My new gadgetry overview

Posted in Hardware,M@H,Software by Ruslan Ulanov on the February 24th, 2010

It appears I landed on Santa’s “Good Kids” list last year. He was quite generous this past holiday season and — with a little help from my friends and family — brought me some really nice gadgets. Dust has settled since and I had to spend some quality time with my new gear, so I decided to give them a quick rundown in this post, saving the juicy details for the future.

The luxury of touch

Touch Screen

Touch Screen

The idea of controlling Windows Media Center through touch interface was hunting me since I played with one of the first HP TouchSmart systems on the shelves of Costco. I already had HTPC, so I didn’t want to buy a new system. The obvious solution was to just add touch-capable display to my own HTPC. Searching high and low, I was soon discouraged, since all available touch screens were way too expensive – a 12″ displays are sold for over $500. But I managed to find one that fit my budget and works quite well with Windows 7 Media Center. Beware that in many cases drivers for Vista or Win7 could be hard to find or even unavailable, so check driver availability BEFORE you invest in a touch screen.

Movies on the go

DVD headrests

DVD headrests

For some time now I’ve been looking to upgrade my car’s headrests with nice LCD ones to entertain little passengers during long trips. Paying over $2000 for a DVD package on a new car doesn’t make any sense to me. For that much money these days you can buy a TV, a blu-ray player and a truckload of movies. Unfortunatelly none of those portable DVD players I saw in stores met all my requirements. Partly due to the lack of support for the multitude of media formats available today, partly because many kid’s movies I have are from a different DVD region, so none of the players sold in US could play them. But now I have headrests that could do all that and then some (like playing games with 4 included joysticks or reading media from all major flash cards).

Being able to watch a good movie in the car, on your netbook or other mobile device, like iPod Touch, while you travel is nice. Watching movies on a big HDTV screen is way better. So you have two options: 1) use a cable to connect your mobile device to a TV and jump from the couch every time you want to pause, rewind or skip or 2) buy a tiny HDD Media Player that can hold hundreds of HD movies and could be controlled with an infrared remote. What’s your choice? #2. I thought so. That’s exactly what I did. And at $25 for the HDD enclosure with IR remote control this deal is hard to beat.

Saving Trickle Power

TV TrickleSaver

TV TrickleSaver

I’m sure you know that even when your DVD or TV is turned off it still sucks a few watts of power. According to some reports in the United States alone, this amounts to $4 to $5 billion of wasted electricity a year. Energy Star organisation each year creates more and more strict requirements for idle power consumption, but still the best way to cut on electricity usage is to unplug the devices you don’t use. Like cell phone chargers, and any devices you can turn on from a remote control. Since having to physically unplug devices is a hustle, a company called TrickleStar came up with a simple solution – a product that shuts off power to peripheral (slave) devices when the main (master) device is turned off. For example when TV turns off it could kill power to DVD or Blu-ray player, VCR, cable box or any other device connected to your TV. Or shut off printers, scanners, speakers, etc., connected to your computer when PC turns off. Yes, it also automatically turns on all slave devices as soon as the master device gets powered on.

Software

Lots of good new software was released in 2009, some apps had major updates. Among those are:

MyMovies 3.0 – one of the best movie collection organization and management apps for Windows Media Center got complete UI overhaul. Now it’s based on MCML, which is much prettier, and works much smoother with big video collections.

Show Analyzer went commercial this year. This app is very useful at processing (analyzing) your recorded TV shows in the background. So now you can forget about watching commercials ever again. The app will automatically skip them for you when you watch your Recorded TV.

AnyDVD had great incentives at the end of the year, offering lifetime upgrades for the price of a 2-year license. AnyDVD allows you to make copies of protected DVD and Blu-ray movies. So now you don’t have to buy same movie over and over again just because your kid managed to trash the disk with his/her favorite flick (again!). Or you can make a copy for your car, so you can enjoy it on the go, while original DVD is stored safely at home.

PlayOn streaming server allows to watch online video on your big screen TV though a variety of game consoles. It transcodes video on the fly so it could be played on your device. By default it supports Hulu, Amazon Video OnDemand, CBS, YouTube and a few other providers. But through a number of freely available plug-ins you can watch many many more Internet video sites.

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