Digital Trends Video Opinions • Whatever Happened to the HiFi Tower?

Graphic - Digital Trends Video Opinions (header #2, web)

End of an Era

When I was a teenager, the crowning achievement of audio enthusiasts was to proudly display their HiFi system to their friends. The living room centerpiece was a HiFi tower, built from what are called separates – units manufactured as 19 inch appliances with a brushed aluminum façade. This was the 70s, and the HiFi tower consisted of an amplifier, radio tuner, tape player, and a turntable that took top position in the penthouse suite. For the baby boomer with higher disposable incomes, the tower may also exhibit a pre-amp, and maybe even an equalizer for good measure. In the 1982 the audio industry added a CD player[1], and the world was introduced to digital sound. Then in 1995 the DVD[2] player joined the portfolio, and digital video moved into the mainstream.

We were proud of our appliances and displayed them as beautiful fixtures in our living rooms. But by the mid-90’s the audio industry began to change. The emergence of the World Wide Web[3] (www) started to affect our entertainment habits. The MP3[4] format, an audio coding format for digital audio, was standardized in 1993 and soon became a tool that disrupted the audio industry. It allowed consumers to save music onto their computers at a fraction of the size, compared to CDs. Then, Peer to Peer[5] (P2P) networking was popularized by the notorious Napster[6] service, launched in 1999 allowing everyone to share their MP3 music libraries – albeit illegally. Music may have turned digital with the CD, but it also morphed from a physical product to a virtual one. When collections moved to hard drives the CD player began to lose its luster. By the end of the 20th century the portable media player[7] using hard drives or flash drives, began to emerge.

It wasn’t just the audio and video input sources that evolved. By the first decade of 2000, the output changed as well. Active speakers began to eat into the market share of passive speakers, lessening the need for an amplifier. Much of this was driven by the computer industry, where speakers would connect directly to the PC. The cornerstone of the HiFi tower was in jeopardy. But the consumer electronics industry seemingly compensated. They continued to improve on the design of the Class D amplifier[8], which was more power efficient, dissipated less heat, and cheaper to produce, than their Class A to C[9] counterparts. They also began to support video inputs. With video, this appliance evolved into the Audio-Visual Receiver[10]. This may have extended the validity of the amplifier, but in the 2000’s the HiFi tower began to lose many of its floors.

The turntable almost disappeared once the CD began to reach critical mass. I trashed mine sometime around 1993. But vinyl[11] has had a resurgence of interest from die-hard fans that are convinced that records sounds better. My take on this passion is that vinyl enthusiasts are accustomed to the fidelity limitations that the media imposes on audio frequency and resolution. In fact, that ‘warm’ sound that is much loved, can be easily reproduced through digital filters (please, no nasty letters). Tape decks have long become occupants of landfill. I finally threw out mine out around 2005, even though I hadn’t used it for a decade. The graphic equalizer (or, more likely a parametric equalizer) may still be present in recording studios, but is predominantly a software feature in digital audio. In fact, today’s audio quality is so pristine that the consumer ‘want’ for an equalizer has virtually disappeared.

Most consumers can’t tell the difference between a 192kbps and a 320kbps MP3 track at 44.1KHz and 16bit resolution on a stereo channel[12]. Consider that Blu-Ray tracks can support up to 24.5Mbps, 96kHz, 24bit resolution on 7.1 channels. That’s 76 times more information delivered to your ears! The additional surround channels are apparent, but most consumers don’t hear the additional resolution. Regardless, the audio industry can’t stand still – it needs to evolve. As the video industry begins to standardize on 4K[13] UHD technology, audio giants such as DTS[14] and Dolby Laboratories[15] will need to step up their game and improve on their DTS-HD[16] and Dolby TrueHD[17] standards. Possibly Dolby Atmos[18] is the future, which currently supports up to 128 audio tracks and 64 speakers. But how this technology will fit into a home theater set-up remains an open question.

Black Boxes to Virtual Boxes

By 2006, the first Blu-Ray discs were released. It became a new floor in our tower. But many argue that it may be the last, in favor of internet streaming. Online video streaming services have had a negative effect on disc players. Consumers realized that access to a large library at a low monthly cost makes more sense than owning shelves of CDs, DVDs or Blu-Rays. Today’s internet has plenty of bandwidth to support video streaming. As long as subscribers can continue to easily access content through a cloud-based service, then there will be little desire for ownership.

Portfolio - Visual Unity, Digital Trends, What happened to the HiFi Tower (Some will thank computing for staged a coup d’état)

Has the 19″ appliance been replaced by software? The limitation of this audio black-box appliance is certainly apparent in today’s demanding multi-functional world. Today’s consumers expect some combination of Bluetooth, Wireline, WiFi, DLNA[20] connectivity, or Near Field Communication[21] (NFC) in their consumer electronics. For example, a disc player that can’t connect to the Internet has little value to a ‘Net savvy consumer. A console that doesn’t support multi-player gaming via the internet is boring.

Video, Audio, Communication is integral to today’s gamer. My kids connect to Skype and have group chats when playing DayZ[22], Minecraft[23], or World of Tanks[24]. They use LogMeIn Hamachi[25] to network their computers. They record their gaming experience with Camtasia Studio[26], and share it on their YouTube channel[27]. Many games aren’t even suitable for disc release. Assassins Creed Unity for example, is a 42GB download on Ubisoft’s Uplay[28]!

Millennial Entertainment

My audio-visual setup is quite unusual. I don’t have a living room in the traditional sense. My computer has evolved as the center of both my work and entertainment world. I sit two feet away when I need to type on the keyboard. Then move ten feet away to watch movies. My office is my living room, and visa-versa. I appreciate that this is not typical for the majority of households, but certainly some level of convergence is happening on a larger scale. TV’s are now Smart[29], and connected to the Internet. Computers, tablets and mobiles are being used to watch entertainment. Gaming consoles are used for social networking. Many consumers don’t realize that their Set-Top-Box[30] (STB) from their cable provider is a PC.

Where does that leave us? For starters, let’s accept that the beautiful HiFi tower, as we once knew it, has virtually disappeared. Millennials don’t even know what they look like. (Case in point: I mentioned to my 12 year old that I was writing a new article where I’ve mentioned him called, “Whatever Happened to the HiFi Tower?”, and the first thing he asked was, “What’s that?”). My tower was dismantled shortly before my kids were born. Even the receiver, once the cornerstone of my HiFi tower was shelved, in favor of active speakers.

Modern living rooms still have their appliances. Somewhere in the house is a WiFi router. The STB may sit beside a gaming console, and maybe a connected Blu-Ray player. A select few will have a media player, or a home theatre PC[31] (HTPC). But each one will have a different shape, size, and color. Nothing in this setup has the elegance of HiFi tower. Even though some manufacturers try to maintain the 19″ form factor, it doesn’t quite have the same ta’da’ enthusiasm from my youth. If a HiFi tower does exist, they are found in high-end home theatres, hidden behind walls, cabinets, or doors. A large number of living rooms need to also check the spouse-acceptance-factor[32] box. Only a privileged few are lucky to have their very own man cave[33].

Thanks for the Memories

Today’s digital society was elegantly summarized by Cory Bergman, from Lost Remote:

“Apps become the channels. Google and Apple
become the gateways, not the MVPDs. Screens become seamless.
DVRs become pointless. And the internet becomes the cable.”[34]

This touches on the sensitive topic of how the entertainment industry has succumbed to applications and the internet.

The excitement of the HiFi tower is now separated by a generation gap. For those that attended high school in the 70’s or 80’s, remember when you bought your first amplifier and the focal point of discussion with your buddies started at the back of the unit? The more connections the amplifier had the more beautiful it was. These days, showing all of your music and movies through the window of our computer monitor doesn’t quite have the same excitement as displaying hundreds of CD’s and DVD’s on a shelf beside a HiFi tower that is taller than a six year old. Such is progress. I may no longer re-live the enthusiasm of showing off my HiFi tower. But I’ll make that trade-off, if it means having my entertainment library accessible with only a few mouse clicks.

• Synopsis

Over the span of two decades entertainment has evolved from a physical to a virtual industry – From a black-box appliance, performing a specific task, to computing devices running applications that serve many functions. What happened to the prestige of the HiFi tower? Did it disappear and we didn’t even notice? This article explores how our world of entertainment has evolved, and what happened to that beautiful HiFi tower.

This article was originally published on

• About Gabriel Dusil

Gabriel Dusil was recently the Chief Marketing & Corporate Strategy Officer at Visual Unity with a mandate to advance the company’s portfolio into next generation solutions and expand the company’s global presence. Before joining Visual Unity, Gabriel was the VP of Sales & Marketing at Cognitive Security, and Director of Alliances at SecureWorks, responsible for partners in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). Previously, Gabriel worked at VeriSign & Motorola in a combination of senior marketing & sales roles. Gabriel obtained a degree in Engineering Physics from McMaster University in Canada and has advanced knowledge in Online Video Solutions, Cloud Computing, Security as a Service (SaaS), Identity & Access Management (IAM), and Managed Security Services (MSS).

• Tags

ŸGabriel Dusil, Smart TV, UHD, Ultra HD, Ultra High Definition, DTS-HD, Napster, Class D Amplifier, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Atmos, Digital Living Network Alliance, DLNA, Near Field Communication, NFC, DayZ, World of Tanks, Hamachi, Camtasia, UPlay, Wife acceptance factor, Spouse acceptance factor, P2P,

• Resources

[1] CD player, Wikipedia,

[2] DVD, Wikipedia,

[3] World Wide Web, Wikipedia,

[4] MP3, Wikipedia,

[5] P2P, Wikipedia,

[6] Napster, Wikipedia,

[7] Portable media player, Wikipedia,

[8] Class D Amplifier, Wikipedia,

[9] Amplifier, Wikipedia,

[10] Audio-Visual Receiver, Wikipedia,

[11] Vinyl, Wikipedia,

[12] “Audiophiles: Can humans hear a difference between low bitrate and high bitrate MP3s?”, by Eric Dykstra,

[13] 4K, Wikipedia,

[14] DTS,

[15] Dolby Digital,

[16] DTS-HD, Wikipedia,

[17] Dolby TrueHD, Wikipedia,

[18] Dolby Digital Atmos, Wikipedia,

[19] “Some will thank computing for staged a coup d’état on the entertainment industry. Others will blame the internet for killing it.”

[20] Digital Living Network Alliance, Wikipedia,

[21] Near Field Communication, Wikipedia,

[22] DayZ, Wikipedia,,

[23] Minecraft,,

[24] World of Tanks, Wikipedia,,

[25] LogMeIn Hamachi, Wikipedia,

[26] Camtasia Studio,

[27] YouTube Channels,

[28] UPlay,

[29] Smart TV, Wikipedia,

[30] Set-Top-Box, Wikipedia,

[31] Home theater PC, Wikipedia,

[32] Wife acceptance factor, Wikipedia,

[33] man cave, Wikipedia,

[34] “How Chromecast fundamentally changed how my family watches TV”, By Cory Bergman, Lost Remote, 3 September 2013,


Digital Trends Video Opinions • Why Does My 4K Video Suck?

Graphic - Digital Trends Video Opinions (header #2, web)

I have a confession to make – I’m a high definition snob. I only watch movies in 1080p[1].  I could care less if a movie is available – shudder – in standard definition (SD). As far as I’m concerned, the movie doesn’t exist, until it’s in 1080p (excluding cinema releases, of course). Many friends think that I’m a hopeless geek to impose such ridiculous restrictions on a movie experience. For some colleagues it’s more important to watch the release as quickly as possible, then to worry about quality. Am I narrow minded? Is my quest to have a cinema experience overrated? Who even notices those compression artifacts[2], mosquito noise[3], or frame tearing[4], anyway?

When Blu-Ray first came out I recall friends telling me how they were disappointed by HD video. They couldn’t tell the difference from the DVD version. I anticipate the same response as we transition to Ultra HD[5] (UHD). History is destined to repeat itself as we venture into more pixels and bigger TVs.

Consumers face a perception verses reality battle regarding image quality. It’s all about how we perceive new technology. In other words, the eyes may see better quality, but the brain is not recognizing the higher resolution. I attribute this to any combination of factors. Anything along this supply chain from creation to consumption can adversely affect video quality:

Figure i – The 4K Video Supply Chain

Figure i – The 4K Video Supply Chain

  1. Creation • The cameras used in production may not have been the analogue equivalent of HD.  Possibly the lenses were poor quality or old film stock was used. Ÿ Maybe the content was filmed with digital cameras that did not have HD sensors.
  2. Source Ÿ• Maybe the source material wasn’t HD. Even if the content was broadcast on an HD channel, the content itself may have been SD and was unconverted[6] (i.e. up-scaled) to HD.
  3. Digitization • This is where film or video tapes are converted to a digital format. Possibly the source content was not digitized properly from the master film reels. For example, Super 16mm film has the grain resolution to achieve a 1080p analog to digital conversion[7].  A digital conversion service may have used SD (576p PAL or 480p NTSC) conversion on the film stock. •  Maybe a copy was digitized and the master (aka. mezzanine file[8]) wasn’t used at all.  Once the film is digitized then software is used to correct color, exposure, and audio/video synchronization. In addition, scratches, dust and film damage is digitally removed from each frame. For some Hollywood movies this takes months of effort. Some early Blu-Ray releases received bad reviews because the digital cleaning process resulted in complete removal of film grain – an aspect of movies that gives that venerable cinema feel. The digitization process has since improved to maintain the visual experience intended by the director.
  4. Encoding Ÿ• The source content may not have been encoded properly, resulting in a substandard video transfer. Typically the analog (film) to digital (file) conversion is uncompressed.Each HD frame scanned to a file would typically occupy  6.2MBytes[9]. Taking these frames and streaming them uncompressed at 23.976 fps (frames per second, typical for a Hollywood movie) would stream at 1.2 Gbps (gigabits per second). This is much too large for consumer devices, so the file needs to be compressed down to a reasonable file size. That’s where H.264[10] and the newer H.265[11] video compression standards come in. These codecs compress an HD movie down to a 4-6Mbps[12] when used in an internet streaming service.  That’s a reduction of 200:1!
  5. Transcoding • Once a video has been encoded, then it can be transcoded into other formats or bitrates. If a good quality master wasn’t used in this process, then the result is GIGO (garbage in garbage out). If the video was transcoded several times before it reaches the viewer, then image quality would have degraded at each transcoding step. In the early days of H.264 encoding, engineers were not versed in all the encoding intricacies, which resulted in a sub-optimal video outputs. This same learning curve is beginning again with H.265.
  6. ‘Supply • There are many intermediaries taking content from one provider and handing it over to another. This applies to both broadcast television as well as internet delivery. Hardware, software, and interconnections anywhere along this ‘supply chain’ can compromise the quality of the signal. Over the internet this involves any combination of routers, switches, firewalls, cabling, streaming or caching servers.
  7. ’Delivery • The delivery mechanism of the Internet, Over the Air[13] (OTA) broadcast, Cable, or Satellite, may have deteriorated the signal due to congestion, latency, dropped packets, interference, or lack of quality of service (QoS) contingencies. Don’t expect the same qualify from a streaming service, compared to Blu-Ray.  Streaming services use much lower bitrates when transferring HD quality (typically up to 4Mbps for 720p or 6Mbps for 1080p), whereas Blu-Ray will use well over 16Mbps.
  8. “Screen Ÿ• The consumer may not have a TV that is good enough to see the improved resolution of HD or 4K. TV’s with less than 30” diagonal were too small to showcase HD. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) were a complete waste of time when showcasing HD. Likewise, it will be hard to see the advantages of 4K video when viewed on screens smaller than 42”, unless the viewer is sitting right in front of the screen. The distance of the viewer from the screen has an effect on video quality. The 2 foot computer experience can afford smaller pixels and screen, compared to TV’s 10 foot TV viewing. As the person sits farther from the screen then pixels begin to blend together, and the advantage of higher pixel densities are lost.
  9. ”Viewer • Maybe the audience member doesn’t have 20/20 vision?
  10. •Bias Ÿ• This is often overlooked when evaluating something new. There is an inherent bias of each viewer when experiencing something that they have never seen before. Did the person hope for the video to be better, before they saw it for the first time? Were they indifferent? Maybe they were part of a grumpy generation that could care less? Pre-established bias plays a role in how we react to new technology. Understanding these biases in advance helps to filter the opinion of others.

It’s as though all planets need to align before we can enjoy 4K video. This is certainly the case with many technological breakthroughs. Equipment, technologies and processes along the entire supply change needs to be upgraded to ensure an optimal viewing experience.

In the case of 4K, some people will simply not perceive the higher resolution – at least not initially. Even if the technology from source to viewer has the ability to showcase 4K, some won’t immediately see an improvement in quality. When I displayed Blu-ray content for the first time on my monitor, I couldn’t immediately see the benefits. My personal bias was to rant about how amazing the video was to my friends, because I wanted it to be better – but deep inside I was underwhelmed. It took me a few weeks of consistently watching HD before I acclimate to the resolution. As my brain started to adjust to the additional pixels, and sharper picture, it wasn’t until I looked back at standard definition that I realized how my perception had changed.

My 4K video doesn’t actually suck – mainly because I don’t have a 4K TV yet.  But I loved what I saw when 4K and UHD was showcased at a number of Media and Entertainment exhibitions these past two years[14]. That may have been my internal bias talking, of course.

Each generation has incrementally higher expectations on new technology. It’s funny to think that maybe my kids will one day say, “Dad, this 4K video sucks. Don’t you have the movie in 8K?”. The grumpy generation would be quick to react, “When I was your age…”.  In the meantime, I can’t wait to be a 2160p[15] snob.

• Synopsis

Is perception also reality for 4K video? Will you recognize 4K quality when you see it for the first time? What ultimately effects video quality, and how do we perceive these incremental improvements? This article explores the challenges that the industry faces in delivering 4K UHD video to the masses, and biases that consumers face when experiencing new technology.

• About Gabriel Dusil

Home - Signature, Gabriel Dusil ('12, shadow, teal)Gabriel Dusil was recently the Chief Marketing & Corporate Strategy Officer at Visual Unity with a mandate to advance the company’s portfolio into next generation solutions and expand the company’s global presence. Before joining Visual Unity, Gabriel was the VP of Sales & Marketing at Cognitive Security, and Director of Alliances at SecureWorks, responsible for partners in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). Previously, Gabriel worked at VeriSign & Motorola in a combination of senior marketing & sales roles. Gabriel obtained a degree in Engineering Physics from McMaster University in Canada and has advanced knowledge in Online Video Solutions, Cloud Computing, Security as a Service (SaaS), Identity & Access Management (IAM), and Managed Security Services (MSS).

• Tags

Ÿ4K, Broadcast, Connected TV, Digital Video, DRM, Gabriel Dusil, H.264, H.265, HEVC, Internet Video, Linear Broadcast, Linear TV, Multi + screen, Multiscreen, New Media, Online Video, Online Video Platform, OTT, Over the Top Content, OVP, second screen, Smart TV, Social TV, TV Everywhere, Ultra HD, Ultra High Definition, Digital Trends Video Opinions

• Resources

[1] 1080p, Wikipedia,

[2] Compression artifacts, Wikipedia,

[3] Mosquito Noise,,

[4] Screen Tearing, Wikipedia,

[5] Ultra HD, Wikipedia,

[6] Video scaler, Wikipedia,

[7] Resolution of Super 16mm film,,

[8] What is Encoding and Transcoding?, By Jan Ozer, 20 April 2011,,…/What-is-Encoding-and-Transcoding-75025.aspx

[9] (1920×1080 pixels x 24 bits of color per pixel)/8bits per byte = 6.2MB (mega bytes)

[10] H.264, Wikipedia,

[11] H.265,

[12] Mbps, Mega bits per second.

[13] Over the Air,

[14] NAB ’14,, IBC ’14,

[15] 2160p, Wikipedia,