To keep myself busy I've put together a video explaining how I assembled my modest home cinema set up. (If you are watching it, make sure you select the High Quality Feed from Youtube)
I don't feel that the lower end of the home cinema market is properly catered for by the specialist press. Its very easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest technology and this is inevitably what most of the magazines must focus on to have something to publish each month. However as interesting as the £8000 projector shootouts are - these devices will never fall into my price bracket.
Although the lesser models don't get much press - 720p projectors are generally more than adequate for home use. Its normal behavior to want to get the best model possible and at the moment thats 1080p - but 720p can be a lot more cost effective and under most situations will produce virtually the same results.
I sit about 9ft from my 96" screen. At this distance I am unable to discern the individual pixel structure on a 720p image. However if I sit at 7ft I can see the pixels that make up the image. So to me that says that a 1080p projector would be overkill for my situation as I couldn't make out the extra pixels on the screen. However if my screen was larger or I sat nearer, then a 1080p projector would be essential.
As far as DLP vs LCD or LCOS - for a budget projector I'd choose DLP every time. It may be a bit noisier, more picky about placement and you could potentially see rainbows - but the sheer quality of the image wins every time. The lack of blur on movement and the dark blacks mean that when it comes to budget projectors there is only one choice. Now when you get to comparing luxury projectors its not as simple or easy to call, but if you are spending less than £500 - just get a 720p DLP.
There is a lot of concern about the Rainbow effect (where areas of high contrast can lead to the viewer seeing rainbow after images). I admit that when I first switched on my projector I looked for these and did notice them on some black and white images. Now I don't know what it is - but after a year of on and off viewing I have great difficulty seeing them at all now. It may be because I've become immune or my eyes have trained themselves to ignore them, but just like those tiny red spiders that live on walls - unless you look really closely its easy to forget that they exist.
Projector bulbs - Theres a kind of person who knows very little about a lot of subjects. They were the people who used to go around telling people that "Plasma TV's need re-gassing every few years." This kind of person will always ask how much replacement projector bulbs cost and then when they find out will decide that projectors cost too much to run. These people are really just looking for an excuse to avoid buying something. Yes projector bulbs cost a lot - I think mine costs almost as much as the projector itself. However by the time the bulb fails the average projector will be really long in the tooth. You don't use a projector like a TV, its only on for a few hours a week at most. After a year and a half, my projector bulb shows 10% used. By the time it wears out I'm pretty sure I'll be ready to buy a newer model instead.
So have a look at the clip and if you want please share your thoughts and suggestions on doing Home Cinema on the Cheap.
I picked up a Creative Vado today. This might seem a bit weird, given that I already have the beautiful Sony TG3 HD Camcorder– but it does make sense, let me explain.
On my holiday there is a chance that I will end up going on a white water rafting trip. The instructions say wear a swimming costume under your clothes and pack a change of clothes as it is likely you will get wet. Now I don’t expect to get totally submerged given that this is the family friendly Cruise Passenger version of a white water rafting trip. but equally this doesn’t sound like a good place to take my £550 Sony Camcorder, so enter the Vado.
You will probably have heard of the Flip Video and maybe even read good things about it. The Flip has been credited with capturing 13% of the US camcorder market in the year or so it has been available. That’s stretching the definition of camcorder a bit if you ask me, I’d consider these devices to be in a category of their own (video clip recorder?) Well at the time of writing, the Flip is not freely available in the UK, but Creative’s version (homage?), the Vado is (I think it only came out a couple of days ago).
The Vado takes simplicity to a new level. The box contents are: The camera, its battery and a couple of instruction leaflets. No carry case, no lanyard, no discs, nuffin.
The camera is roughly the size of a thin mobile phone (it reminds me of one of the Motorolas). It’s very lightweight and slips easily in a shirt pocket or could hang around a neck if a spare lanyard can be acquired from somewhere.
Controls again are foolproof, Record, Play, Delete, FF, Rev, Power. The USB plug pops out of the bottom on a flexible plastic arm and is held to the camera by a magnet when not extended. On screen control for recording, deleting and playing clips is completely intuitive.
The battery charges via USB in two hours, or three if you are using the Vado as a mounted drive on your computer.
Battery life will last long enough to fill up the internal memory which holds 1 hr in HQ (640x480) or 2hrs in SQ (320x240) both record at 30fps.
The LCD Screen is actually rather nice, its 2 inches and displays a full 640x480 image. One of the biggest selling points to me is the fact that the Vado has a standard tripod mount on the base. So combine one of these cameras with a Gorillapod and you have a cheap(ish) ‘stunt camera’ to attach to a car, bike etc.
Possible downsides, well as expected there is no Image Stabilisation and apparently the inbuilt software (which is supposed to automatically upload clips to youtube) doesn’t work with a Mac. Splash or water-proofing would be a good idea, but it looks like it would resist the odd raindrop to me. The Youtube thing doesn’t bother me as I’ll be dragging/dropping and transcoding all my clips though Visualhub first anyway and then integrating them with the rest of my edited holiday footage.
The other year I went on a Wave-Runner (jet ski type thing) and took one of the Oregon Scientific ATC2K waterproof cameras with me.
Unfortunately when I got back home and put the SD card in the PC I found that the camera had been pointing in the wrong direction for much of the time so most shots were just sea rushing past. Therefore to me, a viewfinder or LCD screen is essential for one of these devices. Incidentally a friend later borrowed my ATC2K and attached it to his Motorcycle forks and it wasn’t long before its plastic custom mounting system snapped off (it doesn’t use a standard tripod screw).
You might think, why not just use your mobile phone camera instead, and that’s a fair point – but you might not want to drop your phone over the side of a boat any more than you’d want to drop a camcorder, and its pretty unlikely that it can be easily attached to a tripod mount.
Anyway, HERE IS A TEST CLIP taken with the Vado that I’ve uploaded on Vimeo (and HERE IS THE ORIGINAL FILE to download). I tried putting it on youtube, but it looks dreadful on there for some reason (perhaps it didn't like their transcoding techniques). I'm pretty impressed with its wide(ish) angle lens and decent low light performance - the indoor section of the clip is in the Printworks in Manchester and it is really pretty dark in there, the camera picked up more than my naked eye could see.
So overall - very recommended. Currently only available via DSG (Dixons Stores Group) in the UK for around £79.99 . Dixons.com is £4.95 cheaper than PC World (if you can find a way to get free postage) because for some reason Dixons is selling the Silver model cheaper than the pink one at the moment which might be a pricing error. This is top end of what these devices are worth - I think £50-£60 would make this an irresistible proposition.
I briefly owned a Sanyo HD1000 camcorder. This camera has a particularly narrow field of vision so I also bought a wide angle lens attachment for it. It turns out that the lens was dreadful as objects off to the sides were totally out of focus. This was my first taste of separate lenses as I've always bought cameras that don't accommodate lenses. (No SLR's, DSLRs in my history). Despite the poor results this experience made me more aware of the potential of lenses and how they can be very useful under the correct circumstances.
When I recently bought the Sony TG3 I was aware that due to it's design this camera couldn't accommodate any lens accessories - but that's a small price to pay for a beautiful tiny camera with a built in lens cap (unlike the HD1000). The field of vision of the TG3 is considerably better than the HD1000 and pretty much on a par with all the other compact camcorders.
However, inspired by my experiences I made it my mission to seek out a way of getting a wide angle lens to fit the Sony TG3. I only intend to use this when absolutely necessary, when there is no other way to get the shot I desire. I have this niggling concern that on my holiday I will be stood in front of the colosseum in Rome and my camera will only manage to get two or three pillars in shot at once and I'll have no option but to pan left and right to give an impression of the majesty of the thing.
I only want to use a wide angle lens on very very rare occasions, just the odd shot here and there. The main reason for getting a TG3 was pocketability and I don't want to compromise this.
Anyway, I managed to find a 0.45x wide angle lens that is supposed to attach magnetically to a digital compact stills camera. It arrived today. Its not exactly professional quality - but it's good enough. The Lens comes in a small bag, and has two lens caps, one for each sides of the lens (these fall off a bit too easy) and a lanyard to attach it to your camera or camera strap. Also in the bag are two self adhesive magnetic hoops and the rear portion of the lens itself is magnetic. The idea is that you stick a magnetic loop to the lens on a camera and then magnetically attach the lens to this loop when required.
The first problem I encountered is that the area surrounding the lens on the Sony is slightly recessed from the front. The base of the lens was just a couple of mm too wide to fit in the recess and therefore would be unable to touch the magnetic loop. I solved this by stacking both loops on top of each other so that they were now level with the front of the camera.
The only other problem is that the camera shows slightly less on the LCD screen than what is actually recorded. So when recording I can't see any lens infringement on the corners of the image - but when it comes to editing the vignetting is quite apparent in the corners if the lens isn't lined up absolutely perfectly. The solution is to zoom in a bit when using the lens .
The operation of the camera is un-infringed by the magnetic metal loop and the flash bulb is still visible (although it gets blocked if the lens is attached). I believe that the camera's aesthetics remain pretty much intact and the extra flexibility afforded by this modification is worth the slight disruption in the neat design. It is completely reversible too, the metal loop can be peeled off and the camera restored to it's normal state.
I wouldn't call it a 100% success due to the lens being visible in the corners of the image unless extra special care is taken. However I do think it's as near as I can get given the limited space available to mount a lens. It'll be good enough for me for the handful of times I'll need to use it.
TG3 Without Wide Angle Lens
TG3 With Wide Angle Lens
HD1000 With & Without Wide Angle Lens (for comparison)
Click to Download a Sony HDR-TG3 Video Of Pachinko/Pachislo Machines With & Without the Lens Attached
Click to Download a Sony HDR-TG3 video of Wigan Park with and without the lens attached
(I slightly cropped this video in iMovie08 to get rid of the visible lens in the right hand corner- this was very easy to do).
I've now uploaded this to youtube and have embedded this below - but I suggest you double click on it then select the 'Watch In High Quality' button on Youtube to get a better image.
So now when I am off on my trip I can pop the lens in a pocket and if the situation requires it attach it on the camera to take in a wider vista. I'll probably also take a panning shot of the same scene without the lens and then decide which clip I prefer when I get back and start editing the footage together.
The lens was bought via Ebay and cost about £22 (a number of sellers have them at various prices). The lens is an M-Power Wide Lens 0.45x"
SEE IMPORTANT 2009 UPDATE HERE