I’ll admit I’ve gotten a little addicted to WhatNot (affiliate link) which is a live auction site that has attracted some interesting sellers in the Retro game market and a few other collectible verticals.
The other day I happened upon a seller with an Atari 2600 that had its RF input swapped out for a RCA composite adapter. It even came with a controller in decent condition.
This was a great excuse to fire up the Retrotink 5x. After tweaking a few settings on the Retrotink side it looks perfect.
Unihertz’s “Tick Tock” phone has nothing to do with the social media network – its name refers to the round watch-like second display it has on the back. It is the subject of my latest video review. See it on Amazon and YouTube.
This very solid and rugged phone has a Mediatek Dimensity 700 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and support for SD cards for additional storage. I was pleased with the performance of the phone for its reasonable price point and I think it’ll do well in industrial and commercial applications. It’s pretty good for games too.
Like other Unihertz phones the build quality is spectacular. It weighs almost 11 ounces and feels like a brick. The phone is IP68 rated for dust and water resistance, has a screen protector preinstalled, and has a case along with an extra screen protector in the box. There’s no need to purchase any additional accessories.
Battery life is exceptional – the large case allows for a large battery that will last quite a long time. It also supports up to 30 watts of fast charging over USB-C although it does not have wireless charging capabilities.
The rear display doesn’t have much utility for me. It’s cool but it feels like Unihertz was trying to come up with something to make this rather standard Android phone feel a little more unique.
The default clock it displays looks great and there are other watch faces that can be used instead of the default. In addition to watch faces the display can display notifications, has a compass app, and allows the rear camera to be used as selfie camera as you can see the preview image in the round display. This is not an Android Wear watch, however, it’s proprietary to Unihertz and they plan on adding additional features to it over time.
The cameras are terrible, however. Although the rear camera shoots at 48 megapixels the image quality is very bland. And with all of that resolution the max it can shoot video at is 1080p @ 30 frames per second. Although it looks like there are two cameras on the back the right hand side camera is just a place holder and doesn’t seem to do anything. It’s not selectable in the camera app. I suppose the camera system is fine for commercial work but it’s not competitive with other phones from better resourced competitors.
Unihertz is known for their niche phones like the super tiny Jelly 2 and their other Android phones with Blackberry style keyboards. This is their first attempt at a more mainstream phone. It’s certainly much better than the many generic phones we see at this price point but it’s not quite up to the level a slightly more expensive Google Pixel 6a would deliver – unless a rugged design is what you’re looking for.
Some may consider amateur radio an obsolete technology given all of the ways we can connect to others over the Internet. Unlike the Internet nobody owns amateur radio and it’s relatively easy to reach people over super long distances with nothing more than a low cost radio and a wire in a tree. As I’m typing this I’m remotely logged into a PC in the basement making contacts in South America using a digital mode called FT8.
Working within the limitations of small bits of bandwidth and the physics of radio communications is a ton of fun for those of us who like tinkering with technology.
The last two weeks on the channel could best be described as the “not for everyone” series. The ioSafe 220+ is another product not for most people but those who need one will appreciate that it exists. You can see my review here.
The ioSafe 220+ has all the guts of an Intel powered Synology 220+ NAS device inside of a fireproof and waterproof casing. It’s designed to survive being in a 1550 degree fahrenheit fire for 30 minutes and the subsequent water dousing it’ll take to put the fire out. The electronics won’t survive but the drives inside of the fireproof enclosure should.
It works thanks to an endothermic material that is built into the casing. Water molecules are trapped inside of the material and will turn into steam when placed in a high temperature environment. That steam draws heat away from the center portion where the drives are stored. The drive enclosure is hermetically sealed to prevent water intrusion. You can hear more about how it works in this interview I did with the founder of the company back in 2015.
One of the improvements in this version is a much quieter fan. Previous versions had super loud fans that made it difficult to locate the device in an office environment. This one is about as a quiet as a regular Synology NAS.
Performance otherwise is on-part with a regular Synology NAS.
Why is this not for everyone? Price. A regular diskless Synology 220+ NAS sells for $300. This one starts at $940. But there are often corporate and government requirements for data storage that call for flood and fire protection for mission critical data.
I was expecting another “betaish” feeling ARM on Windows experience with this one but was pleasantly surprised that Windows 11 is finally closing the performance and compatibility gaps of previous attempts.
Make no mistake: ARM on Windows is still nowhere near as seamless of an experience as ARM on the Mac is. The 3rd generation Snapdragon 8cx still lags far behind the Apple M1 in performance too.
But the performance on this new ThinkPad is now closer to a mid-range Intel or AMD laptop vs. the low end performance we saw before. And Windows 11 finally integrates support for both x86 and x64 apps in the current shipping version as opposed to having to install beta versions of Windows to get x64 compatibility.
And for the post part compatibility is pretty good. I ran a bunch of low impact x86 and x64 apps and all ran just fine with no complaints or crashes – a big improvement over my experiences with Windows 10 previously. But there are still some issues like Da Vinci Resolve (a video editing application) not identifying a GPU it can use.
Gaming of course is another story. Most games did not run for various reasons like anti-cheat code not recognizing the hardware and games written using the Vulkan API do not currently work on Windows ARM. I’ve found that games that rely on Microsoft’s DirectX architecture do better but performance lags behind current integrated graphics on Intel and AMD processors.
So why then would anyone consider an ARM Windows laptop? The answer is simple: battery life, battery life, and did I mention battery life? You won’t find a longer lasting Windows laptop anywhere else. This is the draw and the selling point right now – especially for executive types that mostly live inside of the Microsoft 365 / Office eco system.
Despite its remaining quirks ARM on Windows is beginning to feel a lot more like a new direction for Windows vs. a novelty. What it lacks now is performance vs. Apple’s M1/M2 architecture.
In this first video we look at W1AW, also known as the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station. Maxim was the co-founder of the ARRL and an early pioneer of radio technology. You’ll see one of Maxim’s radios towards the end of the video. It still works but it’s rather dangerous to use around modern electronics due to the electrostatic fields it generates.
W1AW is where the ARRL transmits their morse code trainings and digital bulletins and is known throughout the world as an important entry to get into contact amateur logbooks.
W1AW is open to licensed amateurs and the public to operate from too which is what we’ll do in part of the series!
I had a viewer reach out to me recently asking about the best way to host audiobooks on a personal media server. And that question became the topic of my latest sponsored Plex video!
Plex does not have direct support for audiobooks but its music library feature works pretty well especially if the audiobooks you are ingesting have good data inside of their audio files. The most important setting is “store track progress” which will remember where you last left off. This is typically off by default for music libraries so you need to make sure that is enabled in the audiobook library you’re setting up.
Your audiobooks will playback just fine through the Plex app and Plexamp but some users have found third party apps that work with Plex to be a better option. The most popular app by far is Prologue on iOS which brings in some audiobook features missing in Plex apps. On Android Bookcamp and Chronicle are two similar options.
If you have a huge audiobook library you might want to check out this guide on Github with some additional scripts and agents you can install to help quickly organize a large block of audiobook files.
And if you’re looking for free audiobooks check out the Librivox project that is building a great library of books read by volunteers throughout the world. Oftentimes you can find multiple versions of the same book!
First things first on this one – it’s more of a “notification” camera vs. a “surveillance” camera. The reason is that because it needs to operate on minimal power it can’t provide a constant recording like a wired camera will. Depending on what settings you choose you’ll only get a short clip when motion triggers the camera to activate.
That puts this camera in the same market as the Wyze Outdoor cam and Blink cameras which cost significantly less. Is it better than those? Yes in many ways, but the other devices are far less expensive even if you add an optional solar panel for those devices.
But the solar panel works exceptionally well on this – I mounted the camera on top of my wife’s garden which is under direct sunlight for a large portion of the day. I purposely didn’t charge the camera when I received it and my battery less than a week later went from 40% to 75%. This is summertime right now so I’d imagine winter will be a little harder to maintain charge, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Unlike the Blink and Wyze cameras this camera does not require a base station and will connect directly to your Wifi. This might be an issue if you don’t have a good wifi signal where you want to place the camera. The only fix is to get another wifi access point and move it closer to the area. So this means you need to find a spot that gets good sunlight (without a lot of afternoon shade) AND gets a good Wifi signal.
The spot where I have the camera mounted is able to get both a good signal and good sunlight and I’m pleased with the experience so far. The camera alerts quickly and gets thumbnail images delivered to my iPhone and Apple Watch wherever I am. I have no trouble accessing the camera over the Internet.
I like that there’s no monthly fee here and everything is stored on the camera itself. Cloud storage is not even an option on this camera. You need to download video clips manually to keep them permanently. The camera’s 8GB storage should be able to hold a lot of event clips but it will eventually overwrite the oldest clips to make room for the newest ones. And if anyone walks off with the camera you can’t access anything you haven’t downloaded.
Visual quality is great especially during the day. Nightvision with the infrared illuminators also works great and shows a ton of detail. It also has a built in spot light that’s bright enough for a front door vestibule but not quite enough to illuminate over a garage.
For night images you have an option of using the spotlight to get a color image or leave the light off and capture infrared. I recommend using the infrared mode as the spotlight mode tends to blow out faces of people that get close to the camera.
Overall I’m pleased with this one as a notification camera. At the rate it’s operating I don’t think I’ll ever have to bring it in for a charge. If you’re on a tighter budget the Wyze outdoor camera will deliver similar results with free (albeit slightly limited) cloud storage for far less money.
Those in need of more robust security should consider a wired option with a security NVR.
Disclosure: This camera was sent to me for review on my YouTube channel and here on Amazon. However the brand did not compensate me for the review nor did they have any input into the review or see it before it was uploaded. All opinions are my own.
Google’s Pixel 6a phone is a value packed device for folks looking for some flagship features without paying a flagship price. I think most consumers will find this to have everything they’d want in a phone: a nice display, great camera, and excellent performance on par with their flagship phones. You can watch my full review here.
The Pixel 6 series phones are the first to use Google’s new Tensor processor which is tuned for some of the AI work and computational photography that Google integrates into their products. The new 6a also has a Tensor and it performs identically to the flagship 6 and 6 Pro phones.
Tensor doesn’t best its Android or Apple flagship rivals on performance benchmarks tests but what’s notable here is that there isn’t a performance penalty for choosing the lower end phone. Apple’s iPhone SE by comparison is powered by the same A15 chip as the iPhone 13 Pro but Apple throttles the SE’s performance to keep it from besting their top of the line product. That’s not the case here with the 6a.
The camera system is excellent here thanks to Google’s advancements in computational photography. The phone has two cameras on the back – one ultrawide lens with a 114 degree field of view and a wide angle camera. Photos look great in most light and the portrait mode gets better and better every year. The phone will also shoot clean and optically stabilized video at up to 4k at 60 frames per second. You can see some examples of photos and videos in the video.
So what’s missing from this phone vs. the 6 and 6 Pro? A few things. The 6a does not have wireless charging, the 6a’s back is made out of plastic vs. glass, it has a lower resolution wide angle camera (12 vs. 50 megapixels), its display is running at a 60hz refresh rate vs the 90 & 120 hz refresh rates on the 6 and 6 Pro, and it lacks the telephoto lens found on the 6 pro. Despite all that it doesn’t feel cheap nor does it feel lacking in any way.
I have long been a fan of the “a” series Google phones and this one is a nice upgrade over prior models. If you’re still running with the 3a this one will be a huge upgrade.
DISCLOSURE: Google sent me the Pixel 6a free of charge but this is not a sponsored review. Google did not have any input into the review nor did they review or approve it before it was uploaded.
One of the overarching themes of this channel is me trying to solve my own consumer tech problems and save some money along the way. No problem has been as challenging as trying to cut down on the cost of television in my home. I simply couldn’t receive many over the air signals here. The funny thing is that I don’t watch all that much TV but as a child of the 80’s I think it’s ingrained in my head that you need to have some way to get it.
I scored an initial victory when I found the HDHomerun Prime that enabled me to get my cable TV subscription without having to rent equipment. But as noted in one of my recent videos the CableCARD that powers the Prime may soon be phased out as the cable industry undergoes significant changes.
But there is hope thanks to ATSC 3.0 otherwise known as NextGenTV. All of my local broadcasters are now located on the same tower using the same frequency using the technology, which broadcasts highly efficient HEVC video vs. MPEG-2 from the prior generation.
I am using an HDhomerun Flex 4k as the tuner which can receive two of these ATSC 3.0 signals along with another two ATSC 1.0 channels simultaneously and provide programming to devices on my network.
The big issue right now is audio compatibility. This new TV standard ditched the decades old Dolby AC-3 protocol and instead uses the newer AC-4 standard. The problem? There’s not a lot of widespread support of AC-4 audio right now. Plex doesn’t support it yet at all, and other apps rely on the host hardware’s ability to decode AC4 audio. The HDHomerun app has a workaround that has their cloud servers transcode the audio back to AC3 and send it back down over the Internet.
In my testing my iPhone, Nvidia Shield TV, and Apple TV 4k’s all decoded AC4 successfully using the Channels App. But those are all higher end devices. Consumers will struggle when this transition begins – I expect a lot of older perfectly useful TV sets getting tossed out.
That issue aside things look great so far – much better than what my cable system provides. My signal is pretty good too although I think the antenna I am starting with here is just a little too small for the task. Viewers have sent in some suggestions on a larger antenna that might work better which will be the subject of a later video.
There will be more to come on this topic so stay tuned!
Google’s new Pixel 6a phone hits the market next week and they sent me a unit free of charge to review on my channel. I’ll have the full review up next week but yesterday I did a 2 hour+ live stream unboxing and running some tests on their new mid-range phone.
Whenever I review a laptop I look at who the target market is for it. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon series (now in its 10th generation) is a very popular device even though it’s known not to be at the top of the performance curve. It’s a successful product because it gives its target audience what they want.
This is what I think of as an “executive” laptop: the device the boss uses because he or she doesn’t want to lug around a heavy laptop but needs a large screen that can quickly run business related tasks. The X1 Carbon does these tasks exceptionally well and comes in at just 2 and a half pounds.
But for the enthusiasts out there this isn’t much of an upgrade over the prior edition. The battery life savings promised from the new 12th Intel chips have yet to be realized and the cooling system doesn’t allow the system to run at full performance under load for an extended period of time. So other laptops with the same chip will perform better.
But this is not a computer marketed to enthusiasts, and for the target market my benchmarks found the computer is in fact zippier doing “bursty” office related tasks than its predecessor. So for the executive this is another solid laptop even if it disappoints enthusiasts looking for the ultimate 14″ two and a half pound laptop.
A number of commenters on the original video pointed out that the Channels App‘s TV Everywhere feature does support local networks but it has to be enabled first. I tried it out on my installation and it does indeed work! The only network missing from my local lineup is Fox but everything else appears to be working.
Many viewers suggested that I look elsewhere for TV service, so I also did an analysis on my cable bill to see if I’d save any money going to an over the top service like YouTube TV, Sling, etc.
At the end of the video I also did a search on AntennaWeb to see if any of my local broadcasters are using the new ATSC 3.0 format. It looks like they just started around here so that will be the subject of a followup video this week! Stay tuned!
My latest video is a “haul” of some of the Ham radio gear I picked up to begin building out my base station. For equipment I went with the Yaesu FP-991a which a solid all-round radio that covers HF, VHF, and UHF frequencies in a single unit. It has separate antenna connections for the HF and UHF/VHF sides.
I went with an HF (high frequency) antenna that blogger Tom Costello built for some of the same things I’d like to do with mine – exploring the 10 meter band with a technician license. Technicians here in the USA get a small sliver of that band to experiment on but need a General and/or Extra license to go further into the lower frequency bands.
So far the set up is working quite well – I’ve made some very long range digital FT8 contacts into Europe and South America and even talked to somebody briefly in Georgia from my home in Connecticut!
There will be much more to come on this topic as I get antennas installed and begin exploring the portions of the radio spectrum this new equipment will give me access to!
If you want one of those things, you can get it at a reasonable price. And that’s what the Victus 15 is all about.
The review loaner we received has a 12th generation Intel i5 processor along with a GTX1650 GPU from Nvidia. It performs at the top end of the 1650’s performance curve per our benchmarks and comparison with other laptops – including some that cost a heck of a lot more. They also managed to get a 144hz 1080p IPS display on it too.
So what about the compromises? So given performance is the key factor here all the other stuff is where you’ll find compromises. Battery life is pretty bad on it even for light work (maybe about 6 hours). The display isn’t very bright, the webcam is lousy, the fan is super noisy, it’s mostly made out of plastic, it has no biometrics and it’s pretty heavy.
But if you’re just looking for performance and nothing else this will get you there for well under $1000.
As many of you know I use Vmix to produce my videos here on the channel. It’s by far the most efficient and highly optimized piece of Windows software ever made. It’s absolutely incredible.
My appreciation of it went further this week during one of my Prime Day live streams. I figured I would do an evening overview of the three TV boxes on sale this week (Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV) and I wanted to get all three running together in 4k simultaneously along with my three 4k studio cameras. You can see the stream here.
My current production machine is a home-built i9-9900KF based Intel machine with 32GB of RAM and a recently added RTX 2080ti GPU. For video capture I have a Blackmagic Decklink Quad HDMI card which can capture four 4k sources simultaneously. I brought the cameras and the Apple TV in through the Decklink card.
But Lon, you had 6 sources! Yes and thanks to the modern miracle of NDI I was able to bring in those additional two sources using a Newtek Spark box and a Kilo U40 (affiliate link). These boxes take HDMI video in and output a lossless video signal that can get ingested into Vmix with minimal latency. Those two sources generated about 500 megabits of bandwidth but Vmix easily kept up.
The most amazing thing about this set up is that my system still had plenty or room left for more. I also connected a 4k display to the back of my GPU and was able independently switch what appeared on that screen. Check out this short I made once everything was set up.
My latest review video is of the Acer Chromebook 514. This is a surprisingly good Chromebook for its price (especially today as it’s a Prime Day deal). See my full review on Amazon.
The device is powered by a Mediatek Kompanio 828 ARM processor. In the past these chips performed at or slightly below some of the lower cost Intel based Chromebooks. But this new chip performs much better – especially for graphically intensive tasks like gaming.
Other value-adds here include a full 1080p touch display, backlit keyboard, 8GB of RAM and exceptional battery life when doing basic tasks.
In the video you’ll see this thing running demanding Android game emulators like Reicast and Dolphin exceptionally well. Other Android games work great too although some don’t make the translation very well to laptop form from a touch based app.
Chromebooks are also great for running Linux apps and this one is no exception. The ARM version of Libreoffice runs great here and feels every bit as snappy as it does on Intel devices (even the more expensive ones).
What’s missing? Storage.. At the moment only 64GB of EMMC is available which will limit how many Android and Linux applications can be installed. Unfortunately there’s no SD card slot either.
But overall this is a great deal especially at its Prime Day pricing.
Also this week we’ll have a review of the Acer Chromebook 514 with a Mediatek ARM processor, an Acer gaming laptop (the Helios 300), a followup on my CableCARD video, and a look at a wireless microphone system from Hollyland. The Acer review is already live on Amazon and I’ll have unboxings of the other two later today up there too.
As I posted the other day I preordered the new M2 Macbook and that might be showing up by the end of the week. We’ll definitely live stream it when it arrives.
One other thing that I’m going to be doing are some fun livestream gadget sales and giveaways on WhatNot. These will consist of items that I received for free here on the channel that will be sold for just the cost of shipping, along with other stuff I am trying to get rid of. I’ll have more information on WhatNot and how to sign up coming in a future email.
More than likely we’ll go back to an evening Wrapup schedule after this week as I have a few reviews to get up ASAP ahead of Prime Day. I may target Sunday night for next week’s video.
CableCARDs look like the old PCMCIA/cardbus cards our late 90s/early 2000s laptops used but instead plug into cable equipment to access subscription television services. The cards are provided by cable companies to customers.
For a long time getting cable TV to work on a television was as simple as plugging in a coaxial cable – in the past only the premium channels like HBO were scrambled.
But a lot changed when cable went digital in the early 2000s. Cable companies found a new revenue path renting expensive digital boxes to consumers and most TVs lacked the tuning hardware to get service without one. The FCC allowed this provided cable companies gave consumers the option to use their own equipment to access services. CableCARD was the mechanism for that.
Sadly though consumers tend to drift towards the tyranny of the default and few CableCARD boxes were ever manufactured. The two remaining ones are the HDHomerun Prime and some Tivo boxes.
I have been using the HDHomerun Prime since 2013. It saved me a ton of money (thousands over the last decade) as I was able to use my own Android TV boxes and DVR vs. paying Comcast a monthly fee for the privilege. In fact my original video about the HDHomerun box was one of the main catalysts for my channel’s growth. Silicondust, the makers of the product, later became a sponsor. The open architecture of the HDHomerun equipment allows it to work with other apps too like Plex, Emby, Channels and many others. Channels and Plex are also sponsors on my YouTube channel.
Their reason for doing so is to make room for better Internet upload speeds to keep up with fiber optic providers that are putting competitive pressure on the cable giants.
Although it’s digital today, cable TV works pretty much the same way it did at its inception as a “community antenna service.” Think of your cable wire as an antenna that can pick up a range of frequencies. In this case those transmissions are not coming over the air but are rather transmitted over the wire. There’s a finite limit as to how many frequencies can be supported on the wire, which means to add services something has to be taken away.
Internet service needs to share the wire with TV stations that are broadcasting 24/7 each on their own frequencies whether somebody is watching or not. And the process of supporting uploads from many “stations” vs. a single downstream transmitter is very complicated and requires a lot of room on the cable to separate the transmissions.
But upstream speeds need to be increased dramatically for cable companies to remain competitive vs. fiber optic providers. Like any highway expansion there might be some homes in the way that have to be cleared to make room for the road. This is exactly what’s happening with CableCARD – the frequencies it uses on coax cables are in the region that would be allocated for this expanded Internet service. The industry calls it “high split.”
Why are cable companies still using coax? Because they’ve managed to squeeze every bit of value they can out of the wire and are still finding ways to do more. Although much of the local cable backbone is fiber optic these days, most homes are still connected over coax. The cost for replacing the connections for hundreds of millions of subscribers would be astronomical. It’s much cheaper to use the cable differently vs. installing a new one.
So it’s likely in the coming months we’ll be seeing announcements about CableCARD support coming to an end. SiliconDust says they can re-route the frequencies CableCARDs use but I doubt there’s enough CableCARD customers out there to warrant going through the amount of work to make that happen. And at some point cable TV will pivot away from always on broadcasts consuming considerable bandwidth to a streaming on-demand model delivered over IP.
And there are some alternatives now. Cable streaming apps run on most mobile and TV devices. I’ll likely switch to the Channels App which supports TVEverywhere – this works almost exactly like my CableCARD although it streams my subscribed content from Comcast over the Internet. And for those of you lucky enough to receive over the air television (I cannot where I live) tuner devices like the over the air HDHomerun boxes are a great solution.
So times are changing. And it’s funny that the thing driving this change is what we’ve all wished for the most: a more competitive local ISP market. Sadly our CableCARDs will be a casualty of that.
Valve designed not only the hardware but also much of the operating system. SteamOS 3.0, which powers the device, feels very polished and optimized for the task. Additionally it does a superb job of running Windows games on the Linux based OS without complexity.
In the review we look at the Steam Deck’s gaming performance but also explore some other areas including getting Epic and GOG games to run on SteamOS, evaluating its SD Card performance, trying out desktop mode, and booting up Windows 10 from an external SSD.
I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot more out of Valve when it comes to SteamOS. Don’t forget they are working with the ChromeOS team at Google to get Steam running on Intel and AMD based Chromebooks. According to the ChromeOS Wiki Valve’s Windows compatibility layer Proton will also be employed to get Windows games running on Chromebooks.