Archive for May 2007

Blog Origin…

May 16, 2007

Tangled Wires is a concept developed by Harvey Diamond to enlighten the public on the latest in technology.

Harvey’s a DJ turned tech junky possessing vast consumer/product experience.  Like most of us, his experiments with different electronic products & software saw a mixture from poor to superior.  He became encouraged to create this blog educating consumers before they make that “fatal” purchase and to showcase the “must haves”. 

 Tangled Wires has flourished since it’s debut in September 2006 & is now a site based, more specifically, on music related media (mp3, pda’s, cell phones, etc.) and music (…because he’s still a DJ).  It is now accompanied by a television show and webcast. 

Enjoy…Stay tuned!!!

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Harvey Diamond…Blog Creator & Administrator

May 16, 2007

ershsitting-with-beer-2-closeup.jpg

“5000 HITS”….WOW!!!  Man…I would’ve never guessed this blog would reach that # so fast. 

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported this site an made it a surprising success. 

This brew is for you.

P.S.  Please continue to log on & leave comments.  Thanks again…

Logitech Harmony 1000

May 16, 2007

Logitech has been gradually going more upscale with its PC-programmable Harmony remotes, so it’s no great surprise that it’s finally entered high-end territory with a touch screen, tablet-style model, the Harmony 1000. Unlike other high-end–and more expensive–models from the likes of Crestron, Philips, and Universal Remote Control, this swanky Harmony doesn’t require hiring a professional home installer to program or update it. In other words, while $500 certainly isn’t cheap for a remote, it’s still about half the price of what you’d pay for a competing touch screen model once you combine the cost of the hardware with the cost of the programmer.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Harmony 1000 is that it’s about twice the size of your typical smart phone (4.1×5.5×0.7 inches, HWD), but it feels pretty light in your hand. The screen measures 3.5 inches diagonally and features QVGA resolution (320×240), which means it’s fairly sharp but not supersharp. The brightness is adjustable, but even at a moderate setting, the screen is easily viewable. As noted, this is a touch screen model, but you’ll find a handful of hard buttons on the device for frequently used functions such as Channel up/down, Volume up/down/mute, and a four-way navigation button to get through menus. All these buttons, including the small Activities button just below the screen, are backlit with a blue glow. As with a lot of remotes, the identical-size Channel and Volume buttons are right next to each other, so we occasionally hit one when we meant to hit the other.  Like some of Logitech’s more expensive Harmony models, the 1000 includes a docking station for juicing up its removable and rechargeable lithium ion battery (the remote sits at a 45-degree angle when docked). The 1000 also has a motion sensor; when you pick up the remote, it automatically turns on, a feature now available in other, less expensive Harmony remotes. To customize the look of your screen, you can also add your own digital image as background (say, a shot of your family), but we preferred to stick with one of the several monochromatic backgrounds that Logitech offers.  All in all, we liked the overall design of the 1000, though if you’re used to using a wand-style remote, the horizontal nature of the tablet-style remote takes a little getting used to. The biggest advantage to using a tablet-style remote is that when you click on a menu function such as Watch TV or Watch a DVD, the remote’s screen automatically switches to a virtual set of buttons designed to work with that device. However, since you can only fit so many virtual buttons on one screen, you’ll be dealing with layers of screens. In each corner of the display, you’ll find an icon that takes you to another set of virtual buttons. For example, to get to the numberpad for changing the channels on your cable box, you click on the 123 icon in the lower-left corner. Another icon leads you to a set of buttons that allow you to access content from your DVR. 

Logitech has designed the remote to have a maximum of four layers of menus, so users don’t get buried in an overcomplicated menu tree. All in all, it seems like a good system, but as with any new remote, it will take some getting used to. You can also create customized buttons in the Harmony software. However, we didn’t see a way to create your own button design–something that’s possible in competing models such as the Philips Pronto TSU9600 (which requires setup and installation from a professional installer). 

As with other Harmony remotes, you program the Harmony 1000 by connecting it to your Internet-connected Windows PC or Mac with the supplied USB cable, installing the model-specific version of Harmony software, and answering a fairly simple online questionnaire. You simply choose your home-theater components from a list, explain how they’re connected, and define their roles in activity-based functions, such as Watch TV, Watch a DVD, and Listen to Music. For each function, you specify which devices and inputs the remote must enable. You can also choose which keypad functions will “punch through” to which specific devices–always having the channel buttons control the cable box or the volume controls dedicated to the TV, for instance. After you’ve completed the questionnaire, the software uploads all the relevant control codes to the Harmony 1000, as well as the relevant virtual buttons.

 

 

If you have a system that only has a few components, the Harmony 1000 is generally very easy to program. However, when you have more than four or five components, things can get trickier. This reviewer has eight components and was programming in six activities, and the ride was smooth for about 90 percent of the journey, but the last 10 percent or so was bumpy and challenging. In short, with a couple of hours of diligent trial and error (connecting and reconnecting your remote to your computer, tweaking the settings, and uploading the new settings), you can get your system working almost the way you want it to. Doing so with a laptop or a computer that’s in the same room is a huge advantage. Unfortunately, achieving perfection can be maddeningly elusive, and getting those last kinks worked out can tack on several hours of additional labor and have your significant other asking just what it is that you’re doing.  Some of the problems inevitably involve the use of IR. When you’ve got a lot of components, you have to make sure that all the little delays and response times are set just right for your components to respond the way you want them to. The default settings Logitech provides for various types of components work fine in many cases, but when you have several components competing for IR commands, sometimes not everything works as it’s supposed to. Inevitably, some component just won’t turn on or off when it’s supposed to. Hitting the help button on the remote and answering a couple of simple yes or no questions will usually rectify the problem, but ideally you want to hit one button, not several, to get what you want, especially considering how expensive this remote is.  

The good news is that if you really hit a wall while programming your remote, Logitech’s customer support for its Harmony remotes is really good, though you’ll probably have to wait 5 to 10 minutes to get through to them, and perhaps longer. If your problems persist, you’ll get kicked up to a level-two technician, who can go into your setup and adjust some of the advanced settings.  One big way to help alleviate any IR conflict issues is to go the RF route–whether you’ve hidden all your equipment in a cabinet/closet or not (RF technology allows you to control devices through walls and obstructions without the need for line of sight). Unfortunately, to use this remote’s RF capabilities, you’ll need to purchase the optional Logitech RF Wireless Extender and plug it into an outlet fairly close to your equipment. You then connect the wiry IR blasters to the wireless receiver and literally stick each blaster onto the front of your equipment so it’s in line with the component’s IR port. If you have more than eight components–or components in separate rooms–you’ll have to purchase additional Harmony Wireless Extenders, which list for $150 per unit. (They’re closer to $110 online, but that’s still steep.) While we didn’t have an opportunity to test the remote with dimmer switches, climate controls, or security systems that use the Z-Wave wireless protocol, Logitech says the remote supports the standard.  

Again, if you have a simple system, IR probably will be fine, and the nice thing about the Harmony 1000 is that you can always upgrade later to RF should you someday decide you want to hide your components. That said, at this price, we’re little disappointed Logitech didn’t include an RF module. Also, it would have been nice if Logitech had made the remote more conducive to programming multiroom setups. As it stands, you can program in a setup for TV2 and DVD2 that would work for another room, but there really needs to be a layer on top that allows you to switch from room to room. Logitech has a professional version of the Harmony 890 that offers this type of functionality, but that model isn’t widely available and is really designed for the home-installer market. We assume that the Harmony 1000 will be offered in a professional version at some point, but the company should consider opening up this type of functionality to more adventurous consumers. (Alas, it probably won’t happen as it does present a potential customer-service headache.)  Our only other significant gripe is that the battery life just doesn’t seem to be all that good. Granted, most folks will leave the Harmony 1000 in its dock when not in use. But one night we forgot to dock the remote and 24 hours later, when we went to use it, the low-battery warning flashed across the screen almost immediately. We’re not sure why this happened, because the screen shuts off when the remote is not in use, but the long and short of it is the remote does not appear to be all that energy efficient. We suspect the remote needs some sort of firmware upgrade to correct this problem and make it really go to sleep when not in use. Of course, our review unit was one of the first off the assembly line, so it could just be our unit. One final note about LCD touch screens: Make sure you’re ready to commit to one before you make the plunge. Like all touch screens, you’ll need to actually take your eyes off the TV screen and look down to the remote itself whenever you want to do anything more than adjust the volume. You might find yourself nostalgic for a more conventional wand with hard buttons if you prefer to navigate a remote by feel.

Savvy shoppers can buy the aforementioned Logitech Harmony 890 with the RF Wireless Extender for about $100 less than this remote. Overall, however, we did like the Harmony 1000 better than the Logitech Harmony 890, but it may be a stretch for those on a tighter budget who are simply having a hard time choosing between the 890 and one of Logitech’s step-down models. That said, if you’ve got the dough for a high-end LCD touch screen remote but are a little appalled by the idea of paying upward of $1,000 for a Crestron or Philips model that requires its own professional programmer, the Logitech is an appealing alternative

 

ComVu: TV studio in a browser

May 16, 2007

I tried livestreaming a panel I was participating in last night using ComVu‘s new (and not yet public) Windows streaming service. I think it was a technical success–the stream worked, but the software gave me neither viewer numbers nor a way to chat with people. Slightly disappointed in the lack of feedback, I sat down with ComVu CEO William Mutual this morning to learn more about the company and its products.

While Mutual vaguely acknowledged that he plans to add user interactivity (chat) to his service, he doesn’t think his product should be lumped in with the current popular livestreaming hotness, UStream. He’s trying to build a more robust and profitable business by providing cutting-edge technology solutions as well as services of interest to people and companies that will actually pay for them.  

ComVu’s technology efforts are visible in its mobile phone streaming product, PocketCaster. I couldn’t get the PocketCaster streamer to work on my Blackjack phone, due to (Mutual said) an unfortunate interaction with Cingular’s proxy service and my Blackjack’s BIOS. But I did get it working on a Nokia phone, and during our meeting Mutual showed me streaming working from several Microsoft- and Symbian-powered phones. He says that Nokia’s latest phone, the N95, will even send 640×480 streaming video at 30 frames per second, “If it’s right next to a cell tower.”  

ComVu also has a very cool livestreaming control console, called the Mobile Video Studio. This product lets streaming directors monitor video feeds from a variety of live sources as well as a library of archive videos, and select which feed they want to push out to users. It also interleaves location data into the stream (from GPS-equipped phones or other location-finding technologies, including selecting your location from a menu if all else fails) and displays to viewers, on a Google map next to the video, where video is coming from. This adds a whole new level of context, and I am really looking forward to seeing it used in newscasts. If you have a ComVu account, this link will take you to a live demo of the Studio service, where you can experiment with the controls but not add video sources. (Be advised that I could only get it to work properly in Internet Explorer.)  

ComVu’s mobile streaming service, PocketCaster, is in free and open beta right now, but will eventually be a paid service, starting at $10 a month for 80 hours of streaming with bandwidth limits. Prices will go up for enterprise-class products such as the
Mobile Video Studio. The company is also working with Microsoft’s new Silverlight Flash-busting technology, but Mutual wouldn’t say more about it. I’ll be at Microsoft’s Mix conference next week and will have more info about Silverlight from there.

 

KEF KHT-3005

May 16, 2007

Cutting-edge sound and style almost never converge on a single speaker design, and when they do, they’re almost always accompanied by exorbitant prices and gargantuan proportions. The sleek little guys rarely sound as good as they look, which is why the KEF KHT-3005–an exquisitely crafted $1,500 satellite/subwoofer package with egg-shaped, cast-aluminum speakers and a donut-round subwoofer–made a big impression on us.

 

Design of KEF KHT-3005 (silver)Instead of the usual medium-density fiberboard box cabinetry, the KEF KHT-3005 features cast-aluminum speaker pods, optimally shaped for sound. The four satellites stand just 9 inches tall premounted on matching table stands that can also serve as wall brackets (KEF also offers slender floor stands for the sats for $150 per pair). The satellites each weigh 6.6 pounds and feel remarkably solid.  

You can either sit the 12-inch-wide, 13.2-pound center speaker on the included rubber table stand or wall-mount it with the supplied bracket. The matching 24.2-pound subwoofer has options, too; you can stand it up vertically or lay it horizontally on three spiked feet. We used it standing, and in that position, it measures 15.5 inches high, 17.5 wide, and just 7.6 deep. 

The speakers’ front baffles are covered with a black rubberized material, and the speaker grilles are held in place with magnets. The entire ensemble is finished in automotive-grade, high-gloss silver or black paint, and with its Porsche-like curves, the KHT-3005 looks more expensive than what it actually costs. Yes, we know $1,500 isn’t cheap, but for high-end speakers, it’s a relative bargain.

 System setup is mostly straightforward, except for two details. The satellites’ concealed speaker wire connectors are awkwardly placed on their lower rear ends, and they accept only stripped, bare wires–banana plugs and “spades” aren’t welcome. The second nitpick concerns the effort required to smooth the bass blend between the satellites and subwoofer. KEF recommends setting your A/V receiver’s bass management to 80Hz, but when we did that, the KHT-3005’s bass disappeared on some CDs and DVDs. The lowest bass notes were properly reproduced, but the higher frequencies were missing in action, so male voices lacked body and warmth. We experimented with the subwoofer crossover control, first setting it to 100Hz, then to 120Hz; the higher-frequency crossover setting yielded the smoothest bass transition from the subwoofer to satellites. That level of adjustability isn’t available on all A/V receivers, so buyers interested in the KHT-3005 should first consult the owner’s manuals to make sure they can tweak the necessary subwoofer crossover settings. The exact setting will vary depending on room size and acoustic properties. Features of KEF KHT-3005 (silver)Instead of the usual separate tweeter and woofer, the KEF KHT-3005’s patented Uni-Q driver places the 0.75-inch aluminum dome tweeter in the center of the 4.25-inch woofer. The center speaker uses the same Uni-Q driver, but its bass is augmented with a pair of 3-inch woofers.  

The subwoofer has front and rear-mounted 10-inch woofers, but only the front woofer is powered by a 250-watt onboard digital amplifier. In comparison, the rear woofer produces bass passively, from the internal air pressure created by the movement of the front woofer. Unusually, the woofer lacks a volume control or a crossover network; those functions are handled by your A/V receiver’s bass-management system. We found it somewhat inconvenient during setup, but in day-to-day use, we didn’t miss the volume control. The sub’s base is fitted with a phase control and a three-position switch for deep bass boost. Connectivity is limited to one RCA input.  

Performance of KEF KHT-3005 (silver)The KEF KHT-3005 sounds as good as it looks–which is to say stunning. The little speakers unleashed a large and deep sound field on
Daniel Lanois’s dreamy instrumental CD,
Belladonna. The music seemed to blossom over the speakers, with the sound of lap steel guitars spreading outside the actual positions of the front left and right satellites and the drums’ cymbals floating a foot or so above the speakers themselves. The treble range is perhaps just a trifle bright, but it’s so delicate and airy, we don’t mind.  

The subwoofer’s taut definition allows acoustic bass instruments to sound more realistic than most compact subs. The ripe bass lines rolling through the Belladonna CD had satisfying fullness and power, and the pitch of each note was clearly rendered. The Raconteurs’ new CD, Broken Boy Soldiers, quickly demonstrated the little speakers weren’t afraid to rock out. Jack White was doing his best
Ozzy Osbourne impression on the title track’s vocals, and his raucous guitar blasts came through loud and clear.
 The KHT-3005’s home-theater skills were even better. The House of Flying Daggers DVD was a treat, especially that amazing sequence where
Ziyi Zhang dances and kicks massive drums. The subwoofer’s deepest bass extended to the low 30Hz range in our home theater–a truly outstanding performance for a compact design. The KHT-3005’s holographic presentation of three-dimensional space was extraordinary, with the jungle sequences on the

King Kong DVD producing a seamless arc of sound encircling our home theater. We could pick out the sound of each bird and buzzing insect as they moved about. So what are the KEF KHT-3005’s limitations? Well, compared to a set of much larger speakers, they just don’t offer the same volume capability, dynamic range, and home-theater impact. Higher-end full-size speaker packages simply play louder and deliver far greater home-theater impact. But if you’re looking for a beautiful, compact, and reasonably affordable 5.1-speaker package, the KHT-3005 is as good as it gets.

 

 

Kata Ergo-Tech Sensitivity V Backpack

May 16, 2007

It’s like a
James Bond backpack!” That was the reaction of the security folks searching my Kata Ergo-Tech Sensitivity V Backpack at the entrance to the
American Museum of Natural History. More-restrained strangers simply offer “Cool backpack.” But I don’t carry this camera backpack because it draws attention; I carry it because it’s a durable, waterproof bag that manages to be both compact and roomy simultaneously. Coolness is just a gadget-girl bonus.

On the outside, the backpack consists of a black, neoprene-like material; the bright-yellow inside material has a flannel-like nylon texture, which serves as the loops for hook-and-loop-based attachments. Though some might consider the yellow innards a bit too bright or flashy, it also renders every object in the bag immediately visible, even the smallest microSD card.  

The main body of the bag consists of two horizontal compartments with zippered oval covers that open to two different sides. The top has places for pens and cards; the bottom has two fixed-elastic segments with a third resizable opening in between to secure larger objects, such as lens barrels. You can attach the flash-size bag and flash-media-size pouch anywhere within the pack. I routinely carry a digital SLR with the lens attached and a flash unit, both of which fit snugly into the bottom compartment. Larger dSLRs with integrated vertical grips, such as the Nikon D2Xs, require lens separation to fit comfortably. And as long as you don’t mind the pages getting a little ruffled, the top compartment can hold a paperback book and some extras. For stuff that won’t fit into a single compartment, you can unzip the barrier between the two for one traditional-backpack-size space.  

On the body side of the pack, a full-length, padded-and-zippered sleeve fits a 12-inch notebook, though I think you could get something slightly larger inside–my Dell Latitude D420 fits with enough room leftover for a hardcover book.  

Outside pockets abound. Each compartment cover features a pocket for objects such as sunglasses and tissues. Each strap has a pocket for portable electronics, including a phone and an MP3 player. A small, zippered pocket at the top also can fit either and has an opening for a headphone cord. A small pocket at the bottom can carry an even smaller bottle of water. I find the pockets on the shoulder straps a bit too snug for my phone, which is a largish candy-bar style device.  

No matter how much I cram into the backpack, the tough elastic material acts like a girdle, keeping the bag from expanding. It always fits comfortably under an airline seat, and rarely whacks bystanders on the bus or subway. Plus it slides easily off one shoulder to hop into a cab or plop onto a seat. The girdle effect makes it possible to fill the bag until it’s quite heavy, but as heavy as I’ve made it, it’s remained comfortable to carry, distributing the weight evenly across my shoulders and upper back. Even after a day of schlepping a full pack around the show floor for CES, my back didn’t complain. The stiff straps do take a while to get used to; I initially thought they’d chafe my inner arms, but that never happened. On the other hand, if you routinely carry your backpack slung over one shoulder, this might not be the bag for you; it’s hard to keep the bag from sliding down your arm with a single strap. If I have one major complaint about the Kata Ergo-Tech Sensitivity V Backpack, it’s the unbreathable material that rests against your body, retaining heat and moisture. Ick. But a little heat’s a small price to pay for having the coolest backpack on the block.

Waterproof LCD for outdoor viewing

May 16, 2007

Summer will be here in a flash, and we’ll be forced to abandon the comfortable confines of our favorite TV-viewing lounge chair. But that doesn’t mean we’ll have to stop watching

Frontgate’s “SunBriteTV” doesn’t just have a bright LCD screen that can be seen in daylight, but it also is outfitted to protect against the elements with an “all-weather enclosure safeguarded from rain, dirt, insects and scratches.” Even its cable ports and remote are watertight and dust-resistant.

This Terminator of television sets, which can withstand temperatures ranging from minus-24 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, comes in two sizes: 32 inches for $4,000 and 23 inches for $2,500. Now we just need to figure out how to mount it in the Cooper limo’s whirlpool.