Monthly Archives: September 2015

Philips 48PFS6909 review

Key Features: 48-inch TV with direct LED lighting; Full HD native resolution; Smart TV platform with Netflix and BBC iPlayer; Active 3D playback (two pairs of glasses included); Two-sided Ambilight technology

Manufacturer: Philips

What is the Philips 48PFS6909?

The 48PFS6909 is an affordable 48-inch Full HD TV with 3D and Smart TV features, although it’s not one of Philips’ Android TVs. Roughly in the middle of Philips’ current UK range, it also boasts the brand’s trademark Ambilight technology.

Design

Philips has turned out some of the best-dressed TVs in town in recent years, and the 48PFS6909 continues this theme with its slender glossy black frame, trim rear and distinctively angular, open-framed stand. It feels a little flimsier than it looks, but this isn’t a big deal unless you’re in the habit of stroking your TV regularly.

Philips 48PFS6909

Tucked away on the set’s rear side is a healthy roster of connections for a mid-range TV. Four HDMIs get the ball rolling, while multimedia playback is delivered via a pair of USBs and both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections. The USBs also provide the option of recording from the built-in Freeview HD Tuners to an external USB HDD.

Some of Philips’ current TV range have been built around IPS panel types, with fairly unhappy results. So it’s a relief to find the 48PFS6909 using a VA-type panel instead – a fact revealed by its active 3D system, as IPS screens go the passive route. It ships with two pairs of active-shutter 3D glasses.

The 48PFS6909 uses a direct LED lighting system, where the LEDs are positioned directly behind the screen. This can lead to better contrast than you get with typical edge LED TVs – though the 48PFS6909’s backlighting isn’t accompanied by a true local dimming engine where separate zones of the lights can have their luminance adjusted individually. Instead there’s something called ‘Micro Dimming Pro’, which breaks the image down into small segments for more accurate analysis and a degree of localised contrast manipulation.

When it comes to handling motion, the 48PFS6909 is a native 100Hz TV, but boosts this figure to 600Hz Perfect Motion Rate (PMR) via backlight scanning and Philips’ HD Natural Motion frame interpolation processing.

The processing engine inside the 48PFS6909 is Philips’ Pixel Precise HD system, powered by a dual-core processor. This isn’t necessarily great news given that Pixel Precise HD is a couple of generations old – we’re on to Perfect Pixel HD and 4K now – and some of the 48PFS6909’s rivals now use quad-core engines. But Philips has a strong pedigree of making its processing power count more than most, so hopefully this will prove true of the 48PFS6909, too.

The 48PFS6909’s dual-core processing also powers the set’s Smart TV features. We’ve covered these in a previous dedicated feature, but briefly the system is currently a B-lister on account of its ineffective content-finding features – its recommendations engine, for instance, is far worse than that of some rivals – and some key missing streaming services, such as the ITV Player, 4oD, Demand 5 and Amazon Prime.

The set can stream multimedia via DLNA from compatible devices, share content on your phone or tablet with the TV via the Philips MyRemote app, and mirror your smart device’s screen on the TV via MiraCast. It also has a Cloud TV feature that lets you access material stored in your Dropbox account, and client and server support to connect wirelessly to other TVs for sharing broadcasts and recordings between them without the need for multiple broadcast service subscriptions.

Philips 48PFS6909

Setup

There’s a bit of work to do if you want to get the best out of the 48PFS6909. For starters we strongly recommend that you only run the HD Natural Motion system on its lowest setting to stop the picture from starting to look overly processed. Also make sure the set’s noise reduction is off or set to low, and we’d suggest that you set the TV’s Contrast Mode to Standard to give pictures a slight contrast boost without causing brightness instability.

We’d also treat the provided Super Resolution sharpness booster with suspicion, as it tends to over-stress edges and cause a rather gritty look with all but the most pristine sources – and if those sources are so pristine, they arguably don’t need a sharpness boost anyway!

Philips 48PFS6909

Also worth tinkering with is the Ambilight setting, as we felt it was at its most effective at immersing you in the action when used on a gentle setting with a reduced brightness level.

One final surprising discovery is that the 48PFS6909’s ‘Light Sensor’ mode proves cleverer than most, adjusting the qualities of the image in response to the amount of light in the room without leaving the results looking unstable, too flat or too aggressive.

Aside from being a bit sluggish, the 48PFS6909’s initial setup menus are reasonably straightforward and well thought through, and include both a demo of the TV’s abilities and a picture setup wizard.

Picture Quality

With HD content the 48PFS6909 delivers a much more traditionally Philips-like picture than some of the brand’s other TVs this year. Which is a very good thing.

Particularly striking is how incredibly sharp and full of texture and detail HD pictures look. Even better, so long as you’ve got the Super Resolution feature turned off this exceptional sharpness is achieved without making the picture look noisy or ‘forced’, showing just how impressive Philips’ processing can be – even when you’re talking about a relatively mid-range processing engine like the one on show here.

More evidence of the quality of Philips’ processing can be seen in the way the 48PFS6909 handles motion. For provided you haven’t got the HD Natural Motion feature set higher than its Minimum level moving objects enjoy a seriously impressive combination of judder-free fluidity and extreme clarity, free of the resolution loss usually associated with LCD technology.

Philips 48PFS6909

Some folk will refuse to use the HD Natural Motion processing on principle, and so it’s good to find that the image still doesn’t fall badly prey to motion issues even without the Natural Motion processing active. But as arch motion processing sceptics ourselves, we’d recommend that you at least experiment with the system on this Philips set, as it might just surprise you.

The other key area where the 48PFS6909 outguns some other models in Philips’ current range – and a healthy number of TVs from other brands, come to that – is contrast. Feeding the set dark scenes once it’s been set up to its best advantage finds some genuinely convincing black hues and tones that provide a pleasingly natural foundation to the rest of the colourscape.

What’s more, the 48PFS6909’s black level response is achieved without having to remove so much light from the image that large amounts of shadow detail and colour resolution get crushed out. We’re not talking perfection here; there is a slightly hollower look to the blackest image sections than you get with the very best LCD performers. But dark scenes certainly look much more believable, natural and thus involving than they do on Philips’ IPS TVs. In fact, they look better than they do on the majority of rival mid-range HD TVs right now.

Also contributing to the 48PFS6909’s strong contrast showing is the evenness of its backlight. There’s a little clouding around the edges with some picture presets (especially the Movie mode) if you don’t rein in the backlight, but it really doesn’t take much work to remove this.

Colours look good during bright HD scenes too, enjoying a reasonable amount of punch and some exceptionally deft rendering of subtle blends and tonal shifts, even when showing tricky skin tones. We have seen more expensive Philips TVs produce more aggressive colours, but for its money the 48PFS6909 is one of the stronger colour performers around, at least with HD content.

Philips 48PFS6909

The only negative things to say about the 48PFS6909’s HD performance, really, are that occasionally there’s a slightly stressy look to contrasty edges, and some areas of very fine detail sometimes exhibit moire noise.

With standard definition the 48PFS6909 is hit and miss. With quality standard-definition sources like a well-produced DVD or relatively uncompressed standard definition broadcast Philips’ set is pretty good, with minimal noise and decent sharpness. However, colours look strangely muted versus HD sources, becoming less natural in the process, and this issue increases as the quality of a standard definition source decreases. Rougher standard-definition sources also tend to look rather soft.

3D Performance

The 48PFS6909 does some good things in 3D mode. Its 3D Blu-ray playback delivers the HD detailing we expect from the active 3D system, and images look quite bright and colour-rich despite the inevitable dimming effect of the active-shutter glasses.

These glasses – which are extremely reminiscent of the models you get with Samsung TVs – are more comfortable to wear than they look, and aren’t prone to reflections. Plus the sense of 3D space the TV creates is large but believable, and we only occasionally felt distracted by jaggedness around curved and diagonal edges.

Sadly, though, this good work is undermined by some pretty obvious crosstalk ghosting noise. This thankfully doesn’t show up as often as it can do on some active 3D TVs, but when it does appear – predominantly in the middle and background areas of large-scale images – it’s so obvious that it routinely distracts you from what you’re watching. Which is, of course, exactly the opposite of what you want to experience with 3D.

Philips 48PFS6909

Sound

Philips has delivered some interesting audio innovations in recent years, but the 48PFS6909 is one of its more average-sounding efforts. It’s fine when handling relatively straightforward programming, but when asked to shift up a few gears for an action movie scene the mid-range starts to sound cramped and muddy. Also, while the set is quite good at picking out treble details, the higher end of a mix can sound a little thin and harsh at times – a situation not helped by the set being unable to deliver a convincing amount of bass.

Other things to consider

As well as the 48PFS6909’s Smart TV features not delivering as much content, as much feature sophistication or as pretty an interface as those of some rival brands, they also ran a bit sluggishly during our tests.

Philips 48PFS6909

Affordable but contrast-rich mid-sized TVs like the 48PFS6909 have great potential as gaming displays. So it’s good to find this Philips set measuring just 33ms of input lag after we’d turned off all the picture processing. This means you should be able to game on the 48PFS6909 without it seriously damaging your performance.

Should I buy a Philips 48PFS6909?

At a time where good-quality mid-range HD TVs are frustratingly rare, you should definitely put the 48PFS6909 on your audition list. It really is a very strong HD picture performer for the money. Plus we remain firm fans of Philips’ still-unique Ambilight technology.

If you’re a heavy user of streamed video services, though, do bear in mind its lack of ITV Player, 4oD, Demand 5 and Amazon Prime Instant Video streaming support.

Verdict

More Smart TV services would have been appreciated and its audio isn’t as effective as that of some other recent Philips sets. However, shifting away from IPS panels has allowed the 48PFS6909 to deliver a much more ‘Philips-like’ picture, full of contrast and sharpness, that combines with Ambilight to make the 48PFS6909 a strong mid-range contender.

Scores In Detail

2D Quality : 9/10
3D Quality : 7/10
Design : 8/10
Features : 8/10
Smart TV : 6/10
Sound Quality : 7/10
Value : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Techwood 50AO1SB review

Pros
  • Incredibly good value
  • Good HD pictures for the money
  • Decently effective smart features for the money
Cons
  • Poor sound quality
  • Standard definition footage looks pretty rough
  • No DLNA multimedia streaming support

Key Features: 50-inch LCD TV with LED lighting; Full HD native resolution; Smart TV features including Netflix and BBC iPlayer; Multimedia playback via USB; Cheap price

Manufacturer: Techwood

What is the Techwood 50AO1SB?

Unless you’ve been a regular shopper at Morrisons supermarkets, you may well not have come across the Techwood brand before. But that’s about to change if new distributor ao.com has anything to do with it. Since taking the brand over, AO has wasted no time getting in a range of extremely aggressively priced models.

We thought it was high time we got hold of one – the 50-inch Techwood 50AO1SB for £349/$524 (yes, £349/$524!) – to see if AO’s latest move into the AV space is worth the attention of bargain hunters.

Design and Features

The 50AO1SB isn’t going to win any design awards with its fairly straightforward black fascia and hardly original silver rectangular desktop stand. However, that stand is startlingly robustly built, there’s a nicely shiny silver trim around the TV’s edges, and both the bezel and the rear are surprisingly skinny for a 50-inch TV costing less than £350/$525. Certainly you couldn’t accuse the 50AO1SB’s of wearing its budget nature on its sleeve.

Techwood 50AO1SB

Connections are surprisingly decent too. Three HDMIs are provided for HD digital video duties, there’s a pair of USB ports for playback of multimedia files from USB sticks, and most impressively of all the set is equipped with both wired and wireless network connections so that the TV can get online.

There are direct access buttons on the remote control for accessing Netflix and YouTube, while a ‘browser’ button opens up other options that include the BBC iPlayer, BBC News, BBC Sport, ITN, Flickr, Tunein Radio, CineTrailer, iConcerts, Accuweather, an open Web browser, Dailymotion, Twitter, Facebook, Viewster, Foreca, Joomeo, eBay, Google, Drivecast, and muzu.tv.

Clearly there are some pretty big hitters missing off this list – the ITV Player, 4oD, Demand 5 and Amazon Instant, in particular. But actually it’s not a bad smart offering for such an incredibly cheap big-screen TV. And we were gently impressed, too, to find the Techwood smart interface including the facility to have your Twitter and Facebook timelines appearing in a dedicated box on your home page. Even though we’d always say social media stuff belongs better on your phone or tablet rather than your family TV.

The 50AO1SB’s 50-inch screen contains a Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel count, a Freeview HD tuner, a simple noise reduction system, a dynamic contrast system, skin tone and red-to-green colour sliders, and even the ability to adjust the gain of the red, green and blue colour elements.

Techwood 50AO1SB

There’s no motion processing, meaning you’re left with a straight 50Hz image. Though to be honest, given how poor motion processing would probably be at this price level it may be a godsend that the 50AO1SB doesn’t bother with any.

Setup

The 50AO1SB doesn’t work as hard as most TVs these days to guide you through all the elements of initial installation. Really you just get an (incredibly slow) autotune system, and the option to tell the TV whether you’re watching at home or in a shop. Everything else – including setting up a Wi-Fi connection if you need one – you’ll have to hunt down in the onscreen menus yourself.

The menus and the remote control immediately make it obvious that the 50AO1SB is yet another European TV sourced from Turkish manufacturing giant Vestel.

Techwood 50AO1SB

The remote control is reasonably effective, with very responsive buttons – the click you’re rewarded with following a button press is almost too potent, actually! – and while the onscreen menus look dated by modern standards, they’re well enough organised to make navigating around them straightforward. The main and Smart menus are a bit sluggish to respond at times, but seldom frustratingly so – except, perhaps, when trying to type in long email addresses or internet search fields.

You have to be pretty specific with your settings to get the best pictures from the 50AO1SB, at least when watching films seriously. For normal day-to-day TV viewing you can probably just stick with the Natural preset, but for films we’d suggest choosing the Cinema preset, and then making sure the dynamic contrast option is set to Low. Switch the noise reduction off – especially if you’re watching an HD source – set the backlight to high or possibly Auto, and reduce the contrast to around its 50-52 level.

Picture Quality

How good the 50AO1SB’s pictures are depends very much on how realistic you are with your expectations. Clearly no sub-£350/$525 50-inch TV is ever going to challenge the kings of the big-screen TV world, and there are obvious flaws in its picture make up. That said, with its £349/$524 price given due weight, its pictures are actually much better than you’ve got any right to expect.

The most welcome surprise comes in the area of black level response. When set up as suggested earlier, the screen proves capable of producing deeper, more convincing black colours and dark tones than some TVs – especially those that use IPS-style panels – that cost twice or even three times as much.

Techwood 50AO1SB

There’s good consistency in these surprisingly effective blacks too. Provided you don’t try to run the image too brightly, you don’t have to put up with the overt backlight clouding problems witnessed on many previous Vestel-sourced TVs, nor any really distracting backlight “steps” when using the dynamic contrast setting.

There’s even a solid amount of shadow detail to be seen in dark areas, meaning you don’t have to put up with that hollowness or glowing look to really dark areas that’s so commonly seen with cheap TVs.

The inevitable catch is that delivering its credible black levels does mean the 50AO1SB has to sacrifice a hefty chunk of brightness versus the more expensive TVs out there that use some sort of local dimming. But the set can do punchy and bright via its Dynamic or Natural preset if you need to watch it in a bright room, and actually we’d argue that providing the flexibility to sacrifice enough brightness to get a believable black level for dark room viewing is a real strength at this price, not a weakness. Especially given the lack of blue or green “glow” over low-lit areas that so commonly destroys the images of cheap TVs with less impressive native black level response.

Techwood 50AO1SB

Being able to achieve a credible black colour – even at the expense of a lot of brightness – also means the 50AO1SB outguns almost all similarly cheap rivals with its colours. Its palette exhibits a warm, balanced tone and plenty of blend subtlety in cinema mode that’s far removed from the gaudy, uneven, cartoonishly flat approach often taken by budget TVs.

The relatively natural feel of the 50AO1SB’s colours holds up better than expected during dark scenes too, despite the lack of luminance.

The 50AO1SB’s sharpness with HD content is another very pleasant, budget-beating surprise. HD images look crisp, detailed and textured, avoiding the common soft budget finish, with the deftness of colour touch mentioned previously joining the simple pixel performance in helping to create a genuinely HD experience.

Techwood 50AO1SB

Inevitably for the money, and given there’s no motion processing, there’s some reduction in this sharpness when there’s motion in the frame. But again this isn’t nearly as severe as might have been expected for the 50AO1SB’s money – and there’s no serious judder to worry about either.

The biggest area of picture weakness for the 50AO1SB is its standard definition performance, as a lack of upscaling prowess leaves standard definition broadcasts looking noisy, soft and painfully devoid of the colour subtlety that’s so in evidence with HD. Something to think about, we guess, if for whatever reason you still spend a lot of time watching non-HD channels.

Sure, spending more can get you richer, subtler colours, much more brightness, more extreme contrast, and cleaner motion. However, this only applies if you spend your extra cash wisely. The 50AO1SB actually humbles a few sets with much higher price tags from much bigger brands.

Sound Quality

While the 50AO1SB delivers surprisingly good pictures for its money, it’s much more par for the cheapo course in the audio department. Its speakers deliver an at times painfully thin, compressed sound that distorts readily under pressure, causes wince-inducing harshness when there’s any serious amount of treble. It struggles to keep voices sounding rounded and clear, even with undemanding content. You’ll probably want to add a soundbar or soundbase at some point, in other words.

Other things to consider

If you’re after an inexpensive TV that can double up as a proficient gaming monitor, the 50AO1SB is a very credible option. For as well as delivering more contrast and motion clarity than the majority of its uber-cheap rivals, our tests also recorded an input lag of just 36ms when using its gaming mode. This is pretty low by LCD TV standards, and shouldn’t severely hamper your gaming skills.

Should I buy a Techwood 50AO1SB?

If you fancy some big-screen action but you’re on a tight budget, or you want a crazily cheap big-screen TV for a second room, the Techwood 50AO1SB should definitely be high on your list of options.

If you can find another £120-£150/$180-$225 then the attractive (but slightly smaller) Samsung UE48H5500 comes within your grasp, along with the decent Sony 48W605. But there’s really nothing else around at quite the 50AO1SB’s price that gets the budget TV job done as effectively.g

Verdict

There’s no doubt that the 50AO1SB is a cut above the ultra-budget competition – especially if you stick with HD as much as possible. In fact, AO’s cut-price champ even teaches some TVs from much bigger brands a trick or two.

Scores In Detail

Design : 8/10
Features : 7/10
Image Quality : 7/10
Smart TV : 7/10
Sound Quality : 5/10
Value : 10/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Dynaudio Excite 5.1 review

Pros
  • Large-scale sound
  • Sweet top-end and attacking tone
  • Solid build quality
Cons
  • Design and performance don’t quite justify price

Key Features: 5.1 speaker system; Magnesium Silicate Polymer cones; Fabric dome tweeters; 300W subwoofer; Black/white lacquer or Walnut/Rosewood real wood veneer

Manufacturer: Dynaudio

What is the Dynaudio Excite?

It’s an updated version of the Excite speaker system we reviewed last year and its aim is to sound great with any partnering kit, from budget AV receivers right up to reference amps.

The 5.1-channel system on test here features three all-new models – the X34 floorstander (front), X14 bookshelf (surround) and X24 Centre – plus the Sub 600 subwoofer.

Excite is positioned at the more affordable end of Dynaudio’s latest range. We know £5k/$7.5k isn’t everyone’s idea of affordable, but when you consider that a pair of the Danish brand’s new Evidence Platinum floorstanders will set you back £58,500/$87,750 then this is peanuts by comparison.

Dynaudio Excite 5.1 review

Design

The speakers come in two different types of finish – black/white lacquer or real wood veneer (Walnut or Rosewood). We were sent the Rosewood version, which is pleasant enough but if you’re looking for a bit more pizzazz try the lacquer finish.’

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

Their shape is conventional, but we like the X34’s understated, elegant appearance. The straight lines and conservative finish allow them to blend in easily with their surroundings. They come with silver feet that can be attached to the bottom and stick out from each corner.

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

Remove the magnetic cloth grille and the silver driver surrounds with exposed screws give them a more modern, industrial look.

What’s more, each X34 floorstander measures 950mm tall by 170mm wide, which is more living room friendly than many floorstanders on the market. Even more pleasing is their build quality – robust, heavy and firmly bolted, these speakers are designed to stand the test of time.

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

The same can be said for the £620/$930 X24 centre, a horizontally aligned speaker with an integrated metal base that angles it slightly upwards. Styled to match the X34 and equally robust, it’s a fine specimen.

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

The compact dimensions of the X14 bookshelf speakers (£900/$1,350 per pair) make them ideal for use as rear speakers – in fact they’re the most compact Excite speakers yet. Again they’re styled to match the other models and boast superb build quality. You can place them on a flat surface or on Dynaudio’s optional 3X stands.

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

Despite not being part of the Excite family, the £1,550/$2,325 Sub 600 is Dynaudio’s most advanced sub and looks the part in its similar Rosewood finish. The cabinet is solid and reasonably compact, plus there’s a wide range of controls on the back, including volume, crossover frequency and phase. There are LFE input and output (the latter allowing you to daisy-chain more subs in ‘Slave’ mode) and a phono input that takes a full bandwidth signal from a receiver.

Drivers

Dynaudio makes a big deal about the fact that Excite is designed to sound great no matter how powerful the amplifier. But how does it achieve it?

Dynaudio’s tweeters and mid/bass drivers have been developed to deliver a sound that’s ‘virtually independent’ of the amplifier used. Their higher impedance of 8Ω also works well with medium-powered amps.

The mid/bass drivers used by the X34, X14 and X24 are Magnesium Silicate Polymer cones with lightweight aluminium wire voice coils. The speakers use specially coated fabric dome tweeters.

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

Both the X34 and X24 use two of these mid/bass drivers while the X14s feature one mid/bass driver and one tweeter. The Sub 600 packs a 300W amplifier and front-firing 12in woofer.

Performance

Paired with our Onkyo TX-NR818 receiver – a potent but hardly high-end affair – this Excite system delivers an excellent performance. It’s easy on the ear and bursting with detail, yet punchy and powerful when it needs to be. As claimed, our Onkyo amp has no trouble coaxing a huge, rousing sound out of this system.

But as impressive as it is, we don’t feel it brings anything to the table that we haven’t heard from much cheaper systems. Monitor Audio’s 6AV12, for example, delivers similar levels of refinement, scale and room-filling power for under £3k/$4.5k, and it looks nicer too.

But let’s not undersell what is a very assured system. With The Desolation of Smaug, Excite lives up to its name with a blazing performance.

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

The movie is chock-a-block with massive set-pieces to test any speaker. Skip to the pivotal showdown between Smaug and the dwarves and the X34’s attacking tone and crisp high-frequencies make the blasts of fire, crumbling stonework and scattering gold coins really sparkle.

The Sub 600’s taut, muscular bass integrates seamlessly with the speakers and gels everything together. That brings a satisfying sense of scale, particularly when the dwarves start firing up the forges and lobbing bombs at the beast.

The dragon’s booming voice has amazing presence. It’s loud, deep and garnished with a gruff top edge. All the detail and nuance in Benedict Cumberbatch’s vocal performance is clearly articulated.

What’s more the X14 rears fill out the rear stage with warm, detailed ambience. Effects are precisely placed and move flawlessly between channels thanks to the careful tonal matching.

Excite also brings finesse to music playback, demonstrated by its gorgeous handling of Corinne Bailey Rae’s Munich – her ethereal voice drifts blissfully over the acoustic guitar, and you can hear every tap on wood and pluck of string.

Step up the tempo with Daft Punk’s Get Lucky and the bassline is tight and energetic, while Nile Rodgers’ iconic guitar work is skilfully brought to life.

Dynaudio Excite 5.1

Should I buy the Dynaudio Excite?

That’s a tricky one. There’s no denying that Excite is a top-class speaker system, offering the sort of sonic poise, scale and bass weight you’d expect from a renowned speaker brand like Dynaudio. Movie soundtracks are immersive, bursting with detail and peppered with punchy bass notes.

Build quality is also superb and its classy design guarantees maximum living room acceptability.

But sonically it didn’t dazzle us to the extent we expected for over £5k/$7.5k. Maybe you need a proper high-end amp at the helm to make it step up to the next level, but we’d be tempted to save money and opt for something like the Monitor Audio 6AV12, which sounds just as good.

Verdict

This assured 5.1 speaker system lives up to its name sonically, but we don’t think it dazzles enough to justify the asking price.

Scores In Detail

Design : 8/10
Features : 8/10
Performance : 8/10
Sound Quality : 9/10
Value : 7/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Samsung Smart TV 2015 review

Key Features: Extensive video streaming apps; Overlaid menu design; Supports point and click interaction; Recent source list; Enhanced interaction with smart devices

Manufacturer: Samsung

What is the Samsung Tizen Smart TV System for 2015?

After more or less treading water with its 2014 Smart TV system, Samsung has gone back to the drawing board for 2015 and come up with a radical new smart solution built around its Tizen operating system. But has it managed to make such a radical transition work first time?

Design and Features

Hitting the Smart Hub button on Samsung’s latest remote controls – more on these remotes later – immediately reveals how big a change the move to Tizen has delivered. The clunky full-screen menus that have dominated Samsung’s smart TV system for the past couple of years are replaced – mostly – by a much slicker overlaid menu system of large, colourful icons that only occupies a relatively small screen area.

Samsung Smart TV 2015

Taking this overlaying approach – as pioneered last year by LG with its WebOS smart engine – provides two immediate benefits. First it means you and other members of your household can keep watching full-screen TV while the menus are navigated. Second it means that Samsung has had to be much more disciplined about what it shows on screen.

In other words, opting to use just a strip of icons a few inches high along the bottom of the screen has meant Samsung has had to focus much more on only displaying links to the sort of content TV viewers actually want to get access to.

All too often with Samsung’s previous smart system we found ourselves feeling like we were being told what Samsung thought we should be watching/using, rather than getting quick access to just the stuff we actually wanted.

So what exactly are the options Samsung has elected to give you on the new Tizen home screen? To the left there’s a ‘Featured’ box containing four mini icons that cycle around to remind you of further apps and features available if you delve deeper into the Tizen menus. We’ll look at these more in a moment. But the bulk of the opening menu screen shows you a horizontal list of recent sources.

This list can show any source of any type, be it an app or an AV input, since every content source, even each individual HDMI and USB port, is treated as its own app. Up to 14 icon ‘slots’ are available for your recent sources, plus, crucially, you can opt to ‘pin’ your favourite, most used apps permanently to the left side of the Recent list.

An icon showing a bin at the end of the list lets you ‘Clear All’ if you want to start your Recent list afresh or, ahem, hide some activity you may not be proud of.

This contextual options side-menu also lets you delete individual sources from the Recent list as well as, rather handily, enabling you (on some sets) to activate a side by side view option that splits the screen in half so you can continue watching your current source on one side and the newly selected choice on the other.

Samsung Smart TV 2015

There are a few limitations to the Recent menu, though. First, the list only shows the last broadcast channel you watched, not multiple channels. In other words, it treats the TV tuner as a content source rather than each individual channel as a content source, as might have been more useful. Second, there’s no potential for personalisation, whereby the TV might recognise or be able to be told who’s using the TV and so enable the creation and presentation of different ‘home’ screens for different people. The TV merely presents an overview of your entire household’s activity.

Personalised menus can, to be fair, be fiddly to set up and manage in a large household. But if you’re going to try and streamline the user experience in such a potentially personalised way as Tizen does, you do create an expectation that this streamlining could be adapted to different members of the home.

Turning to the Featured box, you can’t select each of the four small tiles shown within the main Featured box individually – they’re just ‘showcases’ for what you’re missing. You can only select the full Featured window, and then the menu flips around so that icons of your Recent list populate the box on the left, while more Featured options stretch out across the bottom of the screen.

Up to 14 items can appear in the Featured list, with the first two being fixed links to Samsung’s Apps and Game stores, and the last two being reserved for apps the user wants to bookmark. The app links in between feature what Samsung calls ‘a rotation of the most popular apps’, with the most recently used of the recommended apps moving to the first available slot on the left.

The Featured list could also be used, we guess, to promote new apps or to pass on useful information; for instance, at the time of writing there was an icon for a Samsung guide to the TV’s smart features, but there could also be, say, a link to information on what the latest firmware update has brought to the party.

Samsung Smart TV 2015

There is a limit to the Featured list’s usefulness, though, based around the fact that at the moment the featured content doesn’t fully take into account your own viewing habits and tastes.

This brings us to another curious omission from the current Tizen set up. For at the time of writing there’s no video/TV recommendations system of the sort used to good effect on Samsung’s previous couple of Smart TV generations. Samsung assures us that it’s working on adding this useful feature to its Tizen TVs soon, but we don’t have any firm date yet.

Aside from the missing Recommendations system, the only parts of the new Tizen interface that feel like you’ve stepped back to 2014 are the Apps and Game menus. Selecting their icons from the Featured list suddenly throws up full screen menus all but identical to the same menu areas found on last year’s Samsung TVs. This full-screen approach feels dated and out of kilter with the efficient coolness of the other menus, and the unnecessary large size of the icons makes browsing quite a long-winded process. Though both the Apps and Games main screens do at least carry genre filters along the top to help you narrow down the selection.

It’s also good to see from the Apps store that Samsung continues to offer a huge amount of content on its smart platform. We retain doubts about whether the majority of apps on offer really make much sense in a TV environment, but Samsung is certainly one of the best brands around when it comes to providing the sort of video streaming apps that most people DO want their TVs to offer.

For instance, you get the key UK catchup platforms of the BBC iPlayer, the ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5, plus Netflix and Amazon Instant complete with their UHD incarnations if your broadband is up to the job and your Samsung TV is a UHD model. There are a number of other more niche services on there too, including ToonsTV, Fashionbox Live, Filmbox Live, Docubox Live, Fightbox live, BBC Sport and iConcerts, leaving Now TV and UltraFlix (which offers 4K streams to Samsung’s US TVs) as the only major omissions.

Samsung Smart TV 2015

One final big leap forward delivered by the shift to a Tizen OS is enhanced compatibility with tablets and Smartphones. The latest Samsung TV app lets you stream what’s on your TV to your smart device, or throw multimedia from your smart device to the screen simply by selecting its icon from your smart device (video, music and photos are all imported to the app for ease) and swiping it towards the TV.

If you’ve got a Samsung phone from the S4/Note 3 onwards the TV will even automatically detect the presence of your phone when you enter the room, so there’s no need to manually make a connection. This sort of automatic connectivity is exactly the sort of feature a modern TV ought to be offering if it wants to make sure everyone gets the maximum benefit from its smart features.

Interface

The new icon-based, overlaid onscreen menus are a vast improvement over last year’s Samsung efforts, and now make using the TV’s smart features feel like an integral part of the TV experience rather than a completely separate domain.

We guess you could argue that Tizen’s look is like a less characterful and, in truth, slightly less flexible version of LG’s WebOS engine, but there’s not really much harm in that. It does feel at the moment as if a little something is missing from the Tizen experience – possibly the Recommendations engine Samsung claims it will be adding in the coming months. But overall Tizen confirms the feeling we got when we first saw WebOS that this sort of overlaid icons, treat-everything-as-an-app approach is surely the way ahead for Smart TVs.

Turning to that other key part of any smart TV interface – the remote control – we find Samsung again in much improved form. At least where the brand’s new ‘smart’ remote control is concerned; the secondary one you get alongside the smart one with most of Samsung’s smart TVs has a rather old-fashioned, button-heavy layout and depressingly lightweight build quality. It makes precious little effort, either, to organise itself in a way that reflects modern Smart TV use.

Samsung Smart TV 2015

The new Smart TV remote, on the other hand, feels vastly more in tune with modern TV usage – so much so that you’ve got to think that pretty soon it might be the only remote Samsung ships with its Smart TVs.

For starters it features a massively stripped-down button count, providing only the keys that consumer research suggests modern users most want to use. Particularly striking is the way the coloured Smart button for the Tizen home hub is positioned by itself below all the other buttons, making it effortless to find even in a dark room.

Samsung Smart TV 2015

The smart remote’s layout is also very intuitive in the way it sensibly not only provides two alternative control systems – each suited to different areas of usage – but also makes sure each of these systems gets its own area on the handset, to prevent you mixing the two up. Towards the centre of the handset is a fairly traditional left, right, up and down set of menu navigation buttons, while in a separate zone above, between the volume and programme change buttons, is a nifty point-and-click system. Just gently rest your finger on the pointer button and you get to control a cursor just by pointing the remote at the part of the screen you want to interact with.

The improved layout of Samsung’s latest smart remote owes much to Samsung’s decision to remove the touch pad control option present on Samsung’s smart remotes for the previous couple of years. This seems an eminently sensible move to us, as the touch pad always felt rather fiddly and imprecise.

Samsung Smart TV 2015

The only significant issue we have with the new Smart Remote is the way that the onscreen cursor doesn’t always seem to be in the right place when you’re using the point and click control system. This is because it always reappears at the point on the screen where it was when you last stopped using it rather than popping up at the part of the screen where you’re actually pointing the remote. The cursor always tracks the line of motion of the handset accurately, but the lack of direct correlation between your pointing direction and the cursor position is sometimes disconcerting.

To finish on a high note, one neat touch we haven’t previously referred to is the addition of contextual menu options at the centre of each edge of the screen when you’re in point and click mode, providing you with handy shortcuts to things such as programme listings, volume controls or smart menus. This is a great touch that suggests that Samsung has genuinely tried to road-test its Smart TV system for this year, rather than just piling on the features regardless of the interface’s ability to deal with them.

Performance

When we first started using the new Tizen OS a month or two ago it ran rather sluggishly and was buggy to say the least. Thankfully, now the system runs smoothly and responds quickly to your inputs – so long as you give it a few seconds to ‘boot up’ properly after turning the TV on. What’s more, the latest running speed seems to hold up on Samsung Quad Core TVs such as the UE48JU7000T as well as the Octa-core UE65JS9500 and UE65JS9000.

There are far fewer bugs now too – though it has to be said that the Tizen system still feels like a bit of a work in progress in this respect. During our tests we experienced a few occasions when certain apps wouldn’t boot properly, simply offering a message suggesting that we try again later. Also, a couple of times the system seemed to get stuck in an ‘update loop’, where we couldn’t download new apps or open some other apps because, according to the TV, it was eternally updating the smart hub.

We should add, in fairness, that Samsung was unable to replicate these issues at its own laboratories, but they certainly happened to us using the same test room and broadband connection we use for all of our TV tests without usually suffering such problems.

It’s worth adding, too, that Tizen may challenge the patience of people with slow broadband speeds, as it seems to require more and larger updates than most smart systems we’ve seen before. Though as with the other issues we’ve mentioned, we expect the regularity of the updates to reduce as the system becomes more bedded in.

Verdict

Samsung has made great smart TV strides with the introduction of its Tizen system. It’s quicker, far slicker and much more focused on stuff a TV viewer actually wants a smart TV to offer than Samsung’s previous smart engines.

That said, right now it feels a bit incomplete. We suffered a few bugs during our tests and also felt as if something was missing on the feature front – probably the in-the-works content recommendation system.

These issues will likely be addressed in the coming weeks and months, however, and you have to applaud Samsung for being willing to jettison its clunky old smart ways and for being brave enough to shift its smart focus from pushing the quantity of apps it carries to pushing the quality of the user experience.

Scores In Detail

Design : 9/10
Features : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Yamaha BD-S473 review

Pros
  • Looks and build quality
  • Excellent pictures
  • DLNA support
Cons
  • No Wi-Fi
  • Limited web content
  • Sparse connections

Key Features: 3D Blu-ray playback; YouTube Leanback access; HDMI v1.4 output; Apple/Android Smartphone app; USB media playback

Manufacturer: Yamaha UK

Introduction

When you can buy a Blu-ray player in your local supermarket for as little as £60/$90, why pay £140/$210 for one? Well, enthusiasts with expensive, demanding displays need a source that can deliver the cleanest, sharpest video signals – and most cheapo players simply don’t cut the mustard. Pricier decks usually offer high-grade video components and rigid build quality, quelling the vibration and interference that can harm picture quality, while superior audio components bring about better music playback.

Yamaha BD-S473

These are some of the reasons why you might consider buying the BD-S473, Yamaha’s latest entry-level 3D Blu-ray deck. Sure, it lacks the cutting-edge features of mainstream rivals like Samsung, Sony and Panasonic, but with a £140/$210 price tag you’d expect its build quality and performance to be a cut above the budget throngs – particularly from a company as well-versed in the electronic arts as Yamaha.

Design and Connections

If you covered up the logo on the front, you’d still know this was a Yamaha player. The all-black finish and clean, straight lines are a dead giveaway, likewise the round buttons and their recognisable symbols. It’s a lovely looking and well-built player – slim and sleek, with a firm aluminium casing and chunky fascia that’s slightly wider than the rest of its body.

Yamaha BD-S473

On the front is a small but legible LED display panel, a USB port and a flap on the left-hand side that drops down when the disc tray opens. On the right side are three buttons: play, pause and stop. If you’re pairing it with a Yamaha receiver they’ll go together beautifully.

Yamaha BD-S473

The rear panel is less populated than we expected for the money. It comprises just three sockets – a 3D-ready HDMI v1.4 out, Ethernet and a second USB port. Yamaha clearly presumes that most people have 3D-ready receivers by now and feels no need to add a second HDMI output, but the lack of analogue stereo, digital output or multichannel analogue outputs will deter those hoping to use the BD-S473 as their main music source.

Features

The BD-S473 is not overloaded with features, lacking the things we’ve come to accept as normal in the Blu-ray player market. The biggest omission is built-in Wi-Fi, which makes it harder to access the deck’s network functionality than we’re used to. There’s no compatible USB dongle either, which leaves Ethernet as the only way of getting online – a much messier method.

However, Yamaha has thrown in a few bits and pieces to stop it feeling completely vanilla. Yamaha doesn’t have its own online content portal a la Samsung’s Smart Hub or Panasonic’s Viera Connect, but it has included YouTube Leanback. This version of YouTube boasts large, simplified displays and options to search for videos, explore different channels, log in to your account or peruse featured videos.

Yamaha BD-S473

The deck is also DLNA certified, which means you can stream media from compatible servers on your home network. Alternatively you can play files from a USB flash drive. The deck lacks built-in memory for BD Live use, but with two USB ports you can leave one drive in the back for BD Live and use the front port for media playback.

The list of compatible formats is healthy. On the music side, it plays MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV and FLAC, while supported video formats include AVCHD, MKV, MPEG PS/TS, MPEG-4, VOB, AVI, ASF and WMV. You can also bore relatives with your holiday snaps in JPEG, GIF or PNG. We loaded up a USB stick filled with media files and it happily played the lot of them.

Let’s not forget that the BD-S473 is 3D ready and does all the other thankless stuff you’d expect of a Blu-ray deck. That includes upscaling DVDs to 1080p, decoding Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio and turning them into multichannel PCM for receivers that can’t decode them, and preserving the native 1080/24p frame rate of Blu-ray movies.

Operation

Operating the BD-S473 is a generally smooth experience. A settings wizard appears on first boot-up, allowing you to set onscreen language, resolution and aspect ratio. Onscreen displays are easy on the eye – the classy splashscreen shows the inside of a grand piano, while the Home menu places Media, Setup, Quit and YouTube icons over a simple grey background. It’s all a bit sparse and basic compared with Samsung and LG’s dashboards, but it’s responsive and easy to follow.

Yamaha BD-S473

The setup menu is reminiscent of Toshiba’s Blu-ray players, using full colour icons for each section along the top, with the corresponding options in the box below. The similarities continue with the Video Process menu, which allows you to select a picture preset (Standard, Vivid, Cinema or Custom), as well as apply noise reduction and select the deinterlacing mode.

Select the Custom preset and you can adjust brightness, saturation, hue, contrast and colour transient improvement (CTI), as well as adjusting the brightness, saturation and hue for the red, green, blue, yellow and cyan parts of the picture. That’s quite a level of detail, although the settings should be used judiciously to avoid clashing with your TV settings.

Yamaha BD-S473

Next a word on the remote, which gets narrower at the bottom and therefore slots in the hand snugly. The button layout is fine, with the large multi-direction pad helpfully placed right the middle, while the playback keys are coloured white to help them stand out.

On the downside, most of the buttons are too small and the Home button gets lost among them. If you don’t like the remote, you can download an app for the iPhone, iPad or Android devices that lets you control the player over a network, but this requires a firmware update.

Performance

Its missing features and onscreen simplicity can’t disguise the fact that the BD-S473 is an impressive hi-def performer. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Blu-ray is a wonderful disc, bursting with vivid colours and gorgeous detail – all of which the Yamaha displays with aplomb.

Yamaha BD-S473

The colour palette is incredibly bold and vibrant, nowhere more so than inside the Chocolate Room, where strong yet natural greens meet blazing reds and shocking purples. But perhaps more importantly, the deck displays hues with wonderful subtlety where needed. Wonka’s baby-smooth skin is deftly accentuated by shadows that blend into each other seamlessly.

And then we come to detail. The BD-S473 picks out every pixel with searing clarity. Pockmarked skin, fabric textures (Veruca Salt’s fur coat in particular) and CG background detail appears lucid and punchy, which makes for a mesmerising watch. Also impressive is how it keeps this detail looking crisp and stable even as the camera swoops and objects dart round the screen.

Blacks are solid, but the Yamaha has the contrast dexterity to pick out detail within dark objects. That helps gloomy scenes stay sharp, not just a mass of ill-defined murk.

Switch to 3D and the Yamaha serves up more of these sharp, spellbinding images. We watched Thor on a Samsung UE55ES8000 TV and the opening shots of Asgard – with its dramatic scenery and ornate buildings – are imbued with a wonderful sense of depth, without compromising on clarity or stability. As the camera moves into the hall during Thor’s coronation, you really get a sense of space and distance, plus the gathered crowds are sharply resolved.

The BD-S473 keeps its cool with more demanding discs too. Only one of the tests on Silicon Optix’s HQV Blu-ray proved problematic, with some light pulsing on the Film Resolution SMPTE pattern and some flickering on the pan across the stadium. But the jaggies and video resolution tests are expertly handled.

DVDs scrub up nicely when converted to 1080p and well-encoded YouTube videos look terrific, with the sort of low-level noise that won’t affect your enjoyment.

The Yamaha also passes muster as a CD player, delivering a clean, open and agile sound. Some may hope for a little more musical detail, others will crave greater transparency, but for day-to-day music playback you could do a lot worse.

Yamaha BD-PACK 499 (HTR-4066/BD-S473/NS)

Verdict

Let’s not beat about the bush – there are lots of players on the market that offer better value for money than the BD-S473. Decks like the LG BP420, Panasonic DMP-BDT220 and Samsung BD-E6100 are equipped with slick online apps, glitzy operating systems and built-in Wi-Fi.

By contrast, Yamaha’s deck isn’t wireless, offers sparse connectivity and with just YouTube on board, it falls some way short of its big-name rivals in the Smart content stakes. That’s not great for the money.

But the BD-S473 regains ground with its excellent picture and sound performance, while media format support via DLNA and USB is wide ranging and build quality is solid. Ultimately though, the BD-S473 is only really likely to appeal to owners of Yamaha receivers who want a player to match.

Scores In Detail

Design : 8/10
Features : 6/10
Performance : 9/10
Value : 7/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Finlux 48FT3E242S-T review

Pros
  • Unusually good picture quality
  • Great value
  • Good smart features for the money
Cons
  • Backlight clouding needs to be worked round
  • Crosstalk with 3D
  • Crushed shadow detail post calibration

Key Features: 48-inch LCD TV; Native full HD resolution; Smart TV features inc. Netflix and the BBC iPlayer; Active 3D playback with 2 free glasses

Manufacturer: Finlux

What is the Finlux 48FT3E242S-T?

The 48FT3E242S-T is about as close as the budget brand Finlux is likely to get to a high-end TV (unless it gets bitten by the 4K bug). Despite currently costing just £400/$600, this 48-inch TV offers a Smart TV service, a built-in Freeview HD tuner, and perhaps most surprising of all, 3D playback, complete with two pairs of glasses.

Design and Features

Finlux 48FT3E242S-T

After the dourness of Finlux’s previous TV, the 32HBD274B-NC, the 48FT3E242S-T is actually rather attractive. Its frame is impressively thin and doesn’t feel overtly plasticky, and the application of a metallic silver trim to the outside edge feels premium rather than cheesy. The way the Finlux logo is enclosed in a wedge that juts down from the centre of the bottom edge feels like a cheeky nod to recent Sony designs, and the desktop stand’s heavy-duty metal finish looks almost posh!

Connections are reasonably numerous for such an affordable TV. Three HDMIs will be the first port of call for most of your video sources, but there’s also a pair of USBs that support playback of multimedia from USB storage devices or recording from the TV’s Freeview HD tuner to USB HDD.

Integrated Wi-Fi and a LAN port are on hand to support both access to Finlux’s online smart TV platform and multimedia streaming from DLNA-enabled devices.

The smart features are rather more numerous than you might expect from a relatively small brand such as Finlux. Highlights include Netflix (there’s even a dedicated button on the remote control), YouTube, BBC iPlayer, BBC News, BBC Sport, Daily Motion, Viewster, TuneIn Radio, Facebook and Twitter. The interface is a bit drab by modern standards, but it’s easy to follow and use, and doesn’t run too sluggishly.

The 48FT3E242S-T’s 48-inch screen boasts a full HD resolution and delivers 100Hz scanning to try to boost motion clarity. It uses edge LED lighting with a dynamic contrast system (though inevitably for this money there’s no local dimming), and there’s a basic noise reduction system on hand to try and tidy up messy sources.

Finlux 48FT3E242S-T

The most surprising feature on the 48FT3E242S-T’s list is its 3D playback. This is starting to disappear from many mid-range TVs these days, yet here it is on a sub-£400/$600 48-inch set. What’s more it’s the full HD active type of 3D rather than the reduced resolution passive format, which makes the inclusion of two pairs of glasses look very generous considering how relatively expensive active shutter glasses are versus their passive counterparts.

The fact that the 3D is of the active type also tells us that the TV is not using an IPS style of LCD panel, raising hopes that it might deliver a decent contrast performance despite its cheapness.

Setup

While the 48FT3E242S-T’s out-of-the-box picture presets aren’t horrifically bad, you can improve pictures markedly by following a few simple rules. First, make sure the Dynamic Contrast system is set to Low. Turn off noise reduction for any HD viewing, and we’d suggest toggling the Backlight setting between low and medium for dark and bright room conditions respectively.

You can also achieve a slightly warmer, more cinematic look to colours if you tweak the RGB gain management options Finlux provides – though if that sounds stressful, just nudging the Colour Shift bar a step or two towards the red end of the spectrum provides a simple way of improving things a little.

Picture Quality

Finlux has a mixed reputation when it comes to TV picture quality. But we’re pleased to say that for the most part the 48FT3E242S-T is one of the Vestel-owned brand’s hits.

The key to its success is its respectable black level response by affordable LCD standards. Provided you’ve followed the setup advice given earlier, the 48FT3E242S-T really does have a fair stab at reproducing a credible black colour. Sure, there’s a degree of greyness lingering in the attempted blackness, and the screen does have to remove a considerable amount of light from its images to achieve its respectable blacks. But the fact that so affordable a 48-inch TV can reach such a respectable black depth at all is a boon.

Finlux 48FT3E242S-T

A good black level response often leads to good colour tones generally, and so it proves with the 48FT3E242S-T – especially if you take the time to eke away a little green bias that exists in the set’s default picture presets. Skin tones look surprisingly natural, and there’s plenty of dynamism during bright scenes that doesn’t look forced or crude. Dark colours look less convincing due to the screen’s lack of brightness when trying to render dark scenes, but while the slip in naturalism is noticeable, it’s far from disastrous.

Another surprising strength of the 48FT3E242S-T’s pictures is their sharpness with HD content. Detail and clarity levels with decent quality Blu-rays never leave you in any doubt that you’re watching an HD rather than standard definition source. What’s more, while there is some reduction in clarity over moving objects, the extent of the blurring really isn’t bad for such an affordable LCD TV.

An uninspiring upscaling engine makes the 48FT3E242S-T a pretty average handler of standard definition sources – or standard definition digital broadcasts at least – but it’s really not that hard to avoid standard def these days. Especially when a TV has a Freeview HD tuner like this Finlux does.

Finlux 48FT3E242S-T

Inevitably, given its price, the amount of brightness the screen has to remove from dark scenes isn’t its only weakness. Another is the appearance of some gentle backlight clouding over dark scenes; in fact, it’s the need to reduce the impact of this that prevents you from being able to run the backlight on its High setting. To be fair, the clouding on the 48FT3E242S-T isn’t nearly as aggressive as we’ve seen it on some Finlux TVs, but it can occasionally distract you even when with the backlight set to low.

Another issue connected to the 48FT3E242S-T’s post-calibration lack of brightness is a loss of shadow detail in the picture’s darkest areas. This leaves such areas looking rather hollow and thus out of keeping with the rest of the image.

One final flaw finds colours occasionally suffering with a little banding/striping in areas where you should see smooth blends.

It’s a simple fact, though, that pretty much all mid-sized TVs at the 48FT3E242S-T’s price level will not only also suffer with most of the same problems, but will generally suffer with them significantly more.

3D Picture Quality

As noted earlier, the 48FT3E242S-T uses the active 3D system, meaning we should get full HD images from 3D Blu-rays. However, while you don’t get the jaggedness around curved edges or visible horizontal line structure you can get with cheap TVs that use the rival passive 3D system, the 48FT3E242S-T’s 3D pictures don’t look as HD as hoped. In fact, for much of the time they look quite soft, partly due to some motion blur, and partly due to some occasionally quite strong crosstalk ghosting noise.

In other ways Finlux’s set does pretty well with 3D. Colours look rich but also realistic, and the image looks unexpectedly bright if you stick with the 3D picture preset. Nor is there any serious sense of flicker from the glasses – so long as you dim your room lights – and while motion may lack clarity, at least it isn’t also prone to the judder we often see with 3D TVs.

Finlux 48FT3E242S-T

It’s worth adding here that you should leave the TV running for at least an hour before you intend to watch 3D, as letting the screen warm up reduces the amount of crosstalk you have to put up with.

Sound Quality

As usual with budget TVs, the 48FT3E242S-T’s speakers only support a fairly limited dynamic range. A shortage of bass at one end of the audio spectrum and some rather tinny, harsh trebles at the other leave the soundstage sounding pretty thin and compressed during big action scenes.

Finlux’s set isn’t a total loss in audio terms, though. It’s just powerful enough to handle voices credibly, leaving both male and female vocals sounding like a natural part of their environment, as well as clear and distortion-free even during action scenes. The soundstage spreads a decent distance beyond the screen’s frame, and despite the lack of dynamic range the set can achieve volume levels loud enough to sound a fair match to the scale of the 48-inch images.

Other things to consider

Cheap, decent-sized full HD TVs such as the 48FT3E242S-T obviously have appeal as gaming monitors. With this in mind it’s great to find that Finlux’s TV only recorded input lag of around 30ms during our tests. This is actually slightly better than the measurements recorded on many much more expensive TVs, and should enable you to game on the 48FT3E242S-T without it getting between you and a decent kill count.

Should I buy a Finlux 48FT3E242S-T?

The 48FT3E242S-T is definitely worthy of consideration if your budget can’t stretch beyond £400/$600. In fact, it’s hard to think of any other TV of the same size that offers such a solid mix of picture quality and features. It’s also surprisingly effective at doubling up as a gaming monitor.

If you can stretch your budget £100/$150 or so further, though, you can get the Samsung UE48H5500 and Sony 48W605, both of which are superior in both the picture quality and smart TV departments.

Verdict

The 48FT3E242S-T is one of Finlux’s finest TVs to date, doing far more well than you’ve any right to expect for £400/$600. The only fly in its ointment is the existence of some pretty strong competition that’s currently available for only around £100/$150 more.

Scores In Detail

2D Quality : 7/10
3D Quality : 7/10
Design : 8/10
Features : 7/10
Smart TV : 6/10
Sound Quality : 6/10
Value : 9/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Samsung BD-F7500 review

Pros
  • Extensive feature list
  • Simplified GUI
  • Sparkling picture quality
  • Faster disc loading
  • Generous connections
Cons
  • Clunky web browsing with remote
  • Long-winded AllShare menus
  • Confusing Smart Hub button labelling

Key Features: 3D Blu-ray playback; Smart Hub; AllShare DLNA media streaming; 4K upscaling; Screen mirroring

Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction

The BD-F7500 is Samsung’s flagship Blu-ray player for 2013, and as you’d expect it boasts a wealth of cutting-edge features as well as a revamped GUI and smart new design. Does that make it one of the players to beat this year? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

Samsung BD-F7500

Design

The BD-F7500 sports a chic new design for 2013. The main bulk of the player is a slim black box that looks very much like last year’s players, but is encased in a thick brushed aluminium sleeve that forms a striking contrast with the black and gives the bodywork a beautiful two-tiered effect.

It looks as though this sleeve should slide back to uncover more controls or a dock, but that’s not the case – it’s a simply a stylish flourish that matches Samsung’s new F8000 series TVs.

Samsung BD-F7500

The black section at the front sports a row of touch-sensitive controls along the top edge, which is always a stylish touch, joined by a disc tray and nicely-sized LED display on the fascia. Behind a flap on the right-hand side is a USB port, which allows you to play media from USB memory devices. The discreet styling and lack of buttons gives the player a tidy, minimal look that’ll being a touch of hi-tech class to your AV cabinet.

Samsung BD-F7500

Build quality is generally solid, although like many slim Blu-ray decks of this type it’s remarkably light. The bodywork isn’t fashioned from the same heavy, vibration-suppressing materials you’d get from Denon or Cambridge Audio for example, but hopefully that won’t have a huge bearing on the player’s performance.

Connections

On the busy rear panel you’ll find a generous range of connections befitting of a flagship player. There are two HDMI outputs, which is great news if your AV receiver doesn’t support 3D. You can send 3D Blu-ray pictures to your TV from the ‘Main’ HDMI output, and pipe HD audio to your AV receiver separately from the ‘Sub’ output. With many people still clinging onto their older amps, it’s a useful feature – although that will change as more and more people upgrade to a 3D-ready receiver.

Samsung BD-F7500

But there’s another reason why twin HDMIs are useful – the BD-F7500 offers 4K upscaling. Therefore, if you buy a 4K display in the future but if your AV receiver doesn’t support it, you can output 4K video and HD audio separately.

Samsung BD-F7500

Another nice surprise – and a sign that Samsung still has a place in its heart for old-school audio kit – is the inclusion of 7.1-channel analogue audio outputs. This means the deck will decode Blu-ray (or 5.1 DVD) soundtracks and output them in analogue form to receivers with matching 7.1-channel inputs. The benefits of this are negligible, but owners of amps without HDMI inputs, or those who prefer analogue sound will doubtless welcome them.

There’s an optical digital audio output for good measure and an Ethernet port for making a wired connection to the internet, although with a built-in Wi-Fi adapter on board this probably won’t be called into action.

Features

Be they players, systems or soundbars, Samsung’s Blu-ray products are always packed with features and it comes as no surprise to find this range-topping deck offers more tricks than ever.

Samsung BD-F7500

Chief among them is a fantastic range of network features. Making a welcome return this year is Smart Hub, which has been simplified (more on that in ‘Operation’) while retaining the same generous range of internet apps. The selection is again spearheaded by free video sites like BBC iPlayer and YouTube, plus on-demand movie sites Netflix, LoveFilm, Blinkbox and Knowhow Movies. These are backed up by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, BBC News, Rightmove, AccuWeather, BFI Player and vTuner internet radio.

That’s just what’s displayed on the main menu – there’s loads more content hidden away in the Samsung Apps menu, such as specialist video, radio and lifestyle content, as well as games and educational apps for the kids. It’s a top-drawer selection with a nice blend of content for all the family. ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 weren’t available on our sample as they were still being tested by Samsung HQ, but we’re assured they will be there by the time the deck goes on sale. That makes Samsung the first, if not only company to offer all four of the main catch-up TV services from a Blu-ray deck, which is not only a feather in Samsung’s cap but also great news for you.

Samsung BD-F7500

There’s also a section of the main menu called ‘Movies and TV Shows’, which replaces the Your Video service found on previous players. It provides a faster and more convenient way of buying or renting movies than visiting the individual on-demand sites. The content comes from Samsung’s Video Hub service and Acetrax Movies.

However, there were teething problems. When we selected an Acetrax movie to rent or buy, it took us to the installation page for Sony’s Crackle app. At the time of writing, the app server was ‘still in development’ and Acetrax hadn’t been added, so we expect this to be ironed out by the time these new players hit the market.

Interestingly, Samsung has ditched its Family Story photo-sharing service but retains the dedicated Fitness and Kids portals, which boast gorgeous hi-def graphics. Fitness offers a range of workout videos and training programmes, alongside a series of tools to monitor your progress, while Kids offers videos and educational tools aimed at youngsters. While home cinema enthusiasts won’t be fussed by features like this, it’s nice to see a player with more strings to its bow than just movie playback.

There’s also a web browser, which is a little easier to use than last year’s players and loads pages quickly. That said, it’s still cumbersome to navigate with the remote, and entering text is time consuming – although Samsung has improved this with a nifty predictive feature that suggests which letter to press next.

Samsung BD-F7500

When web browsing, you can switch between pointer browsing (the cursor crawls around the screen) or link browsing (which is equally frustrating with lots of links on the page). Luckily you can also use a USB keyboard and third-party wireless mouse with the F7500, which makes life a lot easier.

The BD-F7500 can also stream movies, music and photos from PCs and media servers on your home network using Samsung’s proprietary AllShare technology. Samsung recommends that you install its AllShare software on your PC, which allows you to create a shared folder with the BD-F7500 (and any other Samsung products in your home) and stream the files within it. The player is also designed to work with PCs running Windows 7 or 8 without having to install AllShare, but we found it worked more smoothly and supported a wider range of files when using AllShare.

For example, before installing AllShare we tried streaming an MKV file (1080p video, DTS audio) on a Windows 7 PC and it refused to play (Windows Media Player 12 doesn’t natively support MKV). It also played AVCHD, hi-def AVI and WMV files but downgraded them to a blurry SD resolution. However after installing AllShare it played the above files with no problems, in their correct resolution.

The rest of the BD-F7500’s format support is impressive. We were also able to stream DivX HD, MP4, 3GP, XviD, WMV, MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV and APE. Supported photo files include JPEG, PNG, BMP and MPO. All of the above formats also played without hesitation from a USB drive.

Samsung BD-F7500

If you don’t want to increase the burden on your over-worked wireless router, you can also stream files from mobile devices using Wi-Fi Direct – although this cuts out the connection to your network. You can also control playback of content stored on a server using a Samsung smartphone running the AllShare software.

Elsewhere, there are a couple of other big additions to the spec sheet. We’ve mentioned 4K upscaling – included with one eye on the future – which is already found on last year’s BDP-S790 from Sony, as well as the new Panasonic DMP-BDT330. Not having a 4K display to hand meant we couldn’t test it out on this occasion, but it’s good to know it’s there.

The other new feature this year is AllShare Cast, which mirrors your Smartphone’s screen on your TV. It’s particularly useful for playing games, which aren’t always the easiest to follow on a poky screen, and when you rotate the device the player also rotates the image on the TV. Samsung’s system is not the same as Miracast (also found on Panasonic’s DMP-BDT330), but the F7500 will support that too.

Operation

Samsung’s operating system has been overhauled for 2013, using many of the same sections as last year, but presented in a much simpler, streamlined way. For the main menus, Samsung seems to have taken its design cue from Windows 8, using large solid blocks of colour and large, simple icons. To be fair, there was nothing wrong with the old layout, which was always agreeable and easy to use, but this new-look GUI is equally attractive but also less likely to scare off technophobes.

Samsung BD-F7500

The Home menu, for example, fills the screen with three blocks – one for ‘Movies & TV Shows’, one for ‘Apps’ and one for ‘Photos, Videos & Music’ (AllShare) – with a few recommended apps and access to the web browser below.

The online content menu has also been refurbished. Last year’s slick and eye-catching Smart Hub was arguably cluttered and over-elaborate, whereas here Samsung has gone for a simple grid of small, square icons under the heading My Apps (with lots of empty spaces for new apps) and a row of Recommended apps along the top that learns your viewing habits over time. Another change is that the Fitness and Kids sections are now simply incorporated into the main My Apps grid instead of being given their own large banners.

At the bottom of the screen is box labelled More Apps – select this and you can view all of your downloaded apps, then modify, delete or arrange them into folders as you could on previous players. You can also organise which thumbnails appear on the My Apps page by moving or deleting them (you can only do this through the More Apps menu, not from My Apps itself).

Just one small thing to point out – the main home menu is called ‘Smart Hub’, while the online content section is called ‘Apps’. But when you press the button labelled ‘Smart Hub’ on the remote, it takes you to the ‘Apps’ menu. Confused? So were we at first. It turns out that it’s all due to the fact that Samsung hasn’t tweaked last year’s remote to reflect the on-screen redesign.

Samsung BD-F7500

Samsung BD-F7500

Samsung BD-F7500

We’re impressed by the look of the AllShare menu, although the menu structure is too long-winded (see the sequence of pictures above). You have to reel through too many menu screens before you get to your actual media, whereas last year’s players missed out some of these stages. Still, when you get there, content is displayed with large, colourful icons, with data for each file at the bottom of the screen.

Navigating the menu system or using apps is a quick, smooth experience thanks to the F7500’s dual-core processor, and discs load faster than ever. With the tricky Terminator Salvation disc, it took just 30 seconds from having the tray open to playing the Sony Pictures intro, which is the fastest time we’ve ever clocked. With less Java-heavy discs like Prometheus you get an even quicker time of 20 seconds, which almost matches DVD player speeds.

Also impressive is the stability and sensitivity of the Wi-Fi adapter – we were easily able to connect to a router in the house from a garden office without any drop-outs, which few players manage, although video streaming was stuttery.

Samsung BD-F7500

We really can’t fault the remote, apart from the lack of backlighting and the afore-mentioned Smart Hub/Apps mix-up. It’s not hugely different to last year’s zapper, using an uncluttered layout and well-labelled buttons. It’s small and fits ergonomically in the hand, with playback and menu navigation controls placed under the thumb.

During playback you can access the Tools menu, which provides details about the disc and a selection of picture presets – Dynamic (avoid), Standard, Movie and User. The latter allows you to adjust sharpness, noise reduction, contrast, brightness, colour and tint. Hardly ISF standard, but potentially useful.

Performance

Samsung says it has improved the picture performance of its 2013 models, and although any step up in quality from last year is subtle, there’s no denying that the BD-F7500 offers stunning picture quality. 3D images are by far the most awe-inspiring, firing 1080p frames to our TV with forcefully resolved detail and explosive colours.

Samsung BD-F7500

Our trusty Avatar platter provides ample evidence of the BD-F7500’s 3D prowess. The disc’s First Sortie chapter is mesmerising – as the helicopter races alongside the flying creatures, their patterned skin holds steady and their movement is smooth.

As it plummets over the waterfall, there’s an impressive sense of depth and distance in the background valleys, and when the chopper touches down in the forest glade, it’s even more captivating – shards of light weave their way through the bushes, while layers of trees stretch back into the picture, giving you a convincing sense of perspective. Foreground detail is sharp and steady, while the green-dominated colour palette is deep and luscious yet subtly shaded.

Samsung BD-F7500

2D pictures are also stunning, even with less vibrant material like Prometheus. The deck handles the murky surroundings of the alien caverns in Chapter 9 with terrific solidity, keeping blacks deep and solid while picking out textures and shading on the background walls as the scientists wave their torches around. The image is clean and punchy, helped along by razor-sharp detail in both long shots and facial close-ups.

Switching to the Silicon Optix HQV Blu-ray disc, its tricky test patterns prove to be no problem for the BD-F7500. The Video Resolution Loss test is perfectly steady and flicker-free from the moment it kicks in. On the Jaggies test, it renders the edges of the moving white bars with clinical smoothness.

The Film Resolution Test is handled with equal skill, with not a trace of flicker or strobing in the moving SMPTE pattern. A camera pan across an American football stadium shows a minute touch of judder as the camera moves but it keeps moiré noise under control amid the rows of seats and holds detail steady.

Samsung BD-F7500

The BD-F7500 is also a decent DVD 1080p upscaler. Test patterns showing a rotating white bar exhibit no few jaggies on diagonal lines, while detail is stable without excessive shimmering to sully the clarity – as demonstrated by shots of tiled roofs and brickwork on our HQV DVD evaluation disc. It does look a little unnatural and hazy in places but you’re never going to get a completely clean picture from such low-res source material. Web-streamed video from BBC iPlayer looks impressive, with only minor noise levels reminding you of its online origins.

Connected to an Onkyo TX-NR818 via HDMI, DTS HD Master Audio tracks sound wonderfully detailed and engaging. The BD-F7500 also serves as a passable music player – delivered through the analogue stereo output, CDs enjoy a pleasing balance across the frequency range, with clean detail, natural-sounding vocals and a good rhythmic ability. It’s not quite as refined or insightful as a more audiophile-focused deck, but casual listeners will have no cause for complaint.

Verdict

The BD-F7500 is another terrific Blu-ray player from Samsung. As ever there’s a wide range of features on board, including one of the best internet content portals in the business – which will get even better with the addition of ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5. The spec sheet is bolstered for 2013 with a couple of new features like screen mirroring and 4K upscaling, while old favourites like DLNA streaming, 3D and USB media playback are as welcome as ever.

Samsung BD-F7500

But where the BD-F7500 really excels is its operating system. The redesigned menus have been simplified and are all the better for it. Gone are the flashy animations and jazzy backgrounds and in come Windows 8-like boxes and a bold colour scheme that makes everything easier to follow. The deck operates with pleasing slickness thanks to the dual-core processor, while disc loading is the fastest we’ve experienced.

Some bum notes, like cumbersome web browsing with the remote and the long-winded AllShare menu sequence, are niggles rather than deal-breakers – and when you add its sparkling picture performance, distinctive design and generous socketry into the equation, it’s clear that the pros far outweigh the cons.

Scores In Detail

Design : 9/10
Features : 10/10
Performance : 9/10
Value : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Pioneer BDP-150 review

Pros
  • Solid performance
  • Wide format support
  • Slick DLNA streaming
Cons
  • No built-in Wi-Fi
  • Comparatively limited web content
  • Overlapping video adjustments

Key Features: 3D Blu-ray playback; DLNA media streaming; Netflix, YouTube and Picasa; iControlAV2012 remote app; Optional Wi-Fi dongle available

Manufacturer: Pioneer

Introduction

The BDP-150 is the cheaper little brother of the BDP-450, a Blu-ray player aimed at those more interested in movie playback and build quality than flashy web portals and fitness apps. This version strips away a few of the BDP-450’s features, allowing budget buyers to sample Pioneer’s hi-def video prowess.

Design

At 58mm high, the deck itself is much slimmer than the 90mm BDP-450 and build quality isn’t quite up to the same standard, with a front panel made of plastic as opposed to aluminium. But despite that, it’s a tastefully designed deck in the classic Pioneer style, with a brushed finish and a low button count on the fascia. In the centre sits an LED display panel and the disc tray, plus there’s a USB port for media playback from storage devices.

Connections

The rear panel is markedly different to that of the BDP-450. The step-up model houses two HDMI ports – which let you send video and audio signals separately to a TV and receiver – but here you get a single HDMI output. Thankfully it’s specified as v1.4, which means the BDP-150 can output 3D signals to a compatible TV. Elsewhere, the BDP-150 actually offers sockets not found on its step-up sibling, including composite and analogue stereo outputs – sockets we presume Pioneer thought high-end buyers simply wouldn’t need. The line-up is completed by a coaxial digital audio output, an Ethernet port and a second USB port.

Pioneer BDP-150

Features

As well as providing a second port for media playback and BD Live storage, this rear USB port has another function – housing Pioneer’s optional Wi-Fi dongle. The lack of built-in Wi-Fi is possibly the deck’s biggest disappointment, given that most big-name Blu-ray players at this price provide it, plus Pioneer’s optional Wi-Fi dongle (AS-WL300) will set you back around £50/$75, which isn’t exactly peanuts.

If that’s too much of a stretch you can simply connect to your router via Ethernet, a messier but potentially more reliable connection. It’s worth doing one way or another, as BD Live content can be worth a watch plus you can access YouTube, Picasa and Netflix through the player. It’s a limited selection with no catch-up TV services like BBC iPlayer, but YouTube and Netflix should offer something worth watching.

The other main benefit of the web connection is that you can stream your own video, music and photo files from networked servers, such as NAS drives, PCs and smartphones. Alternatively you can play media from USB sticks and hard drives hooked up to the front or back USB ports. Pioneer’s long running reputation for universal format support ensures a impressive list of compatible files – DivX HD, WMV, AVCHD, AVI, MKV, MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, 3GP, FLV, JPEG, not to mention Super Audio CD, DVD and CD. It’s also well versed in HD audio, as it can pipe Dolby True HD, DTS HD Master Audio, DTS HD and Dolby Digital Plus to an AV receiver in bitstream form, or as multichannel PCM.

Pioneer BDP-150

Pioneer BDP-150

There’s more to get your teeth into – Sound Retriever Link boosts the quality of compressed music playback on compatible Pioneer receivers, Stream Smoother reduces picture artefacts when watching low-bitrate videos, while the catchily-titled iControlAV2012 app lets you operate the deck from your smartphone or table (Apple or Android).

Operation

It might not boast the eye-popping onscreen menus of the latest LG and Samsung players but Pioneer’s displays have a quiet class about them, allowing you to explore features without getting bogged down in graphics and icons.

Pioneer BDP-150

Everything kicks off from a black splashscreen with the Pioneer logo dead centre. Hit the Home Menu button and a menu box appears on the left, over a gradated grey background. A wholly superfluous but stylish monochrome graphic appears on the right to denote your selection.

The menu offers three options – Home Media Gallery, where you’ll find all your digital media content from connected devices; Web Contents, where you can access YouTube, Netflix and Picasa; and Initial Setup.

Pioneer BDP-150

Select any of these menus and they retain the same left-to-right layout, with crisp white text set against black backgrounds. They aren’t particularly exciting to look at but are clear and easy to read. When navigating server/USB content, it uses a familiar folder sequence and displays cover art with track details during music playback.

Delve into the Initial Setup menu and there’s tonnes to play around with, including display, audio, HDMI, network and playback options – all set out in clearly defined categories.

Of greatest interest to video perfectionists will be the Video Adjust settings within the Display section, where you can tweak brightness, contrast, hue and saturation. However, among the Video Mode presets found elsewhere is a Custom setting where you can make the same adjustments as above, alongside sharpness and CTI. It’s complicated further by three Sharpness presets. These conflicting picture tweaks seem like overkill and could play havoc with picture quality if you start messing around with them together. The other presets comprise Standard, Vivid (avoid) and Cinema, plus there are three levels of noise reduction.

Pioneer BDP-150Also on board is ‘Continued’, which allows you to resume playback if you have to stop the movie, which not all Blu-ray discs allow you to do. To use it, simply press the dedicated button on the remote at the point you want to resume. That’s great news if you have to adjust something in the setup menu, which can only be accessed when the disc has stopped.

We criticised the Pioneer BCS-SB626 system for its cluttered, unhelpful remote, but here Pioneer gets it right. It’s a completely different zapper to that of the BDP-450, with a cheaper plasticky feel, but the rubber buttons are sensibly arranged into clear sections and the frequently-used playback and direction pad are perfectly placed for the thumb. There are dedicated buttons for Netflix, Media Gallery and Continued.

Performance

Disc loading is fast – Avengers Assemble fires up in just 25 seconds although it chews over Java-heavy discs for a bit longer. The BDP-150 also handles the tricky test patterns on our Silicon Optix HQV disc smoothly, with a little strobing in the Film Resolution Loss test being the only chink in its video processing armour.

And with our Avengers Assemble Blu-ray, the deck’s picture quality is positively super-heroic. It pipes high-definition 2D pictures to your TV in their crispest, purest form – provided you haven’t tampered with the Video Adjust picture settings too dramatically, that is.

The punchiness and lucidity of the picture is what strikes you first, particularly during brightly-lit scenes, such as the shots on SHIELD’s huge aircraft carrier. The intricate CG detail on the sides of the ship and the texture of the water as the vessel emerges from the sea is sharply focused, with no artefacts to sully the clarity.

But it’s equally assured when the light fades – it’s easy to make out what’s going on during the night-time scrap between Thor, Iron Man and Captain America in the woods, plus background detail and the different layers of shadow are clear and strongly contrasted.

This is backed up by sumptuously bold colours, seamless tonal blends, natural looking skin tones and fluid movement, with no judder or motion when both TV and player are talking to each other at 24fps. These qualities are in evidence with 3D Blu-ray discs, which look utterly absorbing. The images are rich and cinematic, with clean, emphatic edges and vivid colours that punch through active shutter glasses.

What you often get from brands like Pioneer, which you perhaps don’t from mass-market budget decks, is high-quality audio playback. And sure enough the BDP-150 turns in a hugely enjoyable performance with CDs, boasting an open feel with plenty of detail and natural-sounding vocals. This is taken to the next level with SACDs, which sparkle with detail.

Verdict

At face value the Pioneer DBP-150 is a decent Blu-ray deck, offering wonderful hi-def pictures and some tasty features like 3D, Netflix, YouTube, DLNA and SACD playback. But up against decks in the same price bracket, things don’t look quite so rosy – the Sony BDP-S490, LG BP620 and Samsung BD-E6100, for example, offer built-in Wi-Fi and web portals bursting with content (including BBC iPlayer).

The BDP-150, with its lack of Wi-Fi (only available with an optional dongle), limited web content and old-school onscreen design, simply can’t compete with that sort of value. And while its picture performance is terrific, it simply matches, rather than betters, its midrange rivals.

But if you’re a Pioneer die-hard and bells and whistles aren’t top priority, then you’ll probably be very happy with the BDP-150 – and you never know, its SACD playback, solid sound quality and excellent format support might be enough to earn a place on your shopping list this Christmas.

Scores In Detail

Design : 8/10
Features : 7/10
Performance : 8/10
Value : 7/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Philips SHE9105 review

Pros
  • Accessible but detailed sound
  • Aluminium shells add a touch of class
  • Excellent value
Cons
  • Large ear tips
  • Unremarkable isolation

Key Features: One-button remote; 8.6mm driver

Manufacturer: Philips

What are the Philips SHE9105?

The Philips SHE9105 are affordable earphones, aimed at those wanting a set that’s a step up from those supplied with their phone or iPod. For £30/$45, you get fancier-feeling aluminium-topped earpieces, a high-compatibility single-button remote/hands-free housing and almost certainly much better sound.

With a crowd-pleasing signature and a pretty keen price, they’re a great buy – and they stand up fairly well next to the more expensive SoundMagic E50 and Sennheiser CX 5.00 earphones too.

SHE9105 15

Design and Comfort

Philips has a knack of making its entry-level earphones look like they cost more than they actually do. I held that opinion of the old Philips SHE9000, and the same is true of this pair.

The Philips SHE9105 have a bronze-effect aluminium finish (other colours available), with highlights of bare silver metal that resemble the “diamond cut” effect you see on some top-end phones. Typical of a cheaper earphones, the aluminium is just a shell on top of a more conventional plastic base.

Visually, the only real weak point is the rather large “L” and “R” signposting on each earpiece, but for once you’ll be happy to learn that it isn’t made to last. After wearing them for a week or so, part of it has already started to scratch off.

SHE9105 17

On the very back of the Philips SHE9105 sits a circle of plastic with an embossed, “woven” texture that hides a tiny port – a hole in the enclosure that helps out with bass response. I doubt you’d ever notice it was there unless you were looking for it: A smart bit of design.

The Philips SHE9105 earpieces are tiny, and they use a stiff bit of plastic at the top of the cable to stop removal of the earphones from the ears feeling like minor surgery. On the whole, the SHE9105 feel reasonably well-made.

The bonus feature here is a single-button remote, designed to offer maximum compatibility for both iPhone and Android handsets. There’s a mic in there too, enabling you to make hands-free calls.

SHE9105 11

The selection of tips supplied with the Philips SHE9105 is a little disappointing. You get three silicone pairs – small, medium and large. I found the largest only just big enough.

However, you’ll be pleased to learn that even though the SHE9105 have an unusual oval aperture, they actually take standard-sized tips. If your last set of earphones had tips you love, there’s a good chance they’ll fit.

As a result of the semi-open ported design, isolation is just okay – not amazing.

SHE9105 9

Sound Quality

The last Philips SHE budget earphones we reviewed way back in 2011 – the SHE900 – were seriously disappointing. Thankfully, this new model is far more than just a style re-work.

Featuring a 8.6mm dynamic driver, rather than a 10mm one, the sound produced by the SHE9105 shows significant improvement. It’s the perfect fit for someone looking to upgrade from bundled earphones.

SHE9105 7

There’s a healthy lift in bass, more so than the SoundMagic E50, but it isn’t overly pronounced. Like the best “urban” headphones, there’s just enough bass to ensure that the sound deals well when you’re somewhere with lots of ambient noise – and to cater for the average ear’s appreciation for a little extra low-end power.

Treble deals well with this emphasis on bass, not appearing at all muffled and with almost zero harshness. It’s sweet-sounding. The relationship between those highs and lows make the Philips SHE9105 great for casual-listening.

SHE9105 3

The mids are quite soft, lacking some of the defined texture to vocals you get with earphones such as the SoundMagic E50. However, many will appreciate the smooth ride the Philips SHE9105, not to mention the £15/$23 saving over the E50s.

What really makes the SHE9105 a top purchase is how well they sit next to just about any earphones in the sub-£60/$90 class. With the new driver, semi-open design and smart tuning, Philips has stumbled upon a winning formula.

However, if you’re looking for a boost to real audiophile-style sound then perhaps the Philips SHE9105 are not what you’re after. The smooth and easy sound has a slightly squidgy mid-bass cushion to it that means the level of instrument separation isn’t the best in the sub-£50/$75 class.

SHE9105 5

Should I buy the Philips SHE9105?

The Philips SHE9105 are a great upgrade for those wanting a set of earphones that are a grade above the ones supplied with a particular device. Dinky design and a one-button remote add to their appeal, and if you’re on a tight budget then you really can’t do much better.

Those wanting a rich sound will be better upgrading to the Sennheiser CX 5.00, but they’re double the price. The one thing I’d change is the size of the largest ear tips, which in my opinion could have been bigger. But unless you have large ear cavities, this won’t be a concern.

Verdict

Cracking earphones that offer smart design, good sound quality and decent looks – all at an attractively low price.

(trustedreviews.com)

Atomic Floyd SuperDarts Titanium review

Atomic Floyd is a relatively new company, founded 2009 in the UK by ex-Philips man James Strong. After our initial listening to a sample of the brand’s latest flagship earphones, the SuperDarts Titanium, we met with Strong to chat and find out more.

We were particularly intrigued how these earphones costing £249/$374 were designed and tuned. After all, no-one pays this much money for earphones just for their looks and the brand perception. Do they?

And what great style they have. Designed by ex-Nike man Stefan Andrén from Swedish studio Krownlab, the SuperDarts Titanium follows the innovative industrial design of the preceding models. These include the PowerJax, HiDefDrum and MiniDarts earphones, all majoring on precision-milled metal construction.

Where other earphones in the series use ‘German-grade’ stainless steel, we were told, the SuperDarts Titanium actually are made out of titanium. It’s space-grade stuff as well – Grade 3 titanium which is expensive to procure and difficult to machine. The result is a small ear-bud earphone with diamond-pattern knurling, and in-line three-button remote control suitable for use with iPhone.

atomic floyd superdarts titanium

The main lead has a very fine braided Kevlar jacket, so fine you’d hardly notice it although it goes some way to reducing kinks and tangles in the cable. It’s also mercifully low in microphony, the carriage of brushing and rustling noises up the wire directly into your ears.

The wire inside is oxygen-free copper (OFC) with a silver plating, Strong confirmed. The remote assembly is also in a titanium finish and includes a microphone for use as a headset with a phone or laptop.

SOUND QUALITY: TAKE ONE

They’re very inefficient, so you’ll need to turn up the volume on your player to raise sufficient volume. A brief listen quickly told us the essential sound of the SuperDarts Titanium is somewhat lean in the bass and very bright in the treble. You could in fact sum up these earphones as the anti-Beats.

Beats headphones are far removed from high-fidelity reproduction but win popular favour by filtering off most of the poor-grade high frequencies of digital audio that can tire and annoy the listener. They simultaneously ramp up the bass level. The resulting retune goes some way to compensate for the thin and washed-out sound from lo-fi MP3 and AAC tracks that the majority of people load onto their smartphones.

These metal earphones may not weigh much more than some heavier examples in plastic, thanks to the use of lightweight titanium. Yet they still need a tight and secure earbud to keep them comfortable and keep them in place.

In our first trials with the SuperDarts Titanium we found them quite unlistenable, with their thin wiry screech and near total absence of audible lower frequencies. We persevered through all three of the included silicone earbuds – small, medium and large – and found none that could comfortably hold these buds properly in place nor to provide the all-important airtight seal to maintain low-end response.

We suspect part of the problem is the cable exiting through the very end of the metal sleeve, thereby allowing the weight of the cable to also pull the buds from your ear.

Some respite was found with the universal Tsc-500 foam buds in the box though, made by third-party specialist Comply. These need to be squeezed and rolled between your finger and thumb to squash them smaller, before inserting into your outer ear canal. They then expand back in size fractionally, creating something like a custom-moulded fit every time you use them.

It’s a chore to roll, insert, then hold them in place while they re-expand; but if your ears are anything like ours it may be the only way to approach these Atomic Floyd ’phones.

In a bid to tame the fierce treble we left them running-in at high volume for a week on looped play. Then satisfied they were as good as they were going to get, we set to listen again.

Now the worst excess of HF grit and glare were reduced somewhat, enough for more extended listening anyway. In conversation with James Strong we asked about these earphones’ measured frequency response, given the published graph plot which clearly shows a long trough through the midrange and severe peaks in the high treble region.

The graph is even annotated to show the frequencies of these resonances, the first around 8 kHz but the main troubling peak at 10 kHz, where the graph illustration is then cut short. What other problems may exist beyond 10 kHz is not shown.

The key point from the limited passband shown is a 10 dB chasm between the midrange and bass range, and something like 12 dB boost at 10 kHz, relative to a nominal 1 kHz midrange reference.

On the product’s webpage the graph annotations have been removed. The absence of meaningful numbers doesn’t trouble Strong. ‘All the other headphone brands bullshit with their graphs and specs,’ he volunteered, with Atomic Floyd instead preferring to sell its products to discerning tech lovers who like to own high-tech toys, like carbon-fibre tennis racquets and bicycles.

‘You want to feel good about the product, want it to last, something special,’ he added, ‘We use nothing off the shelf’.

CEO Strong is a businessman with background in industrial design, not so versed in the minutiae of audio technology, and could not usefully comment on his earphones’ acoustic design. His audio designer is based in Hong Kong and was going to expand but unfortunately Atomic Floyd later went dark on my questions about its sound technology.

Published technical details about the SuperDarts Titanium are scant, and there is even some confusion about their driver design – Strong told us that these and the stainless-steel SuperDarts use dual drivers in each earpiece, although the website specification suggests a single driver.

SOUND QUALITY: REVISITED

After our extended trials, the SuperDarts Titanium remained a bright, sharp-sounding earphone. There is bass to be found, reasonably firm and extended too and it certainly did not suffer the problem of urban-tuned headphones that swamp the sound in treacly bass. But it can be hard to follow any bass instruments when you’re ears are being misdirected with so much HF tinsel.

Instrumental separation was good, with soundstage mostly contained between the ears (rather than expanding beyond and around as some seem to do).

Buzzing across the sound of the SuperDarts Titanium is that metallic accent, over an overdamped tight bass and subdued midrange. If you enjoy the honeyed voice of your favourite singer, you may find them a little too sterile and recessive here. Beneath the treble glare, the midband and bass at least don’t suffer any obvious coloration.

Like turning up the contrast or brightness control on your television, you will become aware of all kinds of details in the programme you may not normally experience. And like any sharpness enhancement on the screen, you’ll hear the audio equivalent of fine lines and crowsfeet and spots on the skin of normally clean-faced TV presenters. That’s the sound of artificially exaggerated reality.

Some listeners seem to seek this super-detail, mistaking it for the musical insight and revelation available to products built for transparency to the source. But like malformed bass, explicitly forced treble is not native to the sound and can seriously muck with your enjoyment of music as it was meant to be heard.

SPECS

VERDICT

Atomic Floyd’s fixation with high-tech materials, showy precision engineering and gamer-style advertising copy is all evident in the SuperDarts Titanium earphones, with less expertise seemingly poured into the core acoustic principles. They sound energetic, sharp and bright to a fault, exaggerating more treble than sane ears need to make a musically engaging product. The industrial styling is a different subject and combined with the pseudo-tech marketing is on track to win over a heedless audience.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

CooCheer Compact Portable Bluetooth Speaker review: a good-looking and cheap wireless speaker

Bluetooth speakers are ultra-convenient whether your in the garden, on holiday or moving between rooms at home, as they’re generally both wireless and battery powered. Here’s our review of the CooCheer Compact Portable Bluetooth Speaker (£17.99/$27 from Amazon).

In terms of design, CooCheer has produced an impressve elegant and sophisticated product. We love its soft matt plastic finish and  rounded edges.

The aluminum dial is elegantly placed at the centre of the speaker and four rubber feet prevent the unit from moving around. The over all feeling is of a premium speaker.

In terms of features, it has what most Bluetooth speakers offer: a built-in battery, the option to use it as a hands-free speaker for phonecalls and a line-in for devices without Bluetooth.

It’s compatible with almost all devices with Bluetooth. Thanks to the built-in microphone, you can use it as a speaker phone. It allows you to answer to phone calls directly form your speaker, the music pauses.

You use the dial at the centre to adjust the volume, change song, pause and restart again.

To pause or play the music streaming from your phone (or other Bluetooth device), you just need to touch the dial.

CooCheer Bluetooth speaker review

In terms of battery life, CooCheer isn’t outstanding. It lasts between 4 and 5 hours of playtime. This is mediocre compared many other (cheaper) speakers that last longer.

You can charge the speaker with the USB cable charging that CooCheer provides you with the device. You also get a ‘flannelette’ bag to carry the speaker.

SOUND QUALITY

Given the low price, we are not expecting great sound quality. Our expectations were confirmed when we started listening. At maximum volume, the music is distorted. That’s not too surprising, but it would have been nice to use full volume. Although the speaker is quite loud, it isn’t that powerful and at its maximum volume; you might end up wondering if there is a fly buzzing in the room.

CooCheer Bluetooth speaker review

It has no stereo separation, but it has passive ‘radiators’ at the bottom that improves the overall bass sound quality. Bass isn’t room-shaking, but is pretty decent from a speaker of this size.

Range is pretty good, too, and certainly better than some Bluetooth speakers we’ve tested. The music won’t cut out if you go further than 10ft from the device (up to around 25ft).

SPECS

VERDICT

CooCheer’s Bluetooth Speaker stands out for its stylish and fashionable design. However we have a feeling that CooCheer focused too much on design and gadgets, forgetting about sound quality.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

Naim Audio mu-so review

Naim Audio mu-so review: one-box network speaker should be a bargain by real hi-fi standards, but is expensive by the lo-fi Bluetooth speaker standards with which it stands.

Naim Audio has long been one of the touchstones of British audio industry, an electronics brand founded in the early 70s that earned a fearsome reputation for uncompromising amplifiers, before later expanding into making complete hi-fi systems.

The mu-so is Naim’s first network speaker, a mains-powered rectangular block about two feet wide and five inches tall. It’s beautifully crafted with clean lines, a brushed aluminium skin finishing its top and side, an inky black grille hiding speakers to the front, and a finned heatsink running along its back panel.

Also available at £69.95/$105 each are alternative coloured front grilles, in red, orange and blue.

naim audio mu-so blue

When placed on a table the mu-so seems to float just above the surface, thanks to an 18 mm slab of clear acrylic that runs most of the width of the cabinet. This lights up by default from invisible white LEDs that also illuminate the Naim logo on the left corner. The sum of these design details is a classy looking unit that will win the attention of anyone needing a one-box music centre with the minimum of fussy extras and unsightly cabling.

Pull off the detachable grille and you’ll find a line of speaker units ranged across the front – two racetrack bass drivers, two midrange units and a pair of soft-dome tweeters. These are powered by a total of six discrete amplifiers (specified as 65 W each, one channel driven only, into 6 ohm).

The sound is first split into the appropriate low, mid and high frequency bands by an active crossover and control of the sound is orchestrated by a 150 MIPS microprocessor.  This allows limited room- and ear-tuning adjustments to be made by the user – namely setting room position (less than/more than 25 cm from a wall), and a Loudness on/off control (which lifts bass and treble to give more impact, an old trick originally invented to overcome differences in our hearing response at low volumes).

CONTROL

Like many ‘wireless’ speakers, you’ll need a smartphone or tablet to operate the mu-so, and to this end Naim Audio has its own app for iOS and Android. In use we found the mobile interface quite simple to use, and playback control was reliable, in marked contrast to many app-controlled streamers and speakers that suffer infruriating reliability issues.

Some limited control of the mu-so is also available from box itself, from a control centre on the unit’s top. This comprises a large circular dial that you can spin for volume control; and some backlit touch controls to select ‘radio’ and ‘input’. Pressing the latter light allows you to cycle through three available inputs, although unlabelled white lights given only a hint of which.

naim audio mu-so orange

The big round dial has a commendably smooth action, and as you twizzle it white lines illuminate around the circumference to display volume setting. Unfortunately these lights quickly fade to black, so there’s no visual way to know at what volume the mu-so has been set thereafter, which we found in practice to be a poor UI decision.

Special mention must go to the level of fine control available at the lowest volume settings. Many audio designers forget that the enormous dynamic range of the human ear means we can, and like to, play very quietly in some situations or times of day. The mu-so has plenty of very low level volume adjustment available.

The small remote handset provides switching of inputs and volume, with the latter controls set as north and south in the compass rose surrounding the core OK button. Unfortunately immediately north itself of the volume + key is an input switch button. So close in fact that we found it all too easy to change inputs by mistake when adjusting volume. Worse, there’s no way to restore UPnP playback after changing sources; you must then go to find your smartphone to restart playback.

SOUND QUALITY

How does the Naim Audio mu-so sound? In its favour the sound is tight and focused, in the sense of no flabby bass or honking midband colorations to unsettle singing voices. It could play loud without audible distress from box resonances or gross amplifier clipping, although we did note it’s rather noisy – sat around 4 feet away we could clearly hear the woosh of constant white noise streaming from its tweeters.

Overall though, its sound character we’d best describe as dreary – that is to say dull, lifeless and quite lacking in musical interest.

The essential outline of the music was in place but there seemed to be less conviction in playing all the threads as a believable ensemble. Trying classical or acoustic material, instruments like violins and guitars sounded thin and scratchy. Cymbals lost flourish to become splashy metallic pulses from an 8-bit drum machine.

Spoken voices from radio had a hollowed-out, papery quality that robbed the person speaking of humanity. Bass was heard – and felt – with good slam and impact but trying to follow walking basslines the mu-so revealed itself as almost entirely tuneless. Where a figured bass part might be heard as dum-de dah de-dum, we heard mu-so’s rendition more like dum-dum dum-dum.

When music got interesting and busy, Naim’s mu-so got messy and jarring. Instead of hanging on to every note of a captivating performance, we found it difficult to hold attention for more than a few minutes at a time, before our attention would drift aw.…  The effect was rather like hearing our favourite music rendered as a ringtone or MIDI track. Mechanical and laboured replaced natural and flowing.

Underlying anything we played was the ultimate loss of ambience and air we knew lay in the recordings. Like heavy-handed noise gating, the decay of instruments in a reverberant acoustic space was simple cut off, leaving a sterile dry effect in its place.

It’s easy to point to Naim Audio’s choice of Class D amplification as the culprit for milking all the music from the music. But given the amount of careful expertise and technology that’s been applied to the rest of the product, there’s every reason to believe that the prescription of low-fidelity switching amplifiers are the undoing of an otherwise carefully designed music system.

And that’s doubly disappointing from a high-end audio brand that once revelled in its amplification expertise, now seemingly forgotten in a race to the bottom to join mass-market white goods brands that as one have seized upon Class D for its energy efficiency, low manufacturing cost and spec-swelling power ratings. These type of budget amps have several commendable qualities but none of them have anything to do with reproducing music in a believable manner.

SPECS

VERDICT

In most respects the Naim mu-so would make the perfect companion to the modern home as a one-stop music centre. It can play sound from phone, tablets, NAS drives and music servers, internet radio, as well as local sources like a telly through its minijack and optical digital inputs. It’s stylish in a B&O metallic breezeblock kind of way, and importantly is a cinch to control through its mobile apps once you’ve explored the touchscreen interface. Sadly it’s let down by its amusical quality which is far removed from the living, breathing sound that Naim was for once famous. At £895/$1,343 it would be a bargain by real hi-fi standards but in truth it’s expensive by the lo-fi Bluetooth speaker standards with which it stands. Hipsters and interior designers can rejoice at the mu-so’s on-trend looks but music lovers may be more inclined to avoid Naim’s so-so.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

KEF X300A Wireless review

KEF X300A Wireless review: active powered loudspeakers with genuine hi-fi and pro-studio pedigree that deserve to find space on your desk. 

The KEF X300A speakers remain one of the finest loudspeaker systems for your computer. Now KEF has increased their reach with the help of a little Wi-Fi connectivity. In our listening tests we heard the same great sound, but with the added option of AirPlay to liberate the speakers from an audio cable connection. Here’s our KEF X300A Wireless review.

KEF X300A Wireless

There are two ways this ‘wireless’ edition differs from the original KEF X300A – it comes solely in a white vinyl finish, rather than black only. And it adds a Wi-Fi network adaptor internally to let it connect to 802.11g wireless networks. Peripheral to that, there’s also the reliable standby of an ethernet port available, the preferred way to pipe media files reliably.

With either network connection, Apple devices such as a MacBook, iPhone or iPad can be easily paired for playing music. And besides Apple AirPlay you can also use the X300A Wireless speakers on a network using UPnP.

On first sight, the KEF X300A Wireless still looks like a regular bookshelf hi-fi speaker, albeit one with an unusual dual-concentric speaker driver that KEF calls Uni-Q. There’s no grille option so these drivers are always on display.

Instead of the classic tweeter above mid-bass driver layout, the tweeter is embedded into the centre of the main driver. Coincident wavefronts from transducers that cover most the audible frequency range is usually considered a Good Thing.

These KEF Uni-Q units typically create a more even tonal balance from different listening positions, and assist stereo imaging. This was demonstrably the case here, as we found a remarkably consistent sound from different locations in the room.

A two-position switch on the back (Stand/Desk) helps you adjust the acoustic characteristics for either positioning; this tweak is usually made to the bass response, reducing the low-frequency output slightly when used closer to a room boundary, such as a wall.

BUILD AND DESIGN

The KEF X300A Wireless speakers resemble the long-running brand’s typical fare of high-fidelity loudspeakers over the last few decades; but unlike most hi-fi speakers these are self-powered, with four separate channels of amplification. They also feature active crossovers, working in the analogue domain, for splitting the sound into appropriate treble and mid/bass frequency bands before arriving at the amplifiers.

This is a crucial step, one used in professional PA and studio monitors, which can truly optimise the signal for each speaker driver. It’s also a more efficient way to power any speaker, with less energy wasted in heating up a passive crossover.

In this system, the amplifiers and supporting electronics all live inside the speakers – and that includes D-A convertors (DACs) to let you feed the X300A Wireless speakers with a digital signal, up to the 24-bit/96 kHz standard, through a Mini-USB 2.0 input.

KEF X300A WirelessKEF X300A Wireless

It’s notable that the amplifiers used are high-fidelity Class AB designs (50 W mid/bass, 20 W treble), and not the music-crushing Class D type that is universally used in budget audio kit.

The main carcass of the speaker box resembles course-grained metal, although it’s a vinyl wrap over thick-walled MDF. Build quality is essentially faultless. These speakers feel incredibly solid and they’re weighty too at 7.5 kg apiece. Printed around silver trim rings is a legend reading ‘Wireless’ and ‘96kHz 24bit Digital’ – but it’s worth remembering that for AirPlay use at least the two are not mutual. This type of wireless audio is limited to 16-bit CD quality at best.

On the back of the left speaker – the boss unit of the pair – there’s USB port for digital audio from a computer, as well as a 3.5 mm minijack analogue input. A second USB port sends the signal to the right-hand speaker over a long USB cable.

To tailor the sound for either Desk or Stand use there’s the small slide switch here, while a rotary trim knob lets you adjust overall volume gain. You’d normally set your source to its maximum volume, then turn up the gain control to reach the highest output you’d expect to need; then reduce volume as required again on the source component.

While music can be piped into the speakers using microwave radio instead of connecting wires, they are clearly far from wireless, as each requires a mains power lead; plus there’s the USB cable that tethers the two boxes together. This also limits somewhat how far apart you can space the two speakers, although the supplied USB cable is a few metres long and for desktop use at least that ought to be enough.

PERFORMANCE

These are incredibly insightful loudspeakers, and yet tonally deliciously neutral. We ran them from a MacBook Pro over USB, playing a variety of 16-bit ripped CD lossless files, as well high-resolution 24/96 material. And then we turned to the wireless connection, streaming high-bitrate internet radio and lossless audio files.

Regular CD music had a clarity and sparkle that we’ve not heard at this price level before – the overall grip and cohesiveness of sound outclassed what you might have expected from, say, a traditional stereo hi-fi amp and loudspeaker combination of £300/$450 each.

Voices were fixed naturally in the space between the speakers, and free of unwanted chestiness from the cabinet or sibilance from the all-metal drivers. Acoustic music played convincingly, capturing the air and space around instruments while showing authentic timbre of guitars or violins, for example. And the Uni-Q helped lock the sound such that the soundfield remained consistent in size and spread.

Given weightier music material, the X300A Wireless could also step up and keep up. In fact their tight, focused bass made them great for rock and jazz material, remaining in control even at higher volumes where other speakers start sounding messy. The rear-ported design helped them to go convincingly low in the bass, yet without troubling low-frequency port or box resonances.

The takeaway summary is that this is a speaker that plays music so effortlessly, you can listen all day and not grow tired from some niggling edginess or phasey distortion. Music flows smoothly and naturally – and that is a refreshing change for any speaker pitched into the PC speaker market.

SPECS

KEF X300A WirelessKEF X300A Wireless

VERDICT

There are desktop speakers, and there are loudspeakers that will also fit on the desk. In the case of the KEF X300A Wireless, we have a pair of active powered loudspeakers with genuine hi-fi and pro-studio pedigree that deserve finding space on your desk for their admittedly larger footprint. As a self-contained speaker system, the KEF X300A stands clearly above any style-first speaker routinely made to complement a PC or laptop. They have an easy yet solid sound with real weight to music, and stay acoustically true to the recording. It’s a majestic achievement.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

Inateck MercuryBox BP2101 Bluetooth Speaker review: A budget speaker that will fill your room with sound

Inateck’s MercuryBox BP2101 Bluetooth Speaker brings together a classic aluminium design that’s also waterproof and impressively powerful drivers. Read our Inateck MercuryBox BP2101 Bluetooth Speaker review to find out how it fares. 

At £52.99/$79 from Amazon, the Inateck MercuryBox is twice the price of many of the budget speakers we review, but significantly cheaper than many of the better known brands with comparable performance. So, even at a touch over 50 quid, the MercuryBox still offers very good value.

Inateck’s MercuryBox BP2101 Bluetooth Speaker comes in an elegant black case, internally covered with velvet fabric. This gives you a hint as to the quality of the product inside. However, we don’t judge a book from its cover. So let’s take a look at the actual characteristics of the MercuryBox speaker.

Its rectangular aluminium housing is sleek and essential. In a period when minimalism is en vogue, Inateck gains points for product design.

Inateck’s MercuryBox BP2101 Bluetooth Speaker’s upper end is rubberised and has a soft-touch texture. On this side of the speaker are buttons for turning on and off the device, playing/pausing music, answering calls over Bluetooth, changing the volume or skipping the track.

If you don’t want to use the Bluetooth facility, you can opt for the AUX mode that allows you to connect your phone, tablet or laptop with the speaker though the included 3.5mm audio cable.

Another interesting feature of this chic device is its IPX5 waterproof design. Inateck’s MercuryBox is splash-resistant, making it ideal for use in the bathroom – just don’t submerge it in water.

In terms of battery life, Inateck claims the built-in 1800mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery can offer up to 15 hours of playtime. Your results will vary, depending on audio volume and other factors.

When the speaker is low in battery, the buttons will light red. You can then charge Inateck MercuryBox with the included Micro-USB charging cable.

Another nice characteristic is how easily portable this speaker is. The MercuryBox is a reasonably small device (162.8×62.8×28.6mm) and lightweight at just 250g. You can carry it around easily and even fit it in your bag.

Inateck MercuryBox

SOUND QUALITY

Given the small dimensions, we were surprised by how loud the MercuryBox could go. For such a small speaker, its room-filling sound is impressive and beats that of larger, heavier speakers.

Vocals are loud and clear, and highs are well reproduced. There is no unnatural metallic sound or weird buzz, even at maximum volume.

Its powerful dual 5W drivers deliver loud and rich sound and they perform well with different types of music, from rock music to Jazz.

The bass won’t shake the room, but it is still quite good with a pleasant presence of warmth.

One fault of Inateck BP2101 Bluetooth Speaker is that it doesn’t have any stereo separation.

SPECS

VERDICT

Inateck’s MercuryBox BP2101 Bluetooth Speaker is a decent budget speaker, both sophisticated and attractive in design. We were sceptical about its performance, but the Inateck impresses with a rich, deep sound; even at max volume no sound defects are heard.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

Edifier Bric Connect Bluetooth speaker review

Edifier Bric Connect review: The Bric Connect is an ideal indoor speaker, but AA batteries hold it back from being portable

The Edifier Bric Connect is a sub-£100/$150 Bluetooth speaker that offers something slightly different to the standard Bluetooth speaker experience, including a mains adaptor that allows it to be ‘always on’ and a remote control to control playback. With this said, is it worth paying out for, or should you opt for something like the Denon Envaya Mini? Read on and find out.

DESIGN AND BUILD

Let’s first discuss the design of the Edifier Bric Connect, as the Bluetooth speaker certainly makes a statement. From the first glance, you can see that the Bric Connect looks sleek and elegant, and though it is quite large (300x90x133mm) for a Bluetooth speaker, its design somehow masks this. As well as being bulky, it’s also quite heavy, weighing in at a rather surprising 1.4KG, despite the fact that it can be used as a portable Bluetooth speaker.

It’s available in black or high-gloss white, though we must admit that we prefer the grey and black colour scheme of the darker model, complimented by small chrome-like detailing used in the bass reflect port at the rear. Its lighter companion does maintain the speaker’s sleek exterior, however we felt that from a design perspective, the black model has more presence.

Its sophisticated design is suited more to the home than outdoors in our opinion, especially with no kind of water, dust or shock resistance provided with the speaker.

It certainly isn’t on a par with the likes of the UE Roll in terms of its indestructibility, but with this being said, it’ll suit many users both at home and away – as long as you don’t plan on going swimming with it!

FEATURES

The Edifier Bric Connect features both Bluetooth and an auxiliary input, allowing both wireless and wired devices to make use of the room filling audio the speaker produces – but more about that later.

It features a built-in speakerphone, which can be used for voice calls, conference calls and even video calls, if required. Simply pair the speaker to your device and whenever you receive a call, it’ll be directed through the speaker. You also have the option to answer the call via the remote, which is handy for those times where you’re being called and can’t find your phone (or is that just us?).

Wait, did they just say remote? We did indeed. Even though the majority of users will be controlling the music directly via the device its playing from (phones and tablets most of the time) the Edifier Bric Connect also offers a remote with full media controls, including a button to switch between the two input options. The remote even has a hidden compartment underneath the speaker, which allows you to safely store the remote when not in use – a life saver for those of us that regularly misplace small accessories.

BATTERY LIFE

So, how is the Edifier Bric Connect powered? Unlike many other Bluetooth speakers, the Bric Connect offers two ways to power the speaker, one suited for home and one suited for the outdoors. The first option is to plug the speaker directly into the mains, which is ideal for those of us that want to use the Bric Connect as a stationary Bluetooth speaker within the home. It provides you with extra convenience, as you can leave the Bric Connect on indefinitely and connect/disconnect to it whenever needed without needing to worry about battery life.

But what happens when you want to venture out with the Bric Connect? The good news is that the speaker can also be powered via batteries, but not the lithium-ion rechargeable ones that you’re probably expecting. Instead, the Bric Connect requires six AA batteries to power the speaker wherever a plug isn’t available.

We’re not quite sure why Edifier decided to go down this route, as rechargeable batteries are usually preferred by consumers. Sure, they may not last as long as traditional batteries, but they require little effort to recharge and don’t cost upwards of £5/$8 (if you’re buying 6 Duracell’s, anyway) to replace once they run out! Opting for a built-in rechargeable battery is a lot more convenient for consumers, too.

AUDIO

Let’s move onto the most important section of any speaker review, and discuss the audio quality produced by the Edifier Bric Connect. In terms of what’s featured in the speaker, it houses a Class D amp with two 70mm (2¾in) full range speaker drivers, as well as a bass reflect port at the rear, which is vital for great-sounding bass audio output. All this equates to well rounded, room filling audio that we think is well above the Bric Connect’s £77/$116 price tag.

The main cause of shock was the levels of bass produced by the speaker, as we’d only heard a similar level of bass produced by two-piece systems. Don’t get us wrong – it’s not enough to shake the walls and cause pictures to fall down, but its enough to loose yourself in, especially with bass-y songs. It doesn’t drown out the mid range either, which is an issue we’ve experienced with Bluetooth speakers in the past. Vocals sound rich, and the speaker performs as well playing acoustic music as it does playing Dubstep.

But what about at high volume? Many sub-£100/$150 Bluetooth speakers suffer from the same issue, where the audio becomes distorted and unenjoyable to listen to at high volume. However, even at the highest volume, the Bric Connect showed no signs of distortion and produced similar levels of quality to when its played at low volume.

SPECS

VERDICT

The Edifier Bric Connect is a great Bluetooth speaker for the home, though we’re not too sure we’d take it out and about with us on our travels. It’s too big to be truly portable, and the fact that it requires 6 AA batteries means that it isn’t as convenient as we’d like it to be. Audio quality is great, and the level of bass produced is better than others we’ve seen at a similar price. The addition of a remote is a nice touch too, and further solidifies our idea that the speaker is more suited to the home than the great outdoors.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

Cowin Thunder portable Bluetooth speaker review: Great idea with satisfactory execution

The Cowin Thunder is a relatively new sub-£100/$150 portable Bluetooth speaker, released back in May. So, what separates this speaker from the sea of portable Bluetooth speakers available? For one, it includes built-in vibration technology that aims to turn whatever surface its on into a speaker for a truly different experience. Does it live up to expectations, or should you go for something more conventional? Read on and find out.

DESIGN AND BUILD

The Cowin Thunder is definitely one of the better looking Bluetooth speakers we’ve reviewed recently – it has a chrome-esque design, and adopts a cylindrical design to aid its 360-degree audio projection, but we’ll come to that in more detail a little later on. It fits comfortably in one hand, and the play/pause, volume, Bluetooth and Lightning buttons are easily accessible from the top of the speaker.

The Thunder sits on a 5mm leg with a tacky surface, which allows users to attach the speaker to almost any smooth surface. In our testing, we found that it’d stick particularly well to glass surfaces, such as windows and plastic surfaces, but it’d quickly fall off when attached to wood – especially if a bassy song was being played at the time. As well as being able to attach the Thunder to any surface, the main purpose of the tacky leg is to utilise whatever surface the speaker on to, basically, turn it into a speaker – Cowin calls this ‘Lightning mode’.

Cowin is proud of just how portable the Thunder is, and at 79.2 x 79.2 x 89mm, it’s certainly a speaker that doesn’t take up a lot of room in a rucksack or bag. It’s also pretty lightweight, weighing in at only 495g, which when compared to 1.4KG Edifier Bric Connect that also boasts portable use, is ideal.

FEATURES

So, what makes the Cowin Thunder different from almost every other sub-£100/$150 portable Bluetooth speaker on the market? It’s main attraction, and where the Thunder shines most, is something called “Lightning mode”, which we briefly mentioned above. When Thunder is attached to a table/window/box, you can activate its Lightning mode, which utilises the built-in vibration technology to turn the surface into a giant speaker.

We found that Lightning mode really had an effect when placed on boxes, though you have to experiment with objects around your home to find which produces the best sound. For the best Lightning mode experience, we were told to place the Thunder at the bottom of a wheelie bin, as the bin would amplify the sound more than almost any other surface.

Connectivity wise, the Thunder boasts Bluetooth with NFC support for one-tap pairing. The Thunder also boasts speakerphone capabilities via Bluetooth, so if you’re playing music and get a call, there’s no need to disconnect the device. For those of you that want a physical connection, you’ll be pleased to know that the Thunder also has a 3.5mm jack input situated towards the bottom of the device, though you won’t be able to use the speakerphone capabilities.

AUDIO

Okay, we’ve teased you with its features, but how does the Cowin Thunder actually sound? Our first impression was that it was louder than it looks, which we can only assume is because of the 360-degree audio projection. Technically speaking, the Cowin Thunder is a 15W Bluetooth speaker, which should be loud enough for casual social occasions, but isn’t ideal for hosting a house party.

Though the speaker is quite loud, we wouldn’t describe the audio as room filling. However, with this being said, using Lightning mode did improve its prospects, providing a more rounded audio experience. It’s worth mentioning that even when Lightning mode is active, the bass, while more prominent, isn’t quite as strong as we’d like, though this means there is no danger of the bass levels drowning out the mid-range or vocals.

If you’re looking for a decent all round speaker with fairly balanced audio, the Thunder is the ideal candidate.

BATTERY LIFE

That’s all very well and good, but a portable Bluetooth speaker needs to have a decent battery life if its to be successful. The good news is that the Cowin Thunder boasts a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, which can be charged via any micro-USB cable. This, in theory, means that you could use a battery pack to charge the speaker if it runs out during a trip.

Cowin claims that the Thunder has an average battery life of around eight hours, though we found this would depend on a number of factors including volume and whether or not we were using its normal mode, or lightning mode. We’re not sure how much Lightning mode effects the battery life, but we noticed a slightly shorter battery life when using it.

SPECS

VERDICT

So, what do we think of the Cowin Thunder overall? It’s a fairly powerful portable Bluetooth speaker, and the addition of its “lightning mode” offers something slightly different and makes it stand out from the crowd. With that being said, audio quality is satisfactory and provides fairly balanced audio in all directions, thanks to its 360-degree audio projection.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

Kef M100 review: A solid choice for in-ear headphones

Kef is a long standing audio brand but hasn’t been in the headphone game for very long. We reviewed its first pair, the M500, two years ago. The firm now has a small range of cans including in-ear headphones so here’s our Kef M100 review.

According to Kef, the M100 headphones are “Supremely comfortable lightweight in-ears combining Kef design innovation and precision engineering to give you true high resolution sound on the move.” so we’ve put them to the test to find out if this is true.

PRICE AND COMPETITION

You can pick up a pair of good sounding in-ear headphones for under £50/$75 and if you’re on a tight budget then head over to our best budget headphones chart to find a pair. However, as you might expect from a brand like Kef, the M100 in-ears are not quite so cheap.

We like to predict the price of products that we get in for review before looking up the actual price and we were pleasantly surprised to find the M100 headphones are available for £119/$180 – we were expecting a price tag of at least £150/$225.

That makes them cheaper than the RHA T10i which are £149/$224 and on par with the Rock Jaw Kommand in-ears.

Kef M100 review

DESIGN AND BUILD

Like Kef’s new M400 on-ear headphones, which we hope to review soon, the M100 in-ears are available in four different colours: Racing Blue, Sunset Orange, Champagne Gold and Titanium Black. We took a look at the latter which is arguably the most boring option but they do look stylish.

You can rely on Kef to provide well-built products and these headphones are no exception with a machined aluminium casing making them fit with other M-series cans. We like the ‘racetrack’ bevelled edge which looks like an indie-car track. Another plus is that the production process is an environmentally friendly benzene-free one.

Included in the box alongside the headphones are three different sizes of tips, a round carry pouch and a flight adapter. We’d also recommend you put the tie-clip onto the wire to avoid the headphones pulling downwards and out of your ears when in use. That said, these are small and light in-ear buds which is a real plus point after seeing so many which are too big and heavy to stay put for longer than half a song. If you need extra support, perhaps for running, the Kef M200 in-ear headphones have ear hooks.

That lightweight design (just 18g) and the angular design combine to make a comfortable experience. I tend to have a bad time with in-ear headphones but I’ve been able to wear the M100s for long periods without reaching unbearable levels of annoyance. Everyone’s ears are different but I’ve been able to use them all day (bar lunch and meetings) quite happily. That said, the Bose QC20 in-ears are still the most comfortable I’ve ever used.

The in-line control is made for use with Apple products (iPod, iPad and iPhone) but will work with ‘ most other devices’. On an Android phone we could play, pause and skip forward a track but not adjust the volume.

Kef M100 review

SOUND PERFORMANCE

Alongside that angular design – both the shell and chamber are angled to help the fit and aim to minimise distortion – is a 10mm ‘full-range’ neodymium driver. This sits on a high density foam acoustic dampener and a vented driver radiator, which together, form what Kef calls a ‘low resonance acoustic suspension ring’. All of this combines to provide ‘high resolution sound’, according to Kef.

Kef calling the driver full-range means it can deliver frequencies from 20Hz all the way up to 20KHz – in other words the hearing range of a human being. From the off we could tell the M100 in-ear headphones had the potential to perform well but as with the M500, they needed running in before they could reach their potential so bear this in mind if you get a pair.

It took a good couple of weeks before we felt the M100s were run in properly and the main area we saw improvement was the low end. Bass sounded quite frankly poor to start with but does come alive over time. That said, we don’t think the M100s are the best for all you bass addicts out there.

What these in-ears do provide is a balance across the entire frequency range so it’s actually quite nice that the bass doesn’t simply assault your ear drums in a vain attempt to impress. Kef says that the response is more accurate so you can hear each vocal or instrument clearly differentiated and we’d have to agree.

These headphones are super crisp and bright but without going too far and becoming harsh. Balance is the key word here and that makes them suitable for a wide range of genres. Aside from physical design, this is another reason why they are good for a long listening session.

SPECS

VERDICT

We were impressed by Kef’s first headphones, the M500 on-ear cans, and the M100 in-ears are really no different. They offer excellent build quality, a lightweight comfortable design combined with nicely balanced and crisp sound performance. They’re also not as pricey as we had expected making them a solid choice for a pair of in-ear headphones.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

Epson Runsense SF-810 review: An ideal companion for long-distance running

WHAT IT IS, WHY IT MATTERS

The Epson Runsense SF-810 is a watch that, as the name may suggest, is built for runners. It includes GPS and a heart rate monitor. The built-in optical heart rate sensor is partnered with Epson’s Smart Stride measurement, and the GPS sensors, so you can accurately measure how far you have run, and how quickly (or slowly). Advanced training modes are included to help the elite athlete get more from their tired limbs.

PRICE AND VALUE

The Epson Runsense SF-810 is slated to sell for £199.99/$300 inc VAT, down from the initial £259.99/$390 inc VAT quoted by Epson as the SRP. A quick scout around online shows that around £200/$300 is about right, although we note that Argos is selling the Epson Runsense SF-810 for a mighty £299/$449 inc VAT. You are probably better off buying it off Amazon for £200/$300 .

In terms of value this is actually okay. The broadly similar TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio sport watch retails for £200/$300, although you can pick it up cheaper if you shop around. Which is okay: this is a fitness gadget, and not a smartphone extension like a smartwatch. The Microsoft Band retails for around £145/$218, for instance, and offers some smartwatch features such as email notifications. But it isn’t waterproof, and can’t be used for swimming or in the shower as can the Epson.

You will pay the same of more for the Fitbit Surge, which is the equivalent FitBit fitness device. So the Epson is well priced, but only for fitness enthusiasts who don’t want additional connected features.

BUILD QUALITY AND DESIGN

Epson Runsense SF-810 review: An ideal companion for long-distance running

The Epson Runsense SF-810 wins points for actually looking like a watch, but then loses them for looking like the sort of watch you might win at a fair. It’s not a fashion accessory, of course, but if I am dropping two hundred notes on a wearable device, these days I expect something more than black and gray plastic and rubber.

Which is not say that the Epson Runsense SF-810 is at all ugly. Indeed, it has a certain understated charm. A circular watch fascia is surrounded by a smart silvery ring. Big chunky buttons adorn the outside, and are easy to hit even when sweating and running. And the now familiar holey strap allows for almost limitless adaptability in terms of wrist size.

Waterproof, we tried the Epson Runsense SF-810 in both shower and pool with no adverse effects. And it is sufficiently robust to stand up to over a month in our running bag, being dragged around, without picking up scratches. We did get a bit of grime on the inside of the watch face, however. Nothing that a quick shower won’t sort out.

The provided charging cable is easy to use, well put together, and versatile – in that it charges from USB.

Weighing only 50g, the Epson Runsense SF-810 is unlikely to slow you down, either. It is 44.5 mm wide and 14 mm thick at the outsides, so it is relatively slight, for a GPS watch. Overall we have no real problems with the Epson Runsense SF-810’s design, and its build quality is good.

DISPLAY

Epson Runsense SF-810 review: An ideal companion for long-distance running

We measured the Runsense’s display at 28.2 mm across. It is a circular LCD display, with a resolution of 128 x 128 pixels. Don’t expect to have your socks knocked off. It’s neither particularly bright, nor particularly sharp, but you can see the required information comfortably when on the move. And there is a light for night time runs.

The Epson Runsense SF-810’s display is perfectly acceptable, without being great. You can read it, and it tells you what you need to know. And that is good enough for me.

IN USE

Let’s go for the good points first. We found that the Epson Runsense SF-810 offered a pretty accurate and consistent heart-rate read. And used over a period of time it showed consistent and accurate GPS tracking on runs. That easy-to-read display offers up a lot of data, and the bezel buttons are easy to use and intuitive. And, yes, we like that it can be worn in the shower. I have lost a few gadgets that way.

Those are pretty important, and so far so good. What is great is the long battery life. We used the Epson Runsense SF-810 several times for decent-length runs over the course of a fortnight, and it never needed recharging. Epson claims up to 20 hours in use with GPS on, and we wouldn’t argue with that.

And the bad? Our biggest gripe is that in our tests GPS signal acquisition was a little slow, and quite hit and miss. Anyone who has used a satnav knows that this is a standard thing, but the Epson Runsense SF-810 was more painful to use in this respect than either the TomTom Multi-Sport of the Microsoft Band.

Potentially unfair because it is what it is (but also true) this is a limited device, really only for serious runners. There is no all-day activity tracking, so don’t expect this to replace your FitBit. And there are no non-running modes. It really is about measuring heartrate and on-foot distance only. Workout data isn’t synced to your smartphone unless you tell it to, either, and the mobile app is slow and buggy.

SPECS

VERDICT

A full-featured watch for runners, the Epson Runsense SF-810 will be the perfect companion for those serious about shaving times of long-distance runs. It is limited only to that function, and it isn’t cheap. But battery life is great.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

How to connect a laptop to TV with HDMI and more: watch movies and video from a laptop on a TV

Connecting your laptop to your TV is actually very easy: all you need is the right cable, lead or streaming hardware and you’ll be watching content from your laptop on your television in no time. We’ll take you through how to connect your laptop to a TV in this step-by-step guide which includes wireless, HDMI, VGA and other methods. 

You don’t have to spend a small fortune to get all the features of the latest smart TVs. One cheap and easy way to get the internet on your TV is to connect it to your laptop. Doing this lets you stream catch-up TV from services such as BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and Netflix through your laptop onto your big TV screen, or even projector.

What cables do I need to connect my laptop to a TV?

In order to connect your laptop to your TV you are going to need to take a look at what ports are available on both your laptop and TV. This easiest way to connect the two is with an HDMI cable. Unless your laptop is really old, or was a super-budget model, it should have an HDMI output. Virtually all TVs made in the last six years or so also have HDMI ports. (The HDMI port is highlighted in red below.)

Another popular way to connect a laptop to a TV is via a VGA cable and a 3.5mm audio lead(which connects to your laptop’s headphone port) – one cable each for video and sound. Only use this method if one or both of your devices doesn’t have an HDMI port. The VGA port is labeled as PC IN on the image below.

How to connect laptop to TV

If your laptop has no video output, you can connect your laptop to your TV via an adapter which plugs into your laptop’s USB port and provides a VGA output. These cost from around £20/$30.

Connecting wirelessly

If you can’t or don’t want to have a wire between your laptop and TV, another option is to go wireless.There are various options here depending on your laptop’s capabilities since a few laptops have a built-in wireless system called WiDi (Intel Wireless Display) which works with a compatible receiver such as Netgear’s Push2TV.

There are also wireless systems which plug into the HDMI port on your TV and laptop (possibly the USB port on your laptop), sending the video wirelessly. These aren’t generally cheap, though, and most wireless video systems have a hit on video quality.

A different way to approach the problem is to use a dedicated media streamer such as Western Digital’s WDTV, Google’s Chromecast, Roku’s Streaming Stick, or even Apple’s TV.

The Apple TV is designed to work with your iPad or iPhone, but can also stream video from any computer or NAS running iTunes. It’s quite limited as videos have to be one of only a couple of supported file formats. Plus there’s no access to BBC iPlayer, Sky Go or other catch-up TV. For more on media streamers, see later in the article.

How to connect a laptop to TV using HDMI

Connecting a laptop to a TV via a HDMI cable is the best and easiest way, as cables are cheap and provide the best quality HD picture and sound. It only requires one lead too, as HDMI handles both video and audio.

To connect a laptop to a TV using a HDMI cable, all you need to do is plug the cable into your laptop and then one of your HDMI ports on your TV. If you’re using an up-to-date version of Windows, all that you should need to do is ensure your laptop is switched on, and your TV is set to the correct HDMI channel, the laptop should automatically configure to give you the best settings from here.

If for some reason it does not automatically select the right setting, you simply need to go to Control Panel > Display > Adjust Resolution – from here you will see two drop down boxes. The first thing you will need to do is toggle the Display drop down to ensure that your TV is selected, next you need to ensure that the Resolution drop down box matches the settings that are correct for your TV.

1.    Turn your laptop and TV on.
2.    Connect your HDMI lead to both your TV and laptop (any order).
3.    Select the correct HDMI input on your TV (usually by pressing the AV button).
4.    If your laptop does not automatically output its screen to the TV, go to Control Panel > Display > Adjust Resolution and select the TV in the Display drop down box.

How to connect a laptop to TV using HDMI

How to connect a laptop to a TV using VGA

Another straightforward way to connect your laptop to your TV is by using the VGA port on both devices. This is likely to only be an option for those of you with a laptop that is over 4/5 years old.

VGA is a video lead only, so you will have to accompany this with a 3.5mm audio lead, that you need to connect from the headphone out socket of your laptop to your audio in port of your TV or external speakers.

How to connect a laptop to a TV using VGA

Using a VGA means Windows should automatically configure the settings like it would if you were using a HDMI cable. However, if you’re experiencing difficulties go to Control Panel > Display > Adjust Resolutions and follow the directions above.

1.    Turn your laptop and TV on.
2.    Connect your VGA cable to both your TV and Laptop (any order).
3.    Now do the same with your 3.5mm audio jack – use the headphone out port on the laptop and audio in on your TV or speakers.
4.    Go to Control Panel > Display > Adjust Resolution and ensure that TV is selected in Display drop down box.

How to connect a laptop to a TV using VGA

How to connect a laptop to a TV using USB

How to connect a laptop to a TV using USB

Strictly speaking, a USB to USB connection from a laptop to a TV shouldn’t work. However, there are several companies that have developed adapters that will convert your USB port to a HDMI out. The only catch here is that you need additional software for your laptop to turn the USB port into a Video out port, so we strongly suggest you check the USB to HDMI adapter you want is compatible with your laptop before you buy.

If the adapter is compatible, then setting up this method is largely straightforward. First of all you need to install the adapter’s software/driver, then it’s simply a case of running the software and connecting your laptop to your TV.

How to connect a laptop to a TV using USB

How to connect your laptop to a TV using USB stick / external hard drive

If you’ve got a reasonably new TV, then there is a good chance that it will have a USB port. Depending on your TV’s capabilities, you might be able to watch video content that is stored on your laptop simply by transferring it to an USB stick / external hard drive and plugging that into the TV.

How to connect your laptop to a TV using USB stick / external hard drive

Providing the video format is supported by the TV (MP4 is almost universally supported), watching content should be as easy as plugging your USB stick / external hard drive into your TV, selecting the USB input and choosing the video you want to watch via the TV’s file explorer software.

1.    Ensure the video file format is compatible with your TV (you can check this by searching for your TV model on the manufacturers website and checking its specifications).
2.    Copy the video file(s) to your USB drive.
3.    Insert USB into TV.
4.    Select the USB channel on your TV.
5.    Use the TV’s file explorer to locate and play the desired video.

How to connect your laptop to a TV wirelessly using WD TV Live media streamer

WD TV Live is a media streamer that you plug into the HDMI port of your TV and connects to your home network via its Ethernet port or Wi-Fi. This gizmo lets you play virtually any file including MKV, MP4, XVID, AVI, ISO/VOB and MOV.

All you need to do is connect the WD TV Live to your network and TV and share your laptop’s video folder on the network and WD TV Live will do the rest (providing you’re using a Plug-and-Play router, which practically all are).

The WD TV Live also turns your telly into a semi-Smart TV as it gives you access to heaps of TV apps, including Netflix, YouTube and Vimeo.

1.    Connect your WD TV Live set-top box to your home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi.
2.    Hook up the WD TV Live to your TV with a HDMI Cable.
3.    Share the folder – with the videos you wish to watch on your TV – to your home network.
4.    Select the HDMI channel that you have plugged in your WD TV Live into.
5.    Use the WD file explorer to locate your shared video folder.

How to connect your laptop to a TV using USB stick / external hard drive

How to connect your laptop to a TV: brief tutorial

Words: Carrie-Ann Skinner

There are plenty of reasons to connect your laptop to your TV so you can view whatever’s displayed on the PC’s screen on your TV. Perhaps you enjoy catching up on TV shows using web-based services. Alternatively maybe you’ve got a number of video clips and photos stored on your PC that you’d like to see on a big screen. It’s a very easy task. Here’s how to do it.

Step one

You’ll need to start by looking at the ports on both your Television and your laptop. They’ll be at least one of the following connections; Composite, S-Video, VGA, DVI, or HDMI port for connecting an external display. However, you’ll only be able to use whichever you have a corresponding port on your TV. Check which port your machine has and then connect the second display. It’s worth noting if you use S-Video, the audio will continue to be served through the laptop, which is great if your laptop has a good sound system. If not, you’ll need a connector that handles audio too.

Step two

How to connect a computer a TV
Now you need to configure the settings for the second monitor in Windows. From the Start Menu, select Control Panel and then open the Appearance and Personalization menu. Select Connect an external display from the Display menu. Make sure the display is duplicated on the TV, rather than being used to extend the desktop of your PC.

Step three

From this window you also adjust the resolution for the laptop’s display and the TV, as if the resolution and aspect ratio of your TV and laptop don’t match, your picture will be distorted. From the Display drop-down menu select the relevant display, and then press the Resolution button. Now use the slider to adjust the resolution. However, it’s advisable to use the recommended resolution (which will be identified in your manuals) for each of the displays. Now you can watch content stored on your PC on your TV.

How do I connect a laptop to a TV

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

Google Nexus 6P hands-on review

When Google launched the Nexus 6, it wasn’t the upgrade Nexus 5 owners were looking for. The 5.96in screen made the Motorola-built phone too big and heavy. In 2015, Google has decided to adopt Apple’s strategy and launch two phones, hopefully appealing to a wider audience. There’s the Nexus 5X – the true successor to the Nexus 5, and the Nexus 6P. We’ve spent some time with the Huawei-made phone, and here’s our Nexus 6P hands-on review.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

The Nexus 6P will be available in Aluminium (silver), Graphite (black) and Frost (white). It will have 32-, 64- or 128GB of storage.

You can buy one from Google’s online store, with pre-orders starting today in the UK. Prices start at £449/$750  and orders will start shipping in late October.The 64GB model costs £499/$750 and 128GB £579/$870.

With this you get a 90-day trial of Play Music and you’ll get some credit for Google Play.

Of course, you’ll also be able to get a 6P on contract. As UK operators announce prices and tariffs, we’ll bring you details.

Google Nexus 6P hands-on preview

 FEATURES AND DESIGN

The Nexus 6P is the first all-metal Nexus flagship smartphone. It’s made of CNC-machined “aeronautical-grade aluminium” which Google says is “really nice”. In the hand, it feels lighter than you anticipate for a big phone (it’s pretty much the same size as an iPhone 6S Plus), and as we had expected from Huawei, build quality is top notch.

Google Nexus 6P hands-on preview

It has a 5.7in AMOLED screen that’s protected by Gorilla Glass 4 which is fitted flush into the aluminium frame. It’s slim and sleek for a big phone – some might call it a phablet – and looks like a premium device.

The screen – as you’d expect of a premium Android flagship – has a quad-HD resolution of 2560×1440. It’s by no means the first to have this resolution, but it looks gorgeous, with eye-popping colours and detail. Viewing angles, of course, are very wide and contrast is fabulous.

Google Nexus 6P hands-on preview

Around the back – just as you’ll find with other Huawei phones such as the Mate 7 – is a fingerprint scanner, called Nexus Imprint. This will come in handy for Google Pay, although there’s no confirmed launch date for the service in the UK. You can register five fingers and there’s no need to wake the phone before using it.

Your index finger almost falls naturally onto the sensor when you pick up the phone – it’s something we think we’d quickly adjust for – and when your print is recognised, the screen comes on automatically.

Google Nexus 6P hands-on preview

The Nexus 6P is powered by a Snapdragon 810 v2.1 octacore processor (as also used in the OnePlus 2). It has Adreno 430 graphics and is backed by 3GB of RAM.

At the front are stereo speakers and there are three mics – two on the front and one on the rear. Even in the loud demo session, the speakers managed to punch above the drone when we tried out Asphalt 8, which ran perfectly smoothly.

There’s a non-removable 3450mAh battery and USB Type-C for faster charging and quicker data-transfer rates. We’ll have to run our usual battery life tests when we can spend longer with the 6P.

CAMERAS

The 12.3Mp Sony sensor is the best ever put into a Nexus phone, according to Google. It may not have the highest resolution, but anyone that knows anything about cameras will know that larger pixels – bigger receptors – capture more light and therefor more accurately capture colours.

Google Nexus 6P hands-on preview

This should help indoor photography in particular, where there’s much less light. The pixels are 1.55 microns in size – compared to 1.22 in the iPhone 6S Plus, for example.

You also get slo-mo video, at 240fps, and you can select the section of video to slow down in the Google Photos app. A burst mode shoots at 30fps and you can then choose your favourite later.

It’s hard to judge a camera’s quality by snapping away and merely reviewing the photos on the phone’s screen, but it appeared to handle the low light conditions pretty well with minimal visible noise and decent focus. We’ll reserve final judgement for when we can compare photos on a much larger screen with other flagship phones.

SOFTWARE

Out of the box, the 6P will have Marshmallow – Android 6.0. With it comes several new features. Now on Tap will be added shortly in an update, but will allow you to get context-sensitive information ‘cards’ by holding the home button. That might not sound all that different from Google Now in Lollipop, but one other difference is that it will work within apps, offering information relevant to that app.

In many other ways, Marshmallow looks very similar to Lollipop with minor tweaks here and there.

INITIAL THOUGHTS

If you’re a fan of big-screen phones, the 6P is certainly going to appeal. It’s cheaper than the Galaxy S6, but it also suffers from a lack of expandable storage. That means you’ll have to pay more if you can’t manage with 32GB of storage.

Until we can properly test out the cameras, and benchmark it for performance, we can’t come to any conclusions, but it looks promising.

SPECS

VERDICT

It’s too early to come to a firm conclusion about the Nexus 6P. We still need to run our full set of benchmarks and tests. We’ll update this preview as soon as we can.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

iPad mini 2 vs iPad mini 3 vs iPad mini 4 comparison: what’s the difference between Apple’s tablets?

The iPad mini is a bit like the child which gets all the hand-me-downs from an older sibling, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t buy one. The iPad mini 4 just inherited a load of great features from the iPad Air 2, and here we explain the differences between the iPad mini 2, 3 and iPad mini 4.

iPad mini 3 Touch ID

PRICE

Apple has stopped selling the iPad mini 3, which means your choice is limited to a mini 2 or mini 4 if you go into an Apple Store or look on Apple’s online store.

The mini 2 comes in Space Grey and Silver and offers a choice of 16- or 32GB. This costs £219/$328 and £259/$389 respectively. If you need 3G as well as Wi-Fi, add £100/$150 to those prices.

The mini 4 starts at £319/$479 for 16GB, but jumps to £399/$599 for 64GB as there’s no 32GB option. There’s also a 128GB model which costs £479/$718. Again you can add 3G / 4G connectivity for an extra £100/$150 on top of those prices. And you get the extra choice of Gold along with Silver and Space Grey.

You can buy a refurbished iPad mini 3 from Apple’s website but prices and availability will change. An example is a 16GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model which costs £319/$479.

Of course, you will also find refurbished or used models on ebay, Amazon and other sites.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?

iPad mini 2 vs iPad mini 3

 

Compared to its predecessor, the iPad mini 3 only gets you the Touch ID finger print scanner and is available in gold like the iPhone 6. The storage line-up has been changed as the 32GB model has been dropped so you can now choose from 16-, 64- and 128 GB.

This is bit a bit shocking considering the iPad Air 2 has a thinner and lighter design, new A8X processor, a better 8Mp iSight camera, an anti-reflective coating on the screen and a barometer.

Typically, the new iPad models come with the same upgrades but that’s not the case this year. Apple has kept the price the same, so the iPad mini 3 starts at £319/$479 and goes up to £479/$718 for that 128 GB model. You can add £100/$150 for 4G connectivity.

While keeping the price the same for a new model is good, the very small amount of changes mean that the iPad mini 2 at a lower price of £239/$358 looks like a far more attractive option. We’re not comparing it full here but it’s worth noting that Apple has kept the original iPad mini on sale for £199/$299.

Apple didn’t really change much in the upgrade from the iPad mini 2. In fact, the main addition was a Touch ID sensor. But as we’ve said, there’s no 32GB version of the iPad mini 3 and Gold was added as a third colour option. Other than that, the two tablets are identical: they have the same screen, processor, battery, cameras and chassis.

With the price drop last year, the iPad mini 2 was the better-value choice for most people (it cost £239/$358 and £279/$419 for the 16- and 32GB Wi-Fi models). Now the price has dropped by another £20/$30.

WHAT ARE THE UPGRADES?

This year, there’s a swathe of changes in the iPad mini 4, although the upgrades are – as we said at the start – hand-me-downs from older devices.

The processor has been given a boost from the A7 to the A8 (that’s the chip from the iPhone 6, not the A8X from the iPad Air 2), an increase from 1GB to 2GB of RAM and a higher-resolution rear camera.

The iPad mini 2 and 3 had a 5Mp main camera, but the mini 4 has an improved 8Mp sensor which appears to be identical to the iPad Air 2’s. Similarly, the front camera is upgraded with a slightly better 1.2Mp sensor and a lens which lets in 80 percent more light.

The mini 4 shares the same design as its predecessors, but it’s thinner at just 6.1mm and lacks a mute/rotation lock switch.

The battery is accordingly smaller – 19.1Wh instead of 23.8Wh in the iPad mini 2 and 3. However, thanks to the more efficient processor, battery life is actually improved by around an hour of video playback in our tests.

There are other more subtle differences too:

 

iPad mini 4 iPad mini 2 / 3
Dimensions 134.8×203.2×6.1mm 134x7x200x7.5mm
Weight 299g (Wi-Fi only) 331g (Wi-Fi only)
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, dual channel 802.11a/b/g/n, dual channel
Bluetooth 4.2 4.0
Sensors Gyro, accelerometer, ambient light, barometer Gyro, accelerometer, ambient light
Location Wi-Fi, Digital compass, iBeacon Wi-Fi, Digital compass
Apple Pay Using Touch ID within apps Not supported
iOS 9 features Split View, Slide Over, Picture-in-picture Slide Over, Picture-in-picture
Camera features Slo-mo (120fps), 10fps burst, time-lapse, video, photo, square, panorama Time-lapse, video, photo, square, panorama

Performance is one of the biggest upgrades, both for general use and gaming. But the extra power means you get 10fps burst mode for photos, 120fps slo-mo video and also Split View where you can run two apps at the same time.It’s not quite the jump we were hoping for – the iPad Air 2 is still a lot faster in certain apps and games – but it’s significant.

Another big improvement that’s easy to miss if you read a list of specifications is the fully laminated screen and anti-glare coating. The iPad mini 4 still has the same 7.9in screen size and resolution (2048×1536) but it’s far superior in terms of glare, contrast and colour. In fact, it now has 100 percent sRGB coverage, compared to around 70 percent on the iPad mini 2/3.

SPECS

iPad mini 2
  • 9.7in tablet, iOS 7, 16GB-128GB storage, A7 processor

iPad mini 3
  • Apple A7 processor (ARMv8-A, dual-core) with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion coprocessor
  • PowerVR G6430 graphics
  • 7.9in (2048 x 1536-pixel) LED-backlit Multi-Touch IPS display, 326ppi
  • iOS 8.1
  • 16/64/128 GB flash storage
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi with 2×2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • OPTIONAL 4G LTE modem and Nano-SIM card slot, with A-GPS
  • 1.2 Mp FaceTime HD front camera, 720p video
  • 5Mp f/2.4 iSight rear camera, 1080p video
  • dual microphones
  • stereo speakers
  • Lightning dock connector
  • three-axis gyro, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, digital compass
  • 23.8Wh fixed lithium-polymer battery
  • USB power adaptor
  • 200 x 135 x 7.5 mm
  • 331g (Wi-Fi only model) or 341g (Wi-Fi plus cellular model)

iPad mini 4

VERDICT

The iPad mini 4 is the “best” iPad mini, but that’s from a technical standpoint. If you’re happy to trade off performance, screen quality, camera quality, and a Touch ID sensor (plus the more subtle differences in the table) then the £100/$150 saving on the iPad mini 2 means it could be the one for you. The upgrades arguably make the mini 4 worth that extra £100/$150 and it will no doubt be a more future-proof purchase if you care about being able to upgrade to the latest version of iOS. We expect the mini 4 to get at least the next two versions – iOS 10 and iOS 11. The iPad mini 3 is only a good deal if you can find a refurbished model at a low price – i.e. not much more than the equivalent iPad mini 2.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

Google Nexus 5X review: Hands-on with the 2015 Nexus 5 by LG

As firmly expected, Google has announced a Nexus 2015 phone at its launch event for Android 6.0 Marshmallow. We were at the London event so here’s our Google Nexus 5X hands-on review.

Like the previous Nexus 5, which arrived way back in 2013, the new Nexus 5X is built by LG as Google’s manufacturing partner. It seems the LG G4 maker did a good enough job back then so has been given the task once again.

PRICE AND COMPETITION

The Nexus 5X is priced from £339/$509 in the UK and will be available from late-October from the Google Play Store. That’s a reasonable amount cheaper than the Nexus 6P which will start at £449/$674 – understandable considering the spec difference.

That’s a cheap price, considering the high asking price of the Nexus 6 when it initially came out. Although it’s pretty affordable there is some tough competition when it comes to phones which offer amazing specs for the price.

For example, the OnePlus 2 is £239/$358 and the Motorola Moto X Play is £279/$419 so both are cheaper options. Gone are the days when the Nexus flagship was simply the best value phone on the market bar none.

Nexus 5X review

DESIGN AND BUILD

Despite increasing the screen size (see below), Google and LG have managed to keep the Nexus 5X nice and light. The device has only added a few grams resulting in a comfortable 136g, largely thanks to the 7.9mm thickness.

Rounded edges make the Nexus 5X a nice phone to hold in the hand and we like the matt finish plastic which is similar to the original. This year’s Nexus phone will be available in different colours including Black, White and Ice Blue.

Nexus 5X vs Nexus 5

There’s not a lot else to say on the design front as the device, like the Nexus 5, is quite simple. That’s a good thing we’d say although features such as waterproofing wouldn’t go amiss.

One thing to point out is that the camera does stick out a little bit at the back – although the Nexus 5’s wasn’t flush this time it protrudes much more. If you’re wondering what the round circle is below the camera, it’s a new fingerprint scanner but we’ll talk in more depth about that in the next section.

You may also be interested in the fact that the Nexus 5X takes a Nano-SIM rather than Micro which is hardly a surprise but might mean you need to get a new SIM card if upgrading.

HARDWARE AND SPECS

The Nexus 5X has upgrades compared to its predecessor but don’t expect to be blown out of the water by it, the highest and most exciting pieces of hardware have been reserved for the Nexus 6P.

Google has decided to stick with a Full HD screen resolution on the Nexus 5X but increase the size of the display itself from 5- to 5.2in. This does mean a small pixel density drop to 424ppi but that’s still plenty for it to be crisp – of course you can get more if that’s what you’re after with the Quad HD Nexus 6P.

Alongside a small screen increase, a new Qualcomm processor has found its way inside the Nexus 5X. The Snapdragon 808, as used in LG’s flagship G4, is a nice upgrade from the 800 model which was top-of-the-line when the Nexus 5 arrived.

This means the Nexus 5X has a six-core processor with four A53 cores at 1.4GHz and two A57 cores at 1.8GHz. There’s also Adreno 418 graphics and we found performance to be good during our hands-on time. We will, of course, test this much more thoroughly when we get a sample.

Despite certain rumours, the memory has not been upgrade to 4GB and remains at 2GB. Meanwhile the Nexus 5X doesn’t offer up to 64GB and instead comes in 16- and 32GB options. Once again, like Apple iPhones, there is no Micro-SD card slot so you’ll need to choose wisely.

Nexus 5X review

A key new feature on the Nexus 5X, as mentioned earlier, is the fingerprint scanner. It’s positioned below the camera at the rear of the phone like many others we’ve seen. This is a suitable place and naturally where your index finger lies.

It’s also fast at under 600ms and a new feature called Nexus Imprint learns your fingerprint better over time and opens it up to the enitre app ecosystem – a Marshmallow feature.

There’s also a new physical port in the form of Type-C USB which we’ve now seen on phones like the OnePlus 2 and the Gigaset Me range. The main feature is that it’s reversible but it also charges faster and you can charge other devices from it should you wish to.

Nexus 5X review

You get NFC, dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 but there’s no infrared port or extras such as a heart rate monitor. Although the design suggests that the Nexus 5X has front facing stereo speakers, this is a feature only found on the Nexus 6P.

Probably the main upgrade of the Nexus 5X is the camera which is now 12.3Mp from a pretty good 8Mp shooter on the original – and it’s the same as found in the 6P. The new camera is not only higher resolution but comes with a dual-tone LED flash, phase detection autofocus, laser focusing and can shoot 4K video. At the front is a nice upgrade to a 5Mp selfie camera. Results on both cameras look decent during our hands-on but we will, of course, test the cameras out properly soon.

Nexus-5X-3.jpg

SOFTWARE

There’s little to say on the software front as the Nexus 5X is one of the launch devices for Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Yes, this is the new version and it means there are some new features but it’s been in the public domain for a long time now and existing Nexus devices will be upgraded very soon (next week in fact) so it’s not a stand out difference compared to the original Nexus 5 or the newer Nexus 6.

What you do get, as with any Nexus phone or tablet, is stock Android also referred to commonly as vanilla. This means the operating system is as Google intends it to be – no add on skins like Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense.

Nexus 5X review

Not only does it offer something of a blank canvas with which to customise Android to your heart’s content, it means you don’t have to worry about things like pre-installed apps which you may not be able to delete (Google’s apps such as Gmail and Maps are a given).

SPECS

VERDICT

The new Google Nexus 5X seems like a tasty upgrade from the original, although that was two years ago now. It’s a decent smartphone at an affordable price if you’re not fussed about the extras which are available on the Nexus 6P such as the Quad HD screen. The key features are the upgraded cameras and the fingerprint scanner. However, there are cheaper phones out there offering similar specs so stay tuned for a full review soon.

(pcadvisor.co.uk)

Cars That Are Lightning Quick from the Factory

1. FORD FOCUS ST

Top Speed – 154 mph
Zero to Sixty – 6.3 seconds

New Ford Focus ST

The Ford Focus ST is powered by a turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16 valve 4-cylinder engine, mated to a 6 speed manual transmission. With 252 horsepower, the Ford Focus ST is capable of a zero to sixty time of 6.3 seconds, and a quarter mile time of 14.9 seconds. When pushed to it’s limits, the Ford Focus ST reaches a top speed of 154 mph in 38.7 seconds. It’s stiff subframe and springs give the Ford Focus ST a tight, smooth ride; capable of handling sharp curves with ease. Electronically assisted steering, actuated via a flat-bottom steering wheel, adds to the smoothness of the ride.

2. VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R

Top Speed – 155 mph
Zero to Sixty – 4.5 seconds

VW Golf R

The Volkswagen Golf R is the Volkswagen company’s high end sports car. The turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16 valve 4-cylinder engine puts out 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. With a zero to sixty time of 4.5 seconds and a zero to 155 mph time of 29.5 seconds, the Volkswagen Golf R earns it’s place among the fastest 4-cylinder cars. The transmission is a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic that can be manually shifted. To get the full experience of the power the Volkswagen Golf R is capable of, it’s best to manually shift the transmission, as the automatic gearbox seems to lag when trying to select the correct gear for the situation.

3. SUBARU WRX STI

Top Speed – 157 mph
Zero to Sixty – 4.8 seconds

MY15 Subaru WRX STI - First Drive

The Subaru WRX STi is one of the better known cars capable of high speeds. It is commonly seen in films involving street racing. Originally built for rally car racing, the Subaru WRX Sti has earned the praise it’s been given. With a turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine under the hood, that puts out 305 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque, the Subaru WRX STi hits zero to sixty in 4.8 seconds with a top speed of 157 mph. The only transmission available for the Subaru WRX STi is a 6-speed manual. The suspension is fine tuned for hard cornering, and the all-wheel drive keeps the vehicle moving in all weather conditions.

4. MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION X

Top Speed – 158 mph
Zero to Sixty – 4.9 seconds

Evo X standard stance

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X is the final incarnation of the Lancer model line. The Lancer Evolution X may appear to be a sporty looking sedan, but under the hood is a 291 horsepower turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder monster. With 300 lb-ft of torque, the Lancer Evolution X can beat most cars off the line. With a zero to sixty of 4.9 seconds and top speed of 158 mph, not many cars can keep up. The all-wheel drive and fine tuned suspension allows the Lancer Evolution X to navigate corners with ease. Instead of a manual transmission, the Lancer Evolution X comes equipped with a six-speed twin clutch automatic with launch control.

5. NISSAN GT-R

Top Speed: 191 mph
Zero to Sixty: 2.9 seconds

Nissan GT-R

The Nissan GT-R is the Nissan Corporation’s redesign of the Nissan Skyline.With a 545 horsepower engine capable of going 0-60 in 2.9 seconds and a fine tuned suspension allowing it to out-handle most anything on the road, the GT-R is one beast of a car.The Nissan GT-R tops out at 191 mph, which is more than enough speed for anyone. The exterior may look tame compared to many supercars, with small vents and curves along the body, but Nissan built them with a purpose. The vents exhaust air from the wheels to lower brake temps and reduce the build-up of pressure under the car to increase down-force. The handmade carbon fiber spoiler also helps to increase down-force and stiffness at high speeds. It may not look as fancy as its other supercar cousins, but it definitely deserves their respect.

6. DODGE CHARGER HELLCAT HENNESSEY EDITION

Top Speed: 204 mph
Zero to Sixty: 2.9 seconds

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

The Dodge Charger Hellcat was plenty quick, but it reaches ludicrous speeds with the HPE850 package, cranking its horsepower to 852. The package adds a new electronic control module, an in-house tune, a high-flow air filter, a port-matched throttle body, and a new supercharger pulley to increase boost. The Charger Hellcat still retains everything else the standard Hellcat had, like the custom SRT seats, badges, and instrument cluster. The Hellcat features an electronically adjustable chassis and powertrain, allowing the user to change from street to track. This gives a different ride feel, depending on what you’re doing with the vehicle. The suspension is a bit softer than some muscle cars, giving a smoother ride when ripping down the road.

7. FORD MUSTANG SHELBY GT 500

Top Speed: 189 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.5 seconds

Ford Mustang Shelby Gt 500- Kr 10

With a 5.8 liter V8 under the hood, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 pumps out 662 horsepower and 631 lb-ft of torque. This power allows the GT 500 to reach a blazing top speed of 189 mph, and reach 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. The GT 500 is equipped with adjustable dampers that allow the driver to switch between settings appropriate for track or road use. The suspension does a great job of keeping the tires planted, and there is almost no body roll. The stability can be switched off, but it works so well in sport mode that you may not even feel the need to. The system doesn’t cut power, instead adding momentary one-wheel braking to keep the car in line.

8. CHEVROLET CORVETTE Z06

Top Speed: 189 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.0 seconds

Z06

With a supercharged 6.2 liter V8 engine cranking out 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is lightning on wheels. The Corvette Z06 reaches a top speed of 189 mph and goes from zero to sixty in 3 seconds flat. You can get there with one of two available transmission options, a seven speed manual, or an eight speed automatic with paddle shifters. A performance package is also available that adds carbon-ceramic brakes, Michelin Pilot Sport Cups, and adjustable aerodynamic add-ons. The Corvette Z06 also has the option for a convertible top, in case you want to see what the wind feels like through your hair at close to 200 mph.

9. PORSCHE 911 GT2 RS

Top Speed: 209 mph
Zero to Sixty: 3.3 seconds

Porsche 911 GT2 RS 3.6 2010

Following in the footsteps of the Porsche 959, the Porsche 911 GT2 RS is a brute of a car. With a twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve flat six-cylinder engine, and a six-speed manual transmission, the Porsche 911 GT2 RS puts out an insane 620 horsepower and 516 ft-lb of twist. Able to go from zero to sixty in 3.3 seconds, zero to 150 in 14.4 seconds, and with a top speed of 209 mph, the Porsche 911 GT2 RS is pretty much a land rocket. With all that speed, Porsche offers an optional roll bar for the 911 GT2 RS, just in case you decide to drive it like a race car and make a mistake.

10. AUDI TTS

Top Speed – 155 mph
Zero to Sixty – 5.2 seconds

Audi TT-S

The Audi TTS is a little European rocket ship, capable of crushing most muscle cars that line up next to it. Powered by a turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16 valve 4-cylinder engine mated with a 6-speed transmission, the Audi TTS puts out 292 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Hitting zero to sixty in 5.2 seconds and reaching 0 – 100 in 13.0 seconds flat, the Audi TTS is a powerhouse on the road. The transmission is the VW group’s DQ250 “wet” six-speed dual-clutch automatic, providing ultra quick and seamless shifts and a powertrain tuned to respond quickly to throttle commands. Add in the standard all-wheel drive and the Audi TTS screams down straightaways and around corners with ease.

(carophile.com)

Sony HT-CT770 review

Pros
  • Discreet design and solid build quality
  • Extensive features and connections
  • Loud and energetic sound
Cons
  • Lack of cohesion between soundbar and sub
  • Hard edge to treble
  • Bass could be tighter

Key Features: 2.1 soundbar and wireless subwoofer; 330W quoted power output; Dolby True HD & DTS HD Master Audio decoding; Bluetooth with NFC; S-Force Pro Front Surround & ClearAudio+

Manufacturer: Sony

What is the Sony HT-CT770?

The HT-CT770 is one of two new soundbars launched by Sony earlier this year, alongside the HT-XT1 soundbase. It costs around £100 more than the next-best HT-CT370, but that premium gets you a higher power rating (330W) and extra speaker drivers. Both systems are accompanied by a wireless subwoofer to give bass frequencies a boost.

The HT-CT770’s unobtrusive design and alluring feature list are bound to attract attention, but without a decent performance it all counts for nothing – as the disappointing HT-XT1 demonstrated. Hopefully the HT-CT770 won’t suffer the same fate…

Sony HT-CT770

Design & Connections

The key feature of the HT-CT770’s design is its slim 50mm height, which means you can place it in front of your TV without blocking the set’s remote sensor. The low profile and minimalist black styling make it remarkably discreet. Its 1.3m width is best suited to larger flatscreen TVs, and it can be mounted on the wall if you wish.

Sony HT-CT770

Up close the HT-CT770 is a very stylish and well-made unit. The entire front section is covered in a twinkly black cloth, bookended by gleaming chrome caps. The front part of the bar is angled upwards to direct sound towards the listener (or downwards if wall-mounted), while the flat top section houses an NFC tag and a row of five buttons – standby, input, pairing and volume up/down. An alphanumeric LED display shines through the cloth grille, imparting important input and volume information.

All the sockets are housed in a deep recess on the back and include three HDMI inputs and one output, allowing you to use the soundbar as a HDMI switcher. It’ll pass through 4K and 3D signals from Blu-ray decks and other external sources, while the inclusion of an ARC output means a compatible TV can pass sound down the HDMI cable without having to hook up a separate optical lead.

There’s also an optical digital input, which is a much simpler way of connecting your TV, plus a 3.5mm minijack input for portable devices. Built-in Bluetooth with NFC provides an easy way of streaming music from phones and tablets.

Sony HT-CT770

The subwoofer isn’t likely to win any style awards, but its durable matt-black finish looks tasteful enough and it’s robustly built. The sub’s 404mm height is a little imposing, but because it’s wireless you can place it wherever you want. It’s a downward-firing design – four legs lift it off the floor to give the bass room to escape.

Features

The HT-CT770 speaker array comprises two 60mm mid-range drivers and two 20mm tweeters, whereas the cheaper HT-CT370 only sports the 60mm drivers. Total power output is quoted at 330W (2 x 105W plus 120W from the subwoofer), generated by Sony’s 2.1-channel S-Master Digital Amplifier.

Sony HT-CT770

Unusually for a soundbar, the HT-CT770 decodes Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio. It’s also equipped with S-Force Pro Front Surround processing, which aims to deliver an immersive soundfield with a wide sweet spot. This is joined by ClearAudio, which automatically selects the optimal EQ settings depending on the type of material being played.

Three Voice modes bring extra clarity to dialogue, while Movie, Game, Music, Portable Audio and Sports presets tweak the EQ to suit different types of content.

Operation

The HT-CT770 takes seconds to set up, and once installed it’s a doddle to use. The front LED readout is very useful when it comes to adjusting volume or selecting inputs, plus it plays host to a simple setup menu where you can tweak bass and treble or make changes to a wide range of system settings.

Sony HT-CT770

You don’t need to worry about pairing the sub, as it’s done automatically, but if the connection drops out it’s easy to reset. A small LED turns from red to green to indicate that a connection’s been made.

The remote may be short and stumpy, but it’s easy to use thanks to the intelligent button layout and clear labelling. The often-used menu and volume controls fall conveniently under the thumb, and the sound presets are helpfully gathered together in their own little enclave towards the top. There are even dedicated subwoofer volume controls, which makes it easy to adjust on the fly.

If you’d rather use your Android or iOS device to operate the HT-CT770, no problem – download Sony’s SongPal Bluetooth app and you can control basic functions, including ClearAudio and subwoofer volume.

Performance

So far, so good, but when it comes to sound quality the HT-CT770 isn’t quite the knockout performer we hoped it would be. To the casual ear it sounds terrific, and certainly fulfils the usual soundbar brief of delivering a louder, bigger and punchier sound than any flatscreen TV, but some aspects of its performance left us feeling dissatisfied.

Let’s start with the good stuff, though. We fed the RoboCop reboot into the HDMI port from our Blu-ray player and the Sony injects the energetic action scenes with dynamism and excitement. As suicide bombers launch an attack on the ED-209s in Tehran, the explosions and gunshots have a crisp leading edge, while rumbling bass underpins every blast.

The soundbar’s bright tone makes these effects sound loud and authoritative, plus the presence of separate tweeters means there’s also a decent amount of detail in the mix, such as smashing glass and mechanical clicks as ED-209s move around – although we think it could tease out more. Dialogue is easy to discern even in the midst of a frenetic shoot-out.

Where the Sony falls down, however, is the lack of cohesion between the soundbar and subwoofer. You get the rumbling bass and bright treble, but not enough in between, which results in action scenes sounding thin and unbalanced. When Basil Poledouris’ iconic theme plays over the title, it sounds too thin and reedy to rouse your emotions.

This also draws attention to the hard treble, which does bring a sense of excitement but becomes overbearing without the midrange solidity to back it up. It’s particularly noticeable during Murphy’s training exercise at Omnicorp’s test facility, when the loud gunshots and clattering metal sound raspy and brash. Earlier in the film, loud military jet engines push the speakers to their limits.

Another issue concerns the subwoofer, which provides the necessary depth but lacks control, lingering for far too long whenever there’s a gunshot or explosion. As a result, the soundstage ends up sounding muddy and the bass is detached from the soundbar. You can play around with the sub volume, but it’s hard to achieve the right balance.

We experimented with the sound modes and rather boringly we decided that ‘Standard’ offers the best balance for movies. The Voice modes emphasise speech well, but the highest setting makes other high-frequency effects sound unbearable at loud volumes. S-Force Pro Front Surround delivers a wide and spacious soundfield but there isn’t a trace of surround sound.

Unsurprisingly, the above flaws mean the HT-CT770 isn’t the most musically accomplished soundbar we’ve heard – kick drums and basslines sound loose, vocals sound thin and the finer details get lost in the mix. But with our most critical hat off, it’s fine for day-to-day listening.

Sony HT-CT770

Should I buy the Sony HT-CT770?

The HT-CT770 certainly has a lot going for it. It’s stuffed to the hilt with features, offers more sockets than your average soundbar and its discreet, low-profile design is a godsend for anyone who hates clutter.

But play a film and you’ll find the sound quality is underwhelming, due to the lack of cohesion, ill-disciplined bass and hard treble. What makes it all the more disappointing is that rival soundbars and bases such as the Canton DM50 and Q Acoustics Media 4 deliver vastly superior sonic performance for the same money – although admittedly they don’t offer the Sony’s extensive feature list or unobtrusive design.

Verdict

On paper the HT-CT770 is a competition-killing soundbar with a superb range of features, plentiful connections and an alluring design, but its performance doesn’t quite live up to the promise.

Scores In Detail

Design : 9/10
Features : 9/10
Performance : 7/10
Sound Quality : 7/10
Value : 7/10

(trustedreviews.com)

KEF V720W review

Pros
  • Exciting, powerful and cohesive sound
  • Outstanding build quality
  • Slim design
Cons
  • No Bluetooth
  • Can’t pass though components via HDMI

Key Features: 4 x ultra-slim 4.5in bass drivers ; 2 x 1in vented aluminium dome tweeters; Two EQ modes for on-wall or tabletop placement; Wireless subwoofer with 200W amplifier; HDMI ARC support and optical input

Manufacturer: KEF

What is the KEF V720W?

The V720W hails from the same school of high-end soundbars as the Paradigm Soundscape, Monitor Audio ASB-2 and B&W Panorama 2, although it’s slightly more affordable. This system comprises the slim V700 soundbar and the V-20W subwoofer, although you can buy the V700 separately if you want to pair it with a different sub.

Being a dedicated speaker brand KEF has prioritised sound quality over jazzy features. The speaker technology is based on KEF’s T series of ultra-slim speakers (used by the T205 system) while the V-20W subwoofer is similarly well-specced and communicates with the soundbar wirelessly.

KEF V720W

Design & Connections

With a depth of just 53mm, the V700 is crying out to be mounted on the wall – all the fixtures you need to do so are in the box. But if you’d rather plonk it on a tabletop, KEF supplies a pair of stands that can be screwed onto the back. These can be adjusted so the bar tilts to your desired angle.

The soundbar’s design is low-key – it’s basically a black panel with mesh on the front and gloss-black panels at both ends (one of which houses the wireless sub transmitter). This understated design helps the bar blend in with its surroundings and makes it a good match for any black TV. It measures 1200mm wide by 160mm high, making it suitable for use with TVs of 47in and larger.

The V700’s excellent build quality comes as no surprise given the price. The all-metal bodywork is heavy and robust, exuding the sort of luxury we’ve come to expect from KEF’s speaker systems. Just make sure you have some hefty wall fixings.

KEF V720W

Flip the V700 round and you’ll encounter a decent if unusual selection of sockets. We say unusual because the V700 sports a single ARC-enabled HDMI port, as opposed to the inputs and outputs you normally find on a soundbar.

This single HDMI port makes it easy to send audio from an ARC-compatible TV to the soundbar, but it means you can’t run external sources like Blu-ray decks and TV receivers through it – all signals have to come from your TV.

There’s also an optical digital input for those without ARC-enabled TVs, and a subwoofer output (which you won’t need with the wireless V-20W). Analogue, USB and Bluetooth connectivity would have been nice for the money, making it easier to stream tunes from portable devices, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

The subwoofer is compact and immensely stylish, sporting a gloss-black top panel and curved corners. On its rear panel you’ll find L/R phono inputs, volume and crossover frequency knobs, a switch to flip the phase and another to select from three Bass Boost modes (0dB, 6dB and 12dB). These give bass a kick at 65Hz to compensate for room conditions and listener preferences.

KEF V720W

Features

The V700’s speaker array includes four ultra-slim 4.5in bass drivers and a pair of 1in vented aluminium dome tweeters. The tweeters feature a tangerine waveguide that distributes sound across a wide angle so everyone in the room gets the same sound quality. It’s driven by a Class D amplifier which offers 2 x 50W power output.

There are two EQ modes for on-wall or tabletop placement, which can be selected using a switch on the back of the soundbar. The down-firing subwoofer boasts a 200W amplifier and an 8in long throw driver.

Otherwise the feature list is decidedly sparse – there’s no Dolby/DTS decoding, Bluetooth or fancy surround processing.

Operation

Setting up and using the V720W system is a little different from the norm. First off, if you’re using the wireless subwoofer you have to attach the supplied transmitter to one end of the soundbar by unscrewing and replacing the existing panel.

Even more unorthodox is the lack of a dedicated remote – volume, standby and mute are all controlled using your TV’s existing handset. That means you have to connect the soundbar to your TV via HDMI and enable CEC even if you’re piping audio via the optical connection, which some might find a tad inconvenient. With no front display panel on the soundbar, you’re reliant on your TV’s onscreen CEC displays to check the volume level.

But on the plus side it reduces coffee table clutter, ensures minimal disruption to your system and makes the V720W feel more like an extension of your TV’s speakers than a separate entity. It worked flawlessly with our Samsung set.

Optimising the subwoofer is easy thanks to the comprehensive controls on the back. It didn’t take long to integrate with the soundbar and after playing with the EQ modes we found the 0dB setting worked best – but experiment to find the right balance for your room.

Performance

We’ve reviewed several decent budget soundbars of late but the jump up in quality to a high-end model like the V720W is the sonic equivalent of seeing Blu-ray pictures after years of watching DVDs. The V720W’s potency, cohesion and sparkling clarity make for a thrilling listen.

It holds up well against pricier soundbars like the Paradigm Soundscape and Monitor Audio ASB-2 too, although falls short of the former’s room-filling presence and power.

What makes the KEF such an engaging performer is its forceful, attacking character. Movie effects are conveyed with aggression and purpose, and despite their inherent slimness KEF’s high-quality drivers sidestep the sonic flaws that blight many a low-cost soundbar. You can comfortably crank up the volume without noticing much in the way of brashness or distortion.

KEF V720W

The soundbar musters decent bass on its own, but the high-calibre V-20W takes things to the next level. It follows the action with impressive agility, emitting punchy low frequencies that merge beautifully with the soundbar. This natural, cohesive output means you won’t be reaching for its volume dial every five minutes.

We tested the KEF with a variety of movies and it dazzled with them all – the frantic freeway scrap between the titular enemies in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is electrifying, with crashing cars and huge explosions filling the room; Pacific Rim’s huge battles are reproduced with outstanding scale and potency; while Beorn’s house in The Desolation of Smaug is alive with subtle ambience, buzzing insects and clear dialogue.

KEF’s hi-fi approach also pays dividends when listening to music, offering terrific clarity and imaging. Vocals sound natural and the subwoofer adds a solid, rhythmic foundation. It’s just a shame there’s no Bluetooth.

KEF V720W

Should I buy the KEF V720W?

The V720W is light on features and a little unusual to set up, but justifies its price tag (and earns a Recommended badge) on the strength of its stellar audio performance.

Its forceful, dynamic and detailed sound makes movies sound thrilling, but with the sort of composure missing from cheaper soundbars. The superior subwoofer layers soundtracks with deep and seamlessly integrated bass.

Also impressive is the soundbar’s solid build and slim design, which looks great on the wall and leaves a minimal footprint on a TV stand. However, those hoping to run external kit through HDMI sockets or stream music via Bluetooth will be disappointed. You’ll also need a TV with HDMI CEC functionality to use it, ideally one with ARC.

Verdict

Sensational sound quality is the star attraction of KEF’s slim soundbar, although Bluetooth and more HDMI sockets wouldn’t have gone amiss

Scores In Detail

Design : 8/10
Features : 7/10
Performance : 9/10
Sound Quality : 9/10
Value : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Samsung UE48JU7500 review

Pros
  • Outstanding contrast and detail
  • Slick Tizen OS
  • Comprehensive video streaming support
Cons
  • Severe motion issues using all but the movie preset
  • Screen is quite reflective
  • Relatively small size diminishes return on UHD and curved screen features

Key Features: 48-inch LCD TV with direct LED lighting; Native 4K/UHD resolution; Tizen-powered Smart TV system; Curved screen; External connections box

Manufacturer: Samsung

What is the Samsung UE48JU7500?

The UE48JU7500 is a 48-inch LCD TV with a native 4K UHD resolution and curved screen. It also has a pretty affordable price tag when considered against the eye-watering costs attached to Samsung’s flagship SUHD JS9000 and JS9500 series.

Design and Features

The UE48JU7500 is a striking TV. Its dark grey frame is reasonably trim and distinguished by the way it angles sharply back from its edges towards the screen, while the desktop stand’s design cunningly makes the screen look as if it’s somehow hovering magically above and behind a forward-jutting curved silver bar with a raised front edge.

Samsung UE48JU7500

The chassis is a bit too chunky around the back and plasticky in its finish for the AV catwalk, perhaps, but overall the UE48JU7500 is more than attractive enough for a £1,650/$2,475 4K TV with a high level of picture specification.

We’ll get into the key elements of the picture specs in a moment, but first we need to cover the fact that this isn’t one of Samsung’s SUHD models. So it doesn’t feature the SUHD ultra-bright panel designs, nanocrystal colour technology and high dynamic range (HDR) playback capabilities.

It does, though, still benefit from a direct LED lighting system, meaning its pictures are illuminated by clusters of LEDs positioned directly behind the screen, rather than around its edges. This is generally a good thing, as it gives TVs more lighting control to boost contrast – especially when, as with the UE48JU7500, different sectors of the LED clusters can have their light outputs adjusted individually via a process known as local dimming.

The UE48JU7500 also employs a potent quad-core processing engine to drive the TV’s picture processing. This includes upscaling HD and standard-definition content to the screen’s 3840×2160 resolution, a potential 1400Hz-emulating motion system (delivered through a combination of backlight scanning and frame interpolation) and the always-on depth-enhancement features Samsung deploys with its curved TVs.

Talking of the curve, Samsung would argue that bending the picture delivers palpable picture benefits, such as enhanced immersion in what you’re watching, a greater sense of depth, and potentially more sharpness at the TV’s left/right extremities. However, while there’s an element of truth to these claims on large-screen TVs, the advantages are certainly diminished if not nullified at the 48-inch screen size.

Sadly the key curved TV disadvantages aren’t diminished. The curved TV issues of distorted geometry when watching from a viewing angle of more than 35 degrees, and exaggerated onscreen reflections, are if anything made worse when they appear on a smaller screen.

Samsung UE48JU7500

We’re not saying you shouldn’y buy the UE48JU7500 because it’s curved. You just need to be aware that the draw of the curve is arguably mostly aesthetic at this screen size.

As with the previously tested non-curved UE48JU7000, most of the UE48JU7500’s connections – including its HDMIs and USBs – are housed on an external box called a One Connect Mini. Unlike the larger One Connect box found with Samsung’s SUHD TVs, though, the Mini Connect doesn’t carry the TV’s brains, and so can’t be swapped out in future years for an updated model. In fact, the Mini Connect is only really there to reduce the number of cables you’ve got going into the back of your TV. And even in this respect it’s compromised, since the tuner inputs are still on the main TV chassis.

The other big new feature of the UE48JU7500 is its Tizen-powered Smart TV system. This ditches Samsung’s previous, rather over-powering and inefficient full-screen smart TV interface in favour of a much more friendly and focussed system built around neat, colourful icons laid over the TV picture. It’s very reminiscent, truth be told, of LG’s webOS system – but there’s nothing wrong with that – and does a decent job of focussing on content you’re most likely to want to by populating the home screen with direct links to the sources you’ve watched most recently.

The system does feel almost too stripped down at the moment – maybe this will change when Samsung adds a recommendations system later in the year – but it’s still a big step in the right direction for the Korean brand.

Setup

At the time of writing, how you set the UE48JU7500 up is absolutely critical. For during our tests we found that the only way we could stop the picture falling prey to severe amounts of motion blur and lag was to switch to the Movie preset and turn off all of the noise reduction settings. With the other picture presets, no matter what tweaks we made to their settings, the excessive blurring was ever-present.

Samsung UE48JU7500

Bizarrely the blurring even remained if we copied every single picture setting we were using successfully in the Movie mode to the Standard preset, suggesting that all the picture settings bar the Movie one are using some sort of video processing that can’t be turned off.

Even weirder, the blurring issue only seems to happen conclusively in our test labs; it doesn’t appear to happen when the same TV is used down at Samsung HQ! But we’ve now experienced it on two related Samsung TVs, so clearly something weird is going on. If Samsung comes up with a firmware fix for the motion issues we’ve seen with all non-Movie presets we’ll update this section of the review.

The good news is that while you have to start all your picture setup efforts with the Movie preset, which suffers with backlight clouding and muted (albeit accurate to the Rec 709 standard) colours in its out-of-the-box state, you can access all areas of Samsung’s calibration toolset and so make the Movie preset look pretty much exactly how you want it to look.

Key moves we’d recommend – on top of turning off noise reduction – would be to turn on the Smart LED feature to its Low or, at a push, Medium setting to boost contrast and get rid of the clouding problem; to set the dynamic contrast feature to Low; and to set the Motion control system to its Clear level or, even better, a Custom mode with judder and blur set to around 3. We’d also suggest that you play with the different settings of the UHD colour mode.

One last thing to remember is to hunt out the Game option – hidden away in the General sub-folder of the System Menu – for gaming, as this reduces input lag. Though remember to turn it off if you’re using your games console for video streaming.

Picture Quality

Without using a heavily tweaked version of the Movie preset the UE48JU7500’s pictures would only merit a score of seven, bordering on six. Mercifully with the Movie preset in place, this score rises all the way to a seriously brilliant nine…

That said, we should point out that judging the UE48JU7500’s pictures is an exercise in relativity. For having spent many days living with Samsung’s SUHD TVs in recent weeks, there’s no hiding the fact that the UE48HU7500 is no match for its high-end brethren in the brightness or colour departments. Its black level response is slightly down on Samsung’s latest flagship screens too. But then the UE48JU7500 costs thousands of pounds less than Samsung’s SUHD TVs, so it would hardly be reasonable to expect it to deliver the same level of performance.

Samsung UE48JU7500

Compared more fairly with other UHD models in its own price bracket, the UE48HU7500 fairs much, much better. Its black level response in particular – so long as you’re using the Smart LED feature – is superb, delivering only the most minute trace of greyness over parts of the picture that should look black. What’s more, with Smart LED local dimming active there’s negligible evidence of backlight clouding in the image’s corners.

Equally importantly, so long as you’re not viewing from a wide angle and don’t succumb to the temptation of running the Smart LED system on its highest power setting, there’s precious little disruption from light blooms (also known as haloes) around bright objects against dark backdrops.

The use of a direct LED backlight system also enables the UE48HU7500 to deliver strikingly pure peak whites and really punchy, natural colours even when the majority of the image is dark – something TVs that use an edge LED lighting system can’t do as effectively.

As we’d expect of a TV with such a strong contrast performance the UE48HU7500’s colours enjoy a gorgeous combination of vibrancy and subtlety. To underline a point made earlier, we’re not in the same ballpark in colour terms as Samsung’s SUHD TVs – especially if you’re watching HDR content on those high end models. But by ‘normal’ LCD TV standards, the UE48HU7500’s colour performance really is pretty stellar.

Samsung UE48JU7500

The UE48JU7500’s exceptional tonal subtlety and colour blend finesse prove great partners for its UHD resolution, helping its screen eke out every last drop of detail from native UHD content.

Inevitably a screen only 48 inches across won’t deliver as much UHD impact as one 65 inches across. But we entirely disagree with those who argue there’s no benefit to having a UHD resolution on a relatively small TV, as good UHD images like those produced by the UE48HU7500 still look crisper, more nuanced and more three dimensional (without actually being 3D!) than HD ones.

The UHD sharpness does take a minor hit when there’s extensive motion in the frame, but the judder and blur that cause this aren’t severe by LCD standards, and you can improve the motion clarity a little by careful use of Samsung’s motion processing system without the picture succumbing to excessive processing artefacts.

Samsung UE48JU7500

It’s not easy to find problems with the UE48HU7500’s pictures so long as you’re using a tweaked Movie preset. Sometimes with the TV set up to optimise black level response the most subtle shadow details are crushed out of the picture, and you do need to spend time tinkering with the TV’s settings extensively given the lack of any helpful picture preset.

Our biggest problem with the UE48JU7500’s pictures, though – aside from the thankfully avoidable blurring problem we see in any non-Movie preset – is the rather glossy finish to the screen, which reflects any bright objects or light sources in your room.

Overall, though, a sensibly configured UE48HU7500 is pretty much as good a sub-50-inch UHD TV as we’ve seen.

3D Picture Quality

The UE48HU7500 doesn’t ship with any 3D glasses, confirming that Samsung clearly doesn’t see 3D as a big draw any more. If you do cough up extra for some 3D glasses, though, Samsung’s active (full resolution) 3D system rewards you with a mostly fun 3D performance.

Detail levels are outstandingly high, as we’d expect of an active UHD 3D system, and the TV’s direct LED lighting delivers 3D images with enough brightness to ensure they still look punchy despite the dimming effect of the active shutter glasses. The TV’s stellar contrast performance plays its part too, helping to create a spectacular sense of space and depth.

Samsung UE48JU7500On the downside there’s a little crosstalk around contrasty edges in the mid and far distance or heavily foregrounded objects (especially text), and a 48-inch screen will never give you the same 3D impact that a much bigger screen can unless you’re sat close to it.

Sound Quality

The UE48JU7500’s speakers perform decently considering they fire down rather than straight at you. There’s enough volume to keep an action movie solid company, and dense movie mixes are handled without any unwanted vibrations and rattles from the cabinet. The speakers don’t succumb to phutting due to overloading either, and the mid-range sounds more open and detailed than usual for a Samsung TV.

There isn’t much bass around, which can leave some action scenes sounding rather exposed and borderline harsh in the treble range, but this is preferable to Samsung trying to push bass to the point where the rest of the soundstage collapses.

Other Things To Consider

With its rich contrast, bold colours, extreme sharpness, and manageably sized screen the UE48HU7500 clearly has great appeal as a gaming monitor. So we’re happy to report that it underlines this appeal with a sub-25ms input lag measurement when using its Game preset. This is as low a figure as we’ve recorded from a UHD TV, and should mean the TV won’t come between you and another swaggering Call of Duty performance.

Samsung UE48JU7500One other point worth mentioning here is that the UE48HU7500 ships with one of Samsung’s new smart remote controls, with their comfortable curved shape, much-reduced button count, and reasonably effective point-and-click functionality.

Should I buy a Samsung UE48HU7500?

So long as you’ve read this review fully and so understand how to avoid the UE48JU7500’s otherwise killer motion problems, the UE48JU7500’s performance is more than competitive with the rival UHD TVs in the same price bracket. The only really compelling rival we can think of right now is the Sony 55X9005B, which offers an excellent 4K picture, markedly better audio and seven inches of extra screen size for only £100-£200/$150-$300 more. Though the smart system on this 2014 Sony TV is far less evolved than Samsung’s Tizen effort.

One other general point we would raise, though, is that he UE48JU7500’s relatively small screen doesn’t show off the potential benefits of a UHD resolution and curved screen as much as a larger model would. So if you like the idea of the UE48JU7500, think of going for one of its bigger siblings if you can.

Verdict

While it troubles us how many people might potentially suffer with the motion blur problems we’ve found when using the main preset of our UE48JU7500 (unless Samsung can come up with a firmware fix), we have managed to find a way to get round the issue. And having done that we’ve found ourselves faced with another impressive Samsung television that delivers an admirable affordable UHD alternative to the brand’s stunning but expensive JS models.

Scores In Detail

2D Quality : 9/10
3D Quality : 8/10
Design : 9/10
Features : 9/10
Sound Quality : 8/10
Value : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)

BenQ W1350 review

Pros
  • Bright, colourful pictures
  • Attractive design
  • 3D glasses included
Cons
  • Runs rather noisily
  • Black level response not the best
  • Some rainbow effect

Key Features: Single-chip DLP projector; Full HD native resolution; 3D Playback with one pair of 3D glasses included; Wireless HD Kit connection option available; 2500 ANSI Lumens claimed brightness

Manufacturer: BenQ

What is the BenQ W1350?

BenQ’s latest home entertainment projector is a full HD, 3D DLP model available for as little as £790/$1,185 online. Feature highlights unusually flexible set up tools and an optional wireless HD connection system.

Design and Features

The W1350 sits on a footprint substantially smaller than the projector’s top surface, resulting in sides that angle out as they travel from bottom to top. The resulting attractive trapezoidal shape is given extra appeal by the W1350’s combination of a silver colour for the front and sides and a glossy white for the top cover.

This top cover includes a recessed area containing zoom and focus rings, as well as a vertical shift wheel that lets you move the image up or down. This is a welcome discovery on such an affordable projector. The W1350 is also unusual for its price point in supporting horizontal keystone correction, whereby you can correct the shape of your image to account for circumstances where you might have to position the projector off to the side of your screen. Note, though, that unlike the vertical image shifting this horizontal adjustment is achieved via a digital distortion of the picture.

Connections on the projector’s rear side comprise: two HDMIs (with MHL support for easy mobile phone mirroring); a VGA PC port, a component video input; Type A and Type B USB inputs; a composite video input; a 12V trigger port for, say, firing up a motorised screen; an RS-232 port; and a stereo audio input.

Having audio inputs on a projector may seem a dumb idea given that any sound a projector makes will inevitably be substantially dislocated from the pictures being cast onto a distant screen. However, built-in speakers are now an almost universal feature on cheap, relatively ’casual’ projectors such as the W1350, in recognition of the fact that their users will often only be setting them up as and when they need them, in circumstances where finding an external audio solution may not always be easy.

The speakers in the W1350 do at least have the potential to sound a cut above the paper-thin efforts of most projectors, though, thanks to their 10W output and so-called ‘resonant chamber’ technology, designed to boost bass reproduction.

BenQ W1350

One final aspect of the W1350’s connectivity is the optional Wireless Full HD Kit. At £280/$420 this represents a significant extra cost in the context of the projector’s lowly price, but the system works very well, delivering pixel-perfect full HD images – even 3D ones – wirelessly from source to projector using a compact and simple-to-set-up transmitter/receiver combination.

BenQ claims a wireless line-of-sight coverage range of up to 30 metres for the Wireless Kit, but its four built-in antennas mean it can transmit signals through cabinet doors – and potentially even walls – in return for a much more limited effective range.

Inevitably for a cheap DLP projector the W1350 is a single-chip model, using a colour wheel to produce its colours. This wheel is a 6X-speed RGBRGB design, which will hopefully keep a lid on the so-called ‘rainbow effect’ artefacts that can still be a problem for single-chip DLP systems.

The projector also enjoys one of Texas Instruments’ DarkChip 3 optical devices, which are notable for the way they hide physical pixel structure and deliver less jagged object edges.

The W1350’s other key image specifications combine a very respectable 2500 ANSI Lumen maximum brightness with a fairly typical (by affordable DLP projection standards) claimed contrast ratio of 10,000:1.

The final big attraction of the W1350 is that as well as supporting 3D playback out of the box, without the need for an extra transmitter kit, it ships with a pair of free active 3D glasses. This is unusual for the sub-£1,000/$1,500 projector market.

Setup

The W1350 offers much more setup flexibility than most projectors in its price bracket. The vertical image shift and horizontal keystone correction we mentioned earlier mean you’ve got much more freedom over where you place your projector than usual.

There’s also a drop-down leg at the projector’s front if you really need the projector to sit substantially below the screen, and it’s worth adding for people with limited room space to play with that the W1350 features a shortish-throw lens able to provide a 100-inch image from a throw distance of three metres.

The lens also delivers a welcome 1.5x of optical zoom, while its onscreen menus are jam packed with image tweaks, including colour management for all six ‘primary’ colours, various gamma settings, and white balance calibration. It’s no surprise after exploring the W1350’s menus to find that it carries the endorsement of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) as a projector that could support a professional calibration.

If you’re looking for some quick guidance to a great picture, we’d suggest starting with the Cinema preset, turning off the noise reduction system (at least for HD viewing), turning off Brilliant Colour if your source is grainy (otherwise leave it on), and experimenting with toggling the lamp power setting between Economic and SmartEco.

Many films enjoy extra pop using the Smart Eco mode, though it can lead to some minor light instability and reduced shadow detailing with very dark films. It should also be said that the Smart Eco mode (and the Normal lamp setting you should only use when there’s ambient light in the room) causes substantially more noise from the W1350’s cooling fans.

Picture Quality

The W1350’s pictures are more of a mixed bag than we’d hoped. Starting with the good points, colours look impressively natural, bright and well-balanced right out of the box. You can, as ever, improve things by tweaking the presets to take your room characteristics into account, but it’s a boon for casual users that they can enjoy such credible tones with next to no effort.

It’s not just the naturalism of the colours that impresses either; they’re also delivered with an impressive agree of subtlety, with minimal blockiness and striping over subtle blends and skin tones.

The image is strikingly bright for a budget home entertainment (as opposed to data) projector as well. Even if you use the least bright Economic lamp setting bright areas look bold and punchy, avoiding the flat, lifeless look sometimes seen with budget models.

BenQ W1350

It has to be said that the W1350 is happier with the light end of the luminance spectrum than it is with dark areas – more on that later – but it still delivers a respectable sense of contrast overall with most of our test sequences.

More good news concerns the W1350’s handling of motion, which manages to look reasonably light on blur and judder without looking processed or suffering the sort of fizzing noise over skin tones that single-chip DLP projectors can exhibit.

Detail levels are strong with native HD content too, and the projector delivers handsomely on that DLP advantage of no obvious pixel structure. This helps the picture look more cinematic, as well as meaning you see practically no evidence of jaggedness around curved object edges. Finally in the plus column there’s impressively little dotting noise in dark areas by budget DLP standards.

Turning to the W1350’s less impressive picture points, the main one is a disappointing black level response. The darkest parts of the picture look grey rather than black, and can even seem to ‘glow’ slightly at times. This effect also causes quite significant amounts of shadow detail to sometimes get crushed out of dark scenes.

BenQ W1350

It doesn’t help, either, that the level – or perhaps it might be more accurate to say temperature – of the image’s lighting seems to vary slightly in different areas of the picture.

The second key picture problem is that we often felt a little distracted by the rainbow effect. We quite regularly noticed the telltale momentary flashes of stripes of colour, especially where bright picture areas appear against dark backdrops, or we when moved our eyes over the image. Although we’re not sure why we noticed more rainbowing on the W1350 than we’ve tended to with other recent BenQ projectors, our best guess would be that it’s to do with its high brightness output. Though we still felt aware of the rainbow effect even when using the relatively subdued Economic lamp setting.

3D Picture Quality

Switching the W1350 into 3D mode initially made our hearts sink, as before donning the glasses we could immediately see that weird red wash over pictures we’ve seen on so many BenQ 3D projectors before. Fortunately, though, the glasses prove more successful at removing this redness from the image than any we’ve tried before, ensuring that dark scenes in particular no longer suffer with a residual red undertone.

BenQ W1350

This leaves you free to engage much more with the W1350’s 3D images, enabling you to appreciate strengths such as decent detail levels, a solid sense of depth and space, and a good degree of contrast and punch as the projector’s brightness comes into its own in 3D mode.

Motion is a touch unconvincing, but at the same time it certainly doesn’t suffer as much with either the judder or the ‘cellophane’ effect sometimes seen with budget 3D display devices. There’s only the slightest evidence of crosstalk too, leaving crushed detail in dark scenes as the only really significant 3D problem. In fact, the W1350 is arguably better in 3D mode than 2D mode.

Sound Quality

BenQ’s Resonant Chamber Speaker technology really works. The W1350 produces a soundstage that’s streets ahead of the competition in terms of volume, dynamic range and clarity. Voices sound clear and are projected surprisingly well beyond the projector’s bodywork, busy soundtracks enjoy plenty of detail, and there’s even some bass in the mix. All this is delivered, too, without distortions.

BenQ W1350

The sound isn’t powerful enough to really open up for action scenes, and inevitably audio – voices in particular – doesn’t sound like it’s coming from anywhere near the on-screen action. So obviously you should still try to use an external sound solution if possible. But as built-in projection audio systems go, the W1350 has one of the best.

Other Things To Consider

As well as the black level and rainbow effect problems noted in the picture quality section, you may find your enjoyment of movie viewing on the W1350 compromised by its fairly high running noise. Even when using the lowest level of lamp light output the whir of the cooling fans and a slight whine from the colour wheel can be quite discernible during quieter movie moments. Certainly you should try to site the W1350 as far away from any likely viewing positions as possible.

If you anticipate indulging in some big-screen gaming action on the W1350, the good news is that we measured its input lag at barely 30ms. This is low enough not to significantly upset your gaming performance, and even better, it remains unchanged if you’re using the Wireless HD transmission system.

BenQ W1350

Should I buy a BenQ W1350?

The W1350 certainly has its attractions. It’s very affordable for a 3D projector that ships with a pair of glasses, its pictures are bright and richly coloured, and it offers exceptional set up flexibility to help it integrate into the most awkward room shapes. But it also exhibits enough flaws to leave us preferring other BenQ models like the W1080ST+ and superb value W1070+.

One final point worth including here concerns the included 3D glasses. For while this seems a reasonably generous inclusion for the W1350’s money, if you’re going to watch 3D movies on the W1350, you’ll probably want to watch it with at least one other person – so you’ll need to invest in at least one more pair of glasses. Also, unless you really are a 3D fan then perhaps you could look towards one of BenQ’s cheaper models and forego the 3D glasses.

Verdict

The W1350 is capable of producing beautifully rich, clean and bright pictures, and the lengths it goes to to adapt itself to almost any room layout are admirable. Its charms are ultimately compromised, though, by a fan noise and a duo of potentially distracting picture flaws.

Scores In Detail

2D Quality : 7/10
3D Quality : 8/10
Design : 8/10
Features : 8/10
Sound Quality : 7/10
Value : 7/10

(trustedreviews.com)

LG 55EG960V review

Pros
  • Gorgeous, contrast-rich pictures
  • Stunning super-slim design
  • Slick webOS 2.0 operating system
Cons
  • Occasional colour flaws
  • Needs great care with set up
  • Doesn’t yet support HDR, and will probably never support HDR via UHD Blu-ray

Key Features: 55-inch OLED TV; Native 4K UHD resolution; WebOS 2.0 Operating System; HDR compatibility coming via firmware update; Curved screen design

Manufacturer: LG

What is the LG 55EG960V?

After waiting for what feels like decades for the first 4K OLED TV to arrive, we’re now faced with our second one in as many weeks. What’s more, the 55EG960V is substantially more affordable than the previously tested 65EC970V, so if it turns out to be as good as its 65-inch sibling it could find itself right at the top of many an AV fan’s wish list.

Design and Features

There really isn’t anything quite like OLED when it comes to creating gorgeous-looking TVs. The 55EG960V’s frame is incredibly narrow – well under one centimetre wide – and sits elegantly in the same plane as the curved screen. The frame’s combination of glossy black with a thin silver trim creates a suitably high-end feel too, as does the shiny, elegantly sculpted aluminium stand.

LG 55EG960V

If anything, though, the 55EG960V becomes even more attractive when you shift your gaze to its rear and clock its impossible slimness. It’s just a couple of millimetres deep at its extremities, giving you a dazzling reminder of this remarkable aspect of OLED technology. The rear widens over its central third, but this depth increase is cunningly ‘hidden’ in the screen’s backward curve. Plus you’ll probably be too busy goggling at the rear panel’s striking smooth white finish to notice any relative midriff paunch.

Tucked down the rear left side of the screen is a pretty strong roster of connections that includes three HDMIs (two built to the 2.0 standard capable of handling 4K UHD feeds at 50/60p), three USBs (one 3.0), and the inevitable LAN and integrated Wi-Fi network options.

The network options can be used, of course, for either streaming content from networked devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers, or for going online with LG’s latest webOS-driven smart TV system.

We’ll be looking at this system in depth shortly, but for now the main things to say are that it doesn’t introduce many new features – a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, we guess – but it runs significantly more swiftly than the first webOS generation. In doing this it underlines its appeal as the most user-friendly and engaging smart TV system in town.

Weirdly the 55EG960V has webOS 2.0 whereas the higher-specified 65EC970V only has the first webOS. However, LG recently announced that it intends to update 2014 webOS TVs with the latest version via a future firmware update. That’s good news, and that last year’s sets can be upgraded to webOS 2.0 kind of highlights the fact that webOS 2.0 is a gentle evolution rather than a revolution over its predecessor.

LG 55EG960V

While webOS 2.0 is nice, it’s clearly the 55EG960V’s combination of a native 4K UHD resolution and OLED technology that gives this TV its headline appeal. OLED, after all, has been wowing anyone who sees it for years now thanks to the way every single OLED pixel produces its own light and colour, resulting in unprecedented black levels and gorgeous colourscapes.

Samsung has, it must be said, potentially undermined OLED’s ‘moment’ by launching a new era of high dynamic range-capable SUHD LCD screens (check out our reviews of the Samsung UE65JS9500 and Samsung UE65JS9000). But the 65EC970V still managed to wow us even after seeing those Samsung SUHD models, so the 55EG960V may well do the same. Especially given that LG assures us that both screens are essentially identical in picture quality terms, with the differences between the two series boiling down to different designs and the inclusion in the step-up EC970V series of a Harman Kardon-designed speaker system.

Having mentioned high dynamic range back there, it’s worth adding that contrary to initial statements LG is now saying that it will be able to introduce HDR to the 55EG960V via a firmware update. This update won’t happen until the HDR specification has been formally ratified, and will also likely only cover HDR video streams rather than HDR playback from UHD Blu-ray players. But it’s still a very welcome development. The only pity is that since the update isn’t here yet, we can’t test the TV’s HDR abilities. For now.

Other features of note are 3D playback via LG’s passive system (which we’ve seen consistently coming into its own on 4K TVs), and compatibility with the H.265 Streaming format used by Amazon and Netflix to deliver their 4K video streams.

Setup

As with the 65EC970V, the 55EG960V requires a quite specific picture set up if you want to get the best from it. The main reason for this is that while the 55EG960V’s contrast/black level performance is capable of being every bit as wondrous as we’ve long hoped for from OLED technology, it takes work to get there.

The TV’s out of the box picture settings leave the picture a little too dark, resulting in a noticeable crushing of shadow detail in the darkest areas. But if you push the image’s brightness too high the previously immaculate blackness suddenly becomes infused with an unexpected yellow tinge.

LG 55EG960V

The balance that seemed to work best for us was to have brightness set at between 53 and 55, while the OLED brightness was set at around 90 and contrast was set at around 85. Please note, though, that some kinds of footage – stuff with lots of shadow detail – can cause black levels to drop off unless you reduce the brightness setting to around its 45-48 level (which is actually more in line with LG’s own preset values).

Other tweaks we’d recommend are turning off noise reduction for all HD and native UHD content playback, and either turning off LG’s motion processing completely or else only leaving it on its lowest power setting. Otherwise you’ll find pictures suffering quite noticeable unwanted processing errors, especially with really fast motion.

One other point worth adding here is that, unexpectedly, the 55EG960V provides a more helpful set of calibration menus/tools than you get with the 65EC970V, which will make it a more appealing option for the pro installation market.

Picture Quality

Given the sort of production problems that have plagued OLED from the day it was first unveiled, we couldn’t quite shake a worry that fitting 3840×2160 of OLED’s self-emitting pixels into a 55-inch screen would be a technical stretch too far for LG to pull off without causing problems. But we’re happy to say that on the basis of the model we worked with, these problems prove entirely unfounded.

In fact, the 55EG960V manages to match pretty much flawlessly the often insane quality experienced on the larger 65EC970V.

LG 55EG960V

This is particularly true – so long as you’ve paid heed to our earlier set up advice – when it comes to black level response. The ability to deliver a deep black colour is for us the foundation stone to a great TV experience, and we’ve never seen any TV – even high-end plasma ones – able to deliver blacks as rich and deep as those you get from OLED screens.

It’s not just the incredible grey-free deepness of the 55EG960V’s black levels that’s so mesmerising either. Also setting new standards is the amount of subtle greyscale and shadow detail information you’re able to see during even the darkest sequences. As noted with the 65EC970V, for instance, Gravity’s space-scapes contain stunning numbers of individual stars – far beyond the sort of numbers we’ve ever been able to see before on any previous type of television.

It seems a bit daft to us that LG’s own picture presets for its OLED TVs currently keep the image’s brightness a little too low, as this can cause some of the glorious shadow detail in dark scenes to get crushed out. We guess LG was feeling paranoid given OLED’s black level promise about the yellowy tinge that can creep into dark scenes if the brightness gets too high.

One final brilliant benefit of the 55EG960V’s incredible black level response is the way it’s able to deliver those inky blacks without a trace of the backlight clouding or ‘blooming’ around bright image elements associated with LCD TVs. Seeing such deep blacks without being aware of or distracted by the manufacturing and processing techniques that have gone into creating them makes for a sensationally cinematic experience.

LG 55EG960V

Great black levels usually lead to great colours, so it’s no surprise to find the 55EG960V’s colours looking in many ways gorgeous. Tones are bold and vibrant, yet also beautifully balanced and, usually, exquisitely natural. What’s more, the richness and naturalism of colours hold up better during dark scenes than with the vast majority of LCD TVs, as OLED’s self-emissive nature enables dark colours to retain more brightness without compromising black levels.

If you really want to see what makes OLED truly special, try watching a shot that contains small areas of high brightness in the middle of very dark areas. The distant shot of Hogwarts at night with lights in the windows as Voldemort looks down at it from a hilltop in the final Harry Potter film looks simply stunning – as if there are real candles glowing in your TV. No LCD TV – not even Samsung’s SUHD TVs with their local dimming – can deliver anything like the same sort of impact with this type of shot.

The 55EG960V is not overall, it must be said, as bright as some of the latest LCD TVs starting to emerge this year. Most notably, Samsung’s HDR-capable UE65JS9000 and, especially, UE65JS9500. But the interesting thing is that because the 55EG960V’s contrast is so outstanding, the gap between its deepest blacks and brightest whites feels so extreme that its pictures still look superbly bright and punchy. The thought of how HDR content might look on LG’s OLED screens once the necessary firmware update arrives is truly mouthwatering.

The 55EG960V does a good job of delivering on the detail and sharpness we’ve already come to know and love with UHD screens – at least when watching native 4K/UHD content. You can easily see the difference between native UHD and HD material despite the screen being 10 inches smaller than the 65EC970V we’ve tested previously (though as ever, we’d always say that UHD has more impact on larger screens, so do think bigger if your living room space and bank balance permit it).

LG 55EG960V

Helping out the sense of UHD clarity is some decent motion handling for a flat TV. Although we should qualify this statement by saying that while the 55EG960V reproduces motion reasonably naturally without any motion processing engaged, if you do try to use LG’s motion system it tends to result in some fairly aggressive flickering and glitching side effects.

While the 55EG960V shares the picture strengths of the 65EC970V, it also shares its weakness. For instance, while colours are bold and natural in tone, they do at times betray a lack of subtlety when rendering tonal blends, leaving skin tones sometimes appearing a little patchy, or some mid-tones – especially greys – appearing with mild infusions of pink or green. There’s a little more banding over colour blends than we see with some UHD TVs too.

While upscaling of native HD sources is quite effective when it comes to colour tones and keeping a lid on video noise, the 55EG960V’s upscaled pictures don’t look as aggressively detailed and sharp as those of UHD TVs from Panasonic and, especially, Samsung and Sony. Its standard definition pictures look really quite painfully soft too – but then surely any owner of the 55EG960V will be doing everything in their power to avoid feeding it standard definition content.

LG 55EG960V

Finally, if you make the mistake of trying to run the screen too brightly, so that dark scenes start to suffer even gently with the yellowish undertone discussed earlier, you’ll feel as if the edges of the image are slightly darker than the centre. This is very hard to understand on a screen where each pixel creates its own brightness, and it’s a relief that this edge dullness isn’t obvious when the TV is sensibly calibrated.

3D Picture Quality

Tragically, just as interest in 3D – on TVs at least – seems to be on its death bed, we’re starting to see some truly outstanding 3D TVs. The combination of a passive 3D system (with its freedom from flicker and, if you keep your vertical viewing angle small, crosstalk ghosting noise), native UHD resolution and OLED’s gorgeous contrast performance works wonders on any 3D Blu-ray you care to throw at the 55EG960V, delivering pictures of gorgeous sharpness, clarity, depth, brightness and vibrancy.

LG 55EG960V

If 3D on TVs had always looked this good, the format’s fortunes may have been very different.

Sound Quality

The 55EG960V doesn’t benefit from the same 40W, Harman Kardon-designed speaker system somehow fitted into the 65EC970V. As a result it fails to reach the same sort of volume levels comfortably, and sounds noticeably more cramped in the mid-range when the audio going gets tough. There’s nothing spectacular about the amount of treble detailing you hear in the soundstage either, and deep bass is a bust.

Voices still sound clear even if the rest of the mid-range starts to sound a bit muddy, though, and at least the 55EG960V is sensible enough to work within its limitations, ensuring that the speakers don’t distort or phut.

It’s worth noting that during our tests the TV tended to suffer a little with lip-sync errors when watching Blu-rays, though thankfully we were able to solve this problem almost completely via the AV Sync Adjustment options.

Other things to consider

The 55EG960V comes with one of LG’s ‘magic remotes’, which let you select onscreen options just by pointing the remote at the relevant part of the screen and pressing select. There’s also a spinning wheel interface for quickly running up and down menus more swiftly.

While the point and cllick interface approach works well for the large icons that make up most of the webOS 2.0 interface, it can feel a bit finicky to get the pointer in exactly the right place when you’re trying to select something relatively small.

Gaming on the 55EG960V is great fun in some ways as the screen’s impeccable contrast works a treat with the often quite stark and dynamic images used by many video games. Input lag, though, is slightly below average at around 50ms, meaning that the TV could cost you a few lives or points in reaction-based games such as Call of Duty and Guitar Hero.

One last point worth covering is image retention. The potential for OLED technology to suffer with this problem, where bright, static image elements (like certain channel logos) leave ghostly traces of themselves behind long after they’re supposed to have disappeared, is well documented. And it’s noticeable that LG has a screen saver system in play on the 55EG960V that you don’t get with the brand’s LCD TVs. However, we didn’t notice any retention issue on our test model, despite leaving a Sky News logo in one place for a good few hours. So while you should always treat this issue with care, it isn’t looking like as severe a problem as we’d feared.

LG 55EG960V

Should I buy an LG 55EG960V?

As with the 65EC970V, this is a much trickier question to answer now than it would have been had the 55EG960V come out last year. Why? Because as noted earlier, 2015 has also brought us Samsung’s SUHD TVs, with their HDR-friendly high brightness and wide colour gamut capabilities.

Having experienced native HDR content on the Samsung SUHD TVs we have no doubt that HDR and UHD make perfect bedfellows, and in doing so feel likely to become the standard visuals of tomorrow.

It’s great news that the 55EG960V will one day be able to handle HDR sources after a firmware update, but only time will tell if OLED’s reduced brightness but enhanced black level response will be able to do HDR full justice. Plus it’s a shame that it doesn’t currently appear as if HDR playback from UHD Blu-ray will be supported when Samsung assures us that its SUHD LCD TVs WILL be able to play back HDR from UHD Blu-rays.

LG 55EG960V

Still, with its ground-breaking black levels and unprecedented design glories, the 55EG960V’s OLED screen also feels like the TV of the future even if its HDR talents end up being limited.

The 55EG960V’s picture strengths may appeal to you more than the SUHD approach if you’re a die-hard plasma TV fan, and even if its HDR talents turn out to be compromised versus those of the Samsung SUHD TVs, the 55EG960V is arguably better positioned to make the most of today’s picture standards despite its slight flaws.

Verdict

Although it isn’t quite the slice of TV perfection AV unrealists may have been hoping for, the 55EG960V still sets the bar where black level response and design are concerned, and in doing so continues to make a hugely persuasive case for OLED’s place in the AV landscape of tomorrow.

Scores In Detail

2D Quality : 10/10
3D Quality : 10/10
Design : 10/10
Smart TV : 9/10
Sound Quality : 7/10
Value : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Panasonic TX-50CS520 review

Pros
  • Very good picture quality
  • Good value
  • Surprisingly good sound
Cons
  • You have to work around backlight clouding
  • Minor motion flaws
  • No 3D or 4K, if that bothers you

Key Features: 50-inch LCD TV with edge LED lighting; Full HD native resolution; My Home Screen smart system; Multimedia playback via DLNA and USB; Affordable price for such a big TV

Manufacturer: Panasonic

What is the Panasonic TX-50CS520?

The 50CS520 is a bit of a shock to the system. In a year where pretty much every TV we’ve tested so far has been 4K UHD this and HDR that, and with price tags to make your eyes water, what Panasonic has given us here is a seriously affordable full HD TV. And while it may lack the headline-grabbing innovations and glamour of this year’s flagship TVs, the 50CS520 is in reality exactly the sort of TV that will likely still find its way into many UK living rooms. So let’s hope it still delivers plenty of quality despite the pressure now being applied on the HD market by the arrival of 4K.

Design and Features

The 50CS520 is fairly attractive in a no-nonsense kind of way. Its frame is impressively slim, and the combination of a shiny sliver bottom edge and dark grey for the other sides is appealing. The barely-there stand is easy to put together and subtly enhances the design if you’re not wall-hanging the TV.

Panasonic TX-50CS520

The set’s build quality is nothing to write home about plastic dominates over metal or glass – but it doesn’t look cheap from a viewing distance.

The 50CS520’s connectivity shows more obvious signs of cost cutting, though, as there are only two HDMIs and one USB port when in previous years we’d have expected an extra one of each from a non-budget HD TV. To be fair, though, the CS520s aren’t the top HD series in Panasonic’s new range, and the step-up CS620 models do carry one extra HDMI and USB port if you need them.

The 50CS520’s 50-inch screen is illuminated by edge-mounted LEDs, and while there’s no form of local dimming control (which is perfectly understandable on a £520/$780 50-inch TV) there is a pretty effective adaptive contrast engine that subtly adjusts the general backlight output in response to the image content you’re watching.

The set is capable of emulating a 200Hz motion response too, and employs one of Panasonic’s new Bright Panel Plus screens to deliver a supposed dynamism boost over the equivalent screens from last year.

When it comes to smart features, the 50CS520 is a mixture of good and bad. On the downside it doesn’t get Panasonic’s new Mozilla Firefox OS; that’s saved for TVs notably higher up Panasonic’s range. Instead it gets the same my Home Screen smart system sported by last year’s Panasonic TVs. It has to be said my Home Screen is now looking seriously dated following the advent of Samsung’s Tizen, LG’s webOS and, to a lesser extent, Sony’s Android smart systems.

However, while it may look (and sound, once the ‘robot lady’ voice kicks in!) old-fashioned, ‘my Home Screen’ remains one of the most friendly and, crucially, customisable smart interfaces seen to date. You can even set up different, easy to access home screens for different family members in a hassle-free way – a trick no other smart TV platform has been able to deliver as convincingly.

The 50CS520 also carries the Freetime platform, giving you access to catch up TV services for all the key UK broadcast channels and Freetime’s excellent back- as well as forward-scrolling electronic programme guide for easier discovery of on-demand content. The addition of Freetime (accessed via the Guide button) is particularly welcome in the 50CS520’s case since Panasonic’s my Home Screen platform doesn’t offer catch-up apps for ITV, Channel 4 or Channel 5.

Panasonic TX-50CS520

Wrapping up the discussion of the 50CS520’s features is actually something it doesn’t have: 3D. If you want 3D you’ll need to step up to the CS620 series.

Setup

Panasonic can usually be relied on to deliver plenty of set up flexibility with its TVs, and the 50CS520 doesn’t disappoint. As well as a solid series of presets, there’s a custom mode from where you can adjust just about anything.

Highlight customisation options include a colour management menu (though rather annoyingly this covers most of the screen while you’re using it, making it hard to see pictures behind); white balance fine tuning; the ability to tweak both the gamma and black expansion elements of the dynamic contrast system; and the inevitable suite of adjustments for the TV’s MPEG and standard noise reduction elements.

There’s a vivid colour setting that AV purists will likely turn off while most other people will likely prefer on, and there’s a 1080p Pixel Direct mode for purer playback of Blu-rays. Helpfully the menus adjust themselves depending on what sort of source content you’re watching when you hit the menu button on the remote.

Panasonic TX-50CS520

The most important changes we’d suggest you make are to ramp the backlight way down to below its 20% setting when watching films in dark rooms (for reasons we’ll get into in the picture quality section of the review), the contrast should never be set higher than around its 85% level to keep a lid on picture noise and turn off the NR circuits while watching any decent quality HD material.

Picture Quality

In most ways the 50CS520’s pictures are excellent for such an affordable TV, exhibiting the sort of detail, colour richness and contrast that would once have been associated only with pretty high-end HD TVs.

The noise-free precision of the 50CS520’s rendering of HD content really is especially stand out. We say this, too, despite coming to the 50CS520 on the back of a long stream of 4K UHD screens. Every last detail in an HD source is lovingly reproduced, with not so much as a hint of such potential noise issues as edge enhancement, over-enthusiastic grain, moire shimmering noise or over-stressed bright highlights.

Contributing greatly to the exceptional sense of clarity and detail n the 50CS520’s full HD pictures is extremely impressive colour handling for such an affordable 50-inch TV. Panasonic’s screen manages to delineate a range and subtlety of colour tone that far exceeds what you might realistically have expected for its money. So deft is the colour and detail handling, in fact, that the 50CS520 delivers a sense of depth and space with certain shots that leaves pictures looking almost three dimensional – a trick usually reserved for 4K UHD TVs.

Panasonic TX-50CS520

The fact that the 50CS520’s pictures are able to contain such punchy and subtle colours even after you’ve ramped the backlight setting down heavily – as suggested in the Setup section – for dark-room viewing is a testament to perhaps our favourite thing about the 50CS520’s pictures: their black levels.

Black level response was a thorn in the side of Panasonic’s 2014 TV range, but now that Panasonic has decided to ditch low-contrast IPS panel designs from its 2015 UK TV range, even the relatively humble 50CS520 produces black colours that enjoy a depth, richness and – with the backlight set below 20 – relative freedom from greyness that would normally only be found on a much more expensive TV.

What’s especially great about this is that pictures still manage to look engagingly intense even after you’ve taken the backlight to below its 20 level – a fact which also helps the 50CS520 retain decent colour accuracy even with very dark tones.

While the 50CS520 is capable of hitting really quite inky blacks, though, it does suffer slightly with backlight clouding in its corners. It’s the need to counter this issue that requires the backlight to be set below 20 for dark-room viewing.

Panasonic TX-50CS520

It is, of course, a shame that the backlight has to be reduced so far because of the clouding problem, as it leaves you with images that may not be bright enough for some people’s tastes (though we suspect serious film fans in dark rooms will have no problem with the brightness given the qualities of just about every other aspect of the 50CS520’s pictures). It also means that small amounts of shadow detail can get crushed out of dark areas.

Another issue with the 50CS520’s pictures is some evidence of judder and resolution loss when showing moving objects. However, with the contrast set up sensibly the resolution loss doesn’t tip over into serious amounts of blurring, and there’s actually something quite attractive about the straightforward, natural look of the 50CS520’s relatively processing-light images.

Our last niggle is that the set’s generally excellent colours look noticeably less natural and balanced while watching standard definition content – or if you’re running the TV brightly to combat a light room environment. Though you can improve this situation by making sure the Vivid Colour feature is turned off.

It really isn’t fair to the 50CS520 to finish this section of the review on a negative, though. For while inevitably Panasonic’s HD set isn’t perfect, there are clear signs that Panasonic has lavished some real love on it. In other words, it is by no means just some throw-away product Panasonic has slapped together while it focusses on the exploding 4K market.

Sound Quality

The 50CS520 sounds far better than we would have expected considering its skinny frame and plasticky build.

It’s capable of going pretty loud and delivering a large, detailed soundstage without the speakers succumbing to phutting noise or starting to suffer with mid-range compression. Voices sound clear at all times while also enjoying nicely rounded tones and always appearing accurately positioned in the image. There’s even a pretty expansive dynamic range that combines plenty of harshness-free treble detail at one end with a satisfying amount of rumble at the other.

Other things to consider

Good quality but affordable big-screen TVs like the 50CS520 clearly have potentially massive appeal as gaming monitors. Happily the 50CS520 underlines its gaming potential admirably by suffering only around 30ms of input lag – so long as you keep most of its image processing circuitry switched off.

Panasonic TX-50CS520

The only other couple of points worth covering here are the inclusion on the 50CS520’s remote control of a direct access Netflix button, and the fact that while clean and friendly, the my Home Screen interface – and some of the Freetime functionality – can sometimes be a little sluggish to load and navigate.

Should I buy a Panasonic TX-50CS520?

In what’s going to become a phrase common to all of our HD TV reviews this year, you need to ask yourself how bothered you are by the impending 4K UHD revolution. Because if you do think you are now or might soon be excited by it, then there perhaps isn’t much point buying an HD TV now unless you can’t afford anything else or you’re thinking you could upgrade again in a year or two’s time.

Taken on its own merits, though, the 50CS520 is a very accomplished HD TV indeed that’s a massive leap forward in picture quality from the majority of Panasonic’s affordable TVs of last year.

Verdict

With so many outstanding 4K and even HDR TVs coming our way already this year, we couldn’t help but fear that the first of 2015’s HD TVs would just end up feeling dull and outdated. Fortunately the 50CS520 is good enough to escape that fate comfortably, combining great colour, contrast and sharpness to deliver genuine HD thrills at a price that would have been unthinkable in the pre-4K age.

Scores In Detail

Design : 8/10
Image Quality : 8/10
Smart TV : 8/10
Sound Quality  : 8/10
Value  : 9/10

(trustedreviews.com)

Loewe Connect 55 review

Pros
  • Gorgeous build quality and customisable design
  • Exceptional video processing
  • Good sound quality
Cons
  • Backlight clouding suring dark scenes
  • Very limited video streaming support, with no Netflix or Amazon 4K streaming
  • Can get a Samsung HDR TV for nearly the same money

Key Features: 55-inch LCD TV with edge LED lighting; Native UHD resolution; Online smart TV features; Multimedia playback via USB or DLNA streaming; Customisable Design

Manufacturer: Loewe

What is the Loewe Connect 55?

After extensive restructuring under the watchful gaze of new owners, German AV brand Loewe is finally rolling out some typically extravagant new TVs. Here we’re looking at the mid-range, 55-inch Connect 55 – the company’s first 4K UHD model, and one which still seems to epitomise Loewe’s unique way of doing things while simultaneously showing signs of a leaner, more commercially aware brand.

Design and Features

Despite the fact that it’s the product of a new regime, the latest Connect 55 – Loewe has kept more or less the same product range names for multiple TV generations now – looks every inch a Loewe TV. For starters there’s the trademark large, metal-framed circular remote control receiver and LED display protruding strikingly from the TV’s bottom edge. The way the screen carries an integrated speaker bar along its bottom edge is also reminiscent of Loewe TVs of the past, as is the cute addition of a little “Connect” tag on the TV’s upper right edge.

Loewe Connect 55

You only have to try lifting the Connect 55 out of its box to realise how spectacularly well built it is too, and most strikingly of all it supports a degree of design customisation. The main TV housing can be bought in any of three core colour combinations: black frame with black frame detail and black speaker section; black frame with silver frame detail and silver speaker section; and black frame with cappuccino frame detail and cappuccino speaker section.

Additionally you can buy a colour kit that converts the speaker section and frame detail areas into a gorgeous Petrol Blue. Kits are also available for switching between the core design colour schemes if you wake up one morning and fancy a change of TV scene.

There’s plenty of choice, too, over how you mount your Connect 55. The screen we tested was perched atop a heavy, shiny cross-shaped desktop stand, which the TV can be manually rotated around on, but there’s also a series of other options comprising static and flexible wall mounts, a floor-standing option on a pole attached to a circular aluminium base, a variant on the floor stand that includes a shelf, a striking free-standing “screen lift” floor-to-ceiling brushed aluminium pole the TV hangs on, a variant of the Screen Lift option that attaches to the wall, and a striking furniture “Rack” available in sizes and colours to match the Connect TVs. Phew.

Overall, despite all these options, there isn’t quite as much design choice as you’ve had with some previous Loewe TVs – particularly the Individual series. But the new Connect still gives you far more aesthetic flexibility than you get with almost any other TV brand without pushing the price into the realms of the ridiculous. At £2,800/$4,200 the Connect 55 is much less “out there” in pricing terms than many of its predecessors.

The Connect 55 carries an onboard 5.1 audio decoder, so that it can easily be partnered with external speaker systems. You’re not restricted to Loewe gear in this regard, though Loewe does of course recommend two subwoofer options – the Sub 200 and Sub 525 – as well as its Stand or Satellite speakers as ideal accompaniments for its new TVs.

Loewe Connect 55

The Connect 55’s connections are housed under two detachable flaps on the TV’s rear side, and are decently numerous. Highlights include four HDMIs (with support for the 4K at 60Hz-friendly 2.0 specification), USBs able to play video, photo or music multimedia from USB storage devices, and the now inevitable LAN and integrated Wi-Fi options. Well, it wouldn’t be a very connected Connect if it didn’t have those, would it?

The network options let you stream media from DLNA-enabled devices in your household, or connect the TV to the web – at least, Loewe’s walled garden part of it. At first glance this garden seems decently well populated; we counted a grand total of 96 available apps across music, radio, video, photo, information and gaming genres.

Closer inspection, though, reveals that the vast majority of these apps are of niche interest to say the least. There’s no sign of any of the UK’s key catch-up TV services – not even the usually ubiquitous BBC iPlayer – and nor are there apps for Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. Not even normal HD versions, never mind UHD-capable versions.

These are serious omissions from any TV in 2015, especially when there remains precious little native 4K UHD content around outside of Amazon and Netflix with which you might fully unlock the Connect 55’s 3840×2160 resolution.

To be fair, it’s clearly difficult for a relatively niche brand like Loewe to compete with the big boys in terms of negotiating, paying for and verifying apps. But that doesn’t alter the fact that there are plenty of other TVs out there that do offer lots more useful video streaming apps – including UHD ones.

Loewe argues that most people use external devices for on-demand TV viewing – games consoles, computers, Apple TV boxes, Sky receivers and so on. However, while there’s undoubtedly some truth to this where HD video services are concerned, there are currently no external streaming devices in the UK that offer native UHD 4K support.

The Connect 55 fairs rather better in Smart TV terms with its offline features. Hit the Home key on the beautifully weighty remote control and you see a screen full of icon-based links to individual TV channels, favourite apps and potentially your own external content sources if you’ve got any connected.

Loewe Connect 55

The order these icons appear is completely customisable, and impressively each member of your household can set up their own home page, with their own customised set of links. One particularly handy trick made possible by the way the system treats TV channels as apps is the ability to shift the HD channels usually buried way down the Freeview HD channel list up to the top of the home page.

The Home screen also provides clear links to filtered menus for TV, video, music, etc, on the left-hand side, and a Settings link taking you to the setup menus – though you can also access these via a dedicated Menu button on the remote. Loewe is also to be commended for the way each filtered menu provides additional access to other useful, related features. For instance, the electronic programme guide and timer lists appear as icon links to the right of the main TV content links.

It was great, too, to find we could stream video from the TV’s tuner to Android and iOS devices, and vice versa, via a Smart tv2Move app. Especially as the Connect 55’s twin tuner means you could watch one channel on your portable device and another on the TV.

The new Loewe smart system works smoothly and reasonably quickly, leaving as our only complaints about it the fact that it takes over the whole screen rather than being overlaid over the TV picture, that it’s rather inefficient with its use of the available screen real estate, and that it suffered one or two software bugs during our test period.

One of the most attractive features of the Connect 55 we haven’t covered yet is its built-in DR digital video recorder. This records direct from the Freeview HD tuner, so the recording quality is essentially perfect and since the built-in HDD weighs in at 1TB you can store tons of recordings. Loewe’s Smart Assist app means you can set DR recordings remotely from your smartphone too, and you can stream content from the hard drive on one Loewe TV to the screen of another Loewe TV if you’re lucky enough to be in a position to install a multi-room Loewe system. There’s even support for archiving recordings to USB, where copyright permits it.

Such in-built recording is a really great feature to find on any TV – especially as it integrates so intelligently with the electronic programme guide and uses such a helpful interface to help you manage your recordings. It’s worth adding, too, that the DR system supports a recommendation engine of sorts, whereby if you select a show to record the TV will scan the listings for other “recommended” shows based on what you’re recording and record them automatically if you so desire.

Turning to the Connect 55’s picture technologies, it’s an edge LED affair featuring local dimming for better light control, a 200Hz engine backed up by “Film Quality Improvement” (motion interpolation) processing and Loewe’s proprietary Image system for managing everything from contrast and sharpness through to colour and video noise. Loewe only lets you turn Image on or off rather than giving you more detailed control over its various elements, so hopefully it will prove clever enough to manage without our help!

On a similar note, the Connect 55 provides a dynamic contrast system but again only lets you turn it on or off rather than providing any fine tuning. There’s no colour management option either – unless you access the TV’s service menus – which may not win the Connect 55 many fans with the serious calibration community.

Loewe Connect 55

The Connect 55 is, finally, capable of playing 3D. Though the TV doesn’t ship with any 3D glasses included, and we didn’t have access to any for this review.

Setup

The Connect 55 is reasonably straightforward to set up thanks to menus which are much more straightforward to navigate than the “bunched-up” efforts of Loewe’s previous TVs. There are decent onscreen explanations for each feature you’ve got highlighted too. The menu structure doesn’t feel wholly logical in places, and as suggested earlier it would be nice to have a few more calibration options, but at least Loewe is moving in the right direction. And actually, as we’ll see in the picture quality section, its automated picture systems are cleverer than most. Up to a point…

For reasons we’ll get to in the next section, you need to be pretty specific with how you set the Connect 55 up if you want to get the best from it. Particularly critical is that you make sure both of the Adaptive Contrast features are set to on (which they are using the TV’s default settings). One of these adaptive contrast features bases its work on the image content, while the other adjusts picture settings based on the amount of ambient light detected in your room.

Normally we would suggest you turn the latter feature off; indeed, Loewe itself recommended that we turn it off for our tests. But we found that during dark room viewing at least, it really does need to be on.

You should turn off all noise reduction for HD and especially native UHD content viewing, and we’d recommend that you set the Film Quality Improvement mode to Soft. This is an unfortunate setting name as it makes you think it will result in pictures that lack detail, but actually it just means it’s a relatively gentle setting less prone to throwing up unwanted processing side effects.

On balance we’d also suggest you set Loewe’s Image system to On, especially, again, during dark-room viewing, since it tends to make the picture darker and thus less prone to backlight clouding. It can, though, make images start to look a bit unnatural if they contain a lot of source noise, so don’t be afraid to turn it off with relatively poor sources.

Picture Quality

The Connect 55’s pictures are a mixture of the outstanding and the slightly disappointing.

Starting with the outstanding stuff, pictures look gorgeously detailed. Native UHD images sparkle with their detail, texture and precision – especially as this precision is delivered without leaving the image looking in any way processed or unrealistic so long as you’re careful with the motion and NR processing settings.

Impressively the sharpness and sense of detail is retained remarkably well with upscaled HD content. The Connect 55’s knack for adding millions more pixels to HD pictures to make them UHD without exaggerating source noise or making the picture look digitised or artificial is mesmerisingly good – up there with the best we’ve seen so far from Samsung and Sony 4K UHD TVs.

Loewe Connect 55

Also worthy of a seat at the top table of picture quality is Loewe’s latest motion processing. With most TVs we turn this sort of processing off as it can cause processing artefacts and make the picture look unnatural. But the Connect’s Film setting at its Soft level does neither. There’s no haloing around moving objects, no flickering over areas of really fast motion, no stutters… really hardly any trace at all that you’ve got motion processing on. Aside from the fact that moving objects look beautifully free of judder and blur.

The Connect 55 continues to impress with its colour handling. Skin tones look believable and infinitely subtle, even, again, when watching upscaled footage, and you never get a sense that tones have slipped off key, even during dark scenes.

Dark scenes often benefit from a decent contrast performance too – though sometimes if a shot is really dark or contains a really strong mix of light and dark elements, it also reveals a couple of weaknesses.

First, while black level response is good by LCD standards, it’s not truly outstanding. Sony and Samsung in particular have both achieved deeper black levels from their relatively high-end TVs.

Our main concern, though, is the screen’s backlight uniformity. If you’re watching in a dark room without both the ‘OPC’ ambient light and picture content-related automatic contrast adjustment features on, dark scenes appear behind seriously distracting areas of backlight clouding/extra greyness. These grey patches aren’t restricted to the image’s corners as we sometimes see with edge LED TVs either. They can appear almost in the centre of the picture too, where they obviously become very distracting.

Loewe Connect 55

Mercifully the TV’s two automatic contrast adjustments substantially reduce the clouding’s impact, so that it only affects the darkest shots or shots that contain a particularly tricky mix of dark and light elements. However, even though this combination of automatic contrast features proves more intelligent than most, it doesn’t reduce the clouding issue to the same extent that the best LCD TVs can.

The set’s contrast setting is considered by Loewe to act as a virtual backlight adjustment, but while again it was possible to marginally improve things by reducing the contrast setting, nothing we did gave a completely satisfying balance between brightness, backlight uniformity and black level response.

It’s worth adding that the best setting balance we managed for the Connect 55 has to remove substantial amounts of brightness from the picture – as highlighted by our recent experience with Samsung’s high dynamic range TVs. But at least the Connect 55’s post calibration lack of brightness doesn’t damage colour tones. Also, while the level of light reduction required to deliver dark scenes in a dark room environment can crush out a little shadow detail, this isn’t severe enough to leave pictures looking hollow.

In a bright room the Connect 55 fares much better, as the backlight clouding issue almost disappears, leaving you free to enjoy all the good things we discussed earlier. If you’re a serious film fan prone to blacking out your room for a serious film-viewing session, though, there will undoubtedly be times where you see and feel irritated by the TV’s clouding issues.

Loewe Connect 55

One other issue that affects the Connect 55’s reproduction of dark scenes is that its screen is quite reflective of objects in your room – though of course, if you’re watching in a dark room, there likely won’t be any reflections for the screen to pick up!

Despite its flaws the Connect 55’s pictures overall deserve to finish on a high note. So let’s wrap up by saying that there are times when Loewe’s superb image processing delivers an almost painterly beauty to UHD and even HD images, while the backlight issues we’ve discussed only affect very dark content in very dark environments – in other words, a relatively small portion of your viewing time.

Sound Quality

The Connect 55’s sonics are a comfortable cut above those of the vast majority of flat TVs.

The soundstage it produces is exceptionally large, spreading far beyond the physical boundaries of the TV and enjoying an outstanding dynamic range by TV standards. Rich, smooth and powerful trebles are balanced by punchy, reasonably deep bass rumbles. The wide dynamic range also gives the mid-range plenty of room to play with, ensuring that voices are always clear, natural and well-rounded.

Loewe Connect 55

The only problem is the intrusion of a bit of crackly distortion at high volumes during very dense sound mixes.

Other things to consider

The remote control Loewe supplies with the Connect 55 is as beautifully built and weighty as the TV. However, its button layout isn’t especially helpful; it feels like something designed for a pre-smart TV age in terms in the way it fails to give any real size or location emphasis to the most useful buttons.

Gamers need to treat the Connect 55 with a degree of caution. For even with its Game mode (found in the Connections menu) activated and as much picture processing as we could find turned off, we still couldn’t get the TV’s input lag to drop below 60ms. This is around twice as high a figure as we’d like to see, and could affect your scores in reaction-based games.

Please note, too, that if you forget to activate the Game preset for your console/PC input, input lag balloons to a frankly terrifyingly high 400ms.

Should I buy a Loewe Connect 55?

It’s great to have Loewe active in the UK TV market again – especially as so many less imaginative brands have bowed out in recent years.

If you’re a fan of excellent build quality, superior image processing, good sound quality and you like the idea of your next TV boasting a built-in hard disk video recorder and a customisable design, there’s really nothing that fits the bill as well as the Connect 55. What’s more, it delivers all these attractions for a fairly reasonable price by Loewe’s premium standards.

Loewe Connect 55

On the other hand, if your motivations for upgrading your TV are more about the absolute best picture quality and having lots of built-in video streaming services – including Netflix and Amazon’s UHD streams – then you can get the Sony 55X9005B these days for just £1900/$2,850 and the high dynamic range-capable Samsung UE55JS9000 for around £3100/$4,650. Though of course, neither of these rival TVs features a built-in PVR.

Verdict

The Connect 55 isn’t a perfect picture performer, and its lack of key streamed video services is pretty painful. It does, though, enjoy some of the best video processing we’ve seen, it’s integrated digital video recorder is a boon, and it still delivers Loewe’s trademark premium customisable design and impressive sound – despite being markedly less expensive than previous Loewe TVs would have led us to expect.

Scores In Detail

Design : 9/10
Image Quality : 8/10
Smart TV : 5/10
Sound Quality : 9/10
Value : 8/10

(trustedreviews.com)