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    Searching for Home Theater 3D Audio That Doesn’t Suck

    Dolby 7.1 surround sound was pretty easy for me to resist; $700 plus for a new AV Receiver and another $700 in speakers to add two more channels behind my head? Nope. I'm good sticking with 5.1 surround sound. So to even think about 9.1? Hah!

    But Atmos, Dolby's latest sound technology seems a lot more impressive, and may be a lot harder to resist. Think of it, literally, as 3D audio. The system is designed to deliver sound from above you, not just around you. When utilized properly, it fills a room with sound, and gives filmmakers the tools to place individual sounds exactly where they want them in the theater space and move them around.

    And, unlike 3D movies, I don't think it's a sucktastic gimmick. (All due apologies to Mr. Cameron and Avatar, but, most movies didn't do 3D nearly so well.)

    That said, this was going to be a really simple column. Dolby Atmos sounds really cool, but my fear was that you would have to spend a grand or more on a receiver that supports Atmos. And then you'd have to mount FOUR speakers in your ceiling. And there's not much content mixed for it yet. Like 7.1, it could be an easy pass.

    Turns out I was wrong on two of those counts. You can have Atmos even if you a) don't have all the money, and b) aren't allowed to cut holes or pull cable through the ceiling (with caveats). But before we talk bargain receivers and Atmos enabled speakers, let's talk about the Atmos technology itself.

    The Best Fitness Tracker Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

    If you're looking for the best way to track your activity and exercise, the $150 Fitbit Charge HR is the fitness tracker we'd recommend for most people. According to our tests—which included 60 hours of research and 10 days of real-world testing—the Charge HR is more accurate at counting steps than most other wrist-worn trackers, and it works seamlessly with Fitbit's popular social ecosystem. It has continuous heart rate monitoring for both resting and active use; automatically activated sleep tracking with vibrating alarms; and a legible OLED screen with caller ID. And unique among trackers in this price range, the Charge HR uses a strap modeled after a traditional watch band, which means it won't fall off accidentally.

    For a deeper dive into the full research and testing we did on our picks, (as well as a longer list of trackers we looked at), check out our full version of this guide.

    Show and Tell: Mpow Streambot Bluetooth FM Transmitter

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares a car accessory that has been essential in numerous road trips this year. If you don't have bluetooth or a line-in jack for media in your car, the Mpow Streambot FM transmitter is an easy way to play podcasts and music over your stereo system. The Wirecutter recently selected it as a great Bluetooth car stereo pick for music streaming! (Thanks to B&H for providing the One Man Crew system for this video. Find out more about it here!)

    Show and Tell: Favorite Helping Hands Set

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares with us his new favorite set of helping hands for the workshop. We've all see those small third-hand tools sold at electronics and craft stores, but the best set is the one we've used at Adam's shop. This precision tool is made for jewelers, and are great for big soldering projects too. (Thanks to B&H for providing the One Man Crew system for this video. Find out more about it here!)

    Tested Builds: ErgoDox Mechanical Keyboards, Part 1

    Time for another Tested Build series! All this week, Will and Norm are going to work on building their own mechanical keyboards, using parts sourced from the ErgoDox design. These split ergonomic keyboards can be customized to use your favorite mechanical key switches, with potential for modding. In this first episode, we go over all the components and start assembly! (Follow along the rest of this week of build by joining the Tested Premium member community here!)

    Tested In-Depth: Connected LED Light Bulbs

    The cost of switching your incandescent or CFL bulbs to LED ones is lower than ever, and new technology is making it more practical to buy connected bulbs. We sit down to discuss the state of the "smart home," review several connected LED bulbs, and talk about the potential benefits of using smart locks. What are your thoughts on connected home devices?

    The Best Bluetooth Car Stereo Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

    We spent 80 hours researching more than 60 Bluetooth-equipped car stereo receivers, surveyed hundreds of Wirecutter readers, and bench-tested a half-dozen front-runners to see which models were the easiest to use and offered the best bang for the buck. The $100 Pioneer MVH-X370BT is the one we'd recommend for most people. It doesn't have a CD player, but it does have the best Bluetooth smartphone support, easiest setup, and the simplest interface out of any of the six finalists we tested—some of which cost over twice as much.

    How we decided

    I started by reading what few car stereo reviews remain from CNET, CarAudioNow, Crutchfield, and customer reviews from Amazon and Best Buy. I then interviewed experts from Crutchfield, about what to look for and conducted a reader survey to figure out what you wanted from a great stereo. This narrowed the list down from the over 100 available options down to a handful of representatives from each major company that places ease of use, robust Bluetooth capabilities, and value above fancier features like satellite radio and touchscreens. We focused on smaller single-DIN units because while you can use a single-DIN stereo in a double-DIN car, the reverse is not true. Also single-DIN units are the most ubiquitous among the population of cars on the road. Eventually I settled on representatives from most of the major brands: Alpine's UTE-52BT; Pioneer's DEH-X8700BS, DEH-X6700BT, MVH-X560BT, and MVH-X370BT; JVC's KD-AR959BS, Kenwood's KDC-X998 and KDC-X598, and Sony MEX-N5000BT.

    The Best SSDs Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If I were buying an SSD to replace a mechanical hard drive or an SSD that's running out of room, I'd get the 500GB Samsung 850 EVO. It has one of the best combinations of price, performance, and capacity of any drive you can get, plus easy-to-use software and a long warranty, and it comes from a company that makes excellent SSDs (and all their components).

    Who's This For?

    Replacing your boot drive with an SSD is one of the easiest ways to make an older computer feel newer and faster. If you've never used one before, you'll be amazed.

    Solid-state drives are three to four times faster than mechanical drives when reading or writing large files, and hundreds of times faster for the small random read and write operations your computer makes most during normal use. Since SSDs don't have any moving parts, they use less power, put out less heat, and don't vibrate. The one downside is that they're more expensive than traditional hard drives, but that price gap is dropping fast.

    You should get an SSD like the 500GB Samsung 850 EVO if you have a laptop or desktop that boots from a mechanical hard drive or a cramped, outdated SSD. It's also a good way to save money on a new laptop. You can usually save several hundred dollars by buying a laptop configured with a mechanical hard drive or small SSD and replacing or augmenting it with a high-capacity SSD. Most people should get the highest-capacity SSD they can afford. Right now 500GB is the sweet spot.

    The State of USB Type-C Accessories

    You have to give the USB Implementers Forum some credit: they weren't kidding when they told us at this year's CES that the new USB Type-C connector would make it to our computers and peripherals real soon. The release of Google's new Chromebook Pixel and Apple's 12-inch MacBook have spearheaded that launch, compelling both cable and computer accessory makers to get compatible products into the marketplace. The good thing about USB Type-C is that it's backwards compatible with previous USB 2 and 3 connectors, so you can do a lot with adapters. It'll also of course work with upcoming USB 3.1 Gen 2 devices, with potential speeds that are double that of USB 3.0 (aka USB 3.1 Gen 1).

    Here are the cables I bought for the MacBook, and the accessories I'm looking forward to testing as the USB Type-C connector gets more widespread adoption. This excludes Apple's $80 USB-C Digital AV multiport adapter (with HDMI, USB-C, and USB-A connections), as that hasn't even shipped yet!

    Testing the Apple Watch: How it Works

    We're starting to test the new Apple Watch for our long-term use review. Today, we run through some common questions about its basic features, how app integration works, connectivity with our phones, and Siri functionality that you can't demo in stores. What questions do you have about the Apple Watch?

    The Best Smart Thermostat

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

    Three years after the Nest Learning Thermostat's debut, the second-gen Nest continues to offer the best combination of style and substance of any thermostat. Its software and apps are solid and elegant, it learns your routines and the particulars of your house, and it's easy to change the temperature from your phone or computer so you won't have to get up from your cozy spot on the couch. It's (still) the best smart thermostat for most people, though the competition is catching up.

    Why a smart thermostat?

    If you upgrade to any smart thermostat after years with a basic one, the first and most life-changing difference will be the ability to control it from your phone. No more getting up in the middle of the night to turn up the A/C. No dashing back into the house to lower the heat before you go on errands (or vacation). No coming home to a sweltering apartment—you just fire up the A/C when your airplane touches down.

    The fact is, a cheap plastic thermostat with basic time programming—the kind we've had for two decades—will do a pretty good job at keeping your house at the right temperature without wasting a lot of money, as long as you put in the effort to program it. But that's the thing: Most people don't.

    Get a smart thermostat if you're interested in saving more energy and exerting more control over your home environment. If you like the prospect of turning on your heater when you're on your way home from work or having your home's temperature adjust intelligently without having to spend time programming a schedule, these devices will do the job. And if your thermostat is placed in a prominent place in your home, well, these devices just look cooler than those beige plastic rectangles of old.

    Android Wear's Second Big Update Adds Wi-Fi Support

    Google today announced a that its Android Wear smartwatch software would be getting a major update in the coming weeks--the second since the platform's launch last year. All seven of the current Android Wear devices will get some of these features, which include a streamlined app list, wrist-flicking gestures, emoji drawing (to send canned symbols, not actual sketches), and always-on apps (like the low-power mode of the watch face). Watches that have a Wi-Fi radio (including many existing models) will get Wi-Fi pairing support, meaning the watch doesn't have to be close to the phone to get updates, as long as they're both connected to the internet.

    Wi-Fi pairing is the feature I'm most excited about, but I would still prefer Google optimize Android Wear for smoother performance over adding new features. After using the Apple Watch in store for a little bit, the UI on my Asus Zenwatch feels sluggish. LG's Watch Urbane will be the first device to get this update, and I expect that rollout to other devices to be just as slow as the last major software patch.

    The Best Bluetooth Kit for Every Car

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If you want Bluetooth in your car but don't want to spend the money and/or time to install a new head unit, you have three options, depending on your car's setup and whether your priority is making phone calls or listening to music. If your car has an aux-in (headphone-jack) setup, we recommend iClever's Himbox HB01 ($30). If you don't have an aux-in port and value call quality over sound, Motorola's Roadster 2 ($80) clip-on speakerphone is the best pick. If you don't have an aux-in jack, and music quality is more important for you than phone calls, get the Mpow Streambot Y FM transmitter for $37.

    Our picks, from left: iClever Himbox HB01, Motorola Roadster 2, Mpow Streambot Y.

    We spent 20 hours researching the latest version of this guide, comparing 10 new units to the 11 we originally tested, to find the best in each category. If you'd like to dig in deeper into what features to look for in a kit, how to deal with whiny audio cables, or you simply want additional picks besides the three mentioned here, visit our full guide.

    How we decided

    The most important thing we looked for when testing was ease of use and how close each kit came to a built-in-Bluetooth experience.

    The most important thing we looked for when testing was ease of use and how close each kit came to a built-in-Bluetooth experience. With that in mind, we set out to find the most promising candidates for each of the three types of kit. For aux-in kits, we eliminated any that required you to use your car's accessory-power outlet for power without also including a USB charger with at least 1-Amp output for charging a phone at the same time; we also eliminated any that didn't have phone-answering functionality, as well as those that had downright awful user reviews. For speakerphones, we focused on units with FM-transmitter capabilities, native voice commands, and the capability to auto-pair. Finally, dedicated FM transmitters were easier to narrow down because not many people make them anymore, and few have positive reviews; we tested only the ones that earned high ratings.

    Show and Tell: Nixie Tube Clock

    For this week's Show and Tell, Norm shares a recent purchase: a relatively inexpensive Nixie tube clock that makes for a beautiful desk display. This clock makes use of Russian IN-14 cold cathode tubes paired with a simple control board with RGB LEDs for color accents. The only thing not included is a cheap 12V power supply you can easily get online.

    Apple Watch Hands-On Demo Impressions

    The Apple Watch is finally available to try in person, so we book the very first appointment at our local store to get a demo and check out the hardware. Norm, Jeremy, and Gary share their impressions from trying on the different models and bands and discuss navigating the UI with the digital crown.

    Testing: Zoom Q8 HD Camera for Podcasting

    I've been looking for the right camera for our mobile podcasting setup ever since we started recording video podcasts away from our studio in 2012. When we first started Still Untitled, we used a GoPro HeroHD 2 to record the show. Over the years, we've upgraded those GoPros to newer models, but have remained pretty dissatisfied with the cameras--they just aren't meant to be used for long videos with lots of talking.

    The action cameras I've tested have a hard time maintaining a consistent clock over long videos, which isn't a problem when you're recording a ride down a mountainside or your first time skydiving, but when you need to sync separate audio and video tracks, it's a huge pain in the ass that involves stretching the duration on either the audio or the video. Most action cams also lack viewfinders, so it's difficult to reliably frame your shot, and all this is compounded by the fact that action cameras simply aren't designed for long shoots. The camera have overheated over 40 minutes of runtime, which causes lost or corrupted video. It isn't a great experience.

    We've tested pro cameras for podcast use before too, including the Panasonic cameras we use in the studio and the Sony PXW-X70 that Joey had on loan from B&H in January. Our aging Panasonics are tied to the proprietary P2 storage cards, which require a special (and very expensive) P2 deck to grab footage from. The Sony camera produced great video and integrated easily into my Premiere Pro-based workflow, but it is much more expensive than I was looking for and is frankly overkill for long, static shots.

    On paper, inexpensive point and shoot cameras seem like the perfect middle ground between inexpensive action cameras and fixed lens prosumer models. We've used Norm's Sony RX100 Mk III for the last half dozen or so episodes of Still Untitled with reasonably good results. However, it's not an ideal solution either. While it's capable of maintaining a constant clock (making A/V sync easy), most point and shoots lack line-level audio inputs and they are universally limited to 30 minute maximum record times, either due to sensor overheating issues (rare) or strange European tariffs (common).

    Enter the Zoom Q8. The Zoom Q8 was designed for exactly the situation we shoot Still Untitled in every week, longer fixed shots where audio is really important. Zoom specifically calls out podcasters, YouTubers and folks who want to record live music from the audience as potential users of this camera. While I can't speak to the latter, the two former use cases are spot on. I've used the Q8 to record three episodes of Still Untitled, and the results are exactly what I was looking for in this type of camera.

    The Best Mechanical Pencils

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com .

    After talking to a half-dozen experts, surveying more than a thousand readers, researching 127 different models, and going hands-on with seven of them, we've discovered that the best general-use mechanical pencil for most people is the $5 uni-ball Kuru Toga. Thanks to an innovative internal mechanism, it'll never get blunt as you write, meaning your words and diagrams will always be at their sharpest and most defined.

    But we know that there are various ways in which people use mechanical pencils. If you have other needs, we have a couple other picks below, and even more in our full guide at the Wirecutter.

    How we decided

    We consulted with aficionados from the thriving network of stationery bloggers, interviewing a half-dozen pencil experts who between them have 36 years of experience covering all manner of writing utensils. We combined this with a survey of more than 1,000 readers to get an idea of what really mattered to people, and between the two methods were able to narrow down from hundreds of pencils on the market to just a handful, each of which were useful for different situation.

    The Best In-Ear Headphones Under $40

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If you're looking for the best in-ear headphones on a budget, get the Brainwavz Delta with Mic. After 32 hours of research on hundreds of in-ear headphones under $40, seriously considering 179, and testing 68 with our panel of audio experts, we found the Brainwavz Deltas are the best for the money. Our panel unanimously voted them the best-sounding of all the ones tested in this category, plus they fit comfortably in most ears, and are a steal at $22. They sound better than the Apple Earpods, so if you're looking to upgrade or replace those, or want something decent and inexpensive, these are your best bet.

    How Did We Choose What To Test?

    After doing research on existing professional reviews, I looked to the user reviews on Amazon, Crutchfield, etc. to see what real people had liked and had come out since our last post.

    We then brought in a faceoff panel consisting of audio professionals and musicians who were asked to listen and give me their top picks. From there we took into account price and features, and in the end, chose a winner.