HuluPlus, HBO Go and ITunes Accessibility Make Roku Streamer A Winner. Oh Yeah, And It's A Bargain.

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We're big fans of the Apple®TV media streaming box. It's sleek. The interface is slick. And it gives us access to the iTunes library that resides on our big computer upstairs. So anywhere we connect the Apple box to a TV/ZVOX sound bar combination, we get a instant home theater and music media jukebox.
We also like our Roku streaming box. And lately, we like it even more than the Apple TV.
 The Roku interface isn't a slick as the Apple TV's, but it's pretty good.  The biggest shortcoming of the Roku system, until recently, was that it didn't give us access to our iTunes® library. But last summer they added a feature called MP3Tunes which lets us do just that. Plus the Roku give us access to HuluPlus -- which allows us to watch a whole big mess of TV shows for $7.99 a month -- much cheaper than buying shows through iTunes on the Apple TV.  The combination of a Netflix subscription and a HuluPlus subscription is cheap money compared to the cost of cable TV. And if you compare the cost of renting a cable box to the cost of buying a Roku box, pretty soon you'll be replacing cable boxes on your second and third TVs.
Another cool thing is traveling with a Roku player, especially for long term vacations. Just throw the little box in the suitcase and you bring entertainment wherever you go -- just plug in the HDMI connector.  And now Roku has added HBO Go -- a service that allows HBO subscribers to watch HBO on demand, at no extra cost, wherever they travel with their Roku box! And the new model is less than 50 bucks (compared to Apples' $100).
Apple TV, we like your sleek design and interface. But until you add HuluPlus and HBO Go, we're gonna dance with Roku.

® Apple and iTunes are registered trademarks of Apple, Inc.  Roku is a registered trademark of Roku, Inc.

Commercials Too Loud? How To Fix That.

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Monday, November 21, 2011

Why is it that the most annoying commercials are also the loudest?
And why are they SO loud?
Yes, we know that there is legislation in the works to force broadcasters and cable providers to "turn down" all those loud commercials. But we'll believe it when we hear it.
In the mean time, the cool Output Leveling (OL) feature in our new ZVOX 555 and 580 sound bars pretty much takes care of the problem. It automatically recognizes that a commercial is too loud and turns it down so fast your ear can't tell what happened. It's also good for minimizing the sudden volume jumps so popular with many modern movies -- you know, when all of a sudden the music and surround sound effects get three times as loud as they need to be, just to get you "more involved" in the movie?
Output Leveling also deals with another issue -- Blu Ray DVD players that don't play loud enough.  Many of these new disc players seem to sacrifice overall volume level to improve dynamic range (the ability to go from soft sounds to loud sounds without distorting). The result is they just don't play very loud -- and our Output Leveling feature fixes that too, by pumping up the too-soft volume levels.
So if you don't like loud commercials, you can wait for our glorious legislators to force broadcasters what they should have been doing all along. Or you can buy a new ZVOX home theater system!

Dialog Emphasis -- Greatest Feature Ever On A TV Sound System?

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Friday, November 4, 2011
When we introduced our first single-cabinet surround sound system in 2004, we were surprised by how many customers bought it for one simple purpose: they wanted to hear the spoken voice on TV shows. They didn't care about surround sound effects, great bass or musical fidelity. They just wanted to be able to understand the news announcer -- or the actor on the sitcom or cop show.
So when we were designing our new ZVOX 555 and 580 sound bar systems we put a special focus on voice reproduction -- introducing a revolutionary "Dialog Emphasis" control. This "DE" setting is makes voices more clear and easy to understand than any other audio system we have ever heard. A 555 or 580 with the DE control on makes voices just "jump out at you."
DE works much the way a hearing aid works. It de-emphasizes non-vocal sounds, and emphasizes the frequency range where voices occur. The feature also makes the voices uniformly loud, without a lot of variation in volume from one person to another.
The folks in our Massachusetts call center (all trained ZVOX employees by the way, no script-reading mercenaries), tell me that DE is hugely popular. Sometimes it seems like it's all anybody wants to talk about. This is a feature people really, truly like.
We've been making a big deal about vocal clarity for years, because TV speakers keep getting worse and worse. So it's interesting to note that some TV manufacturers are now paying some attention to the issue. The latest TV we got has a "Clear Voice" audio setting that actually helps a little. But there's only so much you can do with little tiny speakers that are aimed at the floor (yes, they are pointed straight down -- heaven forbid that consumers be forced to look at a speaker grille!). The first step towards clear voice reproduction is a using high quality speakers and amplifiers. Step two -- like the electronic magic we work with our DE feature -- only works right when applied to good speakers.
If you've ever had trouble hearing dialog on a TV show, you should try one of our new home theater systems. DE is kind of like cell phones. Before you have it, you think it's an unnecessary and maybe just-plain-stupid luxury feature. But once you've lived with it for a week, it becomes a necessity.
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