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!)

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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!

KRK Rokit 5 G2 Quick Review

So, I work in front of a computer most all day throughout the week (yep, Gunnar glasses review coming soon!). I absolutely love Pandora, Spotify, Slacker Radio, etc. to listen while I work and, for a time, got by on my cheapo Creative 2.1 speaker setup. It served it’s purpose, and to be honest, I almost didn’t take the plunge. But, when I’d listen to something like classical or some great guitarist – you know, really well-recorded stuff – I’d really start to want to hear all the little details. Yes, even details from internet streams, not CDs.

I would always think of studio monitors in those instances. I’ve been in several studios through the years and have heard all sorts of setups. In most cases, the rooms had open faced boxes with 8 inch woofers and funky rounded edges. I knew they were high end . . . that was their purpose, of course.

Fast forward to about 6 months ago. I had heard of KRK from my good friends Jim Murphy of Mission House Music and Adam Kohout and they couldn’t say enough about how much you get for the money on the brand. Now, KRK makes some “serious” gear . . . to the tune of $2,000+ per speaker . . . that aint me! I thought I’d dip my toe in some entry level jobbies from the company – albeit very well reviewed across the board. So, I went with the KRK Rokit 5 G2 model. (click here for the newer model). I sit about 2 feet from my montitors, so 5 inch woofers would be fine, I thought . . . I was right.

It really is almost baffling to hear really, really good sound for the first time. I’m not talking about mind-numbing, blow-you-out-of-your-chair sound . . . this is just, in a word, perfect. I spent allot of time just going back to favorite songs and picking out things I never heard – a mandolin here, some crazy percussion I missed out on. I could ramble on and on – just know they are outstanding speakers. It’s the kind of purchase you have no remorse for (they’re not dirt cheap, but for the price, totally merited).

Some highlights:

  • Powered speakers – no need to have an amplifier
  • Frequency range control – I didn’t tweak too much, but there is room for setting up for your particular room
  • Front ports for low end – very nice; most have rear ports for bass . . . these push it right to you!
  • XLR inputs – I grabbed a Peavey USB to XLR adapter and use mic cables for a totally noise free signal. I was skeptical, but this really does work.
  • RCA Inputs – there are still RCA plug inputs . .. can use at the same time as XLR for 2 sources if you’d like.

These are not bass heavy, so don’t think you’re going to shake the windows. I’m sure they’re not totally specified to be “reference” speakers . . . then again, they’re better than 99% of what I’ve heard in my lifetime, so I won’t worry about it! I reeeeaaally want to get the companion subwoofer just for fun, but I (along with my wallet) will talk myself out if it a while longer! Update: Broke down and bought subwoofer when I found a deal – totally worth it for amazing depth.

If you’re in the market for a great sounding speaker set, definitely give these a try . . .

Powerline Networking Review (Homeplug AV)

OK, it’s time to give a quick review on something that’s saved my sanity. I’ll preface this by saying when we built our house almost 8 years ago, I made a bone-headed decision not to wire it properly for a network. Well, now we are a cable free, Netflix/Hulu/Amazon only family and I’m finding that hard-wired network appliances are much more reliable than their Wi-Fi alternative . . .

I say that to say this . . . if you live in a home built before the last decade, there is a very good chance it is not wired for a home network and you rely on good ol’ Wi-Fi to get by. Well, there is a very cost-effective way to get reliable, speedy* networking so your Playstation/Roku/AppleTV/XBox/whatever can efficiently talk to the net.

I started with the Zyxel PLA407 set (cheap at Amazon) a couple of years ago and they have been rock solid. You can even encrypt the signal if you’re super paranoid. They only run at 200 Mbps. Of course, that’s double a standard network speed, but far from the now standard Gigabit speeds. However, I’ve found it’s more than enough to stream across devices (server to apple TV or television, talking between devices). Plus, it’s MUCH cheaper than wiring your house.

Setup is dead simple: Plug in one network device to an outlet near your Wifi-router and plug it into the router. Then, in any other outlet in your house, plug the other network adapter. You can then plug it straight to the device (i.e., Playstation, etc.) or, as I do, use a simple 5-port switch to distribute to other devices. That’s it . . . all done with much better speed and less lag time than your wifi can provide.

Oh, and another plus:

  • You can use other brands if they are “Homeplug AV” certified. For instance, I have a 3rd homeplug adapter from Trendnet that is located at the far end of the house and plugged into an old Wireless N Wifi router. It gives a good connection to the outside garage about 100+ feet away for my treadmill TV.

So, there you go . . . if you think you need more speed, they offer these up to a gigabit – click here to see ’em all.

Have a blessed week, everyone,

LM

HP Envy 17 3D Review

FYI – Get a great deal on it here.

Well, I went and did it . . . a hard drive crash on my old faithful Thinkpad put me over the edge for something new. I’d been eyeballing the Envy 17 for quite some time for it’s great reviews of screen quality, processor and overall performance, so I bit the bullet.

Let’s say I’m not disappointed. This upgrade moved me from a Core 2 Duo up to a screaming Core i7 quad core chip (8 threads). Also, it’s a 64 bit version of Windows 7 with 6 GB of RAM . . . a very welcome change of pace. I won’t bore with details, but suffice it to say this is a great machine for graphics processing. I’ll go through a quick list of likes/dislikes.

What I like:

Screen – this 17+ inch screen is 1920×1080 (full HD) and is, in a word, gorgeous. It’s amazing what improvements have been made over the past few years. This LED backlit screen leaps at you. I don’t use the full brightness, so it’s more than ample. The glossy screen takes some getting used too, but doesn’t nag too much. It is a 3D screen, but I don’t use it for such – the 120 Hz screen is smooth as butter.

Speed – I’m running 64 bit CS5 suite and it runs very well. 64 Bit Photoshop is great and the 6 GB of RAM really helps out for large files. Most any application runs very well and the large amount of cache on the chip makes common instructions repeat super fast. Since this i7 allows for 8 threads at the same time, multi-threaded apps really scream . . . I just wish there were more available.

Keyboard – while it’s not the same feel as my beloved Thinkpad, the keyboard is enjoyable. What I really like, and didn’t realize I missed, is the number pad available for the right side. Typing is quite comfortable once I adapted to the large island style keys. Back lighting is a nice touch for nighttime work.

What I’m not fond of (but can live with):

Heat – if you’ve read reviews on hight heat from this laptop . . . they’re right. It’s not a deal breaker, but there is a definite ramp up of heat as the processor gets busy. I work at a desk most of the time, so this only affects me during typing and it’s not a big aggravation.

Battery – HP includes an extra battery that is extended, and I can get an hour of normal work in before it needs changing . . . as I said, I’m tethered to a desk most of the time, so this doesn’t affect me so much. Still, not so great to kick back on the couch.

Beats Audio – wow, I really wanted this to be more than it is . . . most reviews were favorable for the Beats audio on the Envy models, but I’m finding it no better than my old laptop. I’ve tried several settings, but it just doesn’t do any better (in some cases worse) than my old Thinkpad. No biggie as I plug in to speakers, but I was disappointed in the lack of clarity for what was promoted.

Perks and Misnomers

One thing I think I’m really going to like, once I make room, is the multi monitor aspect of this machine. You can run the laptop monitor as well as two other monitors at the same time . . . makes for great work space.

Many have griped about the finicky trackpad. There is a tendency to hold your “click”finger on the pad while trying to move the cursor which, in turn, cancels out the motion. This is managed better with repetition, so after a few instances, I figured out the pattern. Not a bother to me.

Overall, I am very satisfied with this notebook after two weeks. I think I’ll get several years of use from this laptop and am impressed with HP’s gaming laptop.

iPhone Won’t Sync Properly with iTunes

OK, here’s a quick tip for you iPhoners out there. Recently, I’ve been running into the trouble of the phone (iPhone 4) hanging when it syncs with iTunes. Many times, there’ll be a 583iurw984r.m4v type notation and the system freezes. I searched far and wide to no avail and finally did the last-but-shout-be-first-resort option of a hard reset on the phone. Viola! All is well.

So, if you’re having similar trouble, hold your power button and home button for about 5-10 seconds until you see the shiny Apple logo (do this while your phone is NOT connected to your computer). To be safe, restart iTunes (if not your whole computer), then re-sync. Hopefully, you’ll be good to go.

Is it just me, or has this iPhone been a bigger pain than the rest? Oh well, I still love it.

On to the next rant of how criminal it should be to charge $30 for that bumper case (before it was a freebie) . . . what a piece of junk . . .