six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

The messy present of our glorious 4K HDR future

I’ve been thinking a lot about 4K video lately. I own a 4K TV (although it doesn’t have HDR support, alas). I can watch some stuff at 4K resolutions—Netflix and Amazon streams, some movies from iTunes. I’m thinking of buying a larger 4K TV with HDR support. But the entire world of 4K HDR video is a mess.

Let me back up. 4K and HDR are the buzzwords of the moment, so let me define them. 4K generally means a picture with 4000 horizontal pixels, but when we’re talking about TVs (and devices like the Apple TV 4K) it’s generally referring to an image comprised of 3840 × 2160 pixels. This is also often called UHD (Ultra High Definition) or 2160p, because it’s twice the vertical resolution of the larger of the two dominant HD video resolutions. 4K video has four times the pixels of the 1080p video you’d find on a Blu-Ray disc.

HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. There are a few different competing HDR standards, but to summarize, HDR is about increasing the amount of brightness and color information in a picture, and on the display side, in creating screens that are capable of displaying that information. A movie in HDR format on an excellent HDR-capable display should show deep blacks, bright whites, and brilliant colors.

For most people, HDR is a more noticeable improvement on the viewing experience than 4K (which really only matters when you’re close to a large screen), and that may be why TV manufacturers have largely lumped them together in a general category of “better than your current HDTV.”

Okay, sounds good. I saw “Black Panther” a couple of weeks ago in a theater, and the picture looked worse than the OLED TV I saw on display at Costco. Raising the bar on picture quality in general sounds great.

There’s just the trick of how 4K HDR video will come into my home. And on that front, I’m just not sure how things will shake out.

In the U.S., the transition to HD pictures took years, not just in terms of broadcast, but in terms of getting cable and satellite companies to align. (My cable company still insists on carrying SD channels. In 2018.1) It took ages to get here, and “here” is not great. On top of that, of course, many cable and satellite providers downscale and re-compress HD video to fit it in their system, so what we get isn’t really full quality even at the limited quality levels of the original channels. (I bought a few episodes of “The Magicians” on iTunes last year and was shocked at how much better they looked than the ones I’d been DVR’ing.)

Where does 4K video come in to this mess? I suppose that it’s possible one day broadcast and cable will truly embrace 4K, but it sure seems like streaming is going to be the place where 4K video takes off. Netflix, Amazon, and Apple are already there to some degree. So what if you’re HBO (with “Westworld”) or Starz (with “Counterpart”, which you should absolutely be watching) or FX (with “Legion”)… you’re cable channels with a streaming component, and on cable you can’t muster more than 720p or 1080i.

Do these channels want to get in the 4K HDR game? They can, but right now they’d need to use streaming to do it. Can you imagine HBO offering a new season of “Westworld” on cable in HD, but offering a 4K HDR version via the HBO Go and HBO Now apps? Would that drive people off of their cable boxes and onto their streaming boxes even faster? (For what it’s worth, I already watch all of HBO’s shows on my Apple TV rather than my TiVo… because they show up three hours earlier there. HBO GO doesn’t discriminate against the Pacific time zone; HBO’s feed on my cable service does.)

It gets weirder. There’s a 4K Blu-Ray of “Westworld” season 1. So could HBO upgrade the HBO Go/Now apps to support 4K video and start streaming this stuff at higher resolution?

Weirder still: “Westworld” is shot on film, scanned at 4K resolution… but completed at 2K resolution. That means that it’s not really 4K after all… that 4K Blu-Ray benefits from having support for HDR, better sound, and a higher bit rate, but actual extra pixels? Not really. (This has got to change at some point, right? If 4K HDR is the future, at some point TV studios are going to have to bite the bullet and build 4K masters of their shows just so they aren’t left out when non-4K video is abandoned like standard-def and black-and-white were.)

That opens yet another can of worms: bit rate. If you buy a 4K Blu-Ray of a movie and compare it to the 4K version streaming from iTunes or Netflix, you will discover that it looks way better on the disc. That’s because even on a blazing fast Internet connection, streaming services have to massively compress the video so that it can fit through the pipe. Depending on your eyes and the size of your TV, it might not matter—but it’s a real effect. (I always figure that the 4K versions of Netflix movies look better on my TV not because they’re 4K, but because they’re offered at a much higher bit rate and more efficient video codec than the HD versions.)

So if I want the best version of “Wonder Woman”, I guess I should buy the 4K HDR Blu-Ray. Except I do not want to buy a 4K Blu-Ray player. I don’t want to buy more discs. And yet the streaming providers and movie studios won’t let me download 4K HDR movies, so I’m left with what fits through my Internet connection or a spinning plastic disc.

I’m kind of excited about our 4K HDR video future…. but as for the present, it’s a mess.

  1. I assume some regulation is to blame, but it would be great if cable companies could dump SD channels and offer people with old SD sets a converter box. ↩


Clockwise #233: Betray Me as a Consumerist Fool


This week, on the 30-minute tech podcast that’s shorter than a line at the DMV, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Heather Kelly and Shahid Kamal Ahmad to discuss the latest Facebook uproar and what we should take away from it, Amnesty International’s assessment that Twitter violates women’s rights, what Apple might discuss at its education event next week, and the risks and implications of autonomous driving technology in light of this week’s crash.

Linked by Jason Snell

Linea Sketch is for more than artists

Major update to The Iconfactory’s Linea Sketch iPad app, adding a bunch of new features and helpfully adding “sketch” to its name.

As a part of the release, The Iconfactory’s Craig Hockenberry linked to an old blog post about how he uses Linea, and it’s instructive in seeing how a “sketching tool” can have applications far beyond people who like to draw pretty pictures:

My iPad Pro is still a great device for reading in a comfy chair, but now it makes a daily journey to my office. If you’re a professional developer, I bet Linea will become a fixture on your desk, too.

Linea Sketch is a carefully designed, full featured sketching app. If you use an Apple Pencil—or have wondered if you should—it’s worth reading Craig’s post and checking out the app.

Jason Snell for Macworld

What will Apple announce at its Chicago education event? ↦

I was surprised last week when I woke up to discover that Apple had announced a media event for March 27. Even more surprising was the location: a high school in Chicago. It’s not the first time Apple has taken an educational field trip—its January 2012 event at the Guggenheim in New York City was all about education. So what’s in store for next Tuesday’s event in Chicago? Here’s some educated speculation.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Jason Snell

How I use my home server

Intel NUC server sitting atop my old Mac mini.

I’ve written about the Mac server I keep in my house so many times that I sometimes forget that people don’t keep a catalog of everything I’ve written in a database somewhere, tagged by topic.1 So when I wrote about using a hacked Intel NUC as a replacement for my Mac mini server last week, I got a bunch of questions about what I was using my server to do.

Fair enough. I’ll explain, but first let me tell you a little about the history: I’ve been running a Mac server since before there was a Mac mini, back when I first got a dedicated Internet connection for the first time. (It was DSL, and for the decade I had it, it went from being miraculously fast to horrendously slow.) My first server was a beige Power Mac G3 I picked up from an employee sale at Macworld, and it was replaced by my Power Mac G4 when I migrated to a G5. The G4 was replaced by the first Mac Mini, then an Intel Mac Mini, and finally by a Core 2 Duo model.

In the mid-90s I co-wrote a book about using Mac OS as a server, so the moment I could have a server in a closet in my house, I did it. In the early days I used it as a web server (for InterText, my fiction magazine. I used FileMaker to build a few web databases, including a home-built app that let me run a fantasy football draft before there were web-based tools that let you do that.

I also ran my own email server for a while, using MailShare (later Eudora Internet Mail Server), a remarkably robust Mac email server. In the end I gave up and switched to Gmail for all of my mail, not because MailShare let me down, but because the sheer volume of spam connections to my mail server were swamping my slow DSL connection. (Plug for an occasional podcast sponsor: If I had been using MailRoute to pre-screen my inbound mail, I could’ve kept running it.)

Over the years all of those uses fell away, but new ones replaced them. For years it’s been really convenient to have an always-on computer somewhere on my local network, attached to a large hard drive (or multiple hard drives), containing my media library. In the early days, that meant thousands of MP3s. iTunes and the Slim Devices media server meant that I could play anything from my music collection on a laptop or my stereo. These days my music streams over the Internet, but I’ve still got a sizeable collection of video files that are served up to my various devices via the Plex server. I also store a lot of large archival data sets—old podcast projects, mostly—on my server.

In 2004 I set up a weather station in my backyard; to get that data on the Internet, I needed to attach a radio receiver to my Mac via a PC serial-to-USB adapter. It worked, but it was janky and required the computer to be close enough to the weather station to receive its signals. At some point, the manufacturer of my weather station offered a new add-on module that gave the station’s indoor display console an Ethernet port and automatically uploaded data to the cloud.

WeatherCat, the Mac weather-station software I use, can talk to that module directly, so my computer no longer needs to be within radio range of the weather station itself. While I could just rely on cloud services like Weather Underground to display my weather data, I’ve built up a large database of historical data—all generated by WeatherCat and served by my server using its built-in web server. So I keep using WeatherCat, and keep promising myself to update the web templates I created 15 years ago.

Late last year I started running HomeBridge on my server, which allows non-HomeKit devices in my house to be visible to Apple’s Home app. It has worked quite well, and it’s awfully nice to have a single unified interface for all the smart devices in my life.

As for the many large hard drives I used to have attached to the server, a few years ago I replaced them all with a Drobo 5D (disclaimer: it’s another former podcast sponsor), which is an even larger hard drive, with some added redundancy in case of a drive failure. (A few drives have failed; so far, all I’ve had to do is pop the dead drive out and pop in a fresh one. I keep a spare drive or two around just in case of failure, and yes, I do back up all the important data to the cloud, because RAID is not a backup.)

So, long story short, today my server is acting as a file server, weather station, HomeKit bridge, and web server for a few miscellaneous files. Could I do the same thing with a NAS box, or if I just installed Windows 10 or Linux on that Intel NUC instead of hacking it to run High Sierra? Sure, but I am vastly more comfortable with macOS. And as someone who tends to travel without a Mac, sometimes I find my self in desperate need of one. Most often, someone hands me a file—usually a QuickTime movie recorded by Call Recorder—that I just can’t process on iOS. I can use an app like Screens VNC to connect securely to my home server, drag the file from my Dropbox folder and drop it onto a conversion utility, and then disconnect. The converted files go right back into Dropbox, and I return to my iOS workflow. I know, it’s cheating—but it’s awfully useful to have a Mac on call if you run into a brick wall in iOS.

  1. If you do, please don’t tell me, and also stop hacking into my home network. ↩


Upgrade #185: The March 2018 Apple Event Draft


This week on Upgrade, Apple’s holding a media event at a school in Chicago, and next week Jason will be there to report back about what got announced. But in the meantime, it’s time for another draft, as Myke and Jason attempt to predict what will be shown on stage in Chicago. Apple also announced WWDC dates this week and made some more moves to grow its unannounced video service.

Linked by Dan Moren

Bloomberg: Apple building MicroLED displays for Apple Watch

Mark Gurman:

In late 2017, for the first time, engineers managed to manufacture fully functional MicroLED screens for future Apple Watches; the company aims to make the new technology available first in its wearable computers. While still at least a couple of years away from reaching consumers — assuming the company decides to proceed — producing a functional MicroLED Apple Watch prototype is a significant milestone for a company that in the past designed hardware to be produced by others.

Apple’s trend has been to control more and more of its critical components, so there’s no surprise here. Screens are integral to pretty much every device it makes, and up until now, it’s been highly dependent on products from Samsung, Sharp, LG, and other large electronics firms. It would be more shocking if Apple hadn’t tried to develop its own displays.

It also makes sense that Apple would try to raise the bar by focusing on the next-generation MicroLED tech instead of OLED.

At the moment, MicroLED appears to be labor-intensive and not terribly cost efficient. If Apple continues the investment, that will no doubt change, but as Gurman says, don’t expect to see these in any products for a least a couple years. And if you’re holding out for a MicroLED iPhone, that’s going to be even longer.

By Dan Moren

Apple holding “field trip” education event on March 27

Over the last few years, Apple has often held an event in March, and in that regards, this year will be no different. The company sent out invitations to press today, inviting them to an event on Tuesday, March 27. (Jason will be there!)

But in pretty much every other way, this will be a different event. For one thing, Apple’s explicitly saying that this event is about education, including the tag line “Let’s take a field trip.”

And where will that field trip take us? Well, rather than the event being held in the Bay Area, as the company usually would, or at one of its less frequent locations, like New York City, this event will be in Chicago1, at the Lane Tech College Prep High School.

Given the education focus, we can narrow down a few of the things Apple is likely to announce. Low-cost iPads aimed at education, probably. Software improvements? A fair bet. And the last time Apple held an education-focused event—January 2012 in New York City—it also included some announcements about iBooks. There have been rumors that Apple’s e-book store and software are ripe for an update, and this would seem to point in that direction.

Other rumored announcements, like a new iPhone SE or the AirPower charging mat would seem to be less probable for this event, though it wouldn’t be out of character for Apple to release them around the same time.

This might also provide a venue for the official launch of software updates like iOS 11.3, which recently hit its fifth beta, and similar releases for Apple TV, macOS, and so on.

  1. Unless I’m mistaken, this marks the first time an Apple event has ever been held in Chicago.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]

Dan Moren for Macworld

The many skills (and pitfalls) of Siri ↦

Between its ardent defenders and its harshest critics, it’s clear that Siri, Apple’s voice-based intelligent agent, inspires strong opinions. If nothing else, that speaks to both the theoretical and practical utility of the virtual assistant, and its importance to Apple going forward.

I’ve written in the past that Siri is going to be the glue of Apple’s ecosystem and that we’re badly in need of a Siri 2.0, especially in regards to the future of the HomePod.

Despite my frustrations with Siri—and they are many—I still find it a vital part of how I use my Apple devices every single day. Here’s a few of the ways I use it with each of my devices, and, just as telling, things that I don’t use Siri for.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


The Rebound 178: You Must Flip It

The Rebound

This week, on the irreverent tech show voted “most likely to pun” by its high school class, we discuss the new Fitbit smartwatch and band offerings, Apple Music’s subscriber numbers, some old school (and new…school?) games, and our thoughts on cryptocurrencies. Plus, get in on the ground floor of Lex’s new cryptocurrency. We totally won’t be abusing that at all.

By Jason Snell

It’s not quite a Mac mini, but it’s my server

Intel NUC server sitting atop my old Mac mini.

Over the past year I’ve written frequently about my love of the Mac mini. There has been a Mac mini running as a server in my house basically since it was first introduced in 2005. The specific uses for that server have grown and changed over the years, and I’ve bought new models and upgraded them when necessary. But I need to admit something: for nine months, no Mac mini has been running in my house. Instead, I’ve been running a different device as my server.

The Mac mini was last updated 1245 days ago, in October of 2014. (And that was a lackluster upgrade.) Taking a cue from my dreams about what a modern Mac mini might be like, I bought a tiny Intel NUC PC and installed macOS on it. My Mac mini was becoming unreliable and I was hoping to experiment with Intel’s hardware in advance of a real Mac mini being released.

This was intended to be a temporary experiment. And, in fact, I hope to replace the NUC with a real Mac mini just as soon as Apple finally releases that all-new Mac mini that’s hopefully percolating inside Cupertino. But in the meantime, I have been running macOS on non-Apple hardware, and it’s been an instructive experience.

I’m not going to go into great detail on how I installed macOS on a PC. There are plenty of instruction guides out there; I used this one and it worked well enough, though it took many hours and I had to repeat a few steps because I hadn’t followed the instructions to the letter. (If you miss even a small step, you will regret it. And please don’t email me asking for support if you decide to try.) Suffice it to say that this is not something that a non-technical user will ever want to do, and this is probably enough of a barrier to keep all but the most dedicated people from attempting it.

There are plenty of disadvantages even when you’re up and running. Software updates are opportunities for disaster, so you have to apply them sporadically and carefully. Some hardware isn’t supported properly; I had to install a copy of Windows 10 on the PC so I could write down a string of numbers that would allow my macOS installation to use the Samsung SSD I bought, the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi don’t work, and you can’t put it to sleep.

That all said… I have to say that as a server, it’s been a dream. It’s vastly faster than my old Mac mini, and it takes up a fraction of the space. My server has a 2.21GHz seventh-generation Intel Core i5 processor with 16 GB of RAM and a 250GB SSD. It’s got four USB-A ports, one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port1, Gigabit Ethernet, and HDMI video out.

The cost of all that hardware? It was $383 for the NUC itself, $133 for the RAM, $146 for the SSD, and $9 for an HDMI adapter. All in, $671. Compare that to the currently on-sale Mac mini: a fourth-generation Intel processor, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD will run you $1099. That’s depressing—$428 more for a computer powered by a processor that’s three generations older. But I prefer to look on the bright side, namely that there’s plenty of profit margin available for Apple to release a new Mac mini with specs and design that echo the box currently acting as my server.

I love the NUC hardware, mostly because it’s just so impossibly small. No, I don’t expect that Apple would make a box quite this ugly—those two USB ports on the front of the case would be the first to go—but Apple could definitely make a smaller Mac mini that had plenty of power and went all-in on flash storage.

I hope it does, and soon. I’ll be first in line to buy one. But in the meantime I’ve stuck an Apple logo on this Intel NUC and I’m just going to pretend that it’s a Mac.

  1. I added a Thunderbolt 3-to-Thunderbolt 2 adapter and attached my RAID to it. Works like a charm. ↩

Linked by Jason Snell

Apple Watch adoption numbers

David Smith has some data from how his apps are used on Apple Watch:

I’ve been watching the Apple Watch adoption curve within my apps (specifically Pedometer++ for this analysis) quite carefully. My personal hope is that this summer when we get watchOS 5 it will drop support for the Series 0 and free Apple to really push forward on what is possible for developers. But in order for that wish to be realistic I imagine Apple will need the daily use of those first watches to have died down significantly….

So far the data is looking promising that this dream of mine might actually be possible. The Series 3 is being adopted incredibly quickly and just last week became the most popular Apple Watch overall amongst my users with 33% of the overall user-base. The Series 0 is steadily falling, currently at around 24%.

My wife has a stainless steel Series 0, and it still works pretty well (though it’s slow to kick off a workout). I wonder if this fall she’ll be getting a new one…


Clockwise #232: I Already Don’t Think Money is Real


This week on the 30-minute tech podcast that’s surprisingly pie-focused, Dan and Mikah are joined by Kathy Campbell and Russell Holly to discuss cryptocurrencies, the tech gadgets we are resistant to upgrade, our favorite “smart” devices, and the contentious issue of whether or not we take our phones into the shower.

Jason Snell for Macworld

Where Apple’s reinvention of the keyboard may go next ↦

Keyboards are important. While speech-to-text technology has come a long way, I suspect there will always be value in writing one letter after another with your hands. Apple clearly thinks to, too, because in recent weeks there have been reports about several new Apple patents regarding keyboard technology. From those patents to the controversial innovations that drove the latest generation of MacBook keyboards, Apple’s continues to push the boundaries of text input.

So what do Apple’s current technology directions suggest about where the company might be innovating in the future when it comes to keyboards?

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Linked by Dan Moren

WWDC 2018 dates announced

WWDC is happening June 4-8 this year, and it’s still in San Jose. We’ll probably hear about new versions of iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS, and Apple’s likely got some other announcements to drop as well. Jason and I will both be there in some capacity, so there’s always a chance to say hi.

Linked by Dan Moren

Why Broadcom’s Qualcomm acquisition could be a national security issue

Incisive analysis (as always) from Ben Thompson at Stratechery on the administration blocking Broadcom’s acquisition of rival chip-maker Qualcomm on national security grounds:

The entire issue is that the structure of the deal itself said far more clearly than anything else that Broadcom wanted to feast off of Qualcomm’s past innovations and contribute far less to future ones than Qualcomm would on its own. And, given ever-increasing Chinese dominance of wireless, that is indeed a national security problem.

Thompson goes on to point out that national security isn’t the only issue here; it’s also largely about patents, and the impetus for and control over innovation.

This is especially interesting given Apple’s relationship with Qualcomm, both in terms of their ongoing legal tiff, as well as the fact that Apple is poised to ditch any dependence on Qualcomm in future iPhones. That would probably do a number on Qualcomm’s bottom line, which is going to further complicate matters for the company if they can’t take Broadcom’s buyout offer.


Upgrade #184: The Claim Chowder Secret Society


This week on Upgrade: What are our top five Apple products of the past five years? Jason and Myke list their choices in something that is almost, but not quite, a draft. Also: Did Jason accurately predict the extended survival of the MacBook Air? A watchful Upgradian provides the answer. We also muse about the future of keyboards and discuss Netflix as a future home for a former president.

Linked by Dan Moren

Apple acquiring magazine subscription service Texture


Apple today announced it signed an agreement to acquire Texture, the digital magazine subscription service by Next Issue Media LLC, which gives users unlimited access to their favorite titles for one monthly subscription fee.

Texture is broadly described as “Netflix for magazines,” in that a monthly subscription fee provides access to some 200 magazines, including Vanity Fair, Esquire, Elle, Fortune, and The New Yorker. I wonder a little bit about who the audience is for this, but clearly Apple thinks it’s broad enough to merit buying the service.

I imagine integration with Apple News is the intended goal, since it could provide a way to let readers easily buy access to a variety of titles that would otherwise be blocked by paywalls. But there have also been rumors that iBooks is due for an overhaul, so this could have a part to play there as well.

Update: Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue confirmed that Texture will be integrated into Apple News in an appearance at the South by Southwest conference.

Linked by Jason Snell

The Talk Show #216: “Podcast Amnesia”

I was happy to be asked back on The Talk Show by John Gruber this week, and we talked for a very short 150 minutes:

Topics include Apple and China, the 10th anniversary of the iPhone SDK, the future of the MacBook Air, and more. No baseball talk, except a little.

In addition to discussing the MacBook Air, which is unquestionably the biggest hot-button issue of our time, we also covered how and if Apple should do business with the authoritarian government of China, and the company’s policy regarding the National Rifle Association’s Apple TV channel. Pretty usual stuff.

Linked by Jason Snell

Jobs and Woz’s first product: Blue Boxes

Stephen Hackett talked to Kristen Gallerneaux, curator at the Henry Ford Museum, about the unheralded first Jobs-Wozniak collaboration, an illegal Blue Box used for phone phreaking:

I think Jobs’s business and marketing mind really took flight with the Apple 1 in 1976, but the blue box was the foundation for that in 1972. It was the origin point for Woz and Jobs working together on a commercial product, and to learn about one another’s working style. Jobs saw potential to monetize the blue box-I believe they cost around $40 to produce, and were marked up to around $150. To meet sales demands, a few helpers were brought in to help out with assembly for large orders.

This was all spectacularly illegal, but they never got caught—and a few years later they were selling Apple I computers instead.