Cool Technology from CES 09 and Digital Tips

Just returned from CES 09. Rather than blogging to my blog here, I’ve been covering interesting tidbits for Home Theater Magazine online. To see my exciting home theater finds along with the finds of my knowlegeable colleagues go to the Home Theater Magazine Blogs.

Also, I will be posting DTV transition tips, that you haven’t heard or read anywhere else. I will be doing 1 minute video clips and interviews that will show you tips for making converter boxes work in your home, how to install it all and what’s available, and again, tips that you won’t hear elsewhere but need to know.

For now, I’m flying to Mazatlan Mexico for a much much needed vacation. Come back to get more tips and fun gadgets.

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Troubleshooting your Technology

Digital Picture Frames were a popular Holiday Gift this season

Digital Picture Frames were a popular Holiday Gift this season

As you get to know your new gadgets, they may not react the way you expect. Certainly, it would have been easier to read the user manual that you let slip back into the box, but if you didn’t… here’s some ways to get yourself out of trouble if things are working the way you think they should.

1. PRESS EXIT, or CANCEL, or RETURN or BACK or press the MENU button again (whether it’s on a remote, or on the product).
2. PRESS the power key for several seconds. It will (hopefully) turn off the product. It may be better once you’ve turned it back on.
3. If it doesn’t shut off, UNPLUG IT. Again, wait 30 seconds or so, before plugging it back in.
4. If you’ve made changes you don’t like but can’t get it to go back to the way it was originally, or if you can’t make the changes you want in the menu (like setting the time and date, or picture quality options, etc.)—
4a. Find “RESET” or “Reset to Factory Settings” or “Reset to Defaults” in the menu (usually in a Setup or Option menu). Choose it. Remember, this will change all the settings back to before you ever started messing with it which means you’ll have to start over and set up the settings that you liked as well as the one that was messed up.

These are just a couple of ways. Will write more as time and inspiration permit!

Black and Blu–Black Friday is the time to Buy Blu-ray Disc players

How to choose a Blu-ray Disc player

Samsung's BD-P2550 with Netflix and Pandora

Samsung's BD-P2550 with Netflix and Pandora


The time has come for the rest of us to get Blu-ray Disc players. To see gorgeous movies on our HDTVs, to take advantage of all that high definition picture on those big flat panel plasma and LCD TVs that we’ve invested in.

Prices have come down on Blu-ray Disc players. Sony, Samsung and Panasonic Blu-ray Disc players will reduce prices to the mid-$200 range. Some models will break $200, at $199 and below. Check out www.bestbuy.com, www.circuitcity.com or your favorite electronics store. They all have deals. For the true bargain hunter, Walmart has slashed the price on the Magnavox Blu-ray Disc player to $128!

What do you need to look at in buying a Blu-ray Disc player (often referred to as “BD player”)? Will you miss out by buying the least expensive model? Will the picture look as good on your 58 inch plasma?

The answer depends on if you are a videophile, a video connoisseur that can see the small artifacts, jagged edges and looks for shadow detail and smooth colors. If you are a casual movie watcher, the budget players will be fine. Sony’s BDP-S350 (sale below $299), Samsung’s BDP-1500 (sale below $249) and Panasonics DMP-35 (sales below $200), are good for those with a more discerning eye. For those who are picky, videophile enthusiasts, the Denon 1800 just dropped it’s price below $500! Look at sites like buy.com or amazon.com or pricegrabber.com, etc. or check out the turkey day ads for the best Black Friday deals (yes, I do get up at 4am to get in line…I love the thrill of the hunt!)

Still, it’s not all about quality features. There are other features you might want too…
1) Bonus View and BD-Live. click here and click on “BD Live” to learn more . But here’s what you need to know…

IMPORTANT TIP Some BD players are BD-Live compatible, others have BD-Live. The difference is memory. Many features like games and movie previews and more, require memory so they can be saved at the player. Some players have internal memory, more have a USB connection where you can add a USB flash drive (you know those thumb drives with gigabytes of memory). Typically they require a 1 GB flash drive (which you can buy for under $10).

2) Quick Start Blu-ray Disc playes are notorious for taking several minutes to start up or for menu to respond–Enough time to pop your popcorn and sit down. Quick Start will start the disc and bring up menus before you have time to sit on the couch and reach for the remote.

NOTE Using the Quick Start option on some BD players will use more energy and the fan will run when the unit is in standby. It’s a good idea to turn off the surge protector (check out Monster Cables Green Power for easy ways to do that.)

3) NETFLIX and More The LG BD300 was the first BD player that uses its Ethernet connection to connect to Netflix downloads. Like the Roku Netflix download player, LG’s BD300 can stream movies, tv shows, anything available for streaming on Netflix. You must have a Netflix subscription (prices for unlimited downloads start at $8.99 per month and includes a single rental home delivery plan to get the Blu-ray Discs you want to rent).

TIP To stream Netflix videos, you need a minimum of 1.5 Mbps Internet download speeds, for a smooth, better picture experience, 3 Mbps is better. This means if you have a basic DSL connection you may want to upgrade your plan to a faster speed. Most broadband connections are fast enough but be aware of “Fair Use Policies” that limit the amount of data that you can download or your Internet speeds can come to a halt!

Pandora Samsung’s BDP-2550 not only includes Netflix streaming, (Samsung tells me that updates for Netflix-HD are coming soon), but also Pandora Internet Radio that plays music based on the songs/Artists/music you like.

I’ve had a chance to play with these new features of downloading movies and music…and it’s becoming natural. I don’t worry about missing TV shows, can get music I like without thinking about it and more. But that’s for another post….

And by the way– be sure to get a high speed HDMI cable to get all the picture you expect from your Blu-ray Disc player. Monster’s HDMI Learning center can help you to understand more.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving…Stay safe and don’t end up black and Blue when fighting the Black Friday crowds for a Blu-ray Disc player!

Manage the power

I have a decent home theater and would hate to have to replace it. This is a case of why spend lots of money on a fancy surge protector when there’s cheap ones out there.

Last week, for no particular reason I heard a clicking sound on my Monster Power center. Everything shut down. In a minute or two it all came back on. Some of my adaptors and accessories are hooked into a cheap surge protector (cost about $20…seemed decent enough at the time). A few days later my iPod dock didn’t work. Tracing the problem, I found that the cheap surge protector had died.

That’s what happens to cheap protectors. They sacrifice the life of the protector during a surge. That is, if you are lucky they’ll stop working and cut off all power. If you are not lucky, only the surge protection dies and the outlets still works. You may not notice that the protected light on the strip has gone out. More common is that a surge kills the protection, and another surge hits right after the first. When the protection has been compromised, a surge will get straight through to your home theater components and TV and could damage or fry your electronics.

If anyone wonders why I support Monster’s power products, it’s because of their patented power protection that really works. If I’m going to use a surge protector, I want to know it’ll work.

Believe me, everything electronic that I plug in, is connected to surge protection. From computers to table top stereos. Having worked in an electronics store, I’ve experienced the damage from surges of power. And for my money, I want my expensive home theater to work for a long time to come.

New Home Theater and Gadgets from CEDIA -for the rest of us!

Speakercraft Booth was one of the Wilder CEDIA booths

Speakercraft Booth was one of the Wilder CEDIA booths

I’ve just returned from wandering the expo looking at the cool new technology and gadgets at the CEDIA show in Denver– new home theater surround sound systems and home theater and home networking and automation. CEDIA is the custom installer’s show–you know, those high end home theater installers that make your home theater look like an egyptian theater or wire your whole home to turn on lights anywhere in your house or have the fire turn on automatically when you walk in.

But there is still lots of cool stuff I found there that is for the rest of us.

Highlights for me were…

-Speakers built into a Mitsubishi LCD flat panel TV that create virtual surround sound (makes it sound like you have speakers around the room).

-A Sony PC that’s also a TV. What makes this different from an all-in-one PC is that it has HDMI inputs to connect a satellite box or cable box to it. Check out the short video demo I shot at the Sony booth.

-An all-in-one receiver/dvd player that hangs on the wall and has Bluetooth. This means you walk in with the music on your phone, press “play” and it comes out of the stereo/virtual surround speakers with no attachments.

-Amazing advancements in Blu-ray Disc players (high definition) that will create pictures beyond anything you can imagine.

-Downloadable movie devices from TVs and Blu-ray Disc players (from LG) that can download from online –to dedicated high definition movie boxes.

-And the number of different ways to get your movies, music, photos not only on your TV, but all over your house. Including Sony’s digital photo frames, digital media servers–devices that store it all and then distribute it around your home.

-TVs that will play YouTube Videos give you the weather and stocks and much more. All by connecting to the internet.

-On the other end of the picture quality spectrum, there was 3-D TVs. Some are pretty awful, some getting better and some are downright Disneyland-in-you-face-flinching 3D.

I will be blogging about these in the days to come, and will come back and add links to this post. In the meantime, check out the video post and the ones to come.

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And the Beats Go On!

I was able to get a pair of Dr. Dre Beats Headphones by Monster Cable. They’re glossy, and look cool with their red “b”…but I listen to my iPod, how good could they be? I had bought a pair of $100 in-ear Sony earbuds some months ago and they have good sound. But the Beats are amazing! It’s the difference between just listening to music on my earbuds and having a musical experience! And, even more amazing about the Beats–they come with a cable that has a microphone…they work with my iPhone!

I put on the Beats and close my eyes and the musicians are in the room with me! The nuances of how the music was produced–echoes, gentle bongo beats that increase to a head pounding boom, a whispering vocal–is clear. I heard every instrument. It moved me, tapping into my emotion, filling all my senses as if I could see or smell or touch the music– a whole body phenomenon.

Listening to music without good speakers, or in this case, good headphones, is like looking at a fine painting that’s hung in the dark. You miss the change in hues, mixture of colors, details, brush strokes. It’s just a picture of something. Shine the light on that same painting and you can appreciate the emotion and the artistic expression and skill that tells the whole story. You see hidden details that delight. The Beats is like that light on the painting.

Everyone I have put the headphones on have been blown away at first note. Maria Muldaur’s classic “Midnight at the Oasis” brought my girlfriend (a singer) to tears. I had to pry them off my son as he played his video game in full immersion.

iTunes compresses songs so you can fit a lot of them on your iPod, so it’s such a surprise that the Beats can bring that much out in the music. Add a less compressed music format, like the digital downloads on the Monster Music discs, and it’s all that much better. I think I’ll seek out a good turntable and some vinyl records. I bet that will be existential!

See below for Unboxed video by Andru Edwards of gearlive.com Shows you the experience of taking them out of the box!

Travel Gadgets for an easier Vacation-Part 1–find your way–GPS

Purple for the Route, Note yellow bottleneck on I-15

Purple for the Route, Note yellow bottleneck on I-15

I love GPS devices. We’re chose San Diego for our vacation this year, because my son wanted to go to Comic Con (Popular Media convention). He’s having a great time with his friend but I don’t want to be stuck in one place all day. (And I’m not joining 125,000 people unless it’s for work.) I don’t know my way around San Diego, wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but it’s been effortless and fun without the worries of getting lost in an unfamiliar city.

And while the old fashioned way can be fine –getting around with a map, finding North, calling yellow pages to find places, looking at brochures, checking maps again –I am thrilled to have the gadgets I have.

I can finally feel at home in a strange city.

The first must have for vacation travel, is a GPS that you like. I actually use two (yes, I’m geeky). The TomTom in my car does a good job of getting me across town on the fastest route and telling me step by step directions along the way. Then, I use my iPhone to check the traffic along the way and get a realtime estimate of how long it’ll take me to get to my destination with traffic figured in. I’m not from these parts so it was so helpful to see where the traffic problem areas are near downtown as we made our way to the convention center. Ideally a GPS with a traffic update feature is best (though a bit more costly than mine). Still, I find that the traffic info varies from one service to the next. The Yahoo Traffic updates are good for pointing out accidents. I’ve had much better luck with Google maps traffic to find general slow downs and bottlenecks.

So, I’ve dropped off the boys and how do I get to the spa? Darn! I forgot the address. But that’s okay, I’m using “Evernote” an online application that’s also a new application for my iphone. Evernote allows you to take pictures and tag them as visual notes as well as clip web pages. When looking for a spa, I clipped the web page at home so I had the phone number, price list and address. Didn’t have to try to find a brochure among a pile of papers. So I find the address, enter it on my GPS, enter it on my iphone, and I discover there’s no traffic and I’ll be there in 20 minutes.

Don’t worry if you don’t have an iPhone…google maps for mobile is available for any phone that can go online. Evernote can be accessed through the web on your phone…and there are many blackberrys today that have GPS navigation as well (I know my blackberry’s TeleNav application will route you around traffic–though it has a habit of sending me on a long detour when there’s just a mile or two of slow down–and even find the cheapest nearby gas).

Most GPS have a touch screen. You start by telling it where you want to Navigate to, by city and street address. You can press a button to see details, browse as text, etc. So you have an idea where you are going. Then you just follow the verbal and visual directions. My TomTom tells me in advance that I’ll have to turn and advises me to move into a left or right lane.

For those of us who are challenged by two dimensional maps, GPS is our savior! It has removed stress, eliminated stops to gas stations to ask directions, and saved me from finding myself in a dark alley after making a wrong turn. Vacations are about relaxation and tools like a GPS make it easier to let go and truly relax.