Sonos Introduces $199 PLAY1 Speaker

Sonos introduced its new PLAY1 speaker this week. At a retail price of $199, the PLAY1 is a welcome addition to Sonos complete line of multi-room audio products and is bound to be one of the hottest products at Grand this holiday season. The compact PLAY1 measures just 4.7″ wide by 6.4″ high allowing it to fit just about anywhere. But don’t let the compact footprint fool you. PLAY1 is outfitted with two Class D amplifiers to power its built-in woofer and tweeter and produce sound quality you’d expect from a much larger speaker. Of course PLAY1 also features all the streaming music capability you’ve come to know and love from Sonos. Not familiar with Sonos? Check out this video for a complete overview: Sonos Intro Video.

The versatile PLAY1 speaker is more than just a compact HiFi powerhouse. You can wirelessly pair two PLAY1s for true stereo output capable of filling larger spaces. If that’s not enough, add Sonos’ high performance SUB to your PLAY1 pair for a wireless 2.1 solution that rivals bulky component based systems at significantly higher prices. If home theater is your thing, add a pair of PLAY1s to Sonos PLAYBAR soundbar home theater system for a wireless surround sound solution for your TV viewing. Speaking of PLAYBAR, the popular home theater system recently received a #1 rating from Consumer Reports in the soundbar home theater category.

PLAY1 will be hitting Grand stores on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. In the meantime, check out the product images below or this video to see the PLAY1 for yourself.

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What You Should Know Before Buying a 2013 TV

2013 TV models from LG, Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba have started trickling into our warehouse and out to our stores. I’m sure they’re hitting other retailers as we speak as well. I hope you’ll stop into one of our stores soon to check out the latest in TV technology, but regardless of where you shop, here are six things you should know before you hit the store.

Full disclosure, the list below does feature a collection of facts and my opinions. The opinions are based on my personal preferences and experience as Grand’s audio-video sales manager since 2004.

1. Shop for Features, Not Sizes.

I counted, and at the time of this printing LG had almost 50 TV models available for us to display and sell. Samsung has even more. There’s no way we can display absolutely everything from every brand we represent – and we’re not alone. Almost every other retailer is in the same boat, even the big guys. Instead, we’ll show as many series of TVs from each manufacturer as we can. A series is a collection of different sized TVs from a brand that share similar features. This allows us to show a wider variety with less actual units on display. Finding the series with the right features allows you to compare your “apples-to-apples” options across all brands.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a 55″ TV with 1080p resolution and smart TV functionality. Find the TVs on display that are 1080p and smart rather than finding the 55″ TVs. As a side note, at Grand, we’ll often have popular sizes like 55″ in stock for all the series represented on our floor even if they’re not displayed on the floor in that particular size.

2. RIP Traditional LCD

That’s right, we already have an obsolete flat panel TV technology. Traditional fluorescent lit LCD panels – commonly referred to simply as LCD TVs – are a thing of the past as none will be available from any of the major manufacturers in 2013. When I heard florescent LCD was gone, I reflected fondly on my first buy as the audio-video buyer here at Grand. It was a shipment of Sharp Aquos 30″ 720p LCD TVs and as I recall, we got such a great deal from Sharp we could sell them at a blistering retail or $2,995 – $500 less than any of our competitors. To put that in the proper perspective, we now sell 39″ 1080p LED TVs starting at $399 and most 60″ LED TVs start at retails of less than that.

Of course, LCD screens will still be used in all 2013 LED TV models.

3. Buying an LED? Up the Hz.

Your TV works like a flip book – it displays a number of still images (called frames) in rapid succession to create the illusion of motion on your screen. Hz refers to the number of frames shown each second. Standard 60Hz LEDs display 60 frames each second; upgraded 120Hz or 240Hz rates double or quadruple that number. The advanced Hz rates were developed to overcome a natural limitation of all LED TVs. The liquid screen in an LED TV takes a moment to respond to motion on the screen. In 60Hz TVs, this creates a shadow or ghosting effect visible to most viewers – particularly with larger screen sizes. Increasing the rate of frames per second reduces or eliminates this issue producing smoother motion on the screen.

60Hz vs. 120Hz

60Hz vs. 120Hz

You may be told 120Hz is only needed for viewing fast motion content like sports, movies or video games. However, I argue 120Hz is a must for any TV viewing. Think about the news, for example. Not exactly what you’d consider rapid motion viewing, but definitely what I would consider 120Hz material. Newscasts consist of a heavy dose of close-up views of people’s faces and upper body. You pick up a lot detail viewing in HD and following the motion while maintaining the integrity of the high-detail image can be very difficult for a 60Hz TV – even though the motion is typically slow and deliberate. No one wants to watch a newscaster whose face is a mess of blur every time he or she speaks a word, furrows a brow, etc. Plus, many stations feature a ticker at the bottom of the screen scrolling the day’s breaking news. All that text streaming by is a lot easier to read when you up the refresh rate.

4. Don’t Forget About Plasma

Samsung's 8500-Series Plasma

Samsung’s 8500-Series Plasma

LED is a great technology. It’s the most efficient, slimmest, lightest, brightest and longest lasting technology on the market (apologies to the OLED crowd, it’s not exactly ON the market right now). That said, plasma represents a tremendous value as even ultra premium sets are consistently priced beneath comparably featured LED models.

In addition, pure picture nerds (like me) will always argue plasma has the better picture. To understand why, you have to know a bit about how plasma and LED TVs work. The screen on a plasma TV is made up of millions of pockets filled with plasma gas. The pockets can either be turned on to create colors or turned off to create a deep black. In addition, the plasma gas within each pocket can react instantaneously to changes in the image.

On the contrary, LED screens are made up of a liquid screen that produces an image and an LED light that produces the brightness. The light source is usually on the side of the TV shining inward and is always on.

So why is this all important? Here are the top three reasons:

  • Motion Response: In Tip #2 I discussed 60Hz LEDs vs upgraded 120Hz and 240Hz LEDs. Plasma doesn’t differentiate or need different determinants for fast motion. Its all super fast because the plasma pockets can react instantaneously to motion on the screen for a smoother image than any LED.
  • Black Levels: Black levels are the basis on which you build a quality picture. If a TV can do deep black, bright white and everywhere in between it can create a vibrant, clear image regardless of what’s on TV. Plus, deep blacks create wider contrast between dark and light so vibrant colors literally pop off the screen. Plasma blacks are better because the pockets can be turned on or off depending on what’s on the screen. You want color, pocket is on. You want black, pocket is off. In an LED, the light source is always on so the TV must mask it in darker areas to create a black, dark gray, etc. In many LEDs, this results in outputs often look more gray or deep purple than black. The best LEDs available can create pretty good black levels, but most still have trouble maintaining the consistency of the black across the panel resulting in “hot spots” of diminished blacks.
  • True Color: In the beginning of this section, Tip #3, I mentioned LED is the brightest technology available. LED manufacturers exploit this to overcome objections about inferior black levels. Unfortunately, amping up the brightness in the TV often results diminished color quality. Want to see for yourself, ask the salesperson at your store of choice to put on a sporting event played on a grass field and compare LED vs plasma. I’m pretty confident you’ll see the LED produce more of a neon green while the plasma produces a green more like what you remember – albeit not as bright as the LED.

In fact, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, unless you have $19,999 for LG’s 84″ Ultra LED model 84LM9600, which boasts resolutions four time that of 1080p, Samsung’s much lauded 8500-series plasma TV is the best TV you can buy. It features Samsung’s Super Contrast Panel, which delivers unprecedented brightness, the deepest black levels and precise colors and clarity.

I should note that plasma isn’t the solution for everyone. In general, if you watch daytime TV and your TV faces direct sunlight or you watch more than six hours of TV each day, I’d recommend considering LED. If not, don’t shut the door on plasma.

5. All Smart TVs Are NOT Created Equal

Samsung 2013 Smart TV Interface

Samsung 2013 Smart TV Interface

Smart TV is the biggest buzz word on our sales floor. We’re finding more and more consumers that want to be able to access the internet and popular web-enabled services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Skype through their TV.

If you’re among those interested in these services, I recommend asking to see the Smart TV interface on the TVs you would be interested in purchasing. Look at how fast it loads and how intuitive the menus are to use. This is particularly important if you’re planning to use the Smart TV functions heavily. The faster it loads and easier it is to use, the more you’ll use the functionality.

I’d even recommend considering a Smart TV with quad-core processor for the fastest access to your favorite apps and content. We’re all used to fast load speeds on other smart devices like phones, tablets and computers, shouldn’t we expect the same from our smart TVs.

6. Budget for Sound

Typical TV Wall

Typical TV Wall

Truth be told, TV manufacturers don’t have much motivation to include better sound in their TVs. If you’re shopping for a TV, chances are you’ll find a long wall with dozens of TV sets on display at your retailer of choice. Most consumers will simply pick the best picture for their budget and move on. So, a TV manufacturer is primarily concerned with their picture standing out among the rest – not necessarily ensuring you can actually hear the dialog on your favorite prime time show.

So, while TVs get thinner and brighter to win the aesthetic battle on the sales floor, speakers get smaller and are typically relegated to the back of the TV because they’ve run out of real estate on the front. In order for you to hear the content you’re watching, sound must to come out of the back of the TV, make a U-turn around the TV and make it’s way across the room to your ears in the listening area. I probably don’t need to tell you this doesn’t work very well. The effect is even worse if the TV is mounted on the wall. Imagine turning your back to someone, holding a phone book up to your face and trying to have a conversation.

More bad news, your TV is getting richer content via HDMI than it ever has before. Your cable/satellite box, blu-ray and gaming system is outputting hi-res, multi-channel surround sound audio and your TV is expected to use it’s thin, poorly-placed speakers to decipher that content and send it to you with some sort of clarity. Not a winning combination.

There is some good news, you don’t need to fill your room with bulky, obtrusive speakers and equipment. This sound problem has caused a revolution in the audio industry centered around slim, flat-panel matching solutions for improving the sound quality of your flat panel TV. We carry simple sound solutions quality brands like Polk, Bose and Sonos that will greatly enhance your TV viewing experience. Pricing ranges from approximately $300 to $1500 so there’s something of quality available within most budgets.

Bose CineMate 1SR

Bose CineMate 1SR

Bonus Tip: Check Out the Closeout Deals.

closeout-sale-banners-153Last but not least, be open to buying 2012 technology. You can get a great deal on a closeout TV this time of year. Every retailer – Grand included – is discounting old product to make room for 2013 models. Wherever you buy, be sure to check out the closeouts. Often pricing is as good or better than it was on Black Friday. Check out our Liquidation Center to see models we’re currently closing out.

Sonos PLAYBAR: The Smart Speaker for Today’s Smart TVs

For more than a decade, Sonos has been a pioneer in wireless, whole-home audio technology. Their initial product launch in 2002 essentially created the category and the company has been dominating ever since. After seeing their brand new soundbar, PLAYBAR, I’m a firm believer their dominance will only continue to grow.

Before we get into the new product, here’s a little background info.

SONOS OVERVIEW

sonos family- no playbar

Sonos’ Current Product Family

Sonos allows users to easily stream content from their iTunes library, SiriusXM, TuneIn Radio, Pandora, Rhapsody, MOG, Spotify and more to any room in the house. Systems can be wirelessly expanded to additional rooms as needed and easily controlled with free software for most smartphones, tablets or computers.

What sets Sonos apart is its wireless, room-by-room approach. Users can build and customize their system over time rather than buying all rooms at one time. System are made up of one or more ZonePlayers, which are Sonos devices that play streaming content. ZonePlayers are available as stand-alone Sonos speakers or components that connect to any speaker or audio system. ZonePlayers communicate wirelessly with each other to create a whole home system capable of streaming a different feed in each room or the same feed in all rooms. Best of all, Sonos uses its own unique wireless technology (rather than WiFi or Bluetooth), so users get consistently reliable results without taxing their home network.

If you want to learn more about Sonos and its ZonePlayers, click here for more information.

SOUNDBAR OVERVIEW

A soundbar is a low-profile, elongated speaker designed to match today’s ultra-flat TVs. They’ve become very popular because they’re simple systems that can provide much better sound than speakers in an ultra-thin TV and can be installed without hacking into walls or running extensive cabling.

generic soundbar

Virtually all of the soundbars on the market today have three basic flaws:

  1. Subwoofer Required: Most subwoofers are wireless, but it’s still a speaker that needs to find a home in the room.
  2. Another Remote Control: Although some can learn the basic functions of your TV, cable or satellite remote, the system remote is still required to switch inputs or sound settings.
  3. TV-Centricity: The sole purpose is making your TV sound better. But what about everything else? Some have multiple inputs, but connecting an iPod or smartphone to rear mounted inputs is pretty difficult when your soundbar is on the wall – or worse yet on a wall over a fireplace. Bluetooth can solve that in some cases, but that technology can be finicky and is not the ideal format for streaming music.

MEET PLAYBAR

playbar views

Wall Mounted and Table Top Views

Yesterday Sonos introduced PLAYBAR, the innovative soundbar that’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. I could dive into how the low profile PLAYBAR speaker sounds great thanks to its nine premium built-in drivers, but its the built-in Sonos streaming audio technology that really pushes PLAYBAR ahead of the pack. Now, when you combine PLAYBAR and a smart TV, you’ve got a central hub for virtually any music or video source on earth. It’s truly a smart speaker for your smart TV.

In addition to great sound and streaming music capability, PLAYBAR offers additional features few competitors can match. Perhaps the most impressive is PLAYBAR’s automatic sound optimization. PLAYBAR has the built-in computing power of a laptop and performs millions of calculations per second in order to output outstanding sound in any environment. It even features a built-in accelerometer that automatically detects the installation configuration to deliver great sound for that specific application. Best of all, the entire process is automatic – no software to run or settings to adjust.

PLAYBAR Family View

PLAYBAR Family View

Another very cool feature is PLAYBAR’s multiple configuration options. PLAYBAR sounds great on its own, but add a Sonos subwoofer (model: SUB) and you have a 3.1 system with some serious punch. Add the sub and two Sonos PLAY3 speakers and you have a completely wireless 5.1 solution that rivals just about anything available today.

But wait, there’s more! Here are some more unique PLAYBAR features:

  • Simple Connections: Plug it in and connect to your TV with the included fiber optic cable and you’re all set.
  • TV Control: PLAYBAR pairs with your TV remote in a matter of seconds for simple control while watching TV
  • Smart Device Ready: Like all Sonos components, PLAYBAR is easily controlled with most smartphones, tablets and computers.
  • Future-Proof Upgrades: Like all Sonos components, PLAYBAR will continually be upgraded with software updates and new services to make it a future-proof home audio solution.
  • Night Mode: Outputs clear, contained output for stealth listening while others are asleep.
  • Speech Enhancement: Outputs clear dialog so you can actually understand what people are saying on-screen.
  • Ethernet Connection: Allows you to hard-wire your TV to the home network if WiFi is spotty.
  • Rear IR Output: Allows for control of your TV even if the bar is blocking the IR sensor.

Spice up your Summertime Fun With Great Sound

If you’re looking for a way to easily add high quality sound to your outdoor fun this summer, consider an Outcast speaker system from Soundcast

Overview

An Outcast weather resistant speaker system is by far the simplest solution for high quality outdoor sound. Simply plug it in, connect your iPod, smart phone or tablet and enjoy your favorite playlists and music services outside. Better yet, charge the built-in battery and take it anywhere you want for up to 15 hours of quality music output.

High Performance Output

Outcast’s unique design allows you to fill even large outdoor spaces with rich, stereo sound. Models feature four strategically positioned omni-directional speakers and a built-in subwoofer to deliver 360-degrees of stereo sound. 

Wireless Streaming Music

Want to be completely wireless? No problem. Select Outcast systems ship with Soundcast’s wireless iPod docking station, which allows you to stream music from your iPod or iPhone to the speaker system. The dock even features an input for connection to your computer, stereo, home theater or even your TV allowing you to stream your favorite CD, the ball game, Pandora and more to your Outcast system. With a wireless range of up to 300ft., the docking system is a great solution for virtually any application.

Models and Options

Outcast speaker systems are available in two sizes. The full-size Outcast speaker system features a 100-watt amplifier and 8″ subwoofer. Suggested retail is $899 for the speaker itself or $999 for the speaker and  wireless iPod dock bundle pack.

The more compact Outcast Jr. features a 60-watt amplifier and 6.5″ subwoofer. The compact size is perfect for portability. It even ships complete with a 12-volt car adapter making it the perfect tailgating solution. Suggest retail is $599 for the speaker itself or $699 for the speaker and wireless iPod bundle pack.

Elite HDTVs are back!

Elite LED TV

Click to Shop Elite TVs at Grandapplianceandtv.com

Grand is pleased to welcome Elite back to the HDTV landscape after a few years away from the TV world. The new Elite HDTV lineup includes two LED backlit models; a 60″ at $5,499 and a 70″ at $7,999.

Elite LED?

The switch to LED technology is a departure from Elite’s heritage as a high end plasma TV brand. For years, Elite plasma TVs were regarded as the industry standard for superior design and picture quality. Despite the switch to LED, Elite is confident it will continue to set the standard by which all other competitors will be judged.

I for one would have to agree. I installed both the 60″ and 70″ set in our Libertyville location yesterday in a room that features top of the line LED TVs from Samsung and Toshiba as well as top of the line plasmas from Samsung and Panasonic. I could clearly see the Elite difference compared to the other sets I previously regarded as the best in the industry. As I informally polled customers and salespeople I got the same response over and over. Quite simply, the Elite picture blew away the competition on our floor.

The First Compromise-Free HDTV

Elite LED TVs are a breath of fresh air for those that demand the best. I’m admittedly a plasma fan because I, like many critics, feel it offers deeper black levels, more lifelike color and better motion response than comparable LEDs. However, plenty of LED fans that will point to LED’s brighter image, longer panel life, immunity to burn-in, thinner/lighter design and enhanced energy efficiency as reasons to choose LED over plasma. Bottom line, choosing one over the other means you have to compromise certain features for others.

Therein lies a fundamental problem – if I’m buying a premium TV, why should I have to compromise? With Elite, I don’t have to anymore. Elite panels offer all the advantages of LED technology as well as the amazing black levels, crisp motion response and rich, lifelike color I expect out of top of the line plasma TVs.

How Do They Do It?

The secret to Elite’s superior picture is a collection of features Elite refers to as Intelligent Variable Contrast. The combination of features enhance the color gamut and automate control over brightness and backlight levels resulting in superior color depth, brilliance, detail and black levels. See below for an overview of each technology at work to make this happen.

  • RGB+Y Pixel Technology: Adds a yellow sub-pixel to the standard red/green/blue color palette to create a much broader range of colors on the screen.
  • Precision Color Plus: Enhances image accuracy by addressing each sub-pixel independently. The result is a picture with more than 8 million dots on the screen.
  • Gen-Ten Panel: Uses UV2A technology to achieve a high aperture level, which enables extremely high brightness by allowing up to 20% more light to pass through than from conventional LCDs.
  • Fluid Motion Technology: Combines an advanced frame creation system with unique scanning backlight technology, to create a greater than 240Hz effect — improving picture clarity and smoothness in movies and sports content.
  • Full Array LED Backlighting: Elite’s LED competitors use edge-lit LED technology, which means LED lights run along the border of the screen and shine inward to light the panel. This can create uneven lighting throughout the panel. Elite TVs evenly space the LED lights behind the picture to create an image that is an incredibly bright and evenly lit.
  • Local Dimming LEDs: The full array LED backlights can be selectively dimmed or brightened independently of each other. So unlike edge-lit sets that must dim the whole picture to create blacks, Elite LED TVs can create deep blacks without sacrificing the brighter areas of the picture.

Conclusion

With price points roughly twice as much as top of the line offerings from other brands I understand the Elite HDTV will not be a solution for everyone. However, rarely does a product come out claiming to be far and away the best and actually back up that claim. Elite has done that and they’ve made a believer out of me, which isn’t easy given my strident allegiance to plasma. So for those with demanding tastes and the wherewithal to stomach the  price tag, there isn’t a better HDTV option than the Elite LED TV.

By: Jeff Clemens, Electronics Buyer

ZVOX Home Theater Review


ZVOX Audio Base

ZVOX Audio Base

Do you want big sound but you’re tired of bulky components, messy wires and complicated setups? ZVOX audio’s ZBASE theater systems are the perfect solution for you.

Unique Styling

The innovative ZBASE system is a low profile rectangular box that sits on your AV stand beneath your TV. Simply set the TV on top of your ZBASE system and the sleek cabinet blends in with the base of your flat panel TV. Your guests won’t even notice its there – that is until they hear it.

Premium Sound

The sound from a ZVOX audio system is amazing. You get realistic surround sound output from the five compact drivers lining the front of the system’s cabinet. In addition, ZVOX systems delivery stunningly clear dialog, particularly when in Dialog Emphasis mode. The system’s built-in subwoofer delivers outstanding bass that rivals stand-alone subwoofers in most systems.

Simple Setup and Operation

ZVOX systems are extremely easy to set up and use. Simply connect one cable from your TV to the system and you’re done. ZVOX systems have additional inputs for music sources including a front mounted mini jack for your iPod. Best of all, the ZVOX system works with any remote. It can learn your TV, cable or satellite remote commands so you can use the remote control you’re familiar with and eliminate the pile of remotes from your table top.

ZVOX has received rave reviews from traditional audio stalwarts like Stereophile, Sound & Vision and Home Theater as well as popular outlets like The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and MSNBC. Visit us today to see it in action for yourself. You’ll be amazed at the quality, design and simplicity of ZVOX audio systems.

Click here to view ZVOX systems on our website.

 

Samsung Smart TVs

Samsung’s 2011 line of web-enabled Smart TVs have hit the market and are generating a lot of buzz on the retail floor. Smart TVs allow you to surf the web (select models), access popular web applications like Netflix, Facebook and Pandora, access files stored on networked devices in your home such as your computer or smart phone and even allow for enhanced control with smart phones and tablets.

The Smart TV feature is available on five LED series and three plasma series with retail pricing starting at $1,099 for a 40″ LED TV. Here’s what you need to know before you buy.

Smart Hub. The heart of the Smart TV system is the Smart Hub (pictured below). From the Smart Hub you can easily access content, games and more. Best of all, you don’t have to miss a minute of the action on TV while browsing the Smart Hub for content. Notice the box in the top left showing several hot air balloons. That box represents a live action feed of the TV broadcast while browsing the Smart Hub.

App-Based Web Content. Smart TV content is app-based so you can add and delete apps over time as needed. There are currently hundreds of apps available with more being added every day (click here for a full list). Listed below are the most popular apps by category:

  • Video On Demand: Netflix, Blockbuster, Vudu and Hulu Plus
  • Sports and News: ESPN Next Level, MLB.TV, AccuWeather, USA Today, AP News and Google Maps
  • Lifestyle: Facebook, Twitter and Picasa
  • Music: Pandora and Napster
  • Games: Sudoku and Texas Hold ‘Em

Skype. Skype is a free video chat service ordinarily confined to your computer or laptop. Not anymore. The Skype app is available on most models allowing you to video chat through your big screen TV. Samsung’s Skype camera accessory ($149) is required for use of this feature.

AllShare. AllShare is what enables connectivity with networked devices in the home like your computer and smart phone. Download the free AllShare app on your smart phone or enable sharing on your computer to pull pictures, family movies or music from your PC to your TV without a mess of wires or complicated connections.

Smart Phone/Tablet Control. Most of the functions on the Smart TVs can be controlled by a tablet or smart phone via Samsung’s free control application. Apple’s iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone and most Android devices are compatible with the controller app. What’s more, Samsung announced a partnership with Comcast and Time Warner Cable at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that could eventually lead to the ability to control of your cable subscription through the Smart TV platform and eliminate the need for a cable box. Stay tuned for developments on that front.

System Requirements. All Smart TVs can be connected to the internet using a standard Ethernet cable or wirelessly via WiFi. Ethernet provides the fastest, most secure connection, while WiFi provides good connection without extensive rewiring. In fact, many models are equipped with a built-in WiFi adapter so in many cases, they can connect to your existing WiFi network right out of the box. For the best WiFi connection, particularly for streaming video content, be sure you’re using an N router.

So if you’re tired of waiting for the next Netflix shipment to arrive or huddling the family around the computer to Skype with the grandparents or view pictures from your most recent vacation, a new web-enabled Smart TV might be up your alley. Samples are on display at all 12 Grand Appliance and TV locations now. Stop in for a test drive.