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Newsletter Issue #887


Since the death of Steve Jobs, the critics have been working overtime pretending — or assuming — that Apple no longer has any creativity. Products are not nearly as compelling, and Apple no longer reinvents the wheel every year, every hour, or whatever. Of course, they never did, even when Jobs was in control of the company. It never happened!

So many of you will recall that the iPod came out in 2001, but the supposed next great product revolution was the iPhone, introduced in 2007. The iPad arrived in 2010, yet it may have been the forerunner of the iPhone in Apple’s testing facility. Make of that what you will.

The critics also regard the Apple Watch as a failure, even though more than 15 million have been sold so far. To many other companies, selling 15 million of anything would be an absolutely amazing achievement. But the Apple Watch is viewed in the context of the iPhone, even though the mass acceptance of smartwatches remains uncertain. That doesn’t mean you won’t see one on nearly every wrist someday, but it may take a lot of development over the next few years to begin to get there. Being able to use one without being tethered to an iPhone would be one thing, which means putting in a cellular radio.

It will come, perhaps in year or two, and maybe the potential will be better realized by then. Bear in mind, I’m still using a $12.88 Walmart watch, a stainless steel model with a semi-accurate calendar. I haven’t yet been sold on the need for an Apple Watch, regardless of cost.

In the meantime, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured outspoken blogger and podcaster Peter Cohen, who focused on the questions raised about Apple’s ongoing commitment to professional users. And what about published reports, since denied, that chief designer Sir Jonathan Ive may no longer be fully involved in developing new Apple gear? The discussion also included ousting the manager of the automation division, home of AppleScript, Apple’s decision to give up building its own displays, and the ever-controversial Late 2016 MacBook Pro, which features the contextual Touch Bar and a much higher price.

You also heard from columnist Joe Wilcox, of BetaNews, who explained why he prefers his new iPhone 7 Plus despite the fact that he finds some of Google’s services, such as its voice assistant, to be superior. What should Apple be thankful for during the holiday season? Joe offered his opinions about his 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bear, and also the impact of Google’s Chromebook in American school systems, and whether its cheap price and focus on cloud-based apps makes it a better educational alternative. And what about Microsoft’s controversial decision to force Windows 10 upgrades on users, and what about sharing telemetry data culled from users with third parties?

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast:  Paul Kimball returns to The Paracast to catch up with Gene and Chris. The discussion covers a wide range of topics that include an historical perspective of UFO research and UFO belief systems, along with the differing opinions of Paul and Chris on cattle mutilations. Paul will also begin a discussion on synchronicity. Politics are discussed, but briefly. Paul Andrew Kimball is a Canadian film and television producer, writer and director who resides in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His projects include several documentary films about UFOs and the “Other Side of Truth” paranormal podcast. This interview continues on this week’s episode of After The Paracast, an exclusive feature of The Paracast+.


After fits and starts, it is starting to appear as if the long-awaited 4K TV revolution may be coming to pass, to the delight of TV makers. It has certainly reached a critical mass, with more and more low-cost sets supporting the new standard. So I noticed a Samsung 40-inch 4K set for $347.99 at Target, and that’s not the cheapest price you can get. Walmart was offering a no-name (Sceptre) 43-inch 4K TV for $279.99.

Of course, such discount prices are generally exclusive to Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, but the point is that 4K is now available on all but the cheapest sets — yes you can pay less than $279.99 for some of them — so it has become more and more likely that most any TV you buy this holiday season will be 4K. That is the one certain way to guarantee a large share of the market for the new format.

Predictably, that development took several years to occur, as TV makers were able to increase production of the higher resolution flat panels to the point where the costs were roughly comparable to regular HD. But that doesn’t mean customers are ready to make the move, although a report from Target on Black Friday sales does appear to indicate a trend. According to published reports, more than 3,200 units were being sold every minute across the retail chain.

In case you want to know, the iPad Air 2 from Apple was also said to be quite popular. That may seem curious to some, who want to claim that tablets are yesterday’s news. Don’t forget that iPad sales were down by only a few percent in the September quarter. So it may well be that there’s lots of pent-up demand from people who have been holding off on upgrading their gear. That would mean iPad sales have finally bottomed out and are ready to grow once again.

Now about 4K TV: Since most sets sold are probably smaller than 55-inch or 60-inch, I dare say the vast majority of customers will never see the resolution difference. That’s because they’re sitting too far from the set when they are watching their favorite shows, most of which are just HD anyway.

I compare that to the fact that many people never watched real HD content after the changeover to all-digital TV some years back, and that probably persists today. I mean, if you look over the list of the hundreds of stations normally offered in the U.S. by a cable or satellite provider, a fair number are still broadcasting strictly in standard definition. Even when there are both HD and standard definition versions available for the same channel, it’s possible customers will pick the wrong one.

Indeed, I was once surprised to learn that many people with HD sets hadn’t even bothered to order HD service from their TV provider.

But the problem is far worse with 4K. There’s very little such content available. DirecTV, now part of the AT&T empire, offers some. Such online services as Amazon Instant Video and Netflix stream a small number of shows in the higher resolution format, but you’ll want to check the requirements for minimum broadband speeds. For Netflix, it’s 15-20 megabits, and you’ll need a lot more if someone in your household accesses the Internet at the same time. I suspect the real minimum is 30-40 megabits.

Yet another content source is 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray, such as the Samsung UBD-K8500/ZA, which sells for $209.99 at Walmart. There’s a small number of Ultra HD discs available. But there are  cheaper players that also claim 4K support; all they are doing is scaling up HD content, which is obviously not as good. Indeed, for the foreseeable future, until there’s a critical mass of content, most of the fare you watch on a 4K set will be scaled up HD. It may be a tad better than on a regular HD set, but you’ll only see the difference if you’re watching a large-screen TV, or sitting real close.

The long and short is that, for most of you, the 4K advantage is a non-issue. You’ll rarely — or never — see the difference even if you were able to restrict yourself to Ultra HD content.

There is, however, an extra feature of the 4K standard that is sure to provide a visual difference, and that’s HDR. It means a wider color gamut. However, that advantage, where such content is available, is restricted to a set that supports one of the HDR standards, and assuming the content supports the same standard. Unfortunately, those who buy the cheaper sets won’t have that feature.

So Ultra HD HDR, which is how these sets may be labeled, may cost more twice as much as the entry-level. A well-rated example is the VIZIO M-Series, which starts at around $600 for the 50-inch model.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the sort of information you’ll generally pick up when you go to your nearest big box or discount consumer electronics store. Worse, many demonstrate 4K sets with still pictures, where, at close range, the improved picture is obvious even on the lesser sets. So you’ll probably want to read the online reviews of TVs, from such sources as CNET and Consumer Reports, to see which models are the highest rated. You can then check the offerings from various dealers for the best deals.

All right, I’m not impressed with CR’s reviews of smartphones or personal computers, but TVs are commodity products that more closely aligned with their main focus.

Understand, I’m focusing on the U.S. here, and a lot of this information may also apply to readers in Canada. If you live elsewhere, you’ll want to check the status and pricing of 4K sets. Remember, if there’s little or nothing to watch with the enhanced revolution, it will probably not make a difference even with upscaling. You may just want to keep the set you have so long as it’s working properly. That’s what I’m doing for now.

But the report of high TV demand from Target does indicate that sales may be growing at a decent clip once again. It may be the happy convergence of the lure of 4K, plus the fact that many early-generation HD sets are reaching the twilight of their useful lives. Add the two together, and that might explain a higher demand for new sets this year.

It may be a good time for Apple’s iPad too, since there are tens of millions of units out there that are slowly being left behind by newer versions of iOS.


The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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