ART Precision Phono Preamp for Turntables Review

One of the things we've been doing during Covid is listening to more vinyl. It's been nice to revisit the analog realm of the spinning discs. Of course, it was also a good time to check out some phono preamps. We created a nice compact setup with our vintage Pioneer turntable, Yamaha studio monitors and an ART Precision Phono Preamp. We pick it up for $65 and think it provides excellent value. It's small, easy to connect, nicely labeled and sounds great.

The ART includes settings for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. It has a switchable low-cut filter and includes standard photo line input and output jacks. It's a very small unit so the power supply is external. On the front there's a gain control, clipping indicator and really bright power light. Really. They could make this 1/10 the brightness and that would be fine. ART should have a dimming capability because if you want to fall asleep to some vinyl this light is going to keep you up. Now, if you prefer to have a nighlight this offers extra value. Depends how you look at it but yes we had to put a cloth over that light at night. It's distracting. <br<
Other than that, this is a great little preamp. The sound quality clean and transparent with plenty of ouuput. We were able to drive our Yamaha studio monitors to very high output level no problem. For a simple, clean and very good sounding setup the ART Precision Phono Preamp is an excellent value.

Learn more and get all the specs here.


Bose QuietComfort 35 II Noise Canceling Headphones Review

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II noise canceling headphones are comfortable, sound great and provide very good noise canceling capabilities. We like them especially for air travel and tested them on a 4 hour flight for comfort.

The QC 35 II headphones can be connected directly with the included 3.5mm cord or via Bluetooth. Bose includes a short cord perfect for connecting to in-flight entertainment systems or portable electronics. Bluetooth pairing is fast and seamless. The QC 35 II headphones found and connected instantly to our Samsung S10E. We listened to Spotify for hours and the battery life was outstanding for these headphones. We never were caught needing a charge with all day use.

Bose products always sound good. They've been at this a long time and the QuietComfort 35 II is no exception. These headphones are very comfortable with soft ear cups and just enough padding around the headband. They look and feel substantial without being heavy and can be worn comfortably for extended periods of time. We really like the silver color and it's easier to see the switched and controls.  Bose also includes a nice little carrying case with a pocket for the USB and 3.5mm cord that's handy.

Noise canceling is very good. Although for extended periods of time we find we need a break to baseline our environment. White noise is the easiest to deal. So once we're at 35,000 feet it's quiet bliss. During takeoff or other times where there are random loud burst of acoustic energy it can be unnerving when a blast of sound is not attenuated and jolts you back to reality and you're reminded just how loud your surroundings are. This is one of the reasons we often prefer our studio monitors such as the Sony MDR-7506. The closed design helps seal out some noise while not going completely under water which is the sensation we sometimes get from the Bose noise canceling headphones.

Bose has an app for iPhone and Android users and these headphones are ready for interacting with Google and Alexa. The built in microphone works great. Everyone we talked to thought we were speaking directly into the phone and not on wireless at all. So these are great headphones for taking walking meetings. It's a bit overkill obviously and we got similar results with Skull Candy cans we reviewed recently. However, for the premium experience it's really hard to beat QuietComfort 35 IIs.

Learn more and check out the specs at Bose


Logitech Harmony 650 Remote Review

The Logitech Harmony 650 Universal remote is super easy to program and works great but is a bit underwhelming ergonomically. Ironically, the remote resembles a unit that Comcast issues with its set top box but doesn't feel as good in the hand to operate. There's too many small buttons which makes it difficult to memorize favorites based on feel. That's disappointing for a $79 retail product.

The Logitech 650 Remote could not be any easier to setup. Download the software, enter the model numbers of the devices you want to control, customize the buttons to your liking and hit the synch button. Done.  Our only complaint here is Logitech's user survey kept popping up. Once would be okay. Every time we run the app is obnoxious.

In use the Harmony 650 works really well. It has multiple one touch buttons near the top of the remote that trigger typical TV activities and of course all of these can be customized to have all your devices do any sort of electronic dance you want. Very easy, very cool.

One of the most important features is the ability to control smart TVs such as Samsung and others. Essentially, these type of smart viewing devices offer deeper menus and the access to online services such as Pandora, Netflix, Hulu and also any personal NAS services you may have in the house. Again, the Harmony 650 worked without any hiccups.

The Harmony 650 retails for $79. We think the software and ease of programming help to justify the cost but would like to see better physical buttons and overall feel in the hand.

Visit Logitech for more information and to check out all the features. 

Bose SoundLink II Mobile Bluetooth Speaker Review

The Bose SoundLink II mobile Bluetooth speaker sounds very good, is extremely easy to use and feels substantial with quality buttons. We tested the unit with the black finish and dark nylon gray cover. It's an elegant design that is rugged enough to pack in a suitcase for trips.

We listened to a variety of music using Bluetooth and plugging directly into the AUX jack on the SoundLink II. The wireless performance is acceptable but impacts the fidelity of the signal. However, for convenience and background music it's a very good option. The best results of course are with the direction connection using the AUX jack.

The overall sound quality is good but a little muddy or what some might call a little boomy. We'd like a little more high end. However, for a speaker of this size the overall output and dynamic range is impressive. The Bose SoundLink II performs best when allowed some head room and not pushed too hard.

Bose claims the SoundLink II will run for about 8 hours with the built in rechargeable battery. We did most of our tests indoors so we tended to leave it plugged in. However, eight hours is plenty to make us feel comfortable about using it without an outlet nearby.

The nylon gray cover also serves as the kick stand for the SoundLink II. Simply pull it away from the front speaker and fold it under the unit and it supports itself perfectly. Very cool way to protect the front transducers and a allow a seamless transition to make the unit upright.

Bose tends to make great products. The company has an incredible innovation team and generally releases products that will be successful or kills them very late in the development process. The SoundLink II is an excellent choice for a portable powered Bluetooth speaker and we expect the build quality and Audi like buttons will provide many years of service.

Visit Bose for more informationa and to get all the specs on the SoundLink II.

Sanyo eneloop Rechargeable AA Batteries Review

Sanyo eneloop AA rechargeable batteries are good a place to start when investing in rechargeable batteries. We were very impressed with the performance of these batteries over an extended period of time using them in wireless mice, Wii remotes, RC toys, radios and misc portable devices.

Sanyo's latest eneloop technology allows the batteries to be recharged up to 1500 times and has improved the self discharge characteristics so the batteries have increased storage life, up to 3 years at 75%. We tend to use all of our rechargeable batteries simultaneously but this improved shelf offers more peace of mind in scenarios where real time swapping of batteries might be necessary such as working remotely or traveling.

The 2000mAh Ni-MH pre-charged batteries are also designed to work in extreme temperatures down to -4 F and Sanyo has worked to eliminate the memory effect so batteries can be recharged when fully or partially drained. We didn't notice any memory effect on our use and generally always filled up our charger with 4 batteries whether they needed charging or not.

The white casing and logo of the eneloop batteries help to make them stand out so they don't get thrown away accidentally.

Battery technology still has a long way to go but the Sanyo eneloop series offer good enough performance to warrant upgrading from disposable batteries.

Visit Panasonic / Sanyo to find out more about the eneloop brand and battery technology.

iPad mini Versus Kindle Fire HD

The Kindle Fire HD is an appealing product and a great choice if you consider it a media consumption device first and full featured portable computing device second. If you’re looking for a full featured portable computing device first and media device second it’s worth paying the premium for the iPad mini if it’s in your budget.

The Kindle Fire HD is great for kids and has additional features that aren’t available as part of the app for the iOS. So it’s better than just downloading the app and running it on your iOS device. Amazon has created a compelling full-featured device, although, based on our recent Southwest flight we anticipate the primary uses will be reading books and playing games, and not necessarily in that order. Amazon Prime customers benefit from a library of content that can be “loaned out” or viewed without an additional charge.

Amazon still has a long way to go on it’s design. The front facing camera resembles the button at the bottom of an iPad. Everyone we showed the device to repeatedly pressed the camera lens as if it was a button. And once they figured out it was the camera couldn't understand why it wasn't on the other side of the device. The on/off and volume buttons on top of the device could be improved to make them easier to use as well. Again, for the price the Kindle Fire HD is hard to beat but don’t expect the elegant design of the iPad mini.

The iPad mini is a beautiful device. This is what Apple does better than any company on the planet. We’re all used to the way iOS devices work. So whether you pick up an iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPod…whatever, it works the way you expect it to. Plus all apps are thoroughly vetted and best of breed.

You can read countless reviews comparing the specs of the iPad mini, Kindle Fire HD and Barnes and Noble Nook for that matter. There are differences in the display technology, processors, expandable memory…etc., but we consider most of these differences negligible in real world use. What the Kindle Fire HD needs is two cameras.

We’ve yet to see anybody in our testing community complain about screen resolution, memory or processor speed. What they complain about is, “How do I take pictures on the Kindle Fire” or “where is the app that let’s me do x or y”. With the digital convergence of all our mobile computing devices we’ve come to expect full functionality from all our devices no matter the price point.

So if you want a full-featured computing device with the best design pay up for the iPad mini. If games, books, other entertainment are the primary uses and budget is a concern the Kindle Fire HD is a great option. The content perks that come with an Amazon Prime membership also gives the Kindle Fire HD an edge as a consumption device.

The Roku 2 XS Review

The Roku 2 XS is a great gift for anyone with a high speed Internet connection that wants to get into streaming movies, TV shows and other content but may not be the most technically savvy person in the world. For example, if you have an Amazon Prime account but aren’t quite sure how to access all that content you should be looking at Roku.

The box is small, consumes very little power and cleverly designed with Ethernet, HDMI and analog connections so it works with just about any TV. And the microSD slot allows you to expand the memory of the device very inexpensively. The Roku lineup ranges from $40-$100 with the XS offering support for games such as Angry Birds.

Roku has to keep evolving because “Smart TVs” from Samsung and other leading consumer electronics companies are already offering similar capabilities on HDTVs. The most common bundled services tend to Netflix, Pandora, HULU and other well known services. However, on the Samsung TV we tested Amazon Prime content was not an option. Also, steaming services and apps built into TVs tend to be clunky even by leading manufacturers such as Samsung. We should see significant progress on this front at CES 2013.

So for the wannabe streamers in your life the Roku 2 XS is one of the best options whether or not their TV has built in streaming or not. It’s extremely simple to use and has one of the most complete lineup of services available on any device. Roku has also done a good job making the design fun and friendly.

Visit Rolu for all the specs and current lineup of services availalbe on the Roku 2 XS


Fuji XP50 Waterproof Camera Review

The Fuji XP50 waterproof camera is an affordable option that takes pretty good photos both in and out of the water. The camera provides a decent overall value in the $150-$175 price range. It comes in a variety of fun colors, we love the green and orange,  and is very easy to us. However, we were disappointed by the durability of the camera.

We recently tested the Fuji XP50 in Maui while snorkeling in the ocean and relaxing in the pool. Basically anytime we went in the water the XP50 was put to use. In general we found the camera easy to use with fast start up times and one button video access.  The battery generally lasted a full day with regular use.  One design flaw is it's possible to insert the battery incorrectly into the camera and shut the protective door.  It's an easy mistake to make even with the color coded battery.

Picture quality is just okay for a camera approaching $200. The gallery below includes a couple of shots from the snorkeling trip that should give you an idea of the quality you can expect from the XP50 underwater with good visibility at about 11am. The camera takes decent pictures on land as well. The image tends to be a little soft but reasonable for a ruggedized camera in this price range.

Our main concern with the Fuji XP50 is durability. We suspect that anyone that buys this camera will expect to use it quite a bit in whatever body of water happens to be nearby.  What you sacrifice in picture quality you would expect to make up in versatiliy.  We suspect those with pools and fresh water lakes may have a better experience than we did in the Pacific.

After just 1 week of use, the gasket sealed door on the XP50 used to protect the SD card and battery from water would no longer open properly.  It had to be forced open.  We found this disappointing for a product that bills itself as waterproof.  We rinsed the camera with fresh water everyday in an effort to minimize the effects of the salt water.

Still, at this price the XP50 is enticing and if you’re looking for a ruggedized camera for casual water use it may hold up better than our ocean experience. The best bet would be to buy it from a retailer with a solid return policy so you can test it for yourself. Costco would be a good choice and of this writing offers this product as a special bundle for $159 that includes a nice package of accessories to sweeten the deal.

Visit Fujifilm Global for more information and all the specs on its lineup of waterproof cameras.

Sonos Play:3 Review

The Sonos Play:3 sounds great for background music but is slightly underpowered and lacks midrange definition.  In can fill a space with sound but we were underwhelmed by the lack of punch. If you’re looking to “blow the roof off” as Sonos suggests in the product description you’ll need two of these units configured as a stereo pair.

However, the Sonos Play:3 is far more than just a speaker.  It's also an amp  and wireless receiver that allows you to forgive some of it's sonic shortcomings. When combined with a $49 Sonos Bridge and Android smartphone, the Sonos Play:3 is the quickest and easiest way to get up and running with a Sonos wireless audio system and that’s reason enough to love it. 

We installed the Play:3 about 40 feet away from the Sonos Bridge on a back patio in Arizona.  The Play:3 includes one mounting hole for a vertical orientation.  We installed it horizontally near the corner of a covered patio which reinforced the bass response. The Play:3 did a pretty good job of filling the space with sound.  It's perfect at lower volume levels but not enough oomph for a pool party. It also tolerated the 110 degree heat in the shade just fine even though its official operating temp is limited to 104.

The Sonos software allows you to access all your music services and the music stored locally on your PC. The services we used the most are Pandora, Spotify and Mog. Sonos had no problem accessing our Pandora account but wouldn’t play nice with Spotify or Mog. There’s not much troubleshooting you can do besides enter the username and password. So for this review it just didn’t work.

Luckily Pandora and Sonos are pretty much a perfect combination. Using the Sonos Android app on an HTC Thunderbolt is awesome. We can’t imagine Sonos will be selling too many controllers anymore. All you need is a good size smart phone and you can have endless fun playing with your music library.

The Sonos Play:3 is about the size of a large shoe box and is built with quality materials and buttons.    It also has a rubberized bottom and would be perfectly happy on a tabletop indoors. A few of these placed strategically around the home can make for an impressive whole house audio system with minimal installation effort.  If you're considering getting into wireless audio the Play:3 is an excellent starting point. 

Visit Sonos for more information and all the specs.

Here's a video we made a while back that explains how the Sonos system works.

Uniden DECT 1480-3 Cordless System Review

If you still like the convenience and reliability of a traditional landline and are in need of a new cordless system, the Uniden DECT 1480-3 offers really good value, under fifty bucks, for a 3 handset bundle.

It’s kind of silly to spend a lot of money on a cordless phone system these days. Many households have lost the landline all together preferring to keep it simple with just a cell connection or perhaps Vonage or Magic Jack.

The Uniden DECT 1480 features DECT 6.0 technology which provided very good range and clear reception. DECT 6.0 works in a frequency band that does not interfere with WiFi so that’s a nice improvement over the older 5.8 GhZ technology.

For under $50 you get three decent handsets and a digital answering machine with 14 minutes of record time. There is no setup required at all. Simply plug everything in. Let it charge for a while and you have a working 3 handset system.

The buttons are decent, the call quality good and each handset has a speakerphone. The handsets are light and comfortable to use without feeling cheap. On the other hand, the answering system is really bare bones. You cannot record your own message without first reading the manual.  It's actually a nice way of doing it where you use a handset to record the greeting versus using a mic on the base unit.  However, we imagine a lot of folks will be stuck with the computer voice to let callers know to leave a message as no one RTFM these days.  Other than that, it's a dead simple system to understand.

The ringer volume for some of the ring tones could be a little louder but there are others you can choose if you want a really loud ringer.

Uniden is making some decent stuff these days and if you’re looking for a bare bones cordless system with good call quality the DECT 1480-3 system is a very good value.

Visit Uniden for more information.

Panasonic BD655 Review

The Panasonic BD655 is an entry level Blu-ray player with online connectivity and streaming apps but suffers from minimal file format in spite of having both USB and SD card slots on the front panel. If you have a lot of DivX material and other formats you’re out of luck. The BD655 only supports mainstream file formats such as JPEGs, MP3s and AVC lite from Panasonic digital cameras.

The BD655 does turn on quickly and is ready to play both Blu-rays and DVDs in seconds rather than minutes. The sound and picture is pretty much perfect as you would expect from Blu-ray. It’s also easy to pop in an SD card for watching the dailies. However, beyond the basics the performance rapidly deteriorates.

Launching the online apps is painful. The menu structure is clever and easy to navigate but it just takes too darn long to refresh the screen. Many Blu-ray players run on Java and while that’s good for updates and such these systems are often underpowered. So software feels like you would expect software to feel running on an underpowered system. Slooowww.

The firmware update was also painful. It just took a really long time. We confirmed it was not our network just a slow process. We didn’t notice any performance improvements with the latest firmware either.

If all you’re interested in is playing shiny discs than the Panasonic BD655 is a solid choice simply because it loads so quickly and comes with a decent remote. But if you’re interested in the online apps such as Pandora and Netflix we’d recommend looking elsewhere. Samsung is a better choice with much richer file format support despite the slow boot and touch controls on its fingerprint happy glossy products.

Visit Panasonic for more information.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 Review

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 is just about the perfect point and shoot camera. It’s small, built well, takes great pics and has much improved video capabilities over previous Lumix cameras.

We like how Panasonic went with a 25mm wide-angle to 300mm range. This allows you to get much closer to your subjects and still get everything in frame. There are plenty of presets and this camera does pretty well indoors, even in lower light. The biggest issue, as with most cameras in this price range, the performance slows when left in automatic mode in low light situations.

Outside the DMC-ZS7 is nice and fast and the video very good. The sound is also improved on the video. Here, the wide angle lens also helps because you can get close to subjects and get better audio with the built in mics. The GPS tags are helpful down the road so you remember where and when pics and video were taken.

The Panasonic DMC-ZS7 currently sells for about $250 and it’s a very solid choice for both still pics and video. Between this and smart phones it looks like Flip picked the right time to sell out to Cisco.

Panasonic makes this camera in Japan. We love the way the controls feel and the layout is very intuitive. Panasonic does a great job here. We’d like o see a little more tactile feel on the grip but other than that the DMC-ZS7 feel really good in the hand.

Visit Panasonic for more information.

Samsung BD-C5500 Blu-ray Player Review

Samsung BD-C5500 Blu-ray Player Review Samsung is one of the fastest growing consumer electronics companies on the planet. The BD-C5500 Blu-ray player illustrates why. It’s packed with features, easy to use and priced right.

For a while there if you were in the market for a Blu-ray player your best bet was to simply bite the bullet and pay for a Playstation 3. But prices have gone down while features and performance have gone up and now you can get a player like the Samsung BD-C5500 for about $150.

The cloud is changing everything. When Netflix launched several years ago the name seemed silly. Why were they calling the company Netflix when they ship DVDs back and forth in the mail? Well clearly the vision was to eventually deliver any movie at any time via the net. We’re not they’re yet. However, once you have an IP enabled box like the BD-C5500 it changes everything.

The BD-C5500 starts up fast to access Blu-ray discs and the picture and sound look great. We inserted The Matrix and quickly lost track of time. The soft touch controls on the unit and the remote control are very nice for a player in this price range.

The best way to connect the BD-C5500 to the Internet is with an Ethernet cable. Wireless requires a special Samsung part which we understand as it would be more difficult to support other wireless adapters at this price point. However, if you have an Ethernet port nearby you can jack into you’ll be very happy with the BD-C5500.

Pandora is one of the best music experiences around and now you can stream it live with BD-C5500. An authorization code comes with the Samsung BD-C5500 that you use to synchronize the device with your Pandora account. The best way to get started is to set up all your channels on the PC first and then fire up the BD-C500. Samsung did a really nice job with the GUI of Pandora on the player and integration with the remote. This feature alone makes the BD-C500 worth considering for music lovers. It competes nicely with the Music Choice channels provided by Comcast but would benefit from additional streaming elements ala Tune Wiki or simple photos and trivia. How about direct links to music videos?

The BD-C500 also includes Blockbuster, Vudu, YouTube and a variety of other apps and connectivity programs. Plus with a USB on the front of the unit and the ability to play all the most popular audio and video formats you truly have a complete entertainment system in one box.

The menu for accessing content on a USB drive is well laid out and easy to navigate. We loaded up music and videos on 16GB microSD cards and connected it with a little SanDisk microSD adapter. Works perfectly and barely protrudes from the front of the unit. We loaded some MP3 files with embedded album art but the BD-C5500 failed to recognize it instead displaying some arbitrary art based on the genre of the track. So it’s grabbing some of the meta data but not all of it which is totally lame. In fact, that’s a biggest complaint about the BD-C5500. How can you have an internet enabled device like this and not grab meta data or display the content that’s part of the file?

Other than that we love the Samsung BD-C5500. If you’re finally ready to phase out the old DVD player and want something more than a basic Blu-ray player the Samsung BD-C5500 is an excellent choice.

Visit Samsung for more information.

Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000A HD Video Camera Review

The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000A HD video camera is an incredible camera that’s small enough to take anywhere. The VPC-HD2000A shoots full 1080p up to 60 frames per second. It also can take 8-Megapixel stills with high speed sequential shooting at 12 frames per second. Everything is stored to SDHC cards. A good quality, fast card will run about $200 so keep that in mind. Using a 32GB SanDisk card we were very happy with the speed of operation and 120 minutes of full 1080p HD recording time.

The VPC-HD2000A resembles a small radar gun with its pistol grip and folding LCD screen. We really like this form factor for family video. The camera instantly turns on when the LCD is flipped open and is ready to shoot in just a second or so. The pistol grip makes it very easy to point and shoot and get interesting angles without straining to position the camera or see the display. It could use a rubber grip or less slick plastic composite but other than that we love this design.

The controls and buttons are arranged in such a way that only one hand is required for operation. It’s also very easy to figure out the controls without referring to the manual, always a good test of design. The included dock and connectors are also well designed and easy to setup. We were very impressed with the out of box experience, OOBE, of the VPC-HDC2000A.

The camera offers quite a bit of control over the image so more advanced users can experiment. Full auto mode is perfect for anyone that wants better quality than a Flip camera without the expense of a full size camera and lens.

We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Xacti camera. In all kinds of light we were able to get very good quality footage. As with any camera this small image stabilization is very important as is a controlled shooting style. It’s nowhere near as bad as toy cameras like the Flip but you have to be conscious of keeping things steady. The pistol grip helps in this regard.

The Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000A uses the new iFrame format which is the same format used for editing. It’s a cross platform format for your Mac or PC and is based on H.264, AAC, MP4 and QuickTime. We used Sony Vegas for our test and simply dropped the footage on the timeline, no conversion required. The finished results were excellent. This camera will not replace our HVX200 but for fun family video that’s a step above cheaper toy cameras like the Flip it’s excellent. If you want a camera that’s easy to use, portable and takes very good footage in an easy to operate package the VPC-HD200A should be at the top of your list.

To see video shot using the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000A  watch this video shot by a friend of funkyfresh for a Sanyo video contest.  Granted this was shot by a pro and edited but it still gives you sense of the quality you can get wtih the small but mighty VPC-HD2000A.   All three videos where shot using the VPC-HD2000A.

Visit Sanyo for more information.

Kodak Zx1 Review

The Kodak Zx1 is the latest pocket video camera from Kodak and sports HD 720 H.264 video capture as well as still JPEGs. It’s drop dead easy to use, very much like the Flip camera but perhaps slightly less intuitive. It takes a few minutes to figure out how to get in and out of different modes and one of our testers accidentally deleted a day’s worth of footage when they were trying to scroll through to find content to display on the TV.

We like the build quality of the Zx1. It feels more expensive than it is. It has nice rubberized covers for the various slots and connectors and is very beach friendly. Outdoor footage shot at 30fps looked fine for basic home video. We had a very windy day at the beach and were pleasantly surprised by the audio quality. We were expecting more noise.  Color and saturation are okay and the results almost have a cheap film camera look.

The package the Zx1 comes in borders on misleading. The picture of the SD card on the package could easily fool some consumers into thinking it’s included in the package. It’s not and the onboard memory is useless. Luckily, our friends at SanDisk have sent us a variety of SD cards to test. We recommend at least an 8GB card so you can shoot several hours worry free. Since the Kodak Zx1 uses standard AA batteries it’s easy to reload for extra long days or when you’re on vacation. Kodak does include batteries and a recharger in the box. The recharger is big and cumbersome and not our favorite. We much prefer a flat style recharger that sits flush on the wall. This one is top heavy and literally fell out of a couple of sockets we used.

The Zx1 is priced at $149, right smack dab in the middle of the portable flash cam market. It’s sleeker and feels better made than the Flip camera but the video isn’t any better. Also, keep in mind, all of these tiny little cameras use tiny little lenses. Just because they capture “HD Quality” footage doesn’t mean it even approaches what you’ll find with professional gear. However, the convenience and the instant on experience make it all worthwhile. Because the truth is you’d never drag that big camera to the beach anyway.

So go with what you like. All these cameras in the $100-$200 range are pretty darn good considering the price. The Kodak Zx1 just happens to be one of the better looking and better feeling pocket cams.  If a splash friendly design is important to you this unit definitely deserves a closer look. 

Visit Kodak for more information.

Philips DVP 5990 Review

One of the questions we get a lot is, “What’s the easiest way to play videos from my computer on my TV?” There are myriad options depending on your level of expertise, quality requirements, budget, and spare time. However, one of the best values and easiest solutions is to simply buy a DVD player with a USB port on the front and a plethora of popular codecs inside.

The Philips DVP-5990 is a slim single disc player that plays Divx, MP3s, WMAs, JPEGs, and a variety of undocumented formats. You’re mileage may vary but we found it very good at playing all the popular formats we regularly use on our PC.

Let’s not forget it’s a DVD player first. The DVP-5990 loads DVDs quickly, upscales to HD and provides an excellent picture. The player also includes an HDMI connection for easy setup with your HD TV. The USB 2.0 port is easily accessible on the front and is compatible with high capacity flash drives. We used it with a 16GB microSD card inside a small adapter. The great thing about this approach is it doesn’t stick out far from the player. We can keep the USB microSD adapter plugged in and keep the player neatly tucked away.

The menu for navigating the USB content is a basic folder tree but it works fine. If you keep things nice and organized on your flash drive you’ll have no trouble finding what you want to watch. On the DVD side the DVP5990 gets to the root directory of the DVD quickly and allows for skipping of previews and piracy notices.

The Philips DVP5990 sells for about $60 and is a real bargain considering everything it does. Experiencing the random access of video via the USB port reminds one of the early days of MP3s when CDs started to look really dated. Optical media is dying a slow death that will accelerate as more consumers experience “on demand” media with simple players like this one. 

Visit Philips for more information.

Samsung 58A650 Plasma Review

The Samsung 58A650 is a very well done plasma TV that isn’t as cheesy as the “touch of color” catalog pictures might suggest. The 58A650 has some of the best specs you’ll find in a plasma TV. It’s attractive and also includes a pretty good build-in sound system

DLP, laser, LCD and plasma TVs all have their strengths. With plasma it’s all about very rich color, contrast, viewing angle and brightness. The Samsung 58A650 delivers on all fronts and is ready to roll with very little calibration right out of the box.

Samsung has continually improved the GUI and software on its TVs. Some of the early Samsung DLP TVs were a joke when it came to tweaking settings and navigating the menu structure. Samsung’s current generation of TVs is leaps and bounds ahead of the early sets and much more user friendly.

The most difficult part of setting up a big screen TV these days is moving it around and deciding where to put it. Since this is a review unit we simply left it on a stand. The swivel makes it easy to connect to the entire home theater system. We love HDMI. The 58A650 has plenty of connections including one for your PC. A 58 inch plasma makes a pretty awesome PC monitor.

So this “Touch of Color” thing, yeah, what’s that all about? Well it’s basically a subtle band of red light on the bezel of the TV. It can be toggled on and off. It essentially gives a Virgin American cabin vibe to your plasma. I think the biggest problem with this feature is the marketing materials. The red glow isn’t nearly as bright as the pictures suggest. In fact, it’s barely noticeable and can be toggled on and off.

Samsung is hitting its stride with it’s entire lineup of TVs. We’ve seen this model on closeout for under 2K which is a pretty screaming deal. If you’re in the market for a plasma this is worth a look

Visit Samsung for more information about its Plasma technology and its entire lineup of audio video products.

Panasonic Lumix TZ5S Review

The Panasonic Lumix TZ5S is a great little point and shoot camera. We were able to take 400 shots on a single battery charge and were pleased with the speed of operation, ease of use and quality of the 9 megapixel photos.

The Lumix TZ5S features a Leica Lens, 10x optical zoom, image stabilization and the ability to take both still photos and VGA resolution video. The camera is made in Japan and feels good in the hand but not as solid as a Canon digital ELPH. It doesn’t feel cheap just a bit light for its size. However, it travels well and can be crammed into pants pockets if necessary so it makes a great everyday point and shoot camera.

This camera performs best under ideal lighting conditions. Late afternoon sun in Orange County yielded beautiful results. Indoor pictures require a bit more finesse with the settings. Overall we were very pleased with the quality of the pictures.

One of the biggest complaints with cameras in the $200 or less range is the slow speed and recovery times. I’ve seen moms become irate trying to capture their kids with a cheap camera when they really need a digital SLR. Of course, it’s not convenient to carry around a high-end piece of gear to the park or Chuck E. Cheese, so a point and shoot camera with reasonable performance is a good option.

The Panasonic Lumix TZ5S performs reasonably well with prefocus and optimized ISO speeds. Sure, you’ll miss some great shots but you’ll capture some too. With or without a digital SLR in your arsenal the Lumix TZ5S is easy and fun to use and you won’t hesitate to bring it with you when bigger gear would be a burden.

Visit Panasonic for more information.

Insignia NS-DXA1-APT Converter Box Review

If you haven’t done so already it’s time to sign up for the TV converter box coupon program and grab a box before the last of the 30 million or so coupons are issued. LG makes a good box that is sold under the Zenith brand as the DTT900 and under the Best Buy Insignia brand as the NS-DXA1-APT.

The Insignia NS-DXA1-APT adds analog pass through to a well made and very functional converter box. We hooked the box up to a vintage Mitsubishi 26 inch TV using a passive RCA antenna. The results were awesome. We pulled in two dozen stations with crystal clear picture quality.

The converter box installs as fast as you can connect cables and provide power. The initial setup is intuitive and takes very little effort. The menu is nothing special visually but it works. Once it’s setup it’s basically a tuner with a remote used to change channels. That’s it. With the forty dollar coupon the NS-DXA1-APT will cost you $20. It’s well worth it and one of the best boxes available under the government coupon program

We prefer the Insignia brand over some others because it’s sold by Best Buy, one of the last standing electronics retailers. We would not recommend buying anything from Circuit City these days. If you have a problem with the product it’s good to know there will actually be a store where you can take it back.

Visit The Digital TV Converter Coupon Website for more information.

Monster Power 3500 Review

The Monster Power Pro 3500 is a professional reference power center designed for music professionals. It features stage 3 isolated audio and video filters, 14 total outlets with 2 front mounted unswitched outlets and front and rear for adjustable 12v LED light. The unit boasts 2775 joules of surge protection. Just about anyone, pro or hobbyist can benefit from clean power in the home or a full blown studio.

The Pro 3500 is a substantial well made unit that says quality right out of the box. However, the 12v LED light never worked. While not visibly broken we never got it to work. It’s a shame because it would sure come in handy while plugging things in on the back of the unit or simply for added light in the studio.

The Power Pro 3500 has a series of lights on the front panel that indicate power status, ground, wiring fault, clean power, abnormal voltage and protection is operating properly. The unit correctly identified a wiring fault in the building which was later corrected.