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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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!)

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 . . .

Spotify Experience

OK, so I’m done lamenting over my long, lost LaLa service . . . it let me listen to all sorts of new music and decide if I like it (then, I’d go grab it to purchase and actually felt gooood about it). So, then Apple comes along and gobbles them up . . . thanks alot.

So, I heard news of our friends across the pond having this super-fantastic service called Spotify. There, they could pay a fee and get all-you-can-eat service . . . still, something about the “rental” model just didn’t seem to thrill this “old-school” music consumer (even if I have adopted MP3 downloads pretty heavily lately).

Then, yesterday, I get my invite to spotify (it was hidden in my spam filter – woohoo!). Now, you might ask, “did he just jump into the paid model of service?”. Nope. Ready for this? So far, the free version is every bit as good as LaLa’s old service . . . AND, I can play the files again! LaLa would limit to 30 seconds after the first full listen. Right now, I’m jamming out to the Marty Stuart Ghost Train Sessions with wreckless abandon (pretty good, btw, BTrain).

So, looks like happy days are here again . . . if you work at your computer all day – I can leave this humming through my speakers as I work. Now, the paid version ($9.99/month) would let me dump any and all music to my iPhone, but I’m gonna stick right here for a while . . . this is pretty dad blame sweet.

www.spotify.com

LM

GPS Drive by Motion X

I wanted to take a quick moment to write a small review about GPS drive for the iPhone. I’ve always seen this app as I browse the iPhone app  library, but never took time to download it even though it got great reviews. Well, I went ahead and downloaded it since it was just $.99. What I found was a very well-written, very good looking at that gave really good GPS directions that are on par with other dedicated GPS systems that I’ve used.

I think the major draw for this app is the fact that it’s just $.99 for 30 days of activity. This make it very nice for special trips when you don’t want to buy a dedicated system.

What I really like about the system is the clarity of the screen and the speed of the app. Menus are very quick to respond, and I can see the screen while well away from my face. The interface itself for navigating and searching local restaurants and other places is very well laid out. Also, I like the way I can set my home as a favorite and other locations as well.

In addition, just the feature of having an ETA and mileage count down (like a real GPS) is much better than using the Google maps app (of course, until Google Nav comes along!).

All in all, I’m really pleased with this app and I’m excited about taking another trip just opened tried out. I highly recommend it especially since it’s just one dollar.

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.