Setting Up A Projector Room

Projector MountedOver the years I’ve spent a fair amount of money on different types of electronics. Back in the 1980’s much of that money was spent on a never-ending succession of high fidelity amplifiers and speakers. I still have most of that equipment and it still functions quite well to this day.

In the 1990’s my purchasing patterns shifted to a voracious appetite for personal computers, peripherals and software. Though I seemed to derive enjoyment at the time, I have comparatively little that remains useful today with the exception of a fairly massive 25-year-old computer desk.

From the mid-2000’s forward my computer-buying habits slowed somewhat, but I partially shifted from Windows to Apple machines. In the past couple of years my adoption of Android smartphones has mostly usurped my computer usage, completely freezing any urge to acquire new computer equipment. The computers I have – two older Apple laptops, two Mac Minis, a Compaq machine running Vista, and an Asus Netbook running Windows XP, all work remarkably well after equipping most of them with modern SSD’s. I record podcasts, write occasional articles, and do my taxes once a year and that is now the extent of my computer usage. Barring some unforeseen disaster, these older machines should last well in to the foreseeable future.

Of all of those consumer electronics purchases, few things stand out as being really enjoyable. Though I enjoyed the computers at the time, the investment in stereo equipment still delivers satisfaction, some of it 30 years on.

Today, I derive the most use and gratification from my smartphone. It is always with me and it ably handles most functions.

However, that doesn’t stop me from looking at and experimenting with consumer electronics. Back in the early 2000’s, I briefly considered buying a projector. At the time I didn’t think I had a good place to put it or use it, and the idea quickly got pushed aside. As it turns out, I’m glad that I didn’t buy one then, because consumer video technology was still standard definition and projectors of the era were expensive and primitive by today’s standards.

Fifteen years later, projector technology is radically better and far less expensive. Don’t get me wrong – it is possible to spend a fortune on modern projection equipment if you want the latest and greatest and your budget allows. However, it is possible today to get really great bargain projectors that can offer great value and performance.

When I bought my house 20 years ago, for whatever reason one of the extra bedrooms ended up as a junk room. I have no one to blame but myself – it was easy to just pile stuff in the room, close the door, out of sight, out of mind. Over the years I had given little thought about what to do with that extra room. It is fairly small – 9 and ½ feet by 13 and ½ feet, but nonetheless it could be made into a useful space.

A few months ago I started thinking about projectors once again. I purchased an Android-powered pico projector from Amazon to bring with me when I travel. I then realized a great use to put the junk room to – clean all of the junk away, and set up a larger wall-mounted projector capable of projecting about a 95” inch diagonal image on the opposite wall.

Projection ScreenI just happened to have plenty of extra speakers and an old surround sound receiver that had been lying around in the junk room for a few years. After a bit of research I purchased an inexpensive $350 dollar LED-powered Android 720p Chinese projector from Aliexpress.Com. After doing how-to video research on YouTube I purchased lumber and a friend helped me make a large wooden 16 x 9 format frame. I purchased Carl’s Place blackout cloth via Amazon, and with the same friend’s help I now have a large homemade projector screen that cost me a total of about $75 dollars in materials.

I purchased a projector wall mount from Amazon that was under $50 dollars, plus a few other odds and ends. From Walmart I purchased an inexpensive Sony BluRay player for under $50 dollars that even includes WiFi support and the important apps I need – Netflix, Amazon Videos, Hulu Plus and YouTube. I purchased a 5 input HDMI switcher from Amazon for under $20 dollars as well as well as a $15 dollar 25’ foot long HDMI cable to run up the wall to the projector. I even purchased an HDTV tuner that includes an HDMI output from Amazon for about $25 dollars. On the more expensive side, I purchased a 10” inch Klipsch subwoofer from my local Best Buy store for $300 dollars.

All together, I’ve spent less than $1,000 dollars. The resulting projector system for that price is impressive. I can stream HD content from the Internet, I can play BluRay discs, or I can watch local over-the-air digital TV. The digital TV tuner even has a USB port that will accept up to a 2 gigabyte hard drive if I wish to utilize its HD DVR functionality! All sound is routed through the surround sound receiver.

One Man Theater ChairBest of all, that once-upon-a-time useless junk room now has a great use. I have 100% control over the light so the resulting projected 95” inch 720p image is crisp and clear.

Some people might scoff at my purchase of what is essentially a no-name Chinese projector as opposed to spending a few hundred dollars more and getting a name-brand projector such as an Epson or one of the other brands of HD projectors. My reason for going with the no-name Chinese 720p LCD projector is simple – it uses a Cree LED lamp that will likely last 30,000 hours or more. Most name brand projectors use conventional bulbs that must be replaced after only 3,000 to 5,000 thousand hours and can cost $150 and up – way, way up in some cases, more than I paid for the no-name 720p Chinese projector. Especially for a first-time purchase, why not go with a projector using an LED bulb? I’m willing to spend money on electronics – if I didn’t like it, I could always go with another more expensive machine later.

It turns out that I really like the no-name Chinese projector. It has two HDMI inputs along with various analog inputs, outputs, USB and even an SD card slot. It runs Android 4.2.2 and even came equipped with a wireless mouse, along with a remote control. If I wish, I could easily also pair it up with a wireless keyboard and use it as a computer with a large projected display. The Android 4.2.2 comes with the Google Play Store so that means it has access to all the Google Play Store apps. At $350 dollars, I consider it a true bargain.

This has also been a learning experience. I’ve found over the years that regardless of how much I research something, I never really know about it until personally taking action. The only thing I would change about the room setup at this point would be to go with the so-called “Flexigray” screen material from Carl’s Place as opposed to their black-out cloth which is bright white and the most commonly used projection screen material. Because the room is so small and has light colored walls and ceiling, when the projector is on in the otherwise pitch black room it lights up the room enough to create enough stray bounce light from the side walls and ceiling to slightly interfere with the projected image. At this point I could either take steps to darken the walls, or re-cover the screen with the Flexigray material which has superior stray side light rejection properties, thus creating better black levels. I probably won’t make any changes anytime soon – the current projected image really is just fine. But, it’s something I learned and something to keep in mind for future reference.

For under $1,000 dollars, I’ve managed to create an amazingly enjoyable experience. That same money could have easily been spent on the latest gadget being pushed – say an overpriced smart watch – a dubious solution in search of a problem that comes packaged with planned obsolescence for your spending convenience.

Even though it has only been a couple of months, I already know that setting up this projector room is one of those rare things that offers genuine satisfaction and enjoyment, as opposed to all of those things that soon enough ended up unused and obsolete in a pile of dusty junk.

Archos Fusion Storage OTA Incoming

Archos Fusion StorageBack in March at MWC, French firm Archos announced “Archos Fusion”, an Android storage technology that seamlessly joins a smartphone or tablet’s internal memory with an inserted memory card. Archos Platinum 52The merger of the two memories is invisible to apps and other services, with Archos Fusion automatically managing and moving files around. Apps tend to stay on the internal memory and media gets moved to the external card.

The clear advantage here is that there’s loads more space made available to the user with almost zero effort. Another advantage is a reversibility of the process: the fusion of internal storage with the external storage card is seamless and the user can return to the original separated settings at any time.

GNC covered the announcement at the time, but the good news is that Archos are delivering on the promise and a free OTA is expected very shortly for owners of the Archos 101 Oxygen tablet, along with the 50 Oxygen Plus, 50 Diamond and 52 Platinum smartphones.

By pure coincidence I have an Archos 52 Platinum smartphone on review at the moment so I’ll be reporting back on the OTA and the Archos Fusion technology, which looks really clever and a huge benefit.

Archos Fusion will be available on the new 62 Xenon and 59 Xenon out of the box.

Google Launches Mobile Carrier Project Fi for Nexus 6

Google has joined the ranks of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile with their new mobile carrier service, Project Fi. Project Fi, which is exclusive to owners of Google’s Nexus 6 smartphone, offers a completely new take on wireless plans.

project fiMost carriers charge a flat rate for a specific amount of data, even when you don’t use it all, but Project Fi only charges you for the data you actually use and reimburses you for what you don’t. For example, if you spend $20 on a 2GB monthly plan but only use 1GB, Google will refund you $10. If you only use 0.5GB, you’ll get $15 and so on.

Project Fi is available in over 120 countries (with no roaming charges– yay!) and offers unlimited talk and text, personal hotspot usage, Google Voice integration, and unlimited international texting for a flat rate of $20 per month; you can add a data plan for $10/GB per month as well.

In addition, Project Fi lets you connect to both Sprint and T-Mobile’s 3G and 4G LTE networks, so if your T-Mobile signal starts to lag and Sprint has a faster signal available, Project Fi will automatically switch over to Sprint so you’ll always have the fastest possible connection. And if no cell networks are available, Project Fi lets you connect to more than 1 million free open-access WiFi hotspots, automatically encrypting your data so you can have fast, secure online access wherever you are.

Project Fi is currently in its early-access stage and only available for the Nexus 6, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see support for other smartphones coming soon, and perhaps a partnership with AT&T or Verizon, too.

Until then, you can get all the details and request an invitation here.

Archos Connected Scale Review

Archos LogoOver the past few years, we’ve all seen the rise of the fitness tracker and their transformation into wearables. While the goal of encouraging greater fitness is laudable and essential for the future health of the nation, to some extent the tracker is the gamification of fitness. For evidence of weight loss, reduction in BMI and reduced body fat, you need scales (and hard work)….which brings us neatly to the Archos Connected Scale.


Connected Scale

The Archos Connected Scale is a set of stylish bathroom scales which measures weight and body fat transmitting the recordings via Bluetooth to a complementary app on the smartphone. I think these would look good in any bathroom or home gym.

Archos Connected Scale ReadingIn the box, there’s the scales, four AAA batteries plus a couple of guides. Getting going is simply a case of installing the batteries and once they’re in, the Archos scales will measure weight like any other bathroom scales. The display is backlight and lights up with a cool blue.

Of course, the real benefit with these scales is that the readings can be sent to the owner’s smartphone and recorded in the Archos Connected Self app, available for both Android and Apple iOS devices. The app stores information from three different sources to record data on weight, blood pressure and distance from Archos devices the Connected Scale, Blood Pressure Monitor and Activity Tracker.

To get the readings from the scales via Bluetooth, the Connected Scale need to be paired with the smartphone and that’s straightforward: press and hold the Unit button on the rear and then pair as normal.

Archos App User Scale Binding

On the Connected Self app, the first step is to set up a user account and the second is to attach the Connected Scale to the user. With all that done, every time you step on the scale, weight and body fat percentage are transmitted to the app. It’s that easy. As recordings build up, the app can show graphs on weekly, monthly and annual basis. It can also show the data in a tabular form.

Graph Values

If needed, weight measurements can be added manually and some additional information can be added too including blood pressure and heart rate.

In use, the Archos Connected Scale worked well, sending the weight readings to the smartphone. I did have one glitch which was only resolved by re-pairing the scale, but in my experience of Bluetooth devices, this isn’t unusual. One tip for potential users – don’t bother taking your smartphone into the bathroom every day. The Connected Scale will remember several week’s worth of readings and upload them when there is a connection to the phone.

The only downside is that as with all of these wearables and health devices, they don’t talk to each other and each supplier is trying to build their own ecosystem. Simply I can’t load Archos Connected Scales information into my Fitbit app or I can’t load my Fitbit steps into the Archos app. Very frustrating.

With an RRP of £49.99, the Archos Connected Scale is about twice the price of a similarly stylish but unconnected set of bathroom scales. Having said that, the Connected Scale can be found on-line for a little less (£35-ish), which I think makes it a fairly good buy even if you are only looking for stylish bathroom scales.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Connected Scale.

Homes Just Got Smarter with Kibbi

British Inventors ProjectWith the Internet of Things and smart homes being all the rage, it’s inevitable that there would be at least one smart home system at Gadget Show Live taking part in the British Inventors Project. Here’s the Kibbi – homes just got smarter.

KibbiThe Kibbi intelligent hub provides round the clock security combined with entertainment. The built-in HD wide angle security camera monitors 24×7 with motion detection and night vision, and saves video footage to either cloud servers or local USB storage. The keyfob-size Kibbi sensors are fixed to doors, windows, fridges and measure movement, vibrations and temperature. The speaker announces alerts and can wirelessly stream music too from smartphones.

The complementary Kibbi app works with Android, iOS and Windows – it’s good to see the Windows app here too.

The Kibbi previously raised nearly $57,000 on Indiegogo and pre-orders (£170) can be made through the Kibbi website with Deliveries expected from May 2015.

Secure Your Vehicle With Your Smartphone

British Inventors ProjectRegrettably car theft is a major problem worldwide and while car security has improved significantly over the past years, an increasing number of cars are being stolen using cloned keys or bypassing keyless security systems. Demonstrated at Gadget Show Live, My Smart Remote is an additional layer of security that prevents thieves from stealing a vehicle even if they have the key, whether physical or otherwise.

MySmartRemoteMy Smart Remote consists of a small electronic unit and a smartphone app for both Android and iOS. The electronic unit is installed discreetly in the car and this can lock down the vehicle and stop the car from being started. The electronic unit communicates via Bluetooth with an app on the owner’s smartphone putting in extra security which is largely invisible and crucially unrelated to the vehicle itself. Consequently, even with a cloned key, the car is going nowhere. An enhanced version of My Smart Remote can also control internal features of the vehicle including the horn, air-conditioning and opening the boot (trunk). There’s an anti-carjacking feature too.

My Smart Remote is on pre-order at CrowdShed. £159 gets the standard security version and for additional internal control, the enhanced version costs £299.

Huawei Announces P8 and P8 Max Smartphones

Huawei LogoThis afternoon Huawei announced in London a pair of new Android smartphones; the expected P8 and the entirely unexpected P8 Max. The latter is a total whopper of a phone but more of this later.

I watched the show the on-line (in between streaming drop outs) to see CEO Huawei Consumer Business Group Richard Yu show off the P8 and its strengths. The presentation focussed on four areas – Design, Camera, Connectivity and Usability.

hw_424126The P8 looks good – it’s a metal unibody design with an almost frameless 5.2″ screen on the front, a rear camera that’s flush with the back  and only 6.4 mm thin.

The presentation spent a great deal of time over the camera. That’s because it’s very impressive. The specs say that it’s a 4 colour (RGBW) 13 MP camera with OIS but it’s the other features that stand-out.

Enhanced for low light conditions. Macro capability. Director mode controls three cameras to capture a scene from different angle. Built-in time-lapse photography. Dual tone camera flash with both a white and warm light. Fast face recognition. Scene detection.

Despite being a metal unibody, Huawei have done clever things with the antennas resulting in 50% fewer dropped calls and a 20% increase in call connection rate. Other tweaks include “Wi-Fi+” designed to provide best quality of experience based on history and hotspot connectivity. The P8 is three times faster at connecting to the network when powered on, say, after being on a flight.

The P8 can take two nano SIM cards. With one dedicated SIM slot, the other slot can take either an extra SIM or a microSD card up to 128 MB card.

The smartphone is powered by Kirin 930 64 bit octacore CPU, with four 2.0 GHz cores plus four 1.5 GHz cores. As you’d expect, the cores are allocated tasks appropriate to their speed.

Average battery life is expected to be 1.5 days or 1 day of heavy use. A new and unique feature is what Huawei called a “power firewall” which is design to stop excessive or abnormal requests from apps, thus improving the battery life by an extra 2.3 days of standby time.

Another unique is a new gesture called “knuckle sense technology”. It’s slightly bizarre but simply the P8 can tell the difference between touching the screen with a knuckle rather than a finger.This is then used to do special things like cutting out selections.

Voice+ gives a 58% volume increase for noisy environments and the phone achieves a 90% wind reduction even when using a single mic headset. There’s also a “Super hands-free” mode for conference calls. The press release also mentions a P8 variant with a rear eInk screen which will handy for reading ebooks.

All-in-all, it’s a very impressive package and shows how far Huawei has come. There are two versions of the P8; the standard device for €499 and the premium version for €599, which is competitively priced as long as they use a reasonable exchange rate.

Turning to the P8 Max, it’s a full fat version of the P8 with a whopping 6.8″ screen, 64 GB RAM and 4360 mAh battery (cf 5.2″, 16 GB, 2680 mAh). Huge!!!

Check out the features of the P8 in the video below. If you want to see the whole presentation, it’s here.

 

OnePlus’ OxygenOS Joins The Android Party

OnePlus LogoThe first release of OnePlusOxygenOS arrived today, bringing a choice of Android flavours to owners of the OnePlus One handset. As part of OnePlus’ long-term strategy, the current Cyanogen KitKat-based OS is being replaced by an in-house build based on Google’s Lollipop AOSP. OnePlus’ relationship with Cyanogen soured after the latter signed an exclusive deal with India’s Micromax for the subcontinent, but a Lollipop-based version of Cyanogen for the OnePlus One is still expected shortly.

Feedback from early adopters suggests that OxygenOS is close to vanilla Lollipop with a few customisations but not nearly as many as Cyanogen offers. Nexus meets OnePlus, as it were. A few known issues are present and installing the drop isn’t for the faint-hearted as the deployment is not an OTA update; flashing the ROM is required. OnePlus have produced a short video showing off the OS’ capabilities.

Early adopters have reported a few issues too, which leaves me in a quandary as a OnePlus One owner. I’m a big Nexus fan having owned the Nexus 4, 7, 9 and 10, and I think OxygenOS will suit me well. However, I moved away from the Nexus 4 after the first Lollipop release ruined the phone (sometimes calls connect but the caller can’t be heard) so I can’t afford another half-working phone. At this point, I’m going to hold off until there have been a few updates but I’m looking forward to a long-term future with OxygenOS.

Archos Creates World’s First 256GB Android Tablet with “Fusion Storage”

Archos LogoWhile tablets are overall a relatively new technology, they’ve evolved a lot since the first iPad was released in 2010. And now Archos is continuing that evolution with its new Magnus tablets, including the company’s innovative “Fusion Storage” technology.

Fusion Storage optimizes data storage by fusing internal memory with external micro SD card memory. Once activated, Fusion Storage automatically migrates data from the micro SD card and optimizes memory balance, resulting in an increase in install space for apps and games, as well as more storage for media and large files. Fusion Storage will be available on all new ARCHOS tablets and smartphones, including the new Magnus tablets, and through Over-The-Air updates on select models.

Along with this new storage technology, the Archos 101 Magnus Plus and 94 Magnus feature  powerful Cortex A17 quad-core processors capable of running apps and games smoothly while remaining energy efficient and maintaining longer battery life.

These new Archos tablets will hit the market next month. The 101 Magnus Plus 128 GB and the 94 Magnus 256 GB are expected to retail at $349.00. Archos will also be launching the 101 Magnus, the first tablet with 64 GB of internal storage for $179.

IK Multimedia’s iRig 2 is Here for On-The-Go Music Production

iRig 2One of the more remarkable developments that’s happened in the post-iOS world is the rise of hardware and software that allows an iPad or iPhone user to create high-quality multitrack audio. One of the pioneers in this mobile recording technology is IK Multimedia. The company kicked things off with its simple but effective iRig, an adapter that connected to an iOS device’s headphone port and allowed users to plug in instruments like guitars and then use those instruments to interact with a wide range of apps.

Now IK Multimedia has upped the game with the release of its iRig 2. It improves on its predecessor by providing better sound quality and more universal compatibility. It does this while maintaining the convenience and ease-of-use that have made it a staple piece of gear for many musicians.

Like the first iRig, the new iRig 2 plugs directly into the headphone jack input of a mobile device. It lets musicians send an instrument signal to apps, such as IK’s AmpliTube, while also providing on-board output for real-time monitoring. Unlike the original iRig, the new model comes with a built-in gain control. This means that it can be customized to always provide the best sound, no matter what type of guitar, bass or line-level instrument or device is used.

[Read more…]