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Now Is the Time to Buy a 4K TV—But Which One?

Which Ultra High Definition (UHD) 4K TV should you buy? This is about the easiest “What (fill in device type) should I buy?” question a tech nerd has ever had to answer. Without commercial bias or compensation for the recommendation, there is only one answer: The newest OLED TV from LG—the [easyazon_link identifier=”B01MF6AN6N” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]LG OLED65B6P[/easyazon_link], available for a price of under $3000 on Amazon. If that price tag seems a bit steep, opt instead for the 2015 [easyazon_link identifier=”B010RX0UKY” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]LG 65EF9500[/easyazon_link].

Why is this question so easy to answer? These two LG sets, or even the company’s flagship Signature [easyazon_link identifier=”B019O5F7TK” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]OLED65G6P[/easyazon_link], check off all the boxes of a desirable and virtually future-proof 4K TV that you’ll enjoy for years to come. Or until 8K TV is foisted on us.

Our Picks Have No Backlighting

So what makes these two LG sets so great? First and foremost is LG’s OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display technology, which is vastly superior to standard LED LCD.

“OLED is vastly superior to LED LCD”

Just as a 35 mm film needs a projector, an LCD panel requires a light shown through it from the rear. On most LCD TVs, this backlight is supplied by LEDs arrayed around the edges of the frame. Some LCD sets, such as those from Vizio, offer superior “full array backlighting” (FALD). With this, a grid of LED lights arrays behind the LCD panel. FALD backlighting enables “local dimming.” With local dimming, specific lights in the LED grid adjust to the lighting needs of a section of the image.

But LED backlighting is indiscriminate, including (to a lesser extent) FALD. Even if a scene requires absolute black, such as a scene in space, still some backlighting is needed. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to see the stuff in space—stars, ships, planets, etc. As a result, blacks look more charcoal gray on an LCD screen because that backlighting is always on.

OLED doesn’t need any backlighting. Each of the individual 8 million pixels on an 4K OLED TV is self-illuminating. If a scene calls for absolute black, those pixels just turn themselves off—no light, no nothing. Scenes in space are stygian, and colors jump off the OLED screen as if painted on black velvet. No other TV technology, not even plasma, has ever rendered blacks as perfectly and utterly black as OLED.

But why only LG for OLED? Because LG bought the original OLED patents from the technology’s inventor—Kodak—and it took LG 10 years to perfect it. Most name brand TV makers have tried—and failed—to successfully and, more importantly, cost-effectively, manufacturer OLED TVs. And they all failed. So, for the time being, LG is and will be the only OLED game in town. This solitary supplier situation should not worry you in the least. There are no 4K compatibility issues involved, and LG is as committed to OLED as the Pope is to the Vatican.

With 4K TV, Size Matters

Why a 65-inch set? What’s wrong with a smaller, less expensive model? Because buying a 55-inch 4K TV or smaller is a waste of money.

4K TVs pack in 8 million pixels, four times as many as a regular HDTV, also known as 2K. More pixels means smaller pixels, and smaller pixels means you can sit much closer to your 4K TV than your current HDTV and not see the individual pixels that make up the 4K image.

As a result, optimal viewing distance from a 65-inch 4K TV is around 4 to 8 feet. In comparison, you’d need to sit around 9 to 12 feet from a 65-inch 2K set for optimal effect. You can calculate your own screen size/resolution/distance figures using this interactive tool.

To see any benefit from a 55-inch 4K set, you’d have to sit 4–5 feet away from it—fine for intense (maybe too intense) gamers, not so comfy for the rest of us. But from a normal viewing distance—7 or more feet away—it’d take a pair of platinum eyes to detect the difference between a 55-inch 4K and a 55-inch 2K TV.

If a 55-inch TV is as big a TV as you want, opt for a much cheaper 2K model, such as the [easyazon_link identifier=”B019PZD68I” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]Vizio D55-D2[/easyazon_link] or [easyazon_link identifier=”B01E9MAX2O” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]E55-C2[/easyazon_link], both FALD LED LCD models, both priced at less than a tenth the price of our recommended 65-inch 4K OLED.

Better Than More Pixels

More pixels are nice—you’ll see a lot more detail than on a 2K set as long as you’re close enough to the screen. But what you really would notice between last year’s 4K TVs and this year’s is improved contrast and more colors.

Widely available for the first time in most of this year’s top 4K models, both OLED and LCD, are new HDR (high dynamic range) and WCG (wider color gamut) technologies.

If you’ve got an iPhone or a top Android phone, you’re somewhat familiar with HDR, a feature that dramatically boosts the contrast of still photos you snap. You don’t need the aforementioned platinum eyes to see the difference between side-by-side HDR and non-HDR sets.

WCG raises the numbers of colors a TV set can display from millions to billions, and can display more than 75 percent of the colors the human eye can see, compared to not even half those colors on a standard HDTV.

Check out some vivid before-and-after HDR and WCG differences on this UHD Blu-ray promotional site (and you can now buy the first 4K UHD Blu-ray player, the [easyazon_link identifier=”B01A9V6OI6″ locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]Samsung UBD-K8500[/easyazon_link].

Flat Is Phat

You’ll notice that both our recommended LG 4K TVs are flat, not curved. This author believes curved TVs are an awful idea, a scam perpetrated by cynical marketing types.

You see, 4K TV makers knew you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between 2K and 4K sets exhibited under the bright fluorescent lights at your local big box electronics store. So TV makers curved their 4K sets to better differentiate them from plain old 2K HDTVs, then spun a false narrative about how “enveloping” the curvature made what you were watching.

The truth is that curved TVs are actually detrimental to TV viewing. First, the curvature cuts down the side viewing angle. Second, ambient light gets reflected weirdly like on any curved glass or mirror. Third, a curved TV eliminates the advantage of a thin TV—and OLED sets can be as thin as a pencil—especially if you plan to mount it on a wall. So, we insist you buy only a flat 4K TV.

Bottom line: A 65-inch flat 4K LG OLED is your best long-term TV investment, and the best TV you can buy today—unless you’ve got the deep pockets to spring for the company’s drool-worthy soon-to-arrive 77-inch Signature [easyazon_link identifier=”B00TRQNZG4″ locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]OLED77G6P[/easyazon_link]. How much? If you have to ask … we only know we’re seeking a reverse mortgage or a loan shark—or both—for one.

Stewart Wolpin is a veteran consumer electronics expert who writes about the latest technology for eBay.com, where you can find many of these TVs and other devices to satisfy your home entertainment needs.

 



Electrical Service Panels & Circuit Breakers: How They Do Their Job

Every home has at least one electrical service panel. Some may also have subpanels that serve energy-intense areas of the home, such as a new addition or an upgraded kitchen. Most homeowners know to look at the service panel when they experience a sudden loss of power to see if a breaker has tripped or a fuse has blown. But ideally, you should know more than that. Service panels should be routinely inspected, because certain issues require more than resetting a breaker or replacing a fuse.

Typical Electrical Service Panel partsMichael Chotiner

Typical Electrical Service Panel

Getting to Know Your Service Panel

The service panel’s job is to distribute electricity flowing from a source—in most cases, the electric utility company—to branch circuits within the home. Most branch circuits serve a number of lights and outlets. Sometimes, a single circuit is dedicated to serve a single appliance. This is a code requirement in most locales and good idea when the appliance has a motor (clothes washer, air conditioner or microwave oven) or heating coils (electric range, electric dryer, toaster, clothes iron or blow dryer).

Power purchased from the utility company is fed into the home through a meter at the service entrance. From there, the electricity is routed to the service panel, which is essentially a metal or plastic cabinet installed in or against a wall. Inside the cabinet there are “hot” and “neutral” bus bars—relatively large metal strips designed to conduct substantial amounts of electrical current while dissipating heat—and an array of overcurrent devices, the circuit breakers or fuses. Panels have one “main,” which controls the power supply to the panel, and individual controls for the branch circuits.

The breakers/fuses are rated, in amps, for the safe limit of power that each circuit is designed to serve. They prevent fires by cutting off power when an overload or other fault in the wiring could cause the circuit to overheat.

When a panel is installed correctly, the bus bars and wire connections to the controls are concealed by a cover, which allows only enough access to reset breakers or change fuses. Don’t remove a panel cover unless you are a licensed electrician.

The Evolution of Electrical Service Panels

In the beginning, circa 1900, there was the fuse: either a cartridge or a simple glass vial with a metal filament and base that plugged into the service panel. The filament was designed to melt when it got too hot, cutting off power to the circuit. Prior to 1950, most fuse-protected service panels had the capacity to deliver only 120 volts and 30 to 60 amps.electrical service panels timeline

By the 1960s, circuit breakers were introduced and became the norm for houses ever since. The principal advantage of circuit breakers over fuses is that they can simply be reset, rather than needing to be replaced, after responding to a fault. Service panels designed for circuit breakers were designed to deliver 120 and 240 volts with enough breaker mounts for 100-amp capacity or greater. If you are building a house this year, you’d be wise to install a panel with 200-amp capacity.

Some would argue that fuses are more reliable than circuit breakers because they’re less complicated. Standard breakers installed during the era from the ‘60s through the ‘90s incorporate two separate switching mechanisms—a bimetal switch and an electromagnet. The bimetal component trips the switch when it heats up as the result of an overload. The magnetic component breaks the circuit when it senses a short. In a certain sense, circuit breakers are less sensitive than fuses. They’re intentionally designed to disconnect circuits only when heat buildup persists over a period of time.

Research conducted during the mid-1990s led to the development of arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) that trip when they sense a high-power discharge between two conductors, which can occur, for example, when connections between wires and switch terminals become loose. By 2005, the National Electric Code required combination-type AFCI breakers for all new construction.

Why the History Is Relevant

This history of service panel and overcurrent protection technology is important for two reasons: First, it should keep you from feeling that you have to change out old equipment that’s working properly for new just to keep up. For example, if you have an old house with an electrical system protected by fuses, you don’t necessarily have to replace them with a breaker panel for safety reasons. If you need to add service, have a licensed electrician add what you need with a modern panel, but don’t let him or her talk you into fixing what’s not broken.

The second reason is that if you need to repair or replace components in a service panel, it’s important to know that they must be replaced with parts of the same brand, technology and amperage as the original. If your electrician can’t find compatible components, you might have to start over with a new panel. Knowing when the panel was installed can facilitate that decision.

What Goes Wrong with Panels and Breakers

Electric service panels should be inspected routinely for signs of corrosion. A recent report based on the observations of professional home inspectors asserts that evidence of rust was found on approximately 10 percent of service panels observed—even with the covers in place. If there’s rust on the outside, there’s sure to be corrosion on the inside, which can wreak havoc on connections and damage breakers.

The inspectors found that the source of moisture in panels is usually poor sealing at the service entrance, which should be corrected before the rusty panel is repaired or replaced. Panels in damp, unheated garages and basements are also subject to corrosion.

A breaker can also malfunction and trip more often than necessary. When one or more breakers trip frequently, the cause could be one of three issues:

  • The circuit is inadequately designed for the load
  • An appliance on the circuit has a fault
  • The breaker is worn or otherwise damaged

It’s easy to verify or eliminate the first two potential causes. A circuit overload is the most common problem, which usually becomes obvious when the over-current device controlling it shuts the circuit down only when two or more appliances are in use at the same time—say, the microwave oven and the toaster.

If you suspect that a faulty appliance might be an issue, there a few steps you can take. When a breaker trips, unplug everything on that circuit, then reset the breaker. Plug in one appliance at a time and turn it on. Wait 15 minutes or so. If the breaker doesn’t trip, unplug the appliance and test the next one. If you find the culprit, repair or replace it. You don’t have to worry about the breakers.

If you eliminate both circuit overload and a faulty appliance as the cause for a circuit shutting down frequently, suspect trouble at the panel. Call a licensed electrician to remove the panel cover and perform an inspection. Electricians know how to work safely in an open, energized panel and can diagnose problems through visual inspection and appropriate test procedures.

The electrician will look for evidence of corrosion and overheating inside the cabinet, at terminal connections and on wires themselves. It’s not uncommon to find burnt connections at breakers either because connections weren’t made properly during installation or because they loosened due to excessive vibration. Breakers that are damaged by corrosion and/or overheating can be replaced, as long as the source of the problem is also addressed.

The electrician will also assess whether the current service and system design is adequate for your home’s demand. He or she may recommend a larger panel with more breaker slots to supply more power and/or reduce loads on certain circuits.

Remember that the service panel’s main job is to keep you and your home safe. The best way to ensure that a panel does that job well is to keep a close eye and consult with a qualified electrician to access and correct anything that you find worrisome.

 

Michael Chotiner is a former construction manager who writes about DIY projects for The Home Depot. He provides interesting facts and advice to help you make informed decisions. You can view here a wide selection of breaker panels from The Home Depot.

 



Built-In Night Light Is Brilliant

This innovative night light is built into the electrical outlet’s cover; you just push it onto the receptacle and secure it with screws.

Gentle night light automatically turns on when the room is dark.©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Gentle night light automatically turns on when the room is dark.

One of the great things about going to the International Builder’s Show is discovering super-smart, innovative products. At the 2015 show that we attended in Las Vegas, one of our absolute favorite products was the device shown here, the SnapRays Guide Light, made by Snap Power.

This product looks like a standard electrical outlet or switch cover, but it is much more. Hidden along one edge are three tiny LED bulbs that automatically turn on when the room grows dark, shedding a gentle swath of ambient light. It’s ideal for use in hallways, entryways, stair landings, bathrooms, children’s rooms, kitchen backsplashes, and any other interior location where an on-at-dark night light makes sense. Because the lights are in the cover itself, both outlets remain available for other electrical devices.

Designed to replace a standard electrical outlet or switch cover, you can install it in a minute or two—it doesn’t require any wiring or batteries. On the back side of the cover, two prongs simply clip onto the screw terminals on the sides of a conventional duplex electrical outlet. Both standard and decor designs are available.

Here’s how you install one:

Turn off the circuit breaker.Snap Power

Turn off the circuit breaker.

1Turn off the circuit breaker that controls the circuit and test that the power is off before removing the existing electrical cover. You can use a circuit tester, or just plug a working lamp or hair dryer into it to see if it has power.

Push the new receptacle cover onto the receptacle.Snap Power

Push the new receptacle cover onto the receptacle.

2Remove the existing cover plate and look into the box to see if the areas around the screw terminals are clear so that the new cover’s prongs can pass into the box and around the outlet. The device is packaged with instructions on how to deal with obstructions or other issues.

3Push the new cover onto the outlet so that it’s prongs go over the side terminals. Be sure the prongs slide inside the box and onto the outlet’s terminals. Secure the cover to the face of the outlet with the screw.

4Turn the circuit breaker back on. Remember—the night light is controlled by a light sensor, so it won’t go on unless the room is relatively dark.

Conclusion: We like the SnapRays Guide Light because it’s easy-to-install, permanent, practically invisible when not in use, and it leaves the entire outlet available for other devices.

HomeTips did not receive compensation for this product review, but received manufacturer samples for testing.




How to Hardwire Home Surveillance Cameras

Want a home surveillance system you can count on for clear, reliable video?  Security experts recommend hardwired CCTV security systems for a variety of important reasons:

hardwired home surveillance cameraSaknakorn | Shutterstock

  • Wired security cameras provide high-definition video—good enough to read license plates and recognize faces, while many wireless systems still deliver lower resolution images. If you want to use your cameras to find out whose dog is pooping on your lawn and who’s not cleaning it up, for example, go hardwired.[GARD align=”right”]
  • Wireless camera systems can be hacked—meaning that some digital 16-year-old computer whiz neighbor, or maybe some more malicious hacker, could potentially steal your video signals to learn about your household routines and property; hard-wired systems can’t be hacked and are therefore more secure.
  • Wired camera systems protect your property 24/7. Wireless systems are prone to intermittent performance issues related to poor signal strength and radio interference. Wireless signals have limited range and cannot penetrate masonry materials to feed the DVR that records the images.

But, wireless systems are fast improving, and for homeowners either on a budget or attracted to the smartphone surveillance opportunities they offer, wireless may indeed be the right answer. So, there’s another reason, I suspect, that professional security installers recommend wired over wireless systems: They think that most civilians can’t or are unwilling to take on the wiring themselves, and therein lies their paycheck.

It’s not that difficult, though, and the aforementioned benefits of a wired system are real (and, wired systems now include WiFi-enabled smartphone surveillance, as well, offering the best of both worlds). If you have the skills to hook up your cable box to your TV, and are willing to fish a little wire for cosmetic purposes, you can save some real money by wiring your own home security camera system.

Security Gear You Need

You can buy home surveillance system components à la carte, including cameras, a DVR for recording, and cables and connectors, but if you want to install two or more cameras, it’s advisable to start with a packaged system that’s more likely to have most of what you’ll need in compatible formats. For the best results, look for a system that includes the following:

This Q-See 4-channel video surveillance system provides a DVR, two bullet-style cameras and two dome cameras. Cables and connectors are also included in the kit. Home Depot

This Q-See 4-channel video surveillance system provides a DVR, two bullet-style cameras and two dome cameras. Cables and connectors are also included in the kit.

  • A DVR with H960 compression, remote viewing via WiFi, motion detection, and a 1 TB hard drive. Most DVRs can be connected to a TV via a high-speed Internet connection for monitoring.
  • H960 cameras with 700TVL resolution, night vision, weatherproof bodies and mounting hardware.
  • Cables and connectors for each camera.
  • PC and Mac compatibility.
  • Applications for the types of phones and computers that you own, email alerts and incident snapshots.

Note that in some systems, the standalone DVR can be replaced with a PC-based DVR card, which plugs into the PCI slot of your computer and uses it to record and monitor images from the cameras. Generally speaking, one DVR card can monitor up to four cameras; most desktop PCs have PCI slots for two cards.

Cameras are available in a number of styles. Those most often used in home security applications include:

  • Dome security cameras—used most often for indoor applications.
  • Bullet security cameras—about the size of a finger; unobtrusive.
  • Box security cameras—fairly large; good deterrent when mounted in the open.

Depending on the number of cameras and channels in the DVR, a complete package would range from about $200 (2 channels) to about $600 (8 channels).

If you work with a kit, all of the cables should be included and the connections should be compatible with the components to which they must be joined. If you choose to acquire components separately or don’t find everything you need in the kit, you may need to acquire cables and connectors to get the job done.

Siamese video security cableMichael Chotiner

Siamese Cable

Here are the basics:

 

Siamese cable is available in rolls, and if you work with bulk cable, you’ll need to splice connectors at each end to mate with the camera and power source. Although it’s a simple connection, you should consult an electrician if you’re not already familiar with splicing cable.

 

BNC cable connectorMichael Chotiner

BNC Connector

Connectors. At the camera connection, the electrician will splice one connector to the hot and neutral wires to plug into the power feed in the camera’s wiring harness, or “pigtail,” and another to plug the video conductor into a mating fitting on the harness’s video feed. At the other end of the cable, they’ll use a connector to plug into the power source.

RCA ConnectorsMichael Chotiner

RCA Connectors

The connectors most often used are BNC connectors and RCA connectors, as shown here.

 

BNC-to-RCA-AdapterMichael Chotiner

BNC-to-RCA Adapter

Adapters. If you find mismatched connectors as you work to wire the system components, you can always correct the issue with an adapter, such as the BNC to RCA adapter shown.

Connect & Test

Once you have items from your system kit unpacked, it’s a good idea to test the DVR, cameras and cables before mounting the cameras.

  • Unpack the DVR and plug it into the power supply; if you’re using one or more DVR-cards in place of a standalone DVR, install the card(s) in the PCI slots in the CPU.
  • Unpack a camera and find the pigtails with BNC or RCA connectors that match the ports on the camera.
  • Connect the Siamese cable to the pigtail, and then plug the other end into the DVR.
  • Power on the DVR and check the monitor to see that you have an image.
  • Repeat the test with each camera, pigtail and cable set.

Mount the Cameras

Once you’ve verified that all the components can be connected and all are working properly, mount the cameras in locations that you want to keep an eye on. Typical locations are:

  • At the front door so you can identify people approaching and/or calling on you.
  • At a back door or other entry points around your home that can’t be seen from the street and are vulnerable to unauthorized entry.
  • In children’s rooms so you can keep an eye on what they’re up to when they’re alone there.
  • At outdoor pool areas so you can monitor children and guests playing near the water.
  • Wherever you might store valuables or firearms.

Just bear in mind that cameras designed for indoor use will eventually fail if they’re deployed outdoors.

Compatible camera mounts that can be conveniently fastened to walls, ceilings and outdoor soffits are generally provided along with other necessary components in surveillance system kits. Simply screw them in place, mount the camera, plug in the pigtail and connect the cable.

Run the Cables

Cables can be stapled to walls and ceilings en route to where they plug into a power source. For a cleaner appearance, you may wish to drill holes near each camera mount and fish the cables through walls, floors and ceilings so they are concealed on their path to the power source.

Once you’ve got your video surveillance system setup, you can feel secure in the knowledge that not only will you be able to keep tabs on the covered areas via smart device, but also that the mere presence of surveillance cameras has proven a powerful deterrent to all kinds of misbehavior.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Chotiner, a former general contractor, knows what it takes to do more advanced DIY projects and likes to share “tutorials” for The Home Depot.  The wired cameras he talks about in this article are an important part of home security.  To see a wide selection of home security kits and cameras, visit The Home Depot.



Standby Generators & UPS Backup Batteries

standby generators 8kw

Standby generator immediately kicks on when power is needed. This model provides up to 8 kW of power.  Photo: GE

It’s estimated that U.S. families lose power in the homes an average of five times every year. Of course, because of extreme weather, certain regions have power outages far more often. Loss of power in homes is costly and can be dangerous if a power outage cuts off access to food, water, and communications.

In some parts of the country, power outages are so common that they are a fact of life in both summer and winter. People who live in an area that has frequent outages may want to opt for a more expensive device that will maintain necessary power automatically. Standby generators and UPS backup batteries are a couple of options.

 

Standby Generators

A standby generator is a permanent form of the more familiar portable emergency generator. Standby generators are stationary appliances that are permanently positioned outside the house and hooked up to both a power source, such as propane or natural gas, and electrical lines that connect with the home’s electrical panel. When a power outage occurs, the standby generator automatically turns on and supplies power to selected electrical circuits. Unlike portable generators, standby generators don’t require set-up during an emergency outage. In fact, you don’t even need to be home for one to swing into action immediately.

Generac standby generator

Modestly-sized standby generator supplies 7 kW of power. Photo: Generac

A standby generator also supplies more power than a portable model. Rather than just powering a refrigerator, TV, and a few important lights, it can operate power many lights and appliances. How many depends upon the capacity of the model you buy. Smaller units will power a refrigerator, lights, and the garage door operator. Higher-wattage units can run air conditioning units, lights, and much more.

As a rule, high-capacity standby generators tend to be quite large, but the trend is toward smaller units. For example, Generac makes the PowerPact generator, which supplies 7 kW of power and can be placed within 18 inches of a house; it costs about $1900. GE Generator Systems offers a fairly small unit that powers up to 8 high-wattage devices. Both of these have a special power management system delivers electricity to highest priority appliances first.

Installing a standby generator is a job for a professional electrician, who will install a subpanel and a transfer switch near your electrical service panel. A model that supplies power to about half of a medium-sized house typically costs between $5,000 and $10,000 installed.

 

UPS Backup Batteries

Backup battery power is another option. Because it does not burn gas, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) can be installed inside the home. (Small versions of these are commonly used for supplying power to computers during minor power outages.) During an outage, battery power automatically takes over. How long it can run, and how much power it can supply, depends on the size of the unit, which typically costs between $15,000 and $30,000. It should be installed by a specialist.