What is HDR, and should I get a HDR TV?

HDR example

TV shopping has always been tricky, with endless new terms and features such as today’s buzzwords of HDR TV and 4K UHD TV. We’re at the turning point where 4K TVs are coming down in price and becoming a viable option for everyone. To catch you up, 4K TVs provide more pixels and deeper colour palette for a more detailed picture. Mixed in with 4K TVs is the term HDR, and it offers a further improvement in picture quality.

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, offers more brightness or ‘luminance’ levels in pictures – you get more details in dark sections as well as light sections. High-end smartphones accomplish this by taking multiple pictures and then combining them into a more detailed picture. This way detail isn’t lost in shadows or washed out in bright areas.

HDR is the similar in video. Manufactures are starting to make HDR TV sets available with more dynamic range in the brightness, e.g. 10 times the luminance levels. This brightness range isn’t meant to be just bright, but more importantly, be better at displaying increments of Samsung 4K TVbrightness from deep black to bright white. This should translate into a more realistic, natural picture. For example an outdoor scene with HDR should allow us to see more detail in the shadows below a tree as well as the texture of clouds. With current HDTVs, this would basically be just darkness under the tree and uniformly white clouds.

HDR TV often gets mentioned along with 4K TVs, but it doesn’t necessarily need a 4K TV. Although 4K TVs offer more pixels and expanded colour palette, a HDTV would also benefit by having more brightness or luminance levels. Like most things, the higher end gets fancy new features first, and 4K TVs are the higher end right now. HDR could trickle down to HDTVs, but its unlikely as dropping prices and prevalence of 4K TVs will make this a moot point. HDR is a new technology and the standard is still being figured out, but good sets will apply processing to regular video to make it HDR-like. Streaming services like Netflix are working to provide HDR content, and HDR TVs should also be software upgradable when standards do get set.

Hopefully you understand HDR a bit more now, but the real question you may have is if its worth it paying for. If you have the budget for a new 4K TV, then the quick answer is yes. More and more decent, mid-level 4K TVs have some form of HDR, while the high-end models also include better processors to help regular video look better.

Understanding CCTV surveillance camera wiring

Surveillance CameraIf you’re building a new home and considering CCTV surveillance cameras, you’ll need to catch up on the state of camera technology. In the past, systems used coax wiring, but like most devices, the trend is increasingly towards using Ethernet Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable.

Coaxial or coax cables are the type of cables that are used with cable TV systems. The most common coax cable used for surveillance cameras is RG-59, but RG-6 can beCoaxial or coax cable used as well. Keep in mind that this is only for the camera signal, so you’ll also need to have power where the camera is placed too. Most off-the-shelf coax surveillance systems have cables that combine a coax cable with a power cable.

Cat 5e or Cat 6 is the same cable used for computers and computer networks – commonly known as Ethernet networks. NotCat 5e or Cat 6 cable only does this cable allow for flexibility for other uses (like placing a Wi-Fi hotspot) it can also provide power using Power over Ethernet (or PoE) for devices like cameras. This way you don’t need a separate power outlet when using a PoE camera system.

The coax based surveillance systems are currently more affordable than Ethernet systems, but they top out at a lower resolution and therefore provide less picture detail. Using lower resolution cameras will require more cameras to cover the same area. Ethernet cameras have a range of resolutions right up to full HD and beyond. Ethernet compatible cameras offer better future proofing than coax options, and the prices should drop quickly as they catch on more.

You’ll need a DVR (digital video recorder) or NVR (network video recorder) to record the video from your cameras. Some manufacturers offer hybrid video recorders that provide a bridge between the older and newer technologies. These accept either type of video recordercamera. This way you can use cheaper coax based cameras until your budget allows for better Ethernet ones, or use higher end cameras for locations that require them and still use the same recorder for both.

What ever path you choose, remember that the wires you install in your walls dictate which camera technologies you can use. Often running two sets of cables (coax and Ethernet) during construction doesn’t cost much more, but then gives you flexibility in the future. Technologies come and go, but a well architected technology infrastructure is flexible for the future.

Easy ways to improve your home network security

home network security

Home technology relies heavily on your home network so it’s important to take steps towards better home network security. You likely don’t leave your front door unlocked, let alone wide open, so why leave your home Wi-Fi router unsecured?

There are many ways to secure your home network, but the trick is to balance security with ease of use. You can update your router settings from the router’s admin interface (e.g. typing or in your internet browser, depending on router.) Here are six easy ways to secure your network.

Change the default password

Surprisingly, a lot of people just plug in a new router and start using it as its configured out of the box. This makes it insanely easy for nasty hackers to get into your network. Once in your network, they will likely have an easy time getting into your computer’s personal and financial files. Combat this by simply updating the default password with a good password.

Use WPA2

The signals that Wi-Fi routers use are encrypted (i.e. ‘scrambled’). Most routers have older encryption (WEP) set as default because it works with all devices including old ones. WEP is easily defeated though. Its best to use stronger WPA2 encryption, as its much safer and works with all but really old devices. If you find some of your old devices aren’t working, you can step down to WPA as a last resort.

Change the default SSID and passcode

The SSID is the Wi-Fi network’s name that shows up on your smartphone or computer. When bad guys see that you are using the default SSID (e.g. “linksys” or “default”), they know they have easy pickings and its worth the effort to try to break in. Not only is it safer to update the default one, why not customize it for your own tastes? (How about “patswifi” or “SwankyNet”?) Also update the passcode / pre-shared key that goes with the SSID (again use a good password).

Turn off SSID broadcast

The SSID is broadcast to make it easy to find on your smartphone or tablet, but its also easy for a hacker to find. You can disable SSID broadcast in your router to avoid this. The people you want on your network can simply enter the SSID manually on their smartphone, etc.

Turn off WPS

WPS is a feature that is supposed to make connecting Wi-Fi devices easy, but in practice its not well supported and may not work with your devices. Its also an easy security hole to exploit, so its best to disable it in your router.

Update firmware regularly

Security issues are often discovered on computers, networks and home tech devices and then fixed by manufactures. You probably get a lot of update notices for your PC or Mac, and hopefully you update them accordingly. Don’t forget about your Wi-Fi router and devices like Sonos and Apple TV though. Most manufactures are good and update firmware to keep their devices secure when required. If you’re not very good at keeping on top of this kind of thing, just put a periodic reminder in your calendar to check for updates for your router and devices. Note though that its a good idea to read about what else is in the update to ensure its still compatible with your setup.

These simple changes shouldn’t take too long, so there isn’t any reason to hold off. When we set up a network, we balance home network security configuration and the individual for the situation. If you’re more savvy, you can also use features like MAC filtering and static IP addresses. Its up to you how deep you go, but here is a prime example of a little effort going along way.

Get control

Good control system like RTI's T2xPeople often overlook the importance of a good control system for their home and entertainment system. Not only can it take away the pile of remotes in your home, it can extend into controlling other aspects of your home like lighting and temperature.

Some folks think that their system is too small or want to avoid the expense of a universal remote or control system. Even for modest systems, a well thought out low cost universal remote will simplify system use for all family members. If you have a more involved system, then it can be the difference between getting the thing to do what you want vs. utter frustration when you just can’t seem to get it to work at all.

Logitech's Harmony Ultimate

Another benefit is that higher-end control gear like Logitech’s Harmony Ultimate, or Pro Control’s and RTI’s custom installer products allow you to hide away gear in a cabinet or closet so you don’t have look at a bunch of black boxes and blinky lights. Control systems like RTI’s will even let you tuck it all away into the basement.

More and more people are choosing to skip a remote and just use their smart phone or tablet. This can be great, but always use a system that offers a least a basic companion remote that works in tandem with your device. You can’t control your fancy AV system when receiving a phone call or an iPad with a dead battery.

Use companion remote with a smart phone or tablet

As a bonus, many universal remotes can be customized for your systems and needs. If you’re a control freak, you can pack in all those buttons that most people don’t use. Or if you prefer clean lines, you can have just the few buttons that you regularly use.

From big systems to small systems, there is a universal remote or control system out there for you. If you’re overwhelmed by choices, we can help match the system to your needs. When well chosen, it will not only clean up your coffee table, it will also make your system easy and accessible to everyone in the house. Ah, feel the power!