How Much TV Do I Need?

September 9th, 2009

Courtesy of the New York Time’s Gadgetwise blog, a video post explaining how to figure out what size HDTV screen to get for your space:

Budget HDTV Shootout

September 8th, 2009
A great budget-range HDTV, Samsungs LN23B360 720P LCD HDTV

A great budget-range HDTV, Samsung's LN23B360 720P LCD HDTV

Last week, we looked at three “budget” priced (under $500) LCD TVs — the Samsung LN26B360 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV, the Sony Bravia L Series KDL-26L5000 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV, and the Toshiba 26AB502R 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV. All of these models are priced under $500, all of them are made by major manufacturers, and all of them are 26-Inch, 720P LCD sets, making comparison truly fair.

How did they stack up? Well, the short of it is that all three produced a solid picture and great sound. The Sony had the most features, but some of those features — like the ability to “upgrade” the TV with more inputs or wireless ability — are potentially costly and probably wasted on a sub-$500 TV set. We thought the best picture, sound, and feature set for the money went to the Samsung LN26B360 hands-down. You can get the TV for under $400 at Amazon (with free SuperSaver shipping) and you’ll be quite happy with it. And that’s all that matters. Click on the links above to read our more in-depth reviews of each model.

Toshiba 26AV502R 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV Review

September 3rd, 2009
Toshiba's entry in the 26-Inch LCD HDTV market

Toshiba's entry in the 26-Inch LCD HDTV market

Budget HDTV week continues here at www.digitalconverterboxreviews.com. Today’s entry is the Toshiba 26AB502R 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV. In keeping with the other HDTVs we’ve reviewed so far this week, the Toshiba 26AB502R is a 26-inch LCD TV. That should make comparison a snap.

The Toshiba 26AB502R features:

  • A sleek glossy black (“piano black”) finish on its frame
  • Dynalight backlight control — adjusts the backlighting according to how light or dark the content is onscreen
  • Native Mode — restores the 3-5% of the picture that’s typically lost on most HDTVs due to overscanning
  • Color Temperature Control — with three presets to adjust the warmth of the picture
  • Cinema Mode 24ps (with 3:2 pulldown) — when using film sources, the Toshiba 26AB502R is able to translate 24-frame film into 30 frame video eliminating the duplicate information for a clearer, more “cinema-real” picture
  • TheaterWide — special modes for viewing movies and other widescreen, letterboxed content
  • Gaming Mode — speeds up the time the signal from your controller/game console takes to reach the screen, resulting in more responsive gaming
  • Channel Browser — lets you scan the last 32 channels you browsed with images for the last five chanels
  • Channel Labeling — lets you name channels how you desire
  • Energy Star Compliant — for savings on your electric bill
  • Connections: 2 HDMI, 2 component, 2 composite, 1 S-video, 1 PC, one digital audio out — for plenty of last-gen and next-generation hookups

You also get a stand and a universal remote.

So how does the Toshiba 26AV502R 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV stack up? The Toshiba 26AV502R delivers a crisp, clear picture. Dynalight feature isn’t as obtrusive as the comparable Sony backlighting. And sound out of the built-in speakers is decent (although again, we highly recommend a true Surround Sound setup for optimal home theater performance). Gaming mode is a nice touch, as the onscreen action was quick and highly responsive to controller inputs. Setup is also relatively straightforward and intuitive. And the remote control is well-laid out and the buttons glow in the dark, which is a nice touch.

The cons on the Toshiba 26AB502R are that sometimes the Dynalight feature can wash scenes out, changing the overall brightness levels for no reason. And sometimes color, particularly on non-high-def sources, can be washed out or overly green or orange. Even after adjustments, these issues remained. And of course, because it’s an LCD, you still have issues viewing the image from extreme angles to the side.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Recommendation: Probably buy another TV. If not for the sometimes fluctuating Dynalight and the odd color issues, this would be our hands-down winner. Game Mode and Cinema Mode are fantastic for gaming and movies, respectively. The TV looks fantastic with its glossy black finish, and the overall picture is nice. But picture quality is most important. And the issues are too big to overlook.

In case you are interested in the Toshiba 26AV502R, Amazon makes you add it to your shopping cart to price it. But it’s on sale now for $352.94. A good price, but not as good a value as the Samsung LN26B360.

Sony Bravia L-Series KDL-26L5000 26-Inch 720p LCD HDTV Review

September 1st, 2009
Sony's high-end Bravia 26" HDTV

Sony's high-end Bravia 26" HDTV

We continue our weekly series reviewing “budget” HDTVs, those in the $500 and under price range. Sony, known for their premium electronics, has its entry into the 26-inch LCD space, the Sony Bravia L-Series KDL-26L5000 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV. Whew! That’s a mouthful.

The Sony Bravia KDL26L5000 offers:

  • Advanced Contrast Enhancer with Dynamic Backlight Control — contrast ratio of 13,000:1
  • Three HDMI inputs, two component, S-video, composite, and PC input — plug in a variety of sources, from Blu-Ray players to game consoles
  • The ability to add on Bravia Link modules — this allows you to purchase wireless, input, and other modules to add abilities to your TV
  • Bravia sync – allows you to control all compatible home theater devices and some Sony camcorders
  • Built-in digital tuner
  • And you get the standard remote, batteries, guides, and a pedestal.

    So what’s the set like? Well, it’s a Sony. So you know you’re going to get a great picture and sound quality. You also know that because of the Sony name, you’re going to be paying more for a comparable product by another brand. The Sony Bravia L-Series KDL-26L5000 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV offers respectable features — the 13,000:1 contrast ratio is bright and sharp enough for most rooms, although nowhere near as bright as the 30,000:1 on the comparable Samsung LN26B360. The ability to add in Bravia modules is a nice touch, although how many people are really going to customize a $449 TV by adding on another $200-$1,000 in wireless and input modules? That seems like a feature more suited for Sony’s larger, higher-end HDTVs. You get a built-in digital tuner and a QAM cable card tuner, so whether or not you opt for cable or over-the-air signals, you’ll be able to view your programming on the TV without a converter box or cable box (assuming your cable company is cable-card compatible).

    Aside from the price, drawbacks to the Sony KDL-26L5000 include the lack of certain picture control options, such as tint calibration, leading many to feel that colors are too bright and faces sometimes fuzzy. And some people have complained about the build quality leading to unit failures after a year or two. Like all LCD TVs, you will experience some dropoff in viewing if you sit too far to the side of the TV. And some users have complained about the autobacklight function leading to a sort of auto-dim in dark scenes.

    Overall Rating: 6/10 The price on the Sony KDL-26L5000 is still more than comparable models, and the overall picture adjustment and auto-backlighting features aren’t as handy or nice as other brands.

    Recommendation: Buy a different TV. There are cheaper models than the Sony KDL-26L5000 with better quality. Sony makes a lot of things well. This HDTV is just okay.

Samsung LN26B360 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV Review

August 31st, 2009
The Samsung LN 23B360 is a well-made budget HDTV set.

The Samsung LN 23B360 is a well-made budget HDTV set.

Today begins Budget HDTV week here at www.DigitalConverterBoxReviews.com. Digital TVs have taken over, and now can be found at a wide range of prices. You no longer have to pay thousands of dollars to get a crisp, clear picture and digital sound. This week, we’ll be looking at a few HD TVs for $500 or less.

First up is the Samsung LN26B360 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV. Samsung is one of our favorite HDTV manufacturers. How do they do in the budget price category?

The Samsung LN26B360 offers a ton of features formerly found on more high-end sets:

  • Built-in digital tuner — enjoy HD TV programming for free (all you need is a cheap antenna from Radio Shack)
  • Built-in QAM cable card — enjoy cable programming without an unsightly cable box (requires cable with a compatible carrier)
  • 30,000:1 contrast ratio — make out fine details in any light conditions
  • SRS TruSurround XT HD — enjoy a simulated Surround Sound experience using the TVs two built-in speakers — no need for an expensive home theater audio setup
  • 8ms response time — the screen refreshes super-quickly, so you’ll never miss a moment of action
  • Wide Color Enhancer 2 — enjoy richer colors, particularly blue and green — no more washouts
  • Energy Star Compliant — save on your electricity bill and help save the environment!
  • Game Mode — enjoy brilliant picture and sound when playing next-gen game consoles like the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3

What do you get? The Samsung LN26B360, a remote, a stand, and a bottom cover, along with the usual guides. There are plenty of inputs — two HDMI, one component, and one composite video.

How’s it stack up? We found that the Samsung produced a clear, sharp picture that is just as good as the one put out by their higher-end (and much more expensive sets). The Samsung LN26B360 was able to display video from a variety of sources — Blu-Ray film, 1080i and 720p TV programming, even live HD sports (which are often rendered blurry or jaggy) — without any noticeable blurs, jags, or artifacting.

The Samsung LN26B360 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV has solid sound out of the built-in speakers. And SRS TruSurround XT HD did produce somewhat of a surround sound experience, although it definitely doesn’t rival what you’d be able to achieve with a separate receiver and multi-speaker surround setup. It may suffice as as the surround setup for a second HD TV set in a smaller room, however. Otherwise, we’d have to recommend purchasing/hooking up a real surround sound setup (which we would for any HDTV).

Because it is an LCD HDTV, viewing angles tend to drop off around the edges of the set. This is true for any LCD you could purchase, so it’s something to be aware of. But most people watch TV from the front of their set and not sitting at the extreme sides; so that shouldn’t be much of an issue.

So what are you left with? Fantastic picture and solid sound. The Samsung LN26B360 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV is a great, smaller HDTV at a good price. This is an ideal television for certain situations — to hook up to your game consoles, as a second HDTV for a bedroom, office, or kitchen, or for a small- to mid-size living room. Because it’s got a built-in digital tuner, you can enjoy over-the-air broadcasts with the addition of a cheap antenna; something that adds to the set’s value.

Overall Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: As we said, if you want an HDTV and want to stay under $400, you can’t go wrong with the Samsung LN26B360.

Toshiba 250GB HDDR250E03X Portable External Hard Drive Review

August 26th, 2009
A lot of storage in a little space - The Toshiba HDDR250E03X

A lot of storage in a little space - The Toshiba HDDR250E03X

Now that the world has turned digital, you have a lot of digital media. Photos, movies, music, games, applications. It all takes up space. Fortunately, digital storage has come way down in price. Back in the day, it used to cost thousands of dollars per megabyte. Now, you can get gigabytes of storage for tens of dollars. Toshiba makes a great, tiny portable USB 2.0 hard drive — The Toshiba HDDR250E03X. The Toshiba HDDR250E03X boasts a whopping 250GB of space in a tiny form factor, measuring just 0.6 x 3.2 x 5 inches and clocking in at 7 ounces. Which is perfect if you need an external drive for your laptop. Or if you just want an external drive that won’t take up a lot of shelf space.

The Toshiba HDDR250E03X offers a sleek red and black design (no more grey or tan boxes) that looks nice in any decor. And the Toshiba HDDR250E03X offers both an internal shock sensor and ramp loading design. So its resistant to any bumps or jogs; no more hard drive failure due to ordinary motion.

Best of all, the Toshiba HDDR250E03X is a USB 2.0 drive, which can transfer data at speeds of up to 480M/S — you could transfer 5 gigs of content in a little over 12 seconds at optimal speed.

Toshiba is a great manufacturer, and the Toshiba HDDR250E03X portable external hard drive is a bargain at $66.49 from Amazon (with free SuperSaver shipping).

Overall Rating: 10/10 The price is right, it’s tiny and stylish, has USB 2.0, and enough space for all your digital files. Whether you’re using the drive for backup or just to create more space on your laptop or desktop — The Toshiba HDDR250E03X 250GB USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive is the drive for you.

Recommedation: Buy one today

TV On the Cheap – Your Guide to Ditching Cable and Satellite

August 25th, 2009
Netflix Instant Watch - a free add-on to your Netflix service

Netflix Instant Watch - a free add-on to your Netflix service

With the economy being in the toilet at the moment, a lot of people are trying to cut costs.  Cable and satellite are both expensive.  If you get a decent package that includes basic channels, the “expanded” tiers of programming that include the basic cable channels that you want to watch, and some premium channels like HBO or Showtime, you could be looking at a hundred bucks a month or more.  So one thing to scale back on is cable or satellite.

Fortunately, we’ll show you how you can watch all of your programs minus a cable or satellite bill.  Here’s what you’ll need.

First, if you want to watch broadcast TV, you’ll either need an HDTV (we recommend the Samsung LN32B650) and an antenna (go to Radio Shack or Best Buy and pick up a regular old TV antenna, it should cost you $10-15 depending on the model; there’s no need for anything fancy, they’re all basically just a pair of wires) or an analog TV and a digital TV converter box (we recommend the Tivax STB-T8).  Now you can watch live broadcast television.

If you want to watch shows after they’ve already aired, programs from basic cable, or you want to catch up on old episodes, you can probably do that for free online.  The best resource is Hulu.com.  Hulu is an online TV venture from some of the major studios.  You’ll find a pretty good selection of past and current TV and cable offerings there, along with a few movies.  And best of all, Hulu is 100% free.  Some studios/networks (notably CBS) don’t tend to offer programming on Hulu.  But you can probably find episodes of those shows on www.CBS.com.  Hulu and other online TV offerings sometimes have time restrictions on programming; so for example if you’re a fan of IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, Hulu only has a few episodes at a time.  And sometimes they’re delayed for a few days as well.  But they’re free.

Some basic cable networks and most premium channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.) don’t put their videos up on Hulu or even on their own websites.  If you want to watch TOP CHEF or MAD MEN, you’ll have to pay for it.  That’s where iTunes or Amazon on Demand come in.  Most standard-definition shows are $1.99 per episode, and most HD versions are $2.99 per episode.  If you think about the tens or hundreds of dollars you pay for cable or satellite per month, even if you couldn’t find any programming on Hulu or other free online services and bought it all by the episode, it would still work out cheaper on iTunes and Amazon on Demand.  Plus, if you use Amazon on Demand and you purchase a Roku Digital Video Player, you can watch your programming on your television.  Perhaps even in HD!  The one drawback to this is that Showtime and HBO both wait on making available their shows until after they’ve aired, sometimes long after, in order not to hurt their subscription base.  Our guess is that as video on demand revenue continues to rise and eventually equal or eclipse subscription revenue, this will change.  But for now, you’ll have to have a little patience when it comes to shows from premium cable channels.

The next step in our TV On the Cheap Guide is Netflix Instant Watch.  As we’ve said before, we’re a huge fan of this service, which is a free benefit with any Netflix unlimited plan (those plans start at $8.99/month).  And you can sync Netflix Instant Watch up to your Roku box as well or your Xbox 360 via Xbox Live.  Netflix Instant Watch offers thousands of films and TV shows, including most of the Starz network’s offerings (PARTY DOWN is a fantastic, hilarious show).

That’s all there is to saving thousands of dollars a year on cable or satellite, without missing your favorite programs.  With your newfound cash, maybe you could pick up a point-and-shoot digital camcorder; we recommend the Flip UltraHD.

Magellan Maestro 4210 4.3-Inch Widescreen Portable GPS Navigator Review – Never Get Lost Again

August 24th, 2009
Find your way home with the Magellan Maestro 4210

Find your way home with the Magellan Maestro 4210

GPS units used to be pricey and hard to use. If you had a high-end BMW or Mercedes, they sometimes came with the car.  But now, GPS technology has come down in price and become super-easy to use.  And the Magellan Maestro 4210 4.3-Inch Widescreen Portable GPS Navigator is a great example.  This unit used to retail for $449.99.  But now, you can pick one up on Amazon for just $99.99!  They’ll even throw in free SuperSaver shipping.  For under a hundred bucks, you can drive around, safe in the knowledge that you will never get lost again.  And if you’re a guy, you don’t have to pull over at a gas station and ask for directions either.

The Magellan Maestro 4210 has all the features you want in a portable GPS unit. It features a large 4.3-inch color, touch-sensitive screen.  This, combined with an intuitive interface, allows you to navigate through the unit’s menus simply and easily.  You can punch in your destination by city, state, or zip code, browse through a list of points of interest that includes parks, banks, and restaurants, and even select nearby POIs based on your location.  The Magellan Maestro 4210 features AAA travel information, including trip planning, searchable TripBook information, Show Your Card and Save merchants, even AAA-approved vendors.  And finding a route is a snap.  You can even re-route to avoid traffic or plan your path to maximize freeways or surface streets.

The Magellan Maestro 4210 comes pre-loaded with maps of the US and Canada and over 6 million points of interest.  Using the supplied USB cord, you can hook your Magellan Maestro 4210 up to your computer and download more maps or customize the points of interest displayed.  It also features an address book, where you can store frequently used locations, including your home address.

The Magellan Maestro 4210 4.3-Inch Widescreen Portable GPS Navigator also comes with a car charger, a wall charger, a mount and adhesive for sticking to your dash, a suction-cup mount for sticking to your windshield, software CD, and quick-start guide.

At just .7-inches thick, the Magellan Maestro 4210 4.3-Inch Widescreen Portable GPS Navigator is one of the thinnest GPS units on the market.  Once it’s charged, you can easily slip it in a pocket and take it along on a bike ride or hike, making it more useful than larger units that are really only helpful in a vehicle.

Our Overall Rating — 9/10.  The Magellan Maestro 4210 is slim, small, easy to use, and best of all, cheap.  Our Recommendation — Buy one.  For $99.99 (and free shipping) you will have the peace of mind of knowing you’ll never get lost again.

Amazon Kindle Review – Books Go High-Tech

August 20th, 2009
A great value, the Kindle allows you to take a library with you wherever you go

A great value, the Kindle allows you to take a library with you wherever you go

The Amazon Kindle e-Reader is the biggest revolution to hit the printed word since the printing press.  Now you can download books, magazines, and other printed material at a fraction of the bound cost, quickly and easily.  With an Amazon Kindle, it’s possible to carry your entire library with you when you travel — think about having dozens of issues of magazines and hundreds of books available on you without having to weigh down your luggage.

The newest generation of the Kindle features several improvements to the original design.  Combined with all the other benefits, the Kindle is a truly great product.  It features:

  • A slim design, at just over 1/3 of an inch thick — the Kindle is thinner than a typical magazine
  • A super lightweight chassis, the Amazon Kindle clocks in at 10.2 oz, which is lighter than most paperbacks
  • Built-in 3G wireless, so you can download books from your Kindle anytime, aywhere without paying monthly service fees or hunting down a wireless hotspot
  • Download a full book in under 60 seconds on the newest version of the Amazon Kindle
  • E-Ink technology has a paper-like display — no hurting your eyes like reading off a computer screen;; the Kindle is easy to read
  • 25% longer battery life than previous models — this Kindle lasts for days between charges
  • The newest Amazon Kindle has a capacity of 1,500+ books
  • New Text-to-Speech Feature, which allows the Kindle to read aloud to you
  • Download and read the first chapter of books before deciding to buy
  • Kindle prices are much cheaper than hard- and paperback books — New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases are normally $9.99
  • The new Kindle boasts a 6″ screen

Really the only quibbles we have with the current generation of the Kindle is that its screen is only black and white.  A color version of the Amazon Kindle is not available yet.  So what do we give the Kindle as a final score?

Overall Rating: 9/10 (if it had a color screen, it’d get a 10/10)

Recommendation: If you’re a reader, particularly one who travels, a Kindle can quickly pay for itself in savings on books and magazines.  At $299.99 from Amazon, it’s a great product at a fair price.

Flip UltraHD Camcorder Review – Even Better Than Its Little Brother

August 19th, 2009
The best point-and-shoot HD camcorder around, the Flip UltraHD

The best point-and-shoot HD camcorder around, the Flip UltraHD

We had a chance to use the Flip Mino HD Camcorder, which we loved. It’s a 720p point-and-shoot digital camcorder you can slip in your shirt or pants pocket, with a built-in USB jack and easy to use software for Mac or IBM. How could Flip possibly improve on it?

Well they did. With the Flip UltraHD Camcorder. The Flip UltraHD Camcorder isn’t as pretty as its little brother. It’s slightly thicker, and the buttons aren’t recessed and touch-sensitive. But the slightly uglier form factor is way overcompensated for with some truly awesome features.

The Flip UltraHD Camcorder has an even better picture than the Flip Mino HD Camcorder. It looks sharper, and the colors seem more realistic and vibrant. The sound quality is just as good.

Where the Flip UltraHD Camcorder really shines is:

  • That it has twice the battery life — lasting around 2.5 hours per charge
  • That if your battery runs out, you can use regular AA batteries! Meaning that you don’t have to worry about charging the included rechargable battery via the USB port if you just want to get up and shooting quickly.
  • That it has twice the storage capacity — 8 gigs instead of 4, meaning that you can store up to 2 hours of footage at a time. Making the Flip UltraHD Camcorder far more suitable for things like taping your kids’ play or sporting event.
  • It has a larger screen (2 inches)
  • And best of all, the Flip UltraHD Camcorder is even cheaper than the Flip Mino HD Camcorder.

So better features, better picture quality, the same ease of use, and a lower price? The Flip UltraHD Camcorder is nearly perfect for easily capturing video and saving the memories or sharing them online (you can upload videos t Youtube with one button in the included software).

That’s why we’re giving it an unprecedented 10/10and a Must Buy!

Amazon’s doing their coy little “add to cart to see price” on the Flip UltraHD Camcorder, but it’s a bargain at $169.99. Pick one up today. It’s an HD camcorder that’s perfect for capturing daily memories, and it’s so easy to use, it makes a great gift for a child, your college student, or your elderly parents.