I have been meaning to purchase some auxiliary computer speakers for quite some time – at the moment my TV is in another state and I’m frequently watching Netflix or HBOGo on my laptop or iPad. I have terrible hearing, so even with the volume cranked I have to have the computer about an inch from my head to hear any dialogue - I’m pretty sure that is not the way Game of Thrones was intended to be watched! So I went to the store anticipating that there would be many cheap alternatives, and I was correct – there were a bunch of little speakers to choose from. I initially just grabbed a pair of “normal-looking” computer speakers, not realizing that they required batteries. Batteries are a non-starter as the last thing I need is additional daily admin.
This perspective makes it look larger than it really is, it's small
Actually as I was walking to the checkout I saw one of the Music Bullet speakers in the As Seen on TV display, but since I already had the mini computer speakers in the basket I opted not to delve into it. After I got home and realized the battery situation, I started doing a little research and realized the bullet-type speakers are all the rage at the moment for their portability, surprising performance and modest price. $20 and below was totally in my wheelhouse for this purchase, and all of the previously mentioned attributes sounded good, so I went with the iHome iHM60 model (widely available for under $20).
The thing pretty much works like you would expect it to – plug it in to the headphone jack of your device and you are off. There is also a USB cable to recharge the internal battery (handy). This little thing is much louder than my standard laptop speakers and I was happy to be able to actually hear what Daenerys was saying to Jorah for once. The speaker collapses to a very modest size – easy to drop in a jacket pocket when on-the go. I’m pretty happy with product given the reasonable price. The only downsides are that it’s a mono speaker (can add another for stereo effects) and that there is a slight buzzing when plugged into my laptop with no media playing. I recommend the iHome iHM60 portable speakers if you are looking for a convenient solution to boosting the volume on your laptop or iPad.
I bought mine down at Wal-Mart but you might save a buck or so at Amazon (check the link for current pricing):
Tagged with: iHome
Posted in Speakers
I bought my first Roku way back in I believe 2003 – it was a little silver log that could amazingly stream Napster (the crappy pay service, not the awesome but illegal original) songs to my home stereo. Unlimited music for $15/month! Unfortunately that version was buggy as hell – it froze up on me frequently and I got to the point where I never even tried to use it anymore. Having until recently had a PlayStation 3 at my disposal, I never had the need to try out any of the many streaming devices now on the market. One of my technofile buddies has had a Roku for a few years and swore by it, so when I lost my PS3 in a custody battle I decided to give Roku another try since the Roku 2 XD got great reviews and was under $80.
The Roku (I never really figured out if it was pronounced “rock you” or “row coupe”?) is indeed a simple device. Plug it in, connect the HDMI cable to your TV, sign into your wireless network (maybe the most difficult part of the process since typing with a simple remote is always challenging) and you are in business. As advertised, you can be watching Netflix or Hulu Plus literally within minutes of opening the box. The picture looks pretty good but as many people have noted you probably won’t get true 1080p output through many wireless internet connections. There are many channels available but mostly I will just use this product to stream Netflix and Hulu to my TV; I believe I will eventually cut the cord with cable completely.
Things I like about the device: Super simple to set up, Roku seems to be actively working with content providers as shown by recent introduction of HBOGo app (need HBO subscription – or at least to know someone with one!) and the most recent version of Netflix which provides a Closed Captioning option (handy if you are in an apartment and don’t want to be blasting the volume late at night), great value. Also can integrate with cloud services to display saved pictures, videos, etc.
Things I don’t like about the device: Non-premium content is pretty scant – there are some news programs and audio streams, but without Netflix/Hulu/Amazon streaming one would be pretty disappointed with the options for mainstream entertainment. Apparently Crackle is an option but I’m pretty sure I got a virus from Crackle ads last year so I’m staying away from that one. Would be nice if there was a wired option (looks like there was in a previous version) would perhaps improve the video output up to true 1080p. Not really a lot to dislike, these are quibbles.
As you can see, the connections are indeed super simple, most people will just use the HDMI slot but there is a output for a composite video cable as well as a MicroSD slot if additional memory is needed for apps or games. There is a reset button as well which I have not had to use as of yet – I hope this is not an ominous reminder of the frequent hangup problem from the silver log Roku of old, but I’m pretty confident they got those problems ironed out. Overall the Roku 2 XD is very much worth the price – if you already have subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu, you can certainly extract $80 of happiness from being able to watch those services on your big screen tv.
Tagged with: Roku
Posted in Streaming Player
I’ve been doing most of my work at a kitchen table/desk after a recent move and recently decided I probably should go ahead and buy a small tv for the space. These days you can watch many programs on your computer, but it seemed easier to just go ahead and get a cable box/DVR down here so I won’t miss entire seasons of my shows (like I did with Mad Men this summer). I haven’t been in the market for a tv since January 2005 when I bought an early Vizio plasma – since then I’ve inherited a very nice Samsung LCD and have not had the need to add another tv. I typically do WAY too much research before making a purchase, and since this was just going to be a small set for the desktop (and occasionally, to act as a second monitor) I decided I would just head down to Wal-Mart and check out the offerings.
The 24″ Sansui LED-LCD set was on sale for $178 and looked like it would be perfect for my needs: 1080P, dual HDMI inputs and a brand name I recognized (albeit from the 70s when it was a Sony-esque force; I assume they are “rebooting” the brand name in America. Or else I just hadn’t heard much about them in a long time.) Anyway, the online reviews were pretty positive so I went ahead and picked one up (pictured here – hadn’t removed the protective tape at the time I decided to take the pictures).
Netflix Instant via laptop and HDMI cable
Setup was quite simple, obviously, as I’m currently just running coaxial cable directly to the TV. After a brief channel scan I was up and running. The picture looks okay with SD programming; I’m assuming it will look better when I get a cable box down here. The remote is as expected, but it seems to have a pretty narrow reception window – I frequently find myself having to press buttons multiple times and point directly toward the blue light. This will also presumably not be an issue when I am using the DVR remote. The Sansui is very thin, light and wall-mountable. Apparently the LED-LCD designation means that the set uses LED technology for backlighting – which apparently reduces energy usage (thus the Energy Star designation).
I also bought an HDMI cable to use the Sansui as a secondary monitor – I will post an additonal entry about how to set it up in Windows 7; it’s pretty simple but there are a couple of little things that can speed up the process. The picture quality looks fine to me as a monitor when set at the correct resolution (1920×1080) and streaming Netflix, for example. Sometimes the picture quality deteriorates and looks a little blocky, but I suspect that is more a function of the wifi/internet connectivity than television performance. Pictured below is the right side of the back of the television, where the HDMI and other connections are located.
Back panel connections
Summary: The Sansui 24″ LED-LCD HDTV provides reasonable bang for the buck, is easy to set up and can serve as both a television and an auxiliary computer monitor via HDMI connection. The model number for the Wal-Mart version is SLED2453W; I’ve linked to an Amazon version below as well – be sure to click the link for updated pricing.