Archives For Reviews

Hands on with the Slingbox PRO-HD

Dave Zatz —  September 25, 2008

Sling Media’s Slingbox PRO-HD is now shipping. What makes this box unique is the ability to broadcast home video content in true HD – both within the home and beyond.

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Like what you’re listening to? Share it wirelessly with a friend. That’s the premise of the new i2i Stream from Aerielle, which lets you stream music from one music player to a second set of unattached headphones. One device in the i2i Stream package plugs in to your music player and allows it to broadcast. The second (they’re interchangeable) plugs in to a regular set of headphones and acts as a receiver.

I received the i2i Stream review unit a couple weeks ago, and since then I’ve had great fun sharing music from my Slacker portable and from several different generations of household iPods. Once you get past the initial charging session, which is painfully slow with a USB-PC connection, the i2i Stream is simple, small and convenient. I haven’t had a single problem connecting the devices to my various music players or making them stream music to remote headphones. Add to that the appealing colored lights that indicate broadcasting frequency, and the i2i Stream makes for a fun if kitschy gadget. Even the audio quality broadcast over the 2.4Ghz frequency, which other reviewers have complained about, struck me as reasonable. Certainly good enough for casual listening.

Unfortunately, I’m still trying to come up with a good reason to buy the i2i Stream. Sure it’s fun, but when do you really need to stream your music to someone else? Most people have their own players and want to listen to their own music. There’s also no shortage of speakers and adapters for plugging in portable players when you do want to share, albeit in a more public fashion. Continue Reading…

I’m impressed with the D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player’s interface and ease of use and the playback quality for formats supported out of the box. There is a market for this type of device, similar to Apple TV, and there’s compelling online content that will appeal to many with this media extender. Unfortunately that online content is relatively scarce. A bigger issue is the default restriction to only DivX video or MP3 and WMA audio, which limits this product to those who either already have encoded the bulk of their collection as DivX or who take the time to “hack” the unit to stream other formats. In talking with a DivX representative, I’ve learned that they are planning to provide additional format support. In fact, the next version of the server software will support Flash video support, which should help quite a bit with online content in particular.

I can recommend this device with qualifications. If you have a large DivX collection or are just starting out and like the concept of all video on DivX then this is definitely a very desirable media extender for you. If you don’t fit into that category, I still encourage you to consider the device for it’s nice interface and strong potential for online video and other online content. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Read the rest of this entry at Brent Evans Geek Tonic »

Hands On With Eye-Fi

Dave Zatz —  May 12, 2008

I’ve had the Eye-Fi on hand for a few months now, and generally speaking, I’m a believer.

This agnostic 2GB WiFi SD card ($100) allows most digital cameras to store and wirelessly transmit JPEG photos to both a local Mac or Windows PC and one of many online destinations (Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, etc). It’s the perfect tool for the lazy blogger (that’d be me) or tech novices (like my mom) – removing the need for card readers or USB cables and manual imports. Though I wouldn’t recommend the Eye-Fi to those regularly shooting hundreds of photos, as WiFi uploads are slower than your existing transfer methods and camera battery life will be impacted. I’ve been mostly satisfied using the card for shooting and transmitting blog photos… Pics are conveniently uploaded into iPhoto on my MacBook Pro and into my Flickr account (as a backup archive).

My older Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 has experienced the occasional prob: Sometimes after attempting to snap a pic, the camera fully extends and then retracts the lens in a sort of zoom cycling – and unfortunately, an image is not captured. A nice-to-have feature that I’d like to see integrated into the very nice software interface and service is the ability to send my phone a text message once the current batch of photos has finished uploading (so I know it’s safe to turn off the camera). I’d also like a way to transmit videos, and I’ve noticed others looking for RAW support – though I’m not sure those folks fall within the typical Eye-Fi demographic.

Today, Eye-Fi is announcing the expansion of their product lineup. The card I have is being re-branded the Eye-Fi Share (still $100), providing both computer and online service uploads. At the lower-end, the Eye-Fi Home ($80) facilitates only camera -> local computer transmissions. At the high-end, the forthcoming Eye-Fi Explore ($130) will geotag all photos and adds Wayport hotspot uploads (free the first year, $19/yr thereafter). While the geotagging feature is pretty cool, until/unless Starbucks hotposts (AT&T or T-Mobile) are added, I’d purchase the Share card… which I’m surprised they’re not offering (yet?) in 4GB capacities.

Overall, I’ve appreciated what the Eye-Fi offers and it’s one of the few review products I’ll purchase once the loaner has been returned or raffled off.

Slacker Portable 1

I’ve been living with the Slacker Portable device for about six weeks now and have accumulated a slew of thoughts/insights/revelations on what I like and don’t like about the music player. In case you’re really ADD or just don’t have the time to read the details, here’s the bottom line: the functionality of the Slacker Portable is phenomenal, and far outweighs the hardware and software quirks that come along with it.

First, if you’ve never used the Slacker service online, go check it out. It’s like other customizable Internet radio applications (Last.fm, Pandora), but the personalization tools are particularly flexible and produce great results. So far, having a Slacker Portable is just like carrying the online application around in my pocket, and I don’t need a constant broadband connection.

Like Slacker’s online service, you can use the Slacker Portable to create custom Internet radio stations, or select from DJ-derived stations based on genre. It comes with built-in Wi-Fi, which you can use to transfer station content to the device any time you’re in range of an open wireless network. (No feature yet to enable connections to password-protected networks) In a brilliant move, the Slacker folks let you pre-load your device with stations from your online account when you order it. This is nice because otherwise the first-time download of music via Wi-Fi takes hours. Content refreshes are much faster.

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This little beauty – the SurroundXi – looks best with an iPod Nano, but plays well with other music toys. I’ve been tinkering with these speakers for a couple of weeks now, and they’re fun, highly portable and easy to use. The sound isn’t Bose quality, but with my iPod Shuffle and my iPod Mini, it’s not bad at all. Here are the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Plug and play
  • Very portable (runs on wire and on batteries)
  • Works with multiple audio players and flash drives
  • Auto-play from flash drive is seamless
  • Comes in many colors
  • Cheap! $40 at Target, but word on the Web says you can get the speakers for much less

Cons:

  • Music played from a flash drive worked very well the first time around, but now is accompanied by a very loud windy sound out of one speaker. Faulty unit? iPod Shuffle still plays well.
  • I plugged the SurroundXi into my Squeezebox a while back, and initially it worked reasonably well, but now the speakers make an annoying buzzing sound.

Bottom Line: The SurroundXi speakers are fun and cheap, but probably won’t hold up to years (months?) of use. Buy’em with that in mind, and you’ll be happy. Continue Reading…

aluratek-frame-with-box.jpg

Photo frames are pretty much commoditized at this point, but the subtle differences among them still make it difficult to choose the right one. I recently tested Aluratek’s 11″ product (MSRP $230), and while it doesn’t offer anything revolutionary (still waiting for a workable frame that receives emailed photos…), it does an elegant job of displaying photos, and it requires virtually zero technical ability. Bottom line: It’s a great photo frame for mom’s living room.

aluratek-frame-accessories.jpgThe Aluratek comes with a power cord, USB cable, remote and 1GB memory card in the box. In my case, I plugged the frame in and then connected a USB flash drive. A library of my photos popped up immediately, and by clicking “enter” on the remote I got the full-screen visual. The remote also has a handy “slideshow” button for one-click slideshow action. No need to drill down into menus. I have to admit I had momentary difficulty getting the remote to work until I realized the need to remove a plastic covering. Chalk that one up to user error.

Manipulating photos on the Aluratek frame is extremely easy. Pressing “enter” a second time zooms in on photos, and pressing “up” or “down” rotates them. For complicated maneuvers you can go into the menu to do things like add photo transitions. You know, if you want to get fancy.

aluratek-frame-image-graininess.jpgMy one beef with the Aluratek is that if you get up close there is some graininess. (Click on the thumbnail right for a close look.) Photos look perfectly fine at a distance of a foot or more away, but if resolution is your thing, the Aluratek is not the best choice. There I’d still go with a Westinghouse. (Similar frame sizes are comparably priced on Amazon under $190)

Other cool features on the Aluratek include video and music modes. I plugged in my Flip video camera and instantly had access to the video stored there. (Some digital photo frames still don’t support video.) Unfortunately I couldn’t hear the sound on the videos, but I’ll give Aluratek the benefit of the doubt on that – perhaps it had something to do with the Flip, rather than the frame. In slideshow mode when the frame was just showing demo images from the Flip the demo music was perfectly audible. Decent quality too.

aluratek-frame-with-flip-video.jpg

All in all, I’d recommend the Aluratek frame. It’s stylish (I like the cherry-wood color) and it’s easy, easy, easy to use. Lots more photos after the jump. Full specs available here. Continue Reading…