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Pro AV Today

Curated by Cynthia Wisehart,


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The Vacuum Tube is Back

By Maddie Stone, Gizmodo

There’s a new device in the works over at DARPA, the agency known for pushing the technological envelope with mind-controlled prosthetics and drone-launching submarines. This latest innovation? The vacuum tube. You might remember it from the first time humans invented it, way back in 1904.

Yes, the vacuum tube, hallmark of early 20th century electronics and CRT TVs, may be making a comeback. But this isn’t just DARPA engineers feeling bored or nostalgic: The vacuum tubes of the future will run at higher frequencies and powers than the dinosaur tubes of yesteryear, outperforming their solid state counterparts in certain applications.

But let’s back up a sec. For those who don’t recall, a vacuum tube is simply a device that controls electricity by channeling current between two or more electrodes inside a vacuum. Vacuum tubes were a basic component of many early electronics, including radios, television, radar, recording equipment, and computers. But in the 1950s and 60s, the invention of semiconductors made it possible to produce smaller, more efficient and more durable solid state devices, and vacuum tubes were gradually phased out. Tubes managed stick around in TV and computer displays until the early 2000s, when they were finally replaced with LCDs and plasma screens. MORE@Gizmodo

 

Why This Matters:

Our old friend the vacuum tube is having a high-tech Renaissance, a second life, a second chapter. Pick your middle-aged metaphor. It's fun to see old technology catch a break and Gizmodo's story gives you a good overview of the comeback.  For a more techy take, here's DARPA themselves on next-gen vacuum tubes. -Cynthia Wisehart

In depth: Windows 10 review

By Tom Warren, The Verge

Looking back at Windows 8, it’s easy to see where Microsoft went wrong. It was a giant bet on touch-based computing, but it made using a PC with a keyboard and mouse awkward, frustrating, and outright confusing. In our original review, I wrote that there was a “risk of alienating users and creating another Vista-like perception catastrophe” due to the sweeping changes.

That’s exactly what happened: developers didn’t flock toward Windows 8, and regular users did their very best to avoid it. While the tablet interface was a great experience, the rest annoyed everybody who just wanted a laptop that worked the way they were used to. Microsoft is trying to fix all that with Windows 10.

Windows has a cycle. Windows XP saved us from Windows ME, Windows 7 saved us from the Windows Vista mess, now Windows 10 is here to save us from Windows 8.

If you’re upgrading to Windows 10 on a desktop or laptop PC, then prepare to be delightfully surprised: the Start menu you know and love is back. It feels slightly odd to celebrate its return, as it should never have gone away. It’s probably the biggest change, aside from the dark theme, that you’ll notice after Windows 8. But Microsoft hasn’t simply just reinstated the old version from Windows 7. Instead, it’s completely redesigned it in a way that combines the best aspects of the last two versions of Windows. MORE@TheVerge

Why This Matters:

There are quite a few reviews out there—I liked this one. Also Time Magazine has helpfully collected some of the others in one link. And here's Pogue's take. -Cynthia Wisehart

Pogue: Windows 10 Review, Microsoft returns to sanity

By David Pogue, Yahoo Tech

Even Microsoft admits it now: Windows 8 was a big mistake. It was, in essence, two operating systems, superimposed. There was the regular desktop, which worked a lot like the popular Windows 7. And then, weirdly glued over it, there was a new, colorful environment made of tiles and modern typography—I called it TileWorld, since Microsoft didn’t have a name for it—that was designed for touchscreen tablets and laptops. Unfortunately, you therefore had to master two Web browsers, two Control Panels, two mail programs, two ways of doing nearly everything. Tomorrow, that all ends. The Windows 8 error—I mean era—is over. As though to distance itself from that debacle, Microsoft skipped the name Windows 9 altogether. It’s gone directly for Windows 10, which you can start downloading on Wednesday, July 29. (Microsoft has warned us that it may take a few days for the upgrade to be available to everyone.) I’ll review the various improvements and new features, but if you’re in a hurry, the main thing is this: Windows 10 is coherent. It makessense. Its design no longer leaves you pounding your forehead on your desk, ruing the day that Microsoft lit up whatever it was smoking. MORE@YahooTech

Why This Matters:

David Pogue brings his unique video review stylings to Windows 10. Lots of people share his disdain and bafflement for 8, so 10 is a big relief and more. For me, I kinda liked TileWorld running on my early adopter Surface. And I'm a person who never saw an update I didn't mistrust and/or despise. Still something about Windows 8 spoke to me--but not to anyone else--and Pogue's the expert so it's better to listen to him than to me. -Cynthia Wisehart

Technics’ Reference Class R1: This $60,000 speaker system sounds so good we’re having trouble doing our jobs (video review)

By Caleb Denison, Digital Trends

We recently received a 700lb shipment that included two Technics’ SB-R1 Speakers, an SE-R1 power amplifier, and an SU-RI Network Audio Control Player. All, told, the total system cost with interconnect cables and premium Kimber Moncale LX 15-ft speaker cablescomes to about $60,000. No other audio system that’s graced our listening room here at DT has captivated and mesmerized our staff quite like Technics Reference system. Seriously, some of us are having trouble getting our jobs done because we can’t peel ourselves away. This is the sort of audio system that you must hear to understand. Listening to tracks that we’ve heard 100s of times — and on excellent systems at that — is now a revelation of once hidden nuance and detail. Not only are we hearing things we’d never heard before, we’re hearing it in a way we’ve never heard it before. A music system that sounds like a live performance is a tough goal to attain, but Technics’ flagship nails it. Check out our video review for a close look at the gorgeous gear.

 

Why This Matters:

Panasonic famously restored Technics’ at IFA 2014 in Berlin with a stoke of theater—Technics’ engineer and jazz pianist Michiko Ogawa presented both the technology and the musical product with his performance at the show. Now, a year, later DigitalTrends is test-driving the goods with a first-look video review.  -Cynthia Wisehart

AV in Space: New Horizons payload

By Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Department

The New Horizons science payoad consists of seven instruments, three optical instruments, two plasma instruments, a dust sensor and a radio science receiver/radiometer. The payload was designed to investigate the global geology, surface composition and temperature, and the atmospheric pressure, temperature and escape rate of Pluto and its moons. The payload is incredibly power efficient—with the instruments collectively drawing less than 28 watts—and represents a degree of miniaturization that is unprecedented in planetary exploration. The instruments were designed specifically to handle the cold conditions and low light levels at Pluto and the Kuiper Belt beyond. If you want to know the key data--including mass, average power, development engineers, and a bit about the funcationality on the instruments including Alice, REX, Ralph, LORRI, SWAP, PEPSSI and the Student Dust Collector here's MORE@Johns Hopkins

If you want to know more specifically about the color-camera called Ralph (the one responsible for the tan- and sepia-toned images) here's an interview with the lead engineer for that camera. Joseph Stromborg at VOX described it as "putting a GoPro on a speeding bullet"

Why This Matters:

This summary of the instrument payload on New Horizons from Johns Hopkins gives the crucial data on the onboard instruments including the Ralph and LORRI cameras, who built them and what they're made of. Ralph, which is an infrared and available light camea is the one bringing back the sepia images. LORRI is the telescope camera. REX is the audio. -Cynthia Wisehart

Pogue: iOS 9 deep plunge—the 57 coolest features

By David Pogue, Yahoo Tech

The new iOS version looks and feels just the same as before, and everything’s in the same places; nothing new will confuse you. But don’t let appearances fool you; Apple’s software plastic surgeons have made hundreds of little tweaks that are intended to make its mobile devices faster, smarter, and more stable. If you want an early look at iOS 9, you’ll be able to download the public beta version this week; just understand that it’s not finished and may be buggy. But I’ve already been playing with the beta and thought you might appreciate a guide to what’s new and useful — including, by the way, a slew of new features that Applehasn’t announced publicly. Close the door and cancel your appointments; it’s a very long list. Fortunately, if you squint your eyes a little, you can pretty much fit all of them into six categories: Basics, Apps, Brains, Mail, Camera, and iPad Specials. MORE@YahooTech

Why This Matters:

Pogue updated to iOS 9. Here’s why. -Cynthia Wisehart

Doppler Labs wants to change how you listen to concerts

By John Lagomarsino, The Verge

Ask co-founder Noah Kraft what the goal of Doppler is, and he says, "we want to put a computer, speaker, and mic in everyone's ear." That's precisely the idea behind Doppler's Here Active Listening System. Here is a pair of small battery-powered buds with a microphone, a speaker, and a near-zero-latency digital sound processor (DSP) designed to alter, in real time, the way we hear the world.The primary goal of the system is to enhance the sound of live performances, custom tailored to the listener's own preferences and perspective. It's a niche product aimed at audiophiles who really care about the way things sound. Here aims to enhance live audio in three ways. First, there's a simple volume control. The microphones take input from the world, and Here either attenuates or amplifies the overall volume. Second, Here can apply a suite of equalizer effects to emphasize or suppress certain frequencies in the sound spectrum. The system will also target specific frequencies with anti-noise to further suppress, say, the frequencies of a baby crying, or an overactive hi-hat cymbal in a live mix. Lastly, Here also comes with a set of effects like flange, reverb, delay, fuzz, and bitcrusher to further mess with the world around you.You control all of this through a smartphone app, which sends your settings to the buds via Bluetooth. However, all the processing occurs in the buds themselves; the app is simply a remote control for Here. MORE@TheVerge

Why This Matters:

Last week this was just a Kickstarter dream--albeit backed by Quincy Jones and Hans Zimmer. Now, startup Dopper Labs has announced the close of a $17m investment round. The DUBS earbuds are like mini personal mixers--you can control volume, filter sounds, and perhaps most interestingly apply EQ and effects such as reverb from your iPhone to suit your individual taste in a given situation, i.e. just turn down the bass if you can't hear the singer without having to hack into the FOH mixer. It's being called "hearables" and "bionic hearing." And it's all about you--the future of everything is totally personal.  -Cynthia Wisehart

Ecobee becomes the first HomeKit Thermostat

By Jared Newman, Macworld

Connected thermostats are an easy way to make your home a little smarter, and a new HomeKit-supported version of Ecobee aims to make things even easier. The $250 Ecobee3 smart thermostat is available now through the Apple Store. Technically, Ecobee isn't the only thermostat that works with HomeKit, though it's the only one that doesn't require a separate hub device, such as Insteon's thermostat and HomeKit hub. Like other HomeKit-enabled products,Ecobee3 users can control the thermostat using Siri voice commands. HomeKit can also group multiple actions into “scenes,” for instance letting users turn down the heat and switch off connected lighting with a single command. With an Apple TV as a hub, users can control HomeKit devices with Siri from outside the house as well. Unfortunately for existing Ecobee users, there's currently no way to add HomeKit support to previous models. An FAQ on Ecobee’s website notes that HomeKit requires specific hardware, so upgrading existing models “is not something that is possible with a firmware or software patch.” For those with no interest in Apple's platform, Ecobee is selling the non-HomeKit model at a $20 discount. MORE@MacWorld

Why This Matters:

Remember when Nest started as a theromostat? This is a way to try out HomeKit and the Siri SmartHome. It's available at Amazon, if you want to charge it to your business under "education". And who doesn't want one more way to mock Siri? -Cynthia Wiseha

The untold story of Microsoft’s Surface Hub

By Harry McCracken, Fast Company

A company in flux. A secret factory outside Portland. And a hyper-ambitious gambit to reimagine how meetings happen...Microsoft hasn't played up the fact that it has a major operation in Wilsonville, OR. Actually, it's been downright stealthy about it....But since March 2014, the building is where the company has been engineering the device Jeff Han has been showing me, the Surface Hub....Microsoft held back one of the most intriguing facts about this Windows 10 machine until now: It not only designed the Surface Hub but is about to begin manufacturing the thing itself, in 70,000 square feet of factory space in the Wilsonville building, steps away from where the hardware was engineered. "We don’t actually manufacture the LCD panel," Han explains. "But that’s pretty much the only thing we don’t make here. For the 39-year-old Han, the impending release of the Surface Hub is the fullest expression yet of a mission he's been pursuing for more than a decade. The world first took note of it in 2006, when he was a computer-science researcher giving a TED talk in Monterey, California, about an intuitive new computing interface called multi-touch.In the pre-iPhone era of 2006, what he showed was mind-bending; the video version of his presentation became one of the first TED talks to go viral. He then parlayed his fame into a startup, Perceptive Pixel (PPI), which sold pricey screens to everyone from the Department of Defense to Disney. Microsoft acquired the company in 2012... MORE@FastCompany

Why This Matters:

This is a must-read and a treat. First it’s Mr. Harry McCracken writing so it’s a great, knowledgeable story with decades of perspective behind it. And it’s a history worth knowing--laid out here with details you will recognize. And some you didn't know. -Cynthia Wisehart

Microsoft just made millions off a 14-year-old product they just shut down a year ago

By Eugene Kim, Michael B. Kelley, and Natasha Bertrand, Business Insider

Even though Microsoft stopped selling Windows XP in 2010 and completely shut down support updates a little over a year ago, it's continuing to make money off of it.It's because there's still a huge customer base using Windows XP and they're willing to dole out millions of dollars for custom security support.The latest customer to sign a Windows XP support deal is the US Navy. On Tuesday,the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR)closed a $9.1 million contract with Microsoft that guarantees continued custom support for security updates on the 100,000 workstations still using Windowx XP, Office 2003, Exchange 2003, and Windows Server 2003. The full contract could extend to 2017, and be worth up to $30.8 million,IDG News added. "The Navy has plans to phase out the obsolete platforms because, as the unclassified document notes, using decade-old Windows platforms makes the systems vulnerable.“Without this continued support, vulnerabilities to these systems will be discovered, with no patches to protect the systems,” the Navy document states. All that said, updating these systems if far from a simiple task.  MORE@BusinessInsider

Why This Matters:

As the authors point out, XP is the gift that keeps on giving. And of course when it comes to the US government, there is never any rush at all to change decades prematurely when it’s still 2003 somewhere. –Cynthia Wisehart

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