Category Archives: review

Fix Rubbish TV Sound with the Roku Streambar



The new Streambar is the latest addition to Roku‘s range of media streamers in the UK. Unlike the other devices in the range, Express, Premiere and Streaming Stick+, which simply stream channels and programmes to the TV, the Streambar looks to address the problem of poor sound from flatscreen TVs by combining a Roku streamer with a compact soundbar. Is this the best of both worlds or a Jack of all trades? Let’s take a look…and a listen.

While the transition from bulky CRTs to LCD flat screens led to 4K and HDR, it didn’t help audio presentation at all. Thinness and narrow bezels aren’t friends to speakers and sound quality suffered. While A/V setups have been popular, they’re typically expensive and require wires all around the room to speakers in the corners. As an alternative, soundbars have become popular in the last few years, providing significant audio improvement without all the cables.

The Roku Streambar isn’t as long as some of the soundbars on the market, measuring around 35.6 cm wide, 6.1 cm high and 10.7 cm deep, and at this size, it fits neatly in front or below the TV. Inside the Streambar are four 1.9″ speakers, two facing forwards and two to the left and the right, providing much-improved audio. There’s a discreet LED just above the Roku logo that’s white in use and red when in standby.

Round the back of the Streambar, there are connections for power, digital audio (S/PDIF), HDMI and a USB port, along with a reset button. If the Streambar needs to be wall-mounted, there are a pair of screw sockets.

The Streambar follows Roku’s long tradition of including everything in the box: there’s no need to nip out for batteries at the last minute. Inside there’s the Streambar, voice IR remote control with AAA batteries, HDMI cable, digital optical cable, power supply (with both UK and European plugs).

Continuing in tradition, the Streambar follows the usual pattern of Roku setup with a couple of tweaks to accommodate the audio requirements. Simplistically, the Roku needs connected to the wifi (11ac – there’s no ethernet) and you need to sign up or sign in.

The main difference between an ordinary Roku media streamer and the Streambar is the sound and the clever trick here is that the Streambar can play audio from any device connected to the TV, whether Freeview, SkyQ or a Bluray player. The Streambar takes advantage of HDMI ARC – Audio Return Channel – which carries the sound signal to the device. It’s available on most new-ish TVs and it’s usually HDMI 1.

If there’s no HDMI ARC, the alternative is to use digital audio and that’s what I had to do with my TV. I have an HD Samsung TV that’s well over ten years old and there’s no HDMI ARC, so it was a digital connection for me. The Roku setup process runs through these different options and shows the necessary steps. It really only takes a few minutes to get the setup done.

Once configured, the Streambar is very much the Roku we all know and love, supporting 4K and HDR. The Roku uses the idea of channels which are kind of like apps, and all the usual UK suspects are available: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4, My5. In addition, there’s all the subscription channels you can afford: Netflix, Prime Video, NowTV, Apple TV, Disney+, BritBox, Spotify. For your country’s regional variations, check www.roku.com/channelchecker to see what’s available.

Existing Roku users will have all their channels auto-loaded during the Streambar setup and new users can quickly add their favourites by browsing categories or searching for particular apps/channels.

I’m not going to review the Roku user interface in detail as it’s well covered elsewhere (check out my Roku reviews on YouTube) other than to say that the Roku is my favourite media streamer. The UI is simple, straightforward and isn’t trying to sell something all the time (I’m looking at you, Amazon Fire Stick). It seems like I’m not the only one either: over the past five years, Roku’s been the market leader in streaming media players, holding about a third of the market in the US.

There are a few customisations for the Streambar which don’t appear in the other Roku models and as you’d expect, they’re to do with sound. For starters, and most obviously given the tile on the screen, there’s a special Bluetooth app for connecting other devices to the Streambar in order to take advantage of the better speaker.

In addition, there are settings to adjust the audio including the bass, volume and, one of my personal favourites, speech clarity, which makes a reasonable attempt to promote speech over effects.

Prior to installation, my biggest concern about the Streambar was that I was going to have to use multiple remotes to control the volume – that’s the problem I currently have with my Yamaha AV amp. Fortunately, this was completely unfounded and even though my Samsung TV is over ten years old, the TV and Streambar played well together, outputting all sound to the Streambar, regardless of whether the sound signal came from Sky, Freeview or the Bluray player. Any remote could be used to control the volume.

One problem that my wife did encounter was that sometimes the Roku Streambar would go to sleep and wouldn’t rise from its slumber when the TV was turned back on. Using the Roku remote volume buttons normally solved the problem and woke it up but I later discovered that changing the Power setting to Fast Start resolved the issue as well.

As this is a soundbar, let’s focus on the Streambar’s audio qualities. Technically, it supports Dolby Audio but is the sound better than the TV’s? Yes, by a long way. It’s much richer, fuller and deeper with good clarity. TV soundtracks sound much better and more natural, and the effects in films become more emphatic and engaging. I also found it noticeable playing video games on my Nintendo Switch, and there’s a particular jingle on BBC’s Newsround which sounds terrible on my kitchen TV which is totally transformed by the Roku Streambar. Even better, it’s actually possible to listen to Spotify through the Streambar without cringing.

As the Roku Streambar is only 35 cm wide, the stereo separation is fairly limited, but apart from that the Roku Streambar performs well for the money. For sure, it doesn’t sound as impressive as a Dolby 5.1 Surround system, but then the Streambar costs a quarter of the price and doesn’t need cables everywhere. Regardless it’s still a significant improvement over a standard TV.

Before wrapping up the review, an honourable mention needs to go to the inclusion of a USB port on the Streambar. Plug in a memory stick or external hard drive and local media can be played directly, which is great for those with collections of ripped DVDs or home videos. This is the only model in the UK range to offer this, though all models can play from NAS units. And let’s not forget the complementary Roku app which will show smartphone photos and videos on the TV screen.

Having used the Roku for a couple of weeks, I think it’s a worthy upgrade for a not-very-smart flatscreen TV such as my ancient Samsung. You get a top-end Roku media streamer along with a soundbar, just as it says on the box. The RRP of the Roku Streambar is GB£129.99 but there’s currently a Black Friday offer on bringing the price down to £99.99 (offer ends 16/12/20). At either price, it’s a good deal. Available from all good stores.

There’s more in the video below.

The Roku Streambar was provided for review by Roku.


Fenix HM50R Multipurpose LED Headlamp Review



The Fenix HM50R Multipurpose LED Headlamp lives up to the reputation of the flashlights that Fenix produces. This is by far the brightest headlamp I have ever used with 4 different brightness settings. With outputs ranging from 4 to 500 lumens. This rechargeable headlamp can use two different types of batteries with the Li-ion being preferred.

When I was in the Navy and working on airplanes it seemed I was going through a headlamp every six months for a variety of reasons corrosion, switches not working the list is endless. But the build quality of the Fenix HM50R Multipurpose LED Headlamp is really going to blow you away from its stainless steel body, waterproof recharging port, and the waterproof battery enclosure ensures that this will be the last headlamp you ever buy.  My brother in law got his hands on it last week and he was like where did you get this. Well as I told him you can pick one up from Fenix-Store.com today for $59.95


USB-C Wireless Power Bank Review



The Eggtronic USB-C Wireless Power Bank Power Bar is a very innovative power brick. That allows you wirelessly charge your iPhone your Apple Watch and your AirPods at the same time. But that is not all, you can charge all your Apple devices to include your MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.   Delivering unparalleled power 7.5 watts to your iPhone, 5 watts to your Apple Watch, and 30W USB-C to your Macbook or any device that has a USB-C device.

The image above paints a powerful charging solution with a 10,000 maH battery that will deliver multiple charges to your mobile phone or Apple watch.  I have been using this wireless power bar here in my office in the studio area where it is not convenient to have charging cables.

Let’s face it perfect for travel and of course act as a backup power supply for your MacBook or any other USB-C devices you may need to charge. Priced at $149.99 never before has a power bank delivered more options in a single package.


Kanex – Premium Mouse Pad with Wireless Charging Review



The Kanex Mouse Pad with Wireless Charging is an innovative way to have a premium mouse pad with wireless charging built-in. This is really a product that describes itself if you want a clean desk this is an additional step. On my desk I have charge cables stretched around. But with the Mouse Pad having the wireless charge built-in you can keep your mobile phone close at hand while at the same time being able to wirelessly charge the phone.

Available in 4 colors and stylish enough to be placed anyplace on your desk. Priced at $49.95. Compatible with: iPhone models iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 11, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR, iPhoneX, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8. AirPods Models, AirPods Pro, AirPods with Wireless Charging Case (2nd generation), Wireless Charging Case (2nd generation), Wireless Charging Case for AirPods.


VanTop Mirror Mounted Dash Camera Review




The VanTop Mirror Mounted Dash Camera Discovery H609 is by far the most advanced dash camera I have ever reviewed. They have simply knocked the ball out of the ballpark and it’s only $59.99. When they sent the review unit over I did not even look at the price. After testing the unit and playing with it for a few days I became concerned that the unit would be outside the price range for most folks. When I went and looked up the price I was shocked.

The only downside is some of you will not want to place this over the top of your current rearview mirror.  But if you do your mirror will now be able to act as a reverse camera, touch screen playback with very simple installation. While you will need to plan out the routing of rear camera wiring they provide a tool to help you route your wires so the install is clean.

Dashcams are really divided into a couple of categories of vision quality day and night clarity and any features such as G-Shock. The VanTop Mirror Mounted Dash Camera really exceeds in all categories.  Here is a quick list of specifications.

The install kit is complete with everything that you will need to install the forward and rearview camera. To get the rearview camera to operate this is a little more complicated and you will want someone that is handy with wiring to install that function but the instruction provided by VanTop provides all the information you will need. Priced at $59.99 if you only use the front camera it’s still an amazing value.


Babyface Pro FS Review



The Babyface Pro FS is one of the most powerful audio recording tools that I have seen in a long time. The Babyface Pro FS is a professional 24-Channel, USB bus-powered audio interface with pristine sound quality that can be used in the studio or throw it in a backpack and head out to do a remote interview. Podcasters should take note that this device does everything and more that you will need with the ability to bring in a guest on any online platform that you use like Skype or Zoom while controlling all levels of all parties and multi-track recording with the simple to use control interface.

While you have the option in using the included software which I recommend to set up and save your configuration you are able to configure and control nearly all inputs through the device itself. It will interface directly with your computer PC or Mac through the included USB cable and or you can connect it directly to your iPad and control it TotalMix FX for iPad™ then record directly on your iPad although using it with your iPad you will need an external power supply for the interface. External power is not needed when you are connected to your laptop.

The interface setup software is provided is called RME TotalMix FX is at first was a little intimidating but once you take a few minutes with the software to learn inputs, output the power to control what goes where is pretty awesome. The team at RME has some great beginner to advanced videos on YouTube that really show the power of this device. While a lot of their focus on this device is for musicians. The form factor and the simple fact that you can route in a Skype or Zoom call and record separate tracks on your favorite recording software is what I really love. Portability here is key and it will go with you without having to check luggage.

I was able to record multi-tracks with Adobe Audition and Himalaya very easily with two popular recording packages being used by podcasters today. With a skype call in progress all the while being able to ride the audio levels for two people on the mic in the studio.

A great general overview of the BabyFace Pro FS is below and as I said the team at RME has created a whole series of training videos. I also have a pre-set I can share with anyone that picks up one of these units to get you started fast with 2 hosts and an external guest coming in on Zoom or Skype.  While priced at $899 for me the simple fact that I do not need a pelican case to carry it around is awesome. They do provide a hard-case for the unit but again mobility is the key here.


OnePlus 8 Hands-On Review



True to form, OnePlus has announced its spring line up of smartphones, the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 8 Pro. Fortunately, I was sent a pair of review handsets and in this article, I’ll be going over the 8. While rumours still abound about a third lower level phone, the 8 remains the entry point into OnePlus’ range. I think it will be very popular as it shares many of the characteristics of its big brother but at a lower price. Let’s take a look…but first a word of warning. It’s really hard to write two completely different reviews for two very similar phones, so I’m going to admit right up front that some of the paragraphs are completely lifted from the review of the 8 Pro only with the detail changed for the 8. Sorry.

The 8 comes in rectangular box, bathed in the usual OnePlus red. Inside the box, the phone comes initially clothed in a slightly opaque covering. Once unwrapped, the frosted glass Glacial Green on the back becomes apparent. It’s lovely, both to look at and hold. There’s a slight matte texture to the rear glass so it’s not super slippy to hold (unlike my 6T), but you’re going need a case, and OnePlus kindly includes a transparent bumper case in the box too. In terms of colours, the Pro will offer two colour options in the UK. Onyx Black which will have 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage, and Glacial Green with 12 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. A third colour, Interstellar Glow, will not available in the UK. I know the rear looks blue in the photos but that’s the way the back reflects light under different conditions.

Physically, the phone is 160.2 x 72.9 x 8.0 mm and weighs in at 180 g, so it’s slightly shorter and lighter than the 8 Pro, but these dimensions are very much in-line with previous generations of the phone, like the 6T. However, it’s a bigger screen for the same body size. Returning to the physical characteristics, it follows a similar layout to most OnePlus phones. USB-C 3.1 port on the bottom, volume controls on the left, power button on the right, alert slider on the right above power, cameras on the back. The SIM tray is at the bottom next to the USB port and supports two SIMS that are inserted back-to-back. A SIM ejection tool is included. There’s no audio socket and there hasn’t been for a couple of generations.

For the screen, the 8 has a lovely 90 Hz “fluid display”. It’s very fast, it’s clear and the colours look great. With a resolution of 2400 x 1080 pixels and a screen size of 6.34″/6.55″, it comes out as 402 ppi. I can’t see the dots unless I look really close. The screen has rounded edges, hence the two measurements for size. It’s an AMOLED screen with 3D Corning Gorilla Glass on top keeping it safe. Like the 8 Pro, the screen has the curved edges, but I think the curves are sharper on the 8, making it more like a traditional flat screen. There’s an in-display fingerprint sensor which is impressively fast – it’s noticeably quicker than the one on my 6T.

Under the hood, and just like the 8 Pro, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 CPU, paired with an Adreno 650 GPU. The RAM is LPDDR4 and storage is courtesy of UFS 3.0 at either 128 GB or 256 GB. 5G is provided by the X55 chipset and WiFi 6 is supported. Performance-wise, after three runs GeekBench 5 gave average scores of 915 single-core and 3385 multi-core which comfortably beat last year’s 7T. Bizarrely, the 8’s GeekBench 5 score actually beats the 8 Pro.  I don’t know why.

Unlike the 7 and 7T, the 8 doesn’t have a teardrop camera and instead has a discreet hole-punch 16 MP camera in the top left of the screen. Round the back, the 8 has three other cameras; a 2 MP macro camera, a 16 MP ultrawide with a 116 degree field of view and a 48 MP main camera. The front camera and main camera all use Sony sensors. The cameras do stick out the back by a couple of millimetres, so a case of some kind is going to be essential to avoid scratching. The camera app itself has been improved to take advantage of the cameras automatically and will sometimes suggest that a photo would be better taken in a different mode. If you want bokeh, the portrait mode does a good job blurring the background. The macro camera’s good fun and you can play with your children to capture some of those ever-popular mini-beasts. I was really impressed by the level of magnification that was possible with the 48 MP camera and the colours are good and true to life.

The two photos below were taken from the same spot at nearly the same time. The upper one is the ultrawide and middle one is the main camera without any magnification, and the lower one is the main camera with 2x magnification.

Unlike the 8 Pro, there’s no funky colour filter camera, but there are still some effects available within the app. Here’s my shed in “black and white”. Astute readers will notice that it’s been painted (cf 8 Pro review).

Inside the phone is a 4500 mAh battery which is only 10 mAh smaller than the 8 Pro. Hmm, I think there might be a little shenanigans there to make sure that the top-end phone has the bigger battery. In what I think of as ordinary use, I got the best part of two days out of a charge, but yes, game playing is still energy expensive. For charging, OnePlus’ Warp Charge 30T delivers 30W of power and will charge the 8 from 1% to 50% in 22 minutes – I’ve actually tested this and it’s true. A Warp Charge 30 charger and cable come in the box with the 8, so there’s nothing extra to buy.

The other new feature relates to battery longevity. The perceived wisdom is that keeping lithium-ion batteries at 100% is not optimal and that overtime the capacity of the battery degrades. The 8 now has a feature (undoubtedly powered by AI) where the phone uses behaviour patterns to predict when 100% charge is needed and to charge to hit the target. For example, if you plug the 8 in at night just before going to bed, it won’t start charging until say, 0530, knowing that you usually grab the phone while having breakfast at 0700.

Based on Android 10, OxygenOS has seen a few improvements here and there but retains its closeness to stock Android that is very much part of its appeal. The most obvious of these is dynamic backgrounds which swirl and morph when the phone is turned on or you swipe between launcher pages. It’s really fun. For lovers of dark modes, OnePlus has developed a new mode theme from the ground up. I’m not generally a dark mode user, but what I did see during testing looked good: I could be a convert.

Games play really well on the 8. I tried out Call of Duty, X-Plane and Galaxy on Fire for starters and they’re all great. The 8 includes “gaming mode” and “fnatic mode” which lets you tailor the gaming experience by devoting resources and blocking notifications when you’re in the zone, as it were. It’s a super smooth experience.

The only downside I’ve discovered to the 8 is with the pre-installed screen protector. First, it’s not as well installed as it is on the 8 Pro. On the Pro, I had to look really hard to find the edges of the screen protector; it’s just about seamless and there’s no cut-out for the camera. Whereas on the 8, it’s quite obvious, particularly round the hole-punch camera. And secondly, the screen protector on the 8 seems to be a perfect dust magnet! I didn’t have this problem with the 8 Pro and it’s very annoying.

Pricing-wise…

OnePlus 8
8 GB / 128 GB – US$699 / GB£599
12 GB / 256 GB – US$799 / GB£699
The OnePlus 8 series will be available SIM-free from OnePlus.com, John Lewis and Amazon from 0900 on 21 April, with all John Lewis purchases also coming with Bullets Wireless 2 headphones while stock lasts.

Overall, this is a seriously good phone at a good price and very much continues the progression of the standard OnePlus phones. It’s a premium-feeling phone, it looks fabulous, there’s no skimping on the performance and everything else like the screen and the cameras are within spitting distance of the 8 Pro. You get 5G, WiFi 6, fast charging and OxygenOS. Frankly, if it was my money and the choice was between an 8 at £599 and an 8 Pro at £799, I think I’d buy the 8 and keep the £200 change.

Thanks to OnePlus for supplying the 8 for review.