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Rewards and incentives are a great way to boost your market research insights and response rates. But should you use instant rewards, sweepstakes, or points-to-rewards?

It is no exaggeration to say that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd is a company that built the history of Japan’s manufacturing industry.

There’s an art to growing leads and maintaining successful relationships with customers. When you want to give your sales and marketing teams a digital advantage,

Ultimately, the consistent and reliable flow of data across people, teams and business functions is crucial to an organization’s survival and ability to innovate.

Ultimately, the consistent and reliable flow of data across people, teams and business functions is crucial to an organization’s survival and ability to innovate.

Organizations’ top data priorities over the next two years fall into three areas, all supported by wider adoption of cloud platforms:

  • LFR takes a closer look at HP Latex 630 printer series

    LFR takes a closer look at the new HP Latex 630 printer series to find out more about what these latest HP machines offer to users.

  • Purcell Branding - Business success with fewer moving parts

    Setting up a new business in the print industry is by no means an easy task, especially when you do not have all the equipment required to produce the type of work you want to offer to customers. LFR speaks with David Purcell, Managing Director of Purcell Branding, about how the company’s decision to work with printing partners, rather than invest in all its own machinery, has helped pave a path to swift success during its first year in business.

  • A bright future for the print Industry

    In the ever-evolving landscape of the print industry, thriving communities of print professionals are helping to shape the positive future of print.

  • How big a threat to print is signage on electronic screens?

    Given the advancements in digital advertising technology and its rising popularity among marketers, LFR considers some of the core challenges this poses to printed signage work and what the industry can do to respond.

  • Mind the gap – automation in print

    LFR previews Ricoh’s latest report on the use of automation in print and pulls out some of the key findings, highlighting the potential paths to success for print service providers.

  • Rob Fletcher asks what is the future of screen printing?

    An expansive and far-reaching segment, Rob Fletcher speaks with two leading manufacturers from the screen printing market to find out where the market may be heading and what sort of developments we can expect.

    • What is REST? The de facto web architecture standard

      REST, or Representational State Transfer, is the ubiquitous architectural style that answers the pivotal question: how will web servers and clients communicate? Of all the acronyms floating around the world of software engineering, REST is one of the most common. It is also one of the most frequently misunderstood. This article offers a quick guide to REST in both theory and practice. In other words, we'll look at both the theory of REST and how it is actually implemented, which is mostly in the form of RESTful APIs. REST in theory Building software to be distributed on the Internet entails an inherent degree of complexity. The TCP/IP and HTTP stack gives us a basic mechanism for exchanging data over the wire, but the protocols end there. Software developers have had to devise our own higher-level approaches for organizing how resources will be packaged and distributed via web applications. To read this article in full, please click here

    • Microsoft’s F# gets computation expressions enhancement

      Microsoft has introduced a while! keyword with its open source F# language, providing a refined approach to loops in computation expressions.This keyword, spoken as "while bang," is intended to minimize boilerplate, boost clarity, and enhance expressiveness, Microsoft said in a blog post on September 20. With while!, specifying an asynchronous condition in loops now is feasible. Microsoft cites the elimination of a mutant variable, a reduction in total lines of code, and a decrease in overall cyclomatic complexity as a result of while!. The while! construct does not require a builder method but instead invokes .Bind in the same manner as let! does; so there is no additional work needed when authoring new computation expressions.  Constructs are composable and can be nested.To read this article in full, please click here

    • A crisis of spending and cloud-based GenAI

      The rush to generative AI is driving unexpected spending. It’s no longer considered optional to have generative AI system development and deployment plans; it’s a priority for boards and executive leadership. Thus, the question comes up quickly of how to pay for it, cloud or no cloud.The numbers are scary to someone who has created these budgets in the past. IT executives now expect 2023 generative AI budgets to be 3.4 times greater than anticipated. However, only 15% of tech execs expect to fund this uptick with net-new spending.To read this article in full, please click here

    • Build an API gateway using YARP in ASP.NET Core

      An API gateway provides a mechanism through which the user interface components of an application can connect to back-end services to exchange data. This article introduces the concept of an API gateway, discusses the differences between an API gateway and a reverse proxy, and illustrates how you can implement an API gateway using YARP (Yet Another Reverse Proxy) in ASP.NET Core.In this article, we’ll make use of the microservices we created in my previous article. To use the code examples provided in this article, you should have Visual Studio 2022 installed in your system. If you don’t already have a copy, you can download Visual Studio 2022 here.To read this article in full, please click here

    • Java 22 could include computed constants, class-filed API

      Java Development Kit (JDK) 21 officially arrived September 19, 2023. Next up is JDK 22, or Java 22, due March 19, 2024. A range of capabilities from structured concurrency to computed constants and a class-file API could make it into this future release.JDK 22 is set to be published as a short-term release by Oracle with six months of support, although other organizations could offer longer support if they choose. Although the OpenJDK webpage for JDK 22 doesn’t lists any features yet, obvious candidates include features previewed in JDK 21, such as structured concurrency for concurrent programming. Another possibility is a feature that was initially slotted for JDK 21 but was taken out: the Shenandoah garbage collector, a low-pause time collector. Early-access builds of JDK 22 are available at Other candidates for possible inclusion in JDK 22 include:To read this article in full, please click here

    • Build beyond Windows: WSL and WSA in 2023

      Microsoft has long intended to make Windows the place for developers. Its intention is shown in both software and hardware as the company aims to deliver tools that make it possible to build code wherever and for whatever.One recent example: the specifications of the second version of its flagship Surface Laptop Studio. Not only does this latest version include an Intel NPU for AI development, it also doubles the system memory from 32GB to 64GB for the top-end version of the laptop. That gives you plenty of resources for building end-to-end applications that cross from cloud to mobile and beyond.Having a lot of memory simplifies running multiple operating systems at the same time, allowing you to build cross-platform development toolchains that don’t leave your PC and take advantage of both the Windows Subsystem for Linux and the Windows Subsystem for Android. Running on top of Windows’ Krypton hypervisor, both subsystems offer a way to build and test code wherever you’re working without having to spin up additional resources or plug in extra hardware. They’re also both under continuous development, regularly adding new features and tools.To read this article in full, please click here

    • Procurement is painful, so Pivot wants to simplify it

      Earlier this year, a big French tech company started requiring an email to the CEO for every purchase above €1,000. That’s because they didn’t have the right tool to manage procurement. Meet Pivot, a new French startup that wants to overhaul spend management solutions. Pivot wants to work with young companies that are growing fast

    • How to raise a Series A in today’s market

      Three investors shared their perspectives on what’s changed, what’s working today, and what advice they’re giving founders at this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt.

    • Why we’re seeing so many seed-stage deals in fintech

      Welcome back to The Interchange, where we take a look at the hottest fintech news of the previous week. If you want to receive The Interchange directly in your inbox every Sunday, head here to sign up! It was a relatively quiet week in fintech startup land, so we took the time to scrutinize where we’re seeing

    • SBF’s trial starts soon, but how did he — and FTX — get here?

      Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried's trial begins Tuesday. Here's what you need to know.

    • A tale of two research institutes

      If you’re lucky, once a year you get to put together a panel built on pure kismet. Pairing Gill Pratt with Marc Raibert was exactly that for me. The two go back several decades, to the salad days of MIT’s Leg Lab. [A version of this story original appeared in TechCrunch’s robotics newsletter, Actuator. Subscribe

    • Tinder goes ultra-premium, Amazon invests in Anthropic and Apple explains its new AirPods

      In this edition of Week in Review, we cover Tinder's pricey new subscription, Amazon's investment in Anthropic and the features of Apple's next-gen AirPods.

      • Tesla rolls out an updated Model Y in China but keeps the same starting price

        The new Model Y for China looks a lot like the old one. | Screenshot: Wes Davis / The Verge Tesla's China arm announced in a WeChat post Sunday morning that it released a new Model Y with design and performance tweaks that keeps the same starting price as before (via Reuters). The new car follows the company’s release of the revamped "Highland" Model 3 in China, which also hit Europe early last month. According to Tesla’s Chinese website, the Model Y now has a 0–100km/h time of 5.9 seconds, which Bloomberg notes in a report is slightly faster than before. The car gets new wheels and an ambient LED lighting strip in the dash, like the refreshed Model 3. Screenshot: Wes Davis / The Verge If you squint, you can see the new LED strip along the front. The car starts at 263,900 yuan (about $37,000), and... Continue reading…

      • Apple plans to upgrade the App Store’s search engine, and it might not stop there

        Illustration: The Verge Apple will soon bring its powerful internal search engine to the App Store and other apps, as Mark Gurman reports in this week’s Power On newsletter for Bloomberg. Apple debuted upgrades to its Spotlight search feature in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, letting users search there for web results, details from apps, documents, and much more. According to the newsletter, former Google executive John Giannandrea’s search team is working to bake the internally-named “Pegasus” search engine more deeply into iOS and macOS and could even use generative AI tools to enhance it further. Last year Apple also launched Business Connect, a tool that helped strengthen its information database with details about businesses’ hours and locations in a way that could... Continue reading…

      • A leaked Google ‘Switch to Pixel’ ad highlights Pixel 8 AI features

        A leaked Pixel 8 “Switch to Pixel” ad posted to X by Arséne Lupin highlights Google’s AI features, including Best Take, which lets you swap faces into an image from other pictures (via 9to5Google). Google’s Pixel event is just around the corner on October 4th, but there’s seemingly very little we don’t already know about the phone, considering the steady stream of leaks. The ad kicks off highlighting the process for transferring data to a Pixel 8, but spends most of its time on the AI features of the phone — some new, like Best Take, and some old, like Magic Eraser: Switch to Pixel - Pixel 8 (Pro)— Arsène Lupin (@MysteryLupin) September 30, 2023 9to5Google also points to a leak from Kamila Wojciechowska,... Continue reading…

      • Hong Sangsoo’s new movies are losing focus

        Courtesy of Cinema Guild Recently, we’ve been gifted two new works by Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo each year. He loves a small movie, usually comfortably under the 90-minute mark, and a scope that might encompass a novella or even a short story. I personally find them kind of hit or miss. Not to say Hong is inconsistent. In fact, it is remarkable how he can keep making the same kind of movie over and over. Even within the self-imposed constraints of Hong’s manner, there is wild variance in what he puts out. In that sense, his new movies are fitting — though unessential — additions to his prolific filmography. One of this year’s, In Our Day, is fairly standard Hong: low stakes, talky, and cast with familiar actors (if you think Wes Anderson likes recurring players,... Continue reading…

      • The Pixel Watch exceeded expectations — now it needs to be as good as Samsung

        The Pixel Watch 2 is a golden opportunity for Google to prove it’s serious about wearables. | Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge After I reviewed the Pixel Watch last year, skeptics kept asking me the same questions over and over again: Do you think Google’s actually going to keep this thing going? Do you think it’s going to ax the Pixel Watch if it doesn’t sell? These are fair questions to ask. Despite being among the first to the wearable scene in 2014, it let Android Wear and then Wear OS languish for years. Plus, Google’s graveyard of abandoned projects is notoriously vast. While I was pretty confident we’d see a Pixel Watch 2, I didn’t think the Pixel Watch — a better-than-expected debut with some very first-gen flaws — would succeed to the degree it did. During Q4 2022 (aka the holiday season), Google leapfrogged Samsung to become the No. 2 bestselling... Continue reading…

      • How the Elon Musk biography exposes Walter Isaacson

        The limits of myth-making are apparent in Walter Isaacson’s new biography. | Illustration by William Joel / The Verge The trouble began days before the biography was even published. CNN had a story summarizing an excerpt of Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk that claimed Musk had shut down SpaceX’s satellite network, Starlink, to prevent a “Ukrainian sneak attack” on the Russian navy. The Washington Post followed it up, publishing the excerpt where Isaacson claimed Musk had essentially shut down a military offensive on a personal whim. This reporting did not pass the smell test to me, and I said so at the time; I wondered about the sourcing. One of the things that anyone covering Elon Musk for long enough has to reckon with is that he loves to tell hilarious lies. For instance: “Funding secured.” Remember when Elon Musk pretended he was going to take Tesla... Continue reading…

      • The best Google alternative I’ve tried yet

        Image: William Joel / The Verge Hi, friends! Welcome to Installer No. 8, your guide to the best and Verge-iest stuff in the world. (If you’re new here, first of all, hi, hello, welcome, and second of all, you can read all the old editions at the Installer homepage.) This week, I’ve spent an alarming amount of my free time playing EA Sports FC 24, the new soccer game that just released in full on Friday. I’ve also been reading about Apple’s plans to change the sports TV world, the truly unhinged Survivor casting process, and Sam Altman’s plan to either save the world or end it. I’ve been watching Special Ops: Lioness, listening to NSYNC’s new song on repeat, and taking copious notes on Kashmir Hill’s excellent Longform interview. I also have for you a new VR / AR / MR... Continue reading…

      • LG is dropping ATSC 3.0 from its TVs next year

        A picture of two LG TVs at CES 2022. | Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge LG told the FCC it’s pulling support for the ATSC 3.0 standard in its TVs next year because of a “challenging and uncertain patent landscape,” according to LightReading (via ZatzNotFunny). ATSC 3.0, aka Nextgen TV, is the next-generation broadcast format that would bring 4K TV and advanced video and audio formats like HDR and Dolby Atmos, as well as interactive apps, for free. As we wrote about the standard in 2017: ATSC 3.0 is the next major version of the broadcast TV format. (Version 2.0 was intended as a backward compatible update that was eventually canceled in favor of the more significant 3.0 update.) Where ATSC 1.0 added digital technology and HD video, ATSC 3.0 is planned to be an IP-based (internet protocol) system. It’s still... Continue reading…

      • Apple blames iOS 17 bugs and apps like Instagram for making iPhone 15s run hot

        Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge Apple has acknowledged user complaints that iPhone 15 and 15 Pro phones are overheating, reports Forbes, but said that contrary to speculation, it has nothing to do with the phone’s hardware design. Forbes noted an update to Instagram has already rolled out with version 302, released September 27th, to address some of the issues. Bloomberg notes an unnamed Apple spokesperson specifically mentioning Instagram, Uber, and the game Asphalt 9 as examples of apps that could cause the devices to “run warmer than normal.” Apple also says there is no safety risk in the thermal issues but that other factors, like USB-C power adapters with more-than-20W charging and background processing that occurs shortly after a phone is restored, can make a... Continue reading…

      • The Sphere’s first show looks like it was a mind-blowing spectacle

        The outside of The Sphere during the U2:UV Achtung Baby Live concert on September 29th, 2023. | Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images U2 played the first-ever show at the Las Vegas Sphere, a massive, dome-shaped venue wrapped in over a million LEDs. The concert, a live performance centered on the band’s Achtung, Baby album, was also the band’s first in a series of performances it will put on at the venue through the end of December. The cheapest tickets for the shows that haven’t sold out yet start at about $400, as of this writing. From videos being posted to social media, it looks like shows at The Sphere can be breathtaking, probably more than a little nauseating, and undoubtedly expensive to produce. A review in The New York Times says the concert alternated between gigantic, trippy visual effects sweeping across the domed display and the more standard concert... Continue reading…

      • Mattel CEO Claims Its Barney Movie Won't Be Weird

        Even before the Barbie movie became one of the biggest films of 2023, it was clear Mattel was going to use that as a jumping off point to bring more of its toys to the silver screen. The company’s never been shy about what toys are getting the movie treatment, with the most well-known of the bunch being one focused on …Read more...

      • Open Channel: Tell Us Your Thoughts on Saw X and The Creator

        September can sometimes be a dead month for movies, but for 2023, this month is ending with two pretty big tentpoles in the theaters.Read more...

      • Here Are the Top AI Stories You Missed This Week

        If you’re behind on what’s happening with the robot uprising, have no fear. Here’s a quick look at some of the weirdest and wildest artificial intelligence news from the past week. Also, don’t forget to check out our weekly AI write-up, which will go into more detail on this same topic.Read more...

      • Spy x Family Brings Back the Forgers for More Misadventures

        Spy x Family was one of the biggest anime of 2022, and audiences became delighted with the weekly exploits of Loid Forger, Yor Briar, Anya, and their dog, Bond. Fortunately, season two isn’t that far out—it premieres next week exclusively on Crunchyroll starting Saturday, October 7.Read more...

      • Unemployment Benefits Bill for Striking Workers Vetoed by Gavin Newsom

        Once it became clear the Hollywood strikes would be going on longer than anyone initially believe, Democratic senators in California wrote up a bill to compensate workers on strike. With backing from the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, the hope was that it would be passed and provide money to anyone out of work in the…Read more...

      • Saw X Was So Gnarly, Its Editor Had the Cops Called on Him

        Watching the Saw movies isn’t for everyone—across the now 10-movie franchise, audiences have seen people mutilate themselves in order to stay alive or die trying in some pretty grisly fashion. For those who loves these movies or to see people get messed up, that’s part of the appeal. But when you’re the one involved…Read more...

      • Knights of the Old Republic Remake's Status in Question After Trailer Pruning

        BioWare’s 2003 game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is one of the most well-known video games to bear the franchise’s name, and players were delighted to hear it would be coming to the current gaming generation. But much like Star Wars Eclipse, whose existence had to be reconfirmed by developer Quantic Dream…Read more...

      • The Marvels May Be the MCU's Shortest Film Ever

        At a time when folks are tying a movie’s runtime as part of their interest in seeing it in the theater, blockbuster tentpoles can sometimes run fairly long. At two hours or more, superhero flicks can run long in the the tooth. So if such a thing matters to you, you’ll be pleased to hear that the upcoming The Marvels ac…Read more...

      • Hazbin Hotel Checks In to Prime Video in January

        In 2019, animator and illustrator Vivienne Medrano (aka VivziePop) released the pilot for her upcoming animated series Hazbin Hotel. Animation fans took the show fairly well and at time of writing, it’s racked up 90 million views on YouTube. The following year, A24 opted to pick up the pilot for a full-blown show, and…Read more...

      • What Place Does Physical Media Have in Our All-Digital World?

        There are few places in this world where dead things are offered such a promoted place among the living. If I had to arrange my mind to any, my first thought lands on the Catacombes de Paris, the old quarries turned morbid gallery for the shelves of anonymous bones. In that enormous memento mori, the skulls of…Read more...

      • A Look Back at the Best Spaceflight Images From September

        The summer season has ended, but spaceflight continues to be hot, with new views of our Moon and Jupiter’s moon Io, the much-anticipated return of an astronaut and an asteroid sample, and important new rocket engine tests, to name just a few of the many moments that captured our attention in September.Read more...

      • Super7 Debuts New Sesame Street, Pinocchio and Peanuts Figures

        Get ready for some SuperSize collectibles from Super7, which are available as of today.Read more...

      • AI This Week: The Hollywood Writer's Strike May Have Ended, But the Battle Over AI is Far From Finished

        OpenAI rolled out a number of big updates to ChatGPT this week. Those updates include “eyes, ears, and a voice” (i.e., the chatbot now boasts image recognition, speech-to-text and text-to-speech synthesization capabilities, and Siri-like vocals—so you’re basically talking to the HAL 9000), as well as a new integration…Read more...

      • Meta Quest 3 Shows Us the Metaverse Dream isn’t Dead Yet

        Watching the Meta Quest 3 being announced by Meta made me realize something – the hardware available for virtual, augmented and mixed reality is finally catching up with the big idea pitches everyone had about this concept called the “metaverse” a couple of years ago.Read more...

      • Orbit Is Curating a Series of Free Craft Talks With Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers

        Orbit Books, an imprint of Hachette, has developed a free virtual event series for aspiring science-fiction and fantasy writers. Attendees can attend any of the 14 sessions—which are spread out over six weeks in October and early November—for free. The topics range from nitty gritty advice on worldbuilding to a panel…Read more...

      • AMC+ is the latest streamer to go the ad-supported way

        Want to stream Mad Men and Tales of the Walking Dead for less? Now you can, if you’re willing to pony up for a new version of AMC+ with ads. As is promised back in April, AMC Networks is rolling out an ad-supported tier of AMC+, Variety reports. The new AMC+ “with ads” tier costs $4.99 a month, versus $8.99 a month for the ad-free AMC+. With its latest move, AMC+ joins the ranks of such big-name streamers as Netflix, Disney+, Max, and now Amazon, which will soon begin charging an extra fee for an ad-free version of Prime Video. Sign up for a 7-day free trial of AMC+ Why is AMC Networks debuting an ad-supported version of AMC+? For the same reason all the other big streamers are: to snag more subscribers in a streaming market that’s become increasingly saturated. AMC+ is the home of such old favorites as Mad Men and Portlandia, as well as newer original shows such as Lucky Hank, Tales of the Walking Dead, Interview with the Vampire, Kevin Can F**k Himself, and Being Human. Besides shows, AMC+ offers a variety of original movies, including Vesper, Corsage (starring Vicky Krieps from Phantom Thread), and The Apology.  Of course, AMC+ doesn’t only offer AMC shows and films, with the streamer also bundling titles from Shudder, Sundance Now, and IFC Films Unlimited. The ad-supported version of AMC+ will cozy up with a variety of other streaming services that offer discounted “with ads” tiers. Max debuted HBO Max “With Ads” (back when it was still called “HBO Max”) more than two years ago. Netflix finally went the ad-supported way in November 2022, while Disney+ teed up its own ad-supported tier a month later. Most recently, Amazon announced that it will begin serving “limited advertisements” on Prime Video in “early” 2024, and that an ad-free version of Prime Video will cost an extra $2.99 a month for Prime subscribers in the US. Apple hasn’t announced a “with ads” version of Apple TV+ quite yet, but there are plenty of hints from Cupertino that a cheaper, ad-supported tier of Apple’s streaming service could be on the way. Updated on September 29, 2023 with pricing details for the ad-supported version of AMC+, which was first announced in April. Streaming Media

      • Amazon might charge extra for a “remarkable” version of Alexa

        Amazon recently put one of Alexa’s best features–its ability to recognize the sound of smoke alarms and broken glass–behind a firewall, and now there’s talk of charging for Alexa’s upcoming generative AI tricks, too. Speaking with Bloomberg, outgoing Amazon hardware chief Dave Limp said “we absolutely think that” the company could begin charging for a “remarkable” and “superhuman” version of Alexa, although not for the Alexa that “you know and love today.” More specifically, Amazon is considering charging a fee for an Alexa that’s powered by Amazon’s new large language model, making it capable of feats such as weaving stories out of thin air, tossing out ideas for recipes, engaging in natural conversation, or other generative AI-powered abilities, according to the Bloomberg story (subscription required). This news story is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best smart speakers. We got a glimpse of this new, “remarkable” version of Alexa during last week’s big Amazon hardware event, where Limp and other Amazon execs took turns chatting with Alexa about football, asking it to compose dinner invites for friends, and even requesting poems written on the spot. Backed by Amazon’s new speech-to-speech LLM model, the revamped Alexa sounded much more human than the current, everyday version, gamely bantering back and forth, asking leading questions, and even laughing or sounding cheerful or sad, depending on the context of the conversation. At the event, Limp promised that Echo users would eventually get a “free preview” of Alexa’s “new capabilities.” But during his interview with Bloomberg, Limp made explicit what he only implied during last week’s presentation: namely, that Amazon wants to charge extra for a supercharged version of Alexa. So, how much would this new Alexa cost? “We don’t have an idea of a price yet,” Limp said, adding that “we’ll talk to customers and learn from them, what they believe the value is.” As for when this “remarkable” version of Alexa would arrive, Limp declined to give specifics, but noted that “it’s not years away…it’s not decades away.” Meanwhile, the “Alexa that you know and love today” will “remain free,” Limp promised. Reached for comment by TechHive, Amazon confirmed Limp’s quotes in the Bloomberg story: Over time, we certainly think there’ll be enough value in the experience that customers would pay for it. It’s early, but you’re already seeing this happen with other generative AI experiences focused on productivity, or with chatbots on the web—they all seem to have found that customers are willing to pay for the service if they find enough value. As we evolve the capabilities, we hope to learn what customers find valuable—that’s why we want to get this first set of capabilities into customers’ hands. The Alexa customers know and love today will remain free. Charging for Alexa–or at least, for Alexa’s new abilities–would help staunch the bleeding at Amazon’s Alexa division, which reportedly lost billions of dollars in 2022.  Leading the Alexa group toward profitability will now fall largely on Panos Panay, the longtime Microsoft exec who will take over for Limp by the end of October. We’ve already seen evidence of one way Amazon hopes to squeeze more revenue from Alexa: by charging for Alexa’s ability to detect smoke alarm sirens and breaking glass, a feature that used to be free. Sign up for the Best of TechHive newsletter Updated shortly after publication with a comment from Amazon. Smart Speakers

      • Sony Bravia XR A80L review: Excellent value among OLED TVs

        At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsRefined, cinematic images Above average audio Google TV smart platform Dolby Vision ConsOnly two 120Hz HDMIs Peak HDR not as bright as rivals 60Hz input lag performance is averageOur VerdictSony’s A80L may not warrant top billing in Sony’s display firmament, but this HDR star shines brightly. Price When ReviewedFrom £1,899 | Model reviewed £2,499 Best Prices Today: Sony Bravia XR A80L (2023) Retailer Price £1599 View Deal £1599 View Deal £1599 View Deal £1,599.00 View Deal Sony £1699 View Deal £2199 View Deal £2199 View Deal £2199 View Deal £3499 View Deal Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide View more prices Product Price Price comparison from Backmarket Given how good it looks, it’s remarkable that the Sony Bravia XR A80L no longer represents the cutting edge of OLED displays. There are several (admittedly more expensive) screens with more advanced panel designs, sporting different pixel structures and heat sinks (Sony itself is backing QD-OLED), and far more elaborate sound systems; yet, the A80L, built around a vanilla-flavored panel, is as satisfying a home theater experience as any of its rivals. Much of this can be attributed to Sony’s excellent XR processor, which is capable of clever cognitive pixel juggling. There’s also superior sound, thanks to its Acoustic Surface Audio system, and a strong smart TV proposition in Google TV.  Time to take a closer look.  Design & Features One Slate design  Google TV smart platform  120Hz High Frame Rate support  The A80L is undoubtedly stylish. Sony calls this a ‘One Slate’ design and you’ll see it on most of its posher sets. Undeniably cool, but be prepared to buy a very wide AV bench to support it, unless of course, you plan to wall mount.  This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best smart TVs. The panel sits on two thin feet, placed at the edge of the screen. These ‘blade’ boots allow the screen to go virtually flush with a bench, or be raised up to make way for a soundbar. The metallic grey color scheme looks premium.  Steve May / Foundry The rear panel offers four HDMI ports, two of which are 4K 120Hz compatible. One of these is also the eARC channel, so there are not a lot of options when it comes to system expansion.  There’s a center speaker minijack input as well as a digital optical audio output, two USB ports, and ethernet. Wireless connectivity is via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.  The A80L has an ATSC 1.0/3.0 (NextGen TV tuner) onboard, and it’s compatible with Apple AirPlay and HomeKit.  The set comes with two remote controls, one a standard zapper, the other a slimmer Bluetooth wand with dedicated buttons for Bravia Core, Netflix, Disney Plus, Prime Video, YouTube, and Crunchyroll.  Steve May / Foundry Google TV is Sony’s smart TV platform of choice, and it offers plenty of streaming service choices. Navigation is straightforward. There are curated rails for ‘If you like…’,’Popular movie’, ‘continue watching,’ and the like.   You also get 10 credits to spend on Sony’s own Bravia Core movie streaming service, which boasts higher bit rates than rival services, as well as the biggest library of IMAX Enhanced movies.  The set also features Sony’s new gaming interface, which groups relevant info in one place, like Motion Blur Reduction, VRR and Black equalizer. The TV automatically recognizes Auto HDR Tone mapping from a connected PlayStation 5 gaming console, which is nice.    Picture Quality   OLED panel Cognitive Processor XR   Dolby Vision  The A80L is a refined picture performer with a Quantum Dot OLED panel. If you’re looking for Mini LED, you should consider the Samsung QN85C or Sony’s A95K from last year. HDR brightness was measured at 900 nits using a 10 percent window in Vivid mode, which is impressive enough. If you opt to watch using the less aggressive Standard image preset, peak HDR luminance drops to a smidge over 800 nits.  HDR support covers Dolby Vision, but not Dolby Vision IQ. There’s also HLG and regular HDR10, but not HDR10+ Adaptive.   Steve May / Foundry One reason the A80L’s HDR delivery is so precise and naturalistic is a novel heat-mapping technology that intelligently manages power and luminance together. Also taking some credit is Sony XR Contrast Pro and XR Triluminos Pro processing, which boost contrast and color depth respectively.  As you’d expect, deep blacks are handled with authority, while shadow detail is given the space it needs. The set is particularly good at tonal gradations and subtle color nuance. Skin Tones are detailed and believable.   Interestingly, Sony gives Filmmaker mode a swerve when it comes to image presets. What we do get are Standard, Cinema, Game, Vivid and Custom. The latter isn’t an invitation to tweak the picture; rather, it’s the name for the screen’s Pro mode. Standard and Custom are our recommended settings.  When you play Dolby Vision content, from Disney+ say, picture modes are usurped by Dolby Vision Bright, Dolby Vision Dark, and Vivid.   When Obi-Wan (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Disney+) tracks Leia’s kidnappers to the planet Daiyu in episode 2, he stalks the neon-lit city at night, giving the panel plenty of opportunity to show off its near shadow detail prowess and HDR highlights.  Of the various modes, I found Dolby Vision Bright the better viewing option, even in a fully dark room.  Steve May / Foundry Texture detail is excellent. No show has quite so many dark, shadowed robes as Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+). Ewan McGregor has plenty of competition for least stylishly dressed Jedi. Helpfully, the A80L can separate the dark hued masses, and retain some sense of depth and detail.  Motion Flow motion handling is generally effective, smoothing camera movement and combatting judder, with only minor artifacts occasionally apparent. For live sports it works well. That said, I noted a pronounced flicker when the screen was in its Custom setting, with Clearness set to high.  Make sure you keep Clearness on Low or Off to avoid the flickering effect.  Latency was measured at 17ms (1080p/60fps) in Game mode, which is relatively high when it comes to 60Hz input lag. This translates into some rather sluggish FPS gameplay. Things improve markedly when you play in 4K 120Hz mode, which gives buttery smooth motion.  Sound Quality Acoustic Surface Audio system  Dolby Atmos  50W amplification  When it comes to dialogue clarity, this big OLED is certainly worth shouting about. The three vibrating transducers fixed to the rear of the OLED panel create an effective direct listening experience, with sounds locked to on screen visuals.   Two more traditional woofers are used to flesh out the mid-range and lower bass. The set doesn’t drop particularly low though. I could have done with a touch more weight there.  That said, this 5x10W system is more rewarding than TVs with downward, or rear-firing, speaker arrays.  Audio modes comprise Standard, Dialogue, Cinema, Music, Sports and a separate Dolby audio mode with Dolby Audio post-processing (which works great with games). There’s also variable sound customization with adjustable surround sound effects, equalizer and voice zoom.  Price & Availability   The Sony A80L is available in 55-, 65- 77- and 83-inch in screens sizes (models XR-55A80L, XR-65A80L, XR-77A80L, and XR-83A80L). These are priced at $1,799, $2,499, $3,499, and $5,299 respectively. I tested the 65-inch A80L here. At this price, the A80L must compete with the LG B3 OLED and you can check out plenty of great alternatives in our best TV roundup. Should you buy the Sony Bravia XR 80L? The A80L is a refined 4K OLED capable of superb detail (both native UHD and upscaled), strong dynamics and decent HDR performance. It falls short in a couple of areas: it offers meager high-speed HDMI provisions, its 60Hz input lag is average, and it disappointingly lacks Dolby Vision IQ and HDR10+ Adaptive support. That said, it’s greater than the sum of those missing parts.  Sony’s advanced picture processing does a terrific job with all types of content. Its imagery is nuanced and consistently cinematic, making the A80L a strong recommendation for home cinema fans.   Specs Sizes: 55, 65, 77, 83-inch Model tested: 65-inch OLED 4K display technology   Resolution: 3840 x 2160   HDMI: x4   HDR support: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision  Google TV platform   5x10W Stereo sound system, Dolby Atmos compatible  Dimensions: 57.125 x 34 x 13 inches (WxHxD) Weight: 54.9 pounds   This review was originally published on TechHive’s sibling site, Tech Advisor. Smart TVs

      • ZapperBox M1 review: An ATSC 3.0 tuner for early adopters

        At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsDialog enhancement makes a big difference (on channels that support it)Well-designed grid guide and channel-surfing experienceDVR beta shows promiseConsLong channel load timesEncrypted ATSC 3.0 channels not yet supportedATSC 3.0’s best features aren’t actually available yetOur VerdictThe ZapperBox M1 is a pricey over-the-air tuner for those who must have ATSC 3.0 right now. The ZapperBox M1 is an over-the-air TV tuner for those who can’t wait to check out ATSC 3.0. For $250, this small tuner box plugs into your TV over HDMI and lets you view over-the-air broadcasts in ATSC 3.0 (also known as “NextGen TV”). Today, the new standard offers 1080p video and a nifty dialog boost feature. In the future, broadcasters could use ATSC 3.0 to support 4K HDR, interactive elements, and on-demand video. The ZapperBox’s DVR function has an elegant way of handling tuner conflicts for one-off recordings. But much like ATSC 3.0 itself, the ZapperBox M1 is a work in progress. DVR is still in beta with some rough edges, and support for encrypted ATSC 3.0 channels has been repeatedly delayed. Channel load times are also on the sluggish side, and the interface is less responsive than modern streaming devices. Most cord-cutters don’t need to worry about ATSC 3.0 right now. But if you want a plug-and-play box for viewing broadcasts in the new standard, and don’t mind making some compromises to get it, the ZapperBox M1 is a straightforward solution. ATSC 3.0: What’s the difference? Before even considering the ZapperBox, look up ATSC 3.0 channel support in your area on the RabbitEars website. The standard is still being deployed by broadcasters, and many channels still only offer ATSC 1.0 (which the ZapperBox also supports). Keep in mind also that ATSC 3.0 is not a huge leap forward at present. Major broadcasters aren’t yet supporting 4K HDR video, and likely won’t for several years. On-demand video and interactive features are also rarities on ATSC 3.0 stations, though the ZapperBox doesn’t yet support those features anyway. That leaves ATSC 3.0 with two tangible benefits as of fall 2023: Stations air at 1080p—up from 720p or 1080i in ATSC 1.0—and they support a dialog enhancement feature from Dolby. Jared Newman / Foundry While the resolution boost can be hard to notice—especially with the compression artifacts that are present on so many over-the-air stations now—dialog enhancement makes a real difference. You need to enable it via the ZapperBox’s menu system, but once you do, speech becomes significantly louder and clearer on ATSC 3.0 stations. Unfortunately, the ZapperBox M1 doesn’t yet support ATSC 3.0 encryption, so it shows an error message on many NextGen TV stations. This should change in the coming weeks, and we’ll update this review accordingly. The ZapperBox M1 hardware Jared Newman / Foundry ZapperBox offers two versions of its ATSC 3.0 tuner box: The $250 model can play or record from a single channel at a time, while the $275 dual-tuner model can play or record from up to two channels simultaneously. Around back, there’s a coaxial input for plugging in an over-the-air antenna. (Any antenna should work; you don’t need anything special to receive ATSC 3.0 channels. (TechHive names the best TV antennas.) The device supports both ethernet and Wi-Fi for software updates and guide data, and it has both microSD and USB slots for DVR storage. Jared Newman / Foundry The ZapperBox comes with its own remote, which you must use in place of your TV’s remote. It uses infrared, and therefore requires line-of-site to the box. While the remote has programmable keys for TV power and volume, I had trouble getting them to work reliably with my TV (a Hisense model running Google TV). Is the ZapperBox M1 easy to use? The ZapperBox guide uses a blue band logo for ATSC 3.0 channels (yay) and a key for those locked down with encryption (boo).Jared Newman / Foundry The main way you’ll interact with the ZapperBox is through its grid guide, which is accessible through the remote’s Guide button. It’s a pretty nice guide, displaying live TV in a small window while you browse. A description of the currently-highlighted program appears up top, and the listings underneath are easy to read without being overwhelmingly dense. It even highlights which channels are broadcasting in ATSC 3.0. My only nitpick: There’s no page up/down button the remote to quickly scroll through the channel list. Jared Newman / Foundry While viewing live TV, you can click up or down to flip through channels, or hit the remote’s Info button for details on the program and broadcast quality. You can also pause, fast forward, and rewind through live TV starting from when you tuned in. Clicking the ZapperBox’s Menu button reveals a few extra features, including a search function for live or upcoming programs, a settings menu, and access to a built-in YouTube app. The ZapperBox has a YouTube app, which is a bit curious but not entirely unwelcome.Jared Newman / Foundry The system works well overall, but it feels sluggish compared to modern streaming players. Live channels always take about five seconds to load, and there’s a hint of lag between clicking the remote and seeing a response on the screen. ZapperBox DVR: Still in beta Jared Newman / Foundry The ZapperBox M1’s DVR service costs $5 per month or $30 per year, covering up to two boxes. Though you have to pay for it, the manufacturer says it’s still in beta–and in some ways, it shows. Clicking on any program in the grid guide brings up the DVR menu, where you can set a one-off or series recording. More granular recording options—including an auto-delete option and a way to avoid reruns—are still in development and grayed out in the menu. If you want longer start and stop buffer times, you must currently set up a manual, time-based recording instead. Jared Newman / Foundry For one-off recordings, the ZapperBox has an elegant way of handling tuner conflicts: A pop-up menu shows your other scheduled recordings so you can choose which one to cancel. But no such warning appears for series recordings, and the only way to weed out these conflicts is through a separate scheduling menu. ZapperBox’s live guide also won’t let you flip between two recordings in progress, so you must access them through a separate DVR menu instead. The ZapperBox’s tuner conflict pop-up only appears for one-off recordings.Jared Newman / Foundry The DVR menu itself is utilitarian in nature. Recordings are grouped by show and listed in reverse-chronological order, but there are no advanced sorting options or filters, and no cover art to spruce things up. The interface may appeal to some old-school DVR fans, but it’s less inviting than what you get on today’s streaming apps. Should you buy a ZapperBox M1? In its current state, the ZapperBox M1 is not for everyone. It’s an enthusiast product for folks who want an early look at ATSC 3.0, warts and all. Right now, there aren’t many other choices that don’t involve buying a whole new TV. SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun Flex 4K and Scribe 4K support ATSC 3.0, but like the ZapperBox, they’re missing encrypted channel support as of this writing. They’re also a different kind of product. Instead of plugging directly into your TV, the HDHomeRun connects to your router via ethernet, then streams the video to its own app on various other devices. This allows for whole-home viewing with a single antenna, but it also requires decent Wi-Fi, and it’s a non-starter if your router is in an area with weak antenna reception. The ZapperBox proposition is simpler: Plug it into your television, and you’re ready to watch ATSC 3.0 with no fuss. Add storage and a DVR subscription, and you get basic recording features on top. ZapperBox has a long roadmap of other things it wants to implement, including out-of-home-viewing, in-home streaming to other ZapperBoxes or streaming players, and support for ATSC 3.0’s interactive features. Still, it’s never wise to buy a product based on the promise of future features, and we only evaluate what’s actually shipped. Given that ATSC 1.0 will remain viable until at least 2027, most over-the-air DVR buyers should look to other solutions with more polish, such as Tablo, AirTV, Channels DVR, or Plex. The ZapperBox could be a worthy alternative, but only for those who want to live on broadcasting’s bleeding edge. Streaming Devices, TV Antenna

      • Samsung HW-Q990C review: A top-notch flagship soundbar

        At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsBig, immersive, yet detailed and subtle soundSyncs its audio with Samsung TVsSpaceFit Sound room correctionAirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect supportConsNo discrete volume for built-in AlexaPower cords for satellite speakers are too shortQ-Symphony and wireless Dolby Atmos require a Samsung TVNo Chromecast supportOur VerdictThe HW-Q990C doesn’t offer many improvements over Samsung’s recent flagship soundbars, but it still delivers stellar audio performance and a bevy of features, particularly for Samsung TV owners. Samsung has wisely chosen to stay the course with the HW-Q990C, the latest version of its flagship 11.1.4-channel soundbar. Delivering big, bold, yet refined sound, the HW-Q990C boasts a no-fuss setup process (well, short power cords notwithstanding), Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, automatic room correction, and a couple of bonuses for Samsung TV owners, including wireless Atmos connectivity and Q-Symphony, a feature that syncs the soundbar’s audio with the TV’s speakers. So, what’s changed on the HW-Q990C since last year’s HW-Q990B? Not much, honestly. Q-Symphony has received some upgrades, as has SpaceFit Sound room correction, while the Adaptive Sound 2.0 mode is said to perform better at lower volumes. Otherwise, this is largely the same soundbar, right down to the mostly aluminum design aesthetic, the terrific audio performance, and even the svelte remote. If you already own the Samsung HW-Q990B (or even the HW-Q950A from 2021), I don’t see any pressing need to upgrade to the new HW-Q990C; indeed, if you spot a good deal on last year’s flagship, you might want to grab that model instead. Also, those without a Samsung TV might balk at paying top dollar for a soundbar with signature features that depend on a Samsung set. That said, the Samsung HW-Q990C does churn out tremendous sound even without a Sammy TV (I tested it without one). Given the quality and maturity of this flagship model, I’d consider the hefty $1,899.99 price tag (which is currently getting a steep discount) a worthy investment. Design & build Perforated aluminum chassis 11.1.4 channels 22 drivers The Samsung HW-Q990C looks practically identical to its predecessor, last year’s HW-Q990B, with the hefty main soundbar unit arriving with the same measurements (48.5 x 2.7 x 5.4 inches, WxHxD) and weight (17 pounds). The Samsung HW-Q990C hits the sweet spot among the current crop of high-end soundbars, delivering pleasing and immersive sound, easy setup, AirPlay 2, and room calibration. The soundbar has a perforated aluminum chassis, with angled left and right end caps that allow the side-firing drivers to bounce audio in different directions around the room. The twin wireless satellite speakers have a similar design, complete with a slightly vaulted top, while the bulky subwoofer (8.7 x 16.3 x 16.1 inches, WxHxD) has an “acoustic lens” design that boosts its bass response, according to Samsung. The tops of the HW-Q990C’s satellite speakers are slightly vaulted, just like last year’s model. Ben Patterson/Foundry All told, the HW-Q990C packs 22 drivers, including 15 in the main soundbar unit, 3 apiece in the satellites, and the woofer in the sub. The main unit’s 15 drivers include upfiring left and right cones; forward-firing drivers for the left, right, and center channels; and angled surround channels at the ends, while the satellite speakers have front-, side-, and up-firing drivers. That all adds up to an 11.1.4-channel configuration, including four height channels for immersive Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks. This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best soundbars. It’s worth noting that besides being positioned behind your sofa, the two wireless satellite speakers can be placed in the front of the room, flanking the soundbar and thus bolstering the front and height left and right channels. It’s a configuration you should probably skip unless there’s absolutely no room in your listening area for rear speakers, but the option is there if you need it. Sitting on top of the soundbar are four clickable buttons, including a multi-function button (that powers on the soundbar and wakes built-in Alexa, which we’ll discuss in a moment), volume up and down buttons, and a mic mute button. Meanwhile, the remote features easy-to-find rockers for the main and subwoofer volume, along with a five-way navigation pad for controlling media and buttons for trimming channel levels, switching sound modes, and dipping into the soundbar’s various settings. Besides the remote, you can also control the HW-Q990C from the Samsung SmartThings app, which you’ll need to connect the soundbar to your home Wi-Fi router. Once connected, the SmartThings app will let you place the HW-Q990C in a “room” in your home, alongside your other SmartThings-connected devices The HW-Q990C’s LED display peeks out from behind the chassis’s perforations on the right end of the unit, offering details on volume level, the currently selected inputs, audio formats, and the like. By default, the display quickly goes dark after a brief period of inactivity, so I never found it distracting. Connectivity HDMI-eARC and 2x HDMI inputs Wireless Dolby Atmos AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect Bluetooth Hidden somewhat awkwardly on the bottom of the HW-990C (its predecessor had the same design) are the soundbar’s various input and output connectors. Most users will opt for the HDMI-eARC port, which allows a TV to pipe audio (including lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio tracks) to the soundbar from any of the TV inputs, but there are also a couple of HDMI inputs for those who’d rather connect video sources directly to the soundbar. For the latter scenario, keep in mind that the HW-Q990C (like other Samsung soundbars) supports 4K HDR10+ but not Dolby Vision passthrough.  The HW-Q990C has one HDMI-eARC interface and two HDMI inputs. Ben Patterson/Foundry There are also a couple of ways to wirelessly connect your TV to the HW-990C, but only if you have a Samsung TV. The first is via Bluetooth, which delivers stereo audio to the soundbar (the 2-channel sound can later be upmixed all the way to 11.1.4), and the second allows for wireless Dolby Atmos, a feature introduced with last year’s HW-Q990B. Wireless Dolby Atmos is a rarity as far as soundbars are concerned, and while LG’s flagship soundbar can do Atmos without wires too, doing so requires an optional dongle. (Then again, LG’s dongle can be used with third-party TVs.) Wireless casting support for the HW-990C includes Apple’s AirPlay 2, allowing the soundbar to join AirPlay speaker groups, along with Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect. There’s no Chromecast support, but Android users can always stream tunes to the soundbar via Bluetooth. Finally, there’s an optical (Toslink) input that lets you connect the HW-990C to legacy TVs, while the USB-A port is only for installing firmware updates. Setup Wall mounting hardware included Easy Wi-Fi connection via SmartThings Satellite speaker power cords are too short The easiest way to install the Samsung HW-Q990C in your living room is by placing it in front of your TV. Given that the soundbar is only 2.7 inches high, it likely won’t block the bottom of your TV (it does graze the eye line to the bottom of my low-slung LG C9, but not distractingly so). Another option is to mount the soundbar on the wall under your TV, and Samsung provides mounting brackets, a screw kit, and a wall mount guide for this purpose. Remember the remote bundled with last year’s HW-Q990B? The new HW-Q990B soundbar comes with the exact same remote. Ben Patterson/Foundry The main soundbar unit, the subwoofer, and each of the satellite speakers come with their own power cords; plug them in, and the speakers should (and did, in my case) connect to each other automatically. One annoying setup quirk is that the power cords are each just five feet long–not a big problem for the soundbar itself and the subwoofer, but restrictive when it comes to placing the surround speakers. My advice: Grab a couple of extension cords (just make sure they accommodate three-prong plugs). As I mentioned before, you connect the HW-Q990C to Wi-Fi using the Samsung SmartThings app. I’ve had headaches connecting other soundbars to my home Wi-Fi router in the past, but the connection process with the SmartThings app was a snap. Smart features Q-Symphony SpaceFit Sound Pro Built-in Alexa Adaptive Sound Q-Symphony is Samsung’s signature soundbar audio trick, allowing its higher-end Q-series soundbars (such as the one we’re reviewing here) to sync with the speakers on similarly high-end Samsung TVs. Last year’s Q-Symphony 2.0 added the ability to sync its soundbars with all the drivers on a Samsung TV rather than just some of them. For this year’s Q-Symphony 3.0, the technology now leverages the Neo Quantum Processors in the latest Samsung sets to pull out dialogue audio and pipe it through the soundar’s drivers, while surround audio goes to the TV speakers.  Sounds pretty cool (Samsung says the updated Q-Symphony delivers “more detailed and three-dimensional sound”), but you need a Samsung TV to use it–and alas, I was using an LG C9 OLED for my testing. As you’ll read later, I don’t believe Q-Symphony is essential for teasing out excellent audio from the HW-Q990C, but if you don’t have the right Samsung TV to pair with the soundbar, you’re not getting the full bang for your buck. In a design touch carried over from the previous model, the HW-Q990C’s subwoofer has an “acoustic lens” that helps accentuate bass response. Ben Patterson/Foundry Another new feature that works without a Samsung TV is SpaceFit Sound Pro, a room calibration feature that’s been updated to analyze lower audio frequencies rather than simply focussing on surround effects. SpaceFit Sound Pro works continuously in the background, using the soundbar’s built-in microphone to adjust the audio on the fly according to your room’s acoustics. It’s an easy set-it-and-forget-it feature, but likely won’t be as precise as the more time-consuming method employed by many AV receivers, which involves placing a mic in multiple listening positions. Then there’s Adaptive Sound, a sound mode that tweaks the HW-Q990C’s audio depending on what’s playing. In my experience with previous Samsung soundbars, Adaptive Sound did an impressive job of optimizing the soundbar’s audio across a variety of content, from big Dolby Atmos soundtracks to 2.0-channel dramas. This year’s Adaptive Sound 2.0 is billed at being better at tweaking the audio at lower volumes. Yet another smart audio feature is Active Voice Amplifier, which detects and amplifies the dialog in the audio. It’s a handy feature for anyone who’s frustrated by poorly mixed sound that emphasizes the music and explosions while shunting dialogue into the background, but it runs the risk of pushing the voices a little too hard at higher volumes. Luckily, you can toggle the feature from the remote or the Samsung SmartThings app. Four buttons are on the top of the Samsung HW-Q990C: one for multifunction, two for volume, and one for mic mute. Ben Patterson/Foundry Finally, the HW-Q990C offers built-in Alexa, which essentially turns the soundbar into a smart speaker. While it may seem convenient to chat with Alexa directly from the soundbar, I was annoyed that the volume of Alexa’s voice is tied to the main speaker volume, which means Alexa will shout at you if you have the soundbar’s volume dialed to an even moderate level. This has been a problem with all of Samsung’s previous soundbars with built-in Alexa (the issue isn’t isolated to Samsung, either), and after being jolted by Alexa’s loud chatter too many times, I turned the feature off. Performance Clear, detailed, naturalistic sound Terrific Dolby Atmos effects Deep but controlled bass Subtle music performance I’ve been very impressed by the audio performance of Samsung’s top-of-the-line soundbars in the past, using words like “terrific,” “thrilling,” “immersive,” and “pulse-pounding” to describe their sound. I’ll be reaching for many of the same adjectives as I describe the sonic performance of the HW-Q990C.  First, I should note that I conducted most of my tests using Samsung’s Adaptive Sound mode, which (as I’ve found in the past) was more than adequate for handling a wide range of content on the soundbar. The Surround and Game Pro modes were fine too, but keeping Adaptive selected meant that I didn’t have to swap sound modes when jumping from movies to TV shows to music. (Adaptive Sound upmixes all content to 11.1.4 channels; if you’re a purist, Standard mode preserves the original channel configuration.) I began my listening tour with the 4K Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, which comes with a remastered Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Jumping to the scene where Han Solo and Chewie discover the Imperial probe droid on Hoth, I was impressed by the immersive explosion as Han scored a direct hit on the bot, while the Tie Fighters buzzing around the Imperial fleet delivered a convincing “raaawwrrr” over and across the height channels. The HW-Q990C’s subwoofer served up a deep but not boomy rumble as Darth Vader “Force-choked” the unfortunate Admiral Ozzel, while the hiss of snow and ice from the crushed ceiling of the Rebel base sounded like it was falling on my head. The left and right ends of the main HW-Q990C soundbar unit are angled for the side-firing drivers. Ben Patterson/Foundry Moving over to the UHD Blu-ray of Blade Runner 2049, the HW-Q990C smoothly handled the notoriously bassy intro to the film, gracefully delivering those lowest of low-frequency effects without heading into boomy territory. On the other side of the spectrum, the soundbar also excelled at the delicate atmospherics at the moisture farm, the precisely placed gurgle of the hot-water kettle in Sapper Morton’s otherwise dark and silent kitchen, and the soft putter of K’s drone as it floated overhead. Best of all, the sudden booms of K’s firearm in the deadly fight with Dave Bautista’s runaway replicant were big and deep, yet satisfyingly tight and controlled. I also tried the 4K Blu Ray of Top Gun: Maverick, which offers the perfect Atmos demo as Mav’s Darkstar jet takes off directly above Admiral Kane’s head, shaking the ground and unsettling the roof of a nearby hut. It’s the perfect opportunity to hear height cues glide from the front upfiring drivers to the rear ones, and the Samsung delivers quite nicely. (The Darkstar’s deep engine roar in this sequence wasn’t as thrillingly deep as it was in IMAX, but I’ve noticed that across other home theater setups too, not just the HW-Q990C.) Even more impressive is when Maverick maneuvers his F-18 above Rooster’s in an inverted position, triggering a nearly silent boom that you feel more than hear. Cool. Switching to music, I teed up a new recording of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos performed by Yuja Wang, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Appearing on the Deutsche Grammophon label in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music (I streamed the tracks on an Apply TV 4K), the performance sounded expansive yet focused on the Samsung HW-Q990C, with smooth, detailed sonics and big but natural-sounding dynamic changes–overall, an exciting yet nuanced experience that places you in (I’d say) row 10 of the orchestra section. Changing gears to Taylor Swift, the effervescent “Willow” on Evermore (again in Dolby Atmos via an Apple TV 4K) sounded silky, delicate, and intimate, while the huge beats in Billie Eilish’s “Oxytocin” on Happier Than Ever didn’t overpower the HW-Q990C’s subwoofer. (Other soundbars I’ve tested do have issues with “Oxytocin,” often requiring careful fiddling with the low frequency levels to keep the bassline from overwhelming the track.) The non-Atmos “Alone Together” on Chet Baker’s Chet sounded atmospheric and detailed, although when upmixed in Adaptive mode, I felt like I was up on the stage, and not in a good way; this was a rare case when I preferred the Standard sound mode, which preserves the original 2.0-channel mix. Price & availability The Samsung HW-Q990C has a hefty $1,899.99 price tag, but if history is any guide, the soundbar will be frequently discounted–and indeed, it’s currently available on for $1,599.99, a $300 savings.  The HW-Q990C is also on sale at Amazon, Best Buy, B&H Photo, and other online retailers. Should you buy a Samsung HW-Q990C soundbar? For me, the Samsung HW-Q990C hits the sweet spot among the current crop of high-end soundbars. It delivers pleasing and immersive sound, easy setup, AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect support, and room calibration, while Q-Symphony and Wireless Dolby Atmos are nice, if not must-have, bonuses for Samsung TV owners. (I used to get hung up on the fact that the HW-Q900C’s signature Q-Symphony required a Samsung TV, but the soundbar’s out-of-the-box performance is so good that I don’t really care anymore.) For these reasons, I’m naming the Samsung HW-Q990C our new Editor’s Choice for high-end soundbars. Among its similarly priced competitors, the LG S95QR from 2022 (LG didn’t refresh its flagship soundbar this year) is right up there in the running, although its 9.1.5-channel configuration (which includes a center height channel, unique to LG) is a bit different than the HW-Q990C’s channel setup. The Sonos Arc is a terrific soundbar for those steeped in the Sonos ecosystem, but upgrading it with satellites and a subwoofer is a pricey proposition–and personally, the Arc’s sound is a little bright for my taste. The Sony HT-A5000 delivers exceptional sound too, but we thought it sounded boxy at times, and (as with the Sonos) upgrading it with additional speakers will cost you. Sign up for the Best of TechHive newsletter Home Audio

      • Best soundbars to improve your TV’s audio in 2023

        Technology has enabled TVs to become ever flatter, thinner, and lighter, but it can’t overcome the laws of physics when it comes to audio. Filling a room with sound requires substantial speakers that can move a lot of air, and those types of speakers just won’t fit inside a thin TV chassis. That’s where soundbars come in. These are our current top picks in budget, mid-range, and high-end categories, with brief summaries explaining our reasoning. These will change over time as new models come in for evaluation. Our soundbar reviews go into some depth, so we encourage you to follow the links to read them in their entirety so you can find exactly the right one for your needs.. Scroll down a little further and you’ll find our guidance on shopping for a soundbar, followed by explanations of the features you should consider when choosing one. We’ll explain all the latest soundbar technology and discuss the most important features you should look for. Updated September 29, 2023 with a link to our Samsung HW-Q990C review. The HW-Q990C is our new Editor’s Choice for high-end soundbars. Best soundbars for every budget Polk Audio React — Best budget soundbar Pros Clean, nuanced sound given its price tag Alexa onboard, including multi-room audio support Expandable with wireless subwoofer and surround speaker options Night mode and dialog volume level adjustments Cons No support for Dolby Atmos, DTS-X, or DTS Virtual:X HDMI ARC only (doesn't support eARC) Remote control buttons are flat and difficult to find in the dark Best Prices Today: £139.00 at Amazon It doesn’t pack in Dolby Atmos support like many pricier soundbars do, but the Polk React sounds better than any competitors we’ve heard in its $250-ish price range, complete with detailed, nuanced audio and a surprisingly wide soundstage. The React comes with built-in Alexa, perfect for teeing up streaming music via voice commands, and the soundbar also supports Alexa Multi-Room Music, which means you can use it in Alexa speaker groups. Finally, you can upgrade the Polk React’s sound with Polk Audio’s optional wireless subwoofer and surround speaker kit. Read our full Polk Audio React review Roku Streambar — Best budget soundbar, runner-up Pros A pretty good soundbar integrated with a very good media streamer Excellent remote control, with support for voice commands Can be upgraded with a wireless subwoofer and surround speakers Can also stream content from a NAS box or USB drive Cons Not as good as a speaker as it is a streamer A little weak on bass response HDR support does not include Dolby Vision If you’re strapped for cash but long to improve both your audio and streaming experiences, take a look at the Roku Streambar. It’s stronger in the latter category than the former, but its $130 price tag ($99 street price) makes it a very strong value. Read our full Roku Streambar review Vizio M-Series M512a-H6 — Best mid-range soundbar Pros Aggressively exciting audio performance Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support HDMI with eARC Can be augmented with a smart speaker via 3.5mm input or Bluetooth Cons Bass can be boomy versus tight No Wi-Fi adapter Vizio’s M512a-H6 soundbar delivers powerful, vibrant sound for a reasonable price, complete with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, an easy setup process, and plenty of adjustments for tinkering with audio settings. There’s no Wi-Fi support, but that’s not unusual for a soundbar in this price range. Read our full Vizio M-Series M512a-H6 review Sonos Beam (2nd gen) — Best mid-range soundbar, runner-up Pros Expansive sound Dolby Atmos and HDMI eARC support Can be upgraded to a full surround sound system with extra speakers and a subwoofer Apple AirPlay 2 support in addition to Sonos' own fabled multi-room audio support Cons Virtualized height cues are subtle, and occasionally hissy Drivers begin to struggle at high volume DTS update didn't include DTS:X Best Prices Today: $449.99 at Best Buy The second-gen Sonos Beam is our runner-up pick for best mid-priced soundbar. A powerful speaker for its size, the refreshed Beam adds Dolby Atmos and eARC support, and you can expand it into a full-fledged 5.1-channel system by adding a wireless sub and wireless surround speakers. The Beam also has built-in support for your choice of Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, so it can become a key element in your smart home system. Apple fans, meanwhile, will appreciate the Beam’s support for AirPlay 2. Read our full Sonos Beam (2nd gen) review Samsung HW-Q990C — Best high-end soundbar Pros Big, immersive, yet detailed and subtle sound Syncs its audio with Samsung TVs SpaceFit Sound room correction AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect support Cons No discrete volume for built-in Alexa Power cords for satellite speakers are too short Q-Symphony and wireless Dolby Atmos require a Samsung TV No Chromecast The HW-Q990C doesn’t offer many improvements over Samsung’s recent flagship soundbars, but it still delivers stellar audio performance and a bevy of features, particularly for Samsung TV owners. Serving big, bold, yet refined sound, the HW-Q990C boasts a no-fuss setup process (well, short power cords notwithstanding), Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, automatic room correction, and a couple of bonuses for Samsung TV owners, including wireless Atmos connectivity and Q-Symphony, a feature that syncs the soundbar’s audio with the TV’s speakers. Read our full Samsung HW-Q990C review LG S95QR — Best high-end soundbar, runner-up Pros Terrific Dolby Atmos and DTS:X performance Center upfiring driver bolsters dialogue AirPlay 2 and Chromecast support AI-powered room correction Cons Glitchy Wi-Fi setup Power cords for rear speakers are too short Pricey Price When Reviewed: £1,699.98 Best Prices Today: £1699.98 at LG It costs a cool $1,800 and we wish the power cords for the rear speakers were longer, but if you’re looking for the very best in Dolby Atmos and DTS:X performance from a soundbar, the LG S95QR is tough to beat. Equipped with an extra height speaker for the center channel, the LG S95QR puts you in a bubble of thrillingly immersive sound, and it also boasts AirPlay 2, Chromecast, and AI-powered room correction. Read our full LG S95QR review Sony HT-A5000 — Best high-end soundbar and wireless speaker package Pros Delivers a theater-like experience with a fully wireless speaker setup Immersive Dolby Atmos performance Frictionless setup and sound field optimization Can use the speakers in certain Sony TVs as the center channel Cons Optional SA-SW3 subwoofer calls attention to itself Some boxiness to the sound, particularly with music Price When Reviewed: £899 Best Prices Today: £899 at Sony Plenty of all-on-one soundbars and compatible with wireless subwoofers and surround speaker kits, but Sony has really knocked it out of the park with the HT-A5000. Accompanied by the optional–and truly wireless–SA-RS5 rear speakers and SA-SW3 subwoofer, the HT-A5000 delivers an immersive and practical solution for audio enthusiasts looking to customize their speaker setups without dealing with a snarl of wires, while one-touch sound field optimization makes it easy to quickly change speaker positions. The total cost of all three Sony components is just shy of $2,000, however, and we detected a certain boxiness to the audio, particularly in terms of music. A slightly less expensive but still impressive option is the Sony HT-A3000, a 3.1-channel soundbar that we also tested with the SA-RS5 rear speakers and SA-SW3 sub. Read our full Sony HT-A5000 review Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre — Best money-is-no-object soundbar Pros Big, bold, dynamic, full-range sound Customizable aesthetic elements Expandable to 16 assignable speakers Advanced room correction AirPlay 2, Chromecast, and Spotify Connect support Cons Room correction offers a single measurement point only Expensive Lacks LDAC or aptX Adaptive hi-res Bluetooth streaming codecs Price When Reviewed: £6,990 Best Prices Today: £6990 at Bang & Olufsen A luxurious high-end soundbar with a stratospheric price tag to match, the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Theatre represents the pinnacle of what a soundbar can be. Marrying eye-catching aesthetics with high-tech performance, the Beosound Theatre delivers big, bold, dynamic sound as a stand-alone unit, or you can expand it with up to 16 additional speakers. Advanced room correction is included, along with a bevy of inputs and even a four-port ethernet switch. A motorized wall mount is optional, as is white-glove installation. What exactly is a soundbar? A soundbar is typically a one- or two-piece speaker system whose primary purpose is to bring quality sound back to modern TVs (two-piece systems include a subwoofer). Soundbars are designed to appeal to people who can’t or won’t install freestanding loudspeakers. The former because of the the wiring requirements and/or expense associated with traditional home theater audio, and the latter because they object to the visual intrusion an A/V receiver and six or more loudspeaker cabinets presents. The audio performance of nearly any soundbar will surpass the quality of just about any modern TV while consuming minimal space and requiring little more than a power cord and one or two cables. Soundbars are designed to fit in front of your TV if your TV is resting on a piece of furniture, or beneath your TV if it’s hanging on the wall. You can even find soundbars from TV manufacturers that are designed to match the aesthetic of the TV it’s paired with, and some of those models deliver extra features you won’t get if you pair the speaker with a different manufacturer’s TV. The vast majority of soundbars are low enough that they won’t block the lower portion of your TV’s screen when resting in front of it. Michael Brown/Foundry Nearly all modern TV and movie soundtracks are recorded in surround sound, so most soundbars are equipped to decode at least Dolby Digital and play back discrete left, right, and center channels, plus low-frequency effects (LFE). A great many models include a separate self-amplified subwoofer to handle LFE. Subwoofers are often wireless models needing only a power cable. Purchasing a soundbar doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll miss out on a full home-theater experience; in fact, some models offer optional surround speakers and others can even support object-based formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X to deliver a sensation of height. The number of channels supported by an audio system uses the format X.Y.Z, where X represents the number of channels at or near ear level, Y represents the number of speakers that deliver low-frequency effects (LFE), and Z represents the number of speakers producing height cues. The speakers can be mounted in cabinets on stands, on the wall, or in the ceiling. With some soundbars, all of the channels are produced from the cabinet, with up-firing drivers bouncing height cues off the ceiling. Adding Samsung’s SWA-8500S wireless speaker kit to its HW-M450 soundbar adds left and right surround speakers without the need to run cables to the back of your room. What size soundbar should I buy? Most people buy a soundbar that is either the same width or slightly narrower than their TV, but that really has more to do with aesthetics than audio performance. If your TV is on a piece of furniture, and you’re buying a soundbar that will sit in front of it, take the speaker’s height into consideration, so that it doesn’t encroach on the screen or block the TV’s infrared receiver. Some soundbars include an IR repeater for this reason. Everything else being equal, the smaller the sound soundbar, the less room it has for larger speakers and features (codec support, wireless connectivity,  multiple inputs and outputs, and so on). That’s not to say, however, that a bigger speaker will always sound better than a smaller one. The Yamaha YAS-106 can be wall-mounted with a thin profile to match modern TVs. Do soundbars support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X? Buying a soundbar doesn’t mean you need to give up an immersive home theater experience, but be prepared to pay for that feature. Most soundbars are two-channel stereo or left-, center-, and right-channel speakers. Many of these soundbars claim to deliver a true surround-sound experience. For soundbars to achieve the magic of surround sound, they must rely on the shape of your room, sophisticated digital signal processing, and psychoacoustics. Consequently, your mileage may vary. Some rooms will be more conducive to a good surround-sound experience than others. Some soundbars eschew this artificial processing and offer you the option of adding surround speakers, often wireless ones, to deliver a true 5.1-surround sound. More soundbars are starting to support Dolby Atmos and/or DTS:X object-based audio. These soundbars have multiple speakers in the cabinet, some dedicated to left-, center-, and right-channel duty while others handle the surround and height cues. Most soundbars in this class support 5.1.2- or 7.1.2-channel setups, rendering only the front height channels. Once again, you’ll need the right kind of room—with the right kind ceiling—to take advantage of an object-based audio soundbar. Do I need an A/V Receiver with a soundbar? Nearly all modern soundbars are active speakers, meaning they’re more or less self contained with their own amplifier, digital signal processing, and volume control, all in the same cabinet as the drivers. Some active soundbars can even accommodate multiple HDMI sources. If you choose a model with HDMI support, make sure it has at least one HDMI port that supports the audio return channel (ARC). This will reduce the number of cables you’ll need between the soundbar and your TV. Models that support the newer enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) are even better, because they can decode the higher-resolution audio codecs Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The original ARC doesn’t have the bandwidth for this. A passive soundbar relies on the amplifier in an A/V receiver, just like a traditional loudspeaker. You connect the audio output from your TV (along with your Blu-ray player, media-streamer, and other components) to the A/V receiver’s inputs and the passive soundbar to the A/V receiver’s loudspeaker connections. The A/V receiver amplifies the signal and sends it to the speaker. Soundbar features you should look for Sorting through different soundbars can be a dizzying experience. Here’s an alphabetized list of some of the most important features you’ll encounter App control: If you want to control everything from your smartphone or tablet, you’ll want to know if the manufacturer offers an app for your mobile operating system of choice. ARC: The acronym stands for Audio Return Channel. First introduced with HDMI 1.4, ARC enables your TV to send its audio output back through the HDMI cable to your soundbar or A/V receiver. This is especially important if you’re using your smart-TV’s onboard tuner or any of its media-streaming apps (Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, etc.). A newer variant, eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel) provides more bandwidth than the original ARC, enabling it to handle lossless high-resolution audio, including Dolby True HD and DTS:X. This article provides in-depth explanations of both HDMI ARC and HDMI eARC. Dialog enhancement: If you find yourself turning on closed captions because you can’t make out what people on your TV are saying, you might want to invest in a soundbar that offers dialog enhancement. This feature uses an algorithm that identifies frequencies commonly associated with speech and runs them through a digital signal processor to make them easier to distinguish from sound effects, music, and other background audio. The Yamaha YSP-5600 is a 7.1.2 soundbar capable of supporting Dolby Atmos and DTS:X object-oriented audio formats. There are 44 beam drivers and two woofers in the sound bar that produce the surround and height effects. Dolby Atmos and DTS:X: Some of today’s top-of-the-line soundbars will let you take advantage of the latest object-based audio technologies, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.  Some soundbars that feature object-based audio are limited to 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 configuration, meaning they only reproduce the two front height effects channels. (A 5.1.2-channel system has front left, center, front right, left surround, right surround, subwoofer, left height, and right height. A 7.1.2-channel is the same configuration plus left rear surround and right rear surround.) EQ: Some soundbars have onboard EQ (equalization) to help tune the soundbar for a particular placement, such as on the wall or in a cabinet. The EQ adjusts certain sonic characteristics that happen to the speaker in a typical scenario. Don’t confuse EQ with room correction. Room correction far more sophisticated (we’ll cover that lower down). HDMI If you don’t already have a 4K UHD TV that supports HDR (high dynamic range), the next set you buy probably will. You can learn more about HDR in this story, but it basically pumps up the contrast to reveal more detail and produce vibrant color. You’ll need a soundbar that supports HDMI 2.0a or later to ensure HDR information is passed through the soundbar from the source (e.g., an Ultra HD Blu-ray player) to your television. The JBL SB450 has multiple HDMI inputs. Lossless audio: Do you have a growing collection of high-resolution music files in FLAC or ALAC formats? If you want to listen to them through your soundbar, you’ll want to make sure it can decode those files. Multi-room audio: Many soundbars can be components in a multi-room audio system, so you can hear music all over your house. Sonos is the king in this category, and its technology allows you to combine multiple speakers into a true surround-sound system. You can put a Sonos soundbar at the front of the room, for instance, and use a pair of Sonos Ones as surround channels in the back of the room, with a Sonos Sub handle low-frequency effects. Apple’s AirPlay technology is also very popular and many speaker manufacturers–including Sonos–supports it in addition to its own technology. Denon has its own solution for its speakers (Heos) and so does Yamaha (MusicCast). Music streaming: Many of today’s soundbars can stream music over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but only a handful support Bluetooth with aptX or–better yet–aptX HD or aptX Adative for CD-quality streaming. Apple’s AirPlay comes into play here as well, especially for people who use iPhones and iPads. Audio enthusiasts will want to know if the soundbar can decode lossless codecs such as FLAC and ALAC. The HomeCinema sound bar ties in seamlessly with Denon’s Heos streaming ecosystem. Room correction: Your room plays a critical part in how your soundbar will sound. Some manufacturers, such as Paradigm, build sophisticated and highly effective room-correction technology into their soundbars. Sonos’ TruePlay is also incredibly effective. The sonic benefits of a good soundbar with well-implemented room correction can be jaw-dropping. Subwoofer support: If you love good, deep bass, and you want to hear all the low-frequency effects in movie soundtracks, you’ll want to scope out a soundbar that can connect to a subwoofer. Some soundbars come pre-packaged with a sub (in many cases, a wireless model), while others provide a subwoofer output so you can use a cable to hook up your model of choice. The pre-packaged route might look attractive, but it typically means you can’t upgrade either component without junking them both.  Soundbars that didn’t make the cut Now that you’ve seen our top picks in three price categories, you might be wondering about other models that didn’t make the cut. In many cases, it will have been a close call. In others, the speaker just didn’t the value or the experience we demand. In still others, a soundbar that won our Editors’ Choice award has been bested by a new contender. Our CineHome Pro | CineHub Edition THX Certified review concluded that this system is more than a soundbar, it’s a high-end wireless home theater system with six discrete speakers and a massive 10-inch subwoofer. What it lacks is support for Dolby Pro HD and DTS HD Master Audio, not to mention Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. If you’re looking for a soundbar that delivers an immersive audio experience, take a look at our JBL Bar 9.1 review. This high-end soundbar boasts truly wireless surround speakers–they’re battery powered! Many of our fellow critics have swooned over Sennheiser’s first soundbar, but our home theater pro wrote in his Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar review that this very expensive 5.1.4-channel audio system failed to create a fully immersive audio experience. Yamaha builds some great mid-range and higher audio gear, but our Yamaha YAS-209 soundbar review discovered a speaker that sounds “distractingly harsh” while operating in DTS Virtual:X-powered 3D surround mode. It does have Alexa built in, though, and Yamaha’s MusicCast is one of the best multi-room audio systems on the market. Our Sony HT-G700 soundbar review faulted the manufacturer for not supporting Wi-Fi in this mid-priced speaker, but we did like the speakers “crisp, punchy sound. Chromecast is a popular multi-room audio platform, and it was one of the bright spots in our Polk Audio MagniFi 2 soundbar review, but we weren’t as enthused with this system’s bundled subwoofer. It is possible to get a good experience with a budget-priced soundbar, but shoppers at this level need to take care to avoid the type of dreck we found in our Tribit Soundbar review. Selling for $120 at the time, it’s still no bargain at a current street price of just $60. Sonos’s new budget soundbar, the Sonos Ray, delivers impressively full-bodied sound, but it’s held back by its lack of an HDMI port, an omission that’s hard to understand for a soundbar made in 2022. Panasonic surprised us in our Panasonic SoundSlayer review, where the speaker delivered a great gaming-oriented near-field experience, but it won’t be what everyone is looking for. Consumer Electronics, Home Audio, Speakers

      • Disney+ sets the table for its own password-sharing crackdown

        Following Netflix’s lead, Disney+ is gearing up to keep its subscribers from sharing their accounts with others, starting with new password-sharing rules in Canada. Those rules come in a revised user agreement that puts its account-sharing policy in black and white; namely, that “you may not share your subscription outside of your household,” and that “household” means “the collection of devices associated with your primary personal residence that are used by the individuals who reside therein,” as The Streamable reports. Disney has since confirmed its intention to “clarify” its password-sharing rules, telling The Streamable that the revised rules will also be heading for “several” other territories, including the U.S. “later this year.” The revised subscriber agreement, which goes into effect on November 1, goes on to state that Disney may “analyze the use of your account” and, “if we determine that you have violated this Agreement, we may limit or terminate access to the Service,” according to MobileSyrup. Disney’s revamped user agreement shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Disney CEO Bob Iger telegraphed the move last month. “Later this year, we will begin to update our subscriber agreements with additional terms and our sharing policies,” Iger said during an August investor, adding that “we will roll out tactics to drive monetization sometime in 2024.” Disney’s baby steps toward a password-sharing crackdown follow those of Netflix, which took years to deploy its account-sharing policies.  Back in May, Netflix finally made its password-sharing crackdown official in the US, setting a $7.99-per-month charge for each “extra member” on a primary Netflix account. And while the clamp down on account sharing isn’t a big hit with users, it’s apparently working, with Netflix announcing that it had gained an eye-popping 5.6 million subscribers in the second quarter. Updated shortly after publication with more details about Disney’s updated user agreement for Canada. Streaming Media

      • What is Bluetooth LE Audio? A minor wireless audio improvement

        Bluetooth LE (the LE stands for “low energy”) is the latest version of the wireless technology that’s connected our wireless speakers and headphones to phones, computers, and tablets for the past two decades. Low energy, in this context, refers to the lower amount of electrical power required to send data: Lower power consumption, of course, means longer battery life—and/or smaller batteries in devices. This is accomplished by having the Bluetooth radio remain in sleep mode unless a connection is established. Bluetooth LE Audio promises to deliver higher-quality audio, thanks to its LC3 (Low Complexity Communication Codec) element (introduced with Bluetooth 5.2); plus, better handover between audio and voice connections, and more importantly in this discussion, simultaneous connections to multiple devices. It’s still a lossy codec, however, which audio purists won’t like. This story is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best Bluetooth speakers and noise-cancelling headphones. The LC3 codec will have a far greater impact for Android users—at least in the short term—as iOS devices use Apple’s proprietary AAC codec. LC3 is a royalty-free alternative (it’s included with the standard Bluetooth license) to Sony’s LDAC and Qualcomm’s aptX family of codecs, which are the current benchmarks for high-quality audio streaming; again, on Android devices. How Bluetooth LE Audio and the LC3 codec improve streaming Bluetooth LE Audio delivers four major benefits: A higher-quality audio codec, multi-streaming capabilities, improved features for hearing aids, and Auracast broadcasting.Bluetooth SIG Bluetooth LE Audio introduces a new flexibility into home speaker setups, allowing a user to stream music to multiple speakers in a house without wires or relying on proprietary technologies such as Sonos, Denon’s HEOS, or Bluesound’s BluOS. Users can listen to music via Bluetooth LE Audio headphones and simultaneously get notifications from a smartwatch. A Bluetooth LE Audio speaker can play music from a smartphone and take calls as a hands-free speakerphone. While Apple AirPods Pro users already enjoy these capabilities, these updates will put Android users on equal footing and promote compatibility with a far greater range of devices. But let’s be careful before we celebrate Bluetooth LE Audio’s higher-quality audio claims. The LC3 codec is a big step up from the SBC codec that’s been in use since 2003, but there’s no evidence that it will ever be on par with LDAC and aptX HD. True hi-res wireless music streaming is coming, likely within the next decade—and that solution might even be a newer version of Bluetooth. LC3 represents a small step toward that era, and it will help finally push the ancient SBC codec onto the scrap heap. Which devices support the LC3 codec now? The new LC3 codec is a significant improvement over the older SBC codec, but that’s not saying a lot. Sony’s LDAC codec and Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive and aptX HD codecs deliver much higher-quality audio.Bluetooth SIG As usual, LC3 codec support must be on both the source and the client device. So which ones do? Nothing from Apple, although that could change. Among Android smartphones, the list includes the Google Pixel 7/7a, Samsung Galaxy S23, Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, and Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4. The list of headphones includes the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, OnePlus Buds Pro 2, and Earfun Air Pro are among the headphones that use the codec. Speakers with LC3 support include the JBL Charge 5 and the Ultimate Ears Megablast. In some cases, support was added after the product shipped, so you’ll need to download a firmware update. Users should expect their devices to simultaneously support both Bluetooth LE Audio and Bluetooth Classic as the industry transitions to the new standard. For the foreseeable future, new phones will continue to pair with old-style wireless speakers and headphones even as manufacturers hope that LE’s new features will be compelling enough to convince buyers to upgrade their gear. Bluetooth LE Audio’s most transformative feature: Auracast Auracast is the Bluetooth LE feature we’re most excited about. Bluetooth SIG Longer battery life and higher-quality audio are terrific, but I would argue that Auracast is Bluetooth LE Audio’s most important new feature. Auracast allows a source device to broadcast to an unlimited number of client devices simultaneously. Conceivably, several headphone users will be able to listen to the same music from a single phone. The new technology will have its most immediate impact on a new generation of hearing aids. Users will be able to tune in directly to audio streams from public address systems, providing them with clearer listening experiences in classrooms, churches, and theaters. Auracast will also enable simultaneous streams in multiple languages, opening public events to more people by removing translation barriers. Museums can use Auracast to deliver narration for guided tours, television viewers can ditch the bulky single-use headsets for late-night or assisted listening, and travelers will be able to connect directly to those airport television screens. Should you care about Bluetooth LE Audio? Bluetooth LE Audio and the LC3 codec represent a notable step forward for wireless streaming technology, but the emphasis here isn’t nearly as much on improving audio quality as it is on other features, interesting as they might be. The new protocols don’t get us any closer to hi-res audio streaming, and they’re not comparable to the proprietary LDAC and aptX HD codecs we already have. Auracast, on the other hand, is exciting, especially for people who need hearing aids. And it comes just as the market is set to explode now that government deregulation will allow the devices to be sold without a prescription in the United States. You should also look for Bluetooth LE Audio headphones and earbuds to replace those museum tour headsets, allow diplomats to upgrade their translation equipment, and give movie audiences the chance to hear native-language dubbing during a screening. Our lossless wireless streaming future has yet to arrive, but Bluetooth LE Audio’s improved connectivity means the standard still has a lot to offer while we wait. Streaming Media

      • Cancel your streaming services now, you might score deals later

        Black Friday less than two months away, so this is the best time of the year to start canceling some of your streaming services. Hulu, Peacock, Paramount+, and other streaming services often provide deep discounts during the holiday shopping season, with a catch: They’re only available to new and returning subscribers. Hulu even requires subscribers to be inactive for a least a month before they’re eligible for a comeback deal. That means if you’re still subscribed to those services a month from now, you’ll have a tougher time taking advantage of seasonal sales. Auditing your streaming subscriptions is always worthwhile anyway, so you might as well do it now. Which streaming services have Black Friday deals? Of course, it’s too early for streaming services to announce any Black Friday specials for 2023, but looking back to last year provides a sense of what to expect. Here’s what we saw in 2022: Hulu offered one year (with ads) for $2 per month. Hulu and Disney+ were bundled together at $5 per month for one year. Peacock offered one year (with ads) for $1 per month. HBO Max offered three months (with ads) for $2 per month. Britbox offered two months for $2 per month. Amazon Prime Video offered a slew of add-on channels at $2 per month for two months, including AMC+, Epix, and Hallmark Movies Now. The Roku Channel offered premium add-ons for as little as $1 per month for two months, including BET+, Starz, and Lifetime Movie Club. Nearly all of those deals were available to both new and returning subscribers, so canceling now might allow you to sign up again at a lower rate, without relying on secondary email addresses. Keep in mind that with most streaming services, you’ll still get the full month for which you last paid, so there’s no need to wait on canceling. If you have a subscription that renews in three weeks, for instance, you can cancel now and keep using it until the billing cycle is over. While lots of streaming services raised prices this year, they still need to bring in new subscribers to offset the cancellations that those price hikes have prompted (“churn,” in industry parlance). Seasonal sales are a great way to do that, so I fully expect we’ll see similar deals return in 2023. How to cancel your streaming services Peacock’s cancellation page.Jared Newman / Foundry I’ve previously written a separate guide to auditing your subscriptions, which is now updated with the latest info. But if you just want quick cancellation links, here they are: Netflix account page, cancellation link Hulu account page, cancellation link Amazon Prime account page, cancellation link Disney+ account page, cancellation link Max (formerly HBO Max) account page Paramount+ account page Peacock account page, cancellation link Apple TV+ account page Starz account page, cancellation link Sling TV account page YouTube TV account page DirecTV Stream account page Fubo TV account page Philo account page Unfortunately, paying for TV has become increasingly complicated, so some of your subscriptions might be tied to third-party marketplaces. If you signed up for a service such as Starz or AMC+ through Amazon Prime Video Channels, for instance, you’ll need to cancel through Amazon instead of directly through the streaming service. Same goes for subscriptions through Roku and Apple. You might not even need to wait for a deal Persistence pays off when canceling Starz.Jared Newman / Foundry Proactively canceling your streaming services also has one additional benefit: You might unlock some extra deals just by threatening to quit. Paramount+, for instance, has long offered an extra month or two for subscribers who prepare to cancel (even after signing up for free). On a tip from a reader (thanks, Dennis H.!), I’ve also learned that attempting to cancel Starz yields an offer of three more months for $2 per month. If you continue the cancellation from there, Starz trots out an even better deal: Three months for $1 per month. Even Netflix, which is notoriously firm on pricing, has quietly continued to offer its $10-per-month Basic plan for subscribers who threaten to cancel. It discontinued that plan for new and rejoining subscribers in July. These pleas to stay aboard are becoming a more common tactic in the streaming world, one that’s somewhat reminiscent of the deals you could get by threatening to cancel cable. But if you go ahead with cancellation, the holidays might bring their own array of deals to get you back. Sign up for Jared’s Cord Cutter Weekly newsletter to learn the latest TV savings tactics every Friday. Streaming Media

      • Can Microsoft’s Panos Panay right the Alexa ship at Amazon?

        The news of Panos Panay’s sudden departure from Microsoft was quickly eclipsed by the revelation of where he was going: Amazon. A 19-year veteran of Microsoft who was the face of the company’s Surface team, Panay was slated to take the stage at a Microsoft Surface event in New York City on Thursday. But now, he’s more likely to turn up at Amazon’s competing hardware event at its new Virginia facility on Wednesday. Panay will reportedly be taking charge of Amazon’s Alexa and Echo divisions, among other duties. He’ll be replacing Dave Limp, himself a longtime and well respected executive at Amazon who was the company’s lead for devices and services, including Alexa. Limp announced his retirement from Amazon back in August, following a 13-year tenure. Update (9/27/2023): Panay’s move to Amazon is now official. In a press release, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy called Panay a “strong product builder and inventor who has deep experience in both hardware and integrated services,” while Dave Limp described Panay as a “passionate product leader.” Panay, who didn’t appear at Amazon’s hardware reveal last week, will officially join Amazon in late October. Original story follows… Panay, a dynamic leader as well as a “passionate voice for the consumer,” as PCWorld’s Mark Hachman wrote, will be landing at Amazon just as its Alexa division faces some of the greatest challenges in its history. Amazon’s Alexa unit was rocked by a series of layoffs last year amid reports that it lost Amazon billions of dollars in 2022. A lengthy Insider profile called Alexa a “division in crisis,” with sources describing a group beset by “low morale, failed monetization attempts, and a lack of engagement across users and developers.” Meanwhile, some of the biggest–and wildest–new devices to come out of Amazon’s devices team have gone nowhere fast. Amazon’s Alexa-powered Astro, a wheeled robot first unveiled back in 2021, has yet to emerge from its “Day 1” early access status, while the executive in charge of the bot project departed Amazon back in May. Other experiments, such as the Alexa-enabled Loop ring, landed with a thud and were quickly discontinued. At the same time, the rise of generative AI-powered chatbots like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard have made Alexa sound like a dullard in comparison, offering clunky, long-winded, and repetitive answers to questions that ChatGPT and Bard could otherwise smoothly handle (even if some of the answers are tied together by AI-created hallucinations). So Panay is facing some seriously choppy surf as he wades into the Amazon waters. Can Panay reinvigorate an increasingly staid line of Echo products (wild Astro experiments notwithstanding), as well as usher Alexa into our generative AI present? Obviously, we won’t get the answer on Wednesday–heck, the man just got there–but Panay’s runway for getting Alexa back on track is looking distressingly short. Updated on September 27, 2023 with the news that Panay’s move to Amazon is now official. Alexa, Amazon Echo

      • Eufy’s X8 Pro robot vacuum cleans the hair off its own brush

        Pet hair can wreak havoc with robot vacuums, with all that stray hair wrapping around the robot’s brushes and robbing the bot of suction power. Eufy’s latest robot vac aims to solve the pet-hair problem by pulling the hair out of its own brush after every cleaning. Available now for $649.99, the Eufy Clean X8 Pro is a vacuum-and-mop bot that’s a step-up model to 2021’s X9 Hybrid. The bundled self-emptying bin can store up to 45 days of dust and debris, while a laser navigation system lets the vacuum map your floors and find its way around furniture, even in low-light conditions. The X8 Pro also boasts Eufy’s “twin-turbine” technology, which offers up to 4,000 Pa of suction power per turbine (for a total of 8,000 Pa), or more than double the suction power of the X8 Hybrid. This news story is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best robot vacuums. Most interestingly, the X8 Pro arrives with an “Active Detangling Roller Brush” designed to keep human and pet hair at bay. The system comprises two components, one being the V-shaped bristles on the roller brush that (according to a Eufy rep) help to prevent hair from getting tangled on the brush in the first place. The second component is a retractable comb with short, stubby teeth. The comb, which runs along the entire length of the brush, pops out when the X8 Pro returns to its base, or at shorter intervals (up to every 10 minutes) as directed by the user.  Ben Patterson/Foundry With the comb in position, the brush then runs in reverse, allowing the comb to pull out any tangled hair; the removed hair then gets sucked into the vacuum’s debris bin. The detangling roller brush is a nifty idea, and one that could cut down on the hassle of flipping over the robot and pulling hair off the brush manually. It’s worth noting, however, that the X8 Pro also has a traditional edge-sweeping brush (the smaller one that’s shaped like a three-armed starfish) that doesn’t clean itself. Besides the new X8 Pro, Eufy announced some software upgrades for the recently released Clean X9 Pro, including an “edge-hugging deep mopping” mode that helps the robot clean the edges of a room; the ability to alert users when the X9 Pro’s water tank needs to be topped off; and “smart” recommendations for new “no-go” zones. The new X9 Pro features are currently in beta testing, with the first two enhancements slated to arrive by the end of the month, while smart no-go recommendations should begin rolling out in November.  We’ll have a full review of the Eufy Clean X8 Pro once we test out a review unit.  Vacuums

      • New Yale Assure Lock 2 smart deadbolts hit stores today

        Yale announced two new entries in its Assure Lock 2 smart lock product line today: the Yale Assure Lock 2 Touch (pictured up top, left) and the Yale Assure Lock 2 Plus. Yale says both locks are about 60 percent smaller than the competition. Variations in connectivity—Bluetooth and Wi-Fi—mean shoppers will encounter four new SKUs in the marketplace, not including differences in finish. Here’s the breakdown: Each of the new Yale Assure Lock 2 models is equipped with a numeric touchscreen keypad and a Bluetooth radio, and they all support Apple’s HomeKit smart home ecosystem—with an important distinction I’ll get to in a moment. The Yale Assure Lock Touch ($199.99) features an integrated fingerprint reader; a first for Yale. The company says its fingerprint reader can recognize up to 20 distinct fingerprints, and that it has a 99 percent recognition rate. This news is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best smart locks. The Assure Lock 2 Touch with Wi-Fi ($279.99) has the same set of features, plus a Wi-Fi adapter module that the buyer will plug into the lock’s interior escutcheon during installation. The addition of Wi-Fi enables remote locking and unlocking, granting guest access from anywhere you have broadband access, and voice control via third-party integration with Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Home. Yale also sells the Wi-Fi Smart Module separately for $79.99, and it can be added to any of the other three new Assure Lock 2 models. Both Assure Lock 2 Touch models are available with or without key cylinders for back-up access (only one physical key is included). Yale Assure Lock 2 Plus The Yale Assure Lock 2 Plus doesn’t offer fingerprint recognition, but it does support both Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem and its “home key” technology, so it can be opened when either your iPhone or Apple Watch are in proximity.Yale Yale’s Assure Lock 2 Plus does not have a fingerprint reader or a key cylinder, but it is also available in two SKUs: a Bluetooth-only model that sells for $209.99 and one that includes the Yale Wi-Fi Smart Module that sells for $289.99. Like the Assure Lock 2 Touch models, the Plus SKUs support Apple HomeKit, but they add a feature you won’t get with the Touch models: support for Apple’s “home key” technology. When properly configured, this allows Apple iPhone and Apple Watch users to unlock the door by bringing the device in proximity of the lock. (The feature requires an Apple iPhone XS or later smartphone with iOS 15 or higher, or an Apple Watch Series 4 or later with watchOS 8 or higher.) The new Yale Assure Lock 2 Touch models are available now at Amazon, Best Buy Shop, and Buyers can choose from three finishes: black suede, oil-rubbed bronze, and satin nickel. The Yale Assure Lock 2 Plus is available from the same retailers in black suede or satin nickel; an oil-rubbed bronze model is coming soon, according to Yale. We have the Assure Lock 2 Touch with Wi-Fi, the Assure Lock 2 Plus, and a Wi-Fi Smart Module undergoing review now and will publish our findings in the next week or so. Home Security

      • Eufy’s latest cams boast dual lenses, cross-camera tracking

        Anker-owned Eufy is debuting a quartet of new security cameras that come with dual lenses, including a video doorbell, a floodlight cam, a solar-powered camera, and an indoor pan-and-tilt camera. Besides their dual-lens capabilities, the Eufy cameras will also support a new AI-powered “cross-camera tracking” feature that allows two or more Eufy cameras to follow you from one camera to another, and then automatically splice the footage into a single video.  Aside from showing off the new cameras, Eufy reps addressed the brand’s disastrous security breach last year, promising greater transparency as well as announcing that Eufy had brought on cyber-security expert Ralph Echemendia, aka “The Ethical Hacker,” as a consultant. Going back to the new cameras, Eufy’s Video Doorbell E340 comes with two lenses: a 2K wide-angle lens for viewing visitors and other nearby activities, plus a 1080p lens beneath for packages. Ben Patterson/Foundry Slated to arrive for $179.99, the Security Video Doorbell E340 has IP65-rated weather protection (denoting total protection from dust ingress as well as resistance to light jets of water), and it can run about five to six months on battery power, or you can connect it to your home’s existing low-voltage doorbell wiring. Color night vision is part of the package, as well as up to 128GB of local video storage on a microSD card.  Also available now is the Eufy SoloCam S340, which comes with its own solar panel as well as wall mounts for both the camera and the panel. (The camera component is pictured below.) Ben Patterson/Foundry Similar to Eufy’s new video doorbell, the $199.99 SoloCam has two lenses: a wide-angle 3K lens and a telephoto 2K lens. Both lenses, plus a spotlight, are integrated in a pan-and-tilt head that offers AI-assisted object tracking. Eufy promises up to three months of battery life from the SoloCam’s rechargeable battery, or “forever” power when the cam is used with the solar panel. Up to 8GB of eMMC local video storage is supported, along with color and infrared night vision. Next up, the Eufy Indoor Cam S350 is another dual-lens and pan-and-tilt model, with both a wide-angle 4K lens and a 2K telephoto lens.  Operating on wired power, the $129.99 Indoor Cam comes with AI object tracking, along with infrared night vision, dual-band Wi-Fi 6 support, and up to 128GB of local video storage on a microSD card. Ben Patterson/Foundry The cam also offers a privacy mode that turns the lens to the wall while deactivating video recording. Finally, the Eufy Floodlight Cam E340 arrives with yet another dual-lens design, including a 3K wide-angle lens and a 2K telephoto lens. Dual floodlights offer up to 2,000 lumens of illumination with a 4,000-Kelvin cool-white color temperature, while the IP65-rating chassis promises total protection from dust as well as resistance to light water jets. Ben Patterson/Foundry The $219.99 Floodlight Cam E340 boasts support for up to 128GB of microSD local video storage, plus dual-band Wi-Fi 6 support. All the new Eufy cameras will work with Alexa and Google Assistant, and they can also connect to Eufy’s HomeBase 3, which offers up to 16TB of local storage. Also, when connected to the HomeBase 3, the Eufy cameras will support the manufacturer’s latest feature: cross-camera tracking, which can stitch together footage of a single motion event from different Eufy cameras. Beyond Eufy’s new camera lineup, any Eufy cam that works with the HomeBase 3 will “eventually” get access to the cross-camera tracking feature, which will become a paid subscription service following a brief trial period. The subscription price for the feature has yet to be determined. Asked how Eufy is handling last year’s revelations that its supposedly local-only security cameras were in fact communicating with the cloud, a Eufy rep told me that the manufacturer would be “more transparent” about when and how its devices use the cloud. Meanwhile, the manufacturer has been working with Ralph Echemendia, “The Ethical Hacker,” who met with Eufy’s product team to “share his views” about the security and privacy issues that the brand needed to fix. Echemendia was expected to speak at a Eufy event in New York on Tuesday evening. Eufy found itself in hot water late last year after a security researcher claimed he could access a thumbnail of a video event recording from his Eufy Doorbell Dual, as well as pictures of faces that were recognized in the clip, on Eufy’s AWS servers, even though he had disabled the doorbell’s cloud access.  The Verge managed to verify the researcher’s claims while also revealing that it managed to “stream video from a Eufy camera, from the other side of the country, with no encryption at all.” We’ll have full reviews of Eufy’s new security cameras once we get our hands on review units, so stay tuned. Security Cameras

      • Spotify HiFi release date: When is Spotify’s lossless tier coming?

        Back in February 2021, Spotify made a bold promise to roll out lossless music streaming before the year was out. Fast forward more than two years later, and there’s still no sign of Spotify HiFi.  So, what’s the deal? Spotify has let slip a few details about the missing service, but otherwise, the company has been frustratingly tight-lipped about the fate of Spotify HiFi. Meanwhile, recent reports have suggested that Spotify is still intent on spinning up a lossless audio tier, although you may need to pay extra to access it. Here’s what we know–and don’t know–about when Spotify HiFi might finally arrive. Updated September 26, 2023 with details discovered by a Spotify user who was poking around the code of the Spotify app. Spotify HiFi release date: Your questions answered 1. What is Spotify HiFi? First announced back in February 2021, Spotify HiFi was described as a way for Spotify Premium users to “upgrade their sound quality” to a “CD-quality, lossless audio format.” Typically, “CD-quality” means streaming audio encoded with 16-bit depth and a 44.1kHz sampling rate.  But the key term here is “lossless,” which means that the audio stream contains exactly the same sonic detail as its source.  The main selling point here is that you’d be hearing the music in the precise way the artist intended–and indeed, Spotify posted a video in which Billie Eilish and Finneas extolled the virtues of lossless audio streaming. As it stands, Spotify streams audio at 320Kbps in the “lossy” Ogg Vorbis format, which means the audio stream has been compressed and is losing a fair amount of detail in the interest of conserving bandwidth.  2. When will Spotify HiFi come out? The short answer is that we don’t know when Spotify HiFi will arrive, but there are hints that it may arrive later in 2023. According to a June 2023 report from Bloomberg, Spotify is prepping a new and pricier tier that will “likely” including Spotify HiFi, along with “expanded” access to audiobooks. The new tier, which Spotify is calling “Supremium” behind closed doors, would become Spotify’s priciest plan, and it could arrive later this year, albeit in “non-U.S. markets” to start, Bloomberg repots. A Spotify user poking around the official Spotify app recently found code that appears to back up the Bloomberg report, including evidence that Spotify HiFi might actually offer high-resolution as well as lossless tracks. The code doesn’t offer any details on when Spotify HiFi might actually arrive, however. Spotify has yet to confirm the Bloomberg report, but Spotify execs have previously insisted that Spotify HiFi is still coming. Speaking with The Verge in March, Spotify co-president Gustav Söderström said that the company is “still going to do” Spotify HiFi, but that “we’re going to do it in a way where it makes sense for us and for our listeners,” adding that “the industry changed and we had to adapt.” We’ll discuss exactly how the industry changed in a moment. Söderström didn’t offer a timeline for when Spotify HiFi might finally arrive, beyond a vague “at some point.” Early last year, the company offered a vaguely worded statement that offered scant details about Spotify HiFi’s fate: We know that HiFi quality audio is important to you. We feel the same, and we’re excited to deliver a Spotify HiFi experience to Premium users in the future. But we don’t have timing details to share yet. We will of course update you here when we can. We reached out to Spotify shortly after that announcement, but a rep would only say that the company did “not have anything further to share on HiFi beyond the excitement for the future launch.” Later, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek dodged a question about Spotify HiFi during the streamer’s third-quarter 2022 earnings call in October 2022, while the feature went entirely unmentioned during Spotify’s most recent “Stream On” event in March 2023. Spotify again failed to mention Spotify HiFi during its Q2 2023 earnings report on July 25, although it did raise Premium prices the previous day. There have been other hints about Spotify HiFi’s arrival. According to an October 2022 post on Reddit, a longtime Spotify user who had recently switched to Apple Music claimed they got a survey detailed a new plan–“Spotify Platinum”–that boasts HiFi, as well as other features such as “Studio Sound,” a “Headphone Tuner,” “Audio Insights,” “Library Pro,” “Playlist Pro,” and “limited-ad” podcasts, all for an extra charge (more on that in a moment). The Redditor said the survey asked if they would switch back to Spotify “in the nest 30 days” for “one of [those] features.” Well, those 30 days came and went without any sign of Spotify Platinum actually appearing. Previously, a “HiFi” icon was spotted in the Spotify app back in May 2021 and a leaked “Hi, HiFi” video that made the rounds a few months later. 3. How much will Spotify HiFi cost? While Spotify has never come out and said that HiFi would cost extra, the wording of its initial announcement–“Premium subscribers in select markets will be able to upgrade their sound quality to Spotify HiFi”–suggests that HiFi is either an add-on or included in a new plan, such as the possible Spotify Platinum tier.  Bloomberg’s recent report about Spotify HiFi said that the feature might arrive in a new tier that would be Spotify’s priciest yet, while the purported survey cited in the “Spotify Platinum” rumor detailed above pegged the price at $19.99 a month, or double the $9.99/month Spotify Individual plan. Ouch. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Spotify user who had been digging around the Spotify app found a reference to the $19.99/month price within the app’s code, but added that “this could just be a placeholder.” It’s also worth noting that Spotify tested CD-quality audio streams as early as 2017, and at that time, it charged an extra $7.50 a month for the privilege.  4. When was Spotify HiFi supposed to come out? Spotify never gave a precise release date for Spotify HiFi, but during its 2021 announcement, it said the feature would arrive “later this year” in “select” markets. Of course, it’s fair to say that Spotify HiFi missed its launch window by a fairly large margin. 5. Why hasn’t Spotify HiFi come out yet? Good question. Back in February 2022, Spotify CEO Daniel Ed blamed “licensing” issues when asked about the fate of Spotify HiFi during a company earnings call. Here’s the exact quote, as reported by TechCrunch: “Many of the features that we talk about and especially that’s related to music ends up into licensing,” Ek told investors. “So I can’t really announce any specifics on this other than to say that we’re in constant dialogue with our partners to bring this to market.” There is another reason that Spotify might have delayed Spotify HiFi: because it got caught flat-footed by Apple and Amazon, a development that Spotify’s Söderström referred to (“the industry changed”) earlier. Just three months after the Spotify HiFi announcement, Amazon and Apple both announced (separately, but on the same day) that they would begin offering lossless, high-resolution, and spatial audio music tracks, all for no extra charge. (Apple was completely new to lossless and spatial audio streaming, while Amazon had previously been charging extra for lossless and spatial tracks.) Following the Amazon and Apple announcements, the prospect of paying extra (most likely) for only CD-quality music and (probably) no spatial audio began to lose its luster, so perhaps Spotify chose to retreat and regroup. 6. Will Spotify HiFi offer high-resolution music streaming? Plenty of Spotify’s streaming music rivals, including Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, Qobuz, and Tidal, offer “high-resolution” music streaming–that is, audio that’s encoded at a higher resolution and sampling rate than CD-quality 16-bit/44.1kHz audio tracks.  Most industry types agree that 24-bit/48kHz is the threshold for high-resolution audio, and those streamers that support it deliver high-res streams all the way up to 24-bit/192kHz. But Spotify never said anything about high-resolution audio in its initial Spotify HiFi announcement; all it promised was “CD-quality” audio, which qualifies as “hi-fi” but not “hi-res.” That said, the Spotify user who recently revealed details hidden in the Spotify app noted that code made reference to “24-bit Lossless music,” indicating that Spotify HiFi might offer high-resolution audio after all. In any event, it’s a matter of heated debate whether the human ear can actually tell the difference between CD-quality and high-resolution audio–or for that matter, whether most folks can discern the difference between lossy and lossless. We won’t dive into lossy-vs.-lossless rabbit hole here. 7. Will Spotify HiFi offer spatial audio? As with high-resolution audio, Spotify never said anything about spatial audio–that is, music tracks that have been mixed with 3D surround effects–in its Spotify HiFi announcement. Meanwhile, Spotify competitors Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Tidal do offer spatial audio tracks in such formats as Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio. Again, Spotify might actually have spatial audio plans in the works–and perhaps that’s what the “Studio Sound” and/or “Headphone Tuner” features from the Spotify Platinum rumors are all about. 8. Will Spotify HiFi get cancelled? Well, anything’s possible, and Spotify has been known to nix high-profile features that never quite took off. For example, Spotify recently pulled the plug on Car Thing, a small touchscreen display that you could install on a car dashboard for on-the-road Spotify streaming. For its part, Spotify said that while Car Thing “worked as intended,” it chose to halt production of the $80 device due to “product demand and supply chain issues,” among other factors. Spotify also has a history of testing, teasing, and rolling out new features that later disappear–or even reappear–without explanation. But while Spotify seems willing to cancel features that aren’t working, it also likes to experiment, and Spotify HiFi could be a project that Spotify is content to tinker with indefinitely. For what it’s worth, the official Spotify HiFi announcement is still live on Spotify’s website. Sign up for the weekly Best of TechHive newsletter Updated on September 26, 2023 to add new developments and analysis. Spotify Best Prices Today: $9.99 at Spotify Streaming Media

      • One of Alexa’s best free features is going behind a paywall

        We’ve long been fans of Alexa’s ability to listen for suspicious sounds, like smoke alarms and breaking glass, for free, but Amazon is now warning that the “free” part is going away. In an email to owners of Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo speakers, the company said that it will soon discontinue its free Alexa Guard service, which includes the ability to listen for smoke alarms and breaking glass. That feature is moving over to Alexa Emergency Assist, a new $5.99-a-month service that Amazon announced at its big hardware event last week.  This news story is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best smart speakers. While Amazon execs ticked off the features of Alexa Emergency Assist during the on-stage presentation, including the ability to connect users with 24/7 “urgent response” agents, they forgot to mention that the free Alexa Guard service would be going away. Amazon says it will sunset Alexa Guard in the “coming months.” A couple of Alexa Guard features will remain free even after the service closes for good, including the ability to set Home and Away modes, as well as Away Lighting, which turns your lights on and off in a “natural” way to fool would-be trespassers when you’re away from home. First rolled out to US users back in 2019, Alexa Guard was one of the best selling points for an Echo speaker, essentially turning it into an affordable home monitoring device. A year later, Amazon debuted Alexa Guard Plus, a $5/month version that added the ability to summon help in the event of an emergency as well as listen for other suspicious sounds, including footsteps or doors opening and closing when they shouldn’t be. Other smart speaker makers eventually added their own versions of Alexa Guard’s sound monitoring features, including Google and Apple. But while Apple’s HomePod speakers will listen for smoke alarms for free, sound recognition on Google’s Nest speakers requires an $8/month Nest Aware subscription. With Alexa Emergency Assist, you’ll be able to summon help from an urgent response agent by asking Alexa, and your request for assistance will be related to your previously assigned Emergency Contacts. One of the benefits of sound recognition through Alexa Emergency Assist is that your Echo speakers will be able to listen for suspicious sounds all the time. With the free Alexa Guard feature, you had to set Alexa to “away” mode before your Echo devices would listen for smoke alarms or breaking glass, and they’d stop listening once you got home. Smart Speakers