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2010: The year that changed computers and TV?

Halo TV iPadHappy New Year to all of our readers!! If you’re already in 2011, what’s it like on the other side? On behalf of those of us still in 2010, we’re jealous of the cool fireworks that have been going on.

2010 turned out to be a pretty surprising year. Coming out of a recession it looked like the year would be a damp squib, but in fact consumer electronics spending held strong as we became ever-more obsessed with gadgets.

There were some technologies failed to make an impression, like 3DTV. I’m sure that next week I’ll see a whole new round of excitement around this technology even though consumers don’t seem all that interested in owning it at home. Even some of this year’s 3D hollywood blockbusters disappointed; Tron Legacy springs to mind, which asked moviegoers to pay 3D prices even though much of the movie was presented in 2D. The 2D parts of the movie were too dark with glasses on and more enjoyable with them off…but what’s the point in swapping them in and out for 2D and 3D footage?

The BlackBerry platform surprised us for an unexpected reason. While RIM’s smartphone strategy failed to impress with the disappointing Torch, the company surprised everyone with its PlayBook QNX announcement. I’m not sure if that’s enough to save the company long term though. I still believe that once corporates move away from the BlackBerry platform in larger numbers, the consumer market will choose to sustain the Apple, Google and Microsoft mobile offerings at the expense of RIM’s.

For me the most surprising aspect of 2010 was that the iPad really did turn out to be revolutionary after all. It completely changed the way we look at tablet computers and introduced new people to the computing world, both young and old. For kids aged 6-12 years, their most wanted gadget this holiday season was an iPad. Not a Nintendo DS, or a PSP, or a cellphone. They wanted a tablet computer; that’s how profoundly the iPad impacted the market.

Competitors weren’t ready for this. Microsoft thought they could pre-empt it by showing off the HP slate at CES 2010, and that product didn’t get very far in the consumer realm. Samsung got snubbed by Google for releasing the Galaxy Tab with Android 2.2. Even so, the Tab did put in a decent showing in sales volumes, although I’ve only ever seen one unit in someone’s hands outside of a store, review or trade show.

Netbooks also fell prey to the iPad’s assault. As iPad sales continued to increase throughout 2010, netbook sales suffered. Now nobody really seems interested in the sector at all, but that’s also because low priced ultraportables with decent processors are now hitting the market at under $500.

2010 also turned out to be the year that the mass market got excited about streaming content to their living room TV. With easy to use, high quality services like Netflix gaining huge popularity, Roku and Apple sold good numbers of their tiny set top boxes. Google had a different experience with Google TV, releasing a product that clearly hadn’t gone through a full round of consultation with TV networks, who promptly blocked the devices from streaming their online shows. But the overriding theme is that consumers definitely want to pull content directly into their living room from the internet.

The iPad changed the way we perceive computers and family-friendly content streamers changed the way mainstream consumers want to watch TV. Not bad for a year that was setup to be a “Meh” year in consumer electronics. Bring on 2011!

Neil Berman

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Dec 31, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, Rants | , , , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Air (late 2010) review

MacBook AirLet’s be honest, the original MacBook Air was beautifully flawed. Outwardly it was a desirable laptop, but under that pretty aluminum exterior all was not swell. Overheating, under performing and overpriced, the original MacBook Air failed to achieve mainstream success. With the new models, though, Apple has rewritten the playbook.  This 13″ 1.86GHz 2/128 model has superior specs to the previous version while putting itself on offer for hundreds of dollars less at $1,299.  Let’s see what it’s like…

First impressions of the MacBook Air

MacBook Air restore USB driveAs with all Apple products the Macbook Air comes in nicely designed packaging. There’s precious little in the box, just the Macbook Air, magsafe power adaptor with extension cable, start guide and a unique USB flash restore thumbdrive. The Macbook Air doesn’t have an optical drive so the inclusion of the USB thumbdrive is a cool idea and feels like the way forward for future laptops.

The original MacBook Air was svelte, but the new model raises the bar even further.  0.68 inches at its thickest, the new MacBook Air tapers to just 0.11 inches at the front.  It really is remarkable and made possible due to the all solid-state nature of the guts of the beast.  The hard drive of the old model has given way to an SSD on a bare circuit board, which saves precious millimeters of height.  The weight meanwhile has remained at 2.9lbs, presumably because any space and weight efficiencies have allowed for more battery cells.

MacBook Air logoIt’s difficult to describe just how stunning this new MacBook Air really is, so I suggest you feast your eyes on the photos in the gallery.  In my view this is the best looking laptop ever made, it’s definitely worth making a trip to a store just to fondle it if you have the opportunity.

Around the sides of the MacBook Air are two USB ports, an SD card slot (only on the 13″ model), a mini display port, headphone socket, microphone and charging port.  The keyboard is the standard MacBook chicklet affar, the trackpad is able to register four-fingered multi-touch gestures and the screen is LED-backlit like the previous MacBook Air.  There’s a webcam above the screen and the speakers are nowhere to be seen, but they’re in there somewhere.  The underside has four black feet and that’s it.

Using the MacBook Air

In many ways using the new MacBook Air is a similar experience to the old one, except pretty much everything that was problematic about the original has been resolved in the new model.  MacBook AirFirstly, the replacement of the unpleasantly slow 4200rpm hard drive with the new SSD has resulted in a 13.7 second boot time and 1.6 second shutdown time.  That speed bump carries over to application launch times, which are fast.  Most apps seem to launch with one or two seconds and the whole system feels extremely snappy even though the processor has remained the same.  It just goes to show how much of a bottleneck can be created by a slow hard drive.

The speediness of the new MacBook Air carries over to its graphics capabilities, as the new model has been stepped up to a GeForce 320M.  While no graphics powerhouse, the new model handles full screen video very capably, without any alarmingly heat buildup.  I was able to stream a 1080p YouTube video without any problems.  Sure the underside does become warm, but far less than other laptops I’ve used recently, and when the fan does kick-in, it’s whisper quiet.

Battery life was a big disappointment with the original MacBook Air; while the specs promised 5 hours, I never seemed to be able to get more than 2-3 in actual usage.  The new 13″ MacBook Air promises 7 hours and, although I haven’t done a full drain test, it feels pretty accurate.  Apple is definitely making strides in this department, as we saw earlier this year with the iPad which also delivered as promised on battery life.

The trackpad, keyboard and screen work just like a 13″ MacBook Pro, so I’ll hold off on going into specific detail here.  On the software side, the new MacBook Air ships with OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard and iLife ’11 as with the rest of the current MacBook range.

On the downside, there is no option to specify a backlit keyboard.  In my view this is a real omission, as using the MacBook Air in a dimly lit room or on a night flight for example becomes very problematic.  This can be partially remediated by using a USB gooseneck light, but it’s not a particularly elegant solution.

The 13″ MacBook Air’s 128GB of storage (upgradeable to 256GB) is potentially limiting if you have a large media collection.  Personally I think 128GB is enough storage for most users’ music and photo collections, plus a range of apps, on the basis that most video content is streamed from the likes of Netflix and Hulu these days.  There’s always the option to use a portable drive for the rest of your content.  I could easily cope with this amount of storage for my main computer, as long as I had a little 2.5″ 500GB USB drive in my bag for video edit footage and backups.

Is the new MacBook Air a good buy?

Many commentators have suggested that there is still a viable role for the base 13″ MacBook Pro alongside the 13″ MacBook Air.  I’m not so sure.  Even though the MacBook Pro has a faster processor and more storage space, I think this will make little difference to the average user.  The new MacBook Air boots-up faster, has great performance for everyday tasks and weighs far less than the Pro.  In my mind that leaves the MacBook Pro in the hands of niche users who really need more power and the MacBook Air in the hands of pretty much everyone else.  This is going to be a big seller.

Neil Berman

Nov 6, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EFO ‘smallest and lightest’ iPazzPort review

EFO iPazzPortWe’ve reviewed many EFO iPazzPort controllers over the last year. Up to now they’ve followed a similar form factor but EFO decided to go even smaller with the latest model, which is a credit card sized keyboard and trackpad combo.  I’d love to be able to describe this model by a specific name but EFO simply differentiate it from the other iPazzPorts by calling it the ‘smallest and lightest’ model.

For the uninitiated, EFO’s iPazzPort range aims to provide an ultraportable wireless controller for a variety of uses from HTPC use to acting as a games console thumb board to serving as a business presentation aid.  This iPazzPort is Windows, Mac and Linux compatible.

First impressions of the credit card sized iPazzPort

This latest iPazzPort is notably smaller than the versions we’ve reviewed up to now. The front facing dimensions are similar to a credit card, and it’s about as thick as three stacked on top of EFO iPazzPort keyboardeach other.  While we haven’t felt that the previous form factor was too big, we can understand that the smaller size makes sense for certain use cases. For example for a business presentation this model fits in a shirt pocket more conveniently than the larger size. To get an idea of the size, this model is slightly smaller than a regular size BlackBerry.

This model is also extremely light. There’s not much inside the iPazzPort except for a battery and a circuit board but the smaller size makes this model feel featherweight compared to the regular, already lightweight version. This model also feels more solid. The main body is still made from plastic but this stuff feels higher grade than the other iPazzPorts. The keys have a rubber finish which makes them ready to press, with a similar texture to the model we recently reviewed.

The trackpad on this model is far smaller than on the regular iPazzPort, due to the smaller size of the whole device. It still offers tap to click thought, although no multi-touch which has been on our wish list of features to be added to the iPazzPort for some time.

EFO iPazzPort trackpadThis iPazzPort also has dedicated page up and down buttons, also similar to the version we looked at recently there’s a red last pointer built into this model. The keyboard is backlit in a cool orange glow for use in dark environments.  Around the sides there’s a power button, although the iPazzPort will go to sleep to save battery life. At the base of the iPazzPort is a standard USB charging port.

Using three credit card sized iPazzPort

The keyboards across the iPazzPort range have come a long way since we reviewed the first model a year ago. This model carries on these improvements offering good tactile and usable key spacing for those of you used to typing on a portrait smartphone. The QWERTY key positioning is slightly off in places, since the keys are aligned vertically rather than being staggered but it’s fairly easy to adapt to the layout.  The keyboard backlighting works very well.

The laser pointer works just as well as on the larger version; my only thought with the placement of the activation button is that it’s on the right side of the iPazzPort. This might be more convenient for right handed than left handed users if the user wants to switch between using the laser pointer and trackpad/buttons.

EFO iPazzPort power and laser buttonsEFO recently switched back to RF transmission for the iPazzPorts from a brief foray into Bluetooth, which has been a good move.  Windows 7 detected the device almost instantly and there was no need for pairing.  Another benefit of moving away from Bluetooth is that the battery of this model lasts for a good few hours, which should be plenty given that users are unlikely to use the iPazzPort as a primary keyboard for a whole day at a time.

The trackpad is responsive, however its small size makes it a little harder to get used to than the larger iPazzPort which has a standard laptop size trackpad.  It gets the job done though.  One aspect of using the trackpad that I found very difficult to get the hang of was the button placement to the right of the trackpad.  It felt very unnatural to fish out the secondary mouse button; the trackpad button placement of the larger iPazzPort feels far more logical, but of course that model has enough real estate to allow for easier button placement.  I’d also love this device to have a multi-touch trackpad; a saving grace is that EFO is adding multi-touch capability to the next version of the regular size iPazzPort, so if multi-touch is a must-have for you then stay tuned for our review of that one when it comes out.

Should you get out the credit card for the credit card sized iPazzPort?

What’s amazing about this iPazzPort is that it crams the most essential keys and functions of a trackpad and keyboard into a tiny package that looks pretty decent.  For the $50 being asked, the iPazzPort works as promised with no major flaws and would be a great complement to HTPCs and business presentation users.  I’d just wish EFO would start coming up with some different names, which would help me to describe the different models more easily!

The photos in this post were taken with a Samsung Epic 4G.

Here is the EFO iPazzPort product page.

Neil Berman

Oct 30, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Video: New MacBook Air boot time is 13.7 seconds

Here it is, the new 13″ MacBook Air.  The photo has it still napping in its box after the long trip from Cupertino, but a short while ago I switched it on.  Here’s what happened…

That’s crazy fast.

Neil Berman

Oct 27, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three annoying things about the new MacBook Airs

1. It doesn’t have a backlit keyboard. Why Apple, WHY?????

2. My hope for a MacBook Air Touch didn’t crystallize, but it looks like the OS is going that way anyway just like I predicted. The iOSX mashup is coming to a MacBookPad near you.

3. This one hurts. If you dropped three large on a MacBook Air 128GB SSD a couple of years ago, there’s a better one in your local Apple store right now for $1299. And your neighbor just bought one for each of his college kids.

Neil Berman

Oct 20, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Rants | , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Air to become the norm?

This time around the rumor mill was on the money, predicting an 11.6 inch addition to the MacBook Air family. The price for entry has come down to $999, or $1299 for the 13.3 inch model, while almost everything else has gone in the other direction. Battery life is now up to 7 hours, startup time is quicker and portability has been improved with the 11.6 inch option.

It’s actually hard to figure out who would choose the base MacBook Pro model now unless you really, really need the faster processor and larger amount of storage.

I have a sneaky suspicion that MacBook Air sales will start to comprise a significant portion of lower cost Mac sales, and for good reason. They have the right balance of mobile portability vs performance for everyday tasks, enough battery life for typical daily usage and, most importantly in this material world, they look incredible.

That’s a rarity for a low price Mac, but I suspect it’s about to become the norm in Starbucks.

Neil Berman

Oct 20, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fix hp Laserjet 1012 Windows 7 driver issues

hp Laserjet 1012 Windows 7 driverI recently had an all-time lucky find when someone left an hp Laserjet 1012 laser printer in the recycling area of my apartment building, which looked to be in good condition.  The Laserjet 1012 is a pretty handy home and small office printer with pin sharp resolution, so I thought I’d give it a try.  There was no toner in the printer, but a quick shopping spree on eBay would fix that.  So $19 and a few days later, I had the Laserjet 1012 happily churning out pages from a Windows XP netbook.  Time to hook it up to Windows 7…or not as hp would seemingly prefer.

You see, it turns out that hp decided to not support the Laserjet 1012 on Windows 7.  It’s not as if the printer is even all that old, and hp does offer Windows XP & Vista drivers, so this has probably left a lot of owners high and dry…or more likely bitter.  Nevertheless I fearlessly went ahead and plugged the Laserjet 1012 into a Windows 7 computer to see what would happen.  Windows 7 did try valiantly to install the printer but ultimately failed and placed it in the Unspecified bucket within the Devices and Printers window.

I recalled a piece of advice that a Windows 7 dev had given me way back in the January 2009 Windows 7 Beta days, which was that Vista drivers would sometimes work if a manufacturer hadn’t yet written a native Windows 7 driver.  That was back when Windows 7 drivers were thin on the ground and we were still 9 months away from a retail release of Windows 7.  That approach shouldn’t apply now, but it didn’t look like hp was going to come up with a Laserjet 1012 Windows 7 driver anytime soon.

So I downloaded the Vista 64-bit driver from hp’s website, opened up the Properties window for the Laserjet 1012 in Devices and Printers, found the driver section and chose Update Driver.  I selected the Vista 64-bit driver that I’d just downloaded and hey presto, it installed in a flash!

Your mileage may vary of course, but this simple process got the Laserjet 1012 working on my Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit system.  It’s a shame that hp chose to not support the printer natively in the new OS, but I guess they want us to buy new hardware.  In a manner if speaking, their success is one of their challenges; the Laaserjet 1012 is so good that it’s hard to imagine why a home user would need a better quality laser printer.  So persuading people to upgrade willingly is probably a difficult task, but the approach should be to raise the bar even higher with compelling new products rather than simply withdrawing support.

Neil Berman

Sep 26, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Guides, Hardware, Software | , , , , , | 13 Comments

Does Apple finally mean business?

Yesterday’s research note from Needham suggests that Mac sales growth to businesses far exceeded that of PC makers. We’re not talking a few percentage points here and there; Needham estimates that even in large enterprises where Apple has traditionally struggled, Mac growth ran at 100% in Q2 compared to 20% for PC makers.

Why is this happening?

The easy money is on iPhone or, less likely, iPad adoption within businesses encouraging IT departments to move into the Mac space. While this may be happening in small companies, I doubt that this is a significant driver for adoption in large corporations.

I believe the answer lies with virtualization and the cloud. Increasingly enterprises are moving to virtualized desktop environments, where end user Windows environments are hosted on remote servers and accessible through a web browser. Therefore they can be client-side agnostic, meaning that just like when accessing a website, the user can happily tap away on a Mac or PC. Cloud services like Google Docs work the same way of course.

Large companies still prefer to manage end user computers using a limited number of vendors for ease of support, but Apple is now one of those vendor options for enterprises that have fully virtualized their end user computing platform. Issues regarding uncertainty about Apple’s Mac roadmap remain, but in a virtualized environment the end user hardware roadmap becomes less important since minimal horsepower is needed at the client side. Accessing a virtual desktop can work just fine on a netbook after all.

Neil Berman

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Aug 25, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Computing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Slate of the Tablet

Apple NewtonThe tablet market is moving fast this year and it’s hard to keep up. So here’s the State Slate of the Tablet.

Apple iPad running iPhone OS

Since the death of the Newton a long time ago there have been rumors that Apple was developing a new tablet. Steve Jobs finally announced the iPad earlier this year which, in case you’ve been on an extended remote vacation, is Apple iPad theONbutton landscapeavailable now running iPhone OS. It is available in WiFi only or WiFi+3G, the latter being a smart choice to get the most out of the iPad (pictured). The iPad uses the same App Store as the iPhone and iPod Touch. The iPad can run iPhone apps but dedicated iPad apps look best.

We now either own one, want one or don’t know what it’s for. Personally I didn’t know what it was for, then wanted one and lined up on launch day to own one. I now know exactly what it’s for, which is around 75% of all my Internet and media consumption. The chances are that if a website doesn’t work on the iPad, I’ll find another website or better still, an app.

Limitations include the iPad’s lack of Flash support, no easily accessible file explorer and a beautiful screen which is difficult to read outdoors. Strengths include ten hour battery life, loads of great apps and the ability to enjoy good Internet content without having to trawl the whole Internet to find it.

PC tablets running Windows

Windows tablets have existed ever since the release of Windows XP Tablet Edition years ago. These early tablets were typically ultraportable laptops with touchscreens that swiveled to convert the device into a tablet. They used resistiveArchos 9touchscreens and required a stylus for input, or a very precise fingernail.

The current crop of Windows 7 tablets, spearheaded by the likes of the Archos 9 (pictured), are certainly far lighter than their ancestors but the weaknesses remain. Notably the resistive screens and stylus or trackpad input method. Unfortunately there are just too many aspects of Windows 7 usage that require precise interaction to allow tablets to really exploit the OS.

Multitouch gestures have been built into Windows 7 but as soon as you try using an application like Microsoft Office on a Windows tablet, it is beaten in usability by iWork for iPad which was created from the ground up for tablet usage. Battery life is also an issue on Windows tablets which mainly now use the Intel Atom processor. This is a very power efficient CPU but real life battery usage on these tablets tends to top out at 2-3 hours.

Android

The Google and Open Handset Alliance backed Android OS is making a big play for tablet market share. Or perhaps I should say lots of little plays, because like the Windows tablet market the Android one is made up of a gazillion of Dell Streakemerging models. Unlike the Windows market however, the Android devices we’ve seen so far are all running slightly different versions of Android.

Personally I feel that while Android will overcome the obstacle of fragmentation in the smartphone market, I believe it will greatly hinder the platform in the tablet market. Most users ultimately don’t care if they can’t run this or that app on their phone as long as the device runs a core set of important apps. With tablets it’s different because they are perceived as far more capable devices than phones due to their screen size. If a user tries to download an app which only works on Android 2.1 onto a 2.0 device she purchase that day, frustration will mount. The fragmentation of Android builds on tablets may hold back the rise of the platform if left unchecked.

In terms of actual Android tablet devices in the marketplace, we have seen the JooJoo come and be poorly received. That was the most high profile launch until the recent Dell Streak (pictured above), which is a small tablet and large smartphone wrapped up in a heavy, less than pocket friendly chassis. There was a ton of Android tablets announced at Computex last week running various builds of the OS, which seemed to reinforce the idea that fragmentation is the biggest issue facing this platform.

Palm Pre PlusWeb OS by Palm

HP recently acquired Palm and the jury is out on whether the HP Slate, which was due to be launched imminently running Windows 7, will be shelved in favor of a HP Web OS tablet. Those who have used a Palm Pre (pictured) or Pixi may feel that Web OS could be the foundation of a very useful tablet interface. We’ll just have to wait to see what HP has in store for us on this front.

Neil Berman

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Jun 6, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palm: Savior of the HP Slate?

The rumors of the premature demise of the HP Slate have left me with mixed emotions.

I had been looking forward to seeing if HP could develop its Touchsmart software to bring a viable Windows based competitor to the tablet market.  Recently however my time with the Apple iPad have left me grave doubts that Touchsmart advances could bring the HP Slate anywhere close to its most prominent competitor.  Even major enhancements to HP’s software would most likely lead to a HTC Sense over Windows Mobile 6.5 situation where a pretty, and functional, front end covers a less touch friendly but useful operating system.

HP’s acquisition of Palm obviously point towards development of both phone and tablet platforms using Palm’s WebOS software so, personally, I would be surprised to hear of HP engaging in significant further tablet development using Windows 7.  Speaking as a Windows 7 user since January 2009 and someone who attended its CES launch event, I simply do not see it as a strong competitor to the iPad for mainstream users.  This is different to OSX vs Windows.  Tablets need a completely finger friendly user environment, for all operations.

Even though Windows 7 offers so much more power than WebOS, Palm’s offering offers more relevance for mainstream tablets at this time.  Similarly Windows Phone 7 in my view looks likely to be a better fit for tablets as well.  There is really no need to squeeze all of Windows 7 into a tablet for Main Street.  The result is a large amount of unusable applications for most use-cases, poor battery life and long startup times.

Just in case there’s any confusion, the current market benchmark is thousands of high quality touch only apps, ten hours of real life battery duration and instant-on startup.  These are not nice-to-haves, these are the qualities of the best selling device in this sector.  Aspiring competitors who are considering entering this market must believe that they can improve upon these qualities, or they should not waste shareholder value in developing a competing product.

If the rumors of HP laying its Windows 7 based Slate to rest in favor of a WebOS based ‘Hurricane’ come to fruition, that’s probably a good thing.  It’s also not necessarily a bad thing for Microsoft.  Windows 7 is a great desktop, laptop and netbook operating system; probably the best I’ve used, all things considered.  Microsoft should look to preserve that reputation and produce the right products for the right platforms.  That could mean giving OEMs the right to use Windows Phone 7 in tablet development to avoid WebOS taking hold alongside Android as the viable competitors to the iPad.

Neil Berman

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May 14, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Help for 1080p (1920×1080) black border full screen issues over HDMI

Some HDTVs leave a black border around an HD 1920x1080 image

There seems to be an issue affecting many people whose HDTV does not display a full screen 1080p image when connected to a computer over HDMI.  It goes something like this…

  • Excited person buys 1080p HDTV with dreams of experiencing PS3/Xbox/PC/Mac 1920×1080 viewing heaven
  • HDTV duly arrives and gets setup
  • HDTV connects happily over HDMI and displays 1080p but with a black border around the edge of the image
  • Excitement fades as the 42 inch TV is only displaying something like a 38-40 inch image

I’ve seen this on many LCD TVs, and not only those offering 1080p resolution.  I used to have a 32 inch screen with a native resolution of 1366×768 and it would do this.  My current 42 inch LCD screen, which is a Vizio SV420XVT1A does this too.

If you have spent hours playing with video card or game console setting to no avail, do not despair – there may be an easy solution!

The image now fills the screen

Most LCD panels have settings buried in their menu which allow the user to move and stretch the image being displayed.  These menu settings are sometimes described as Horizontal and Vertical Size and Horizontal and Vertical Position; often in the menus the orientation words are reduced to H and V, which helps to save space but not confusion.

In both of my cases I have found that by increasing the horizontal and vertical size of the image I was able to fill the panel with a pin sharp full screen image.

Some TVs have zoom settings which allow the image to be resized in broad steps, but I find the small increments of horizontal and vertical resizing can deliver a more accurate image fit to the panel.

Check out the gallery below for the steps I followed on this Vizio SV420XVT1A.

Neil Berman

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May 2, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Gaming, Guides, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Brando HTPC Wireless Keyboards Review

Brando 800M-BRF 2392RF

Brando wireless keyboards 800M-BRF (top) and 2392M-BRF (bottom)

Brando makes a lot of keyboards, mice and all manner of computer accessories. Within that arsenal of gadgets are a selection of wireless keyboards, some of which also have a trackball or trackpad. This makes them good candidates for the Home Theater PC (HTPC) market or other use-cases where portability is important, as with the EFO iPazzPort which we recently reviewed. So here we have are a couple of Brando’s wireless controllers under review, let’s see if they’re any good …continue reading

Apr 25, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

EFO iPazzPort Review

EFO iPazzPortLiving room computers seem like a great idea until we start thinking about the bulky keyboard and lonely mouse sitting on the coffee table. Windows Media Center and Mac Front Row present a partial controller solution by way of a remote control, but that only goes so far. What happens when you want to fire up a web page or write an email?

EFO iPazzPort: What is it?

We reviewed the EFO iPassport last year, which was the predecessor to the newer and subtly renamed iPazzPort. We liked the overall concept of the iPassport, especially for the HTPC market, although we did have some reservations around the look and feel of the device as well as some hopes for version 2.0.

As a refresher in case you haven’t read or are too darn lazy to read our iPassport review, the device was a backlit and wireless …continue reading

Apr 19, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

MacBook Pro or a fully equipped entertainment apartment?

Mac vs PCWe all know that Macs are expensive, but just how much more expensive are they in real world terms?  This can be difficult to quantify.  In the Vista and XP days it was easier to justify a Mac purchase based upon the quality of its operating system.  That’s exactly what I did back in 2007.  With Windows 7 however the game has changed and while OSX wins on some aspects (prettiness, support, media apps), Windows clearly now leads on others (taskbar, multitouch, homegroup).  Overall it kind of feels like a tie at the moment.

So here’s the challenge: For the price of a decently spec’d MacBook Pro can a one bedroom apartment be kitted out with home entertainment tech including a similarly spec’d Windows 7 laptop?

First, the rules.  Pretty simple really, no refurbs, coupons or member-only offers.  We’ll also assume that in both scenarios we’ll buy the same wireless router.

The Mac option

MacBook ProLet’s start with the MacBook Pro.  We’ll take the 15″ with the standard Core i7 processor and 4GB RAM.  In fact the only upgrade we’d make is to dump the slow 5400RPM 500GB drive in favor of a faster 7200RPM unit, which we think should be standard on anything labelled “Pro”.  That’s a cheap $50 upgrade.

That gives us a grand total of $2,249 on Apple’s site.  Let’s see what we can get ourselves for that kind of money.

Our apartment has a bedroom and living room, so we’ll need to take care of both.  In the living room we’ll need a TV, surround sound audio system, something for gaming and of course Blu-ray.  In the bedroom a small TV would be nice along with a simple sound system.  And of course we need that Windows laptop too, so let’s start with that.

The one bedroom apartment

Keeping it simple we can pick up our laptop from the local Walmart.  They have the HP Pavilion DV6-2190US with almost identical HP Pavilion DV6specs to the MacBook Pro for $898.54.  There’s the Intel Core i7, 4GB RAM and 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, all being powered by Windows 7 Home Premium.  The DV6 packs a GeForce 230M in  place of the 330M on the MacBook Pro but in day-to-day tasks like surfing and typical comupting, Toshiba 40RV525R LCD TVmost people wouldn’t notice the difference.  The big 2010 performance leap comes from the Core i7.

We definitely need a nice big TV, so let’s go for a 40″ 1080p from Toshiba for $579.99.  It’s rated 4.6 out 5 from 91 reviews on Tiger Direct, so that’s a solid endorsement.

Xbox 360 ArcadeFor the games console we’d choose an Xbox 360 for $199.99, but a Wii would do just as well for the same money if you prefer it.

We definitely want to be watching that 1080p TV and playing our games in full surround sound, so how about adding a Sony Bravia surround system with speakers for $229.99 from Newegg.

We’ll pair that Bravia surround system with a Sony Blu-ray player for another $139.99 from Newegg.

Sony Bravia DAV-DZ170That gives us the kind of super duper living room setup that we’ll never want to leave, but that Mac Book Pro is so expensive that we still have $400 to burn!  So let’s go into the bedroom…

iPod TouchThe iPod Touch is a great device to have around as a flexible media player and second web device, so we’ll have one of those of Apple’s site for $199.99.

We need  to get some noises out of that so we need a dock.  Altec Lansing’s well regarded IM310 sounds good for $59 from J&R.

Finally we’ll complete the bedroom tech setup with a 15″ TV.  This one from Coby comes in at only $129.99 but still delivers 720p resolution.

That total home entertainment setup, all from major brands including a Core i7 laptop comes to $2237.49.  That’s still less than the MacBook Pro, but I think we’ve bought enough virtual stuff for one day.

So can you setup a whole apartment for the price of a MacBook Pro?

So one the one hand you could buy a HP Core i7 Windows 7 laptop, Toshiba 40″ HDTV, Sony BluRay deck and Bravia surround sound system, Xbox, iPod Touch, sound dock and a bedroom TV…or you could have a MacBook Pro.  The choice, as ever, is yours.

Prices accurate as of the time of writing, but as always in the tech world if you’re slow they’ll change!

Neil Berman

facebeook.com/theonbutton

theonbutton.com

Apr 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Rants | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The magic of touch

magic touch ipad

While the iPad is not the first large screen touch device to hit the market, it has brought the technology into mainstream focus.  So does touch on a large device beat out a mouse and keyboard or is it just a …continue reading

Apr 7, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Software | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sprint & Verizon 4G mobile broadband vs iPad 3G

Sprint and Verizon’s marketing aimed at getting iPhone and iPad owners to buy their mobile data plans might not be as wacky as it seems.  The idea of asking us to splurge an extra $59.99 monthly for more mobile data appears to be a wild idea, until you do the iPad math…so let’s do it:

The iPad 3G + AT&T scenario provides one connected device for $29.99 per month at an initial premium of $130 over the WiFi only iPad.

Using Sprint as the competing provider, the offering is multiple connected devices for $59.99 per month and an initial premium of $99.99 for the Sprint Overdrive WiMAX 4G/3G hotspot.

Seems like an easy decision in favor of the iPad 3G option? Perhaps, until you consider that in many US cities the Sprint Overdrive offers up to 6MB download connection speed with unlimited 4G WiMAX usage on up to five devices. That’s fast enough to supplant a home broadband connection for many people.

The average US home broadband cost as of April 2009 is $39 per month. So using the Overdrive in a 4G WiMAX covered city and canceling a home internet connection suddenly has an effective average monthly cost of $20.99. That’s $9 cheaper than an iPad 3G data plan, which of course only provides connectivity to one device and only at 3G speed.

Sprint is aggressively rolling its 4G WiMAX service within the US and its pricing includes unlimited usage, unlike most 3G mobile broadband plans which are capped at 5GB per month. Verizon is busily working on its faster 4G LTE deployment, with no pricing or caps announced as yet.  This may logically become the standard connection method for many consumers or the coming years, just as cellphones have replaced landline phone connections.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Mar 24, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Mobile, Video Features | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teknica episode 4: Windows 8 is going to be mind blowing

In this week’s Teknica we catch up on Mobile World Congress, get a glimpse into the energy around Windows 8 and find out how to check up on your internet speed with YouTube Speed Dashboard.  Plus, we reveal the ultimate Apple fanboy accessory.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Feb 14, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, News, Software, Teknica, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

YouTube Speed Dashboard tells you if you’re getting what you’re paying for

Google has been aiming to get us going full speed on the Internet and its latest initiative on YouTube is another part of that effort.  YouTube Speed Dashboard analyzes your download speed over time and shows comparatives to other users of your ISP as well as cohabitants of your city, state, country and planet.  It’s certainly interesting to see how download speed can fluctuate between different days, although we don’t know too much about how the analysis is being constructed.  For example what happens if you don’t watch any YouTube videos on a given day; is that day recorded as zero MB/s or hopefully just discounted from the analysis?  Judging by the chart above we clearly have no such worries as it looks like we watch plenty of content!  So do our readers in fact, who just hit 40,000 views of our videos.

In any case it’s really cool to see how you’re doing, and gives you some firepower to use in a phone call to your ISP if you believe you’re being shortchanged.  Check out your own results at YouTube Speed Dashboard.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Feb 13, 2010 Posted by | Computing, News, Software | , , , | Leave a comment

Building a Windows Media Center HTPC

In January 2009 I started running the Windows 7 Beta followed later in the year by the Release Candidate on my trusty old Pentium 4 living room PC.  In October to coincide with the Windows 7 launch I brought that computer into the modern age but decided to wait a few months to collect my thoughts before sharing the experience. Continue reading about building a Windows Media Center HTPC…

Feb 13, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Guides, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Superbowl XLIV: One great game, many great gadget commercials

Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints, who played their hearts out in the second half tonight.  Well done to the Colts as well, who helped to make this Superbowl one of the greats and not only from a sporting point of view…

Superbowls are famous for their commercials, which this year cost up to $3,000,000 (count those zeros) for 30 seconds (just one short zero there).  Apart from various Budweiser spots and a funny Simpsons/Coca-Cola short, this year was notable for concentration of gadget commercials.  As always some were better than others:

Flo TV

This was the first tech commercial and it was a biggie.  It came as a bit of a shock in fact, similar to the effect of the Hulu spot last year.  It was a solid production and clearly conveyed a message of how mobile TV could become embedded in everyday life.

Following that we saw, in no particular order…

Megan Fox playing with the Motorola Devour in a bathtub

A genius of a commercial.  Android, Megan Fox in a bathtub and a comedy plot.  11/10.

Vizio internet enabled TV

I was on the receiving end of a demo of Vizio’s internet enabled TVs at CES in January.  Vizio, like most other TV manufacturers, is serious about TV internet apps and this spot certainly got that message across, along with telling us about their 240Hz capability.  Vizio is currently the number one player in the US market by a wide margin and their commercial was as slick as their recent TV designs.  They’ve come a long way baby.

Prince of Persia movie

If you remember 1980s gaming, you probably remember the game.  The movie trailer was pretty good and I know I’ll inevitably the movie out of nostalgia for the game…just like they planned.

Dante’s Inferno

A forthcoming console game, whose commercial looked pretty exciting.

Google search

I admit I saw this a day early, but hoped it would be more exciting live during a break in the game action.  The spot showed screenshots of Google’s search engine being used very very quickly to find lots of information about places and people.  There was cute a New York-Paris plot which ended in marriage and a baby.  I like these practical demo commercials, which have been popularized by the iPhone.  Hopefully we’ll see more from Google with demonstrations of less commonly used features.

Intel Core i-series processors

An short story about friendship and robotic betrayal.  I really want to go to the Intel cafeteria now to see if those robots are wheeling around the floor.

GoDaddy.com

Certainly suggestive; I’m sure they got plenty of hits on their site as a result.

That’s all folks.  Oh and by the way, I wasn’t joking about Megan Fox in the bathtub…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Feb 7, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Mobile, News, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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