Wednesday, January 1, 3000

Welcome to our new venue

Planned Reviews, Articles and/or Topics

As part of a total reset and redesign our publishing venue, we are busy creating new reviews, re-vetting some old ones of value, and will be posting them all when they are suitably ripe.  A list of those currently being scrutinized or being considered for in-depth reviews includes, but is not limited to, the following.  Some of the titles are expanded into what we might call a Quick Look:

FLASH: As soon as we updated our positive review of Roku 3 Gen 2, Roku announced their 2nd Gen power boxes in two lines, Roku Express and Roku Premier with Premier Ultra being the top dog.  We hope to get our hands on an eval unit to give a proper review.  Stay tuned!.

Here's a quick chart from the Roku site comparing the models..

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Jeff Expands Echo Series with the Tap and the Dot (v2 with ESP + Improvements)

Here's some products we hope to be reporting on in greater depth as soon as we get some units to evaluate.  Jeff Bezos' Amazon broke new ground with the wildly successful Amazon Echo home auditory appliance.  The phrasing, "Alexa, play Bruno Mars" or "Alexa, What's the weather tomorrow in Seattle", soon became part of the modern vernacular with numerous product placements in TV episodes (e.g., Mr Robot), and the movies.  Kudos to Jeff for achieving a product's global brand recognition an order of magnitude faster than we became familiar with "Google that".  The 1st Echo was really great in all respects except that it lacked audio output for connection to audio systems.   
Amazon soon followed with the "Echo Tap", a portable battery unit.  At first thought, it seems strange since the Echo series depends on WiFi for access to music sources.  But, on second thought, since the FCC ruled that carriers can't charge extra for making phones act as WiFi hot spots, any phone with a large data plan, can act as your streaming source and, voila, music in the fields.  It comes with a charging stand and accessory rubber cases for that sporty look are available. 

Without missing a beat, a diminutive sized unit called the "Echo Dot" was released for direct attachment to audio or home theater receivers.  Without the need for a speaker enclosure, it is no larger than a hockey puck since it connects to an audio system by RCA cables or Bluetooth.  Alas, the first version of the Dot was plagued with operator intelligibility issues since the Dot had the daunting task of operating in a huge array of situations with wildly varying acoustic environments.  It seems the engineers at Amazon were aware of the issues since they released the 2nd generation Dot less than 6 months after Gen 1 and addressed the speech recognition issue and added ESP, a method whereby 2 or more units within range of the operator could determine which unit was closest and respond with that one.  Top that off with a price roughly half of Gen 1 as well as a Buy 5 - Get one Free deal, and it's a very interesting proposition.  However, since the Dot requires an external output device, it is harder to use a bunch of them since each will require an external amp and speakers.

For the moment, bulk-buying the Dot only makes sense as a great Christmas gift purchase for all your friends who have an audio system they can connect to with RCA cables or Bluetooth.  However, many Lemminials don't know or care about audio quality so don't have audio systems.  I think Amazon may have had a next generation of usage in mind whereby a person's worn digital assistant (aka smart phone or smart wear for the young ones) will have Bluetooth INPUT capability.  Most such devices have BT output (e.g., sending to headphones) but few have input (where a sound source sends sound to the phone).  Even if they did, most BT implementations limit the device pairings to just a few and not at the same time.  So that limits the advantage of having more units than amplifiers.  However, since this is a common scenario, I'd expect there to be some solutions on the horizon with a BP protocol upgrade as well as some adapters to work around the problem through BT spoofing or emulation.  Bet you Amazon is thinking about that already.

Stay tune for our full review.

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  • DataColor's SpyderElite Studio & SpyderCheckr color correction tools.
    We're planning an in-depth users review of DataColor's screen, printer, and photographic color monitoring and color correction products.   Stay tuned!
  • Plex Media Server
    Plex Media Server
    Multi-purpose, multi-platform, media server.  A powerful, quirky, buggy, flexible, alternative to the beautiful, standard-setting, deceased and much lamented Windows Media Center.
  • Acronis Backup and Restore - TrueImage's Stronger Brother
    Acronis has a habit of creating not only multiple similar versions within the same product line but also of introducing new or renamed product lines that seemingly overlap or duplicate previous lines with little explanation as to the differences.  It suggests, rightly or wrongly, they are using the age-old marketing technique of flooding the market with product derivations to see which grab the market's attention.  Being a market leader, already, that's a shame when they could just as well spend the energy fine tuning their existing lines with much needed overhauls of GUI and ease of use improvements.  We are always hopeful that a new line such as this will truly offer something better and worth considering.  Time will tell.
  • ACDSee 9 Ultimate: Latest incarnation of ever-morphing ACDSee
    ACD System's ACDSee Ultimate 9 in Manage Mode
    Quick Take: ACD Systems takes aim at faltering Adobe Light Room with its Pro, now called Ultimate, version. Can it be a viable lower cost alternative?  There are few capable players in image viewing, editing, and management.  At the pro level there's Adobe's powerful, slow and bug plagued Light Room, PhaseOne's pricey, powerful, but slightly more limited Capture One, and at the advanced consumer level, ACDSee which has made slow but steady improvements over the years. 

    Alas, ACD Systems "seems" to be taking the same disappointing approach as Acronis in that they have 3 or 4 product lines that overlap and multiple variations of each product, with new versions and name changes 1+ times per year.   For example, the ACDSee line sprouted ACDSee Pro which then seems to have morphed into ACDSee Ultimate.   At first glance the Ultimate version now seems to have enough chops to become a viable viewer, editor, manager for amateurs, advanced amateurs, and semi-pros. 

    However, it needs to be noted that it does have some shortcomings such with its handling of some file formats.  E.g., if editing a layered Photoshop PSD file, it will collapse, thus destroying, the layers with little warning other than a caveat in its documentation.  It has had similar issues with the handling of EXIF data that it doesn't understand and thus drop some data when editing.  E.g, some camera accessory GPS units embed additional data within the EXIF data area besides the coordinates, such as elevation, bearing, roll, tilt, and pitch which ACDSee doesn't recognize and can drop if edited.  We are eager to test the latest Ultimate line to see if these issues are fixed. In any event, there is no question ACDSee Ultimate 9 has some powerful features and should be short-listed for advanced amateurs and semi-pros.
  • VueScan - Jack of all Scanners, Master of Most, Affordable by All!
    VueScan v9.x, Scanner Program
    First Look: This is a mature, powerful, multi-talented, and very affordable scanning program by David Hamrick.  It controls a vast array of scanners with a passel of capabilities.  It can scan reflective media, positive and negative films; create color matching profiles; OCR text documents; produce searchable PDF's; and more.  When I said "vast array of scanners", I didn't mean 100, 400, or even 1,000, but an incredible 3,400 scanners.  Despite the fact that some scanner families have similar interface protocols, David and his team had to investigate, incorporate and test each one.   That is a Herculean job that speaks to Mr. Hamrick's dedication. We can't figure out how he has the time to do all that he has accomplished.

    In terms of a multi-platform scanner controller, VueScan's only direct competition is SilverFast by LaserSoft Imaging which has an extremely powerful but deeply technical interface that is well-suited for professional scanner operators with a deep understanding of color technology.  The catch is that a single SilverFast license only covers a single scanner model, costs US$ 450 per license, and only supports dedicated, higher end scanners.  VueScan, on the other hand, supports almost every form of scanner available, including MFP printers such as the Epson Work Force printer line. 

    In our test case, we have 4 different scanner models: Nikon Coolscan LS5000 ED film scanner; Epson Perfection V750 Pro flatbed; 2 Epson Workforce WF-7620 MFP printers; and an HP L7780 MFP printer.  VueScan would cost only $90 to support all those devices, can be run on 4 different PCs, and is also available for Apple.   SilverFast would only support our Epson V750 Pro and Nikon Coolscan LS-5000 ED.  So, that's about $900 to license Silverfast for 2 of our 5 scanners versus $90 for VueScan that would support them all plus 3,396 more!  Price-wise, it's no contest.  If you are a pro shop with a couple of high end expensive scanners, then SilverFast is probably your cup of tea.  For the 99% of the rest of us, the price of its full Studio kit is miles out of out of reach.  If SilverFast were purchased to cover each of it's roughly 200 higher end scanner models at an average cost of $400 each, that works out to a cool $80,000.  To be fair, they do offer modest discounts for that many licenses.

    Overall, VueScan is a very competent program, has a utilitarian but effective interface, and keeps getting better with each new version.  On a bang-for-buck basis, it stands tall and alone.  We highly recommend you give it a test using its free trial version that watermarks output but allows you to test its operation and capabilities.  

    The image above is a VueScan scan of an old dirty Ektachrome slide in our Nikon Super CoolScan LS-5000 ED slide scanner.  VueScan was able to utilize the LS-5000's builtin infrared channel to eliminate nearly all of the dust and dirt particles with only a modest impact on sharpness. 

    This First Look is based on the free evaluation version that excludes some of the features and watermarks the output.  We hope to get our hands on a full Pro version to give it a thorough shake down for a full in-depth evaluation from an end-user's perspective.

    Other product reviews we have in our candidate pile:
  • MediaMonkey
    A potent, multi-talented, configurable music manager, player, editor, and more.

  • Roku 3 v2 Media Streamer
    Updated review.  See Quick Take online now.
  • Adobe Light Room
    Most popular image developer/manager and CPU assassin.
  • Solmeta GeoTagger Pro 2 / N3
    Affordable, powerful GPS for geo-logging or tethering to Nikon/Canon cameras.
  • Visual Similarity Duplicate File Finder
    A strong, image content duplicate finder
  • Essays and Monographs
    Various writing on techniques, philosophy, ethics, and the future of media technology. 
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Our studies strongly suggest that we will all die at some point.
They also found that if we all are peaceful and give others pleasure, 
We will all enjoy peace, have great satisfaction, and be very, very, happy! 

It all starts with you, right now!

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