Meet George from LCD4Video

As a gadget guy I love finding gadgets that are useful but sometimes fly below the radar because they are not by the big named manufacturers. A lot of times there's a gadget out there that fills a need and unless you happen to be in the right place at the right time you may never know about it. Although I had ordered an LED video light from LCD4Video.com in the past, I had no idea that 1) they were located right in my backyard and 2) they have so many other cool little accessories for video and and still photography. 

LCD4Video

They sell the usual gear such as cameras, lenses, tripods, cases and lighting equipment, but they also manufacture specialty items under their own brand. I had the chance to visit their location last week to attend a seminar put on by my good friend Mark Astman representing Manfrotto, Lastolite and Elinchrom. I didn't realize the connection between the seminar and the venue until I arrived. During one of the breaks I popped into the show room and before you know it I was buying hundreds of dollars in gear. 🙂

I wanted a small HD monitor that would fit in my hotshow on my Nikon D7000 for doing DSLR video. I also wanted another battery operated LED light for doing video podcasts. These guys had everything I wanted and even the things I never knew existed. George runs a great business and sticks behind what he sells. 

I highly recommend that you check out their site and the vast collection of products they offer! It's also always good to support the local dealers when possible.

Review: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air with Built-In AirPlay Support

I've been a long time user of Apple's AirTunes (now called AirPlay) technology. As a matter of fact I bought the AirPort Express the day it was introduced, to be my travel WiFi hotspot, but then I quickly saw the benefits of wireless music streaming and set them up throughout my home. Each AirPort Express I have is either plugged into a powered speaker system like the Bose SoundDock or a surround sound system. Life has been good with this setup and it continues to get better now that Apple is putting AirPlay technology into more things. I also like steaming to audio to multiple rooms. I was really curious though what it would be like to have an AirPlay device that had this support built-in as opposed to having to tack on an AirPort Express to each speaker system. While the AirPort Express provides audio AirPlay support to any device with an audio-in jack, it is an extra expense and requires a cable to the audio device. 

 

Bowers & Wilkins shipped one of the 1st Speaker Systems with built-in AirPlay support

During last weekend's iPad 2 madness I noticed that my local Apple Store had the Zeppelin Air in stock. These speakers are sold out just about everywhere and even the Apple online store quotes a 3-5 week wait. It's not everyday that I plunk down $600 for a new sound system, but I was willing to give this one a shot. AirPlay is a great feature, but it has to sound amazing too. Bowers & Wilkins has a long standing history of making great sounding audio gear. I wasn't really worried about it not sounding great.

 

Setup could have been easier

The Zeppelin Air is beautifully packaged and unboxing it only takes a few moments. They supply a wireless remote, power cable and ethernet cable. The ethernet cable is really only needed for the initial configuration and this is what could be improved. In order to set it up (following the directions) you plug the ethernet cable into the speaker and into your Mac or PC. Then you fire up a browser and go to 169.254.1.1. However, you would have to know that the only way this will work is if you have disabled your Mac/PC's WiFi connection and the only connection you then have is via the Ethernet cable. Luckily I knew this going in. Also it takes a few moments for your computer to realize that this is the only connection you have before it brings up the page. This may cause some users to think that it's not working.

Once the built-in web page comes up you use it to select your WiFi network and enter the password for it. You can also use this opportunity to name the Zeppelin Air whatever you like. This name will show up whenever you go to choose it in iTunes or other AirPlay compatible Apps. While this seems straight forward you get a big warning message that unless you read it slowly, it will sound like the setting you just made didn't work. What the message is really warning you about is that "if" you entered the wrong information on the "previous" screen, it may not connect to your network. Duh! This warning should be on the screen where you're actually keying in the info. I did it 3 times before realizing that the message wasn't saying that it didn't work, it was saying that it may not work if I keyed it in wrong. After you click OK, you disconnect the ethernet cable. The flashing LED will turn a solid dark red if it worked and connected to your network. It also takes a few moments for it to connect, causing a bit of anxiety.

I also took this opportunity to download the latest firmware update from the B&W site and install it. This is when I knew that the process above could have gone better. The firmware update installs via a USB cable. Yep, there is also a USB port on the back of the speaker too. They don't supply the cable, but it made me think how much easier this whole setup could have been had they allowed it to happen over USB instead of Ethernet. There would have been no need to screw with your Mac/PC's network connection at all.  Oh well, it's up and running now!

 

The Zeppelin Air is Live on my Network

Once I got through the setup and Firmware update the next thing I obviously wanted to do was hear my new investment. While I could have simply docked an iPod or iPhone on the built-in dock, I wanted to hear it via AirPlay. So I fired up iTunes 10 and started streaming music to it over the air As I expected/hoped the sound was AWESOME. Nice bass response and just and overall great sound. I've often professed NOT to be an audiophile. I'm not one! However, I can definitely tell the difference between this speaker and other lesser speakers that I have around my home. It easily fills the room I have it and then some. No hiccups or other delays in streaming.

 

AirPlay from Devices

Since AirPlay is built-in to iOS 4 I can pickup  any of my iOS devices (iPad, iPhone 4 or iPod touch) and start streaming audio directly to this speaker. Besides having the ability to stream iPod content I can stream audio from Apps like Mobile Safari, Pandora Radio, YouTube, SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone, etc. See more AirPlay Enabled Apps Here.

 

 

The Bottom Line

There really isn't anything "special" about this speaker system. It has AirPlay built-in! However, and I stress this again that the same exact thing can be accomplished with an AirPort Express Base Station and ANY speaker system, including other Bowers & Wilkins Speakers via a line out of the AirPort Express and into the speaker's audio-in jack. If you are starting from scratch and looking for an all in one solution that only has a single power cable once it's setup and sounds great, this is it! Audio streaming has been flawless so far.

I expect a flood of these kind of devices in 2011. I'm also hoping to see some video displays with AirPlay built-in for wireless streaming of video and audio. This is just the beginning.

You can get the Bowers & Wilins Zeppelin Air here for $600 or less.

Do We Need All the LED Status Lights?

 

The other night I was walking through my house and the lights were off, but I was amazed by the number of things that have LED lights that are on all the time. I like to sleep in a TOTALLY DARK ROOM. I've gone as far as putting black tape over some of the most annoying LED lights in my bedroom. In most cases these LEDs are used to tell you the current status of the device. For example, on the TiVO Premiere a red LED comes on when it's recording something. A blue one comes on when it's transferring a show from from another TiVo. However, there's a green LED that's on all the time that simply means the device is on and has power. Since you never turn a TiVo OFF I question do we really need to see this green LED 24/7. I guess you'd want to know if it had become unplugged or lost power, but as I far as I can tell no one is climbing behind my TV and unplugging things. It gets worse.

Update: TiVo does give you the option to turn them off (thanks Martha). It would be nice if MORE vendors offered this!

My bedroom TV has a red LED that is on when the TV is OFF. Again this simply means the device is plugged in and getting power. When you turn the TV on the LED goes off. I'm guessing that if there's no picture for more than a few minutes that the TV is not on. I'm also guessing that if I press the button to turn it on and it doesn't come on for some reason that there may be a power problem. In other words I don't need a continuous reminder that tells me that it's plugged in, has power and is OFF. 

Most of these devices have internal clocks. At a minimum it would be nice to be able to disable the LED at night automatically as a preference or simply turn it off altogether for those that don't need to see it. I was happy that Apple chose not to put the annoying pulsing bright white sleep light from the MacBook Air. Sadly it's still on the MacBook Pro, but clearly it's not essential as it was not deemed necessary on the Air.

If you are an interface design engineer and reading this post, please kill the unnecessary power wasting LED displays wherever possible. We'll all sleep better 🙂

Review: U-Socket is here!

I remember about a year ago when FastMac teased us with this product. I'm sure they wanted to release it sooner, but they went back to the drawing board and redesigned a better product! The U-Socket is designed to replace your standard US 110V outlet with one that also has two powered USB ports. This way you can charge two standard USB devices and still have access to both outlets for other devices. I ordered three of these and while I didn't expect them until February, they surprisingly showed up yesterday. I was like a kid on Christmas day. I don't know why I was so excited to see such a simple product, but I just think these things are cool.

 

Before you do it yourself

Electricity doesn't really frighten me. Plumbing and Natural Gas on the other hand do. Although this device has standard electrical wiring like most outlets, it is an electrical installation and if you are the least bit squimish please please please hire a licensed Electrician to install yours. I'm not responsible if you, your devices or your house get fried! I warned you! I'm warning you again. Let a professional do it! With that said, I've been installing replacement outlets and light switches in my house for years. So I was not afraid to TURN OFF the circuit at the circuit breaker and then proceed with the installation. Although the wiring is very straight forward it took a little longer than usual. The biggest problem is that outlet is about twice the depth of a standard outlet. Yes it's designed to fit in a standard box, but it will be tight. The one that I replaced had a little plaster around the box that I had to take my time and chip away first. I also had to be more careful about how I ran the wires around the outlet itself as there is very little wiggle room. To this point I went to install the other two in a newer part of my home and the wiring was more complicated. While I could certainly do it, I would rather pay the electrician to do it as I don't feel like playing trial and error with the connections that are already in those boxes.

 

Success

Once I got it installed and restored power to the outlet I couldn't wait to test it. First I tested the regular AC plugs and they worked. Then I plugged in a USB cable and my iPhone 4 and heard the familiar tone the indicated that it was charging. 

What about the iPad? As you may or may not know the iPad wants 10v of USB power instead of the standard 5v required by most USB products. I expected to get the "not enough power" message when I plugged in the iPad, but to my surprise it gave me the same tone that it was charging. This is actually no different than using an older iPhone charger with your iPad. While it works, it will definitely take LONGER to charge it than the 10v power adapter that comes with the iPad So if I had to give it any strikes that would be the only one. I wish that the ports were 10v instead of 5v. Other than that I think these are really cool.

Correction: The iPad wants 10w, not 10v. FastMac notes iPad "compatibility" . So we're good here!

OLDER USB 2.0 ports only supplied 0.5 amp which would only charge an iPad while it's off or very very slowly while it's on.

Newer USB ports can supply the 1.5 amps that the iPad wants. The U-Socket has enough power at:

  • 2.4A-5V USB 3.0 Power Ports @ 2400 mA (total)
  • Charge 4 Devices Simultaneously

 

You can get the U-Socket here for about $24.

My Movie Rental Habits Have Changed to Mostly Streaming

Back in the day I would run over to my local Hollywood Video or Blockbuster video to grab a DVD rental for the evening. I got so tired of both company's insane late fee policies that I switched to Netflix and never looked back. Netflix mails the disc to my house and I can keep it as long as I want. Once they added Blu-ray discs I was totally sold. At one point I was on the 3-Discs-At-Home plan. Then I noticed that they would sit for days and weeks on end before I had a chance to view them. I went all the way down to 1-Disc-At Home. Over the holidays I started looking at all of my home entertainment gadgets and it seems that just about every device I own now (TiVo, Playstation 3, XBox 360, Wii, Apple TV, iPad, etc.) can stream movies from either Amazon, Netflix or iTunes. I also noticed that the one Netflix Blu-ray disc I had at home had been sitting there for weeks. I finally watched it. However, before I sent it back I adjusted my account once again, this time to eliminate the discs altogether.

 

Blu-ray discs are better, but…

There's no debate when it comes to the quality of Blu-ray movies over ANY of the popular streaming technologies. Blu-ray wins in the quality category hands down. However, I've decided that for my regular movie viewing that it's just not important enough to keep getting discs. Here's my rationale: 

  • If I'm really interested in the movie, chances are I'll see it on the big screen in the theaters.
  • If it's just a so so movie, streaming quality is just fine and I get to see it immediately on my schedule right when I'm ready to watch. I don't have to leave the house or wait for the disc to come.
  • If it's a movie that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE and one that I'll want to see more than 3 times then I'll buy the Blu-ray (This is VERY RARE). I think I own maybe 20 Blu-ray discs total.

 

Netflix and iTunes are my top two choices

If a movie is available on Netflix instant streaming, it's a win for me. I can watch it on just about any of my devices. The quality is decent for the most part and it's a part of a monthly fee I'm already paying. If it's not available on Netflix I'll price compare it on Amazon (via the TiVo HD or Premiere XL) or iTunes via the Apple TV.  

While the quality of Blu-ray is better, I just can't get past the convenience of streaming these days with my current schedule. My local Hollywood Video closed its doors two years ago and Blockbuster is barely hanging on. Times have definitely changed.

 

The Devices I prefer to stream on

For iTunes and Netflix I'm really liking the NEW 2nd generation Apple TV. Hands down the best Netflix UI I've seen to date.

For Amazon on Demand, it's definitely the TiVo Premiere XL

For watching on the road, it's the Slingbox Pro HD. It allows me to stream whatever is showing on my TiVo to my laptop, iPad or iPhone.

For some older movies I'll watch via HBO. The problem with HBO is, they are never playing the movie I want to watch when I want to watch it. Sometimes I wonder why I still have HBO as most of my favorite HBO series have all but died?

Lastly I still have one Comcast Cable DVR too. If all else fails I can do a Comcast On Demand viewing.

With the above choices I'm set!

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Wireless Speakers: Bluetooth vs. AirPlay

We're on the verge of seeing several new wireless speakers enter the market place. The question though is which wireless technology is going to be right for you? The two formats that will likely be competing for our attention (and dollars) are Bluetooth and Apple's New AirPlay technology found in iDevices running iOS 4.2.

When AirPlay was first announced iHome teased us with a pre-announcement of an AirPlay speaker iW1 they were going to release. No real details were given at the time. So we continue to wait.

In the meantime Jawbone just announced their new Jambox Bluetooth wireless speaker. This one got my attention because in the iOS 4 Apple finally brought "full" Bluetooth Stereo support to iOS. You might remember my review of the Sony Bluetooth Stereo headset and using it with the iPhone. Back then I was able to use it to listen to music and make/receive calls, but the skip forward/back buttons on the headset were non-functional with the iPhone. Now they work fine with the latest iOS.
 

Advantages of Bluetooth Speakers

Bluetooth has been around a lot longer and is built-in to lots of devices. If you get a Bluetooth Speaker chances are you'll be able to use it with more than just your Apple gear. Bluetooth is also peer to peer which means you don't have to be on a network to use it. Once your device is paired to the speaker you can just use the speaker wirelessly anytime you're within 30 feet of it regardless of whether or not a Wi-Fi network is within range.
 

Advantages of AirPlay

AirPlay is new so the performance is yet to be seen. However, seeing how it's built on AirTunes that has been around for a while I'm not expecting any major issues. Video performance will be the only unknown factor at this point. AirPlay has the advantage of distance. While Bluetooth has a limited range of about 30 feet, AirPlay is based on Wi-Fi and therefore can go several hundred feet. You could fire up your iPad that is docked in the living room and pump music out to a speaker on the deck. AirPlay is also not limited to just audio. With AirPlay in theory someone could build a speaker with an LCD in it to be able to watch video content on, in addition to listening to audio content. I don't think we'll see a lot of devices in this category because in order to make sense the device would have to be the size of a TV. However, that does beg the question: will we see big screen TV's with AirPlay built-in? Now that would be cool! Lastly AirPlay has the advantage of being able to stream audio to more than one AirPlay speaker at a time. With AirTunes the current limitation is 3 devices. I use this ability now all the time by sending music from an iMac to the stereo in the living room and the Bose speaker in the Kitchen.

 

The Bottom Line

While I'm tempted to get the new Jawbone Jambox Speaker just to play, the $199 price tag is a bit of a show stopper for me. While I'm sure it sounds great, I just don't have enough of a need for a "Bluetooth" wireless speaker to drop $200 on it. However, if an AirPlay speaker hits the market soon I'd be more willing to spend the money on it to replace my current setup in the kitchen (a Bose SoundDock connected to an AirPort Express). While the Bose SoundDock has amazing sound, I'd replace it for something that was self contained. (Bose are you listening?) The only reason I have an AirPort Express in that room is to drive that speaker. We should also see some Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi devices in the coming months that will allow streaming without the need of a Wi-Fi hotspot. Ultimately this technology may surpass Bluetooth if it catches on because of the increased range. Things are going to heat up soon and you're going to have lots of choices. Stay tuned!

Officially Launching My YouTube Channel

I've been using YouTube for a long time now as a way to provide video content on this blog. I remember the early days of YouTube being primarily for teenagers and vehicle for people to show off their babies and pets. 🙂 The quality, well, um, kinda sucked! I just didn't really find it remotely good enough to host the kind of content I wanted to share. Well all that has changed now. YouTube is GREAT for sharing videos in 720p HD quality, up to 10 minutes in length. It's easy to use and to embed the clips right on my site. Now don't get me wrong, I know that there are other GREAT video sharing sites out there too like Smugmug (which does all the way up to 1080p with a paid account), Vimeo, BlipTV, etc. However, I find that YouTube seems to be the most universal and has the largest audience. After all, if I go through the trouble to produce a video and make it available for free I wan to have the largest possible viewing audience I can get.  Also since YouTube is BUILT-IN to the iPhone and now the iPad, I can reach millions more people with this one service than I can with any of the others. Another nice surprise was that Apple gave the iPad's Safari the ability to view embedded YouTube clips right in the page without having to launch the App or go to another browser window. Sold!

 

A funny thing happened on the way to this post

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Jawbone MyTalk

A few weeks back I reviewed the NEW Jawbone ICON Bluetooth headset. I continue to be impressed by this headset and it is now my default Bluetooth headset for voice communications. It even works with my WeePhone VoIP App for iPhone. One of the features that I wasn't able to review at the time was the new Jawbone MyTalk service. However, since that time I have been accepted into their Private Beta program. This is the first headset that I've seen or used that can not only be upgraded via your computer, but it can also be enhanced with additional options. One of the first things that I had to try out was the ability to download and install a different voice. You might be wondering why a Bluetooth headset has a "voice?" Actually the Jawbone ICON can give you verbal feedback. For example, if you press the button when you're not on a call it will read back the remaining talk time based on the current charge. I opted for a better voice. I really like The Ace voice. I love the accent 🙂

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My recent trip to Europe: What worked and what didn’t?

paris

Nothing beats real-world testing and during my last international trip it was like having a mobile testing lab to actually put all of the things I've been writing about over the past year to the test. I visited Germany, London, and Paris over the course of two weeks. In many cases I was only in a given city for one night. So there were multiple trips to the airport, and multiple hotel stays as well as getting around on the ground in places that I've never been before. So I thought I'd spend a few moments highlighting the gear and gadgets that I depended on during this trip and talk about the ones that came up short.

 

What worked?

I would have to say that just about everything "worked". There weren't really any pieces of technology that totally failed me. Of course I took my MacBook Pro, my iPhone 3GS, my Nikon D5000 DSLR, my Kodak Zi8 HD Video camera,  a multitude of cables and accessories as well as the necessary luggage to carry it all.  So with the understanding that nothing really failed me miserably, let's talk about the devices that really made a difference:

The iPhone 3GS was the star of the trip

Now granted my MacBook Pro was really the tool that I depended on to get my work done, but the iPhone was actually the gadget that made the most impact on this trip. I can't believe how much I depended on it throughout the day. I used it for just about everything, including keeping my flights and schedule together. I used it as my GPS for getting around. I used it of course to make calls, but more importantly I used it to make very low cost VoIP calls. I used it to snap photos and of course instantly share those photos with friends and family. I even used it for language translations. While I'm sure other smartphones do a great job too, I just couldn't imagine travel without my iPhone, especially internationally. There is an App for just about everything! For a list of the Top 10 Travel Apps that I used and that totally rocked, go here

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Best of 2009: Terry’s Top 10 Gadget Picks

Happy New Year! It's that time once again to take a quick look at my favorite gadgets of last year. The gadgets I've chosen were the ones that I used the most and that had the most positive impact on my day-to-day life. These gadgets were either introduced in 2009 or had significant updates in 2009. These are the gadgets that I would recommend to a friend without hesitation. So let's get to it…

 

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 3GS

Anyone that knows me knows that the iPhone 3GS is my communications device of choice. The 3GS made my life easier this year with more memory, a faster processor, and graphics to run apps that I never dreamed of right from the palm of my hand. I use my iPhone quite a bit in my day to day routine. I actually get a ton of work/communications done with this device.  I get both work and personal email, SMS and MMS messaging, productivity and business apps, and yes even the ability to make calls. This is the one gadget that I now couldn't imagine being without. See my original iPhone 3GS review here. Learn more about the iPhone 3GS here.

See my Must Have iPhone Apps here.

See my favorite iPhone and iPod touch accessories here.

 

Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote

When I am at home and not producing content, I enjoy my home entertainment systems and home theater. The one remote that has worked for me better than any other remote I've tried is the Logitech Harmony One. This remote is configured from your computer to do exactly what you want. Anyone with more than a couple of entertainment components should do themselves a favor and check out the Harmony One. See my original review here. Get the Harmony One Remote here.

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