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    Everything You Need to Know about HDR TVs

    If you follow consumer technology news, you may have noticed increasing mentions of high dynamic range, or HDR. It's a technical term used to express a large range of luminosity in an image. Typically, HDR describes the quality of a photographic image. But it also describes video images--and with recent advancements in display technologies, HDR televisions and monitors are becoming a new confusing option for shoppers. Let's explore what this all means for you if you're in the market for a new display.

    HDR for Still Images

    When you take a picture with a smartphone, DSLR, or anything in between, the image is captured with fixed values for the shutter speed, ISO, exposure value, etc. In short, these all affect how much light the camera captures, and therefore how bright or dark the picture is.

    If you're trying to take a picture of something with an extreme range of luminosity, you will find yourself with details being washed out in bright areas or lost in the shadows of dark areas. Imagine yourself indoors on a sunny day in a room with a large window. Or, looking at a person outside when the sun is behind them. The human eye is able to simultaneously see detail both inside and out, or the person's face despite the sun, but a camera taking a single image at fixed settings cannot.

    It's these types of scenarios you want an HDR image. All high-end smartphones today can create one. Hit the toggle to turn it on, and now your phone magically takes pictures with a better dynamic range. Well, not quite. You've probably noticed that taking a picture on your phone with HDR turned on takes a bit longer. That's because it's actually taking multiple pictures: one overexposed, one underexposed, and one at a normal exposure, and then the camera software stitches them together for one great looking picture.

    To make an HDR image from pictures taken with a DSLR it requires more steps. At the very least multiple images taken at different exposures are needed. Next you'll need image processing software. The most recent versions of both Photoshop and Lightroom from Adobe are capable of automatically creating HDR images. If you don't want to go through the process of manually putting them together with layers and the whole nine yards, you can use the merge to HDR feature and the software will automatically create an HDR image with what you've provided. Some DSLRs can do "in-camera HDR"; merge three bracketed images. However, they won't look as good compared to creating them with computer software.

    No matter the device, or more specifically, the display, you're viewing an HDR image on you can see the benefits. This is thanks to a process called tone mapping. It's a technique used to bring down the dynamic range of an image or video, and can preserve most of the detail while allowing the content to be viewed properly on a standard dynamic range display.

    Tested: Avegant Glyph Personal Theater Headset

    Norm reviews the Avegant Glyph, a headset that uses tiny DLP projectors to put a personal video theater on your face. It's not a virtual reality headset, but has sensors for head-tracking for 3D and 360-degree video from your phone. But the best use of it may be with camera-equipped quadcopters.

    Testing: Avegant Glyph Head-Mounted Display

    The Avegant Glyph is not a virtual reality headset. Despite VR being a hot topic these days, this head-mounted display is just that: a display you wear on your head to watch video and listen to music, kind of like those Sony HMZ and Vuzix Wrap personal theaters that we skip covering at CES. But what makes the Glyph interesting and a better device than those other HMDs is its use of a new kind of display technology--one that's more akin to a home theater projector than a flatpanel. I've been testing the Glyph Founders Edition headset for about a week, and have found it great for comfortably watching video piped from my smartphone on the couch and while lying in bed, but have really enjoyed using it with drones.

    First, let's talk about the unique display technology in the Glyph, which Avegant has been calling a "virtual retinal" display. That's marketing speak for DLP projector tech--Glyph employs two tiny 720p DLP projects that shine and bounce light into your eyes. Each projector shines the equivalent of a million pixels, but those pixels aren't like the individually-lit dots in LCDS or OLEDs, they're light reflected from micro-mirrors. The result is an image that has a very high pixel fill--I can detect basically no screen door effect in the 16:9 image.

    The image doesn't wrap around your entire field of view, though. Glyph's display has a 40 degree FOV, which makes it look like a 75-inch TV in your living room. There's definitely the sense of some space between the image and your eyes as well--which captures some reflected light from the "screen"--which to me looked like sitting in the middle of a big theater with ambient light bouncing off the walls.

    It's fair to wonder why Avegant shipped the Glyph with 720p DLP modules as opposed to TI's new 1080p chipset, and I guess it's due to product development lead times and supply costs. But the good news is that 720p looks really good in the Glyph. With the high pixel fill, pixelization is almost non-existent, though low-bitrate video compression artifacts did stand out. The only place where the resolution is really noticed is in the aliasing of on-screen text, such as when navigating through a connected phone's home screen or trying to browse the web. This is a device made for watching video, not reading e-books.

    Tested In-Depth: Roku 4 Streaming Player

    After testing the Apple TV, we move onto the Roku 4, the first in its family of streaming players to support 4K playback. Patrick Norton and Norm discuss the availability of 4K video on streaming services, the performance of voice search on the new remote, and our problem with Roku's apps. Here's why you're better off sticking to a Roku 4 and saving a few bucks.

    Tested In-Depth: Apple TV (4th Generation)

    After living with the new 4th generation Apple TV for a month, Norm and Patrick Norton evaluate how this set-top box performs against its competition. There's a lot to like about its interface and implementation of video streaming apps, but a few things bug us about its remote design and consistency of voice-control. Here's why it's not the cord-cutting device for everyone.

    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.

    Your TV is Too Small (Why You Should Get a Projector)

    That weird little rainbow circle on a motor thing in the picture below? That's the color wheel for a DLP projector. More to the point, it's the color wheel that's going into my projector. It's twee and fragile, and I'm sure the old one made the tiniest ping when it shattered. I didn't hear it... but I didn't need to. The results were pretty obvious when I fired up the projector to watch a movie, and the screen was 50 shades of grey. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    The wall of grey led to two things. First, I borrowed a gorgeous 55" Samsung Plasma TV. Second, the realization that 55" is way too small for an HDTV when you're used to 100 glorious inches of 1080p color blanketing the wall in my living room.

    We'll talk about the color wheel another time, but it was the 55" TV that got me thinking: most people buy televisions that are way too small for the room they put 'em in. So, my simple advice: buy a bigger TV than you think you need. Seriously. All too many people say "gosh, that thing is huge" or "60 inches? That's ridiculous!" while they're wandering through the TV aisle at Costco or Best Buy.

    This makes some sense. People who grew up with standard definition televisions remember a time when a 37” TV was too big. That’s a fair association; back in the CRT days, 37 inches was massive. A TV that size was also a couple feet deep, so it literally took up a lot of space in the room. And more often than not, living room CRTs were stuffed inside some huge piece of furniture to hide it when it wasn't on--which took up even more space.

    People who grew up with big CRTs need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

    Going much for a bigger screen in the days of VHS and DVD usually meant rear projection. These were massive boxes that hulked against the wall. We're talking a couch worth of floorspace...great for baseball games. Not, to paraphrase Loyd Case, so great for the Spousal Acceptance Factor.

    And in defense of spouses, husband or wife, a big blank 60" screen tends to really overpower a small living room. Which is a shame, because the higher resolution of HDTV (much less UHD/4K) means you can sit much much closer that before bigger screen stops looking really good. A 1080p screen displays 1920x1080 pixels, nearly six times as many pixels as 480i (let's agree that 480i, or 704x480 at 60 interlaced frames is roughly 'standard def' in a digital format). People really need to rewire how their brains think about screen space in relation to TV sizes.

    The Best $500 TV You Can Buy 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 I were looking for a good, inexpensive, 50-inch TV, I’d get the Vizio E500i-B1. It has above-average picture quality—better than many more expensive models—with impressively dark blacks (a rarity in this price range of LCD), bright whites, decent motion resolution, and reasonably accurate colors. It also consistently gets top marks from the best TV reviewers on the web.

    If the Vizio is sold out, or otherwise unavailable, the Panasonic 50AS530U offers almost as good picture quality but costs a bit more money ($600 as of this writing). Its contrast ratio isn’t quite as good as the Vizio, but the motion resolution is decent.

    Who should get this TV?

    If your TV is dying, has died, or you’re looking for something larger, this TV offers pretty good performance for a low price.

    In terms of picture quality, this TV is generally better than most LCDs in this price range. Upgrading to more expensive models will result in better motion resolution, better contrast ratios, and more accurate colors. (In other words, that makes a more lifelike, realistic picture.)

    Keep in mind, though, that for around $500, when it comes to a 50-inch TV, there is no clear winner in terms of picture quality. All have strengths and weaknesses. And stepping down slightly in size doesn’t get you enough of an increase in picture quality to offset the loss in size. So even a great looking 40-inch TV doesn’t look enough better than the Vizio to make up for how much smaller it is.

    The Best TV You Can Buy 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 a really great, solid TV, the Sony X900B series is the one we recommend for most people, plus it has near universal praise from the top reviewers. It has a colorful, rich, vibrant image that is lauded by experts from across the web. It has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market, and has few (if any) real issues.

    It is, however, very expensive: $2,800 for a 55-inch television. So if you don’t absolutely need the best picture quality available today, we have a cheaper recommendation too.

    Who should get this TV?

    Someone looking for the best picture quality currently available without spending even more per-screen-inch on an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV. If you just want a good-looking TV, one that doesn’t have quite the X900B’s contrast, brightness, or resolution, check out our pick for Best $500 TV. If you’re looking for something bigger, consider a projector in $500, $1,000, or $2,500 “Awesome” forms. These will give you a great and significantly larger image than any TV.

    The Best Projector Screen 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

    The Best Projector Screen for most people is the $200 Silver Ticket 100”, which I found after spending 90 hours building (or painting) screens, watching movies and TV, taking measurements, and comparing them side-by-side. The Silver Ticket is easy to assemble, available in a variety of sizes, and has a surface that is relatively neutral. There are screens that are better, or cheaper, but none offer the balance and value the Silver Ticket does.

    How We Decided

    We set out to review 100-inch, 16:9 screens, with as close to 1.0 gain as possible (reflecting the same amount of light that hits the screen). This is a good-sized, “average” screen that works for most people. You can go larger, though the image will be dimmer. As almost any modern projector can create a bright image on a 100-inch screen, a gain of 1.0 is fine.

    To test the contenders, every screen was built and tested in my home theater room. I used an Epson 5020UBe projector combined with a Lumagen Radiance 2021 video processor to make the projector as accurate as possible. Using a spectrometer and a colorimeter I measured the images off the lens, then off the screen, to see how much of a color shift each screen introduced and calculate the actual gain. I watched a variety of things on each screen to look for sparkles, hotspots, texture, or other issues.

    The Best Blu-ray Player Today

    After spending almost 20 hours with the best new Blu-ray players for 2014, the $90 LG BP540 came out on top after our previous pick was discontinued. The LG fits our criteria for a good player thanks to integrated Wi-Fi and the most popular streaming apps. More importantly, it has a better interface and video quality than the competition and offers the best combination of price and performance of those we looked at.

    Who am I to make that claim? I’ve been handling almost all the Blu-ray reviews for Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity since 2010 and have had nearly three dozen players come through my hands. I’ve subjected them to countless objective and subjective tests. I’ve even thrown them on a $15,000 HDMI Analyzer to verify their performance. Often, as is the case with the LG, the picture from a cheap player is 100 percent identical to an $8,000 player’s.

    If the LG BP540 sells out, the $90 Sony BDP-S3200 is our runner-up choice that is almost as good. The menu system is more confusing than our top pick’s and the overall interface leaves a lot to be desired, but it offers a wide selection of streaming content, and Blu-ray content does very well. Be warned, though: The Sony shows some jaggies while watching DVD content with diagonal lines.

    With more expensive players, you’re usually paying for better CD playback quality or niche features. Along those lines, and if you also want the absolute best in audio and video quality, the $600 Oppo BDP-103D is the best high-end player you can buy. It has better DVD scaling than any other tested player, performs flawlessly even with foreign content and weird frame rates, and supports all audio formats as well. The integrated Darbee video processing is a favorite of most reviewers, including video purists, and Oppo has better service and support than other companies. For most people, though, the price difference isn’t justified.

    Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured.

    If you only want Blu-ray playback and don’t care about streaming whatsoever, the Samsung BD-H5100 is our step-down choice at $63. It does fine with Blu-ray content and the lack of Wi-Fi saves you some money, though it also means you’ll have to perform firmware updates manually or have hardwired Ethernet to do so. You’ll want to have updated firmware since it may affect your ability to play newer Blu-ray discs in the future.

    Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured, but alas, it is not. It was less expensive than the LG, had the same streaming options, and loaded discs faster. If you bought our pick from last year, or you happen to find it somewhere on closeout, there is no real need to upgrade.

    The Best Television You Can Buy Today

    If I was in the market for an awesome television, I’d get the Samsung F8500 series, either in 51-, 60-, or 64-inch sizes (about $1,800, $2,400, or $3,100, respectively). This is a fantastic looking television, with a punchy brights, deep darks, lifelike and accurate color, excellent detail, and great performance in rooms with lots of light. While pricey, it has one of the best pictures of any TV in recent years according to all the major TV reviewers.

    The F8500 is likely the last great plasma TV (more on this later). We think that those looking for the “best” TV will love the F8500. Its combination of a bright image, dark black levels (and correspondingly high contrast ratio), lack of motion blur, and highly realistic color make for an addictively gorgeous image.

    If it doesn’t fit the bill, we have some other options that may suit you. However, this is still early in the year for TV reviews, so we strongly recommend you wait if you can. We can recommend some “good” TVs, but we won’t know what’s the (truly) best runner-up until more models are reviewed.

    The Samsung F300 is a good step-down pick if you want to save at least $1,000 (or more, depending on which size you buy). It’s not as bright and doesn’t have as good contrast ratio as our pick, but it still has very good picture quality.

    If stepping down, we recommend the F5300 from Samsung, which costs much less, though it doesn’t have quite the same level of picture quality. It comes in 51-inch ($1,000 cheaper), 60-inch($1,500 cheaper), and 64-inch ($1,800 cheaper) screen sizes. The F5300 isn’t as bright as the F8500, doesn’t have as good a contrast ratio, and doesn’t look as good in bright rooms, but still has very good picture quality.

    If saving a lot of money is your goal, we recommend getting our pick for Best $500 TV, which is only 720p but has excellent picture quality for the price. And it is, you know, $500. Similar to the F5300, the F4500 (our $500 pick) isn’t as bright as the F8500, nor is its contrast ratio as high. And it’s got that lower resolution of 720p (the F8500 and F5300 are both 1080p sets). So the F8500 looks a lot better, for a lot more money.

    The Best 4K Monitor Doesn't Exist Yet

    Like 1080p before it, 4K is the new, ultra-high-resolution format that promises better detail and greater image clarity due to the huge number of pixels packed into your screen. “Buttery-smooth text rendering and wonderfully detailed photos,” promises MakeUseOf. Just consider the quality differences between Apple’s Retina Display MacBooks and its standard MacBooks: it's the same pixel-increasing principle.

    That said, we don’t think it’s the right time to buy one.

    While most 4K monitors are still very expensive, we’re starting to see a growing number priced under $1,000: Samsung’s $700 U28D590D, Dell’s $700 P2815Q, and Asus’ $650 PB287Q are already available. Intel and Samsung even recently announced a partnership where they’ve pledged to try and push high-quality, 23-inch 4K monitors to a super-low price of $399. We think it’s worth waiting for some of that to pan out rather than pushing for an expensive early-adopter monitor right now (though you’d be foolish to buy a 24-inch 4K display, we can only hope that Intel and Samsung’s ambitions can push down prices on larger displays).

    Even expensive 4K monitors struggle with the same major weaknesses right now: outdated display connections, beefy hardware requirements, and lack of OS/application support. Cheap 4K monitors can have all those problems and more, sacrificing image quality in order to cut costs.

    TV Quest 2014: Shopping for a Bedroom Television

    A month ago, I decided that I needed a TV for my bedroom. And then two weeks later, I bought that TV, a 40-inch Vizio E400i-B2. As far as "TV Quests" go, it was a relatively short process from shopping research to purchase. Not because I was in a rush to buy a TV, or because I didn't care about the quality of the set. What I found is that finding the right TV for your needs is actually easier than ever. With guides like those on TheWirecutter and a plateauing of unnecessary optional features for 1080p sets, it's not difficult to match up your shopping criteria with what's available on the market. The hurdle to TV shopping is coming to terms with what you need, and having an understanding of how those requirements are addressed by the various TV manufacturers. More often than not, that also means adjusting your expectations and preconceptions of those needs when you see the TV in person.

    This is a walkthrough of how I came to choose the Vizio set, how using it has changed my perception of built-in apps, and why I bought my TV in store at a brick and mortar store instead of ordering one online.

    The Best $500 Projector Today

    If I were in the market for a $500 projector, I’d buy the Acer H5380BD. I base this on 40 hours of research and objective testing with over $20,000 of test gear and side-by-side comparisons with the main competition. The H5380BD offers the best overall picture quality in its class; minus a slight resolution bump (720p down from 1080p), our pick here is surprisingly comparable to our $1,000 projector pick. The H5380BD is bright, has a decent contrast ratio, and its color accuracy is similar to other projectors in its price range

    Fed decent video content (like Blu-ray), the H5380BD puts out an extremely watchable image. And its input lag is low—faster than most TVs and high-end projectors—making it a good choice for gaming.

    However, the difference between several runners-up was very close. The H5380BD is very similar to the $389 Vivitek D557W and $604 D803W. All perform reasonably well, given their prices, and each has its own picture quality issues. So while we feel the H5380BD is the best for reasons we’ll explain in this guide, the difference between it and its two main competitors is very close.

    The Acer H5380BD compares well to our favorite $1,000 projector for half the price. It’s bright, has good contrast ratio, and has great overall picture quality.

    If for whatever reason the Acer becomes unavailable temporarily, we recommend getting the aforementioned $389 Vivitek D557W. It doesn’t look quite as good, with slightly more washed out colors and a lower contrast ratio, but its picture quality is fairly similar, just as bright, and a bit cheaper.

    If you’re susceptible/hateful of the DLP artifact known as “rainbows,” check out the Epson 730HD. It’s brighter than our pick but has a much worse contrast ratio, so it doesn’t look as good overall. It’s LCD, though, so no rainbows.

    If you have a small room or want a “short throw” projector that only needs to be a few feet from the screen, consider the $589 Optoma GT760. It puts out a similar image to the Acer and Vivitek, but isn’t as suitable for a more traditional projector/screen placement.

    The Best Indoor HDTV Antenna (For Cities) Today

    According to our tests, the HD Frequency Cable Cutter is the best-performing indoor antenna you can buy if you live in the thick of a city. It outperformed 12 other models in midtown Manhattan as part of a test pool that included both amped and unamped antennas.

    In Manhattan, the unamped Cable Cutter pulled in the most stations with very little interference and offered a perfect-looking picture for many channels. The antenna also fared well in our follow-up tests in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area.

    However, it’s worth noting that the antenna didn’t perform well in our Brooklyn tests, where it finished near the bottom of the pack (although it performed decently in subsequent Chicago and Bay Area suburban tests). This antenna is also pretty big, costs $90 to $100, and doesn’t come with a stand.

    If you live more than 10 miles from a broadcast tower, have a ground-level unit, or care how your antenna looks in your living room, you should go with one of the better-amped models that also did well in our tests: the Mohu Curve 50 or the budget but high-performing Monoprice 7976 MDA Indoor/Outdoor Antenna With Low Noise Amplifier.

    The Trouble with Antenna Recommendations

    TV antennas are notoriously hard to recommend; a recent Consumer Reports roundup concluded that they couldn’t really rank antennas based on performance.

    You might be best off trying the cheapest antenna and then upgrading to our higher-priced recommendation if the cheapie isn’t up to snuff.

    That’s because there are a lot of variables to consider: how close you are to a broadcast tower, which direction your window is facing, how many tall buildings are between you and the transmitter, what the terrain is like in your immediate environment, which stations are most important to you, how much you’re willing to spend, and whether you care what the antenna looks like. When you throw in the unpredictable performance variations between locations, it’s nearly impossible to come up with a “one size fits all” pick.

    We knew all this going into our tests, but that’s exactly why we wanted to take on the challenge. So while we recommend the Cable Cutter and the two alternate picks for city-dwelling folks, be prepared to experience very different results in your own location. You might be best off trying the cheapest antenna you can find, seeing how it performs, and then upgrading to our higher-priced recommended models if the cheapie isn’t up to snuff.

    The Lasting Legacy of the DIVX Disc

    Do you remember the DIVX disc? DIVX, not to be confused with the video codec DivX, was a movie rental scheme that Circuit City and some law firm cooked up to try and disrupt the video rental market five years before Netflix existed.

    For $4 or $5, you could buy a movie on a DIVX disc at Circuit City, Good Guys, Futureshop, or another retailer, then take it home to watch it in a special DIVX player. The player would connect to the Internet using a dial-up phone line and authorize your player to watch that movie for a short period of time. You could watch the movie as many times as you wanted during that window, but once your time was up, you'd have to "rent" the movie again for a few more bucks.

    Photo credit: Flickr user weirdo513 via Creative Commons, from PAX East 2011.

    Sound familiar?

    DIVX ultimately failed, likely because of the upfront cost and quality issues with the actual films. To play the discs, you had to buy a player that cost $100-150 more than a DVD-only player, and you had to run a dedicated phone line to the box. Most DIVX versions of movies were lower quality than their DVD counterparts. The DIVX discs usually contained cropped pan-and-scan version of the film, rather than the anamorphic widescreen that was becoming common on DVDs. The discs also lacked extra features--they didn't contain making-of documentaries, deleted scenes, or audio commentaries.

    People also had privacy and ecological concerns with the format. We feared that the DIVX player would spy on their behavior, uploading their disc viewing activities during its regular calls into the DIVX mothership. There were also concerns about the wastefulness of a disc-based format designed for single viewing. After the rental period expired, the discs were essentially worthless, and people were concerned that if DIVX succeeded, our landfills would end up filled with one-use plastic discs with copies of Speed 2: Cruise Control and Enemy of the State.

    Photo courtesy eBay user imodify.

    So if DIVX was such a bad idea, why am I talking about it today? It started with this Twitter post, from Dave Pell. Dave, who is responsible for the excellent Next Draft newsletter, is one of many people who have complained about the hidden catch of the 24-hour time limit. His complaint is that when he starts watching a film on a weeknight evening, if he doesn't finish it during that sitting, he won't have a chance to come back to it until the 24-hour rental period has expired. Unless he pays another $6, he'll never see the nail-biting conclusion to The Adjustment Bureau. I wanted to find the origin of the 24-hour rental window, as it exists on iTunes, Amazon's Instant Video, the Google Play store, Microsoft's Xbox Video, and pretty much every other on-demand video rental service I've seen*.

    In Search of Scanlines: The Best CRT Monitor for Retro Gaming

    [Editor's note: This story was originally published on July 11, 2013. We're resurfacing it this week as part of our tribute to the great feature work that writer Wes Fenlon has done with Tested, as he embarks on his new career in games journalism.]

    Is there such a thing as the best television set ever made? If so, would that honor go to today's incredibly thin 80-inch OLED flatscreens? Or the 4K-resolution television sets just arriving on the market, which pack in 6,220,800 more pixels than 1080p screens? Defining "best" is difficult. A higher density of pixels allows 4K TVs to display a more detailed picture, but what happens when you plug in an old Super Nintendo, which outputs a mere 57,344 pixels? Poor Super Mario World has to be upscaled to more than eight million pixels, and the resulting image can look terrible--blocky, blurry, and all but indistinguishable from how it looked on a CRT TV back in 1994.

    Adopting new television technology means saying goodbye to the advantages of older hardware. And yes, there are advantages. There's no such thing as a best TV for all eras of content. But here's a question that's actually possible to answer: What's the best display specifically for retro video games?

    Photo credit: Flickr user artemiourbina via Creative Commons

    Now we've got some parameters to work with. The TV needs to handle low resolution inputs at the proper framerate and aspect ratio, without lag, and with accurate colors. And, of course, it needs to be able to have visible horizontal scanlines, a defining visual element of the way retro games were seen and played.

    Out of thousands and thousands of models, the single best TV for retro games is quite possibly the Sony BVM-20F1U, a 20-inch broadcast production monitor that cost about $10,000 when it was introduced in the late 1990s. It is, of course, a CRT, and it's a 15khz display, meaning the highest resolution signal it accepts is 576 interlaced lines, or 576i. That limitation, however, makes it absolutely perfect for everything from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the first PlayStation.

    In fact, it may be a little too perfect.

    "The problem is that most people [in the 80s and 90s] had television sets at home which in no way resemble what a high-end CRT looks like if used today," writes Tobias Reich, who has been experimenting with video hardware for more than a decade. "For example, take this comparison shot (both taken from real CRTs): you get a high-end Sony BVM on the left and an arcade Nanao 15khz chassis on the right. Quite a difference, right?"

    Image courtesy Fudoh/Hazard-City.de

    On his website Hazard-City.de, Tobias Reich--who goes by the handle Fudoh online--has been compiling a 40,000 word (and counting) guide to deinterlacing, scaling, and processing game console video since 2008. He's also a regular poster at the shmups.system11.org forums, which he calls "the best hardware discussion board on the net." The shmups forums offer a window into the world of diehard collectors, who hunt for old CRTs and expensive scaling hardware, and then tweak, tweak, tweak in search of that perfect picture.

    48 FPS and Beyond: How High Frame Rate Films Affect Perception

    [Editor's note: This story was originally published on Dec 20th, 2012. We're resurfacing it this week as part of our tribute to the great feature work that writer Wes Fenlon has done with Tested, as he embarks on his new career in games journalism.]

    Bilbo Baggins waddles down the dimly lit hallway of his cozy hobbit hole, its cramped quarters at once instantly familiar, though they've lain dormant since 2003's Return of the King. Familiar, yet something feels off. The old hobbit moves too quickly, and as he opens a chest, peering fondly at the relics of his adventures collected within, I expect him to pull out a well-worn trinket and suddenly appear on the set of Antiques Roadshow. Or to reminisce himself into a flashback and be carried away into a PBS revolutionary war reenactment, where Bilbo's outfit wouldn't look entirely out of place.

    In its opening moments, The Hobbit's 48 frames per second cinematography overwhelmingly reminds me of a public broadcast television program, filmed at a slightly-too-fast 30 frames per second.

    Since silent films gave way to talkies in the 1920s, the frame rate of 24 frames per second has become standard in the film industry. 24 fps is not the minimum required for persistence of vision--our brains can spin 16 still images into a continuous motion picture with ease--but the speed struck an easy balance between affordability and quality. For the past century, cinema has trained us to recognize 24 frames per second as a reflection of reality. Or, at least, a readily acceptable unreality.

    Doubling that speed to 48 frames per second removes the motion blur and strobing of fast-moving images, argued Peter Jackson in 2011. "3D shows you a window into reality; the higher frame rate takes the glass out of the window," said James Cameron. But to the average viewer, 48 fps looks like an exaggerated version of a television program shot at the common video tape speed of 30 fps.

    The stigma around higher frame rates leads to an important, and extremely complicated, question about how we perceive film: Why does 48 frames per second look so weird?

    "[Film] is the medium we're exposed most to in our everyday life and it has evolved very rapidly in the last 100 years to permeate all aspects of visual culture. And yet so little is actually known of the psychology of viewers and how we make sense of what's presented on the screen in front of us," says Tim J. Smith, a lecturer in the psychological sciences department at Birkbeck University in London. Smith specializes in film cognition, studying how our brains process images and how perception interacts with the world of film.

    In studying film cognition, Smith worked to link the language of film--moviemaking conventions and guidelines like the 180 degree rule--to their cognitive foundations. He came up with the attentional theory.

    "The basic idea is that in the first few decades that film was around, at the start of the 20th century, filmmakers went through a rapid phase of self-experimentation," he says. "There were so many things they could do with the camera and with editing that they would try out things and see how they worked on themselves and see how audiences liked it. What they were doing was seeing which techniques were acceptable to their own visual system, which things made it easier for them to see what was happening on the screen and to make sense of the narrative. The things they experimented with that didn't work didn't get picked up by other filmmakers, so they died out very rapidly. You had this very rapid standardization towards how to shoot a scene and actually edit it together."

    After about 90 years, that standard of the film language may be rewritten.

    Part of that standardization was the frame rate of 24 frames per second. Now, after about 90 years, that part of the film language may be rewritten. The audience will have to learn to read again--and judging by The Hobbit's 48 fps presentation, filmmakers will likewise have to relearn how to write. Smith helped shed some light on the psychology of high frame rate film and why our brains so vehemently reject it. Read on.