If you spend any time at all tinkering with computers, it’s inevitable that one day you will have a computer with one set of ports and a peripheral with a completely different set of ports. Back in early 90s, before USB, serial ports changed from 25 pins to 9 pins and you needed a whole bag full of adaptors and gender changers. Or SCSI, which went through a series of connectors faster than you could say Sun Microsystems.
Today, it’s usually video standards that cause the problem, with VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort and even USB C all trying to get in on the act. Often it’s an older VGA PC trying to connect to a newer HDMI flatscreen TV or an HDMI-only ultraportable wanting to use a VGA equipped data projector. In this case, it’s the former, as I take a quick look at the Topop VGA to HDMI Converter with Audio Support.
As you’ll see from the unboxing video, the converter comes in plain packaging and there’s no branding on either packaging or the converter. In the pack, there’s only two cables, the VGA to HDMI converter and a USB to micro USB cable which is used to power the converter via socket on the back of the HDMI part. The additional power is needed because there’s electronics in the converter to change the picture signal from analogue VGA to digital HDMI.
Getting going is simplicity itself. Plug the VGA end into the PC or laptop and then use a standard HDMI-to-HDMI cable to connect the other end of the converter into the monitor or HDTV. The 3.5mm stereo jack needs plugged into the PC’s sound card or headphone socket and finally the converter needs powered using the USB to microUSB cable.
Turn on the computer and the HDTV. If it’s a laptop, don’t forget to toggle the relevant function key to get the laptop to output to the VGA port. On the TV, switch to the right HDMI input if it doesn’t switch automatically, and Bob’s your uncle as they say.
For me, it worked perfectly first time on an old Toshiba Satellite Pro A120 running at 1280 x 800. The picture quality was good too. I wasn’t expecting much as even directly connected VGA can look a bit fuzzy on a bigger monitor but the Topop converter does an excellent job. Here are a couple of screen shots which aren’t really going to show off the picture quality but if you click through they’ll give you an idea. The converter had no problem keeping up with video either and I was able to watching Netflix and YouTube.
The converter has audio support so sound comes out of the TV speakers. Possibly the only downside of the converter is that the audio cable could be a little longer. It’s around 55cm, which seems fine, but if you have a laptop where the headphone socket is on the front, the cable has to come under the laptop rather than round the side. Other than that, it’s hard to fault and the converter seems well enough made – I tried a little wiggling and nothing came free so QC passed…
Note that this converter will only go from VGA to HDMI. It will not do the reverse, HDMI to VGA, so don’t buy it thinking that it might.
In summary, the Topop VGA to HDMI converter with audio support works well and gives a good picture on the screen. At GB£10.99 it’s well priced, especially if you want to prolong the usefulness of an older computer with a newer monitor. It’s worth it too if you occasionally want to show some digital photos on your big HDTV and like to keep it simple.
The Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam is the long awaited replacement for the Logitech C920. I have been a fan of the C920 as I have at two of them shared between the studio and travel kit. The C920 has been the go to Webcam for a lot of folks for a long time. So when the C922 was announced I hit the Logitech team up and they where nice enough to send one over for a review.
Sadly as of this date 10-16-2016 the Logitech site does not have updated drivers for Windows 10. This was disappointing as the standard Windows drivers do not allow for the camera to be used in the 1080p at 30 frames video record mode that is advertised. I am not fully sure why Logitech has not yet released drivers for the camera but that is the case.
Fit Form wise the Webcam looks nearly identical to the C920 and from a image quality standpoint it does considerably better in low light than it’s predecessor. In all honesty though I was expecting a little more of a bump in image quality. The image below was during daylight houes and no overhead lighting turned on, which is really important to folks as that is where most webcams fail. In the default setting the camera needed a contrast adjustment which I had a hard time dialing in with no lights on.
Many gamers use the virtual Personify ChromaCam, and testing that function it did a great job in blocking the background when the camera was directly in front of me. If it was off to the side it had a bit of a problem, but that is to be expected when the camera is slightly shadowed.
Included with the Webcam was a mini desktop tripod and of course the C922 has nearly the same exact mount as the C920 with a bit of a bigger lip that goes over the monitor. This may block some of the screen if your using this webcam with your laptop.
The price is $99.00. But if you have a perfectly working C920 I am not sure that I can say at this point to run out and get the C922. But this is a great bump up from most other Webcams. I am hopeful that Logitech will release drivers for this camera shortly so that we can get the 1080p at 60 frames function out of it.. For now you are stuck at 720p / 30 Frames
The LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition – Model W200A was sent to me by the folks at AT&T to review. This is the first Smart Watch I have reviewed, and as I was contemplating the criteria for this review I decided on the following points. Wear-ability, Usability, Battery Life & Style.
With any watch it is my express opinion you should visit the retailer and try the watch on, and play with it before you buy. So while many sites will dig into all the Android functions, once you have used or tried an Andorid Wear product the functions are nearly across product lines and best tried in person.
Wear-Ability – The LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition has a 1.38′ inch OLED screen, thus the body of the watch has a pretty large profile which is a popular style today. It weighs in at 3.27 ounces and is considerably heavier than my Apple watch. But wearing the watch for 8-10 hours a day was very comfortable unlike my Apple Watch I did not have to adjust the strap a dozen times a day.
Usability -Like any new tech you have to learn how to use it and felt that manipulating the controls was pretty easy, it probable took me about a day to adapt to all the functions. My watch had a cellular connection and I could take calls and text without having my mobile.
Battery Life – This was what impressed me the most it has a 570 mAH battery and I only had to put it on the charger once every couple of days. Charging with the included cable you had to be careful to make sure the cable / connector would not get bumped which happened a few times.
Style – The screen is simply incredible and you can pick from several watch faces but, I kept the default and received several compliments. Many did not even realize it was a smart watch. The included band was practical, but I think I would want to upgrade to a leather band or something similar if it was my daily wear watch.
The price is the best part @ $199 with service plan is a great deal for what you get. I think I was shocked the most about the low price.
The ZTE – SPRO 2 Smart Projector is like a mini-multimedia center. Running on Android 4.4 KitKat you can use access and project media just about anyplace, connect it via WiFi, or hook it up to an AT&T wireless plan. This portable projector can be used for fun or business. With a 6300 mAh battery you are good to play full featured movie or do a business presentation with no wires.
It weighs in at 1.26 lbs and has an included carrying case, with Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, Standard DLP Technology, 720p , autofocus and keystone correction, 20-120″ screen size, 5″ touch screen display, dual speakers, HDMI out and USB port to hook up an external drive.
The projected image of the SPRO 2 Smart Projector is perfect for business and recreational activities. My boys have been using it in the garage to play some movies during fall break. Overall for it’s sized I am always impressed on the output quality. Check it out today priced at $449.00
When it comes to media streaming via hardware, it’s a four way fight for your eyeballs between Roku, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Chromecast. The most recent entrant, Amazon and the Fire TV, came to the UK in October 2014 and I reviewed one of the boxes back in January 2015. Over eighteen months later, Amazon’s Instant Video and Fire TV are more well known, with a large element of this courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the ex-Top Gear crew. To see what’s changed since then, Amazon kindly sent me a the updated Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote. Let’s take a look.
The Fire TV stick comes in the usual flip open box used by Amazon for its electronics. Inside the box, there’s the Fire TV stick itself, the Voice Remote with batteries, USB power supply with cable, an HDMI gender changer and some slim instructions. As it’s generally expected that the Fire TV will connect straight into an HDMI socket, there’s no HDMI cable. There’s an unboxing video below if you’re interested.
Before getting started, my tip of the day would be to plug the microUSB end of the power cable into the Fire TV stick BEFORE you push the Fire TV into a spare HDMI socket. This saves too much faffing around the back (or side) of the TV and alerts you early to a potential problem. As the power connector is on the side of the stick and the cable comes out at right angles, it’s possible that this will foul against an adjacent HDMI connector. On my TV it was apparent that the Fire TV was always going to sit in the topmost socket. Alternatively, I could have used an HDMI cable along with the gender changer to locate the stick away from the sockets and avoid interference. YMMV, as they say.
The other end of the USB cable goes into the power supply and once all connected and powered up, it’s simply a case of switching to the right HDMI input and following the prompts. The setup begins with pairing the remote to the stick and then connecting to wifi. As with all devices bought from Amazon, it comes pre-configured with your account details.
To make life even easier, there’s a set of cartoons to take you through some of the features of the Fire TV stick.
With that all done, you’re dropped into Amazon’s Fire interface. It’s largely unchanged since I first reviewed the Fire TV but that’s not a bad thing given that it’s big, bright and intuitive. Click up and down with the remote to move between the media areas….TV shows, Movies, Games, Apps, Music and so on. Click right and left to scroll through the chosen area. The Home area summarises recent activity so it’s easy to get back to something that you recently viewed. The interface is generally responsive but there can be a little lag when going into a new area, such as Photos, where it’s checking to see if there are any new media. I assume that the lag will be inversely proportional to your network connection speed.
There’s no doubt that the Fire TV is best used with Amazon Prime and other Amazon services – much of the promoted material is for Prime shows – but other media services like Netflix and Spotify are present via apps, and there’s a full range of catch-up services for UK’s terrestrial services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5). When I first reviewed the Fire TV a few of these were missing from the lineup so it’s good to see the extras. In addition to film and TV, the interface presents music purchased through Amazon as CDs and Amazon Music. If you use Amazon’s storage for photos, they’ll appear in a section too.
Video playback on the Fire TV can’t be faulted. I watched a number of shows through a variety of services, including Netflix, and the picture quality was unfailingly good. Programmes started quickly and got into HD picture quality within a few seconds. No problems here.
The Fire TV Stick supports apps as well, and these mostly offer other media services, such as YouTube, or games, such as…..well, loads including Crossy Road! It’s actually good fun playing mobile games on the big screen, though some require the Fire Game Controller (GB£44.99) rather than just the remote. Some games are tricky enough with just the remote, so if you are gamer, expect to stump up for the game controller. There’s something for everyone, as they say, and I played a fair bit of Lego Star Wars – The Yoda Chronicles. Overall, I felt there was a much greater range of games than last time and more of the headline titles were available.
While having loads of media is a good thing, it’s even better when there’s a search function to quickly find what you want to see. This is the Voice Remote version of the TV Stick and as such, the remote has a button at the top with a microphone symbol. When pressed and held, you can simply say what TV or film you are interested in, and the Stick will work it out and show you the options. Owners without the Voice Remote will have to laboriously type in the name of the programme. The voice recognition is accurate and the subsequent search recommendations are valid. Press the mic button, say “The Fall”, and the first programme it offers is the BBC drama (the one I wanted) followed by other films or TV programmes with the word “fall” in their title, such as “Downfall”.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like search has moved on too much. It is good at finding stuff but it still seems to only reference Amazon-hosted material. Take the above mentioned “The Fall”, which is currently showing the third series on BBC and aired episodes can be viewed for free on iPlayer. However, search on the Fire TV Stick would have you pay £2.49 for the HD version of episode 1 without mentioning the freebie option at all. More on this in a moment….
Back in January 2015, I said, “Overall the Amazon Fire TV compares well with the competition and if you are into Amazon’s ecosystem, then the Fire TV is a no-brainer buy at the current price of £64 giving easy access to familiar photos, music, movies and games. Even if you aren’t a fully paid-up member of the Amazon fan club, there’s still plenty to recommend with the current selection of apps and games which will undoubtedly grow over time as more broadcasters and app developers get on-board.” Here in October 2016, there’s not much to add except that it’s even better now than it was then; there are more broadcasters on-board, there are more games and the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote is cheaper at £44.99. It drops to only £34.99 with the standard remote.
But….since starting the review of this Fire TV stick, a new version has been announced, at least in the US, which addresses some of the remaining deficiencies, namely cross-media search. Obviously it’s not clear right now when that will arrive in the UK or which apps will be searched in addition to Amazon media. Interestingly, the new Fire TV Stick comes with Alexa so the voice interaction won’t be limited to only search but other queries too. I’m looking forward to it already.
The team at ACCELL are always coming out with useful adapters, whether it be a docking station, display port to DVi, USB-C hub etc, the list goes on, and they are often very early to market on gear we all want and need.
The USB-C to 3 USB-A 3.0 hub is no exception. As laptop manufacture lower the number of available USB ports on computers, hubs are going to be needed more than ever. So look no further ACCELL has a new USB-C to USB-A hub. Testing here the device worked as advertised with three devices connected.
Here is the feature stack from the manufacture.
USB 3.0 compliant, supports data transfer speeds up to 4.8Gbps
USB-A output: 5V @ 900mA
USB powered design, no external power necessary
Power consumption: 5V @ 200mA
Approximate length: 7.9in (200mm)
Priced at $37.99 this unit is available to purchase today.
A few weeks ago I received the TAMRAC HOODOO 18 Camera Daypack to review and was excited to do so, as I have not reviewed a backpacks designed for specifically touting their DSLR around and a few lenses in some time.
I loaded it up with my Cannon D60 an a couple of lenses, 12 inch laptop, tablet and a bunch of stuff I would expect to need to hump around day in and day out doing some camera work to include a compact mono-stick.
The backpack has a unique shape, the best way to describe it, is that it looks a little thicker at the top then at the bottom. But as you add gear, the bottom of the bag is not restrictive.
The only thing I wish the bag would have had was a little more padding at the bottom of it for lenses. The bag contains 4 major compartments. The back compartment for laptop / tablet, a padded top pocket to hold your dslr, a deep front pocket that could handle a very large lens, and front side pocket where I stored keys, mobile etc. There actually was room in it for a bunch of stuff and deep enough things would not fall out.
This bag is designed to be a day bag, I do not think I would use it for travel but depending on your utility it will easily fit under a airline seat and still leave room for your feet.
Priced at $80.95 and available today, this is a bag that I am going to get a lot of years utilization out of on a variety of projects.
The folks at LOFTEK sent me a LED RGB Floodlight to review designed to be used for mood lighting in the yard or in a room needing a color effect. 16 color tones and 4 flash modes (Flash / Strobe / Fade / Smooth) provide colorful and bright illumination across wide area. With 6 brightness level you can adapt this light to almost any setting.
Designed to be used indoors/outdoors includes a remote control that allows you to control it, and even set a timer to have the light automatically shutoff. This LED RGB Floodlight would even be good for DJ’s trying to set the mood for any room. Very durable made of Aluminum die cast no cheap plastic pieces.
Priced at $66.99 you really cannot beat the price if your looking for a DIY project.
Wireless headphones make a great deal of sense for sports and fitness fans as there’s nothing more irritating than getting caught up in the cables and trashing the headphone jack. As a result, Bluetooth headphones are popular with these people, even before Apple took the decision to ditch the stereo socket. Aiming squarely at this market segment are the SyllableD700-2017 wireless sports earbuds. Let’s take a look.
The D700s are earbud-style headphones with an over-the-ear hook and a single cable running between the two sides. There’s an in-line remote close to the right side, which does all the usual stuff – on/off, pair, volume up/down, take call and so on.The remote has the microUSB charging port on one side too. Included in the box are additional ear buds for those with small or large earholes and flat ribbon USB charging cable which is far less prone to tangling. The connecting cable is available in three colours; yellow, blue and black, these are the black ones obviously!
The D700s support Bluetooth 4.1 and a range of profiles like A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HFP. There’s no need for the details but broadly these acronyms mean that you can play and control stereo music over the headphones. Getting paired with a smartphone or tablet is the usual simplicity; in this case hold down the middle (power) button on the remote to put it in pairing mode, wait for it to pop up as an available device in the Bluetooth config on the phone, tap on it and job done. Syllable might want to improve their quality control as the headphones advertise as “SYLLALBE D700”. Duh!
The build quality seems good and I had no problems over the few weeks I’ve been testing. For the most part, the D700s are covered in a soft-touch coating and the over-the-ear loops are a pliable plastic, though you can’t bend them to shape. The earbuds are mounted on a tube which goes up and down to allow for different ear canal to top of ear dimensions. On first inspection, it looks like the earbuds point upwards but once you put them D700s on, the angle of the loops on the ears tilts the earbuds forward. (The picture on the right has been slightly airbrushed). They can be a little fiddly to put on because the earbud can move and swivel on the tube but that’s balanced against a better fit for you ears.
In terms of comfort, I found the D700s a little bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes everything just seemed to line up and the fit was great, really great. Other times, I’d be fiddling away with one ear to get it comfy and sitting right. Regardless, the over ear loops ensured that they stayed in place during exercise. YMMV, as they say.
For audio quality, the D700s are impressive for the price point, though it’s important to ensure that there’s a good fit with the earbuds. If the buds are too small, the sound is thin and weak, but if you get a good seal, the bass is massively improved and overall the music is much richer and well defined. I tried a range of audio sources, across a number of musical genres and the D700s makes a good effort with all of them. Don’t forget that these headphones are to be used during exercise, so audiophile quality is not a prime requirement but they don’t disappoint for the price.
With respect to phone calls, the D700s were able to pick up speech well, even with the remote located round the back of my neck. Sometimes the remote’s microphone would get blocked by clothing and needed to be freed up for the caller to hear me. Generally not an issue while wearing a t-shirt or a vest, but something to remember if you’re in a hoodie.
The manufacturer says battery life should be around four to five hours and around an hour recharging. I wouldn’t disagree.
Overall, the Syllable D700-2017s sound good and stay on the ears, though they can be a little tricky to fit at times. At GB£13.99 on Amazon.co.uk they’re definitely worth considering for the gym.
Thanks to Syllable for providing the D700s for review.
On review here is Fitbit’s ChargeHR activity tracker, one of its most popular models which provides heart rate monitoring in addition to steps taken, calories burnt and eyes shut. Designed for “active fitness”, it’s aimed at those people who take control of their fitness level rather than simply walking 10,000 steps. That’s me then. On a good day. Let’s take a look.
You can watch the unboxing and setup video above, though what you don’t see is that I completely destroyed the box getting the tracker and accessories out because you’re supposed to open the bottom not the top. Doh! Fitbit, you need “Open other end” printed on the top. Inside the box is the Fitbit ChargeHR, a Bluetooth dongle, a charging cable and small instruction booklet that directs you to the Fitbit site for more information. The dongle is only required for syncing to a PC.
The ChargeHR is available in six colours; black, blue, teal, plum, tangerine and pink. As you’ll see from the pictures, I had the teal one, which was fine when I was exercising but I did feel a little self-conscious wearing it with a suit at work. Unlike the Alta and Flex range, there’s no switching round of bands, so buy a colour you’re comfortable with. The ChargeHR band comes in three sizes, small, large and extra large, though the XL size can only be bought through fitbit.com. Small is 13.7 cm–15.7 cm, large is 15.7 cm–19.3 cm and extra-large is19.3 cm–22.1 cm. Fitbit provide a handy sizing chart here. The ChargeHR has a proper watch-style buckle for the band, rather than the push through style of the Flex.
Getting started is easy. Charge the ChargeHR with the supplied cable, install the app on a smartphone or tablet, register if you aren’t already with Fitbit, follow the pairing instructions and job done. Now all you have to do is some exercise!
The ChargeHR is a extremely easy to use as there’s only one button which is situated on the left side of the unit. Pressing the button cycles through time, steps, heart rate, distance, calories, stories climbed and next alarm. For each statistics, there’s a little graphic followed by the number – footprints for steps, a heart for pulse and so on.
The main differentiator of the ChargeHR is the heart rate tracking. I don’t know much about the science but it appears to use a couple of greenish LEDs on the back of device to measure the pulse. The ChargeHR measures the pulse every second under normal circumstances, but when it detects exercise, it ups the data rate for real-time information so you can keep your pulse in the zone.
The charging port is visible on the back in the picture. Charging typically takes less than hour for a couple of days wear.
Clever as the ChargeHR is, it’s only once you start looking at the data generated that you really start to get benefit from the tracker. The Fitbit app can provide graphs and charts for most metrics. Here are a few showing steps, resting heart rate and sleep. I didn’t wear the ChargeHR every night, hence why there’s some missing data. Activity can be reviewed, giving heart rate zones – peak, cardio, fat burning – exercise duration and max heart rate. There’s lots of useful info.
If you’re using a PC rather than a smartphone or tablet, Fitbit provide a web-based portal that provides similar information and analysis. For the really serious fitness fans, $50 per annum gets Premium privileges and extra analysis (which I didn’t investigate).
The ChargeHR does vibrating alarms too which is very handy if you need to get up without your bedside alarm waking your significant other. The alarm is set via the app and then sync’d to the tracker. I like this, though it’s not exclusive to the ChargeHR.
As expected in this day and age, there’s a social element too. You can add friends who also have Fitbits (of whatever variety) and see a leaderboard of steps taken each week. You can also earn badges for steps taken per day and lifetime achievements – I’ve a Nile badge for 6,649 lifetime kilometres.
I’ve had the ChargeHR for a couple of weeks now and I’ve been wearing it as much as I can. Sometimes I have to wear my Fitbit Zip on my belt when a teal bracelet wouldn’t be appropriate. Fortunately the Fitbit app (at least on Android) allows cross-syncing, so if you do 1,000 steps on one device and 1,000 on another, both will show 2,000 after a sync (or two). I like that feature as it lets me wear the Fitbit that suits my day.
Overall, I feel Fitbit have slightly stolen my thunder here, as the ChargeHR is being phased out and replaced by the Charge 2, but this could be an opportunity to get an excellent tracker for less money. Although officially priced at a penny under GB£120, it’s widely available for £89.99, even in shops such as PC World. The Charge 2 is currently £129.99, so there’s an effective saving of £40.