What to Expect When You’re Expecting Apple To Announce A New Product

IMG_1009Congratulations! You’re due for a new Apple product! Any day now, Tim Cook is expected to birth something revolutionary and magical. Or not. You never know with Apple. What pops out of the largest uterus in Cupertino — and when exactly it will pop — might be a mystery, but here are some things to definitely expect when you’re expecting Apple to announce a new product:

1. Anxiety. The responsibility of owning a new Apple product can seem overwhelming. How do I keep it clean? What if I drop it? How do make sure it gets fed enough data? OH MY GOD, I’M NOT READY FOR ALL THIS RESPONSIBILITY!?!?! Fret not, my friend, you are not alone. Every expectant consumer has those same questions and fears. Just take solace in knowing that people a heck of a lot dumber than you are handling the immense responsibility just fine. Oh, and use AppleCare. Despite GOP efforts to repeal AppleCare, it’s still around, and the piece of mind it offers is well-worth the cost.

2. Weird cravings. The closer you get to the due date, the weirder your desires will become. I want an iPhone 6 with a 7inch double-sided touch-screen! No, I want a 12inch MacBook Air with a retina display and a floppy drive! No, I want an iWatch big enough to mount on the wall and watch 4K 3D TV on!! Relax. The weird cravings will pass. In the end, you’ll be happy if it’s just a healthy device that isn’t delivered to the market prematurely.

3. Sudden weight gain. Knowing that Apple’s next iWhatever will almost certainly be slimmer and lighter than any personal device you currently own will suddenly make you feel much heavier in public. This is normal. My advice is to try something that’ll counter the effect, like starting a juice cleanse or adopting a trendy food allergy. (Warning: juice cleanses and trendy food allergies do not actually help people lose weight, but talking about them incessantly will help you lose friends… which is kinda like losing weight.)

4. Morning sickness. This is the sick feeling you will get the morning of the supposed product announcement, when it suddenly dawns on you that you have absolutely no idea what Tim Cook is about unveil. Sure, it could be a cool new phone. But it could also be a blender. In one fateful breath, you will realize that no one on the internet knows anything. You’ll suddenly notice that every “exclusive report” on every website purporting to know what Apple will release is based on the same “anonymous sources” with specious connections to “overseas suppliers.” Same for all the self-proclaimed Wall Street Analysts who cherry-pick from said reports to make whatever “bold prediction” will get them airtime on CNBC. And, of course, when the spurious predictions turn out to be bunk, they shirk responsibility and act like it’s Apple’s fault. (I’m looking at you, Gene Munster, senior analyst at Piper Jaffray, and the Apple-branded HDTV set you’ve been predicting as “imminent” every year since 2009.) Sorry, got off on a tangent there. Where was I? Oh yeah, morning sickness the day of the product announcement. Try to get plenty of rest the night before, avoid greasy foods when you wake up, and take it easy on the coffee. Also: Don’t believe anything you read about Apple in the days leading up to unveiling.

5. Messiness. Once the mucus plug of consumer innovation finally spills its contents, the internet will become a messy, messy place indeed. Best to stay off social media for at least 24 hours, until the backlash and the backlash to the backlash have subsided. All that really matters is the, um… lash? That doesn’t sound right. But let’s go with it for now.

6. Post-partum depression. This will kick in the moment you hold the new little miracle in your hands for the first time, after your credit card has been charged and you’ve parted with a considerable amount of money. Don’t worry, though. The first time someone in public compliments you on your new acquisition, you will feel much better. The sudden sense of technological superiority will jump-start the pleasure center of your brain. (FYI: For this reason, you never want to be the last person in your neighborhood and/or workplace to get a new Apple anything.)

7. A growing distance between you and your Apple-less friends. It’s a sad fact of life: Once you become an Apple household, you simply won’t be spending as much time with your non-Apple-having friends. You will get new friends, though, and they will be much more awesome than your old friends. They are called Apple Geniuses and they are available by appointment only.

8. Transcendence. This is what happens as soon as you realize your life has been irrevocably changed by the little bundle of joy. You will wonder how you lived for so long without it. You will admit you can never go back to life before it. You will get sucked into your new device. Literally. You will be like Johnny Depp in that movie where he died and was brought back to life as a computer program. That movie had a happy ending, right? I don’t know. Didn’t see it. Did you? No? Did anyone see it? Hmm. Well, let’s just pretend it had a happy ending and move on to…

9. Ennui. This is the inevitable sense of boredom that will overcome you. Life’s old pleasures will cease to have impact. New pleasures will emerge, but they will pass quickly. The rush you felt the first time you unlocked your phone with nothing more than your fingerprint will be long gone. All that will remain: A hole in the center of your being, filled with the dispiriting notion that your new Apple product will one day be obsolete. As will you.

10. Wonderment. You will wonder what happened to the whole iDevice-as-a-baby metaphor. You are probably already at this phase right now.

11. Temptation. The longer you possess your no-longer-new Apple product, the more tempting the Samsung commercials will get. You’ll see some new Amazon product getting a ton of press and you’ll picture yourself holding it in your hands. You’ll take a second look at that ad for… Windows? “Wow,” you’ll say, “Windows is actually looking pretty good these days.” But the temptation will give way to…

12. Mutual respect, deep-seated appreciation, and a Hollywood ending. Sure, the novelty of your new Apple product will wear off. Siri’s limitations will become readily apparent. The device’s heft and quirkiness will become more pronounced as it ages. Curiosity will lead you back to Windows or maybe over to Android or one its many variants, but the experience will be painful, oh-so-very-very-painful: Why does this Windows 8 computer have two separate interfaces that DON’T WORK TOGETHER AT ALL? Why can’t this brand new Android phone be updated to the latest Android OS? Why does this Amazon device seem to be designed solely to get me to spend even more money on other stuff? And you’ll find the only thing that will relieve the pain is your once-new-but-now-old Apple product. The one you came this close to selling. You will apologize to it. You will hold it close, caressing it with tenderness. You will promise never to abandon it again.

Well, at least not until the iPhone 7S comes out in 2017. According to the internet, it’s going to be so freakin’ awesome!!!

For the movie rights to this post, please contact @ericbuchman. All I ask for is casting approval, final say on the script, and payment in German bearer bonds.

Your #1 2014 New Year’s Tech Resolution: Do not buy a 4K TV

Seriously.  I know you have that holiday bonus burning a whole in your pocket.  I know you’ve been to your local Sony Store and been blown away by their 4K demo.  I know you really want a new TV, and you don’t want to get stuck with “yesterday’s technology.”  But you must wait. You have to wait. It just doesn’t make any sense to buy a 4K TV this year.

First: What is a 4K TV?  Basically, they are TVs with greater resolution than what’s currently considered high definition.  Some companies call them 4K, others call them Ultra HD (or UHD).  They have approximately four times the resolution of a 1080P set (the highest current standard of HDTV).  At larger sizes from the right distance, the difference is striking.  So if you can afford the new TV, it’s a no-brainer, right?  Not by a longshot…

Reason 1:

There is little-to-no 4K content.  It’s going to be years before your local cable/satellite/fiber company offers 4K channels and Blu-ray simply wasn’t designed with 4K in mind.  Your only hope for content in the short-term is via streaming services — which are still trying to figure out how to compress all that data for the average American broadband connection.  Chances are, you’ll need to upgrade your broadband service. What little content is being made available to early adopters comes at an additional price, and the options are slim.  If you buy a Sony TV, for example, you’ll get access to SOME Sony Movies, but that’s it.  Yes, Netflix is working with TV manufacturers to provide 4K versions of their original programs, but there’s still no timetable for when it’ll be implemented, and even when it does, we’re still only talking about a handful of programs you might actually watch.

Another way to look at it: a 4K version of a movie is essentially a digital negative, hence studios are going to delay making them readily available for as long as they possibly can out of piracy concerns.

Reason 2:

There are still some standards yet to be determined.  A fancy new screen isn’t worth as much if its ports and software are outdated within a year or two. For example, the current standard for HDMI wasn’t designed with 4K transmissions in mind.  You do not want to buy a 4K TV unless it supports HDMI 2 and the first round of 4K TVs didn’t (because the standard hadn’t been finalized yet).

Reason 3:

Price. I’m not talking about the price of the 4K TVs, which can be equivalent to the price of a small car. I’m talking about the price of the current generation of HDTVs — they are so affordable now, it’s ridiculous. You can buy a well-performing 50incher now for less than $500.  Want to go bigger?  You can get 60 and 70 inch screens for less than $1000, and not from knock-off brands either but from legit companies known for producing quality HDTVs.  It makes no sense to spend an egregious amount for a “future proof” TV now when the current cost of a 4KTV  is enough to buy both a regular HDTV now and a 4K TV later.  Yes, I know Vizio just announced a 50 inch 4K TV for $1000, and yes, Vizio is one of the HDTV brands I trust, but — and this is a big BUT — it remains to be seen what compromises Vizio has to make to reach that price point. For example, we know for a fact that Vizio is dropping support for 3D, which is a shame, because passive 3D on a 4K set is SPECTACULAR. It’s theater quality.  Vizio’s $1000 4K TV is also likely to offer a contrast ratio on par with its other “cheaper” models, which is good but not great.  Remember, resolution and image quality do not go hand-in-hand.  It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that a high-end 1080P set will perform better than an entry level 4K set, and for less money.

Reason 4:

Will you even notice the difference?  If you’re only in the market for a 50 incher, and you’re not planning to press your face up against the screen, the extra pixels probably won’t even make it your eyes.  From what I’ve seen so far, 4K is really for the next generation of extra-large TVs with 70, 80, and 90 inch screens.  And those are the sets that still require a mortgage to buy in the short-term.

So even if you’re superrich and can easily afford to be an early 4K adopter, I still can’t advise it.  If you’re that rich, you probably have a special media room in your mansion set aside just for movie watching with blackout curtains and sound-absorbing walls.  You don’t need a 4K TV because you have a kickass projector. Keep enjoying it and use the money you’d spend on a 4K TV on a first class ticket to Tokyo or something.  I hear the robot show is amazing.

Do you really need an A/V receiver?

The short answer is “no.”

The long answer is “hell no.”

Look, if you have a dedicated home theater space with 5 or more separate speakers, then, yeah, you’ll need something to control them.  But you already know who you are and you aren’t reading this.  If that is you and you are reading this, then stop.  You do need an A/V receiver or something like it.  This post is for people who landed here after typing “Do I really need an A/V receiver?” into a search bar.  To you, the answer is: Only if you want one.  It’s not a requirement for good sound these days.

Why wouldn’t you want an A/V Receiver?

Three reasons: Added complexity, cost, and feature redundancy.

The added complexity is evident every time you try to tell someone else how to watch TV:  Turn on the TV, then turn on the receiver, then set the TV to video input 1 and the receiver to SAT/CAB, oh, and then make sure the cable box is turned on, and remember, if you want to control the volume don’t use the TV remote!  Why does simply watching TV have to be that complicated? Sure, you can get a universal remote that might streamline the process, but they aren’t perfect.  Even a top-of-the-line smart remote can be problematic it gets out of sync with your equipment (for example, if the remote thinks a component is on when it’s really off).  The only true way to simplify the experience — and increase the reliability of universal remotes — is to reduce the number of overall components.

The cost is evident in the amount of money you’ll be missing from your pocket.

The redundancy is evident in the other features you probably don’t need.  For example, a lot of receivers now come with Apps built-in (Pandora, Netflix, etc.). Sounds great, except chances are you have those same apps also in a different component.  Do you really need Netflix on your TV, Blu-Ray player, Apple TV, smart phone and your receiver?

So why would you want one?

1. As mentioned, you want true surround sound.

2. You like listening to the radio.

3. You have more video components than your TV has inputs.

What are the alternatives?  

As TVs gets thinner and slicker, the built-in speakers gets worse and worse (or, at least, it seems like they do).  You really don’t want to rely on your TV’s built-in speakers for movie watching, which means you will want some sort of sound system, just not one that requires an A/V receiver for power.  I’m a big fan of soundbars for this very reason.

NOTE: If you are perfectly content with the sound from your TVs speakers, and you just need a device that can switch between your many components — cable box, blu-ray player, game system, etc. — you can just get an HDMI switcher.

If the idea of a soundbar intrigues you, consider doing what too few people do these days — plug all your components directly into your TV’s multitude of inputs. Then use your TV’s “digital audio out” port to send the audio from your TV to the soundbar.  And that’s it.  Every time you change inputs on your TV, the soundbar will automatically keep up.

Even better: You can get a soundbar that will automatically power up when your TV turns on, meaning you never have to worry about turning it on or off.

You can then simply program your cable or satellite box’s remote to adjust the Soundbar’s volume instead of your TV’s, eliminating the need for a universal remote (for TV watching, at least).

Note:  If your TV allows you to turn off the internal speakers completely, do it.  That way you never have to worry about accidentally hearing sound from both the TV’s speakers and the soundbar. Many newer HDTVs have that option.  If yours does, then it also probably has the option to send a “fixed” audio signal to the soundbar, meaning no matter what the TV volume is set at, the soundbar will still get the signal it needs.  Ideally, you want a set-up where the TV’s speakers are off completely and the only way to control the volume is from the soundbar.

Another option: Find a Blu-Ray player with HDMI inputs.

They’re rare, but they do exist.  Being able to use your Blu-Ray player as an HDMI switcher can streamline the number of components in your home theater, which is always a good one thing. Two more situations where you might want one:

1) If your HDTV doesn’t have “discreet” inputs.

“Discreet inputs” means that each input on the TV has it’s own separate remote code to switch to it.  That’s very handy for universal remotes.  For example, let’s say your cable box is input 1 and your Blu-Ray is input 4.  With discreet inputs, your universal remote only has to send one command to switch from “CABLE” to “BLU-RAY” and vice versa.  The chances of messing up are rare.  But if your TV doesn’t have discreet inputs, then that means you can’t switch from input 1 to input 4 without cycling through inputs 2 and 3.  And to get from 4 to 1, you have to cycle through 5, 6, etc, all the way back to 1.  In other words — the universal remote has to virtually send many button presses to accomplish one task, which is very prone to errors. If you like the idea of pressing a single button and letting the remote do all the work, you really need a TV (or other device) with discreet inputs.

2) If your HDTV is already mounted to the wall.

If your TV is already mounted to the wall, you might not not have access to the TV’s inputs or you might not want to string new cables in front of the wall.  For example, I have a TV in my house that was mounted with just a single HDMI cable built into the wall (for the best aesthetics).  The idea was to use that single, hidden HDMI cable to connect the TV to a receiver, and just use the receiver to switch between the other components.  But to make things easier for my wife, I ultimately decided not to put a receiver in this room.  So then what?

I could’ve just gotten an HDMI switcher, but then I stumbled across the Samsung BD-E6500.  It’s a Blu-Ray player with two HDMI inputs.  Perfect.  I plugged the BD player into the TV using the HDMI cable that’s strung through the wall.  Then I simply plugged the DirecTV box into the BD player.  Even better, the BD player has what’s called an “HDMI pass-through signal.”  That means whenever the BD player is turned off, the DirecTV signal automatically “passes through” it to the TV.  Switching between components is as easy as turning the BD player on and off (on when I need Blu-Ray, off when I need DirecTV).  I only have the BD player and a DirectTV box hooked up to this TV, so I didn’t even need the 2nd HDMI input. (Though I might use it in the future for an Apple TV.  At the moment, the Blu-Ray player has all the “smart functions” I need, like Netflix.)

FYI: In addition to the Samsung I mentioned, Oppo also makes high-end Blu-Ray players with multiple inputs, like this one and this one.

So there you go… Thanks to an ever-improving stable of soundbars and other devices, if you don’t want the hassle or complexity of a receiver, you really don’t need one.

UPDATE APRIL 22, 2017

Looking for a soundbar that can also supply true surround sound? This one from Vizio could fit the bill:

Note: The surround speakers require their own power supply, which could restrict their placement around the room. Also: It doesn’t have HDMI inputs, so your TV would need enough inputs to handle all your components.

If you can live without “true” surround sound, a soundbar at the top of my wish list is this one from Yamaha:

It’s simulated surround sound rivals many multi-speaker set-ups and it has 4 HDMI inputs, so you can plug a range of components directly into the soundbar (much like you would an AV receiver). It’s super-pricey though, hence it being on my “wish list” and not “in my living room.”

A more reasonably priced soundbar that can act as an HDMI switcher is this one from Harman Kardon:

It also has 4 HDMI inputs, and is marked down a great deal because it’s a slightly older model.

Are there cheaper soundbars to be found with both good sound and at least 4 HDMI inputs? I’ll keep my eye for some, and add them here…


Looking for other home theater equipment? Don’t forget to check out Amazon’s TV & Video deals.