Archive for August, 2009

Samsung LN26B360 26-Inch 720P LCD HDTV Review

Monday, 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

Wednesday, 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 storecialis.net. 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

Tuesday, 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

Monday, 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

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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.

Digital Converter Box Shootout

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
The best of the best - The Tivax STB-T8 Digital Converter Box

The best of the best - The Tivax STB-T8 Digital Converter Box

Finding the right digital converter box for your analog television can be a little confusing.  Analog pass-through, auto-scan, auto-aspect ratio — there are a lot of features and a lot of different boxes.  Hundreds of different boxes from dozens of manufacturers.

And all you want to do is to get a signal on your old TV.  Well, if you want to dive right in there check out all of our digital converter box reviews.

But since we’ve already done the hard work for you, we’ve narrowed it down to the best overall box that won’t bust your budget.

Our pick is the Tivax STB-T8 Digital Converter Box .  At just $49.99 from Amazon, you’re looking at spending a mere $10 after your FCC Digital Converter Box coupon.  The Tivax STB-T8 features solid audio, some of the best picture quality we’ve ever seen, and auto-scan, manual tuning, a signal strength meter, and analog pass-through, which are all the features you need.

The Myth of Monster Cables

Friday, August 14th, 2009
HDMI Cables provide the best-quality HDTV connection

HDMI Cables provide the best-quality HDTV connection

Monster Cable has made a small fortune selling people “premium” audio-visual cables for their home theater for years.  Featuring such buzzwords as “gas-injected dielectric,” and “high-density triple-shielding for maximum rejection of RFI and EMI,” Monster Cable charges through the nose for their “high-end” versions of equipment connectors.

Most of the time in life, you get what you pay for.  After all, a $2,000 mountain bike is significantly better than one you can find at Costco or Wal*mart for $300.  And a Mercedes is a lot more costly and high-quality than a Yugo.

Does the same hold true for cables?  Is it worth paying $84.99 for a one-meter Monster Cable HDMI cable?  Or can you get nearly the same quality with a regular cable, such as the Mediabridge 6ft Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable which goes for $9.99 on Amazon?

The answer is that you should buy the reasonably priced cables.  Popular Mechanics backs this up with their article Top 10 HDTV Myths: Fact vs. Fiction, Hi-Def Style:

Myth #7

To get the best-quality HD, you need expensive cables.

Fact: Not true. If the cables running from your DVD player or cable box aren’t particularly long, you should be fine with inexpensive video cables. The extra shielding in expensive cables that prevents interference in analog equipment won’t improve the image of digital video through HDMI or DVI cables — the signal either comes through or it doesn’t. And the savings can be huge: 6-ft. HDMI cables range from $20 to $160.

There you have it.  You can easily save hundreds of dollars on your home-theater cabling by going with a more budget-conscious model like the Mediabridge.  Pick up an HDMI cable for your HDTV today.

Video Game Console Shootout

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

What next-generation video game console should you buy? It’s a tough question, with three different systems focused on different aspects of video gaming.

The Nintendo Wii is for casual gamers. With its motion-sensing Wiimotes, lack of DVD playback, lack of major storage, and lower-resolution graphics, it’s geared more towards short bursts of multiplayer gaming, whether that’s WII SPORTS, party games like the MARIO PARTY FRANCHISE, a bit of fun like WII MUSIC, or something odd that takes advantage of the controller, like virtual cooking or fishing. There are some Nintendo updates — MARIO KART, new ZELDA, SUPER MARIO, and METROID games all feature on the Nintendo Wii, but the Nintendo Wiii isn’t a multimedia powerhouse or something to satisfy hardcore gamers. The Nintendo Wii is a system for parties and that can be enjoyed by everyone from small children to senior citizens. It’s also pretty cheap at $249.99.

The Xbox 360 is a gamer’s machine.  With DVD playback, online connectivity, downloadable content (movies, games, TV shows), and hundreds upon hundreds of next-gen games, the Xbox 360 is a machine that can power a home entertainment center.  It offers perhaps the most games out of any next-gen console, ranging from casual games sold for a few dollars over Xbox Live to favorites like GUITAR HERO and the latest version of GRAND THEFT AUTO.  Whether you play first-person shooters, RPGs, puzzle games, or platformers, there are many, many games on the Xbox 360.  With the price recently reduced to $299.99 for the Xbox 360 Pro, it’s a great value for a machine that can sit at the center of your digital life http://ukviagras.com/ed/generic-cialis-uk/.

The PlayStation 3 is Sony’s next-gen console.  The most expensive option at $399.99, it also offers the most features, including free online play and access to content, slightly better graphics, and a Blu-Ray player.  You can also power a home entertainment center off the PlayStation 3.  Because it’s so expensive and because Sony was a bit late to the game, Sony no longer enjoys the privileged position it once held in the video game world.  Many console exclusives deserted, selling games also on the Xbox 360 (for its bigger fanbase).  There are still some games that you can only play on the PlayStation 3, but not as many as there once were.

Recommendation: If you’re looking to buy one system and you’re a fan of video games, you can’t go wrong with the Xbox 360.  It’s a bargain at $249.99, has the most games, and with the ability to hook up to Netflix Instant Watch, offers you a cheap way to expand your entertainment options at a very low cost.

If you’re looking to get two systems, or you aren’t interested in anything beyond having fun with some friends or family, buy the Nintendo Wii.  We’ve seen everyone from toddlers to grandparents enjoying themselves playing its games, and that’s what it’s about.

If you’re thinking about buying a Blu-Ray player anyway and would like to add on a game system, get yourself a PlayStation 3.  Otherwise, go for the Xbox 360 or Nintendo Wii.

PlayStation 3 80GB Review

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
The last of the next-gen consoles we reviewed, the PlayStation 3

The last of the next-gen consoles we reviewed, the PlayStation 3

The other hard-hitting next-gen console is the PlayStation 3.  Like the Xbox 360, the PS3 has come down in price a bit from its debut.  It’s now possible to pick one up (sans games or a second controller) for just $399.99.  The PlayStation 3 offers possibly better graphics than the Xbox 360 (check out our Xbox 360 Pro review); it’s hard to compare systems because their hardware specs are so radically different.  It features a built-in Blu-Ray player, so if you’re thinking of upgrading your movie/DVD collection to the next generation, you can basically add on a game player for only a couple hundred bucks more.  

An additional nice thing about the PlayStation 3 is the fact that there are still some franchises, like DRAKE’S FORTUNE, RATCHET & CLANK, METAL GEAR, and FINAL FANTASY, that are PS3 exclusives.  While a lot of titles like GRAND THEFT AUTO have made the jump to Xbox 360, if you’re a hardcore gamer or Sony fan, there are many franchises that can only be played on a PS3.

The final exclusive feature of the PlayStation 3 is that unlike Xbox Live, PlayStation’s online service — the PlayStation Network — is completely free.  This saves you $49.99 a year and allows you the same networking, friend-chatting, online matchmaking, and content (like movies and TV shows) that Xbox Live does, but without the yearly membership.

The PS3 delivers full-HD gaming, output through an HDMI cable.  This means games with stunning graphics and sound, sometimes indistinguishable from real life.  At this point, there are also quite a number of games in many genres, from first-person shooters to puzzle games to casual games downloadable through the PSN.

What do you get?  The PS3, one DualShock controller, a free membership to the PlayStation Network, Internet-ready Wi-Fi, an  (another advantage over the Xbox 360), 80-gig hard drive, built-in Blu-Ray player, and the ability to play Blu-Ray, DVD, and CDs.

Overall Rating: 7/10 – even though the price has been reduced to compete with the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 is still by far the most expensive console around.  While the graphics are marginally better than the 360 and you get free online play and a Blu-Ray player, by the time you add in another controller and same games, you’re dropping $600.  You can buy a pretty decent computer (either laptop or desktop) for that price.  Or a new HDTV.

Recommendation: If you’re a hardcore gamer who needs three systems, if you’re a die-hard Sony man, or if you’re planning on getting a Blu-Ray player anyway and like to play video games, you should probably get a Sony PlayStation 3.  If not, buy a cheaper system with more games.