Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Prey Captured--GPS Units under $500

  • Garmin Nuvi 350  $350 This unit has great reception, a small form factor for portability and so it doesn't get stolen, and test to speech so it actually tells you the street names instead of where to turn.  It also has an optional trafic module.

  • Plenio 3000 Has a huge 7" screen, plays videos and MP3 music, but has no internal battery and does not say names of streets. Read user reviews at link above

  • Lowrance iWay 500c  This unit is big and has a large screen for those who need to it.  Otherwise I'd recommend the Garamin.  It can also play mp3 files.  For beginners, it comes with all maps preloaded.  It's major downside is that has some problems with overheating so it can't be in direct sunlight for a long time.  Reviews: Cnet  PDA Street  Laptop Magazine I am still working on my 5.1 speaker systems under $500 post.  I am not thrilled with the choices, but I have a lead on some good ones.  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Prey Captured--Upscaling DVD Players Under $250

Below is the list of DVD players you should be looking at under $250.  These are not audiophile DVD players, but for people who watch movies.   

  • $70 The Panasonic S52 is a solid entry level DVD player. It doesn't have the advanced dedeinterlacing capabilities of more expensive players, but it upscales and has good performance.

  • $100 The Sony DVP-NS75H is another solid all around performer with slightly better upscaling than the Panasonic
  • $100 The Panasonic S53 is an updated version of the S52 that upscales to 1080p fot hose who whave 1080p dispays and can't afford the oppo.
  • $150 The Oppo 970 is an excellent upscaling player, but most people will buy this player because it can output 480i over its digital output.  This is good for people who have an external scaler/deinterlacer or an excellent scaler/deinterlacer in their TV/projector.

  • $150 The Oppo 971 (Refurbished) has received so many stellar reviews, it's hard to keep track.  This would be my choice if I had to pick.  Oppo gives the same warranty on its refurb players as it's new ones so this is a great deal.  The main advantage to this player is its faroudja DDCi deinterlacer.  This smooths out jagged lines which  makes the image look a lot better.  It also does a great job of fixing DVDs that are encoded poorly so that they don't stutter or have artifacts in the image.  This DVD player upscales to 720p and 1080i and uses a DVI connector.  Do not use this player if you want component output as the image just isnt close to the image when you use DVI.  I prefer DVI over HDMI because the plug is more secure but, HDMI cables can be longer and carry sound to your TV if you don't use an audio receiver.

  • $250 The Oppo 981 is the replacement for the 971.  It can upscale to 1080p for those who have projectors or TVs that can display 1080p.  It also uses HDMI instead of DVI.  It's available new or refurbished.
  • With a budget of more than $250, I suggest looking into the Toshiba XA-2 which is the lowest cost HD-DVD player.
  • A word about Oppo.  Oppo is a relatively new company so many of you may not have heard of it.  The glowing reviews of its DVD players, its excellent customer service and its willingness to constantly update it's firmware to fix any problems and make improvements makes Oppo a company you should have confidence buying from.
  • A word of caution about the 971 and 981.  While the Faroudja DCDi deinterlacer is by far the best deinterlacer in this price range, it can cause a problem called macroblocking on a very small number of displays.  This mostly shows up in anime and a few movies.  It looks like part of the image is made up by squares.  If you don't see it, don't look for it.  If you do, try the Sony.  Update: Guide to reducing macroblocking on Oppo DVD players
Misfire Check!

The Best DVD review site on the web is Secrets of Home Theater.  They benchmark all the functions of a DVD player as well as giving their subjective reviews.  Another very good site is Audioholics who also gives both benchmarks and subjective review.  Ecoustics has a great search engine for reviews all around the web.  The best discussion forum is the AVS stardard def DVD forum.

What to Look for When Buying a Home Theater Projector

This is just a basic overview for the beginner. It is not very technical and is put in laymans terms. You can skip this post and just look at my picks instead. Here is some other good information for beginners.

  • Lumens is the measure of brightness of a projector. Most home theter projectors have around 300-350 calibrated. Manufactuer specs are notoriously high and should be iignored. Lumens determine how large your picture can be without looking dim and whether the image will be bright enough to watch with some daylight. Check out the review sites below for more detal on each projector.

  • Contrast Ratio is the difference between the lightest light and the darkest dark in an image(Also, remember, that manufactuer contrast specifications are often inflated. ). For real life purposes, it is how dark the blacks look in your image. Are they black or are they dark grey. The ligher the blacks the more the image will look washed out. The darker the blacks the more the colors and the image will "pop." Contrast is probably the most important quality of a projector. A 480p projector with a high contrast ratio will look much better than a 720p projector with a terrible contrast ratio. For example here is a image of with a low contrast ratio (lowered due to light shining on the screen).

  • Now compare it to a image with a high contrast ratio and tell me which image you would rather watch?

  • Resolution is the specification most recongizable to the average buyer. It means the number of pixels that make up an image. 480p is 848 by 480. 720p is 1280 by 720. 1080p is 1920 by 1080. For a DVD (which is 720 by 480) resolution is irrelevent if you are sitting 2x screen widths or more from the image (this is subject to how good your vision is ). If you sit closer than this distance, you will see "screen door effect." This will make the image look as if you are watching it through a screen door with tiny lines criscrossing the picture. Below is an example.

    So if you want to sit closer and not see screen door effect, get a higher resolution projector. 1.4 screen widths for 720p and 1x for 1080. Again these are averages and it will all depend on your eyesight. higher resolution for HDTV will give you much greater detail and will make a very big difference while watching HDTV. 480p projectors will still look very very good however.

  • Shadow Detail is, not surprisingly, the amout of detail you can see in dark areas of scene. The opposite if shadow detail is "black crush" in which all the shadows look like black blobs. The top image below has little shadow detail, while the bottom image has a lot of shadow detail. You can see how much of the image is simply lost when shadow detail is low

  • Color Accuracy is how accurate the colors look compared to perfectly calibrated color. If the color is not accurate, for example, yellow will have a lot of green in it, and skin tones could look too red or even green. Some projectors have accurate color out of the box and others need to calibrated with an calibration disk such as The Avia Guide to Home Theater. You can also get an ISF Calibration specialist to calibrate the color for you, but this costs hundreds of dollars. Here is an example of an image that has more green than it should ("green push") and below it a properly calibrated image:

  • Connectors are the sockets on the back of the projector to which you hook cables from your video sources. Digital connectors include DVI and HDMI (they are identical perfomance wise although HDMI can accomidate longer cables). Analog conenctors include component, s-video, and composite. S-video and composite should be avoided if possible. Usually a projector will have one of each conenctor. Use digital connectors if possible, but analog component is nearly as good.

  • Throw is the distance from the projector to the wall. A long throw projector needs a longer throw to make the same size image as a short throw projector. Whether you want one or the other depends on the size of your room. Here is an excellent calculator to determine how big a picture will be from any distance on any projector.

  • Lens shift is the ability of a projector to move the image on the wall without distorting it. This feature allows you to have much more flexibility in where you place the projector. Most LCD projectors have this function and most DLP projectors under $3000 do not as it is cheaper to implement on LCDs. Projectors can be tilted to move the image, but that results in the side of the image not being straight up and down. It can be fixed with a feature called "digital keystone", but that reduces resolution. A small amount of keystone is probably ok for the average user.

  • Zoom is self explanatory. A larger zoom enables more placement flexibility in a room. Most LCD manufacturers have put larger a larger zoom into their projectors.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Digital Projector Buying Guide

I just updated the Digital projector buying guide with some new 1080p models. Here it is.

These are the projectors you want to and where to buy them. Please also read my post on what to look for in a new projector.

720p Projectors

  • $720 Mitsubishi HC1500 is sharper and much brighter than the PH530. If you want DLP and need a very bright projector for some daytime viewing, this is your best choice. Recent price drop from $900 makes this a great deal (use code "AFL5" after you add it to your cart). Review

  • $800 Sharp DT-510 A recent price drop makes this the projector to buy under $1000 if you don't need lens shift of an LCD. The HC1500 is brigher, however, if you have some ambient light.

  • $800 Benq W500 is a 720p LCD with lens shift. If $800 is your budget and you want lens shift, this is the way to go. What sets this projector apart is it's internal Silicon Optix HQV scalar/deinterlacer. It will upscale 480i to 720p incredibly well. This projector also accepts 1080p/24hz which is the native signal of HD-DVD and Blue-ray. It will then downscale to 720p. 24hz is the speed at which the film is captured by the camera so the image will be very smooth in a panning scene with a lot of camera motion. Review Scroll to post 90.

  • $1025 Panasonic AX200 Perfect LCD for those who see rainbows with DLP. It's also the brightest projector under $2000 and comes with Panasonic's smoothscreen technology which eliminates screen door. Review and another.

  • $1089 If you want a 720p LCD projector Visual Apex has one great deal. The initial price is $1189, but there is a $100 mail in rebate which brings the cost down to $1089. Then they throw in a free dust cover and a free second bulb worth $350. If you factor in the cost of the bulb and the cover, you end up paying $750 for the projector. Why get this over the DLP alternatives? Large 2x zoom, lens shift, and no rainbows for people who see them. Review.

1080p Projectors

  • 1080p Comparison Test This is a very comprehensive comparison test of most 1080p projectors on the market. Make sure to check out the comparison reviews on the last page

  • $1850 The Epson Home Cinema 1080 will give you better contrast and brightness than the z2000, but not nearly as good contrast as the much more expensive 1080UB. Like at 1080p LCDs has a 2x zoom and verticle and horizontal lens shift for easy set up.

  • $2100 Mistubishi HC5500. This LCD has better blacks than the non "UB" Epson 1080, but is not quite as bright. It is also very sharp. It has a high end HQV processor for upscaling and deinterlacing which is great for SD-DVDs. Probably not quite as much "pop" as the Benq, but a bigger zoom and horizontal lens shift make it more flexible.

  • $2100 The Benq W5000 is the best bang for the buck under 3k. It ties for the best image quality and brightness under 3k, but is less flexible in terms of zoom and lens shift than it's LCD/LCOS competitors (it does have some verticle lens shift thought). It originally had some image noise problems which have been fixed with updated firmware.

  • $2600 The Panasonic AE-2000u is a much improved update to last year's AE-1000u. Has smoothscreen technology for those few who are bothered by screendoor effect with other 1080p projectors. Review

  • $2650 Sony VW40. The only LCOS projector under 3k. Rates minutely behind the 1080UB, but it really comes down to personal preference. A top pick.

  • $2700 The Epson 1080P UB. Brighter and much better contrast than the non-UB model. This is the projector to beat in the price range. Make sure convergence is checked by the store you buy from. Very close to the JVC-RS1 in perfermance at a much lower cost.

  • $3400 Mitsubishi HC6000 A super sharp LCD with very good contrast. Much improved over the HC5000. Reviews here and here

  • $3650 Sony VW60 comes very close to the JVC RS1 in performance and costs $800 less.

  • $4400 The JVC RS1x has it all. You can spend a lot more for a lesser projector 1080p, very bright, very sharp, beautiful color, very high contrast and lens shift. If you have the cash, this is THE projector to get. It is based on LCOS technology which is an advanced form of LCD.

  • $4800 Benq 20000 is very close in picture quality to the RS2 but has some digital noise which may bother some viewers. Review.

  • $6000 JVC RS2 improves on the excellent black levels of the RS1 to get as close to CRT as any projector under $10k.

Misfire Check!

So there the results of our first hunt. Do you think I misfired? Check for yourself. If you want to read reviews, Projector Central, Projector reviews, Audioholics, and Cine4home are my favorite review sites. For projector message boards try here for beginners and here for a more advanced discussion.

Next up will be a discussion of what to look for when buying a digital projector.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The First Hunt

Our first hunt is going to be in search of the best digital projector. By the time you are done reading you will know the best projector to buy at $500, $1000, $1500, $2000, $4000 and $6000. You will also know why I am picking these projectors and understand the fundamentals of choosing a projector: color, contrast, resolution, shadow detail and connection slots.

Welcome to The Tech Hunter

This blog is to help YOU buy the right tech item for you or for whoever you are buying a gift. This is something I love to do. Whenever my friends or family need to buy something for themselves or as a gift, they call me and we find the best item at the best price. I love doing research and learning about new technology. So I am going to pass on my knowledge to you. My goals are the following:

  • I don't want you to ever have to walk into a major retail store and spend twice as much money as you should be spending for an inferior product. In fact, I don't want you to ever buy anything in a retail store again.
  • Make sure you are spending the right amount of money for what you want the item to do. I don't want you to buy that 42" 1080p plasma when you are going to sit 20 feet away from the screen. 720p from that distance will look exactly the same and cost half the price.
  • I don't want you to buy junk. There are a lot of cheap electronic items out there that are just plain junk, but what most people do not know is that there are usually quality items for the same price.
  • I want you to understand what you are buying. Do you really need that 10 mega pixel camera or would you be better served by a 5 mega pixel camera with much better image quality. I am going to tell you exactly why I recommend a certain item and what it can do for you.
  • I want you to have the knowledge to know that your purchase was the best deal and the best quality item for the amount that you really wanted to spend so you never have any regrets buying an item.

What this blog is not:

  • I am not going to do my own personal reviews except on things I buy for myself. There are already 1000 review sites on the Internet run by people much more qualified than I am. What I am going to do is boil down all the reviews that I read and all the specialized message boards so that you have easy access to the best information.
  • I will not be discussing ultra high end items. I have no interest in them. The fun for me is finding the best quality item at the best price This blog is for the average guy and will focus on items costing $3000 or less. If you can afford an electronic item costing over ten grand then hire a specialist to help you. This blog is not for you.
  • I am not going to discuss hard core tech mumbo jumb. If you must see the color space diagram before buying a TV this site is not for you.

So let the hunt begin!