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Hard and Fast


Television, (re)enhanced: the Samsung QLED range

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 23-Apr-2017 10:11

Television. Been around since the 1930’s, with an evolution that has been interesting and non stop. It wasn’t that long ago we had a Philips K9 TV in the house (no remote – that was an extra $600 in 1984), and in recent years we’ve had the rapid shift towards flat panels and high definition viewing, supported by the content industry. And yet the concept is still remarkably similar: a screen 1 or more gather around for knowledge, entertainment and disconnection with reality. I often wonder if ‘TV’ will actually become more a personal viewing exercise, with viewers opting for a tablet or similar and the comfort of their own environment, rather than the shared experience of many people watching (and the inevitable commentary…. “what is this cr*p”?)

I had the privilege of being introduced to Samsung’s new QLED range of Televisions a few days ago. These are due in the NZ market in May 2017 and continue the evolution of LED-LCD display technology, with colours and pictures that are strong, vibrant, bright and a joy to view. The current technology buzz in the TV display world is OLED, which is an early lifecycle technology that emits light (to assemble a display pictures) in a different fashion to the more mainstream LCD TV's.

While it’s fascinating to see the evolution of technology and the promises these improvements bring, I tend to focus on how these compare to the here and now. Television is a well penetrated product into most people’s lives, and you’ll find one in most homes and places of work around NZ and the world, and they continue to function day in and out without too much fuss. The switch from the older tube technology to Plasma and subsequently LCD came with the usual hallmarks of new methods; the old technology had better colours, was more fluid and better saturation (so pictures looked more natural and so on), while manufacturing quality of early technology often meant the lifespan of a TV was adjusted from 25 years down to 10, and even 5 for some types until common sense (and sales trends) kicked in.

In the range below, the Samsung panels are an evolution of LED technology and not OLED. While that’s interesting, how these panels perform and what they offer is more valuable than what's under the metal/plastic.

Declaration: I have 3 Samsung TV’s, acquired between 2007-10. A 27” that had it’s screen die 1 day before the end of the warranty (on boxing day no less), but which Noel Leeming had repaired and is still going strong 10 years later (disappointingly, when you see so many flash new models these days). A 37” with a bezel (the plastic edging around the screen) that has cracked from several house moves), and a little 22” doing duty in the bedroom. All the TV's operate fine, and for me (and I expect a great many people) they will only be replaced when they stop working… meaning the market for Samsung’s new models as always is somebody seeking a replacement for various reasons. The highpoint of features and functions for me is equipment that’s 7-10 years old, meaning anything new will certainly be appealing. I am a researcher and make considered purchases, meaning features, form, function and most importantly for such a major appliance, ability to elegantly mount and position in the house.

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                65” glory – Q8C $7,999                       75” of curve and style – Q8C $13,999           55” of Smart Viewing – Q7F $5,199

In the pictures above are the mainstream models being shown, on a gloomy day in Te Papa in Wellington. I deliberately took photo’s of the TV’s against their bright background, so the performance of the display can be somewhat thought about. On display is a variation of flat-to-wall, and curved screen models. Retail pricing by model is typical of this type of new product, and I expect market pricing will differ somewhat by the end of the year (In the model distinction, F means Flat and C means Curved):

Model

Q7F

Q8C

Q9F

Curved

No

Yes

No

Screen Sizes

75” - $12,499

65" - $7,199

55" - $5,199

75" – $13,999

65" – $7,999

55" – $5,999

88" - $34,999

75" – $17,999

65" - $9,999

All panels are 4K displays with nearly no bezel at the edges, have superb clarity and brightness, downward firing speakers, beefed up user interface for control (with some good executions of control), a remote control that doesn’t have 200 buttons and some good thoughts for wall mounting. The control software is based on Tizen, a linux alternative with it’s roots in smartphone land, and has been driven by Samsung/Intel as an alternative to Android. A quick search of the web indicates it’s had an ignominious introduction, which you’d expect of anything new taking on established players, but on the TV's at least it functions smoothly and quickly.

As usual, the downward firing speakers have limited ability to shift air meaning all the TV’s would benefit from a separate speaker system just to have adequate sound; it’s a shame all manufacturers have gone this way on premium models, as it feels just a little cheaty to expect all consumers to have a ready made home theatre setup to support a beautiful panel: I can’t stand box speakers and their wires being on display just to support watching TV.

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A significant point of interest for me was the connections on the back, and the very real questions around how to mount the TV nicely on a wall, connect the huge plethora of other devices one would reasonably expect to it, and keep it all nice and tidy. Samsung’s answer, first introduced in some premium models last year, is the control box. This unit connects to the TV via a bundled 5m fibre cable (the white cable above), and has connections for HDMI x4, USB2 x3, Gigabit Ethernet x1, Optical out x1. 1x UHF tuner (with F-Connector). The control box is the brains of the whole package, and the fibre cable allows for an elegant way of mounting the telly and hiding the wires. A 15M cable option will be available, circa RRP$400.

In the second picture, you can see a panel that pops off – on the whole range, this is where Samsung’s mounting bracket is installed, and allows the TV to be mounted flush to the wall (curved or flat TVs). The bracket cost is up to $300 for the 55/65” range, and $350 for the 75”. The third picture gives an indication of the panel.

Finally, the remote control is a neat little affair that is channeling other simplified silver remote controls, and operates on both Bluetooth and IR. The unit has voice control (hence the need for Bluetooth) as well as standard TV functions (IR), which is interesting… I would have thought going for full Bluetooth the more elegant step but there you go. It works fine and has a decent range and function. There are also the Samsung Smart View apps for Android and iOS, which act as soft remote controls, and can also be used as alternatives to an Apple TV or Chromecast to transmitting from your phone to the screen (I didn’t have a chance to try this out though, so not sure how well it works). Samsung also support Steamlink, meaning a PC can be connected over the home’s LAN with gaming happening on the TVs, something which sounds quite promising and no doubt has a few details in its setup.

So, opinion

The screens perform beautifully, display and function is very good (as you would expect at this price range), sound is ok, there has been some decent thinking into wall mounting and addressing the explosion connecting different devices brings to the modern viewing experience.

The interesting comment from me was on the evolution of apps; Netflix, Lightbox, Neon, Hulu, Amazon all had apps available. Notable absence was TV3 and TVNZ, to which the response was that these folks weren’t developing for Smart TV anymore, focusing instead in channeling their effort into Freeview Plus and making their content available that way (which is a shrewd move: Having witnessed first-hand the level of work required to directly support Smart TV’s with a media app, the investment in human power vs benefit is horrendously skewed. Far more productive to focus on one source). The Smart interface had some genuinely neat tricks around source handling (elegant swapping between an Xbox, Blu-ray player, streaming content from a connected USB stick and so on), and performance never felt like the unit was chugging along or working hard.

I’ve never been a fan of Smart TV’s, historically because of the commitment of the manufacturers to keeping the OS supported, enhanced and feature rich, and I hope the launch of this range is a commitment from Samsung to keep supporting what they build for the reasonable life of the TV; after all, I expect my next TV to last another 10 years, and I would be disappointed with any brand that dropped support of its software quickly for the next big thing.

I’m keen to see where this range is at around October/November in the market, pricing and performance wise. Samsung have a real opportunity here to make some inroads, and judging by the Boxing Day sales in Dec 2016 have absolutely cleared the warehouses to support this new range.

Worth considering.

Antonios Karantze

Wellington, NZ

April 2017

 



Webstock 2017: think of others

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 23-Feb-2017 22:07

I had the good fortune to be allowed to attend Webstock 2017 this year, held in Wellington New Zealand from 13-17 February.

This quirky event is growing in popularity and attendance, and this year featured a whole host of presenters covering many topics, from the origin of Emoji’s to empathetic design for the elderly. Nearly all the presenters were from the US, and there were two overwhelming themes that kept repeating and being referenced throughout the event:

1. “We are sorry about what is happening is US Politics. This isn’t who we are”
2. “We need to think of everyone – old, young, able bodied, disabled, sight and mobility impaired, rich and poor – when creating for people

Resonating in the back of my mind was the phrase ‘He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata’. It is the people, It is the people, It is the people. I may not be using the phrase in it’s correct setting, but it speaks to what I heard repeatedly throughout the days – by the people, about the people, and for the people.

I observed an audience of old and young, multiple races and all genders, and was enthused by the sheer size and participation. This thing is big. REALLY BIG. And it continues to get bigger, which is great for Wellington and great for the design sector in New Zealand.

So what were my takeaways from the time?

Knowing your audience and being present to what they want to here is crucially important. I heard a few jokes fall flat, and some that were absolutely wrong to be used – a quick websearch if you are interested will reveal my abstract reference. A highlight was Marcin Wichary, a polish chap from Google, who covered topics from charles babbage to the work he did creating the Google Doodle that was Pacman in 2010, and the journey of discovery he went on to recreate this classic game. Warm, enthusiastic about his topic and a genuinely engaging fellow, he touched on a couple of rueful points about never assuming and not bothering to question ‘why’ – as well as not being satisfied until he was, and not giving up until the task was done.

It’s a small item, but seeing through any commitment to completion in the modern world takes focus, and I often see failure because people just gave up or lost interest… because they just did.

Significant reference was made to Apple’s design aesthetics and their efforts in designing for humans, by many of the presenters. Love or loathe that company, they have made their mark on the western world and continue to set a tone for modern digital experiences that we all live with and don’t appreciate we are.

I met with Janine Gianfredi on Thursday night after the show, and caught her presentation on the Friday, about designing US Government services from a startup with the Executive (The White House under President Obama), and taking things to market. Born out of the chaos that was the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), Janine referred to the ‘mission’ of getting healthcare for people who historically could’nt. The Federal government set up the national exchange, but required insurance companies in every state to cooperate in creating products and offering to customers – not trivial, and a service that was born from a big government project (many contractors, little focus on end to end experience, and a desire to just ship software even if it sucked) had to be refactored by a smaller team who thought about the users, what they had to do, and how they could improve services.

Again. It is the people. The presentation resonated with me, and in a separate session run earlier in the week, was well attended by representatives from our government agencies like Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and other folks looking to transform how things work today. Looking for ideas on how to be more effective in their roles, to make things ‘easier’ for people that need to be using them.

Well, duh

So far, so very boring right? nobody wakes up in the morning and decides ‘today I’m going to build a diabolical service and really piss people off!’, although I’m sure anyone who uses some government services must think that is what happens.

Just today, a colleague outlined a problem he just had with Inland Revenue. This month IRD made a lot of noise about their updated ‘MyGST’ capability, designed to make GST payments easier for those that self manage. My colleague had the money ready to go, he emailed ird – Via the MyIRD secure messaging service – and was told he would receive a message explaining more. Nothing. Eventually he got a note saying he had been fined for not paying his GST… and after much work, he discovered that the MyGST secure messaging service is in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM linked to the MyIRD secure messaging service… which has been in wide use for a while.

Guess where the emails had been going?

So someone sat down and created this sequence, and didn’t think of the users or the learned behaviour of people. Or they did, and the above setup was deployed for time money and convenience, no doubt meeting a project milestone. Hurrah! who cares about the user?

Final Thoughts

So, Webstock has become a tech industry ‘thing’. It is up there with the air of ‘gotta be there’ like Microsoft’s tech-ed shows used to be, before they became not so interesting anymore. I don’t get the feel Webstock is there yet, and that says something given it’s current long run. The organisers Mike and Natasha did an awesome job with running the show, the venue, the food, facilities and overall execution. There were some parts that need and are getting attention, but this is a good show. Consider it for next year if you haven’t gone. Conversations are had that get people to think. It’s an event where people are open to meeting, greeting, freeforming and just being, and that is so important in a world that is currently being turned upside down by the return of fear, hate and despicable attitudes.

- AK, 2017



The secret life of mobile batteries - UPDATED 6.10.2016

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 20-Sep-2016 19:29

Smartphone batteries have been in the news recently, in case you haven't been keeping up. On this mornings Jetstar flight the attendant took extra care to call out that Galaxy Note7 users would have to keep their device off - personally if I had one of these mobiles I would be utterly livid. Just not acceptable in 2016.

Hard choices

I've used iPhones in my line of work for the last few years as my primary device, and androids only as secondary units. The battery life on Apple phones is enough to drive you to despair at times, and as these things get bigger and pack more in, I can't the situation improving much.

I'm not a fan of the bigger screen devices like the 6 and 7 - I think Apple hit the mark perfectly with the iPhone 5 screen size - but you have to use what is reasonably available, and for me that is an iPhone 6.

Over the last year or so, the battery life on this device has become steadily more atrocious, but when I asked ServicePlus to have a look (Apple's agent in NZ), the diagnostics were that things were.... ok.... but perhaps remove the facebook app, which is a notorious hog. I did but that didn't really help..... and my experience continued to reflect that my battery must be munted.

In the weekend I read an article in Forbes, and the author opined that users should skip the iPhone 7 and just replace the battery in their existing iPhones, waiting for 2018 when the iPhone 8 is released (2017 will bring the iPhone 7S). Forbes article

The application Battery Life was mentioned... so I downloaded it and what an interesting app to use. Even though IOS9/10 locked out many of the statistics about the battery that could be read, some elements are still discoverable. Here's what says about my phone tonight:

A munted model

When new, the phone had a battery capacity of 1750Mah. All rechargeable batteries degrade over time, but what is interesting is where mine is at - maximum capacity is now 1100Mah, 37% less than as new.

Of course, the iPhone battery meter tells me how much charge is remaining - OF THE DECREASED CAPACITY - meaning the more I use this phone, the faster it appears my battery is draining, when in fact it has degraded seriously to the point of being nearly unusable. 

I double checked these readings using a Mac app called CoconutBattery, and it's reports are consistent with the above display. The battery has lost a lot of capacity.

So, tricky. 

Technically the iPhone battery reading is correct - 396/1100 = 36% charge. But without an app on the iPhone telling me "your battery is screwed bro", I am left wondering. I don't think it should have degraded this rapidly - I used my other devices which are older, and they havent got anywhere near this level of degradation, some of them are 6 years old and constantly being used. I don't know if it's better to be told I only have 396/1750, given I can never recharge the battery back up to 1750.... but it would have been nice to know.

The device is 2 years old. Arguing over reasonable life of a battery under CGA feels quite the uphill battle. I do wish Apple did make better tools available that acknowledge the limits of technology and help better manage - although if they did, I expect they would a truckload coming back at the 12 month mark as 'not fit'.

Battery Life. CoconutBattery.

You wouldn't think batteries are that interesting.... but it's amazing what you can discover.

 

UPDATE: 6.10.16

Serviceplus replaced the battery for me under warranty, as a precaution against imminent fail. Great outcome in the end, and excellent service from the wonderful Hilary!



What do you do if you're in the CBD in an Earthquake?

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 22-Jul-2013 17:06

Like many people today I have been watching the numerous videos on the various news websites - and so far the site for NZ Herald seems to have better quality content than Stuff in general - and it occurs to me there is a real absence of useful information about what to do if an Earthquake hits while you are in the streets of a CBD.

In many ways Wellington was lucky with this event - and I'm confident it's not over - and one of those was that it was a sunday evening (5.09pm to be precise) and most people were at home. I was cooking dinner in the kitchen.

Of course, 5.09pm on a weekday would have been quite a different story - the streets would be full of people either scurrying to the railway station for a train or bus home, if not waiting on Lambton Quay for a bus.

In this event - and if you rewatch footage of the Christchurch events - building facades broke off and windows shattered and fell. A friend of mine was caught on TV video jogging through CHCH just as a facade collapsed and barely missed him (thinking of you Dave....)

The Governments 'Get Through' website - Get Through - contains really good, genuine information on preparation and what to do but is really heavy on the presumption you will be at home when something big happens (as it did on Sunday). But there is next to nothing on what to do if you happen to be in a metro area surrounded by tall buildings, except for the line 'drop/cover/hold' with pictures indicating you get under a table.

I walk to work frequently, which is one of the major benefits of Wellington, but occasionally do have to drive in and park because of weather or sheer time boundaries in the morning or evening. It's just the way it is. 

I also frequently walk along The Terrace, Bolton Street, Aurora Terrace, Lambton Quay and the 'Golden Mile' up to Manners Street. All area's which will turn into one epic zone of death from debris and glass in the event of a really strong shake. 

What exactly, is the suggested plan for people to do, if they happen to be caught out on the street? There is a distinct absence of handy tables on the street for one to duck under, and no real ideas I can find from an hour of googling on what to do. It's just so unexpected.

The state described above is a uniquely Wellington problem with description to match. But Christchurch is being rebuilt with a new CBD and a permanent membership to the Earthquake club... and we all know New Zealand is on a number of active tectonic plates (meaning nowhere is free of earthquake risk - I'm looking at you Auckland)... given so many people work in the city and around so much risk potential, surely there must be good guidance on how to protect yourself, somewhere.

People do need to know this, more than ever now as so many of us are acutely tuned to what just happened.

Drop Cover Hold sounds great on a website and is really, really unhelpful if you happen to be in the street. 

I expect the suggestions will be just as unsatisfying and very much along the lines of 'well.... there's not that much...', but my daughters sprang into action at home on Sunday as they had been trained. My youngest suggested I become a turtle in the middle of the street - and looking at The Terrace that filled me with utter dread.

This is not a complaint. It is a call for more information... because I'm certainly blinkin listening...! 



Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 27-Mar-2013 20:32

A little while ago I finally surrendered to the inevitable and severed my ties to the mobile world of old. It was a forced parting, a changing of the circumstances, a focus on the new, supporting of the desire to show the mass market another way. Like my mighty Nokia E65 - for which there is still no adequate replacement - it was time for another favoured friend to be given a chance to rest, and be no more.
2007 called and asked for it's technology back. My BlackBerry was forcibly retired.
For those who sneer at BlackBerry and it's users, dismissing them as relics of an age gone by, all I can say is Ignoramus. No-one who has ever used BlackBerry in anger would dismiss other users for being relics or diehards. Just like the Psion 3 and 5, which surrendered to the PDA in 2001, which eventually was surpassed by the connected smartphone before the age of the iPhone, it was a product of it's time and reflected that age.
But boy, did it do it with a style that no-one has replicated well. The pretenders to the throne have gotten close in building a mobile email capability for corporates. They have not built an elegant, easy to use, well integrated communications app that extends the desktop to a mobile device, so well optimised and polished out of the box that using it becomes second nature.
I could compose an email without ever looking at the device. I knew exactly where the keys were, the right sequence, how to drive the address book from within an email, compose and send.
Without ever looking at the screen, like an experienced touch typist on a QWERTY keyboard. And it worked.
I found managing via this device just worked. One handed operation - sorted. The User Interface was massively intuitive and instinctive, the functions were driven to operate as real humans think, and not the technologists.
Oddly enough, Windows Phone 8 is starting to approach the levels of capability that BlackBerry offers. But it's not there yet. The iPhone is good... But it's not there yet. And so on.
So I've been spoiled. Blackberry did what it was supposed to. The voice quality - for those who go old school and actually talk to people - was absolutely sublime compared to current widgets, and the battery life was good.  Of course, it didn't keep up with the best that the others could offer, and then RIM got horribly confused about who the competition was and what strategy they were executing to. Looking back I find it amusing Microsoft focused on RIM as the king to be taken down, when the real usurper Apple was toiling away to lead the revolution - which no-one ever believed possible (I first started getting notice of an Apple phone around 2003 while at O2). And of course, away in their secret volcano lair the Google minions created the monster that is Android, repeating the messy experience of Microsoft Windows (many vendors, inconsistent experiences, underpowered phones)
All offer 'corporate mobile email'. And ALL have a compromised experience - it's there, but none comes close to being anywhere near the ease of RIM, and therein is the rub. If mobile email is only passable, will mobile email be used?
It's pleasing to see large preorders for the new Blackberry 10 range - long overdue - and I sincerely hope this will put pressure on the device vendors to improve their onboard applications in the way only they can. I also hope they will focus on what made their solution so very powerful - excellent corporate IT management tools, the real secret jewel in a world of identical smartphones.
Ok, perhaps it is a little bit of a whinge from a spoiled ex-user. I do like my smartphones and what they offer, but they aren't for emailing anything other than 3 word answers - just unusable.
So I've gone back to a much, much more powerful way of communicating. I know it's radical, and it might just catch on.
I call it MAKING A PHONE CALL AND TALKING TO PEOPLE. No read receipts are required. You always know whether the other end got the message, but like everything in life not whether they understood it.



antoniosk's profile

Antonios Karantze
Wellington
New Zealand


Antonios has been actively employed in the IT & Technology sector since 1991, and has worked on many commercials projects and products in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. Working in product or actively managing programmes of work, he has always focused on building for the end customer, and not just promoting new technologies. Industry experience includes all telecommunications areas for business and private customers, private insurance, loyalty, media, energy and gambling. 

Since 2013, he has been involved with the development and launch of many popular smartphone applications in New Zealand, including

- TAB Mobile
- AMI & State Insurance digital experience
- Fly Buys
- Newshub for web and app
- Genesis Energy & Energy Online
- MyACC for Business

Genuinely passionate about technologies, internet and computing in general, he lives in the city he was born in - Wellington, New Zealand, the creative heart of hub of digital sector for the country.