An Update on my Zinwell ATSC 3 Nextgen Tuner Box Review

My latest video is a follow-up of my initial review of the Zinwell Nextgen TV tv tuner box.

In my initial assessment I demonstrated that the device did not function as advertised, particularly in decrypting DRM-encrypted ATSC 3.0 stations in Connecticut without an internet connection. This was contrary to the device’s major selling point, which claimed no need for an internet connection for decryption.

Since publishing I received feedback from a viewer who was able to get his box to work with encrypted channels without ever connecting to the Internet. Additionally I heard from the Joe Bingochea, the President of Channel Master (the US distributor of the Zinwell box), who said they successfully tested the device in multiple markets prior to launch without first connecting the box to the Internet.

To ensure fairness, I revisited the issue, sharing my initial setup process and the difficulties I encountered. Following its initial channel scan, my Zinwell box tuned to WFSB here in Connecticut which is an encrypted channel. It displayed a blank screen. I then tuned to WTNH, an unencrypted ATSC 3.0 channel, which spun up quickly. Following that I tuned to another encrypted channel, WVIT, where I received an onscreen notification that I needed to connect to the Internet to watch.

Bingochea also addressed a discrepancy with the product’s quick start guide, which stated the need for an Internet connection. He admitted that this guide was outdated and not reflecting improvements made before the device’s launch. This situation highlighted the challenges and inconsistencies surrounding the DRM rollout in the broadcasting industry. It underscores the haphazard rollout of these “security features” which, in my opinion, seem to inconvenience consumers more than prevent unauthorized retransmission of broadcast signals.

Channel Master said they will be producing their own video demonstrating the device’s functionality, which I plan to share when available. This is fine I suppose, but my review documented a true consumer’s experience as I bought the product from their website and set it up like any normal consumer would.

I am sure we will be revisiting this topic soon as things develop. As they say don’t touch that dial!

The Zinwell Nextgen TV Box Requires an Internet Connection – Despite Claims to the Contrary

Zinwell’s new ATSC 3 Nextgen TV Box is the subject of my latest review. This device was eagerly anticipated by the cord cutting community as it was promised to tune DRM protected channels without the need for an Internet connection. Unfortunately those claims proved to be false.

The Zinwell Nextgen TV Box, retailing for $149, is designed for TVs without a built-in ATSC3 tuner. It’s a straightforward device – plug in your antenna, connect it to your TV, and you’re set to receive both ATSC 3.0 and the older 1.0 signals. The setup process is impressively quick, and the interface, while minimalistic, is user-friendly.

However, the device’s limitations soon became apparent. Despite its claims, the Zinwell box requires an Internet connection to decrypt ATSC 3.0 DRM channels, at least initially.

This contradicts the product description and the industry’s assurances. Just a few days ago broadcast industry association Pearl TV congratulated Zinwell on the product release claiming the new box is “A3SA security verified to operate without needing an internet connection for tuning to channels with protected broadcast content.” That clearly is not the case as the first thing the “quick start guide” urges consumers to do is connect to the Internet in order to watch encrypted channels.

After connecting to the internet and tuning into an encrypted channel, you can disconnect the Internet and still view it. But this process must be repeated for each encrypted channel. The duration these channels remain viewable without internet re-connection is unclear. I’ll be leaving my box off the Internet for the foreseeable future and will report back if the security credential expires.

Another downside is the box’s outdated security. Running on Android 11 with its last security update from August 2021, it’s significantly behind in terms of security patches. This is concerning, especially given the need for an internet connection to access certain features.

The update process is another area of frustration. It’s complex and not user-friendly, requiring the user to manually launch and sideload updates from deep within its Android operating system.

All of this is incredibly unfortunate given just how good the ATSC 3.0 standard is proving to be in my area when channels are not locked down. The quality of the over-the-air television signal is remarkable and the reception is notably improved. Unfortunately the actions the broadcast industry is taking regarding is likely going to hinder adoption.

See more of my ATSC 3.0 coverage here.

Intel Core Ultra is a Big Improvement! HP Spectre x360 14 Review -14t-eu000

My latest video explores the HP Spectre x360 14, featuring Intel’s new Core Ultra processor. This device and its new processor has impressed me with its performance leap, especially in graphical capabilities.

The Spectre x360 14, a two-in-one device, starts at a price of $1,449 (compensated affiliate link). The unit I reviewed has a new Intel Ultra 7 155h processor with an integrated Arc GPU. The new processor has 16 cores – 6 designated for high performance activites, 8 for power efficient tasks, and another 2 “NPU” cores designed for machine learning activities.

The Spectre x360 line sports a 14-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2880 by 1800. The display’s brightness peaks at 500 nits in HDR mode and supports a variable refresh rate up to 120Hz, making it useful for a range of tasks from document editing to media consumption.

Weighing in at 3.19 pounds, the laptop feels premium with its all-aluminum build. Unique to HP Spectres, a Thunderbolt 4 port and a headphone jack are placed on the corners. Other ports include a compact USB-A port, and an addition Thunderbolt 4 ports. HP also includes a small dock in the box with additional ports.

The keyboard offers a comfortable typing experience with well-spaced, backlit keys and decent key travel. The haptic trackpad, while innovative, does present some responsiveness issues, often misinterpreting gestures or clicks. This is an area that could benefit from software refinement.

Equipped with a high-resolution webcam, the Spectre x360 delivers clear video quality, enhanced by Intel AI features for background blurring and other image effects. The webcam has a physical lens cover, operable via a keyboard shortcut.

Audio quality from the built-in speakers is satisfactory, though best experienced in the laptop mode due to some muffling when in display orientation.

Performance-wise, the HP Spectre x360 excels in everyday tasks like web browsing, and media streaming. Its Wi-Fi 7 capability should deliver solid wireless performance in most environments. The included pen provides a responsive and pressure-sensitive drawing experience, though the smooth screen might feel a bit slippery to some users.

Battery life has seen improvement with the new Intel chips. Under normal use, the laptop can last 9-10 hours in my testing, a notable increase from previous models.

In terms of heavier tasks like video editing and gaming, the Spectre x360 14 holds up remarkably well. Editing 4K videos at 60fps was smooth and efficient, thanks to the new Intel chip. Gaming performance showed significant improvement, running games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Doom Eternal at significantly better framerates than the prior generation of Intel chips running on integrated graphics.

The laptop remained cool and quiet throughout my testing, demonstrating the balance between power and efficiency in this new generation of Intel processors.

However, I did encounter some limitations with Linux compatibility, suggesting this model is best suited for Windows users.

The Spectre x360 14 is a promising indication of what’s to come in the laptop market. Intel really upped the game here so it’ll be fun to see what AMD cooks up to respond.

Recent Ace Magic / Ace Magician PCs Infected with Malware

A fellow tech creator Net Guy Reviews discovered that a few new mini PCs from Ace Magic were infected with malware that among other things can capture keystrokes from the user.

Having reviewed a few Ace Magic PCs in the past, I wanted to make sure the machines I still had in my possession were clean. Most of them were, although. I did find something concerning in a newer model that I haven’t yet reviewed.

Background on this situation and my findings are the subject of my latest video.

Following the Net Guy’s video, a cascade of reports and articles, including a detailed one from Tom’s Hardware, emerged, outlining the severity of the issue. The spyware, identified as Bladabindi and Redline, is particularly nefarious, capable of stealing passwords from browsers and wallets, logging keystrokes, and transmitting data to a command and control server.

I conducted scans using multiple tools including Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool, Hitman Pro from Sofos, and Microsoft Defender on the three Ace Magic PCs I had in my possession. My AM06Pro and Kamrui Gaming PC both tested clean.

However, the situation was different with a newer model, the AM20, which restricted my access to Windows Defender. One other issue I noted on multiple Ace Magic PCs is that although they have licensed and activated versions of Windows, they only have the user create a local account – it does attempt to connect to a Microsoft online account.

ACE Magic’s response to the crisis has been to assure that the issue has been resolved with their new stock and was limited mostly to the PCs tested by Net Guy Reviews and others.

For the tech-savvy, the solution might be straightforward: wipe the machine clean and install a fresh copy of Windows or a flavor of Linux. But for the average user, this spyware saga is a reminder of the risks inherit with purchasing cheap computers from relatively unknown overseas brands.

Plex Launches Movie Rental Feature

My latest monthly sponsored Plex video takes a look at Plex’s new movie rental feature that allows users to rent and watch popular films without having to leave the Plex interface.

Rentals can be found in a new tab that’s been added to Plex’s free movies and TV shows section. Here, a variety of films are available for rent, distinct from the platform’s ad-supported content. You will also find rentals integrated into Plex’s universal search and watchlist features. Users who prefer not to see rental options in their search results can adjust their settings to exclude them.

The rental process within Plex is straightforward. Upon selecting a movie, users have a 30-day window to commence viewing. Once the movie is started, there is a 48-hour period to complete it.

After renting a movie, it appears on the user’s Plex home page and will also be at the top of the rental tab. Rentals will be integrated with the rest of the media accessible to the viewer. Users will also receive email notifications reminding them to watch the film before it expires.

A notable feature of Plex’s rental service is the capability to view rented movies across different devices, maintaining continuity in the play location. But there is currently no offline viewing option and rentals can only be played back on one device at a time. At the moment rentals are limited to 1080p only with 5.1 channel surround sound.

The pricing structure for rentals varies. Older movies generally cost around $3.99, newer releases are priced at $5.99. I noticed a few rentals available for movies currently in theaters that are priced higher.

Currently, the rental feature is only available in the United States, with plans for future expansion to other regions. As the feature evolves I’ll post some updates. You can also keep track of changes on Plex’s support pages.

Disclosure: This video was a paid sponsorship from Plex. However they did not review or approve this before it was uploaded.

Are Portable Carplay / Android Auto Displays Worth It?

In my latest video I explore the growing trend of portable Carplay and Android Auto displays among generic Chinese manufacturers. You can find these all over Amazon in many different sizes and configurations.

These devices, like the one I examined in the video, are essentially “dumb terminals” that, when connected to your Android phone or iPhone, activate the in-vehicle features of your smartphone. Displays like this offer an intriguing solution for those who own cars without built-in Carplay or Android Auto capabilities.

Priced under $150, with some models like this one around $70, are very easy to integrate into most vehicles.

The particular model I reviewed features a 7-inch screen but is relatively heavy, suggesting it’s not suited for suction cup mounting. It was designed to be attached directly to the dashboard, though I did have concerns about the potential of its adhesive damaging the dashboard upon removal.

Setting up the device is straightforward. It connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth, and once paired, it boots up quickly into the Carplay or Android Auto interface. The user experience mirrors what you would expect in a car with built-in capabilities.

The device comes with several ports, including a USB-A for storage, an SD card slot, and an auxiliary output. The latter is crucial since the device doesn’t transmit audio to the car’s Bluetooth system, necessitating a hardwired connection for audio output. Alternatively it does have a built in FM transmitter for sending audio to the car’s radio via RF. It’s also equipped with built-in speakers which sound pretty bad. There are apparently some other devices like this that will interface with a car’s bluetooth audio system.

These devices have a microphone built in for phone calls and assistant commands. I was able to trigger both Siri and the Google Assistant by shouting out their wake words. Phone call audio will route through the display and not through the phone.

These portable Carplay and Android Auto displays are a great way to get Android Auto or Carplay support to an older vehicle. This particular model works best for cars that have an aux input for a hard wired connection but the FM transmitter should be a sufficient alternative. I would like to see a version that’s lighter and more portable for using in rental cars, etc. to avoid having to pair your phone and your personal data to a car that will later be used by others.

But given how many different versions of these things exist out there I’m sure you can find one that meets your particular needs on Amazon. You’ll also find full on dashboard display replacement models for popular vehicles.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored video and this product came in free of charge through the Amazon Vine program. I did not have any communication with its manufacturer, nor did anyone review or approve this video before it was uploaded.

Raspberry Pi 5 Review : Is it still a viable low cost general PC?

The Raspberry Pi has long been synonymous with affordable computing, but the rising cost of their flagship device, the Raspberry Pi 5, led me to question its current value proposition, especially when compared to Intel and AMD-based mini PCs. I was fortunate to actually find one at its regular retail price the other day and it’s the subject of this video review.

The Raspberry Pi 5 features a Broadcom BCM2712 processor which has four 64-bit ARM Cortex A76 CPU cores running at 2.4 GHz. It also includes 1×1 AC Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities along with gigabit ethernet. It performs significantly better than the prior versions but also has more stringent power and cooling requirements.

My 8 GB model cost $80, a price point that, while still affordable, edges closer to the cost of some entry-level mini PCs. Additional expenses for cooling, a protective case, power supply, SD card, and HDMI cables can quickly escalate the overall investment over $100 and right into the territory of affordable Intel based Mini PCs. While it uses USB-C power, most USB-C power supplies cannot provide 5 amps at 5 volts that the Pi requires likely requiring the purchase of the official $20+ power supply.

The Raspberry Pi 5 does have its merits, especially for those engaged in the maker community. The inclusion of GPIO pins for project integration remains a strong selling point along with a very active open source development community. The new model also features a PCI header for attaching PCIe devices, a useful addition for those looking for higher performance data input and output. They also finally added a power switch!

Performance-wise, the Raspberry Pi 5 does deliver. Desktop computing, especially at 1080p, feels a lot zippier and responsive. It also handles hardware decoding of 4K video both at H.264 and H.265. But web-based streaming services may not fare as well as direct playback with VLC. In my testing YouTube was unwatchable at a 4k resolution using both of the pre-installed browsers.

The Pi 5 does much more in the realm of video game emulation vs. its predecessors, with notable improvements in running Gamecube and Dreamcast games. Projects like Retropie will undoubtedly squeeze that performance further.

This video clearly upset some folks which quite honestly is surprising. But my process in evaluating products has always been from a consumer perspective. Some commenters said that the Pi is not a general computing device. But the foundation’s own marketing states “The everything computer. Optimised.” and later they say “the newest version of our operating system delivers a superb desktop performance, making it an ideal computer for work, leisure, enterprise, and more.”

My coverage of Pi products in the past has always been based on its utility as a functional and affordable computer. It still is, but the cost of Intel/AMD based mini PCs has dropped to such a level that you can get a lot more bang for the buck with those. That wasn’t the case a decade ago when the Pi first became available to market. My baseline is always to look at a product vs. its marketing.

A Foldable Windows PC! Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Review

In my latest video I take a look at the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16, a foldable PC that presents a new concept in computing. This device can be used both as a small 12″ equivalent laptop but can then have its display unfold into a much larger 16.3″ experience.

The ThinkPad X1 Fold 16, priced at approximately $3200 as configured (compensated affiliate link), is equipped with an Intel i5-1260u processor, 16 GB of DDR5 soldered RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. The standout feature is its 16.3-inch foldable OLED display, offering a 4:3 aspect ratio and 100% DCI P3 color coverage, making it useful for creative work.

Unlike the Pixel Fold smartphone I reviewed recently, the X1 Fold’s display crease is hardly visible. But it can be felt when using the pen accessory. This might make it difficult for doing artwork especially if drawing in the center of the display is necessary. But for simpler drawings or note taking it’s fine.

The X1 Fold weighs about 2.38 lbs, making it slightly heavy for one-handed use but manageable. The keyboard/trackpad and stand add about another pound to the mix when transporting. Unfortunately the keyboard and stand need to be separated when not in use although they’ll loosely attach magnetically to the folded display for transporting.

The included stand was the weakest component of an otherwise elegant design. It has a habit of collapsing if it’s at too steep of an angle and I had a hard time getting it to stay settled when rotating the display into a portrait configuration without folding the upper half of the display slightly.

Placing the keyboard/trackpad combo on top of the screen will automatically reorient the display to make the Fold function like a small laptop. The stand is not needed when operating in this mode. Detaching the keyboard restores the full image to the display.

The X1 fold has three USB-C ports located on separate sides of the unit. Two of them are Thunderbolt 4 with the third offering USB 3.2 Gen 2 speeds. All of the ports are full service allowing for power in, video out and data device connectivity. Battery life ranges from 9 to 10 hours when running low impact tasks along with the optional second battery installed. Without the extra battery expect about 4-6 hours.

The webcam offers a high-quality 1440p resolution. I was pleased with its output and the detail it picks up. The device’s speaker system, while not outstanding, delivers adequate sound quality for its size.

In terms of performance, the X1 Fold 16 handles web browsing, video streaming, and basic productivity tasks smoothly. Gaming and more intensive tasks are possible but limited due to the hardware specifications and the fanless design, which can lead to thermal throttling under heavy load. I did find basic video editing to run well on the device but more advanced tasks that strain the processor more will likely not be ideal.

I also tested it with the latest version of Ubuntu. As expected some of the advanced features like detecting the placement of the keyboard on top of the display did not work. But most of the hardware was detecting including the touch panel, wifi and bluetooth. Unfortunately audio did not work.

The X1 Fold is a forward-looking device that could evolve into a new PC product category. The high price point will be a deterrent for many, but for those looking for a more flexible laptop this will certainly deliver.

This TV Tuner / DVR Stick Works Without the Internet

My latest review takes a look at my latest Amazon gadget find: a super portable standalone ATSC 1.0 television tuner from an unknown brand called DCOLOR that is USB powered and works without an active Internet connection.

This TV tuner stands out for its ability to function without an Internet connection, tapping into the ATSC 1.0 standard for standard and high-definition content. While most televisions made over the last 10-15 years or so have a built in ATSC 1.0 tuner, this device adds DVR capability, enabling users to record directly onto a USB storage device. It’s also useful for computer monitors that lack a built-in TV tuner.

The tuner’s design is straightforward: a coax connector for the antenna, a USB power cord, and an HDMI port capable of 1080p, 720p, and 480 resolutions. There’s a second USB connector that attaches to the built-in infrared receiver for the included remote control.

In operation, the tuner is user-friendly. The infrared receiver, although a bit dated in design, displays the current channel and it can’t be turned off. The channel flipping is surprisingly swift, even for high-definition channels. A unique aspect is its old-school VCR-like recording capability – push the record button and it starts recording whatever is on screen until you stop it.

The electronic program guide, pulled over the air, offers a basic, non-grid view of upcoming programs. The device supports scheduled and manual recordings, adding to its utility. Playback quality is an exact copy of what it received over the air with support for closed captioning. Interestingly, this device also doubles as a rudimentary media player, allowing playback of videos and music files stored on a USB device.

However, the device isn’t without its limitations. The firmware update process is unclear – in fact all they give you is a gmail address for support. The interface, though functional, is far from cutting-edge. It’s a product that doesn’t promise extravagance but delivers on its basic premise – a simple, effective way to watch and record TV without internet dependency.

For those seeking a basic, no-frills approach to TV tuning and recording, especially in contexts like boats or RVs, this device could be useful.

$449 Dell Inspiron 7435 Review

In my latest review, I took a closer look at the Dell Inspiron 7435 2-in-1 laptop, currently priced at $449 (compensated affiliate link). This device is a solid one thanks to its versatility, functioning both as a laptop and a tablet. It’s powered by an AMD Ryzen 7530U processor. It’s well suited for casual computing and even some light gaming.

The loaner unit I reviewed was the entry-level model. It came equipped with 8GB of dual channel DDR4 RAM, and 512GB of NVME storage. One note is that the RAM is soldered onto the motherboard, limiting upgrade possibilities. However, Dell does offer a 16GB variant for those needing more memory. The laptop also features a MediaTek Wi-Fi 6E radio, enhancing its connectivity options.

Its 14-inch IPS display, with a resolution of 1920×1200, is satisfactory for everyday use. The screen offers touch functionality, essential when using the device in tablet mode, but isn’t all that bright at 250 nits. I was particularly impressed with the 1080p webcam – its quality is a significant plus for video calls and remote work.

Despite its weight of 3.48 lbs and plastic construction, the Inspiron 7435 doesn’t feel cheap. The backlit keyboard has nice well spaced keys but has a bit of a shallow key depth. The trackpad’s responsiveness met my expectations, consistent with other Dell models I’ve tested. The 7435 also has a fingerprint reader attached to its power button for quick access.

In terms of ports, the Inspiron 7435 has two full service USB-C ports, a full-size SD card reader, a USB-A port, and a headphone/microphone jack. It also has an HDMI port but it’s only meeting the 1.4 specification – this means it will only output 30hz at 4k. The USB-C ports do support DisplayPort output for greater video options, however. The speakers, while not exceptionally loud, deliver clear audio quality, especially in laptop mode.

Battery life should come in around 10 to 11 hours of usage for basic tasks. However, this duration shortens with more intensive activities like gaming or heavy processing.

Performance-wise, the laptop handles basic tasks like web browsing and document editing nicely. It supports Dell’s pen input but is not compatible with the USI standard. While it can handle basic video editing, it’s not cut out for more complex tasks due to its limited RAM.

Gaming performance on the Inspiron 7435 is modest but adequate for casual gaming. Titles like Red Dead Redemption 2, Fortnite, and GTA V run smoothly at around 30 fps at 1280×800 at low settings.

I also tested the laptop’s compatibility with Linux, specifically the latest version of Ubuntu. Everything worked seamlessly, from audio to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, making it an affordable choice for those who prefer alternative operating systems.

Overall, my experience with the Dell Inspiron 7435 2-in-1 laptop was positive. It’s a well-rounded device that offers good value for its price point. While it’s not a high-end laptop, it provides satisfactory performance and quality for everyday users and casual gamers.