5 min read.Updated: 25 Jan 2014, 11:30 AM ISTGopal Sathe
Audio and video technology is getting better, and cheaper too. We try the latest options
Recent developments in technology mean that this is a great time to set up a high-end home theatre system, with new and relatively affordable systems that are probably miles ahead of what you already have at home.
After a disappointing turn towards 3D, we’re seeing TV makers return to the same differentiator that worked for them last time—a higher resolution. While the first ultra high-definition (UHD) TVs appeared at the start of 2013, most manufacturers focused on the highest of high-end buyers, with prices of over ₹ 15 lakh being the norm.
Today, 4K TVs have gotten smaller, and significantly cheaper. For example, while Samsung’s 85-inch UHD LED TV, the 85S9, is available for ₹ 28 lakh, the honestly stunning 55-inch UE55F9000 is priced at around one-tenth the price, ₹ 3.29 lakh.
Meanwhile, we’re also seeing brands like Creative, which were focused on the mass-market consumer audio, start to sell speakers with “audiophile drivers". The Creative T4 Wireless isn’t going to worry the high-end brands too much but the little speakers do deliver impressive sound at a price that’s around half of what many audiophile brands start at.
Read on for our detailed impressions of the Creative T4 Wireless and the Samsung F9000:
Creative T4 Wireless
Creative has been in the audio business for years now, but it’s not a well-known audiophile brand per se. With its new T4 wireless though, the company has created a set of speakers that will definitely help build its reputation.
The T4 has a reasonable-sized subwoofer and two small mids, or mid-range speakers. The subwoofer has ports to connect to the mids, and also takes the standard audio and digital optical inputs. There’s also a control pod that connects to a port in the back of the subwoofer, which you keep next to you. It has an additional auxiliary input for a standard 3.5mm jack, the Bluetooth button which you’ll use to connect the speakers to a phone wirelessly, and a headphone port so you can easily plug your headset in when you want to. The same control pod also has the power button, source button and volume control. The bass can be adjusted by a separate dial on the subwoofer.
The mids are extremely loud given how small and unobtrusive they are—you can easily fill a 20x20ft room with clear sound. Even at high volumes, the mids remained extremely clear, and watching movies and playing video games worked well on the system. The subwoofer starts off well, but at maximum volume starts to lose just a little clarity—this is particularly apparent when watching an action movie, or playing a shooter game where there’s a lot of gunfire.
There are definitely better-sounding options in the market right now—but most established audiophile brands also cost more. A purist might prefer to spend another ₹ 10,000 though, and get a pair of exceptional bookshelf speakers instead of this 2.1 system.
Creative also suggests that gamers might want to buy the T4—while the audio is indeed excellent and balances well for gaming, gamers might prefer to buy a full surround sound system instead for the same price, trading audio quality for immersion. And if you’d rather not deal with a dozen wires, then a soundbar from Bose or Philips makes sense for when you want to want to listen to music from your phone.
Despite these shortcomings, the Creative T4 Wireless is a pretty good option when you’re looking for a multipurpose device: You can tweak a few settings to have something that plays your music and then fills up the room when you play a video game.
Samsung’s new TV is four times sharper than your HDTV
This is the smallest UHD TV from Samsung in the market right now, and most experts say that 55 inches is the threshold at which the human eye is able to start differentiating between full HD and ultra HD, from a normal viewing distance of 6ft.
The F9000 is running at 3,840x2,160 pixels, double the vertical and horizontal pixels of full HD, and the jump in clarity is as significant as it was from the old cathode ray tube TVs to the first HDTVs.
And the difference is definitely stunning. The 4K TV is sharper than you’d imagine possible—it’s like looking through a window. The effect is more pronounced the closer you get to the screen. Even from as close as 3ft, the picture is perfectly clear. One of the examples was a city scene, where the lines of windows in a skyscraper and the cars on the ground looked perfectly clear. In close-up shots of people’s faces, the effect can be a bit jarring—it’s like looking at them through a magnifying glass.
Of course, all this is entirely dependent on your having UHD video content—HD has only just become the norm, almost a decade after HDTVs started appearing. This was the same problem that 3D faced. The big difference is of course that you can watch a UHD video without having to wear special glasses, or sit at highly specific angles.
Aside from the amazing display, Samsung’s television has a lot of other features too. Lower resolution picture is “enhanced", and while it’s a far cry from actual UHD content, there is an improvement in clarity. It can also convert 2D content to 3D, even in UHD. This is less impressive than it sounds, frankly, but if you really want everything to be in 3D, you have the option.
The TV also includes a 5 MP camera, which can be used for video chats, or even to take pictures. Face-recognition software is built in, and the camera can be used to automatically log you in to Facebook and Twitter as well—the TV is Wi-Fi enabled, and like Samsung’s earlier smart TVs, has apps for social networks, and streaming services like YouTube and BigFlix. Audio output is pretty good for a TV, though anyone buying a TV at this price is likely to have a dedicated sound system too.
The AllShare feature also means that you can use high-end Galaxy phones from Samsung (the S3, S4, Note 2 and Note 3) and send content from the phone to the TV—to watch movies stored on your phone, for example—and also from the TV to the phone. This means, for example, that one person could watch a movie on the TV, while your set-top box’s video is streamed via Wi-Fi to your phone.
At the end of the day though, all the extra features are just so much window-dressing—the real, killer feature is the resolution. And it’s as big a difference as the switch from SD to HD.