Explainers

Here’s all you need to know about HDR

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The screen is the most important part of your smartphone, and serves as both display and interface. Over the past decade or so, we’ve been inundated with selling points like Retina Display, 720p, 1080p, 1440p, and even 4K. The latest buzzword for screens is high dynamic range or HDR, and the latest flagship phones tout it as a must-have spec.

But what is HDR in the first place?

More colors, more brightness

Put simply, HDR lets your display exhibit a far wider range of colors. How? First, whites are whiter, and blacks are blacker. The screen does this by being much brighter than what you’re normally used to, to the tune of 1,000 nits (a unit used for display brightness). By comparison, your old flagship phone probably topped out at around 500 nits. An HDR display can also illuminate or darken specific areas of the screen, whereas a non-HDR display commonly lights the entire screen evenly.

Second is wide color gamut, or WCG. This feature increases both the color palette (the number of colors available and the bit depth (or the number of shades of those colors). Your old phone could display nearly 17 million colors. By contrast, an HDR display can show over a billion, which is much closer to what you can see in real life. When working in tandem, these two processes enable the screen to show a range of colors that are more akin to real life. This is why people who have seen an HDR display liken it to looking out a window.

But there lies the problem. The most difficult issue with conveying what HDR is exactly is that if you don’t actually have access to an HDR-capable display, it’s impossible to show the difference. Conversely, if you have an HDR display and a non-HDR display side by side, the improvements are instantly evident. This technology represents a generational leap, much like the jump from black-and-white to color, or standard definition to high definition.

A feature by any other name

You’ve probably heard the abbreviation “HDR” before as a vaunted feature for smartphones even before it was used for displays. Another source of confusion is that HDR also applies to another selling point for phones: the HDR feature of a camera. In camera HDR, the camera takes many exposures of the same scene and combines them, thereby showing all of the subtle steps in highlights and shadows.

The principle between HDR displays and photography remains roughly the same, with the end result being an image that has higher contrast and more colors. Crushed blacks and blown-out whites are also eliminated as a result. This is where the phrase “high dynamic range” comes in, representing the difference between the darkest parts of an image with the lightest.

Which gadgets have HDR?

All of this year’s important flagship phones have HDR-enabled displays, including the LG G6 and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium. However, these phones appear to be using different standards for what constitutes HDR — the LG G6 uses both the open HDR10 standard and proprietary Dolby Vision, and Sony’s 4K phone appears to be using its own definition of HDR.

Hopefully, HDR specifications normalize in subsequent generations of phones. You wouldn’t want to get a phone with HDR to find out that your HDR content won’t even display properly on it. Thankfully, at this year’s Mobile World Congress, the Ultra HD Alliance announced Mobile HDR Premium, which is an HDR standard specifically developed for smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, two of the best phones of 2017, were the first pair to adhere to this certification.

Here are the specifics of Mobile HDR Premium for a wide variety of portable devices:

Device Resolution Dynamic Range Color Space Bit Depth
Smartphones (3- to 7-inch screens) 60 pixels/degree .0005-540 nits 90% of P3 Color gamut 10
Tablets (7- to 12.9-inch screens) 60 pixels/degree .0005-540 nits 90% of P3 Color gamut 10
Laptops (9.5- to 18-inch screens) 60 pixels/degree .0005-540 nits or 0.1-600 nits 90% of P3 Color gamut 10

Why do you need HDR?

If you’re after the top-end phones, you’ll find it increasingly difficult to avoid HDR. The benefits that a more accurate display brings is most useful if you’ll be doing image work on your phone, like quickly editing photos on VSCO before sharing it to the ether. But its advantages will also be immediately noticeable if you consume content on your phone (like most people do). More and more media providers are putting out HDR content —YouTube, for one, has had HDR support since last year, and both Netflix and Amazon Video have it as well.

And with diminishing returns in terms of resolution on a five- to six-inch screen (do you really need 4K on a screen as big as your palm?), HDR is one display buzzword that is instantly apparent. Plus, unlike a 4K screen that eats batteries for breakfast, HDR on your phone can actually extend your phone’s longevity; the dynamic and selective adjustment of brightness, depending on what’s shown, should increase your screen-on time by a significant amount.

SEE ALSO: What exactly is Fast Charging? And how does it work?

Automotive

Explainer: 4 electric car myths, debunked

What you should know about the car of the future

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Did you know that the first electric vehicle was invented by Scottish inventor Robert Anderson in 1832? Back then, electricity-powered cars were nothing but curiosities and novelties. Now, electric vehicles are readying themselves to take over the car industry in just a few decades.

As with all revolutionary technology, reception for electric cars is lukewarm at best. Most consumers are still wary with converting to full electric, citing an unstable and uncertain future for the industry.

With the car and fuel industry hanging in the balance, gas car companies have a lot to gain by downplaying the benefits of electric vehicles. Due to the lack of information available, unproven myths inevitably pop up. Myths, as always, need to be debunked especially when electric cars overtake gas car production.

Myth 1: Electric cars are more expensive than gas cars

The cost of an electric vehicle is the most hotly contested aspect of EVs. Admittedly, the world’s most famous electric car, the Tesla Model S, still falls under the luxury car category. The battery-powered car still hovers around the US$ 100,000 range.

Budget-friendlier alternatives are out now, but their price ranges are still a bit more than a conventional car. The Chevrolet Bolt and the Nissan Leaf both cost around US$ 40,000, for example.

Illustrations by Yanni Panesa

 

Additionally, installing a home charging station compounds that price by about US$ 600.

It’s no surprise that most consumers are turned off by the exorbitant costs of EVs. However, the one-time price tag fails to show how much cheaper it is in the long run.

Right now, the cost of one kilowatt-hour (the standard for EVs) is below the cost of one liter of gasoline. Roughly estimating, one kWh costs 20 cents, while one liter of gas costs US$ 1, according to today’s standards.

The Nissan Leaf carries a 40kWh battery. Charging it to full will cost 40kWh x US$ 0.20 = US$ 8. Meanwhile, a 40L gas car will cost 40L x US$ 1 = US$ 40. Added with a much steeper maintenance cost, gasoline vehicles will quickly overtake the cost of EVs in the long run. (Of course, actual costs will still vary on usage, real prices, and road conditions.)

Myth 2: EVs don’t perform as well as gas cars

Don’t be fooled. Even if EVs are remarkably silent on the road, they are hiding powerful engines that are quickly catching up to the standards of speed today.

At their core, gasoline vehicles are inherently faulty. Their emissions aren’t only a hit on air pollution; they also mean that a car wastes a huge portion of their energy through heat, smoke, and other harmful pollutants.

On the other hand, EVs convert up to 62 percent of their stored energy for movement. For comparison, gas cars only use up 21 percent of their energy.

In terms of mileage, EVs can travel up to 193 kilometers on a full charge, adequate for a day’s worth of traveling. However, gas cars still rule the road by hundreds of kilometers more. It’s only a matter of time before EVs catch up, though. The industry-leading Tesla Model S 100D already tops out at 530+ kilometers.

Finally, when it comes to speed, EVs can do well to catch up with you in traffic. For example, both the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Bolt reach speeds of up to 150km/h. While the more widely available EVs can still be woefully left in the dirt on a straightaway, the Tesla Model X blazes through with a top speed of 250km/h.

Amid all of this, EVs do their jobs quietly. If you’re not paying attention, an EV can sneak up on you from behind. Besides air pollution, EVs avoid noise pollution, too.

Myth 3: Maintaining an EV is more trouble than it’s worth

Both an EV and a gas car take you from one place to the other. EVs just do it with far fewer components. Unlike conventional cars, EVs aren’t frequent visitors to the mechanics. Fewer parts mean fewer components to maintain.

That doesn’t mean that everything is breezy, though. Replacing the battery is a nightmare for your budgeting. For example, a Nissan Leaf replacement battery costs US$ 5,499.

Thankfully, batteries are a lot more durable than you would expect. The Nissan Leaf guarantees a battery life of eight years or 100,000 miles (or approximately 161,000 kilometers). Most electric car brands already offer warranties (including replacements) before their batteries expire. Moreover, electric car batteries are completely recyclable. You might even get a trade-in return for your old battery.

Currently, the only hurdle impeding an electric car’s maintenance is the lack of able mechanics who specialize in EVs. On the bright side, by the time that you’ll need a thorough repair on your EV, the employment industry will have evolved to accommodate your needs.

Myth 4: Electric vehicles are the saviors of the environment

There is no doubt that EVs eliminate the carbon emissions that gas cars will always emit. Even from their construction, EVs carry a design trait that puts them beyond gas cars: They don’t have a tailpipe.

Currently, 75 percent of air pollution comes from motor vehicles. With their energy-efficient design, EVs eliminate the pollution caused by carbon emission. Converting to an EV is one of the greenest decisions you can make to save the environment.

However, it has its own fair share of gray areas. Critics often share the myth that EVs only displace the emissions from the tailpipe to a coal plant’s smoke stack.

Which is partly true.

 

On their own, the world’s main methods of producing power are terribly unprepared for a sudden surge in demand. Despite recent developments in renewable energy, coal power is still the world’s leading generator of electricity.

Hypothetically, if everyone in the world adopted EVs right now, coal plants would have to exponentially increase their output, creating more smokestack emissions as a result.

Luckily, the world isn’t ready to go full EV yet. Early predictions still date the takeover to 2040. We still have a lot of time to adjust our energy consumption for more energy-efficient means, like solar, hydro, and nuclear.

In reality, EVs can’t save the world by themselves. The myth that they just displace damage is only half-true. However, the environment can’t survive with 50 percent solutions. It has to rely on us changing our perspectives on energy.

Electric vehicles are the future. But with unchecked energy consumption rates, that future can look quite grim.

SEE ALSO: The Best Car Tech of CES 2018

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Battle of the reversibles: USB-C vs Lightning connector

Which port is best for your device?

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Gone are the days of the peculiar dance of the ports thanks to reversible connectors. We’re talking about the USB-C standard and the Lightning connector from Apple. Both are amazing and helpful for consumers, but the two are quite different. And no, it’s not a matter of Android versus iPhone.

What is USB-C?

USB-C, technically known as USB Type-C, is the latest and most versatile USB connector to date. If you happen to have a premium phone, you already have a USB-C port for charging and wired connectivity. If you have the latest MacBook or MacBook Pro, it’s the sole type of port on your laptop for wired video and data output, as well as charging. You will find USB-C on most mobile devices nowadays, even laptops, because it’s a standard that anyone can use. But not all USB-C ports and connectors are created equal.

A technical explanation as to why they’re not all equal is that USB-C is actually just the style of connector and port; the real power comes from the USB 3.1 technology it uses, which can deliver 100 watts of power and is capable of a 10Gbps data transfer rate. It also supports Thunderbolt 3 technology for an even faster 40Gbps transfer. But not all USB-C types have USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 speeds, especially for mobile phones.

While the older USB we’re familiar with are mainly used for storing and transferring files, the new USB-C standard is not limited to that. It can relay images for displays with support for full DisplayPort A/V performance up to an 8K resolution. It’s also backward-compatible with VGA, DVI, and the trusty HDMI as long as you have the right adapters.

Since all USB-C ports and connectors look alike, it’s now harder to distinguish what the port or cable is for. Could it be a power source or for charging? Maybe for high-resolution video? Or high-speed data transfer? You’ll have to know the specifications to be sure.

What is Lightning?

Apple already had their proprietary connector with the early iPhones, but it was only since the introduction of the Lightning connector along with the iPhone 5 in 2012 that made their own design popular.

From a cumbersome 30-pin dock connector, Apple had a smaller and reversible one which was ahead of its time. Even the common micro-USB port can’t compete with the convenience of the Lightning connector. Since it’s proprietary, only Apple can use it and third-party accessory manufacturers have to pay a licensing fee to apply it to their products.

The technical specification of Lightning is pretty limited, but when it first came out, tests showed that its speeds were up to 480Mbps — the same with the old USB 2.0 standards. In 2015, the iPad Pro showed a faster speed of 5Gbps, but that’s still only half of USB 3.1 speeds.

What are the significant differences between the two?

It’s easy to differentiate the two based on their appearances. If you’ve ever used or seen an iPhone, you’re already familiar with how the Lightning connector looks with its pins exposed. USB-C looks cleaner and simpler with its symmetrical connector.

Lightning connector (left) and USB-C (right)

Again, USB-C refers to the style of the port and connector rather than the technology it has. It is convenient because it’s reversible and universal. The whole point was to have a single style of connector and port that could run pretty much everything.

The Lightning connector is solely used to connect Apple mobile devices like iPhones, iPads, and iPods to host computers, external monitors, cameras, battery chargers, and other peripherals. You won’t find it on any other device, even MacBooks.

Why is Apple not using the Lightning connector on MacBooks and will USB-C replace Lightning on iPhones?

Will we ever see a Lightning connector on a MacBook? Highly unlikely. But there’s a possibility that Apple will use USB-C soon on iPhones. Last year’s rumors pointed to the iPhone X having USB-C, but it didn’t.

With the new MacBooks relying purely on USB-C, an iPhone with USB-C is not far from reality. That’s unless Apple wants to keep the revenue from Lightning connector licensing.

Which is better?

When paired with USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 technology, USB-C is faster, more powerful, and provides greater versatility than Lightning. It’s also now widely adopted for consumer technologies may it be on phones, laptops, or other mobile gadgets.

USB-C is the future. Apple already accepted it on their premium notebooks which kind of triggered professionals who are using MacBooks, but that’s the future we’re heading towards. It will come to a point where we’ll just plug in a cable and it’ll simply work. For now, we still need to understand the differences and live with dongles.

SEE ALSO: Why is USB Type-C so important?

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Inside the house of tomorrow: Smart home explained

Take me to 2020!

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Ten years ago, smart homes belonged to the realm of science fiction. Back then, you would only see connected smart devices in TV shows like Black Mirror, rather than in cons and tradeshows.

Today, a connected household isn’t just a working theory; it’s already a reality pushed by the world’s leading tech brands. Common, everyday tasks can now be automated by artificial intelligence or simplified through voice commands.

We are living in a world where every device has a voice, whether it’s Alexa, Siri, Cortana, or the Google Assistant. While some anticipate the curiosities that the future will bring, some fear the rapid changes that a house from the future beckons.

Regardless of how you might feel about the future of futuristic abodes, living in one can still be a mystery, especially for the everyday homeowner. There are layers of tech to wade through. As with every house hunt, it’s time to take a tour of the house of tomorrow before you inevitably live in one.

Garage: letting the right one in

As you pull up into the driveway with your electric car, the garage door automatically opens to the sound of your voice. The lights go on to help you park. You climb out of the car and hook it up to the charging station on the wall.

As you head to the front door, the garage door closes behind you. The smart camera above the door detects who you are and notifies your family that you’ve arrived. The locks disengage, and you enter.

The most common elements of a smart home are those seen from the outside. If you live within a gated community, you’ve seen automatic gates open and close by themselves. You might’ve also seen electric vehicles roaming the streets already. They may be outside the house, but these machines have become essential to the smart home ecosystem. They’ve become extensions of your smart house that you can take with you wherever.

Even as you exit your garage, other smart devices are being fitted around your house. The Nest Cam IQ, for example, is a smart security camera that adds an extra oomph in security. It can record in HD, listen in on conversations, and detect familiar faces.

Having an integrated smart security system allows you to enter and exit your home without fussing with keychains and padlocks.

Living room: command center

Entering your house, you kiss your spouse hello, kick off your shoes, and watch a bit of TV before dinner. Just as you plop down onto your couch, you remember that your house security is still disabled. You ask Alexa to turn it on. You rest easy while watching the latest House of Cards episode.

The evolution of the smart home began in earnest with the living room. As it was the central hub of the entire house, the living room also became the center for the Internet of Things. The new smart home ecosystem coordinated everything from the lights to the TV to the security system — right from the comforts of your sofa.

Who hasn’t heard of a smart TV? The industry’s newest TVs integrate the internet to build a more comprehensive entertainment experience. From a device that connects to mere broadcast stations, the TV evolved to access a vast catalog of online entertainment. You could watch Netflix while searching for your favorite recipes on Google. The smart TV became the desktop of your living room.

As people spent more time interacting with their TVs, smart devices started installing themselves around the luxuries of the living room. While you’re watching a movie, you can change everything from the temperature to the lights without standing up or pausing the programming.

The Philips Hue, for example, takes control of your house’s lighting system. That’s not all. The smart bulb automates your lights’ operation for both when you’re in and out of the house. It can even change a room’s hue to set the mood.

Another example is the Ecobee 3 smart thermostat. The automated system optimizes the temperature based on your activity inside and on the temperature outside. Further, it also makes your energy usage more efficient.

Kitchen: robots get hungry, too

As you open your fridge, a voice lists down the food you have in stock. Knowing how much pasta and olive oil you have left, the voice assistant suggests pesto for dinner. You agree. Alexa, then, preheats the oven for the pasta and preps your dishwasher for the oily dishes later.

Despite the oodles of devices inside a kitchen, tech makers are only starting to optimize the room for the smart home. LG, for example, launched a series of devices that assist you even before you start preparing the dish.

Their smart refrigerator catalogs the supplies you have left. It alerts you when you’re short of ingredients and recommends recipes based on what’s inside. Plus, it even has its own entertainment system to get your groove on while you cook.

After you gather all the ingredients, the system passes the recipe down to the appliances you’ll need. A smart oven preheats to fit the temperature you need; a smart dishwasher customizes its spin cycles to wash dishes optimally.

Bedroom: the last frontier

The day is over. Before you drift off to sleep, you remember to charge your devices — iPhone X, Apple Watch — on the wireless charging stand. You set Google Home to wake you up at 7am by playing a Rihanna song.

The bedroom is the last frontier of the home of tomorrow. The bed is the last sanctuary from a life taken over by tech. That, however, won’t last. As early as now, the Internet of Things follows you even to the bedroom.

Wireless charging stations, smart thermostat panels, and security panels pervade our bedrooms, allowing us easy access to how our house works before we call it a night. A smart bed is still forthcoming, but technology is already reaching out before it inevitably comes.

With Google Home and Amazon Echo, voice assistants now lull us to sleep and wake us up in the morning. Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana will become the first and last voices we hear every day. The eerily human voice assistants have already lent their voices to every device in our home.

It’s only a matter of time before our house becomes a machine itself. Whether you embrace the future or shun it, technology will always find a way to make our lives easier. But don’t worry when it comes. All you’ll hear is the soothing voice of Alexa, asking how you want your meat cooked.

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