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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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

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!)

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.

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

I Think iBotta is for real . . .

OK, I’m not one to get into the coupon clipping routine. I do, however, realize that it really makes sense (ok, I’m lazy in that area!). Well, I was catching up on some of my tech news at the kitchen table and Alison, who IS the coupon type, and a champion at that, caught wind of a service called iBotta. It’s an app for your phone that throws the coupon game on it’s head – they actually pay you money for getting products. Tell you what, I’ll let her tell you . . .

I have been clipping coupons and price matching for many months. Recently, I discovered a new way to save money… by earning money. I downloaded an app called Ibotta. The app is free, and here’s how it works. Ibotta offers money for items purchased. For example, this week I purchased Mio water, Ore Ida french fries, Capri Sun, and hot dog buns – all items we used anyway – and earned $3.50. Then, through bonuses and incentives in Ibotta, I earned an extra $2.50. The money can be deposited into a Pay Pal account (easy to set up) or donated to a school of your choice. I started using Ibotta less than two weeks ago and have already earned $43.00 – for doing nothing!!! It’s super easy to use and kind of fun. Give it a try.

Sign up for an IBotta account here.

So, there you go – I’d love to be a nay-sayer, but but I think it’s for real. Oh, and guys, I appreciate the fact that you might have zero interest in this! Feel free to pass this page on to your better half! Have a super week!

LM

Google Chrome & Remote Desktop

OK, so it’s been over 8 months since my last post. Well, you’re gonna love me for this one and it’ll all be ok once you realize how great this new service from Google is!

I have been a lover of the Chrome browser pretty much ever since it was released. It’s fast, simply laid out, not full of extra features . . . oh, and did I mention BLISTERINGLY fast?! Not to mention that I can login to my Google account and see all of my bookmarks on any browser I sign in to (including my iPad). Yeah, it’s great living in the Google universe for now, at least.

Enter Google remote desktop
I have fooled around with LogMeIn and other programs that allow you access to your computer from another location. They’re ok and do the job fine, I guess, but I never really liked the logging in time constraints. It just seemed . . . well, not too smooth or enticing. With that said, I am typing this entire post via my desktop computer . . . from my laptop. And, there is absolutely NO lagging mouse or keyboard at this point. I realize I am on my wired network, so this post may change later on as I practice over the internet.

The bottom line is, I no longer have to switch my monitor over to another input and grab my other mouse and keyboard for things I need to do on my desktop. I already feel a huge relief there. What I REALLY am looking forward to is the fact that ALL of my computers can be seen from my Google remote desktop connection. Say I’m at a relative’s house and don’t want to take my laptop, desktop, etc. They’re all right there within the chrome browser to jump on any time I want. AAAAAND, there’s just a pin number to use once it’s all set . . . no search-to-find-login-page-and-enter-username-and-password-and-wait-to-connect-etc. I just click connect, enter the pin and viola, I’m seeing my other computer . . . thank you, Google . . . again.

Try it out below:
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/chrome-remote-desktop/gbchcmhmhahfdphkhkmpfmihenigjmpp

You’ll need http://www.google.com/chrome browser to access the plugin above.