Epson Home Cinema 2040 Review

So, I think at some point, most men (of the geeky variety) dream of having a home theater or screening room of some sort. Well, that was me as soon as we built our home almost a dozen years ago. We decided to finish out the upstairs for my office area with a bonus room and a large wall resulting with 120+ inches of available space magically appeared. I knew then what I wanted . . . of course, 12 years ago, to get a screen that big at any decent quality required a HUGE price tag.

Enter 2015 Christmas where I actually was able to save some of my Christmas gift money and decide to use on myself (yeah, one of those usually loses out!). I decided to do some quick reviewing and, based on many, MANY reviews, decided on the Epson Home Cinema 2040. So, here we go . . .

Quick list of what I’m using as inputs & outputs:

  • Sony PS3 for Blu-Ray/Video Games attached via HDMI
  • Nintendo Wii attached by Composit (yellow) video and LR audio
  • Audio is fed to an old Sony Receiver to my old box speakers via the mini aux jack from the Projector

Initial Impressions – Day 1

First off, I have never owned a projector. I’ve seen them at presentations, schools, etc. I remember one my church had growing up that projected a whopping 640×480 resolution. Blow that up on a wall and you could play a quick connect 4 game due to the abysmal resolution. Anyway, this projector is a nice 1920×1080 (Full HD), so we’re doing much better in that regard.

Setting up
Out of the box, this guy is very nice as far as size. It fits nicely on a back cabinet (approximately 13 ft from projection wall). Setup was a breeze – just power cord and HDMI from PS3 and powered in 30 seconds. I did take about 3-5 min to adjust the angles, but it wasn’t hard to align at all. NOTE: this projector does not have adjustment left to right for offset viewing, so you’ll need pretty much a dead center position from left to right. I did some research as to the size vs distance and this worked out perfectly.

First look – my advice on projector viewing and what to expect
I have been happily watching a Panasonic Plasma for the past 4 years or so. The blacks are amazing . . . the color is amazing. It’s pretty much as good as I’ve ever seen on a TV. So, my initial viewing of an image for this projector was actually pretty underwhelming. However, after an afternoon of video games and movie testing, I can say that this does look pretty great – the size greatly outweighs any loss of contrast. Bottom line, expect to “adjust” to the new picture if you’re used to any modern flat screen television. If you’re used to an old tv or just don’t care about that kind of stuff, you will love this projector.

A quick Nintendo Wii side note:
Kids love the giant screen . . . image is absolutely horrible since it’s not HD. Tennis fun outweighs the latter though.

Grain of salt . . . using wall.
My initial viewing today got better and better – even to the point where I’m likely going to keep the item. The fact that I’m using a beige wall right now adds to my good impression. If/when I keep it, I’ll hopefully follow some guidelines on painting the wall for much better contrast – or purchasing a screen.

3 Months Later

So, pretty much, this is a great, awesome thing! It didn’t take a week or two for my kids (all three) to start hanging upstairs to view their Netflix and so forth on the giant screen. Movie night is so very awesome. Seriously, all members of the family enjoy being upstairs in the “cave” we’ve created. It’s a very nice escape.

White, White, WHITE!
OK, remember I said I used a beige painted wall. Well, I went with this tutorial (with much help from my wife – thanks!) and the change is unbelievable. I only needed a quart of the paint, FYI – 4 coats was needed though and well worth it. Here’s a shot of the before/after during the job with just one coat of paint. Each coat brought even more brightness and vividness. This is the point I was sold.

wall

Likes at this time…

  • Bigness – yep, seeing a movie just can’t happen on the 50″ downstairs now. Even with half decent speakers, this is the place to be.
  • Color/Contrast* – I’ll pop and asterisk there because, being the nit picker on color, I’ll always see dark scenes and think “man, that could pop a little better”. My other family members, haven’t mentioned one time this issue, so I’ll call that a win. Still, this is the best projection I’ve seen outside of professional setups. I haven’t said anything to my better-half about it, so that’s saying something!
  • Sound – I’m going to go outside the review for a second. I really don’t think I would enjoy this as much without some half-decent sound. That big screen really does need “biggish” sound to make the full presentation work. If you’re looking to do something similar, at least get a decent stereo receiver and some solid bookshelf speakers – at a minimum. I already have visions of tower speakers in my future!
  • FOOTBALL, FOOBALL, FOOBALL! – Yeah, they’re right . . . it IS better on a big screen . . . so very much better! #hailstate

Dislikes at this time (minor ones)…

  • Color/Contrast* – here is the flip side of that first entry. Note: this is a very MINOR issue – even to the point that I don’t worry about it. I say that it’s something of an issue for those who have to have that extreme contrast of plasma/high end TV. You just won’t get it, so if you can accept that, you’re good!
  • Automatic Iris – this unit has a feature of normal and fast iris operation. This is where the iris in the lens opens and shuts automatically as you get to darker scenes (to help contrast). My projector is located such that it’s about 3 feet from my head. So, needless to say, I had to disable this. The short bursts of subtle noise is just too much in the quite scenes. I don’t really notice it’s not in use though.
  • Noise – I really worried about noise complaints from reviews of (well any) projectors. Most said that they didn’t notice noise unless it was a dead quiet scene. And, that’s largely true. Unless you are the kind of person who really hones in on things like this, noise is a non-issue. HOWEVER, full power (non-eco) mode is absolutely not happening unless I, for some reason, have a heavy metal concert blasting – so very loud for a fan in that mode! Eco-mode in a dim room is totally fine (and saves the life of your bulb too).

Conclusion

After almost 2 decades of dreaming of a large screen “man room” sized setup, the Epson 2040 has definitely delivered. I did have to take a small step backward in contrast, but the sharp detail and great color more than made up for the sacrifice. Oh, and there’s the amazing price (relatively speaking). I feel confident this will keep me satisfied for several years . . . you know, until 4K or 8K screens are main stream!

Epson Home Cinema 2040
(sometimes Amazon will drop $100, so be on the look out for deals!)

LG UM95 34UM95 Review

If you’re in the field of graphic design, accounting, tech support . . . or pretty much any skill that requires a lot of computer time, you might have entertained the notion of a bigger monitor, 2 monitors . . . 3 monitors?

The Back Story

That’s the situation I was in a year ago. Over the last several years, I have always used a laptop as my primary computer, due to the sheer portability to allow working if/when I travel. But, let’s face it, a laptop screen does not a convenient long-term work space make.

So, I had moved to a 2 screen setup about 3 years ago where my primary monitor was a 24 inch Asus LED Screen that attached to my secondary screen of the laptop. That Asus is still with me (more on that below) and is a crazy good deal for the quality it has.

Now, I’ll admit, the 24 inch setup happened for one big reason – $150 was far better than throwing down $1200-$1500 for a big ol’ 30″ Mac Thunderbolt Display. That was just crazy money (even if everyone was raving about it).

So, I sat it out for a couple years. Then, this LG monitor sprung onto the scene. It retailed for $1199, so I was out . . . until good ol’ Amazon dropped it to $800. I know, that’s still a big amount, but this is a 34 inch screen we’re talkin’ about here. Plus, it’s 3440×1440 screen – that would be much better than what I was used to.

And, well it did. This is a massive monitor. It has a 21:9 ratio, so it’s super wide. I dare say it’s like taking two of my old 24 inchers and smashing them together. It is a great screen and everything I hoped it would be . . .

Thunderbolt 

. . . then comes the icing on the cake. This monitor has a built in Thunderbolt hub. Now, for all non-Macintosh users, that’s a moot point, but for those with Thunderbolt inputs, this is a wonderful thing. I can connect one Thunderbolt cable to this monitor and connect all my peripherals like USB.

So, one Thunderbolt cable goes from my Mac to this device, which then distributes all the other hard drives, audio devices, mouse, etc via USB. If you’re on the move, this makes it very nice to hook in and out.

Oh, and just so you know, this works as a USB 3 hub just as well as Thunderbolt for all the PC users out there.

Screen Quality

As for screen quality, this is leaps and bounds above my older screens (which I still like). The clarity is superb, the colors are great, and the refresh rate is great for a full day of work.

Screen Size Benefit

Having at 21:9 aspect is also great for side by side working. I never really did such a thing before with 1 or two screens, but since this has the extra width, I can use the new split window feature in OSX El Capitan to have nice, clean split screen views between 2 apps (Windows 7 and above will do this too, FYI). What I thought was a gimmick before has turned out to be quite productive.

Conclusion

If you are in design, accounting, engineering or any other work that offers the need for lots of screen space, I highly recommend a monitor like this. Many other companies are starting to test the waters with this size format, but I think the addition of a Thunderbolt / USB hub is a no-brainer for using the monitor as a one cable “dock”.

After about a year of use, I can’t see going back . . . maybe one day I’ll find that super-giant 42-50 inch ultra HD one-screen-for-everything, but this will definitely suffice for now!

OH, and I’ve seen it as low as $600 now . . . LG Ultrawide On Amazon

Let’s get Geeky: ieGeek® WIFI Wireless OBD2 Auto Scanner Review (and Dash Command)

I’ll admit, this is a moment of me digging deep on what to write about, but I’m trying to keep these posts moving, if ever so slow.

I drive a Jeep. I drive an “older” Jeep (1998 TJ Sport). I LOVE my jeep . . .

Now, with that said, I really LOVE gadgetry (as readers know), and cars are no exceptions. My wife’s car swamps mine in terms of all the tech bells and whistles, so obviously I want to squeeze as much into my beloved 4×4 as I can. Until now, only a USB cable for my iPhone to a Sony CD receiver is all I could muster (must haves, FYI).

Last year, my engine light came on. As I knock on wood, I remembered I have never taken my Jeep to the shop in all these 15 years. All was running fine, so I was in the “if it aint broke…” mode. Still, seeing that red glow on my dash kept me wondering.

I called up to my local service center and asked how much a car scan would cost, to which they responded $75 . . . that was my answer for that.

Well, I had heard and further researched about the OBD (on board diagnostics port) on cars and found that most, if not all vehicles after 1996 contain these ports for technicians to use when diagnosing problems. Of course, anyone with a reader can access this. So, off to Amazon I go . . .

After not too many searches, I found the ieGeek WIFI Wireless OBD2 Auto Scanner. Many of the more expensive scanners were bluetooth, but this one stuck with wifi – at $16, it was worth a try to me. 2 days prime shipping and I was in business.

Now, there was one more expense – you need an app to talk to the scanner. I chose the well reviewed Dash Command app for $10. After loading the app, literally all there was to do was plug in the scanner under my dash and connect to it’s wifi signal. From there, the app connected and a world of information came to life.

I can now see all my speed, horsepower, gas mileage, compression . . . well, more than I need or want to know. This is loads of fun to see and fool with – well, except that I get about 15 mpg . . . that’s not fun.

Now, that would be enough, but the main mission wasn’t accomplished yet. Thankfully, resolving the engine light was worth the price of admission and then some. The app diagnosed my engine malfunction (catalytic converter sensor) and cleared it with ease. No more light and all is well . . plus I get to tinker with my stats on road trips and such – $26 spent and totally worth it.

So, there you go. I trust this will find somebody who’s in the same predicament . . . or just wants to see how poorly their old engine performs mileage wise!

Chromebooks are pretty awesome . . .

So, my daughter’s 13th birthday was last week (that’s a huge story in itself). She really wanted to use her money for a laptop. Of course, a “decent” laptop on Windows (even more so, Mac) was a bit cost prohibitive, given her money. She likes the HP Stream laptop her grandmother has, but the reviews are mixed and I know how Windows, especially on a watered down machine, gets over time. I really wanted to steer her in the right direction . . . i.e., I didn’t wan here hating it a few months later.

So, I remembered something. She is very into writing and is doing quite a bit. Guess what she uses to write and save papers? Yep, here Google account.

–Light Bulb–

I’d heard about Chromebooks via school administration and tech news, but never had a need (since I need a much beefier machine to work graphics and such). But, I thought I’d do some research for her on this front. I’d heard they were cheap(er) as far as laptops go, so I dove in.

It didn’t take long to find the Toshiba Chromebook 2 model (13 inch). It had stellar reviews across the board – especially for the screen quality. After a night of reviews, I made the order.

Long story short – holy cow, this is awesome for a student who doesn’t need Microsoft Office.

She jumped right in. After a 10 second boot up (yep, it has SSD and is pretty snappy), she logged in and could find all her documents. The icing on the cake was the 1 Terabyte of free storage from Google – that’s right, even though it was promoted as 100GB, she gets a crazy amount of storage.

So, it fit the bill pretty much right away for what she wanted. There was one thing she would like, but didn’t necessarily need though . . . she’s a photo buff and wanted a place to look at pics. It has 16GB of onboard storage, but that would fill up fast. No problem – the Google Plus app will auto load her iPhone photos to her Google Plus and the Chromebook will show them nicely. Problem solved!

Other perks are as follows:

  • Bluetooth – she can connect to a headset or her speaker for music
  • Decent speaker – the speaker is actually pretty decent for Netflix and such (which streams great). Sound comes from under the keyboard, so that’s kind of cool.
  • Full HD IPS screen – I think this is the obvious best part – the screen is very nice. Other chromebooks are washed out and just so so with lower resolution . . . this screen is very good, and worth the extra few dollars. Text is very clean and colors really pop.
  • Good keyboard – slightly under full size, but I’m typing on it now and enjoying it.
  • 8 hour battery – good for most uses . . . streaming, however, lasts around 4 hours.
  • I’ve only used it on my home environment (AC Router), but Wifi is really quick.

There you go – I might come back and review more later, but very happy with this purchase for my student/teenager!

Oh, here is a link to the version I bought. There is a smaller, lower priced model, but you lose the great looking screen (deal breaker in my opinion!)

My Mac Switch: One Year Later

Wow, feels like I’ve actually waited a year to even post (yep, sure did)! Whew! Actually, I have a lazy Friday evening, so I thought I’d jot some stuff down.

For years, I said I’d never do it . . . there was no use for Mac and Windows was the king (percentage wise by users), so why would I even entertain the thought, right? Well, you can view my post on HP Overheating to see where the decision started to sway.

I started working with web/graphic design in 1998 after college. I’d worked on my projects with Windows 100% during that time. The only interaction with Mac was with my father-in-law and photography editing. I thought his Mac Pros were pretty sweet, but didn’t really get far out of Photoshop. I had that on my Thinkpad (God bless it – still a favorite) and my HP Envy (super powerhouse . . . refer to heating though) and it ran fine for all intents and purposes.

Still, I usually get 3 or so years out of a piece of equipment before seeing a benefit from a new machine (sometimes longer). When the HP felt a bit long in the tooth, I gave some serious debate to all platforms. I looked at gaming PC laptops, engineering workstations . . . all of it. I got some great input across the web but found that Mac was always at the top for many lists. I checked performance charts for 2D applications and the chart bars were always at least 2x the PC counterparts. I made one final call to my pal Bill Reid to get his expert opinion . . . he said he had Mac in the past and was impressed with them, but the price was the big issue. Understandably, you can get comparable horsepower for much less.

So, there was the question – do I throw down the extra cash to go Mac? In the end, it was a matter of curiosity that made me click the button. “What is all this hoopla about OSX” and “Can it really be that efficient for work and design”? So, I took the plunge.

I’ll admit, at first, I was totally in a weird place. I wasn’t familiar with the layout, file system, interaction . . . then, 5 minutes past and I was at home – ha! Really, there was a day or so of acclamation, but it was “fun” to get used to it. In the end, OSX isn’t the example of what I’ve heard from others. Some would say, “if you’re used to Windows, Mac will not be fun for you”. Fortunately, I’m a bit of a nerd, so it was enjoyable to see what could be.

That was November of 2013. I quickly learned what all the fuss was about. I’ll preface the rest of what I like by admitting I am not “that guy” when it comes to Mac. Windows is still king of the hill, and for good reasons. However, my experience with OSX and the Macbook Pro hardware has solidified my position that this is where, for my needs, I want to be when it comes to being productive.

Here are a few highlights of why I am impressed with the Mac:

  • Speed – This is the main “feature” I enjoy. Yes, it was the latest hardware for Fall 2013, but OSX has a certain “snappiness” that you can feel as you use it throughout the day. My notebook came with the PCI-e SSD for storage and the term “click and it’s done” is, in most cases, a reality. From the ~10 second boot time (from shut down) to the “instant on” of opening the lid to wake from sleep, the time I save not waiting on little loading moments is paramount. When I opened Photoshop (full version) in less than 5 seconds, I think I may have giggled like a little girl – yes, this thing is fast.
  • Cool and quiet – OK, I was coming from a thermo-nuclear laptop called the HP Envy, so anything would be cooler. However, I can run Garage Band to record audio in an isolated room and the laptop is no longer the issue. The Fan only fires up under crazy heavy loads (like compiling video in Premiere, etc). 99% of the time, it’s not heard at all. Even on my lap, all is nice and comfortable.
  • Screen/Video – holy cow, Retina screens are unbelievable. Unfortunately, most of my work is done on a 24 inch external monitor with the MacBook screen as a 2nd and another 4:3 monitor as a 3rd (can’t wait for 4K screen someday). But, when I need to preview imagery for final print, etc., the Macbook screen is very nice. Yes, I realize only a fully calibrated monitor is acceptable for print, but for web and newspaper ad work, it does very well.
  • Battery – this is a small detail for someone who works from a desk all day, but I’ve been typing, watching video, and editing since 5:30 and I’m just past half battery after 3 hours . . .
  • That virus thing – yes, Macs are at 7% or so of the market. No, the hackers and virus makers aren’t too keen on wreaking havoc on the Mac community (yet). Still, not worrying with adware bog down and viruses is actually something very noticeable in my day to day routine. PSA: Don’t open any email you don’t recognize and use a firewall, people!
  • Yosemite (OSX Software addition) – I already mentioned the efficiencies of the OSX platform. Well, Yosemite update has kicked my productivity up a notch. I already was using iMessage to easily type messages to my family, friends, and (increasingly), clients. With Yosemite, my iPhone talks to my Mac so that I can take/make calls (yes, sometimes I get that speakerphone tinny sound – I feel they will work that out), but I can now text (green bubble) as well as iMessage. I don’t pick up my phone now. This shaves minutes off my time and that makes for an efficient day.
  • Easy jump for CC subscribers – I work mainly from Adobe Creative Cloud suite of software. I thought it’d be different on Mac. Well, it isn’t. All menus are in the same place, so really, that was my only major hurdle. If you use Creative Cloud on Windows, it’s right at home on the Mac. Get a 2 button mouse and you’re all set for shortcuts.
  • Time Machine Backup – grab an old USB hard drive and plug it in. Turn on time machine and I can backup hourly/daily/weekly all my data (including the operating system). If anything happens, it’s a quick reload of the backup and I’m back where I’m started. I wish all backups were as simple as this. I can also backup to my network attached server – so I have two full backups for assurance. Plus, I can grab a file at any point from the past year (all changes) – so cool to find a file that I goofed on and restore it to continue on – all in about a minute.
  • Bonus: Screen grabs – I know this is minor for most people, but the fact that I can grab a preview of a design and quickly throw it into an email or text is the best thing ever. Where I used to save a file, attach, etc., I now get it done in a few seconds. So good . . . soooo good.

I won’t bore you further. You should be able by now to tell I’m sold on the Mac platform. I still have my trusty windows desktop next to me for the occasional file manipulation or windows program, but really, I haven’t needed Windows. I thought I’d load it on the Macbook side by side, but then figured I’d try to go straight OSX. I’m glad I did.

The price premium is real. However, after a year, my machine is just as fast as it started and the extra money is one of those things I don’t fret over or regret. I hope and feel that I can get 4-5 years out of this machine instead of my normal 3. It is built very well, so I feel like it’s up to it – as long as Apple doesn’t do their thing and create something that won’t work on older hardware . . . they’d NEVER do that, right?

Feel free to comment below – glad to answer any insights – please no flame wars!

Specs for the machine reviewed
Macbook Pro 15″ Retina Display
500 GB SSD
16 GB RAM
Core i7 Processor (2 Ghz)

PS, I racked my brain to find something I didn’t like (other than the price!). Found it . . . when you are opening a file in a program, you can’t rename a file at the same time within that window – I find I miss that from time to time!

FaceTime Audio = Awesome

facetime-audioOK, so if you have a recent iPhone (4 or later), you’re probably accustomed to the occasional FaceTime. This really comes in handy for traveling parents and bedtime g’nights and such. Well, honestly, I don’t really use it in many other cases – it’s just a little too intrusive for business, in my opinion (at least for now).

Last week, Apple released iOS 7 for their devices. I’ve generally enjoyed it all around on my iPhone 5 (snappy, nice new features, etc.). Then, I stumbled on the new audio feature for Face Time. This could be really good . . . let me set up why.

A few years back, Skype was released for iPhone. To me, this was huge, because now I could make very high quality phone calls using my Wifi  or cellular data connection. And, it delivered on that – but, finding people who had Skype was the hard part. After a short time, my enthusiasm fizzled.

Enter today! I have talked to 4 or 5 people over both Wifi and Cellular (LTE specifically) and the audio is leaps above what the normal connection can offer. I can see why Apple didn’t promote this feature (AT&T would have a cow – voice calls are about their only exclusive left . . . I mean was their only).

The good news is, it’s as easy as a voice call. Look at your contact in your phone – if they have a FaceTime option, it will now show a movie camera AND  phone symbol (iOS 7 only). Just click the phone and it will ring them. If they don’t have the correct equipment or iOS version, it will quickly let you know, then you can resume with a standard phone call.

I’ve already reprogrammed my favorites list with FaceTime Audio as the preferred method – if I run into any hiccups, I’ll be sure to post it here. So far so good!

Update (02/24/14)
Well, after 4 months, the new as fizzled out . . . there’s just too much lag between the connection. Alot of “hello . . . Hello . . . HELLO!” going on . . . otherwise, super clear and mostly connections are ok. Maybe they’ll fix this someday with better data.

How to keep and HP Envy Laptop Cool (or any other crazy hot laptop)

This will be short. But, if you’re in my position and find this post, it will make your day (I hope!).

I have an HP Envy with an Intel Core i7 processor. It is big. It is fast. I have been very pleased over the past two years. There is one drawback – it is SO VERY HOT when using programs like Photoshop or Premiere, etc. I thought it might be a problem with video drivers, the fan, whatever. I had heard of cracking open the case and resetting the processor – not for me (on a laptop at least!). So, then I found it . . . and, this mostly works well for use at a desk, I realize.

USB Desk Fan

Yep, it was there all along. It’s pretty quiet and sits right out of the way. The one above was on clearance, so if it’s not there, there are MANY to choose from here.

Hope that helps – my computer runs as cool as ever now . . . even under a high load. Wow, it really is the simple things . . .