, connect the InfiniTV to your coax cable and to your PC’s USB port, and—bam!—your PC would be transformed into a four-tuner DVR vastly superior to anything any cable company offers today. In reality, the process is nowhere near that simple.
At first glance, Optoma’s DLP-based HD33 struck us as the Charlie Brown of this batch. While it was the first 3D video projector in this price range to reach the market, it delivers only 1,800 ANSI lumens of brightness, its zoom lens is limited to 1.2x, and you must buy the 3D glasses separately. Like the Epson, the HD33 doesn’t have a lens-shift feature, but it is the least-expensive model we looked at, and its image quality is at least as good as the other two.
The HD33 comes with an RF emitter for synchronizing 3D glasses, but the emitter is a stand-alone device that must be plugged into a VESA 3D port at the back of the projector. Optoma helpfully provides a bit of two-way tape so you can glue it to the projector housing, but it’s a tacky (no pun intended) solution at best. The glasses Optoma sent for this review (not included in the price of the projector) were considerably dorkier looking and less comfortable to wear than the glasses Acer and Epson provided. Optoma’s glasses are also unique in that they use a rechargeable battery, but that comes with a downside: You recharge them using a Micro USB cable and an AC adapter, which is also not included (although you could plug them into your PC). Alternatively, you can use any manufacturer’s DLP Link 3D-compatible glasses. You can expect to pay about $100 per pair for active 3D glasses of any type.
The best feature of Epson’s Home Theater 3010—a three-chip LCD projector—is its extreme brightness. At 2,200 ANSI lumens, it’s 10 percent brighter than the Acer, and more than 18 percent brighter than the Optoma. Its biggest drawback is the fact that it doesn’t include lens shift, which could make the projector more difficult to set up without having to resort to quality-compromising keystone adjustments.
If you do need to make keystone adjustments, the 3010 renders horizontal adjustments easy and precise. And when you’re running the projector in 3D mode, you’ll definitely appreciate that added brightness, since the tinted active-shutter glasses will block a considerable amount of light from reaching your eyes. The trade-off for all that brightness is a black level that’s slightly worse than the Acer’s. But black remains black, not dark gray, so we think the trade-off is worthwhile.
All three projectors delivered stunning 3D experiences. There’s one scene in the IMAX Blu-ray disc Under the Sea 3D in which a gargantuan potato cod turns to face the camera, and it looked as though the huge fish was protruding eight feet off the screen and right into the middle of our home theater. But only the Epson could accomplish the trick with complete effectiveness in the presence of ambient light from nearby windows.
WHEN SAMSUNG DEMOED the T27A950 for us a few months back, we got excited. This 27-inch, 120Hz display looks sleek and sophisticated, and it offers a long list of features, including an onboard digital HDTV tuner, picture-in-picture capability, DLNA-compliant networking, Samsung’s collection of smart TV apps, and active 3D. We couldn’t wait to get it in the Lab for a better look.
It didn’t take long for our excitement to ebb. The unconventional stand that makes the monitor stand out from the crowd severely limits the panel’s range of movement. You can tilt it forward and back by a few degrees, but you can’t adjust its height, pivot it into portrait mode, or mount it to a wall or any alternative stand.
Acer’s H9500BD 3D video projector is the most expensive of the three models here, but it has a couple of features the other two lack. Its overall image quality, however, is only on par with projectors in this price range. We’ll leave it up to you to match those considerations to your needs/wants list.
The H9500BD, like Optoma’s HD33, is based on Texas Instrument’s DLP technology. When connected to a PC or Blu-ray 3D player via HDMI, the projector is capable of producing frame-packed 3D video at 1920x1080 resolution at a refresh rate of 24Hz (the same frame rate movies are filmed at). If you want to play games, you’ll need to drop the resolution down to 1280x720, so you can use a 60Hz refresh rate (markedly better for games).
Unless you’ll be the only person watching the projector in 3D mode, though, you should keep in mind that Acer provides only one pair of 3D glasses with the projector; additional pairs of DLP Link 3D glasses cost about $100 each. (Flip over to Lab Notes on page 92 for a longer discussion of what you’ll need to drive any of these projectors with an AMD or Nvidia GPU.)
The next time you go shopping for a high definition television, don't be surprised to find that TVs from Sony and Samsung consistently cost more than the competition. The reason, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, is that both are forcing new policies on retailers forbidding them from advertising or selling TV sets for less than predetermined price points by each respective manufacturer. The policies apply to both online and brick-and-mortar sales.
Every quarter it's the same old story for cable companies. Subscriber losses have become the norm as streaming continues to pluck more viewers away from tethered cable, and in the fourth quarter of 2011, Comcast lost 17,000 TV customers. That might have been cause for panic a decade ago, but in today's landscape, Comcast has reason to celebrate.
Not to be beaten at its own game, TV streaming service Hulu has started airing its first original series to compete with Netflix. The show is called Battleground, and it centers around a Senate campaign in Wisconsin. Netflix just debuted it’s first series Lilyhammer, but the two companies are going about things quite differently.
Time Warner has rolled out a new TV viewing option for its customers to enjoy from the safety of home (and only from home). Live TV streams are now flowing to compatible web browsers for those with Time Warner TV and internet services. The TWC TV web app is in beta, but supports Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari. Although, the service does have a number of catches.
Amazon announced a deal with Viacom today that brings it one step closer to truly competing with Netflix as a streaming video service. Amazon Prime Video will soon be streaming TV shows from MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central to Prime subscribers. The 2,000 new titles will push Amazon’s Prime offerings to roughly 15,000.