Thursday, May 5, 2016

How Can a VPN Improve Download Speed?

We can all agree that faster download speeds are preferable and would assume that a VPN might slow things down a bit, but what if the opposite happens and your VPN actually increases the speed? With that in mind, today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a curious reader’s question.
Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.
Photo courtesy of Lawrence Wang (Flickr).

The Question

SuperUser reader RazeLegendz wants to know how a VPN can improve his download speed:
I was recently downloading something at 300 Kb/s, then I decided to turn my VPN on and the download speed suddenly jumped to 1.3 Mb/s. Why is this? Is it because the VPN server reduces the number of “hops” between the server and me?
How can a VPN improve someone’s download speed?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor davidgo has the answer for us:
There are a few possibilities. Unfortunately, the number of “hops” is irrelevant.
The first is compression. If the data you were downloading is uncompressed and your VPN offers compression, then this could explain it. However, most files transferred are likely to be compressed, so this is not as likely as it would seem at first.
The second and third options are related and have to do with your ISP’s connectivity and restrictions. Your VPN has found a faster path to the destination data, which could be because:
  1. The ISP has multiple connections and the direct connection to the data is constrained. The VPN goes across a different connection, which in turn has better connectivity to the source of the data you are pulling, thus you are routing round the congestion.
  2. The ISP is shaping certain kinds of traffic, possibly by type or destination or both. It could even be by content/payload, but that is less likely. By using a VPN, your traffic is being given priority or not being capped, so you are getting better speed.
There are some other possibilities, but these are again less likely. It could be that the VPN is using UDP while your download would typically use TCP, and different optimisations (MTU, for example) are allowing better use of your connection. Again, this is possible, but unlikely, mainly because you would expect either a much smaller or much greater difference in speed.

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

How to Run Any Program as a Background Service in Windows

If you’re like most Windows users, you have lots of great little utilities that run when you start Windows. While this works great for most apps, there are some that would be nice to start even before a user logs in to the PC. To do this, you’ll need to run the app as a Windows service.
Windows services are a special class of programs that are configured to launch and run in the background, usually without any sort of user interface and without needing a user to log in to the PC. Many gamers and power users know them as those things you used to disable to help speed up your system, though that’s really not necessary any more.
The primary advantage of running an app as a service is that you can have a program start before a user to log in. That can be particularly important with apps that provide important services you want to be available when you’re away from your computer.
A perfect example of this is Plex, a media server app that can stream local content to just about any device you own. Sure, you could let it sit in the system tray like a normal program, but what if the computer restarts due to a power outage or scheduled updates? Until you log back in on the PC, Plex wouldn’t be available. That’s irritating if you have to run to another room to start Plex back up while your popcorn gets cold, and super irritating if you’re out of town and trying to stream your media over the Internet. Setting up Plex as a Service would solve that problem.
Before getting started, you should be aware of a couple of important caveats to running an app as a service:
  • The app will not put an icon in the system tray. If you need the interface available regularly for an app, it may not be best suited to run as a service.
  • When you need to make configuration changes or updates, you’ll need to stop the service, run the program as a regular app, do what you need to do, stop the program, and then start the service again.
  • If the program is already set up to run when Windows starts, you’ll need to disable that so that you don’t end up with two instances running. Most programs have an option in the interface for toggling this setting. Others may add themselves to your Startup folder, so you can remove them there.
Ready to roll? Let’s talk about how to set it up.

Step One: Install SrvStart

To run an app as a service, you’re going to need a small, third-party utility. There are several out there, but our favorite is SrvStart. It was originally designed for Windows NT, and will work with just about any version of Windows from Windows XP on up.
To get started, head over to the SrvStart download page and grab the utility. The download contains just four files (two DLL and two EXE files). There’s no installer; instead, copy these to your computer’s C:\Windows folder these to your main Windows folder to “install” SrvStart.
We’re also going to assume that you’ve already installed and set up whatever program you’re going to turn into a service, but if you haven’t, now would be a good time to do that too.

Step Two: Create a Configuration File for the New Service

Next, you’ll want to create a configuration file that SrvStart will read to create the service. There’s a lot you can do with SrvStart, and you can read the full details on all the configuration options on the documentation page. For this example, we are only going to use two commands: startup, which specifies the program to launch, and shutdown_method, which tells SrvStart how to close the program when the respective service is stopped.
Fire up Notepad and create your configuration file using the format below. Here, we’re using Plex, but you can create a file for any program you want to run as a service. The startup command simply specifies the path where the executable file resides. For the shutdown_method command, we’re using the winmessage parameter, which causes SrvStart to send a Windows close message to any windows opened by the service.
startup="C:\Program Files (x86)\Plex\Plex Media Server\Plex Media Server.exe"
Obviously, adjust the path and name according to the program you’re launching.
Save the new configuration file wherever you like, and replace the .txt extension with a .ini extension. Make note of the file name, since we’ll need it in the next step. For ease of typing at the Command Prompt, we suggest saving this file temporarily right on your C: drive.

Step Three: Use the Command Prompt to Create the New Service

Your next step is using the Windows Service Controller (SC) command to create the new service based on the criteria in your configuration file. Open Command Prompt by right-clicking the Start menu (or pressing Windows+X), choosing “Command Prompt (Admin)”, and then clicking Yes to allow it to run with administrative privileges.
At the Command Prompt, use the following syntax to create the new service:
SC CREATE <servicename> Displayname= "<servicename>" binpath= "srvstart.exe <servicename> -c <path to srvstart config file>" start= <starttype>
There are a couple of things to note in that command. First, each equal sign (=) has a space after it. That’s required. Also, the <servicename> value is entirely up to you. And, finally, for the <starttype> value, you’ll want to use auto so that the service starts automatically with Windows.
So in our Plex example, the command would look like this:
SC CREATE Plex Displayname= "Plex" binpath= "srvstart.exe Plex -c C:PlexService.ini" start= auto
Yes, you read that right: I used C:PlexService.ini instead of C:\PlexService.ini . The command requires you to remove the slash.
When you run the command, you should receive a SUCCESS message if everything goes well.
From this point on, your new service will run whenever Windows starts. If you open the Windows Services interface (just click Start and type “Services”), you can find and configure the new service just like you would any other.
And that’s all there is to it. If you have apps that start with Windows and you’d rather they start without needing a user to log in, it’s easy enough to turn any app into a service. We’ve only just touched on the basic method for creating and running a new service, but there’s a lot more you can do with SrvStart to fine tune how a service runs. Be sure to check out the documentation if you’d like to learn more.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

How to Uninstall Windows 10’s Built-in Apps (and How to Reinstall Them)

Windows 10 includes a variety of universal apps, and there’s no easy way to hide them from the “All Apps” view in the new Start menu. You can uninstall them, but Microsoft doesn’t allow you to easily uninstall them in the usual way.
You probably don’t want to do this. These apps take up very little space on your device so it’s best to just ignore them if you don’t want to use them. But, if you really want to uninstall them, you can. If you’ve already uninstalled included apps, you can get them all back with a single command.

Uninstall the App Normally

Some apps allow you to uninstall them in the normal way. Just right-click an app in the All Apps list in the Start menu and select “Uninstall”. (On a touch screen, long-press the app instead of right-clicking.)
This trick appears to work for the included Get Office, Get Skype, Get Started, Microsoft Solitaire Collection, Money, News, Phone Companion, and Sports apps. You can also uninstall bloatware apps your PC manufacturer has installed using this trick. However, Microsoft’s other included Windows 10 apps can’t be removed in this way.

Use PowerShell to Uninstall Built-in Apps

You can uninstall most of the built-in apps — even ones that don’t normally offer an “Uninstall” option — with a PowerShell cmdlet. This trick won’t allow you to remove a few of the most important built-in apps, including Cortana and Microsoft Edge. If you try, you’ll see an error message saying they can’t be removed.
First, open PowerShell as administrator. Open the Start menu, search for “PowerShell,” right-click the PowerShell shortcut, and select “Run as administrator.” Agree to the UAC prompt.

Copy and paste one or more of the following commands into the PowerShell prompt, pressing Enter after each one to remove the apps you don’t want on your Windows 10 system:
Uninstall 3D Builder:
Get-AppxPackage *3dbuilder* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Alarms and Clock:
Get-AppxPackage *windowsalarms* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Calculator:
Get-AppxPackage *windowscalculator* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Calendar and Mail:
Get-AppxPackage *windowscommunicationsapps* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Camera:
Get-AppxPackage *windowscamera* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Contact Support:
This app can’t be removed.
Uninstall Cortana:
This app can’t be removed.
Uninstall Get Office:
Get-AppxPackage *officehub* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Get Skype:
Get-AppxPackage *skypeapp* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Get Started:
Get-AppxPackage *getstarted* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Groove Music:
Get-AppxPackage *zunemusic* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Maps:
Get-AppxPackage *windowsmaps* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Microsoft Edge:
This app can’t be removed.
Uninstall Microsoft Solitaire Collection:
Get-AppxPackage *solitairecollection* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Money:
Get-AppxPackage *bingfinance* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Movies & TV:
Get-AppxPackage *zunevideo* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall News:
Get-AppxPackage *bingnews* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall OneNote:
Get-AppxPackage *onenote* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall People:
Get-AppxPackage *people* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Phone Companion:
Get-AppxPackage *windowsphone* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Photos:
Get-AppxPackage *photos* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Store:
Get-AppxPackage *windowsstore* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Sports:
Get-AppxPackage *bingsports* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Voice Recorder:
Get-AppxPackage *soundrecorder* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Weather:
Get-AppxPackage *bingweather* | Remove-AppxPackage
Uninstall Windows Feedback:
This app can’t be removed.
Uninstall Xbox:
Get-AppxPackage *xboxapp* | Remove-AppxPackage

How to Reinstall All Built-in Apps

If you decide you want the preinstalled apps back, you can get them back with a single line of PowerShell code. Again, open a PowerShell window as Administrator. Copy and paste the following line into the PowerShell window and press Enter:
Get-AppxPackage -AllUsers| Foreach {Add-AppxPackage -DisableDevelopmentMode -Register “$($_.InstallLocation)\AppXManifest.xml”}
This tells Windows to install those default apps again. Give it some time and allow it to finish, even if nothing appears to happen at first. Even if you see an error message, restart and examine your Start menu — you may just have all those default apps back again, anyway.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Android TV 6.0 is rolling out soon - here's what we know

TVs and media players with Android TV are currently running version 5.1. The 6.0 update will improve stability / performance, introduce a revamped voice search function, and add some new features. It will start rolling out soon.

Android TV version 6.0

Oddly, none of the manufacturers at CES wanted to confirm when the 6.0 Marshmallow update is coming. Sony - the largest manufacturer of Android TVs - did not even want to confirm whether the 2016 TVs on display at CES 2016 ran 6.0 or not, and had nothing to say regarding new hardware either. However, Sony did confirm that 6.0 is coming to both its 2016 and 2015 TVs. Sony also told us that the 2016 TVs will support YouTube in HDR.
Sony Android TV 6.0” title=
There was no doubt that the 2016 Sony TVs at CES were based on an updated version of Android TV that felt snappier and more reliable than the current 5.1 version. An improved voice search function offered better voice recognition (even in the loud CES halls) and appeared to react much faster. The voice search UI will get a refreshed look. The Google Play store also has a new, fresh look, and Google will furthermore introduce a “Child mode”.

We were informed by sources that the Sony TVs did indeed run a 6.0 preview version of Android TV. We also heard that Google’s main focus with Android TV 6.0 has been to improve stability and performance, to fix security holes, and to fix bugs, instead of adding major new features. 

Remember that manufacturers are not allowed to change the user interface of Android TV.
Sony Android TV 6.0” title=
At CES, Nvidia confirmed that their Shield media player will get an update to 6.0 Marshmallow “very soon”. The company also confirmed a few new features, saying that the update will add “Adoptable Storage, which helps you super-size your storage capabilities. When adding an SD card, USB drive or external hard drive, Shield Android TV can recognize the new storage as internal memory”.

Nvidia added that the update will simplify the startup process so there “are even fewer steps you need to take before launching your favorite apps, movies, music and games”. You can say "OK Google, set up my device" to your phone/tablet and it will automate the process of setting up your new TV. It will even transfer over your WiFi passwords.

It will be possible to take control of the top Recommendations row and select which apps are allowed to push content. The other rows (apps and games) can be re-organized.

Based on what we have heard, we believe that the 6.0 update will start rolling out around March-May, depending on your device.

New apps and games

Apps and games are being added to the Google Play store on Android TV all the time but a few notable additions have just been added or will be added later in 2016.

UltraFlix offers a library of 600 hours of 4K content, although heavily compressed and much of it has been upscaled from HD. Recently, HBO Now, Showtime, and Twitch were added. Two game streaming services, Gamefly and Gametree, will be introduced soon.

In the gaming category Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance will come to Shield.

New Android TV partners

Hisense, TCL, Bang & Olufsen, Vestel, Arcelik (Grundig), and RCA have all signed on as Android TV partners, Google confirmed at CES. Only RCA had a TV on display. 

TCL confirmed to us that it will introduce the first TVs with Android TV this autumn, possibly at IFA 2016 in Berlin. TCL also told us that they are waiting for the 6.0 update. This makes sense as Google has likely agreed to give its early partners at least one year of exclusivity.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Malwarebytes Review

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is a great security tool that’s particularly effective against “potentially unwanted programs (PUPs)” and other nasty software traditional antivirus programs don’t deal with. But it’s intended to be used alongside an antivirus and doesn’t replace one entirely.
If you’re using Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, you should be running it alongside a primary antivirus program to keep your computer in tip-top security shape. But traditional advice is not to run two anti-malware programs at once. Here’s how to thread that needle.

On-Demand Scans

The standard, free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware just functions as an on-demand scanner. In other words, it doesn’t run automatically in the background. Instead, it only does something when you launch it and click the Scan button.
This version of Malwarebytes shouldn’t interfere with your antivirus program at all. Just install it and occasionally launch it to perform a scan and check for the “potentially unwanted programs” almost no one actually wants. It will find and remove them. Using an anti-malware program as an on-demand scanner is a safe way to get a second opinion.
You shouldn’t have to do any extra configuration here. If Malwarebytes reports some sort of error removing a piece of malware it finds, you could potentially pause or disable real-time scanning in your main antivirus program to prevent it from interfering, and then reenable real-time scanning right after. But even this shouldn’t be necessary, and we’ve never heard of anyone encountering a problem like this one.
(This is the only way Malwarebytes works on a Mac, too. It can’t perform automatic, real-time scans — just on-demand scans. Malwarebytes shouldn’t interfere with other Mac antivirus applications, if you are actually running one.)

Real-Time Scanning

The paid version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium also contains real-time scanning features. Malwarebytes will run in the background, scanning your system and files you open for problems and preventing them from taking root on your system in the first place.
The problem is that your main antivirus program is already functioning in this way. The standard advice is that you shouldn’t have real-time scanning enabled for two antivirus programs enabled at once. They can interfere with each other in a variety of ways, slowing down your computer, causing crashes, or even preventing each other from working.
Malwarebytes is coded in a different way and is designed to run alongside other antivirus programs without interfering. It may even work without any further configuration. But, to make it work as well as it possibly can and improve performance, you should set up exclusions in both Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium and your standard antivirus program.
To do this in Malwarebytes, open Malwarebytes, click the Settings icon, select “Malware Exclusions,” and add the folder — typically under Program Files — containing your antivirus program’s files.
In your antivirus program, load the antivirus program, find “exclusions”, “ignored files”, or a similarly named section, and add the appropriate Malwarebytes files.
You should exclude these files on 64-bit versions of Windows:
C:\Program Files (x86)\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbam.exe
C:\Program Files (x86)\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbamdor.exe
C:\Program Files (x86)\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbampt.exe
C:\Program Files (x86)\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbamservice.exe
C:\Program Files (x86)\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbamscheduler.exe
Exclude these files instead on 32-bit versions of Windows:
C:\Program Files\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbam.exe
C:\Program Files\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbamdor.exe
C:\Program Files\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbampt.exe
C:\Program Files\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbamservice.exe
C:\Program Files\Malwarebytes Anti-Malware\mbamscheduler.exe
For more specific instructions, you might want to perform a web search for “Malwarebytes” and the name of your antivirus program. Or just perform a web search for the name of your antivirus program and “exclusions” to find out how to add those exclusions and exclude the files named on the Malwarebytes website.

Malwarebytes is designed to run alongside a normal antivirus program so you shouldn’t have to worry about this most of the time — especially if you’re just using the free version. If you’re using the paid version, setting up exclusions can help you avoid problems and maximize your computer’s performance. But even that won’t be completely necessary most of the time.

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HDR TVs explained

What comes after Ultra HD? Most people in the industry would say high dynamic range (HDR) and point out that it is a much bigger step forward in picture quality than Ultra HD resolution. But what is HDR exactly and why is it so important? We explain what HDR on TVs is all about, and explain why it about to lay a completely reimagined and important foundation for the future of displays.

HDR TVs explained

You can think of HDR as the next step after 4K Ultra HD. At least that is how the industry is positioning it. 4K is “more pixels” – four times as many as HD – whereas HDR is “better pixels”. There is obviously much more to it than that.

HDR is short for high dynamic range, which implies that you are currently watching standard dynamic range. It is impossible to show you what it looks like – your monitor is not capable of HDR – but consider the simulated photo below (from Dolby). HDR on the right side.

Dolby Vision HDR

In essence, HDR is about brighter whites and deeper blacks, and more details in each end. HDR is about reproducing the world around us on a display. Current displays are not capable of reproducing the world as it really is because the world is more than just pixels. Light is just as important. That might sound confusing but we will get back to that.

Imagine being able to see bright sunlight reflections on metallic surfaces or all the stars in the sky on a perfect black canvas, even have your TV reproduce the colors of the worlds around you such as Coca Cola red (your current TV cannot reproduce this color).

There is quite a bit of confusion around HDR and for good reason. There are several players in the industry that are trying to make HDR happen, and you might already have heard about Dolby Vision. There is also an open HDR standard that has been adopted by Blu-ray and other distribution channels. TV manufacturers have come up with even more names.

For example, Samsung calls its HDR-capable TVs “SUHD” and refer to the system that enables it “Peak illuminator”. Panasonic refers to it simply as HDR but calls a panel that supports it “Super Bright Panel”. Sony refers to it as HDR and to be sure you should look for “X-tended Dynamic Range” in the specifications sheet. All of this is just marketing. Other players such as Dolby are talking about Dolby Vision, which actually has more elements to it than just HDR.

However, the standards are almost in place and we can now start talking about how the market will approach HDR.

Dolby Vision at CES 2015

Let’s take a few steps back and look at HDR from a more fundamental level. The next section is quite technical but you don’t have to understand every nuance. We will repeat the important things later.

A completely new foundation - a technical look

The subject of gamma and light is beyond the scope of this article but to fully comprehend HDR it is important to understand that most of the picture standards for today’s TVs were developed based on CRT (cathode ray tube) displays. We have yet to define fundamental standards for digital displays.

Today’s TVs use an EOTF (Electro-optical Transfer Function) method to convert an input signal into visible light (and subsequently an image), and this system still relies on the characteristics of analog CRT displays, the so-called gamma curve. This is why displays use a gamma function (typically 2.2 or 2.4). We often refer to this gamma curve in our reviews.

However, today’s LCD and OLED display technologies are capable of more than CRT, and with HDR it looks like we will finally develop display standards that are based on the characteristics of the human eye instead of the limitations of an old analog display technology.

Before we get to that consider the following. Movies and TV shows are created and graded based on these principles that assume a maximum brightness level (white) of around 80-120 nits (or cd/m2) and a minimum (black depth) of around 0.05 cd/m2 for living room TVs (around maximum 48 nits for cinema). Absolute black is zero and the best consumer displays such as OLED can reach that. Modern TVs can also go way beyond 80-120 nits for maximum brightness, which means that most TV manufacturers have tried to “enhance” the picture in numerous ways, not unlike how TV manufacturers try to “enhance” motion. The content creators hate it but the point is that our displays are capable of more than the standards allow.

Unfortunately, most people associate “high brightness” on displays with bad things due to how TV manufacturers have approached it in the past. We often hear questions like “is HDR kind of like the dynamic mode on my TV”? Forget those thoughts for now and consider that a typical day with thin clouds equals something like 4000-7000 nits and a sunny day has an ambient light level of over 30,000 nits. Direct sunlight is even more extreme. We obviously don’t want to have to wear sunglasses in front of our TV but if we want to recreate the real world on a display there is no other way; we need higher brightness. Also, remember that the human eye dynamically adapts to light in our environment by closing and opening the pupil. That is how the human vision dynamically adjusts to daytime and night time.

So how much brightness do we need? That is a subject for debate. Dolby believes that we need a dynamic range of 0 to 10,000 nits, even though its Dolby Vision format usually has a lower maximum. The Blu-ray association recommends that “over 1000 nits should be limited to specular highlights”. Below you see the results of Dolby’s research.

Dolby Vision

The challenge is that our current EOTF gamma method cannot accommodate that. We need a new EOTF method, a new way of converting a digital signal into visible light, a method that takes the dynamic nature of the human vision into account. This method has been dubbed “Perceptual Quantizer” or PQ by Dolby. It is a completely new way of defining light in a digital display, and it allows us to finally leave the analog legacy behind. It is necessary for high dynamic range, which again is necessary if we want to improve picture quality.

These principles have been adopted in the “SMPTE 2048” standard, which sometimes refer to the format as HDR EOTF or PQ EOTF. Another standard called “SMPTE 2086” describes how to input HDR signals into HDR and non-HDR TVs. It obviously follows that a HDR TV needs to support the PQ format. The content/distribution system needs to support it, too.

To make it possible we also need more options to define “steps”, or grey tones. Dolby says that we need 12-bit per channel (36 bit total) whereas the rest of the industry seems to think that 10-bit per channel (30-bit) is enough for now. As you probably know, today’s TVs typically use 8-bit per channel. If we really, really wanted to use the old EOTF gamma, developed for analog CRTs, we would need something like 14 or even 16-bit for HDR. That is impossible and unpractical. HDR EOTF makes better use of the available bits.

Dolby Vision PQ

If you want to learn more see SMPTE’s video on YouTube.

HDR is helping to lay a new foundation for digital video systems. That alone should be enough to love it, right?

There is more to “HDR”

As discussed in the previous sections, HDR requires higher brightness levels, deeper bit rates for colors, and a new PQ format. An interesting thing to observe is that the industry intends to do more. With higher brightness come better colors. Or to be precise; the possibility of a wider color gamut. A wider color gamut is not an element of “HDR” per se but when most people in the industry say “HDR” they typically mean better colors, too. 

Today’s TVs use the so-called BT.709 color gamut, which can reproduce only around 35% of the colors that the human eye can perceive. The first HDR-enabled TVs are capable of reproducing most of the DCI P3 color space that cinemas use. DCI P3 covers approximately 54% of the colors we can see. But the industry has proposed a new far more ambitious BT.2020 color gamut that covers almost 76%!

The same can be said for 4K Ultra HD resolution. HDR works with HD resolution, sure, but no one seems interested in making it happen, so usually when you hear “HDR” it will imply HDR in 4K resolution. 

As said, these things are not actually part of “HDR” but the industry seems to be taking the step to first DCI P3 and later BT.2020 with the introduction of HDR. And that is amazing! Full BT.2020 coverage will likely take some years to fulfill and as the name suggests it is actually a recommendation for year 2020. But the industry is moving forward and it looks like we could see the first high-end TVs with full support quite soon.

 Read our backgrounder on Ultra HD & color spaces

Below you see a "normal HD Blu-ray" (on top with pause logo) vs. "HDR + wider color gamut (DCI)" (on bottom without pause logo) on Samsung's "SUHD" JS9500 TV. Your current display cannot reproduce DCI or HDR so the examples are not representative but it should give you an idea. Click on the photos to zoom.

So that was the technical side of things. Let us get back to the real world again.

HDR in the real world - you need a new TV

First of all, HDR is not a gimmick. It is a real improvement so the industry has a responsibility. You will surely see some manufacturers try to take advantage of the hype and “upscale” normal content to HDR. Heck, it is even happening today to some degree with “Dynamic” or “Vivid” modes on TVs.

In order to get real HDR the industry needs to implement it in every link of the chain. The camera needs to capture HDR, studio grading needs to be done in HDR, the distribution channels need to support HDR, and your TV needs to support HDR (not just imitate it). We will focus on the last two links.

TVs obviously need to be able to output a higher brightness level but also a very low black level. Plasma TVs were not able to do that but LCDs and OLEDs are. On a LCD you will need a “local dimming” system to be able to control brightness locally in zones. The more zones the better. We have already seen edge LED based LCD TVs claim HDR support but in our opinion this is stretching it. Ideally you would want to be able to control light output from 0 nit to a maximum brightness level of 800-1000 nits (or much higher for Dolby Vision, typically 4,000-10,000) in every single pixel. Does that sound familiar? Yes that is how OLED displays work.

Samsung SUHD shows HDR

You will not be able to experience HDR on your current TV. You need a TV that is able to output a higher brightness level. The TV also needs to support the new PQ format, as discussed above.

TVs that claim HDR support:
  • Samsung JS9500, JS9000 (edge LED) and JS8500 (edge LED)

  • Sony 94C and X93C (edge LED)
  • Panasonic CX850, CX800 and CR850
  • LG’s 2015 OLED TVs (HDR software update coming later this year)
  • Vizio Reference (Dolby Vision)

    These are all high-end TVs and 2015 is the first year of HDR. As always, you can expect the high-end features to appear in mid-range TVs after a year or two. There are still many issues to overcome going forward and companies such as Technicolor are trying to bring HDR to set-top boxes and TV broadcasters. As said, there are several approaches to HDR right now and besides Dolby Vision and the “open” version that is mandatory on Ultra HD Blu-ray (other formats such as Dolby Vision are optional for BD player manufacturers), Philips and Sony have been looking into it, too.

    The UHD Alliance (link 12) is currently trying to bring order to the industry so everyone moves in the same direction. That does not necessarily mean a single HDR specification but the UHD Alliance wants to unite efforts. Great initiative by the way.

    You might be wondering what will happen if you try to play a HDR movie on a non-HDR TV. Well, the industry has actually come up with a great solution. In that case you will just get the regular SDR (standard definition range) picture. HDR is layered on top of the signal as an extra package and signaled to the TV with metadata (requires HDMI 2.0b). If the TV does not support HDR it will simply ignore the extra package.

    Netflix in Dolby Vision HDR

    Hollywood studios have started preparing several titles for release in 4K HDR, and the new Ultra HD Blu-ray format will obviously support it.

    How to get watch HDR content:
  • Ultra HD Blu-ray players - starting late 2015
  • Netflix - will start streaming in 4K HDR later this year with a bit rate of 18 Mb/s (HEVC), possibly in more than one HDR format
  • Amazon Instant Video – will start streaming in 4K HDR later this year
  • M-Go – will offer movies in 4K HDR as a download to a secure hard drive soon, Samsung-exclusive right now
  • Vudu – will offer HDR movies in Dolby Vision later this year
  • Dolby Cinema – a new kind of cinema with Dolby Vision (HDR + more) and Dolby Atmos sound. Tomorrowland was the first title to debut on May 22.

     Learn more in our 4K / HDR section

    HDR is a more important development than most people realize so we suggest that you consider it for your next TV purchase. So, there you have it. Excited yet?
  • TOP 25 free hosting companies


    Each and every year we’re trying to up our game at by helping people learn about the top free hosting companies. Last year we brought you the State of Blogging 2012and the Top Hosting Companies in the world for Bloggers. This year we put together the Top 25 Free Hosting Companies for 2013 so that everyone out there can get free hosting for their websites.
    This year we’ve been using Facebook to get some answers and additional stats for our customers. We managed to poll over 43,000 business owners about their web sites. We asked them “Who is the Top Free Hosting Provider” in the World? We’ve received many responses and below are your stats. (see bottom for all polling stats)
    We would like to put in a special thanks to the 43,647 people that participated in out Free Hosting contest where we gave away free hosting and domain for life to one lucky winner. We also put together a few interesting hosting stats that we thought you’d like!
    2013 Hosting Statistics
    How many active websites are registered as of 2013?
    • Estimated 726 Million Active Websites on the web to date
    How many domains are registered as of 2013?
    • 243 million domain names registered
    How many website pages are on the internet?
    • 11.27 billion pages published on the Internet to date
    How many websites are created every day?
    • Estimated 270k new websites created every day
    How many servers are there?
    • 45 million server (8.2 million sold yearly/5 year lifespan average per server)
    Here are the results from our “Top Free Hosting Companies” survey, enjoy!
    Top Free Hosting Companies
    Honorable Mention after infographic: Hostt - 100% free hosting, all you have to do is maintain a domain with them for $13.95/year and you have free hosting for life.
    #1. Wix – This is a pretty sweet website. I first used Wix back when they first launched and have loved them ever since. You can get a stunning website hosted for free with Wix. Wix has 26+ Million websites hosted using its platform. 30K+ new users sign up daily. Started in TelAviv.
    #2. Weebly - Weebly is a free website builder that offers free website hosting to all users. 12+ million people use this platform and are able to host their business using Weebly. Powerful drag and drop website builder with 100’s of professional website themes to help your business grow online. Weebly was named one of TIME’s 50 Best Websites of 2007.
    #3. 000webhost – With 000webhost they have zero hidden costs, zero adverts, and zero restrictive terms when using the hosting. 1.5 GB disk space, 100 GB traffic included with all free accounts. They have a 99% uptime on all their zero cost hosting accounts. Most of their servers have maintained 99.9% uptime over the past 5+ years.
    #4. Yola – Yola is a hip new space where you can create a professional business website in a matter of minutes at the low cost of free99. No technical experience required. They have over 7 million customers and some of the top customers and business partners online. Started in Cape Town, South Africa in 2007.
    #5. EDUBlogs – This one is awesome. This is mainly a free hosting platform for students and teachers. It’s recognized as the top free website hosting platform in the .edu space. They have 1.6 million blogs that they are currently hosting for free. Customers seem to love them. They offer 32 gig free storage with ad free and student safe storage. Work with tons of Universities including Stanford, Cornell and many more. Been in business since 2005.
    #6. Freehostia – Has been in the free hosting space for 5+ years. They are located in their Peer1 hosting facility in Freemont California. They have a 99.9% uptime guarantee with a 24/7 customer care team. Freehostia gives you 250 MB disk space and 6gb monthly bandwidth with every account.
    #7. Webs – is a very easy to use free hosting system with a small ad located on your site. Come with hundreds of free drag and drop website templates for your business to grow. They offer both live chat and free website service. Signup takes around 30 seconds and you can have a decent site setup within about an hour.
    #8. 5GBfree – 5gbfree offers 20GB of free disk space along with 3 MySQL databases and PHP scripting. It’s 100% commitment free meaning you can quit at anytime. I really like that they offer free c-panel to all their free hosting customers with no ads left on your website.
    #9. Jimdo – Founded in 2007, Jimdo has become one of the top basic free hosting websites out there with more that 7 million sites using their system. Just signup, confirm your email, pick a template and you’re good to go!
    #10. – Offering 100% free hosting for all the sites out there. They offer no hassle and no purchase required. They offer free web tools and easy to use website services to get your site looking pretty online. They also offer FTP, CGI, PHP5, MySQL, PYTHON, ROR, CRON and File Manager with their web hosting accounts.
    #11. SnapPages – With a slick drag and drop website creator, easy to use website service Snappages helps online businesses with free hosting of up to 5 different pages on a fully customizable website. You can literally have your free web site up and running in a matter of a few clicks.
    #12. xtreemhost – Provides cheap and unlimited hosting. Comes with both Php and MySQL support as well as domain name support. Their platform is ad free which makes it nice for small to medium sized businesses that are looking for free online website hosting. Gives you 5.5 GB disk space with 200 GB monthly data transfer.
    #13. Zymic – 10MB disk space, 2GB bandwidth transfer with your free website hosting account. Each site is limited to 10 visitors to your site a month. They pride themselves with being one of the biggest and best no cost hosting companies on the planet.
    #14. Byethost - Ad-free load balanced zero web hosting service including PHP, MySQL, FTP, Vista-panel (Bythost personal built hosting control platform). You get 1000 MB of free storage. They have their own proprietary load balancing software that they manage and have built. You can install many popular scripts such as PHPbb2 and PHPbb3, WordPress, Zen-Cart, osCommerce, MyBB, UseBB, MyLittle Forum, 4images, Coppermine, SMF, Joomla, e107, XOOPS, PHP Wind, CuteNews, Mambo, WikiWig and many more!
    #15. 110MB – Their basic free web hosting plan includes 110 MB disk space with 100 GB Bandwidth data transfer. Each account has footer links but includes a free site builder. Community only support forum. Focuses around
    #16. AwardSpace – Offering a whopping 250mb disk space and 5gb traffic for each free hosting account. 1 domain and 3 subdomains with 100% no ads included as well. 1 Email account with 1 MySQL database per free account. There are over 1.5 million customers currently using their service.
    #17. 1FreeHosting – Zero ads and c-panel provided at no cost with SSH. 100GB bandwidth, unlimited add-on domains, 5 free email accounts and 10gb free disk space since 2001. They have a partnership with Web Hosting Geeks to make this possible.
    #18. FreeHostingEU - Free professional hosting with reliable cluster servers. FreeHostingEU offers each free customer 200mb free storage and 4000mb of data bandwidth transfer. Comes with easy WordPress and Joomla hosting integration.
    #19. Uhostfull – Professional free website hosting service Uhostfull gives users 20 GB data space and 200 GB data transfer to host their website. Zero forced ads with instant activation. Interesting to not that all servers utilize 1 Gbps Internet connections.
    #20. FreeHostingNoAds – 20gb of free hard drive space and 200gb free bandwidth with no ads on every regular free hosting account. They have free hosting for html 5 sites and for regular websites. Something cool is you get free pop email accounts included with every free website hosting account created.
    #21. 50 Webs - This is another Peer 1 free hosting brand that is located in Freemont California offering 500mb free disk space and 5gb bandwidth with each account. You are able to have FTP access and up to 10 domains with each account. 24/7 customer support included as well.
    #22. AgilityHoster – Quick WordPress and Joomla install with guide. You get 1000 mb free data storage and 5gb data transfer with each account created. You get 1 domain with 3 sub domains included with all free accounts. 100% free FTP access and file manager.
    #23. – Recognized in Norfolk for being one of the best free web hosting plans on the Web Biznf offers 250mb web space and 5000mb free data transfer. I really like their 1 click website transfer but it’s not allowed on the free sites!
    #24. ZettaHost – Offering 1000mb free data storage and 5gb bandwidth transfer per free hosting account. Each account comes with 1 domain with PHP, MySQL and Perl integration. Zettahost offers instant access to your free hosting account the second you signup.
    #25. x10hosting – This is a free website hosting service provided by SingleHop with more than 400K community members. This free hosting includes PHP 5, MySQL, with an auto install script that you can easily use.
    Social Impact of Hosting
    Social Reach
    People are passionate about hosting. Here are our Facebook ads marketing that we did. We reached 2.2 million people by targeting a variety of hosting niches, clients, and companies. Through that we got a 1.5% click through rate that resulted in 36k clicks to our questionnaire. 28,586 actions were performed as a result of the $1500 that we spent. Not to mention we receive over 29.4k additional likes, 1897 shares and 9256 comments through our promotions! People want to be heard and love voicing their opinion online. Thanks again to the 43k+ people that participated in our contest!