The Allure of Buying a 4K TV: HDR, Immersive Audio and, er … a New iPhone

It started when The Online Reporter’s Charles Hall popped in to his local branch of Best Buy …

– Sets Out to Buy the New iPhone 5SE, then also Decide to Buy a 4K TV with HDR but Return Home Empty-Handed
– The Frustrations of Trying to Buy CE Gear

By Charles Hall

Before buying the new Apple iPhone 5S at Best Buy, I decided to see what was new in UltraHD 4K television sets and whether this year’s models with HDR (high dynamic range) TV had arrived.

1. In store sales reps are becoming very, very knowledgeable – plus they can show how things work and side-by-side product differences plus let you try it. Every Best Buy sales rep I asked said they were not paid commissions. Although there are various other ways incentivize sales reps, based on what they said about various products and helping me find a product within my budget, it did not appear they were paid a commission. That’s an asset that will prove beneficial to brick-and-mortar retail stores such as Best Buy in their war against online-only stores.

 

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Best Buy store: spoiler alert – real life humans included

 

Many shoppers, including me, have often gone to stores to see and try products plus ask questions and compare prices – but would then go home and buy from an online store. Best Buy’s prices were very competitive when compared to online retailers such as Amazon, which offers, on most products, free shipping and a 2% credit when using its Amazon-only credit card.

The big exception is in states where Amazon can sell without charging sales taxes – Louisiana’s is 10%, which can make a sizeable difference on a $2,000 product. In the case of both products we looked at – 4K TVs and smartphones – the sales reps’ knowledge far offset the extra costs because they asked questions and helped me make the best buying selection for me – but unfortunately for the bricks, many people won’t feel the same as I did and still comparison shop at a physical store but buy online.

 

2. Buy a 4K set that has HDR. The 2016 models of 4K sets from the big four setmakers – Samsung, LG, Sony and Vizio – have arrived in stores.

HDR was the most talked about feature. Sales reps are becoming very knowledgeable about HDR, even to the point of knowing which version of HDR – HDR 10 or Dolby Vision, which includes HDR 10 plus some of Dolby’s magic video ingredients.

The sales rep pointed out the difference that HDR makes by showing on an HDR-equipped set the same video, one in HDR and one not in HDR.

HDR makes for a brighter, clearer picture and Samsung’s 4K TVs with HDR have the edge because of their brighter picture. LG’s 4K sets with HDR are best for those that prefer a darker picture.

 

Samsung HDR demo

HDR TV: ability to produce brighter, cleaner pictures

 

Vizio’s are the most price-competitive although Samsung’s and LG’s are not far behind pricewise. Best Buy also sells Sony sets – although the very 4K/HDR-knowledgeable sales rep we talked with did not talk much about Sony’s 4K TVs even though they were showcased equally in the store with Samsung’s and LG’s.

UHD Blu-ray players play content in both 4K and HDR – as well as all lesser resolutions. Samsung’s UHD Blu-ray player, the only one in the store, was $399, much more affordable than we had expected. There are many Blu-ray players that upscale and have 4K upconversion, like the Samsung but don’t play 4K Blu-ray discs.

For those with a budget barrier – and everyone should mentally set a spending limit before shopping -they should wait until the prices of 4K sets with HDR drop to where they are more affordable – as they surely will just like 4K sets have dropped to less than one-third of where they were three years ago.

It’s estimated that most people watch a TV set 4 or more hours a day so wait a few months and get the best 4K TV you can afford – one that is future-proof – at least until 8K arrives in 3-6 years. Anyone who waits until technology is no longer being improved will have a very, very long wait.

Because the Samsung 55-inch set with DVR was already down to $1,699, only $100 over the $1,599 we had set as the upper limit, we decided to go back and buy one after we bought the iPhone 5SE.

We knew from our experience with Samsung’s 2014 model of a 55-inch 4K set that it did an excellent job at upconverting lesser resolutions to near 4K quality. For two years we have been saying that excellence at upconverting is the most important feature to get when buying any 4K TV. That is still true because most content that viewers will watch is in 1080p HD or lower resolutions.

 

3. Immersive audio, or 3D audio or whatever the industry ends up calling it, is here now. Before heading for the smartphone department and at the sales rep’s suggestion, we took a detour to Best Buy’s Magnolia Home Theater room to listen to part of a movie that has a new audio technology called Immersive Audio, technology that is part of the UHD Alliance’s standard for what can be called an Ultra HD Premium TV.

Dolby’s version of Immersive Audio called Dolby Atmos is what’s here now in surround systems from the likes of Onkyo, Denon and Marantz (which now owns Denon). Prices start at about $500 and go up from there.

Immersive audio (IA) is, we think, something that every owner of a surround sound system will want as soon as an abundance of content in content in IA arrives. There is some now.

IA supports a speaker system up to 22 speakers and 2 woofers – 22.2. IA can be played on existing 5.1 and 7.1 speaker setups but a full-blown IA system has three levels of speakers – low – on the floor, medium – on the walls and high – in the ceiling. IA can be played on existing 5.1 and 7.1 speaker configurations but not at the “being there in the midst of things” level that IA can provide. At least one speaker manufacturer is offering speakers that sit on top of existing floor speakers to create a whole-room effect – as if the speakers were really in the ceiling.

Fraunhofer is another company that has developed IA technology, which it sells to CE makers and content producers.

Fraunhofer’s Depiction of an Ideal Speaker Setup for an Ideal Immersive Audio Surround Sound System
Immersive audio can also have Audio Objects that are in effect different sound tracks that the listener can adjust such as alternate languages; a racecar’s radio signal; sound from microphones on coaches, players or officials or audio from either the home or visitors side at a stadium.

Viewers can turn the tracks on or off or adjust each track’s volume separately. Audio objects are on tracks that are separated from the program’s primary audio track – and the user can select the speakers in which they are played – and at a volume of the listener’s choosing.

Content must be recorded in IA to play in full IA splendor. Content is beginning to become available with IA. An IA-capable TV is not required, only an IA capable surround system. Best Buy was demonstrating IA sound using 4K/HDR TV sets that were connected to a Denon IA-capable surround system in its home theater room.

So, you might as well think about buying a new surround system to go with 4K/HDR TV although that purchase can be delayed a bit until there is more content with Immersive Audio.

The listening benefits of IA and the pleasures that come from viewing 4K sets with HDR can only be experienced in a room with that gear and content, something that online stores cannot provide shoppers. It’s not clear how the conflicts between physical stores and online stores will ultimately play  out. Online stores have the advantage of low-cost warehouses versus physical stores’ expensive buildings and costly sales reps.

Where will consumers go to see, hear, feel and touch new products?

Apple has solved the problem by having its own store where shoppers can experience products as well as getting support and repairs on Apple products but Apple and other makers of CE gear also recognize the need for retailers by paying for space in retailers’ physical stores plus putting their sales reps in those stores – which is what we found when we next went to the smartphone section.

4. With its Galaxy S7 smartphone Samsung has moved into a least a tie with Apple. Next we went to the smartphone department at Best Buy to check out the new Apple iPhone 5SE before we upgraded to it from our iPhone 5.

 

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Apple iPhones: apparently other phones are available

 

However, several acquaintances plus several sales reps at both Best Buy and Verizon told us that the new Galaxy S7 smartphone had many more capabilities than the iPhone 5SE so we decided to check it out.

A Best Buy sales rep guided us to a Samsung rep that was very knowledgeable about the S7. He happily showed it off and talked about the Galaxy S7’s:
– Battery life – twice as long as the 5SE
– Speed of charging the battery – twice as fast
– Superior cameras – made by camera-king Canon
– Much faster processor –its quad-core 2.2 GHz processor versus Apple’s 2 core 1.85 GHz processor
– Screen size – 5.1 inches versus the 5SE’s 4-inches
– Larger built in memory – 32 or 64 or 128GB versus 5SE’s 16GB or 32GB
– Add-on memory – up to 200GB with a microSD card versus none for the 5SE
– RAM – 4GBs versus the 5SE’s 2GB
– A wireless recharger station, which Apple does not have
– Onscreen keyboard shows all the letters and all the numbers, which will be very appreciated by anyone that does a lot of texting or email

After watching the Samsung rep use it and then trying it ourselves, we could think of only three possible reasons for not buying it but they were huge:
– How long would it take to get used to the Android operating system compared to Apple’s iOS?
– How could I move my data from Apple’s smartphone and iCloud to the Galaxy S7?
– Could I easily move my library of apps, some free and some paid for, from the iPhone to the Galaxy S7.

He answers were:
A. He could move most all apps, the ones that were available for Android devices, from the iPhone to the S7.
B. Apps operated almost identically on both phones.
C. Best Buy conducted one-on-one classes in the store to help iPhone users make the transition to the Galaxy S7.
D. Verizon, my cell phone service provider could add $28 a month for 24 months to my prepaid account to pay for the S7.

To think it over – committing to switching from an iOS iPhones to an Android phone is a big decision – we left to think about it overnight, but … during lunch, I decided to return to the store there and then and buy the Galaxy S7.

This is when the problem occurred.

We told the Samsung rep we had decided to buy the S7 and he guided me to a desk where a Best Buy rep was set up to take the order, activate the S7, notify Verizon we were switching smartphones so Verizon could add the $28 a month – but no sales tax, unlike an outright purchase – to our prepaid payment.

After a few minutes and after talking to the Samsung rep, they told me that such changes in my payment plan could only be made by going to a Verizon store and making the purchase.

That cost Best Buy the sale but probably not very much profit consider how low margins are on smartphones.

Because we had to take time to go to the Verizon store to make a purchase, we decided to delay buying the 4K TV with HDR until another day.

So to the Verizon store we went where the sales rep also told us that about as many subscribers were buying the Galaxy S7 as iPhones. But, after purchasing the S7 for the same $672 that Best Buy had quoted, the Verizon rep and his manager found out that the only way that a prepaid subscriber can add a new phone is to pay for it upfront. We gave him the credit card and the store rang up the sale: $739.20, which included $67.20 for sales tax that would not have been charged if it had been added to my monthly prepaid subscription.

We then asked whether he could move the apps and data from the Apple smartphone to the Galaxy S7 as Best Buy had offered. After checking with the store manager and sales reps, the sales rep said that it could not be done.

So, we had the Verizon rep void the sales, reactivate my iPhone 5 and left for home – without buying a smartphone as I had planned – having wasted several hours.

Within 10 minutes of arriving home, I found several Web sites that showed Samsung has software called Smart Switch that “makes it easy to transfer contacts, photos, messages and more from your old phone to your new Galaxy,” according to Samsung. How is it that 6 Verizon sales rep and their manager could not have known that – especially since only one other customer was in the store – and all but two reps were standing around idly talking to each other.

Verizon could take a few lessons in salesmanship from Best Buy, specifically: know your product, especially one of its two best-selling smartphones.

 

Conclusions

– 4K TVs with HDR will be the best-selling 4K TVs in 2017, maybe even in 2016 if retailers and setmakers cut the prices of 4K TVs without HDR enough to clear out their inventories.
– Immersive audio is like a fish swimming just below the surface, ready to leap and get noticed. In a world where people are increasingly watching movies in their “home theaters,” they’ll want theater-like audio that sounds “just like being there.” Fortunately, immersive.
– Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 may be running neck-and-neck sales-wise in the States with the iPhone 5SE, Apple’s newest smartphone, even though the S7 is costlier – $672 for the entry-level S7 compared to $399 for the 5SE.

– My final decision, after all the mixed messages and conflicting information? After reading some of the rumors about the upcoming iPhone 7 that is reportedly due out in September, I decided to wait 4 months and compare it against the Galaxy S7 before making a decision – assuming my old iPhone makes it until then.
We tried to buy something but, alas, after about 4 hours, without a new HDR-capable 4K TV and no smartphone…

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About the Author

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