Chromecast with Google TV HD Review

My latest review is of the new HD only Chromecast with Google TV.

Google’s Chromecast was a bit of a game changer when it was first released in 2013. Although it lacked an interface and required a smartphone to work it was very popular due to its low cost of entry – it sold for about a third of what other TV boxes cost at the time.

Today there are many super low cost TV devices that have much greater functionality which is why it looks like Google is phasing out its single purpose Chromecast device in favor of a more robust Android based platform called Google TV. Last year they released a Google TV for 4k televisions and now they have an HD only version priced competitively versus similar offerings from Roku and Amazon.

While it retains the casting features from the original Chromecast it adds the Google TV functionality which allows for the installation of apps and games. It also works as a Google Assistant allowing for voice control of home automation devices.

Performance-wise it’s about the same as the Google TV 4k edition they released last year but costs a lot less. Google limits the video output on the HD model to 1080p only but it otherwise retains all of the features of the more expensive version including its support of Atmos surround sound.

Google TV is an enhancement of Android TV found on many smart televisions and set top boxes. Those enhancements come in the way of recommendations based on your personal preferences and a watch list feature to organize content across many different providers.

The only shortfall with its recommendation and watch list feature is that it’s not quite universal. While Netflix has a button on the remote and is pre-installed on the Chromecast when it first boots up, you can’t actually add Netflix content to the watchlist nor will it include any Netflix content in its recommendations.

But for the price it’s a solid offering especially if you’re tied into the Google Home ecosystem. Android TV’s app ecosystem is substantial and you’ll find some of the games you may own on your smartphone will also appear in your app library on the Chromecast.

Exploring Korean Tech at the US-Korea Startup Summit!

The folks from the KOREA-US SMEs go TOGETHER show invited us to visit a Korea-US startup summit in New York City this week. Although a majority of what we saw doesn’t have a direct consumer impact I found the approach many of these companies are taking to fill small market niches to be interesting.

One of the more innovative technologies was from a company called Mycel that is making leather out of mycelium mushrooms. They’re also looking at ways to make meat substitutes from their process as the texture very closely matches that of animal tissue.

You can check out my dispatch video of the event here! In full disclosure they covered our travel expenses and sponsored the trip.

The startups featured here were connected to larger Korean companies like Hyundai in the hopes that these larger Korean companies can help incubate other startups both inside and outside of Korea.

Amazing Shots of the DART Asteroid Impact

NASA’s DART spacecraft successfully collided with an asteroid yesterday to see if a kinetic impact can nudge a threatening asteroid away from a collision with Earth.

The target was Didymos – a twin asteroid system that’s not in any danger of hitting the Earth and is about 6 million miles away. The mission targeted the smaller rock in the Didymos system that is orbiting the larger one. Astronomers and scientists will now observe the orbit of the small rock around the large one to see if any changes, slowdowns, etc. happened as a result of the impact.

DART hit the asteroid at a speed of about 14,000 miles per hour – easily 8 times faster than a rifle shot. The spacecraft weighed approximately 1200 pounds at the time of impact. It also beamed back pictures all the way to its demise:

Check out the detail beamed back from DART right before it impacted the surface:

And this amazing shot from a South African telescope captured the impact from here on Earth (via Twitter):

It’ll be awhile until the full “impact” of the impact will be known. But scientists are pretty confident that they’ll observe enough of a movement to help inform a future deflection mission.

Parallels 18 Review – Windows 11 on Apple Silicon M1 / M2 Macs

I started using Macs a lot more around 2007 when Apple switched from PowerPC processors to Intel. This allowed me to run Windows applications either by directly booting using Apple’s “Boot Camp” feature or by spinning up a virtual machine using Parallels or VMWare Fusion.

Windows compatibility was a casualty of Apple’s switch away from Intel in favor of their own custom silicon. But that feature loss was only temporary. Shortly after the release of the first batch of M1 powered Macs, Parallels released an ARM version of their virtualization software that could run the ARM version of Windows 10 on M1 Macs.

I didn’t expect much but I was surprised in my review of Parallels at the time that the original Macbook Air ran ARM Windows better than a dedicated ARM Windows PC I had looked at previously. The subsequent Windows ARM laptops I looked at also fell short of the Mac’s performance.

Fast forward almost two years and things are even better with the release of Windows 11, Parallels 18, and more powerful M1 and M2 Apple processors.

This week I installed Parallels on my M2 MacBook Air to see how far things have come. You can see my full review here.

In my testing the Macbook Air performed on par with the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s which is to date the best ARM based Windows laptop I’ve reviewed. Windows boots up in a few seconds on the Mac and I found its compatibility with ARM, x86 and x64 apps to be just as good as a dedicated Windows ARM machine.

Installation was super easy too – you’ll see a big Windows button on the Parallels interface that will download an official copy of Windows 11 from Microsoft and automatically configure it. In my testing I was able to get to the Windows desktop in less than 10 minutes. Just note that Parallels does not come with a Windows license so that will need to be purchased separately.

Parallels has a number of free ARM Linux distributions also available as one click installs. In my review we booted up Ubuntu and it ran pretty nicely at a similar level of performance to the Windows virtual machine. If your Mac has a lot of RAM you can even run multiple operating systems simultaneously.

In my review I was able to boot up an older x86 version of Quickbooks along with a 64 bit application I use for my amateur radio work. Game players will certainly want to stick with an Intel or AMD based computer but older games like Half Life 2 run surprisingly well on the Mac through Parallels.

Microsoft deserves some of the credit as the ARM experience with Windows 11 is so much better than Windows 10. Prior to 11 x64 compatibility required running with a beta version of the operating system. Now things feel much more natural and integrated. Most Windows apps will just run without much aggravation and configuration.

Apple is still much further ahead on their ARM transition but Windows 11 gives me some hope that at some point Windows users will enjoy the performance and battery life that Apple users experience on their Apple Silicon based computers.

Parallels has a 7 day free trial if you want to take out for a test drive. Click here to visit their website (compensated affiliate link).

The standard version should work fine for most Macbook Air users but the Pro version allows for more CPU cores and RAM to be made available to the virtual machine. Unfortunately that version requires an annual subscription.

Whoosh 2.0 Screen Cleaner Review

For some reason my computer screens get FILTHY.. This is likely because I often do a lot of work in my kitchen in the morning and evenings.

Over the years I’ve tried a bunch of different cleaning solutions, including some I made myself and others I’ve purchased. They usually work with a little elbow grease but I found most take awhile to get the screens to the point where they look clean without streaks. And with fancier coated screens you need to be careful about the kinds of chemicals you apply for homebrew concoctions.

The other night after getting frustrated with my current solution I went browsing on Amazon and stumbled across “Whoosh 2.0.” They claim their solution is used at Apple stores to keep displays clean so I figured I’d buy a bottle and see if it lives up to the marketing.

As you’ll see in my review the stuff really does the job. Not only did it get my screens clean it did so without too much effort or reapplication. My worst screen took only two applications to get it back to “almost new” condition. It also did a good job getting some caked on dirt off the aluminum on my Macbook.

It only takes two or three pumps of the bottle to clean most laptop screens so I anticipate the bottle lasting awhile. They sell refill kits that mix with distilled water to reduce waste.

Another Great RetroWorld Expo Trip

A number of years back a small retro gaming show started up here in my home state of Connecticut called Retroworld Expo. The first two years were so successful they had to move to a larger venue at the Connecticut Convention center in Hartford.

The show took a year off for COVID but had a great reopening in November of 2021 followed by this year’s show that took place at their usual time of late August. It’s always a lot of fun to connect with fellow retro gaming fans and creators.

I do a panel discussion each year at the show too and YouTuber Dubesinhower was kind enough to record it for me. The focus of this year’s panel was some tips I’ve learned along the way as a full time independent content creator. Check it out here.

Last week I posted a dispatch video from Retroworld where we take a look at the show floor but also have some interviews with Bob from RetroRGB, EposVox, the creator of the NESMaker, and a look at a cool Knight Rider KITT replica! Check it all out here!

Macbook Air M2 Review

After waiting for a month and a half my M2 Macbook Air finally showed up. While this is not as groundbreaking performance-wise as its predecessor there is still a lot to like about this new “sorta entry level” device in the MacBook line.

You can watch my full review here.

The biggest change with this new device is the hardware – it is a completely new design that comes in a bit thinner and lighter than the M1 model that was introduced almost two years ago. They improved the display, webcam (complete with notch), and of course added the M2 processor for a performance boost. The keyboard is similar to the one found on the 14 and 16 inch pro models although the thinner case results in shallower key travel.

I opted for the 8 core CPU/10 core GPU model along with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. I went with the extra GPU cores because I plan to edit video occasionally on it along with a game or two. I am not certain if this would result in any substantial performance difference but I’ve found when buying Macs you’ll get more longevity by getting the best performing one you can afford.

The MacBook Air is a fanless device so it will throttle down by about 30% when placed under heavy consistent load. That negates to some degree the GPU performance of the 10 core unit although you’ll still have more cores available vs the base model. For video editing and other tasks that use the GPU in a more “bursty” fashion I’ve found it’ll run at full speed for about 3-5 minutes before it gets too warm.

Having used the Macbook Air M1 (and my Macbook Pro M1 Max) every day for the last two years I can say this M2 feels a bit zippier doing basic tasks. My benchmark tests indicate a nice speed bump in both single and multicore performance over the prior architecture but the M1’s found in the 14 and 16 inch pro models still have much better GPU performance.

Battery life remains exceptional – you’ll have a hard time not making it through the workday with this one. I have yet to get a low battery warning on mine – very similar to the M1 series in that regard.

The previous MacBook Airs suffered from a lack of ports – this one improves the situation slightly by adding a Magsafe 3 power connector that allows both of its thunderbolt/USB 4 ports to be used while plugged into power. The Magsafe connector terminates to a USB-C connector so it can be used with any Apple or compatible third party power supply.

The Thunderbolt ports are full service ports so they can also provide power to the laptop if you’re using a USB-C or Thunderbolt docking station. But this MacBook Air, like the previous one, only supports one external display. My 14″ Pro can support two 4k 60hz displays with a single thunderbolt connection by comparison.

Next up we’ll do some experiments with Parallels and see how the laptop performs running Windows 11 ARM and Linux distros.

All together this laptop is one of the few on the market that checks all the boxes: portability, performance, and battery life. This one will be right up there with some of Apple’s best laptops.

Synology Active Backup for Business Tutorial

Synology hired me to do a series of sponsored tutorials covering the hundreds (thousands?) of features embedded in their line of network attached storage devices (NAS).

In this first video we take a look at their Active Backup for Business app, which consists of a management app that resides on the NAS and an installable “agent” that runs on Windows PCs on your network. The software agent conducts total system backups of the Windows PC which can be scheduled and/or set to execute whenever the system is logged out, locked, etc.

These backups are incremental in that it won’t copy the entire contents of the system every time – just the changes that were made to it since the prior backup. Additionally there is a layer of deduplication intelligence that stores only one file on the NAS even if that file resides on multiple PCs. There is no limit to the number of PCs that can be backed up – it will take as many as you have storage for.

Additionally there is support for backing up file shares on the network (like SMB), and support for VMware virtual machines too. The feature is available on most Synology NAS devices with an x64 based Intel or AMD processor (usually the + series NAS’s).

You can watch the full tutorial here. The next episode will look at backing up files from your cloud services to the NAS using their Active Backup for Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.

Visiontek VT400 Dual Display USB-C Dock Review

USB-C hubs are a dime a dozen these days but this one from VisionTek stood out for me for the following reasons:

  • 100 watts of USB-C power passthrough (most others only support 60)
  • Dual display output for PCs that support it through USB-C (sadly Macs don’t)
  • Integrated gigabit ethernet that performs at gigabit speeds
  • A non-integrated connection cable that docks into the back of the unit for storage. This provides the option for using a longer cable if you want to use the hub as a desktop dock.

You can see the dock in action in my review here!

Sandisk’s PRO-Blade Transport Review

WD & SanDisk have launched a professional series of products aimed at content creators and others in need of reliable and high performance “out of the box” storage products.

The product line centers around their “PRO-Blade” system which incorporates NVME SSD drives encased in rugged metal “blades” that plug into various docking devices they are rolling out over the next few months.

SanDisk sent me their new Transport dock along with a few PRO-Blades free of charge for me to review. While I was pleased with the overall performance of the Transport dock, I thought it could have done a little better given the performance potential of the NVME blade system. This is because the Transport relies on USB 3.2 2×2 for its faster 20 gigabit mode.

You can see more in my full review here.

As I noted on a few other recent reviews, Sandisk and WD have been shipping portable SSDs that rely on the USB 3.2 2×2 standard for the best performance. This can provide about double the data rate of a standard 10 gigabit per second USB 3.2 Gen 2 connection. The problem is that very few PC manufacturers actually support the USB 2×2 standard. 2×2 is not required as part of the USB specification and most PC manufacturers don’t implement it.

The Transport Dock

PCs that do have higher speed options usually rely on Thunderbolt or the new Thunderbolt derived USB 4 20 gigabit option (which is different than 2×2 20 gigabit).

You can learn more about USB confusion in this video I made on the topic a little while back.

I thought the decision to have this professional-grade device also require 2×2 for the best performance vs. Thunderbolt was short sighted as most higher end PCs have Thunderbolt ports available these days. Even stranger is that the PRO-blades are formatted for the Mac which are all Thunderbolt equipped yet lack 2×2 support.

As you’ll see in the review the Transport with a PRO-blade inserted will perform better than most external SSDs but only marginally so. Had they opted for a faster interface these blades would vastly outperform most portable SSDs on the market.

The good news is that Sandisk does have a compact Thunderbolt-based docking station on the way that can accommodate four of these blades simultaneously. That’s where I think the value of this new platform will really start to shine.

M2 Macbook Air Unboxing

My M2 Macbook Air finally arrived! We did a quick unboxing video on the Extra’s channel along with a livestream of me running some initial benchmarks on it.

So far I’m quite pleased with it. There appears to be a nice performance boost over the M1 (which is still great 2 years later) along with an updated modern design with a better keyboard and (notched) display.

It also has a mag-safe power port that will leave both Thunderbolt ports free for use. Unfortunately like the prior generation you can’t power two displays through a single Thunderbolt port.

I will have a full review of it later this week. Stay tuned!

Dot 1 Mini PC Review – ARM Powered Windows 11 Mini PC

While Apple went all-in on ARM with their custom silicon, the Windows side of things has been a little more slow going. So far the handful of ARM based Windows devices I’ve looked at have been expensive underperforming devices with significant compatibility issues.

I was surprised that we haven’t seen any ARM based mini PCs until now. Unfortunately this first example, the Apcslimic Dot 1 Mini PC is one that I will not recommend. Here are some of the issues I found with it:

  • No 4k Support
  • Only 100 megabit ethernet
  • Lackluster performance vs. similarly priced Intel & AMD based Mini PCs
  • No return policy
  • And most importantly a non-activated version of Windows 11 ARM.

The company tried to get away with running some development tool hack after purchase to get around the lack of activation. But the tool didn’t work properly on my device. While they denied shipping PCs without proper activation it’s clear these systems are not being shipped with proper licenses.

ARM based Windows laptops trade performance for battery life, but on a MiniPC that plugs into a wall you’re not getting much of a benefit beyond a few cents a month off your electric bill. There are far better Intel & AMD based Mini PCs I’d suggest over this one.

You can see more in my full review here.

New Video: 3DO FZ1-ODE Review

My latest video is this review of the FZ1-ODE for the Panasonic FZ-1 3DO console.

Back in 1994 your options for gaming were the Sega Genesis/SegaCD, the Super Nintendo, Turbografx 16 and DOS PC Games. These systems had their differences but for the most part they delivered very similar gameplay and graphics. The PCs were more powerful from a CPU perspective but 3D accelerator boards like the 3Dfx were years away.

Enter the 3DO. It arrived around 1993 with a pretty hefty $800 price tag but delivered a staggering (for the time) increase in gaming prowess. It did it all: outstanding 2D performance with a huge color palette, 3D acceleration, and the best video playback quality out of any of the CD based devices including the PC. But it was out of reach for most gamers.

Then in the fall of 1994 the price dropped in half to $399 along with the release of a reimagined Road Rash that looked amazing at my local Babbages. I had saved up some money over the summer and picked it up at the local mall during my freshman year of college.

As you can imagine my dorm room was pretty popular for the remainder of the academic year – at least until the following fall when the Playstation arrived here in the USA. Some of our favorite games included Road Rash, The Need for Speed (the original!), FIFA Soccer, Super Wing Commander & Wing Commander 3, and many others. They also had a few fun FMV game show games like Twisted and Zhadnost.

Many of the games don’t hold up well these days but it’s still fun to boot it up every once and awhile. The problem is that the optical drives on the aging consoles are not long for this world. Enter the FZ1-ODE – an optical disc emulator or ODE that allows games to be booted from USB sticks or SD cards.

Developed as an open source project by Felix Lazarev, it works as a drop-in replacement for the 3DO’s optical drive, using the same cables that connect it to the motherboard. The console thinks it’s a CD-ROM drive.

The FZ1-ODE dramatically increases load times – so much so it almost feels like a new console. You’ll also note some games like Need for Speed running a bit smoother as texture loading can happen much more efficiently. The ODE will also back up your save game NVRAM to the SDcard and allow for restoring it should you need to swap out the system’s save game battery. As a bonus the ODE’s menu has a killer soundtrack composed by the developer’s daughter.

At $250 it’s not cheap but for die hard 3DO fans it’s a must have. It’ll breath new life into your console and for many allow it to be playable again. Lazarev has an external model in the works for $100 more that will work with more consoles that have an expansion connector.

AMD’s Processor Model Numbers Explained

AMD announced their model naming scheme for their Ryzen processors today complete with a helpful chart below for consumers to figure out exactly what it is they’re getting:

The first number will be the model year, followed by the market segment. The most important number I think will be the third one which refers to the processor’s architecture. As we saw with the 5000 series Ryzen chips, some were running with the older “Zen 2” architecture while others had the newer “Zen 3.”

This chart should help make sense of what exactly is in the processor driving your PC in the years ahead.

The Week Ahead

After two and a half weeks of back and forth travel I am finally back in one place for a little bit! In addition to the NASA trip I went to NYC for the Lenovo event and took a family vacation to Nantucket. I do have another trip to NYC in two weeks but beyond that I am going to try and get caught up on my huge backlog of tech reviews!

The NASA trip was fun and productive but sadly there wasn’t much of an audience for the dispatch video from the Kennedy Space Center. A launch would have helped the video’s performance of course. Oddly the livestream I did from there did better. But these are the sorts of things I enjoy doing and I’ll keep doing them until I figure out how I can connect space content to a general audience. If you haven’t watched definitely check it out – we had some great interviews!

It’s actually kind of a bummer that my last couple of dispatch videos have performed so poorly. I really like getting out of the house every once and awhile!

This is a shorter week as today is Labor Day here in the USA and I’m going to take a little breather for at least a portion of the day. But I have three videos ready to go: a review for retro gaming fans of the 3DO FZ1-ODE, a review of a well rounded USB-C portable dock/hub, and another fun dispatch video from my visit to Retro World Expo! That video will have some interviews with RetroRGB, EposVox and the creator of the NESMaker !

I have a huge backlog of laptops to review from Dell, HP and Lenovo! So I’ll be working through that pile but also looking at that ARM based Mini PC, testing out the new version of Parallels for the Mac that simplifies ARM Windows 11, some new pro level external SSDs from WD and a lot more.

Stay tuned!

Artemis I Dispatch!

While I was unable to cap off my Artemis I Kennedy Space Center dispatch video with an epic rocket launch, all was not lost!

We did manage to collect a lot of great content out here about the many systems astronauts, engineers and scientists will be testing as NASA and the European Space Agency ready crewed missions to the moon.

While on site here at the Kennedy Space Center we spoke with Astronaut Shannon Walker, got a close up look at the Orion survival space suits and a new radiation protection system, and spoke with the head of NASA’s science office. That plus a look at the rocket on the pad along with some of the rapid construction taking place at SpaceX’s neighboring launch pad.

Our view of the pad from the NASA Press Site

I will be following this video up with a wrapup about the scrub and the highs and lows of rocket chasing. I’ve chased rockets longer than I’ve been a YouTuber and out of the seven launches I’ve attempted to witness only one went off on time!

And the rocket was not the only thing that had trouble getting from point A to point B. I had to battle an airport closure, a hotel cancellation and a missing rental car at the airport in the middle of the night!

All in this video was literally a labor of love :). I hope you might give it a watch as these typically don’t perform all that well for the amount of effort that goes into it. We also did a livestream the night before the second launch attempt so you can get a feel for what it’s like to be on-site at NASA for a launch!

We’ll be back to more regular tech content this week! I also have another dispatch on the way from my visit to the Retro World Expo right before I left on this adventure. Stay tuned!

New Video: Review of Frontier’s New Fiber Optic Service in Connecticut

Frontier’s new fiber optic service in Connecticut is rolling out quite aggressively. My father recently got it in his neighborhood and installed it at his place giving me an opportunity to do a full review!

So far it’s working as advertised – but it’s also apparent that even though gigabit speeds are coming to more and more households peering arrangements and other technical factors limit how much practical bandwidth is available for many tasks.

One of the “real world” activities I tested was uploading a video to YouTube. On my 6 gigabit connection here at the house the best I get is about 400 megabits per second – and that’s exactly what I got on the 500 megabit plan my Dad has.

This is why I suggest most families opt for the entry level plan. In most cases there’s not much of a need for more bandwidth as it’s usually impossible to make use of the fat pipe available on fiber optic plans.

Frontier is not known for having the best network or infrastructure. We’ll likely dive into their history and recent bankruptcy in a future video. Stay tuned!