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Update January 2018


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Technology
 

Saturday, January 20, 2018 - January 26, 2018

Fear not the alphabet soup of TV features unveiled at CES

In this Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, file photo, attendees stand in front of a QLED TV at the Samsung booth during CES International in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Ryan Nakashima

Las Vegas (AP) - New TVs are coming with an alphabet soup of features designed to get you to spend more.

There’s OLED and 4K, with a dash of HDR. How about QLED and QDEF? Samsung, LG and other TV manufacturers are showcasing new models at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas this week - all with acronyms to set their sets apart.

Fear not. Here’s how to translate the tangle of great-sounding upgrades into plain English.

HD, 4K, 8K

Translation: High definition has 1,920 pixels across and 1,080 vertically. UltraHD, or 4K, has twice as many in both directions - 3,840 across and 2,160 vertically, which gives you four times as many pixels. 8K, primarily promoted by Sharp, offers 7,680 pixels across and 4,320 down.

8K sets are mostly for show for now - with video limited to the occasional experimental broadcast.

The choice between 4K and HD is still a real debate. It all depends on how far away you’ll sit from your TV and how big it is, which we explain with this handy tool at http://interactives.ap.org/2015/tv-buying-guide

OLED

Unpacking the acronym: Organic light-emitting diodes.

Translation: Diodes are circuit elements that can emit light under certain conditions; OLEDs do so using a layer of material based on carbon, which in a technical sense makes them organic. Sets using OLEDs, primarily made by LG, tend to be pricey because these screens are difficult to produce.

Pixels, the individual points that form an image, are self-illuminating and can thus be shut off individually. That means images can have truly black areas - rather than just very dark. Sets also cut down on light spillage in scenes where bright and dark colors are side by side; you see sharper contrast. OLED sets also have a wider viewing angle than regular sets.

But OLEDs aren’t as bright as other displays and can suffer “burn-in” if a static image is left on screen for too long.

MicroLED

Unpacking the acronym: Micro light-emitting diodes.

Translation: Just as with OLEDs, sets with MicroLEDs have self-illuminating pixels, but the material used is slightly different and isn’t organic. Samsung says MicroLEDs are brighter than OLEDs and offer the same benefits of high contrast and deep blacks, without burn-in.

Samsung is unveiling a 146-inch MicroLED set this year. Questions surround their ease of manufacturing and ultimately, their price. Don’t expect to see mass-market availability of this kind of set any time soon.

LCD

Unpacking the acronym: Liquid crystal displays.

Translation: In an LCD screen, the most common form of display, a thin panel of electrically controlled liquid crystals selectively blocks light or lets it through. The light that makes it through passes through red, blue or green filters to form a full spectrum of colors.

The knock on LCDs is that they must be “backlit” by a light source. Don’t be fooled by what are labeled “LED” TVs. These are still LCDs, backlit by LEDs. Because there aren’t as many LED sources behind the pixels as there are pixels, there is still some wash of brightness where bright and dark meet and less than complete darkness in dark shots. Still, many manufacturers tout “local dimming” or special control of the backlights to reduce light spillage.

HDR and HDR10

Unpacking the acronym: High dynamic range using 10 “bits” to represent color gradations.

Translation: Everyone who’s ever used a camera has seen what happens when you under- or over-expose a photo. Either the bright parts wash out the dark parts or everything is too dark. HDR aims to include both the brightest bright parts and the darkest dark parts without letting either dominate the image.

An industry group calls for HDR TVs to display about 1 billion variations of color and brightest brights that are 20,000 times brighter than the darkest parts of the screen image.

Video needs to be streamed in HDR format for you to see the improvements. Some online services are offering new Hollywood hits and their own TV series in HDR, but a lot of video hasn’t been adapted yet.

Dolby Vision and HDR10+

Translation: Dolby pushes the color envelope further using 12 bits of color depth to offer 69 billion color variations. Video also comes with hidden instructions for compatible TV sets to calibrate HDR frame by frame. By contrast, standard HDR and HDR10 offer one setting for the entire video, which may not reflect what’s best for each scene.

There’s no TV set yet able to handle the 12-bit range, just some that use a 10-bit version of Dolby Vision. Sets that incorporate Dolby Vision pay a royalty to Dolby for the technology. Not wanting to go there, Samsung developed something called HDR10+ that offers frame-by-frame HDR but sticks to 10 bits. It’s an open standard, one supported by such major brands as Amazon, Panasonic and 20th Century Fox.

Quantum dots, QLED, QDEF and Q-whatever

Unpacking the acronym: It’s complicated.

Translation: Quantum dots are tiny particles that emit sharp colors based on their particular size. Because the size can be finely tuned, the colors can be very accurate. Also, because they give off color, there’s no more need for filters - at least that’s the promise. Today’s quantum dot sets still do use filters, though because of fine-tuning, they represent reds and greens better than other sets and reduce the amount of power wasted when light gets filtered out.

Beware of the stuff that comes after the Q. While Samsung calls its version QLED, it doesn’t mean it uses OLED screens. Rather, Samsung’s QLED sets are backlit by standard LEDs and have the same problems with light spillage that other LEDs have. QDEF is Hisense’s version, also with light spillage. Quantum dots that actually function like OLEDs, eliminating the need for backlighting, is still a ways off. We’ll get filter-less quantum dot technology before then.


Update January 13, 2018 - January 19, 2018

Facebook launches parent-controlled Messenger app for kids

This photo provided by Facebook demonstrates parental controls on Facebook’s new Messenger app for kids. The free app is aimed at kids under 13, who can’t yet have their own accounts under Facebook’s rules, though they often do. (Courtesy of Facebook via AP)

Barbara Ortutay

New York (AP) - Facebook is coming for your kids.

The social media giant is launching a messaging app for children to chat with their parents and with friends approved by their parents.

The free app is aimed at kids under 13, who can’t yet have their own accounts under Facebook’s rules, though they often do.

Messenger Kids comes with a slew of controls for parents. The service won’t let children add their own friends or delete messages - only parents can do that. Kids don’t get a separate Facebook or Messenger account; rather, it’s an extension of a parent’s account. Messenger Kids came out Monday in the U.S. as an app for Apple devices - the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Versions for Android and Amazon’s tablets are coming later.

A kids-focused experience

While children do use messaging and social media apps designed for teenagers and adults, those services aren’t built for them, said Kristelle Lavallee, a children’s psychology expert who advised Facebook on designing the service.

“The risk of exposure to things they were not developmentally prepared for is huge,” she said.

Messenger Kids, meanwhile, “is a result of seeing what kids like,” which is images, emoji and the like. Face filters and playful masks can be distracting for adults, Lavallee said, but for kids who are just learning how to form relationships and stay in touch with parents digitally, they are ways to express themselves.

Lavallee, who is content strategist at the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University, called Messenger Kids a “useful tool” that “makes parents the gatekeepers.” But she said that while Facebook made the app “with the best of intentions,” it’s not yet known how people will actually use it.

As with other tools Facebook has released in the past, intentions and real-world use do not always match up. Facebook’s live video streaming feature, for example, has been used for plenty of innocuous and useful things, but also to stream crimes and suicides.

Hooked on Facebook

Is Messenger Kids simply a way for Facebook to rope in the young ones?

Stephen Balkam, CEO of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute, said “that train has left the station.”

Federal law prohibits internet companies from collecting personal information on kids under 13 without their parents’ permission and imposes restrictions on advertising to them. This is why Facebook and many other social media companies prohibit younger kids from joining. Even so, Balkam said millions of kids under 13 are already on Facebook, with or without their parents’ approval.

He said Facebook is trying to deal with the situation pragmatically by steering young Facebook users to a service designed for them.

Marketing matters

Facebook said Messenger Kids won’t show ads or collect data for marketing, though it will collect some data it says are necessary to run the service. Facebook also said it won’t automatically move users to the regular Messenger or Facebook when they get old enough, though the company might give them the option to move contacts to Messenger down the line.

James Steyer, CEO of the kids-focused non-profit group Common Sense, said that while he liked the idea of a messaging app that requires parental sign-ups, many questions remain. Among them: Will it always remain ad-free, and will parents get ads based on the service?

“Why should parents simply trust that Facebook is acting in the best interest of kids?” Steyer said in a statement. “We encourage Facebook to clarify their policies from the start so that it is perfectly clear what parents are signing up for.”


Update Saturday, Jan. 6 - Jan. 12, 2018

Here are your options if YouTube vanishes from Amazon gizmos

This file photo shows an Amazon Fire TV streaming device with its remote control. On Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, Google announced plans to pull its popular YouTube video service from Amazon’s Fire TV and Echo Show devices in an escalating feud that has caught consumers in the crossfire. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Anick Jesdanun

New York (AP) - Attention Fire TV owners: YouTube might soon disappear from your Amazon streaming device. But you’ll still have options.

Google is threatening to pull YouTube from Fire TV by Jan. 1, the latest round in a fierce battle between the two tech heavyweights. If that happens, Fire TV owners can still watch on a phone, tablet or personal computer. That includes an Amazon Fire tablet, as Google hasn’t threatened to block that yet.

For those willing to abandon Fire TV, just about any other device will play YouTube. Not all of them will play video from Amazon, although Apple TV just got Amazon’s app Wednesday.

Here are some reasons you might want to stick with Fire TV - and some you might not.

The case for Fire TV

YouTube was never the centerpiece of Fire TV to begin with. It’s not even a full-fledged app on Fire TV - just a link to a YouTube website designed for mobile devices.

Fire TV itself is best seen as a companion to Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime loyalty program. Although Amazon has gotten better about promoting rival services, video available through Prime remains prominent.

The device has Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built-in. In addition to weather, sports scores and stock quotes, it offers playback controls for some selected apps. That lets you ask Alexa to forward 30 seconds, for instance.

Amazon’s $40 Fire TV Stick is good for regular, high-definition TV sets. If you have a higher-resolution 4K TV, you’ll want the regular Fire TV for $70. There isn’t a lot of 4K video yet, but the price difference is small compared with what 4K TVs cost.

The regular Fire TV also offers high-dynamic range, which has better contrast and produces brighter whites and darker blacks. Again, HDR video is slowly coming.

On the downside, Fire TV doesn’t offer iTunes or Google Play video - and YouTube may soon join the list. Fire TV’s remote also lacks volume controls, something that’s becoming standard on streaming devices.

Google’s alternative

The current feud centers on Amazon’s refusal to sell some Google devices that compete with Amazon products. That includes Google’s Chromecast, a streaming device that’s cheap but slightly tricky to use, since you have to start video on your iPhone or Android phone and then switch the stream to the TV.

Plenty of video services work with Chromecast - but Amazon doesn’t let its video service work with the Google device.

Google offers other manufacturers its own software for streaming devices called Android TV. On those devices, Google’s YouTube and Play services often get prominent billing in search results, but at least you can get Amazon video. Again, no iTunes.

One of those gadgets is the Shield from Nvidia. It’s pricey, starting at $179, but comes with 4K and HDR. You get voice searches through Google’s Assistant - playback controls with some apps, weather info and some data you might never think to ask a TV, such as flight status.

Shield is powerful and designed with gamers in mind; one feature allows screen sharing of game play. A package that includes a game controller costs $20 more. The controller gives you a headphone jack for private listening and hands-free queries with Google Assistant.

Playing nice with both

Roku has one of the most complete channel libraries - more than 5,000, many of which you’ve never heard of. You can get YouTube, Google Play and Amazon video, but not iTunes.

Roku’s Express sells for just $30. The $50 Streaming Stick gets you a remote with volume buttons and voice search - though we’re talking basic queries related to shows and apps, not playback controls or information such as weather. The $70 Streaming Stick Plus adds 4K and HDR. Bells and whistles in the $100 Ultra include a remote that will emit a sound to help you find it under your couch cushions.

The Ultra’s remote has a headphone jack, so you can watch TV without waking up roommates. For cheaper models, you can get that through Roku’s smartphone app. (With Fire TV and Apple TV, you can pair wireless headphones.)

For Apple fans

Apple TV is the only device to support iTunes. It also has YouTube, but not Google Play. Amazon joined Apple TV on Wednesday.

Though an iPhone isn’t required, Apple TV will be most useful with one. The basic device is $149; a version with 4K and HDR costs $30 more. You’re paying for the experience - in particular, integration and syncing with other Apple gadgets. For instance, you can type passwords on an iPhone instead of navigating a keyboard on the TV.

Siri offers similar playback controls and information queries as Alexa and Google Assistant. The touchpad on the remote offers faster forwarding and rewinding than rivals.

And while all streaming devices offer more than just video, Apple TV goes much further in offering an iPhone-like experience on a big screen. You can browse Ikea’s catalog or order food from Grubhub, for instance.
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Fear not the alphabet soup of TV features unveiled at CES


Facebook launches parent-controlled Messenger app for kids


Here are your options if YouTube vanishes from Amazon gizmos


 



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