The end of analogue TV broadcasting this year will mostly pass without notice for most of us as we’ve already switched over to digital TV formats, but for those who have yet to experience the switch over or what a little refresher on what’s now available for your entertainment pleasure, we’ve asked the NXT Guru to come up with this little guide to higher definition content.
Understanding the Definitions
There are four video definition standards that you should now be very familiar with, and the difference is pretty vast as it relates to the video image size in pixels as well as data transmission. Always keep in mind that video resolution should match screen size – run a SD video on a 75-inch 4K TV (4K is a resolution 8 times larger than SD) and you’ll get a very pixelated and stretched visual. Conversely, the reason why you can’t buy a 4K TV with a screen smaller than 43-inch is that it doesn’t really make sense – the image quality will be very similar to Full-HD.
Abbreviations SD, 480p
Screen resolution 640 x 480 pixels
Transmission rate 3.0 Mbps
Best for Streaming video content to mobile via 4G/LTE
Worst for Watching on a screen more than 32-inches wide
It’s called Standard Definition because for about 40 years all CRT television sets were made to display either 576i or 480i format, with the ‘i’ meaning interlaced. Now I can get into defining interlaced and progressive scan standards but that’ll take a while so let’s just skip that. If you were born after the Millennium you’ll probably never seen a CRT TV work before, but they were those heavy old sets that used a Cathode Ray emitter to create images – whatever, they went the way of the Dodo in the early 2000s when affordable LCD TV panels flooded the market. SD formated videos are still common today, primarily as a software downgrade from a HD/Full HD source because it has a smaller data transmission rate means you’ll get less lag and loading pauses when you watch a Youtube video of cute cats while on the MRT, but watch this format on anything bigger than a 32-inch HD TV and you’ll see why it/s no longer a popular format for watching movies and video clips anymore.
Abbreviations HD Ready, HD, 720p, 1080i
Screen resolution 1280 . 720 pixels, 1920 x 1080i pixels
Transmission rate 5.0 Mbps
Best for HD television broadcast, cable/IPTV channels
Worst for Watching on a screen more than 55-inches
Ugh. I really don’t want to get into the technical differences between 720p and 1080i so let’s just leave it at this: the visual differences are minute for general viewers to make out. You can still find new HD Ready TVs in Singapore, primarily in the small 32-inch size for your kids bedroom.
Now if you bought a HD Ready TV back in the mid 2000s it’s still usable even 12 years later as your regular TV channels, whether free-to-air digital or cable/IPTV services, are in this format. In fact even the latest Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro can be played on these older TV, though of course you simply won’t get the same gaming visuals as on a modern 4K TV.
With regards to video streaming: When mobile data streaming 720p is probably not recommended if the network is congested as you’ll get lags, but is perfectly fine from a home wireless network, especially if you’re using a lower bandwidth internet connection.
Ultra High Definition
Abbreviations Ultra HD, UHD, 4K
Screen resolution 4096 x 2160 pixels
Transmission rate 25.0 Mbps
Best for Streaming video content to mobile via 4G/LTE
Worst for Watching on a TV screen smaller than 55-inches wide
The main issue of UHD video watching is simply its data size, and if you’ve bought a brand new 4K UHD TV and want to wirelessly stream a 4K episode of Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour you will need a pretty decent internet connection and WiFi router to enjoy a smooth viewing experience, especially if your kids happen to be playing online MMOs at the same time! You can purchase a 4K TV with screen size from 43-inch all the way pass 75-inch (if you want to spend more than S$10,000) but the current sweet spot is about 55-inches or 65-inches.
Full High Definition
Abbreviations Full HD, FHD, 1080p
Screen resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Transmission rate 8.0 Mbps
Best for Blu-ray, home video and movie streaming
Worst for Watching on a screen more than 65-inches wide
Full-HD is now the go to standard for every new modern device with a display – from your mid-to-high tier smartphone, notebook and tablet, and in fact TV manufacturers sell Full-HD TVs as their mainstream line, with UHD TVs as their premium line. Full-HD is probably the most balanced format for wireless streaming videos, in terms of data rate and total data size, from Netflix and Amazon Prime to your living room TV.
One of the advantages to the Full-HD format is that it presents a better image quality when upscaled to 4K than lower quality video formats.
The Perfect 4K Experience
While the biggest and brightest TV panels are currently about the S$10,000 range, most of us actually don’t need or have the space in our homes to fit anything bigger than a 75-inch TV, and if you settle for a less uber 4K OLED or LED TV the overall set-up isn’t unaffordable.
TV: LG Signature W 4K OLED TV
LG have informed us that they will be bringing this uber telly to Singapore, and it may arrive sometime in the 3rd quarter of the year. This is a state of the art 77-inch OLED panel that’s super thin and correspondingly super expensive, but you get a lot of bang for your buck, including compatibility with the latest and upcoming HDR standards.
Of course most of us will find a 77-inch OLED to be rather large and costly, and LG, Sony and Samsung have already brought their latest 2017 OLED and LED TV panels to Singapore so there’s more affordable options and smaller sizes available.
Streamer: Roku Ultra
Every modern Smart TV has come bundled with apps for Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu (the latter only useful if you have a US account and VPN), but if you want a streamer that not only handles 4K HDR content with ease but links you to a huge amount of streaming services and provide multi-format capabilities as well as USB port to handle external drives, try the Roku Ultra. It’s also a very affordable way to ‘network up’ your non Internet enabled Full HD TV.
Another uber streaming machine is the NVIDIA Shield, but NVIDIA have no updates on when this will be available in Singapore.
Wi-Fi Router: Linksys Velop
One item most people disregard is their home network solutions, especially when they switched to fibre broadband a few years ago and and are still using the same wireless routers that were bundled with the package. In the next upcoming years the number of WiFi devices in your home may triple or more. As you add IoT gadgets and WiFi enabled TVs and wireless home speaker systems to your WiFi network your older wireless routers may not be able to handle the load. One of the more recent solutions is new Mesh systems like the Linksys Velop, which will be launched in Singapore around May. The Velop uses MU-MIMO technology to not only eliminate dead spots in your multi-story house or large apartment, but also automatically recognises high-demand loads like video streaming and prioritizes it, enabling you to stream a video to your tablet and walk from say your bedroom to the kitchen without dropout.
Home Theatre System: Sony BDV-N9200W
Sony’s BDV-N9200W Blu-ray Home Cinema System with Bluetooth not only lets you blast out 1,200 total watts of 5.1 channel audio but it supports 4K from multiple formats including Live TV or DVD. It’s also an audio powerhouse with High-Resolution Audio which is configured to provide a higher rate of 24bit/96kHz for better than CD quality sound and music.
4K Streaming Services
While many local streaming services such as the Eleven Sport Network, HOOQ, Singtel CAST and STARHUB GO offer Full-HD streaming, 4K content is currently limited to these sites.
How to Enjoy High-Resolution Audio
When writing about High-resolution audio (HRA), which is also known as High-definition audio (HD audio) we tend to simplify the meaning of the term to ‘better than CD quality’ sound, but it’s a little bit more than that – it refers to encoding an audio track at rates higher than 44,100 Hz frequency and 16-bit, which is the industry standard for Compact Disc Digital Audio files. Of course, there have been numerous past attempts to market higher-quality audio such as SACD and DVD-A, but it’s only when Sony came up with the High-resolution audio branding and decided to share it with the rest of the audio industry that this has started to take off.
In Sony’s definition, High-resolution audio is encoded at 192 kHz frequency and 24-bit depth, or seven times more data that a CD WAV track will provide. This enables the full flavour and richness of a sound recording to be captured. By the way, this is also the reason why we at NXT use the term ‘Digital Audio Player or DAP’ instead of the older ‘MP3 Player’ – because we’ve always felt that the popular MP3 file compression format was obsolete ever since Lossless audio encoding and compression was developed in the early 2000s! Back in the days of the 16MB audio player most people thought a smaller file size was much more important than superior audio quality – but that has now of course changed.
Headphones: Sony H.Ear on Wireless NC MDR-100ABN
As the impetus behind High-resolution audio, Sony has a wide range of products to support the format, including a number of relatively affordable headphones and earphones including the h.ear on Wireless NC MDR- 100ABN, which features Bluetooth LDAC for higher data transmission rates between the headphone and a synced smartphone, and comes with 40mm drivers with titanium coated diaphragms so you get to enjoy the entire frequency range of a HRA audio track.
Network Audio: Pioneer Network Audio Player N-50-K
As a ‘one-stop’ solution for all your home audio needs, the Pioneer network audio player n-50-k incorporates a host of connectivity options including LAN so it can access not only internet radio but the music files on your network storage drive (NAS) as well. The N-50 can not only handle High-resolution audio files but also use it’s Hi-bit32 Audio Processing to expand input bit signals to 32-bit to improve sound quality.
Wireless Audio Speaker: Devialet Phantom
The French-made Devialet Phantom sounds as impressive as it looks and is packed with a host of technology to get you grooving to your favourite tunes. Each speaker comes with multiple functions and you can even wireless sync a number of Phantoms to give you multi-room coverage. Devialet has included their proprietary ADH (Analog Digital Hybrid) intelligence to combine both analog and digital amplification in one package. There’s also Heart Bass Implosion (HBI) that enables the speaker’s two hermetic woofers to produce ultra dense sound for powerful bass beats. All Phantom models have two DAC processors, a bespoke Devialet DAC and a Texas Instruments PCM1798 and both are High-resolution audio capable, enabling any Phantom to stream HRA tracks from services like Tidal and Qobuz.
Portable DAC: Oppo HA-2SE
High-res the tunes from your smartphone, PC or tablet with the Oppo HA-2SE portable Headphone Amplifier and DAC. The slim aluminium device comes with a genuine leather casing and uses an asynchronous USB DAC input to support high-resolution audio playback with PCM up to 384 kHz 32-bit and DSD up to 11.2MHz. Compatible with all Apple devices as well as Android devices that support USB On-The-Go (USB OTG) and USB Audio.
High-Resolution Audio Track Sites
Looking for HRA Tracks? These sites have hundreds of thousands of High-resolution audio tracks and music albums.
High-Resolution Audio Streaming Services
While Apple Music and Spotify may be the most popular music streaming services now available, there are a few sites that provide high-quality streaming, for a subscription of course. We expect to see more High-resolution audio streaming services come online in the next year.
Higher Definition Gaming
Just a year ago, playing games in 4K native resolution required an expensively souped up desktop PC with the latest graphics cards and processors. Now with the advent of the latest gaming consoles – the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One S, 4K gaming has hit the big screen TV, and at a decently affordable price. Now is a great time to get into 4K gaming, as not only has there been a big leap in the latest graphics processors, but overall computer hardware prices have come down a bit as well, and the latest gaming notebooks can be configured to handle 4K as well.
Oh and do note what we wrote a few pages back about your home WiFi bandwidth it is particularly germane to 3K gaming, either console or PC. If you aren’t certain if your WiFi can handle the load, you can always resort to running a cheap (though unattractive looking) LAN cable from your router to your PC/console.
Consoles: Sony Playstation 4 Pro and Microsoft Xbox One S
Both major gaming consoles went 4K last year with the launch of the PlayStation 4 Pro in September and the Xbox One S in November and both new consoles included upgraded hardware to render high resolution content. Where they differ is that with the Xbox One S you can also play 4K HDR Blu-ray disc (the PS4 Pro’s Blu-ray player isn’t compatible with HDR) while the PS4 Pro is of course PlayStation VR compatible.
4K Compatible Games
Here’s our recommendation for current and upcoming 4K native games that will blow your mind away with their stellar graphics, which may include HDR.
Display: LG 27” 27UD88
LG are the current global leaders in LCD display technology, so it should come as no surprise that they make great panels for gaming. Well, this 27-inch 4K monitor is actually more for graphics design than gaming, but it does have a very important feature that makes it very suitable for gaming – it’s AMD FreeSync compatible.
AMD FreeSync or Nvidia’s G-Sync (make sure you match the monitor to which make of graphic card you use) are display technologies to synchronise the refresh rates of your graphics card and monitor and is especially important if you’re pushing the frame rate up to avoid tearing and stuttering. Oh and with Thunderbolt connectivity you can even add two (or three) of these monitors together to get a totally immersive experience.
4K Gaming Laptop: Lenovo Legion Y720
Lenovo’s new Legion Y720 has bags of power and performance plus a 15.6-inch FHD screen, but there will be an option to customize it with a 4K screen later in the year, and with Thunderbolt you can match it to an external 4K monitor. It’s also one of the latest generations of notebooks that’s VR headset compatible straight out of the box.