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The hottest entertainment innovations of 2021

It’s been a banner year for enjoying high-end content at home. Many of the biggest blockbusters debuted on streaming services like HBOMax and Netflix at the same time they showed up in theaters. Those big-budget flicks make us crave new TV tech, and this year met the challenge with two impressive new screen schemes. In music, several of the largest streaming services started offering spatial audio, which adds an impressive 3D effect to tracks, and Sony answered the call with a new portable speaker. And of course, there are also plenty of new content creation tools, like Shure’s broadcast-quality USB microphone and Panic’s black-and-white-only handheld game system, which is every bit as innovative as it is adorable.

Since the dawn of flatscreen TVs, most displays have relied on an LCD panel with colored filters in front of a backlight to create the pictures we see. Manufacturers have done some truly impressive things with this same basic setup, but the tech’s ever-present glow is not great for producing deep, inky blacks that maximize contrast and make the image really pop. That’s because the light can bleed through the LCD panel where it shouldn’t. In order to solve this problem, Hisense developed a simple, but ingenious, solution that adds another layer called a luminance control panel. In addition to the typical 4K LCD panel, a second 1080p LCD layer creates an extra barrier to stop bright areas from bleeding into the shadows. As a result, Hisense squeezed roughly 40 times more contrast out of this TV than it could on a typical screen. It even boasts brightness advantage over pricier OLED sets that can sometimes suffer from screen-ruining burn-in after heavy use.

This adorable little console looks like a chubby Game Boy. Panic’s lo-fi device even has the monochrome, non-backlit screen which harkens back to Nintendo’s handheld. Playdate’s simplicity makes it the antithesis to the brightly-colored eyeball onslaught and microtransactions that can make smartphone games feel like a grind. The gadget uses built-in WiFi to download new games—two per week for 12 weeks keep things fresh. Future titles will be part of release “seasons,” and Panic plans to release a free SDK so anyone can make their own games. Some titles require the crank on the side, which adds a unique tactile element to the experience.

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