New DVR / Gateway Rules Announced for ATSC 3.0

On Monday, the A3SA announced new DRM rules for the emerging ATSC 3.0 TV standard. While the announcement on the surface looked encouraging, digging deeper reveals that these rules will not solve the issues the broadcast industry created by encrypting over the air signals. You can see an analysis in my latest video.

For the uninitiated, ATSC 3.0 is a new over the air TV standard that will soon replace the current ATSC 1.0 broadcast technology. Broadcasters added a digital rights management (DRM) feature into the new standard in an effort to prevent third parties from re-transmitting these signals over the Internet.

While it likely won’t stop piracy what it has been doing so far is preventing legitimate antenna television watchers from viewing the ATSC 3 signals – especially those of us who use a gateway device like the HDhomerun or Tablo. These devices allow a single antenna connection to bring over the air television to just about any device in the home with a screen. Encrypted channels don’t work with these gateway devices at the moment.

The A3SA’s press release, while not revealing the entire standard due to its proprietary nature, hints at significant changes that will restore network DVR functionality and will allow for in-home streaming from a gateway device to a software or hardware based video player like a phone, tablet, set top box and smart TV.

A3SA also says that the addition to the standard will also follow the “broadcast encoder rules” which allow for the freedoms we currently enjoy with over-the-air content, like recording, skipping ads, and no retention limits.

But there’s a catch .. the broadcast encoder rules are rules established by the industry, not the FCC or Congress. Additionally broadcasters are only required to abide by these rules so long as the encrypted ATSC 3.0 channel is simulcast with the older ATSC 1.0 version. After that they could do a rug pull and severely limit what TV viewers can do in the home with their recordings.

Device compatibility is another pressing issue. The announcement mentions support for platforms like Android, Fire TV, Roku, webOS, and Tizen but leaves out significant players like Windows and Mac PCs and gaming consoles like the Xbox and Playstation. And their support for Apple devices is, in their words, “in process” and not yet finalized.

As I have been detailing over the last several months the broadcast industry’s desire to encrypt all of their signals risks ruining the future of over the air television. DRM has added nothing of value to consumers and has only made the process of watching TV unnecessarily complex.

We need to keep the pressure on. Please be sure to contact the FCC and make your voice heard!

Working Around ATSC 3.0 DRM with the Channels App’s Custom Channel Feature

I recently explored a unique solution for encrypted ATSC 3 TV stations with a special feature of the Channels App that allow for creating custom channels. You can see how I set it up in this video!

The Channels App consists of a DVR server running locally on a device like a NAS, Raspberry Pi, or PC and client apps that run on Apple TV, iOS, Fire TV and Android. The server application conencts to an HDHomerun and TV Anywhere sources for recording and streaming to client devices. You can learn more about Channels in this playlist. (Disclosure, Channels is an occasional sponsor on the channel)

One unique aspect of Channels is its ability to add custom channels through an M3U playlist. For example, one could use a hardware video encoder with an HDMI input and have that video sent into channels as a custom source.

However, Channels doesn’t run a listening server, meaning it needs to connect to an external source vs. having something sent to it via OBS. This led me to investigate an open-source Docker project called Restreamer, designed for video streaming but adaptable for integrating TV tuner video into Channels. Notably, all ATSC 3 tuners supporting DRM that I’ve seen do not encrypt the HDMI output. This allows consumers to legally record over-the-air television, as HDMI encryption has not been implemented by broadcasters and thus does not require the viewer to break encryption which is illegal under the DMCA.

My setup involved a Linux Mini PC connected to an HDMI capture dongle and the Zinwell TV tuner I recently reviewed. The installation of Docker and the Restreamer application was straightforward for anyone familiar with Docker. The setup on the Channels app involved adding a new source, configuring it with the right parameters, and mapping it to the actual guide data.

The custom channel I created was then fully integrated into my channel setup, behaving like any other channel despite its origin as an ATSC 3 DRM encrypted signal. It displayed correct guide data and allowed recording, just like other channels.

This proof of concept does show it’s possible to integrate DRM encrypted channels into an unrestricted home DVR. But of course this will only tune one channel at a time unless multiple tuners are connected to multiple capture cards.

Of course none of this is nonsense necessary with the current ATSC 1.0 broadcast standard that does not encrypt broadcast signals!

Lots of Neat Stuff from My Latest Amazon Gadget Haul

In my latest Amazon haul, I discovered some genuinely intriguing tech gadgets that you might find useful. You can check out the video here and find them all on Amazon here.

The first item that caught my attention was a smartphone cooler from Neewer. It not only charges your phone wirelessly but also features a Peltier cooler – a small heat pump that significantly reduces the temperature of your device.

Next, I explored a versatile charging bank from Lenovo, available in both 20,000 and 10,000 milliamp-hour capacities. This power bank’s standout feature is its ability to simultaneously charge devices wirelessly and through a built-in USB-C cable. This makes it convenient for charging multiple devices at once, a handy tool for anyone on the go.

Next was a portable 3-in-1 wireless charging station designed for Apple MagSafe devices, though it can work with Android devices too with the right accessories. The charger can lay flat or can propped it up for easy viewing a charging iPhone’s screen. It also charges your Apple Watch and has a second lower powered Qi pad for airpods and other compatible Qi devices.

Another interesting find was a small, portable USB-C dongle for charging Apple Watches. The magnet on this one felt stronger than the one on the 3-in-1 charger, making it quite secure for charging your watch on the go.

While on the Apple theme, I next looked at a couple of trackable items compatible with Apple’s Find My network – a HaloLock wallet stand and the MoMax Pincard. The HaloLock works as a magsafe wallet and a phone stand, with the added benefit of being trackable via the Find My network. The MoMax Pincard, a completely sealed flat IP68 weatherproof Find My tracking device, can be attached to luggage or keys and is rechargeable over Qi wireless charging.

The one dud of this look was the ReShow Cassette Converter. This walkman-sized audio cassette player allows you to convert those cassettes into digital format via USB-C. While its build quality and audio output aren’t top-notch, it offers a relatively simple way to preserve old recordings, especially for those nostalgic about their old cassette collections. The player appears as a standard USB audio device when connected to a PC or mobile device.

The haul also included an external optical drive for reading and writing CDs and DVDs. It’s a straightforward, USB-based device that proves useful for those who still have a collection of discs or need to access older software on CDs. Although the one I received is not available at the moment, there’s many similar ones that likely come out of the same factory available at a reasonable price on Amazon.

Lastly, I reviewed the Belkin Connect USB 6-in-1 GaN Dock. This compact and portable docking station is about the size of a laptop power supply but also offers a range of connectivity options, including HDMI, gigabit Ethernet, USB-A, and USB-C ports – no additional power brick required.

This was a fun one to do. It’s always great to find some useful gadgets that are relatively affordable.

Disclosure: The HaloLock phone stand and Lenovo battery came in from the manufacturers free of charge. The rest of these products came in free of charge through the Amazon Vine program. I had no contact with the manufacturers, no one reviewed or approved this video before uploading, and no other compensation was received.

Infrared Remote Extenders Allow Your Remotes to Work Anywhere

Over the last couple of weeks reviewing ATSC 3.0 TV tuners, I encountered a challenge. While creating content, I prefer to have the products on the table with me for a hands-on demonstration while I record or livestream. However, my TV antenna’s location upstairs and my recording setup in the basement made it impossible to control these TV tuners directly during a shoot. I had to narrate and run b-roll which is not my usual workflow.

In my latest video, I checked out an IR extender from BAFX that takes any remote control’s commands and transmits them through a wireless RF signal to another location in the home. I purchased it with my own funds from Amazon.

This device, while not groundbreaking in its concept, offers a simple yet effective solution to my problem.

The BAFX extender kit includes a transmitter and a receiver along with infrared transmitters and receivers that plug into the unit. The setup is straightforward, with no programming needed. Once powered up, the infrared receiver module captures signals from a remote control, which are then transmitted wirelessly to the receiver unit. This unit, in turn, emits the signal through one of its four emitter modules to the intended device.

The extender works with devices controlled by infrared signals, which is perfect for my TV tuners. However, it is not compatible with devices that use Bluetooth for their remote controls.

In practice, the BAFX extender performed exactly as I hoped. I set up the receiving unit upstairs with one of the emitters attached to a TV tuner. Despite the physical barriers of my home, the remote control functioned as if the tuner was right beside me in the basement. Every button worked seamlessly, demonstrating the extender’s capability to transmit any remote signal effectively.

The range varies between 50 to 300 feet, depending on the construction materials of the building. In my case, with mostly sheetrock walls and wooden floors, the distance of approximately 50 to 75 feet was bridged without any issues.

However, it’s worth noting that these extenders all operate on the same frequency and they don’t discriminate about what signals the transmitters repeat to the receiving units. So if you had multiple kits throughout the home with the same brand of electronics in separate rooms, a single button push would operate all of the same brand devices. For those scenarios a more robust solution would be necessary.

The BAFX Wireless Infrared Extender has been a practical solution to my specific need, allowing me to conduct reviews and demonstrations with the original remotes of the products in real-time as I produce my content. Its simplicity, ease of setup, and effectiveness in solving my problem without the need for complex programming or additional equipment make it a valuable tool in my workflow for these products.

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.

ATSC 3 TV Tuners Have an Expiration Date, Slow Progress on Gateway Devices and More..

The transition from the ATSC 1.0 to the ATSC 3.0 standard in over-the-air television broadcasting has been a topic of much discussion and concern, particularly regarding the DRM (Digital Rights Management) encryption applied to broadcast signals. This shift brings a significant limitation for viewers like myself who have enjoyed the freedom to watch and record television in the privacy of our homes.

In my latest video update on the ATSC DRM situation, I learned that every ATSC 3.0 tuner will have its decryption certificate expire after a certain length of time.

These certificates, essential for viewing encrypted signals, will expire after a predetermined period – varying from 10 to 30 years. For example, the certificates in devices like the ADTH box and Zapperbox are set to expire in 30 years. But the costs of these certificates are based on length AND quantity. Many manufacturers producing high volumes of tuners may opt for the shorter length certificates to remain profitable. And so far no manufacturer has disclosed how long their certs will last.

Given that the HDHomerun I reviewed over a decade ago is still running on my network today, it’s not unreasonable to have a tuners in use for lengths of time that exceed the certificate’s expiration date. At the moment these certificates are tied to the model number of the hardware being produced and are not renewable via firmware updates.

Another aspect of the ATSC 3.0 transition that has come to light is the ‘phone home’ feature of these devices. Regardless of whether an internet connection is necessary for television viewing, devices with ATSC 3.0 tuners will communicate back to broadcaster servers for certificate validation whenever they tune into an encrypted channel, provided an internet connection is available.

The progress—or lack thereof—in developing gateway devices for ATSC 3.0 has been another point of contention. Gateway devices, like the Tablo and HDHomeRun, are popular as they allow users to stream broadcast content across various devices within their home network. Unfortunately, due to the DRM encryption, creating compatible ATSC 3.0 gateway devices has been a challenge. This struggle is further complicated by compatibility issues with platforms like Apple TV, Roku, and Windows, among others.

Interestingly, the shift towards ATSC 3.0 has led to a potential change in how broadcasters might distribute high-bandwidth content like 4K. Rather than using valuable broadcasting bandwidth, it appears more likely that 4K content will be streamed over the internet, signaled by URLs pinged out by broadcasters over the air. This was revealed in the latest Zapperbox release notes:

As broadcasters seemingly retreat from utilizing public airwaves to their full potential, one wonders if these frequencies could be repurposed for community-benefiting uses, such as local access television. This would provide a new avenue for public access channels, which are currently struggling due to the decline in cable TV subscriptions and the consequent reduction in funding.

The ATSC 3.0 transition, marked by its DRM encryption and tuner expiration dates, raises critical questions about the future of over-the-air television broadcasting. As we move towards the 2027 deadline for the completion of this transition, the decisions made by broadcasters and regulators will significantly impact how we consume broadcast television in the years to come – if at all..

Plex Tutorial: Maximizing Free Tier Features (sponsored post)

Our sponsor Plex has me do a tutorial video each month usually focusing on a specific Plex Pro self-hosted feature. This month’s tutorial focuses on more general users who are discovering the free Plex hosted media features.

Plex users encounter a variety of Plex-hosted content options, including live and on-demand TV shows and movies. The live TV feature presents a diverse range of channels, from popular shows to specific genres like reality TV, news, or crime. Users can also customize their experience by adding preferred channels to their favorites, allowing for quicker access to desired content.

For on-demand viewing, Plex offers a constantly updated selection of movies and shows. This feature is complemented by Plex’s ability to provide in-depth information about films, such as cast details, reviews, supplementary content and similar titles.

This level of detail extends to the integration of Plex’s database with other streaming services, enabling users to search for content across their subscriptions seamlessly.

Where Plex goes beyond other free streaming services is their Watchlist feature. This tool functions as a to-do list for entertainment, keeping track of shows and movies across most major providers. Users can mark episodes as watched, maintaining a record of their viewing progress.

This watch list is synchronized across devices, ensuring continuity regardless of the viewing medium. It can also be filtered to display only what’s available on services the user is subscribed to. I’ve also found it useful when a friend recommends a new TV show – I can add it to my Watchlist right from my phone.

Plex recently introduced social features through its Discover Together feature, allowing users to share their watch history and recommendations with friends. Discover Together is an “opt-out” feature – so users should pay close attention when onboarding as to what information they want to have shared with others. These settings can be adjusted later too.

Plex is not just another streaming service. It’s also an organizational tool that brings together all aspects of digital entertainment, simplifying and enhancing media consumption. See more detail in the video!

Disclosure: This post and and video was a paid sponsorship from Plex, however they did not review or approve this content before it was uploaded.

Lenovo Ideacentre Mini PC Review (2023 / 2024 version)

In my latest review, I explored the Lenovo Ideacentre Mini, a new offering in the realm of mini PCs. This compact yet powerful device is reminiscent of the Mac Mini but runs on Windows and offers a more budget-friendly price point. You can find it at Best Buy and directly at Lenovo (compensated affiliate links).

The Ideacentre Mini I reviewed came with an Intel i7-13700H processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of NVMe storage. Its design facilitates easy upgrades; the RAM is expandable, and there are two NVMe slots with one empty for additional storage. A noteworthy feature is the integrated power supply, eliminating the need for a separate power brick.

Physically, the Mini offers a versatile setup. It can stand vertically or lie horizontally, though it lacks a VESA mount. The front hosts a USB 3 port with a USB-A connector, a USB-C port (non-Thunderbolt), and a headphone/microphone jack. The rear panel is more generous, offering a Thunderbolt port (ideal for external GPUs), two USB 3 ports, a USB 2 port, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs, and a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet jack. The Ideacentre can output to multiple 4K output 60 Hz displays.

In terms of performance, it excels at basic tasks and web browsing, thanks to its robust Intel processor. Video playback on platforms like Netflix and YouTube runs smoothly, although I noticed a few dropped frames in 4K 60fps content.

I also tested the Ideacentre Mini for video editing with DaVinci Resolve, doing some basic 4K 60fps edits without noticeable lag or stuttering. It will struggle with more advanced tasks like color grading and other more strenuous editing tasks unless paired with an external GPU.

Gaming performance is respectable for a mini PC and on par with what we’ve seen from other current-gen Intel-based PCs that lack a separate GPU. Running Red Dead Redemption 2 and Doom Eternal at 720p on low settings, the device managed playable frame rates. However, for more intensive gaming, a mini PC with an AMD Ryzen processor might be a better choice.

One notable downside is the fan noise. While idle, the device is quiet, but under load, the fan becomes noticeably louder. It’s not excessively disruptive but could be an issue for those preferring a silent work environment.

For those interested in running Linux, the Ideacentre Mini supports alternative operating systems. I tested it with the latest version of Ubuntu and found all major functions like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and audio working correctly. The dual NVMe slots also make it convenient for dual-boot setups with Windows and Linux.

The Lenovo Ideacentre Mini is a solid, affordable option in the mini PC market. It offers good performance, upgradeability, and support from a renowned brand like Lenovo. The only compromise is the fan noise under load, but otherwise, it stands as a competent and versatile choice for both professional and personal use.

CES Recap : How to get your startup covered at the CES show

CES, the largest consumer electronics trade event, showcases the latest in technology and innovation every January. In my latest video I recapped the show and offered some tips for startups looking to get covered at future events.

If you missed my CES 2024 coverage you can catch up on all of it here!

One of the key areas of coverage for me are attending media showcase events. These events gather up anywhere from dozens to hundreds of companies together in one place. In many cases these companies aren’t exhibiting on the floor so it gives me a great opportunity as a small outlet to get access to them. Only media are invited to attend these events so if you are looking for coverage as a small company a showcase event is a great way to get noticed.

My go-to show case events are:

CES Unveiled, held the Sunday before the official start of CES, gathers over a hundred companies, many of them small startups. Pepcom, hosts high-quality companies, some not present on the show floor. Show Stoppers, similar to the other events but with fewer exhibiting companies, provides an opportunity to stand-out a long running event popular with media organizations.

A crucial tip for startups and exhibitors aiming for media attention: press releases are key. Early press releases significantly impact my planning ahead of the show. I read all of them! A well-organized press release, like this one I received from a French PR agency, can lead to efficient coverage of multiple products. Even if you don’t get a response, know that your information is being considered and can influence coverage decisions.

I say this because wandering the show floor at CES has become increasingly challenging. The excitement of discovering new and innovative products has diminished over the years mostly because there’s less interesting things to find. The CES official maps and apps offer little help in navigating the sea of exhibits, often lacking detailed information about the exhibitors.

Reflecting on my coverage, I feel there was more to be explored and reported. The overall buzz around CES has not reached its pre-pandemic heights, impacting both the content available and viewer interest. The logistics of covering the event in Las Vegas are daunting, with time constraints and transportation challenges. Despite these obstacles, the response from viewers has been encouraging, showing a clear appetite for more detailed and expansive coverage.

CES remains a pivotal event for technology media, but certainly things are changing as this market continues to change and evolve. Your feedback and suggestions are always welcome as we look forward to future events.

Blockbuster Mini VHS Game Case Review

I am an easy mark when it comes to weird retro stuff.. A few weeks ago I learned of the Retro Fighters Blockbuster VHS Mini Game Case, a case for Nintendo Switch games that looks like a Blockbuster rental complete with a replica VHS tape inside. This is the subject of my latest review.

The case, an officially licensed Blockbuster replica, is designed to hold Nintendo Switch games, capturing the essence of a bygone era of home video rental. Purchased from Stone Age Gamer (compensated affiliate link), this $20 item is likely going to be in short supply given its very niche appeal. It is manufactured by Retro Fighters, known for their retro gaming accessories and controllers.

Unboxing the product, the first component that caught my eye was the miniature Blockbuster case. Although smaller than the VHS cases many of us picked up from Blockbuster on a Friday night, the detailing is impressively accurate, complete with a generic label and a barcode, mimicking the original Blockbuster aesthetic. The case even includes an address for a fictional Blockbuster location.

The next component, central to the product’s function, is a faux VHS tape, which houses the Nintendo Switch games. This miniaturized tape, while not functional in the traditional sense, features movable wheels and a decent weight, contributing to its realistic feel. The tape opens up to reveal storage for 12 Switch games and four microSD cards. The design ensures games are securely held, with a slightly rubbery surface inside for added grip.

Assembling the case with the tape inside completes the nostalgic experience. It’s a creative and playful way to store and transport Nintendo Switch games, merging modern gaming with a touch of retro flair.

With all of the chatter about the end of physical media, this product makes a bit of statement. It pays homage to a dead physical media distribution while housing modern physical games!

Hallmark Keepsake NES Zelda Cartridge Mini Review

As someone who has never been particularly drawn to Christmas ornaments, I found myself intrigued by Hallmark’s Keepsake ornaments, especially those that resonate with my passion for retro video games. The latest addition to my collection is the NES Zelda cartridge ornament, which not only appeals to my gaming nostalgia but also stands out for its solid metal construction. Check out my short review here.

The ornament is a diecast metal version of the original Nintendo Zelda cartridge, known for its distinctive gold color—a vivid memory from when I first purchased it years ago. It’s much heavier than expected, requiring a sturdy branch for display.

What sets this Zelda ornament apart from others in my collection, like the Sega Genesis, Nintendo Entertainment System, and Dreamcast, is the absence of electronics. Unlike its counterparts that play sounds from their respective games, this ornament is purely a visual representation. It’s a smaller yet faithful reproduction of the original cartridge’s appearance.

Upon a closer look, the ornament does require a bit of polishing, possibly due to some condensation build-up, a natural occurrence given its metallic nature and my current cold environment. Its design is very close to the original cartridge that was released in 1987 in North America. You can see the two side-by-side in the video.