So I finally managed to get my hands on the Optoma Pico iPod/iPhone Connectivity kit.
The iPhone 3G is very hard to connect to AV equipment. The old iPods used to output the video through the headphone socket, the newer ones and the iPhone 3G output the video through the dock connector. Until recently third party leads worked with some models, but following a recent firmware update the iPhones will only work with the official Apple leads.
To connect an iPhone to the Pico you therefore needed a whole mess of wires - until now. The Optoma Apple connectivity kit is now finally available to buy (a number of weeks after the projector was released). The kit comprises of a dock socket to 3.5mm jack socket converter dongle and a 1 metre 3.5mm to 2.5mm plug lead with an inline volume control. Its a very tidy solution - and the considerable difference between the portability of the two options can be seen in the picture below
The dock dongle also has a weird socket that purports to be a USB charger socket (to pass through to the iPhone). After investigation it appears this is a Micro USB socket - which is a strange choice. I have plenty of Mini USB leads around the house, but nothing I own uses the Micro USB standard and there is no lead included in the box.
Another strange thing about the dock dongle is that if the iPhone is in any state other than completely shut down then a blue led on the dongle lights up - this of course means that some power is being drained, even when the iPhone is in standby and the projector is shut off.
There is not much to review here - it works exactly as it should. Everything plugs together firmly and the inline control adjusts the volume.
The big bombshell about this product is the price - looking at the pieces you'd assume that the whole lot cost £5. Well mine cost me about £30 - and that's pretty ridiculous.
This device isn't a specific Pico product - it's a third party dock to 3.5mm av socket accessory with a patch lead. Perhaps the cost is to do with the Apple authentication chip - or maybe they have found a way around this protection and are just fleecing early adopters. It might be prudent to wait a while to see if any far eastern accessory makers can come up with an alternative . If you can't wait, and you can afford it then this works perfectly and it is a very compact and tidy solution. Available from various online PC component retailers - e.g. PC-Stop
Update 23 Jan 09 - I managed to get hold of a suitable charging cable off Ebay. It turns this needs a USB A to 4 pin Mini-B cable - I've never even seen one of these before - pic below.
Costco are really doing well with the scoops at the moment - after their exclusive on the s-JAYS the other week, my visit today revealed the Edifier iF500 Soundsphere. Costco's buyers should really be applauded for sourcing interesting and original quality products from around the globe. You won't see this in Dixons any time soon.
Unfortunately finances dictate that I left this one in the store, but its a really beautiful speaker dock that's compatible with all iPod models including the iPhone. Looking at the specs I imagine that it will sound as good as it looks. The price of £127 seems reasonable too when you compare it to some of the competition, especially considering it also has a built in FM radio and a smart remote control. More information on this speaker is available from the manufacturers website here.
Optoma Pico Review.
At present there are only two kinds of pocket sized Pico projectors available to buy. This might be a surprise, given that there are quite a number of different pocket projectors on the market - however the technology inside the box comes from just two sources. There is the LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) optics made by 3M that drive their 3M MPro 110, the Aiptek Pocket Cinema V10, and numerous other rebrands , and then there is the Texas Instruments DLP chipset used in just one projector, the Optoma Pico.
Both project a 4:3 aspect ratio and use low power high brightness LED bulbs that never need replacing. On paper the LCoS looks better as it produces a 640x480 image whereas the DLP is only 480x320 - however numbers aren't everything.....
After scouring the net for weeks looking for reviews, I could only find negative comments about the LCoS devices and positive ones about the Optoma.
There is one other pocket projector technology that promises to trump both of these - and that's lasers. The Microvision Show will use coloured lasers to draw the image on the wall and will therefore need no focusing. Unfortunately this model has been "coming soon" since 2007 and its release is currently suggested for "next year". I want my projector now so bought an Optoma Pico and I think I've made a good choice.
The people at Optoma certainly know how to put together a product. The packaging is very nice and the contents of the box are even better. Optoma supply two batteries, both of which last 90 mins and both come fully charged in the box (which is a nice touch). The other contents of the box are a compact carrying case, a USB cable (to power the projector/charge the batteries) a USB to mains plug, a screw-in tripod mount socket and a 2.5mm to composite phono sockets lead. Note that I wrote 'sockets' rather than 'plugs' - this means that any device with yellow, red/white phono out plugs can plug in to the Pico's lead).
There is just one omission from the box - the iPod connectivity kit. This will plug between the projector and the dock connector of an iPod/iPhone with a single wire with an inline volume control.
Unfortunately this isn't yet available in the UK and after contacting Optoma they confirm that it will only become available in 5 weeks, so I had to resort to going to the Apple store and buying the official Apple composite lead/USB charger set for £28. I'm going off topic here - but this lead is a major rip off. Apple have locked-out any cheap third party leads from working with the iPhone 3G, apparently there is an authentication chip inside the official lead that has yet to be successfully duplicated. So if you want to get video out of any iPhone its the £28 lead or nothing. Anyway that's not Optoma's fault, but if their iPod connection kit was available now, I wouldn't have had to buy Apple's cable (perhaps the delay is down to that damn Apple authentication chip).
The Pico is a beautifully simple device that has clearly been very carefully thought out. With it's 480x320 resolution there was no point in having a VGA or component input, composite is sufficient. The Pico only has two controls - power and focus. Using a USB lead for power means that there's no need to carry a large adaptor and most travelers already have a mains to USB adaptor for any country they are likely to visit.
My intention is take this on holiday with my iPhone and use it to watch transcoded TV episodes on the wall of my hotel room/cruise ship cabin. Last time I went on a cruise I took my Macbook along to screen a few Xvids on some evenings (Experience has taught me that 14 days on a cruise ship without any TV other than CNN is just a bit too long). Taking the Macbook wasn't a good idea. Leaving an £800 notebook full of personal information unattended in my room was a big worry, not to mention the hassle/weight of transporting it on planes, through customs etc. In contrast I'll be able to lock the Pico in the room's safe.
So how does it perform. The first thing to mention is that the Optoma Pico rather obviously needs to be operated in a dark room. As long as this rule is followed it produces a perfectly watchable picture up to 50 inches. Motion is fluid and blacks are black. If I was being picky, primary colours are perhaps a touch bright at times and there appears to be a reduced range of gray shades. That being said, I grew up watching CRT TV screens that produced significantly smaller and poorer quality images than this - so taken in context this is really pretty amazing stuff. The relatively low resolution really doesn't cause any problems on a image of this size when viewed at a normal distance, in fact I wouldn't know that it was anything less than DVD resolution unless I had read the specs. My full size home theatre DLP projector produces an excellent 1280x720 96" image so using that as a base, one should be able to view the Pico's 480x320 image at somewhere between 30"-40" without any issues - and this is true.
The only negative to the Optoma is the internal speaker - it sounds like you would imagine for it's size - like a mobile in speakerphone mode. My solution was to use an alternative speaker, and to that end I bought a heavily discounted battery powered Altec Lansing - Orbit speaker from Amazon. This plugs into the iPhone's 3.5mm headphone socket and luckily the iPhone still routes audio through here even when the AV cable is attached to the dock cable
So to sum up its another very positive review for the Optoma Pico PK-101. It does what it sets out to do very well.
Its most immediate competitor is the Aiptek Pocket Cinema V10. The Aiptek offers a 640x480 resolution and has an inbuilt memory card reader and the ability to play MP4 files. Unfortunately reviews of this device are not positive. So unless someone figures out how to make a pocket projector that uses the LCoS technology effectively or Microvision finally release their laser-based Show device (and at what cost?) it looks like the Optoma is the best battery powered pocket projector currently available. It's definitely a niche product, but if you think you need a pocket projector, the Optoma is the one to get.
EDIT - Since posting this review I've managed to get hold of the iPhone/iPod connectivity kit - for more details CLICK HERE
I picked up some new earphones at Costco the other day.
I hadn't heard of s-JAYS but their packaging was very Apple-esque and oozed sophistication and quality. After attempting to research these earphones on the internet the only information I could find was that the Costco price was roughly half the rrp (Costco price £35.23 gbp) so I decided to take the gamble and picked some up anyway.
JAYS are a Swedish company however the UK is the first country to get the s-JAYS and Costco might be the first retailer here to sell them. The s-JAYS use some clever technology - according to s-JAYS themselves.. "They use the new JAYS technology Sirens. Sirens uses the same technology as the micro armature but in the same form factor as a normal dynamic driver. The Siren driver gives a much better overall sound then a dynamic driver and still it has a low price"
Now that doesn't mean much to me - but it sounds like they are trying something new so good luck to them.
I also own the following earphones, Sennheiser CX-500, Sony MDR-EX71 and Shure E2C.
Most expensive, uncomfortable, tickly cable down the back of the neck, probably the best sound quality - but couldn't live with them so got the Sennheisers instead.
Good Value, sticky rubbery thin cables that annoyingly get twisted and curled up. Lack of bass. Upgraded to the Sonys.
Comfy, light, easy to put in/take out. Strong bass. However felt that there was room for improvement and the rubber earpieces keep falling off, so I bought the s-JAYS.
The most versatile of the lot. The earpieces can be oriented one way so they can be worn over the ear or twisted the other way to wear as standard (both options are comfortable). The cable can be routed around the back of the neck or normally down the front without any weird sticky out cable kinks. They come with a smart case, a variety of sizes of rubber ear pieces and a foam squeeze fit one. This is the same as the Shure earphones and similarly to Shure the s-JAYS also come with protective wax barrier filters.
JAYS don't skimp on the extras, also included are a headphone splitter and an airplane adaptor. The headphones are attached to a good quality cable. A sensible length (not too long) extension cable is supplied which could be eschewed in favor of a volume box/remote wire if required. I think the plug may well be too thick for the mk1 iPhone - but adaptors can easily be obtained.
I find that the design of the earphones fit my ears perfectly whatever the orientation. With the appropriate size of rubber earpiece inserted in the ear, the opposite butt of the earpiece wedges comfortably against the inside of the other side of the ear, securing it in place. This of course might not work for everyone but given the lack of uniformity in ear shape the fact it can be worn in two different ways means the design is very clever indeed.
Sound quality - Definitely the most naturalistic when compared to the Sony or Sennheisers. In comparison, the Sennheisers are thin and tinny. The Sonys have more bass - but at the expense of clarity, they actually sound rather muffled when compared to the s-JAYS. I didn't even notice the Sonys were muffled until I tried the s-JAYS. The s-JAYS sound more open and expansive, like listening to speakers rather than headphones. The s-JAYS are louder than the Sony or Sennheiser and this is important as I know that a lot of people find these others too quiet. I can't compare the sound quality with the Shures - I haven't used them for years as I just found them to be uncomfortable and really couldn't cope with the wire having to run down the back of my neck (I'm rather ticklish). The only significant negative for me with the s-JAYS is the difficulty in differentiating the Right from the Left earpiece. See if you can spot the near invisible R&L on the close up shot.
So in summary I'm going to keep using the s-Jays in preference to my other earphones. I'd consider the s-JAYS market position to be akin to that of a bridge camera. A bridge camera is halfway between a compact and an SLR - They generally give better results than the compacts but are a lot easier to use than the SLRs whilst still giving comparable results under the right conditions. This is the same position that the s-JAYS occupy. They are infinitely better than £10 cheapo in the ear phones, but are a lot easier to get on with day to day than the Shures or other canal phones whilst giving a comparable sound quality. I think that the s-JAYS might well be the first 'bridge-earphones'.
Click HERE for JAYS Audio info page on the s-JAYS
EDIT - 21 Jan 2008. Until a couple of days ago this was the only online review available. You can now find a proper indepth review online - put together by someone who actually knows what they are on about - you can read it here
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