Optoma ML1500 DLP Projector Review

Optoma LogoThe Optoma ML1500 DLP Projector is a stylish ultra mobile LED projector which pretty much does it all in a very neat little package with a good complement of ports, connections and fun tricks. Let’s take a look.

Optoma Front

Measuring just 27 x 17 x 4.5 cm and weighing only 1.4 kg, the ML1500 is very portable and comes with a neoprene carrying case. As you’ll see from the photos, the projector is attractively styled, with the ports on the back and a touchpad on the top. The touchpad can be used to operate the built-in menus to control the ML1500 and there is also a supplied remote control for when changes need to be made from afar. On the bottom, a third leg can be screwed in and out to adjust the angle, and a standard photo mount allows the projector to be hung from above. Finally, a lever on the side controls the focus.

Optoma ML1500 Rear

Round the back there is a plethora of connections, with composite video, HDMI and VGA connectors, 3.5mm jacks for audio and microUSB, USB and SD card slots. Connect up the ML1500 to a PC or laptop and it appears as an Optoma WXGA (1280×800) monitor and with suitable OS, you can do the usual tricks of either reproducing the current desktop or extending the desktop to the ML1500’s display. Locking onto the VGA signal took a second or two, but nothing out of the ordinary. The small size of the projector meant that I could keep it on my desk and if I needed to have an impromptu team meeting that needed something shown, I could quickly turn the ML1500 onto a nearby wall, rather than everyone huddle round a monitor.

Optoma ML1500 Remote ControlOn the fun side, the ML1500 makes a good partner to mini media streamers like the Roku Streaming Stick or Chromecast. The stick can be plugged into the ML1500’s HDMI sockets and power pulled from an adjacent USB socket. All set and good to watch Netflix or other streaming service with minimum of fuss.

The ML1500 does a few other tricks up its sleeve (or USB port as the case may be). First of all, the projector has a built-in media player and office document viewer that will show films, play music and display Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF files directly from either an SD card or USB memory stick. I didn’t deliberately try to break the viewer but the ML1500 managed to cope with all the Office documents that I threw at it. It’s relatively easy to navigate round the documents and zoom in or out with the remote control. The on-screen menus are easy to navigate with large friendly icons showing the way.

Playing movies is cool too, with the ML1500 handling mp4, avi and mov format files (though I didn’t confirm the codecs inside each). The presentation is good with the projector keeping up with the action and the picture is fine in unlit room – it doesn’t need to be darkened. Obviously you can have a pretty big screen if you want – I watched a couple of films and really got into the cinematic feel of things. Colours were good and sound is ok – it’s not hifi but you can connect up via a 3.5 mm jack if you want more oomph.

Optoma WiFi DongleNext on the list of clever things is the USB wifi dongle which plugs into the ML1500. Once connected to the “Optoma Display” wireless network, you can use an app on your smartphone or tablet to play presentations and display media. I used WiFi-Doc on Android and the app is available for iPhone and iPad too. It’s easy to use – select what you want to show and it’ll be shown by the ML1500. You can zoom in and out of photos and documents, and about a second later, the projector will update to show the change. Here’s the app showing a photo of the house that Mel Gibson used while filming Braveheart. The app wasn’t quite as good as the built-in player when it came showing office files as a couple of pdfs had missing images.WiFi-Doc App

A final nifty feature was auto-keystone correction, where the ML1500 automatically adjusts the projection to account for the angle of the projector, which means that the picture on the screen is always rectangular and not fatter at the top than the bottom.

One minor niggle is that adjusting the focus has to be done manually and it can’t be corrected using the remote control. Not a big deal in most circumstances but could be an issue if the projector was mounted high up.

Although I’m not a projector expert, I enjoyed putting the ML1500 through its paces. Its comprehensive ports and built-in media player make it a good choice for both business and pleasure, and for those on the move, the low weight and PC-free capabilities, are attractive. I think it’s priced about right too at under £700.

Thanks to Optoma for the review unit.

Roku Streaming Stick Review

This is Gonna Be FunRoku‘s streaming media boxes have been around since 2008, arguably taking the #2 spot behind the Apple TV. This is an impressive achievement considering the absence of a major brand behind the product line. Here in the UK, set-top boxes like Apple TV, Roku, and Google TV have a relatively low-profile: the BBC’s iPlayer catchup service is massively popular, but as the app is widely available on satellite decoders, cable boxes, games consoles and laptops, there is little demand for an additional streaming device. The latest generation of low cost, plug-in streamers from Roku and Google may well change this. Let’s take a look.

Roku Box

What I have here is the UK edition of Roku’s Streaming Stick, a thumb-sized streaming device that plugs directly into a TV’s HDMI port, bringing Roku’s wide range of content and 450+ channels to a British audience. We’re used to a high quality TV service from the likes of the BBC, so the content has to be there, and we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s get it out of the box first.

Roku in Box

The Streaming Stick is presented in Roku’s trademark purple with neat packaging that promotes “This is going to be fun”. In the box is the Streaming Stick itself, a remote control (including decent batteries) and the power supply, which is actually a USB charger, connecting to the Streaming Stick via microUSB.

Streaming Stick and Controller

The remote control is slightly different to the previous generation – there are no game buttons, motion controller or headphone jack, and it uses WiFi Direct rather than Bluetooth to communicate with the Streaming Stick. Admittedly of little consequence unless you are an existing Roku owner expecting those features.

Getting started is easy – plug the Stick into the TV’s HDMI port, power it up with the microUSB cable and put the batteries into the remote control. Switching over to the HDMI channel, the Roku Streaming Stick initially asks for the password to a local wifi network. Once connected to the wider internet, existing Roku owners can can login with their credentials or new owners can sign up for a user name and password. Apart from having to use the remote control rather than a keyboard to do the finger work, it’s painless.

Roku uses the metaphor of channels to deliver media and content. For the smartphone generation, these are more easily thought of as apps which mostly deliver video content. In addition to programmes, there are games, weather forecasts and picture viewers. From the hundreds of channels available, you add favourites to your account to build up your collection. Some channels / apps cost a few pounds, but the vast majority are free.

My Roku Channels

From a UK perspective most of the major players are on-board with apps for BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5 and Sky Store. ITV player is noticeable in its absence. There are apps too for Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Flickr and the Roku Media Player which does what it says, playing locally available pictures, music and video. There are lots of other apps and channels to choose from, categorised by type to help you find what you want.

Channel Categories

Many of the channels are US-centric and there’s a ton of faith-based programming, mostly Christian with a smaller number of other faiths. Local US TV stations are also present, which can be fun if you are going to be visiting an area on holiday or business.

US Local News on Roku

Of course, there are plenty of independent content producers as well. GNC is right at home on the Roku….

Geek News on Roku

To complement the content, there’s also an app for smartphones, which lets your device replace the remote control, both at a simple button pushing level and for more advanced features such as choosing new channels.

Roku App Remote Control Roku App

But the real trick is the “Play on Roku” feature which pushes content from your smartphone to the Roku, including music, photos and videos. All you do is select the content on your phone and, bang, it’s up on the big screen in glorious HD. It’s a great feature and a fantastic way to review photos and short videos on a larger screen, especially after a holiday. If you take a lots of photos with your smartphone, it’s almost worth getting a Roku for this feature alone.

One final thing…as I mentioned, the Roku Streaming Stick is powered by microUSB via a provided USB charger. I found that the Streaming Stick wasn’t terribly fussy about the power source and that you can easily run the Stick from other sources, such as a USB battery pack or even the TV itself, if equipped with a USB port. Could be handy to know if you are travelling or simply want a tidier entertainment unit.

MicroUSB Roku

Overall, the Roku Streaming Stick is a great little gadget that provides loads of extra content for UK viewers. It might be a more expensive at £50 than the Google Chromecast at £30, but there’s more content and the Roku has a remote control, which I think is a plus point. It’s handy too for a second TV that perhaps doesn’t have a satellite or cable connection, and can now use iPlayer or Netflix. It’s a neat, plug’n’play solution that is about as simple as it can be.

Thanks to Roku for the review unit.

Hulu Plus Now on Chromecast

hulu on Chromecast

huluplus on Chromecast

This morning, Hulu Plus updated their website to include Chromecast support. With an update of the App, you can now watch your hulu subscription on the big screen.

Chromecast is Google’s answer to over the top television. For $35, you can plug into your HDMI outlet and use your phone as the remote. With the introduction, you could only send Netflix movies, Google Play content or Youtube videos to the big screen. With the addition of Hulu plus, the Chromecast is starting to feel more useful.

Chromecast has a long way to go from say Roku - with over 750 channels to their arsenal. On the way are apps from Vimeo, Vevo, Twitch.tv and more. Also coming up is extended support for Netflix with iOS apps.

My Assessment of Chromecast

It does make things easier since I don’t have to look for a remote to call up a show. I did notice the quality – at 1080p, Chromecast projects darker on the TV screen. Roku and Apple TV are brighter and more vibrant.

Also, if you are using your phone for something else (like talking on the phone), switching to remote mode is tougher. Good thing others can control the screen with their smartphones…

 

Get Ready for HDMI 2.0

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The folks at HDMI Licensing leaked released what will be known as the HDMI 2.0 specification just prior to their official announcement at IFA. Actually, AVForums reader Vism found this in Google cache.

The new HDMI specification looks to be able to handle 4K displays and above. Panasonic – who hasn’t come out with a 4K TV – will be debuting their new line at IFA.

HDMI 1.4 (current version) only supports 4K content at 30 fps. HDMI 2.0 looks to allow 60 fps, which will be great for UHD movies and more.

Panasonic is keeping the wraps on their 4K WT600 TV until keynote time. One things for sure – HDMI 1 cables are going to get a lot cheaper now…

PhaseHD Runs HDMI for 100ft

PhaseHD Logo

HDMI is great interconnect technology but it’s really only designed for relatively short cable runs. What do you do if you want to send a 4K UltraHD picture 100ft? PhaseHD have the answer.

Canadian outfit phaseHD uses standard, albeit long, HDMI cables with smart adaptors on each end of the cable to transmit a clean signal at one end and boost the received signal at the other, while preserving the control signals needed for encrypted content. Obviously it’s more complicated than that and it’s definitely worth watching the video to understand how this technology differs from the video extenders that use cat 6 network cabling for long runs.

It’s not cheap either, with the expected price around $500-$600. Expect to see early adoption by event management companies and sports bars.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Don Baine, the Gadget Professor for the TechPodcast Network.

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Proof That All HDMI Cables Are Created Equal

Turns out that higher price doesn’t really equal higher quality with HDMI cables. They are all equally awesome.

An experiment with HDMI cables is being touted as showing definitive proof that expensive HDMI cables perform no better than cheaper competitors.

Posted to Expert Reviews, the study compared HDMI cables – from relatively cheap (just a few dollars) to painfully expensive (a couple hundred dollars). What sets this experiment apart is the thoroughness employed to make sure as many variables as possible were controlled – essentially creating a conclusion that it would be nearly impossible to refute.

Focusing on the output from the HDMI cables led author Tom Morgan used a PC to output a Blu-ray version of an open-source film called Sintel and recorded the output on capture card. That allowed him to look at raw, un-corrected frames of this film.

Utilizing identical screenshots (those on the PC and those on the capture card), he compared the before and after using programs that identify individual pixel variations, as well as documenting the “digital fingerprint” of the frame on each end of the HDMI cable.

The result?  “What’s clear from our tests is that we got no errors on any of the cables, and more expensive cables did not improve image quality at all. Given our results, we’d definitely buy cheaper HDMI-certified cables.”

In other words – the higher price on some HDMI cables appears to be hype. Unless you subscribe to the “I just got new sneakers and I can run faster and jump higher” school of thought, don’t waste your money on pricey HDMI cables when the cheap ones work just as well.

Photo Credit: HDMI Cable from Big Stock Photo

Panashiba AIO-101

AIO-101How many of you have a docking station for your iPhone and than a separate one for your iPad. I bet many of you are raising your hands. That is the trouble with a lot of iPad or iPhone docks they will dock one or the other, but not both.  Until the AIO-101 by Panashiba.  The AIO-101 by Panashiba allows you to dock and charge either the iPad or theiPhone/iPod Touch. It has an FM radio and an alarm clock. It is also Bluetooth capable which allows you to use it with any Bluetooth capable phone to make hands free calls. It also has a usb port and an SD card slot, On the back of the device there are three HDMI inputs, where you can connect any HDMI capable device including a blu ray player or a video camera just to name a few. There is also an HDMI output which you can use to connect to any HDTV. You can then either watch the video on the large screen TV or on your Ios device depending on your situation.

Panashiba hopes to have this device available in the US soon and will run around $165.00. It looks like a pretty nice device, with a lot of capabilities. I would love to see how well it is made and if it works as well as advertised.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine

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ProDock Brings Your Mobile Devices to the TV

ProDock is a new way of hooking up your mobile device to your TV.  Many smartphones and tablets these days have mini HDMI ports, but ProDock goes one better with a 6 foot cable that plugs into the USB port on your device allowing you to then connect a full-size HDMI cable to the other end of the dock.  With this added 6 feet of room you no longer have keep your phone uncomfortably close to your TV.  There are a few things required though.  First the device must have MHL built-in and the technology is fairly new, so only the latest Android smartphones currently have this.  According to their literature,

“MHL is a high definition video and audio interface standard designed for connecting mobile devices to HD TVs. Supports up to 1080p HD video, 60 fps and digital audio output, Dolby 7.1 support. Technology was established by the MHL™ Consortium and is supported by multiple handset vendors.”

The current list price for the ProDock streamer kit is $49.95 and is available now from the manufacturer at ibolt.co.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine.

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Sony Connects Up At CES

Sony LogoSony‘s CES focus this year is on electronics, content and network services combining to deliver high quality entertainment anytime and anywhere. Supported by a slew of product announcements, new connected devices range from TVs, Blu-ray players and A/V receivers through to tablets, smartphones and PCs and on to camcorders and mobile music players. Sony is combining these with online services for music, video and game delivery, creating a great user experience (as they say). TVs, PCs, smartphones and tablets are key to this experience as the four main devices used for entertainment.

Sony is committed to designing technologies for every aspect of consumer entertainment – in or out of the home, on the go, in the air, at work, at play, or wherever life takes you,” said Kazuo Hirai, Executive Deputy President, Sony Corporation. “When these products are combined with Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), which offers innovative services like Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited, as well as PlayStation Network, the user experience is truly unmatched and only made possible by a company like Sony.”

The Bravia TV line has been expanded in all three areas; entry level BX, step-up EX and flagship HX. Brightness and contrast levels have been increased and picture quality improved with Sony’s X-Reality and Motionflow video technologies. In particular the latter helps to reduce blur caused by rapid camera movements which is often a problem with LCD screens. Sony is sticking with the Google TV platform with a new network player and Blu-ray player featuring Google TV. Certain Bravia models will link seamlessly to these devices to provide Google TV features directly on the TV.

Sony Xperia ion smartphoneSony’s Vaio range of computers will continue to be updated with more entertainment feature and new designs that fit with consumers’ needs and increasing mobility. At CES, Sony will be demonstrating new technologies and prototypes for a range of technologies including glasses-free 3D.

In the smartphone space, the Xperia brand has done reasonably well, but increasing the smartphone share in North America is now one of Sony’s highest priorities. Sony Ericsson will be subsumed into Sony Mobile Communications and all new phones will carry Sony branding. The latest addition to the Xperia line-up is the Xperia ion, Sony’s first LTE smartphone coming with an HD 720p display and aluminium body. Also new is the Xperia S which comes with 3D image capture.

Sony Bloggie LiveOn the imaging front, no less than 13 new Handycam camcorders are being unveiled. A new image stabilisation system called Balanced Optical Steady Shot has been developed that controls the complete optical path from lens to sensor as a single floating unit. This reduces handshake blur by up to 13 times compared to the previous models. There’s a new camcorder model with a built-in video projector that has improved brightness and enhanced audio. The trusty Bloggie range now has a “Live” model which will live stream HD video over a Wi-Fi connection and there’s an unboxing over at sister channel TPN.tv. Of course, Sony has a bunch of new Cybershot digital still cameras.

Z Series Audio MP3 PlayerFinally, it wouldn’t be CES if Sony didn’t announce a Walkman or two. The new Z series of MP3 players comes with an application interface and connectivity to both Sony’s Music Unlimited and the Android Market. Content can be played from Z series devices either wirelessly using DLNA or via HDMI to Bravia TVs. To further improve the audio experience, no less than eleven new Balanced Armature earbud-style headphones are now available as well.

That’s it – a quick overview of the products on show at CES by Sony and they all look like fun.

GNC #704 New Media Models

I talk about different podcast models and why there is room for multiple flavors in the space. I also share with you some personal info that I hope will help some of you that listen to the show. Lots of tech as usual!

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Credits: Jack Ellis – Executive Producer