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Best of AVForums Reviews and Articles: May 2014

World Cup Guides, 4K TVs, Blockbuster Movies and Mario Kart 8 are amongst our highlights for this month

by Mark Hodgkinson May 31, 2014 at 7:24 AM


  • So now May is done we can move on to the serious business of the World Cup which kicks off in the second week of June, in case you hadn’t noticed.
    Home AV

    And we’ve been busy putting together some guides these last few weeks to help you get the most from this year’s tournament. Starting at the end, as you do, we first gave you a look at our top picks for projectors best suited to the demands of football. There’s nothing like watching on the really big screen so we bring to you our World Cup Projector Shoot-Out, where there are some solutions that won’t break the bank.

    If the idea of home projection is just too much for you, why not consider super-sizing on your next TV purchase. With the advent of 4K tellies, prices for large-screen Full HD TVs have never been lower so take a look at our World Cup Budget Big Screen Viewing guide. OK, there’s a projector in there, too, just in case you might reconsider.

    But it’s not all about the pictures, of course, you’ll want to get the sounds right in order you can soak in all that stadium atmosphere. There are an enormous number of options out there, right now, but we’ve whittled down a selection from our review experiences, so Bring the Noise (and several dodgy puns along with it).

    So we’ve lined up a display and a speaker solution for you, now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the action but, just to make sure you don’t to miss any of it, we’ve knocked together a guide on how not to a miss a minute. Everything from streaming, catch-up and recording options is in there so now you have no excuse to miss out.


    Of course, the World Cup is the ideal opportunity for the manufacturers to push the idea of screen upgrading, too, and a couple of them have included special football modes in their TVs to capitalise. It’s a shame that the one Samsung has equipped in the Ultra HD, HU8500 and HU7500 models is unspeakably awful, however, but that doesn’t detract from them being outstanding TVs, whatever the resolution and regardless of whether the screen is curved, or not.

    Those reviews also gave us our first chance to check out the 4K Ultra HD Service from Netflix, and it was mightily impressive. That app is just part of Samsung’s Smart TV platform for 2014 and we delved deeper to give you the full low-down in our dedicated review. Great as it was, we think Samsung may be playing second fiddle on the Smart TV front in 2014 as LG forges ahead with the launch of their webOS TVs. AVF Editor Phil Hinton flew out to Silicon Valley to get a behind the scenes look at how it’s all coming together and it’s looking very very good indeed. There’s a video for you to as we look at what could be a game-changing moment in Smart TV history.
    The TV manufacturers love the World Cup!
    At the beginning of the month we posed the question, ‘what will make you buy a 4K display?’ and you gave us a fantastic response, with some superb answers. But it’s not all about UItra HD, as far as Toshiba is concerned, and 2014 will see them pushing the idea of ‘Premium 2K'. Toshiba think there’s still a strong market for Full HD TVs, and we don’t disagree, but we’re not sure we need another marketing term for 1080p. Still, Toshiba’s line-up is looking very promising for 2014 and we’re particularly interested to see their new backlighting technologies in action. Shouldn’t be long now before we do!

    Back to the football motif for just a moment and Ed Selley was mightily impressed with the spherical Elipson Planet LW speakers used in conjunction with their Audio Bridge. This system proved a real slice of French fancy and a classier solution than the current en vogue for soundbars. There are quite a lot of similarities between the Elipson’s and the Dynaudio Xeo 5 wireless speaker system Steve Withers enjoyed at the beginning of May. The Xeo 5 are altogether more massive in form factor, however but they are stunning, if you think you can fit them in. Not all wireless speakers are created equal!

    And that just about wraps up our Home AV highlights but don’t forget we do this on a weekly basis, only in spoken form, by means of the AVForums Home Cinema Podcast. If you’ve missed any, you can find them all in our dedicated Podcast Hub.

    Movies

    If there’s one thing we like as much as the World Cup, it’s Star Wars. And lists. And we know we’re not alone in that! Empire Magazine recently invited their readers to nominate their favourite all-time movies and, unsurprisingly, The Empire Strike Back came out tops. Whilst there’s no doubt it is an awesome movie, is it really the best ever? Come and give us your thoughts.

    It might not be the best film ever made but X-Men: Days of Future Past is definitely the best X-men movie yet. Or so says Cas Harlow, who has been typically industrious this last month. Days of Future Past uses all the best elements of the past to create a sequel, and a sequel to a prequel, as well as something of a retcon, reimagining and even reboot of a series which is now finally, definitively, back on track!


    Mighty as they are, the X-Men could never be the force of nature that is an erupting volcano. Gladiator meets Titanic meets Dante's Peak in Paul W. S. Anderson's latest 3D epic, Pompeii, which has just been released at the cinema. A likeable cast includes Kit Harington and a deliciously nasty turn from Kiefer Sutherland as the main villain and, although it may be derivative, it’s still hugely enjoyable so we suggest you check it out. And the review!

    Also recently released in cinemas is Bad Neighbours. The premise for Bad Neighbours is simple - Animal House moves in next door to a young married couple and chaos ensues but this comedy doesn’t live up to John Landis' anarchic 1978 hit. It’s a case of too many knobs and not enough gags but there are a few laughs in there.
    Is Empire Strikes Back the best movie ever made?
    IN terms of disc releases, probably the highlight for May is Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street on Blu-ray. It’s an excessive exercise in excessive excess but there are some great performances and supremely comic moments. Did it need to be as long as three hours? Possibly not but we definitely think it’s worth a watch.

    Games

    As May 2014 closes out, the release of Mario Kart 8 has breathed life in the Wii U platform. It’s your best excuse yet to buy a Wii U and an absolutely superb entrant to the series. A masterpiece of track design fusing all that we love about Mario Kart with some new weapons and ant-grav elements that all adds up to a 10/10 from us. With the prices of the Wii U bundles extremely affordable and together with the free game download MK8 purchasers are entitled to, we hope that this game proves the true launchpad for this struggling console.


    Whilst the Wii U is finding difficulty gaining traction, the other next-gen consoles are flourishing, particularly in the case of the PS4. But what is driving Sony’s console to record sales figures? Could it be that the fact it is more capable of playing some games at higher resolutions than Microsoft’s competing Xbox One that’s’ the reason, or does pixel count not really matter in the grand scheme of things? Leon Matthews looks at Generation Resolution and asks, ‘what's resolution got to do with it?’

    In an effort to play catch-up with Sony, Microsoft has performed its latest u-turn of this generation by dropping the bombshell that they are to offer a Kinect-less version of the Xbox One for those not interested in their much heralded control technology. Was it surprising? Not really, for all they said about Kinect being integral to the system, we knew that if sales weren’t what they ought to be something would be done. But how does that leave the XB1 going forwards and is it a kick in the teeth for early adopters. Mark Botwright investigates.
    Mario Kart 8 is the reason to buy a Wii U.
    We’re near the end of the gaming highlights and we’ve yet to shoehorn in a World Cup reference! There, now that’s taken care of on to some videogames offering a sporting alternative to football. First we have what we’d consider to be the first really good cricketing sim for a games console in Don Bradman Cricket 2014. Graphically it might not be the best but it offers depth in all the areas that count and it has a control system that finally incorporates the finer details of the sport. Good enough for Boycott’s grandmother? Most definitely.

    And finally, for something a little different, you could do much worse than check out Sportsfriends on PS4. Sportsfriends is a multiplayer-only compendium of video games that doesn't feature online integration of any type, and at least a quarter of its content requires precisely four players to function. That means you and three other people physically congregating in a room together with a set of controllers, sat on a sofa, trading insults. You know, like the good old days? Manny Brown fell in love with this PSN title that costs less than twelve quid!

    They thought it is was all over and it really is now as we finally, finally end with a reminder that our games team convene for a monthly chinwag in the AVForums Podcast Games Edition. You can check out the latest episode here and next month’s is sure to be a doozy with E3 having taken place.

    So, tchau and enjoy the Footie!

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