Excellent Picture & Price!
A relative newcomer in the LCD television space has started shipping a new edge-lit model that features 3840-by-2160 pixels (aka 4K resolution) spread across a 50-inch display. The Seiki SE50UY04 LED TV packs four-times as many pixels into its picture compared to a regular 1080p resolution TV, and all of those 8-million pixels can be fed via a single HDMI connection. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the SE50UY04 is its $1500 MSRP - a fraction of the price of the other 4K screens that are now trickling onto store shelves.
Is this 4K bargain worth it? I give it a qualified 'yes', but there are some aspects of Seiki's design that will influence your decision to add one to your A/V aresenal.
Inputs are located on the rear of the set and include three HDMI, one component video, and a USB port for basic JPG/MP3 playback. For a value-priced 4K television, I was pleased to see a HDMI cable included in the box - a nice touch. Note the SE50UY04's lack of a network connection - one reason Seiki televisions are attractively priced is that they do away with "premium" HDTV features like 3D and app support.
Sources of 4K video remain scarce and quality varies wildly - YouTube has a few 4K clips ready to stream to anyone with the available bandwidth and hardware. PCs equipped with the latest AMD and Nvidia desktop graphics cards can also experience 4K output via a single HDMI connection. 4K movies are coming soon...Sony recently announced a 4K Media Player, but it has been reported that this product will only work with Sony 4K televisions. And, as was the case with viewing DVD movies on an HDTV, the latest generation of Blu-ray players are incorporating 4K upconversion. It may be sometime before we have a 4K broadcast television standard, but new compression technologies like H.265 are enabling 4K video transmission in the same space as a regular HD channel.
In the lab, the Seiki SE50UY04 LED TV revealed a decent factory grayscale calibration with the TV's Movie picture preset enabled. Note the delta-E average of 1.97 as indicated in the CalMAN 5 screenshot below - all grayscale errors were below the maximum acceptable value of 3 indicating decent color consistency from light-to-dark shades.
Video scaling was the Seiki SE50UY04's weakness: all 720p60 and 1080p60 sources were overscanned by about 2% resulting in softened picture details. The TV's aspect ratio adjustment has no preset for removing this unacceptable display condition. Interestingly, feeding the TV a 4K signal eliminated overscan as did forcing 720p/1080p refresh rates above 60Hz: 1080p @ 120Hz looked especially promising on the Seiki although I'm not aware of anything besides a PC that provides a 1080p video signal via HDMI beyond a 60Hz refresh rate. Upconversion from 1080i to 1080p was mediocre, but most connected devices will provide progressive scan output helping mitigate this issue.
Calibration enthusiasts will find the TV's hidden service menu a minefield: enter this menu by pressing Menu on the remote followed by 0000 (four zeros). The service menu's overscan controls didn't have the intended affect, and it appears a factory reset option also wipes out the factory grayscale calibration. As with any trip into a TV's service menu, I'm obligated to warn you to take lots of pictures and notes before you touch anything!
With 4K source material, the Seiki SE50UY04 looks damn good - all of those extra pixels in the video signal and screen go a long ways toward making the TV appear window-like! Reducing the TV's sharpness setting from its mid-point default to zero removed the last traces of moiré and artificial edge-enhancements in my 4K resolution test patterns. One thing to keep in mind about current 4K TVs is that the input tops out at 30Hz. Refresh rates faster than 30Hz at 4K resolution will require new chipsets to handle the increased bandwidth - not a simple upgrade or something that can be done with new firmware. In the case of the SE50UY04, it appears to perform a simple 4x frame repeat with 30Hz input and 5x frame repeat with 24Hz input eliminating the "120Hz effect" that produces unnaturally smooth camera motions in feature films that were originally captured at 24 frames per second.
The bottom line on the Seiki SE50UY04 LED TV is that it is the current price leader for a 50-inch 4K screen. 4K early-adopters that can feed the TV its native resolution will see this Seiki at its best. PC gamers may desire a 4K playspace, but the 30Hz refresh rate limit simply isn't fast enough to keep the on-screen action smooth although it's fine as a seriously spacious desktop work environment. And, if a 50-inch desktop display is too much, Seiki Digital has mentioned they plan to ship a 39-inch 4K screen later this year.
Mobile device manufacturers are making it easier to connect their desirable hand-held high-resolution screens to a HDTV - an item increasingly likely to be listed among a mobile device owner's possessions. Micro HDMI output is available on several handsets and tablets providing an easy connection using a simple converter cable.
What's new-er is MHL or Mobile High-Definition Link: a standard that can squeeze HDMI from unexpected places including the popular micro USB port found on many smartphones. The MHL spec is similar to HDMI in the home with up to 1080p60 video and 7.1-channel sound from capable devices. MHL also incorporates the all-important ability to recharge a device when connected and in use.
My experience with MHL on my Samsung Galaxy SIII has been rewardingly easy. Branded and generic MHL adapter cables are available online - a 2-meter adapter cable (pictured above) cost me about $11. Add a wireless Bluetooth keyboard for easy texting, Tweeting, and web surfing from the comfort of your favorite spot. With many HDTVs providing at least one USB port, I'm able to connect the HDMI/USB end of the adapter to non-MHL TVs and still receive adequate power to charge the mobile device. MHL-enabled HDTVs should provide adequate power without the need for the additional USB connection.
MHL also leverages CEC (Consumer Electronic Control) allowing for HDTV remote control commands to be passed to the connected device potentially simplifying app use in a home theater environment.
While few if any mobile apps provide native 1080p video output or more than 2-channel stereo sound, the convenience and performance of having an already-customized device at the ready to enjoy with a simple cable connection may bring some entertainment joy to road-weary business travelers and parents alike.
Gaming on the big screen was fun - widescreen games scaled very nicely to full-screen, and vertically-orientated titles were enjoyable too albeit utilizing far less of the available screen space.
Compared to the plethora of app-enabled televisions that currently exist, a cheap cable plus a kick-ass MHL-enabled smartphone equals one of best app experiences I've had on any HDTV. If your smart device supports MHL, grab a cable and get connected!
- 1080p30 output reported from Galaxy SIII
- Non-MHL HDTV used for testing (HDMI+USB supplying additional power)
- Mirroring of Galaxy SIII display on HDTV
The audio/video professionals at THX have unleashed an interesting app named THX Tune-Up for smartphone-weilding home theater purists who want better performance from their gear.
Tune-Up is currently available on the Apple Store and it is scheduled to arrive in Android-ville in March. The app is free to download during its first week after which it will be priced at a modest $2.
For iOS devices, THX Tune-Up is compatible with the iPad 2 or later and the iPhone 4 or later.
Setup is simple: connect your compatible Apple device to your AV gear via HDMI using the Apple Digital AV Adapter, or connect wirelessly to a gen-3+ Apple TV. An Equipment tab is there to catalog your gear, configure the audio output format, and select how you want your mobile device to connect to everything.
The Adjustments tab contains the classic THX setup tests...now in mobile form! Picture and sound tests can be individually selected. Tune-Up's color and tint tools utilize the mobile device's camera to capture and compare what the TV is doing to a filtered view seen on the mobile display. I found that slightly squinting at these color patterns made it easier to see when they closely matched, but the very slow frame rate of the filtered view (iPhone 4 tested) made it mildly awkward to use.
I was somewhat surprised that Tune-Up lacked a sharpness setup tool, but the edges of its contrast setup test pattern proved adequate for evaluating this often abused setting.
The app's Extras tab features a selection of 2D and 3D trailers, a THX 'moo'-can simulator, and (my favorite) a button to unleash a 5.1 surround sound Deep Note.
Bottom line: THX Tune-Up is my favorite home theater calibration app to date!
I've emerged from yet another Consumer Electronics Show saturated in new display knowledge. As I predicted two years ago, we can expect premium 2013 HDTVs to feature densely packed pixels, expanded color palettes, and screen sizes that nearly eclipse a queen-sized bed.
While the world patiently awaits OLED's dethroning of LED and plasma as the display technology of choice, 4K resolution (aka Ultra High Definition aka 3840x2160) is available today and will become a standard feature on premium HDTVs 50-inches and larger by year's end.
Color is King
Another trend that was apparent among the premium 2013 televisions on the show floor was a claimed expansion of the available color palette. The current HDTV video spec that we loving call Rec. 709 is a color-compromise with a restricted palette, compared to average human perception, that almost every HDTV can properly (and sometimes accurately!) display. Forward-looking video standards like the Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) define an expanded color palette that features more richly-colored (saturated) hues of red, green, and cyan compared to Rec. 709. Samsung and Broadcom unveiled new products at CES that support High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) - another next-generation video compression standard that will support higher resolutions (up to 8K) and "improved" color gamut and dynamic range compared to the now ubiquitous H.264/MPEG-4 AVC standard. The problem with a HDTV color gamut that exceeds Rec. 709 is that there is no commercial content available that properly utilizes this new selection of richly-saturated colors. So the Catch-22 continues: the display technology awaits a new standard that everyone (the content creators and owners) can agree upon that defines an updated and expanded color system.
Note: I annotated the slideshow pictures in the Gallery View with more product information.
My 4K/UHD highlights in no particular order:
Sony's 4K OLED prototype was one of those things that made the jaded editorial analyst in me smile - amazing contrast, high resolution, and incredibly saturated colors. I'm tired of the OLED tease, and there is no indication if or when Sony will release an OLED of its own, but the company certainly knows how to wow the eyes of someone who has seen and tested hundreds if not thousands of HD display systems. Thinking of a sweet spot between screen size and pixel density (and killer design!), I'm especially interested getting a 65-inch XBR-65X900A into the lab as soon as possible! Also featured in its premium 2013 offerings is Sony's updated Triluminous display technology that utilizes QD Vision's quantum dot technology that generates very pure and saturated colors that are ideal for an expanded color gamut HDTV.
Sharp's most impresive technology at CES was IGZO - Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide! This new substrate material for OLED and LCD displays offers incredible energy savings by not requiring electricity to maintain a static image - similar to how e-ink technology operates. In addition, IGZO also enables increased pixel densities - one image in the gallery shows a extreme closeup of a 6.1-inch IGZO display that has a native resolution of 2560x1600...almost 500 pixels-per-inch! Sharp also unveiled the first THX Certified 4K HDTV - the ICC Purios LC-60HQ10. The Purios TV demos appeared superbly calibrated, and this is another 4K screen I cannot wait to get in for testing.
Samsung's new S9 UHD television brings 85-inchs of Ultra High Definition to select home theaters in 2013 - its easel-like frame integrates a 120W audio system and supports the super-sized TV in elegant style. I'll be curious to see if the S9 does anything special with its high-resolution, active 3D technology, screen - perhaps a "dual view" option similar to what the company has demonstrated with its upcoming F9500 OLED television.
The very first 4K HDTV I saw in person was from Toshiba, and the company's 2013 lineup features their 84-inch creation as well as plenty of new 1080p models to choose from - all featuring new thin-frame designs with refreshingly minimalist styling touches along the lower bezel.
4K this year - OLED next...
LG, Westinghouse Digital, Vizio, TCL, Haier, HiSense...they all demonstrated 4K resolution displays at CES. While the major HDTV manufacturers are introducing 4K tech in their premium products, word on the show floor was that 50-inch 4K displays will crack $2000 this year. So if you are looking for a new 50-inch or larger PC monitor with some 8-million pixels awaiting signal, you should have several options to choose from by the end of this Summer.
It's been about three years since I first replaced a cable television DVR (digital video recorder) that I was renting with a custom-built PC (original article archive: part one and part two). It was the introduction of multi-tuner CableCARD host adapters that made it easy to turn a Windows PC into a powerful home theater centerpiece that convinced me to craft my own super-DVR. That inital build using the unlikely union of an Intel Atom processor and Nvidia ION graphics technology resulted in excellent energy efficienicy and solid 1080p video playback, but the system's ability to smoothly multitask was constantly challenged.
For version 2.0 of my home theater PC (HTPC), I vowed to maintain excellent energy efficiency while significantly improving its performance.
The complete parts list for my current HTPC build:
I've come to appreciate the design of the Thermaltake Luxa2 LM100 Mini case - it's brushed aluminum exterior ages gracefully, masks fingerprints and dust, and provides a perfect home for a Mini-ITX mobo and related components.
With two years of near-continuous operation to its credit, HTPC v2.0's performance gains over its predecessor are a credit to its Intel Core i3 2100T (Sandy Bridge w/35W Max TDP) processor and solid state drive (SSD) - SSDs make any computer feel twice as fast!
I also updated the case internals with the addition of 50x50mm fans to fill the remaining exhaust ports at the rear of the chassis. A lack of adequade airflow in the cramped case caused the Ceton InfiniTV 4 to run very warm. The Thermaltake LM100 case features air inlets under the motherboard on the bottom of the case, and filling the available exhaust ports with speed-controlled fans better directed airflow reducing the InfiniTV 4's operating temperatures from 65-70C to a far cooler 40-45C without an increase in noise.
My tuner hardware:
All of this hardware needs good software to make it work:
Windows 7 64-bit - SiliconDust already offers full support for Windows 8
My Movies - how I manage my movie collection
ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater - Bluray, DVD, and HD-DVD playback software
Ceton Companion - my favorite smartphone remote control app
SoundGraph iMON Manager - VFD and IR remote signal management
SlySoft Virtual CloneDrive - a great virtual drive program
Add to this several terrabytes of network attached storage (NAS) for my music, photos, and movies and I'm one happy (couch) camper.
Control-wise, I'm using the aforementioned Ceton Companion application as well as a Logitech Harmony 650 universal remote control. The Bluetooth adapter also allows me to easily connect a wireless keyboard when the need arises.
The cost of this system at the time including software easily exceeded $1000 - not a trivial expense even if amortized over several years of use. For HTPC v3.0 (hint, hint), I'd consider reducing costs by eliminating the slim optical drive altogether as I find I seldom (never) use it. Use of NAS storage for TV recordings could eliminate an extra HDD from the system further reducing costs and space requirements. At that point, I'd consider an optimized micro-PC like the new Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) as it features similar computing power as my current HTPC in a package that is but a fraction of its size.