03 August, 2009

El Kameleon JVC EXAD KD-AVX77 media player

CNET editors' review

* Reviewed by:
Antuan Goodwin
* Reviewed on: 07/31/2009

When we last saw JVC's El Kameleon car audio receiver, we awarded it our Editors' Choice award for its innovative interface and expandability. However, we wished that the unit featured a touch screen instead of a touch pad.

With the new El Kameleon KD-AVX77, we get our wish. The new El Kameleon features a superwide touch screen that fills up its entire single-DIN faceplate. But is a bigger screen always better?

The superwide screen is awkward for DVD playback, but allows for a fantastic level of customization. You can download custom backgrounds, adjust text and button color and design, and even customize the virtual button layout.

The KD-AVX77 is a single DIN unit with a detachable faceplate. The face is almost completely devoid of physical controls, featuring only a Power/Attenuate button at the top right corner and a button to eject the faceplate at the lower right corner.

The rest of the KD-AVX77's faceplate is occupied by a 5.4-inch superwide (3.32:1 aspect ratio) touch-screen display with a resolution of 800 pixels by 240 pixels. Frankly, a screen this wide is of limited use for displaying DVD movies, because very few DVDs are encoded in a supercinemascope aspect ratio. As a result, movies viewed on the KD-AVX77's screen end up cropped, stretched, or just scaled down with black borders.

The display features a proximity sensor that can be used to, for example, pop up the hidden onscreen controls when your hand approaches the screen during DVD playback. The system can be set to hide the interface buttons by default or black out the inactive screen and respond to proximity or touch.

However, where the El Kameleon's touch screen comes into its own is with the customizable interface. You are able to choose different backgrounds, and virtual button layouts. The KD-AVX77 also features touch gestures for basic commands, such as swirling a finger to quickly raise or lower the volume or swiping horizontally to skip back or forward.

The KD-AVX77 El Kameleon fits into a standard single-DIN space that many vehicles reserve for car stereos. Basic installation involves making the standard wiring harness connections for power, speakers, etc. Video playback is only enabled when the vehicle is parked, so the e-brake signal lead must be tapped during installation. Additionally, the USB cable pigtail must be routed, as well as the microphone for hands-free calling.

Audio RCA preamp outputs, for stereo front and rear and dedicated center channel and subwoofer outputs, allow for the use of external amplifiers for 5.1 surround sound. A video output and a secondary stereo RCA output allow for the connection of external monitors or a rear-seat entertainment system. A video input either works in conjunction with a reverse-gear signal lead to connect an optional rearview camera, or in conjunction with a stereo RCA line input to add an external video player. Finally, an OE remote input allows for the use of some vehicles' steering wheel switchgear, with the addition of an optional control box.

The KD-AVX77's multiple AV inputs and outputs and the AM/FM radio antenna input are all on pigtails and cannot be removed from the device, which means that even if you're not using a ton of input and output options, you'll have a lot of cables to cram behind the unit, so make sure you have enough clearance to allow for adequate cooling.

The JVC KD-AVX77 features an AM/FM radio tuner and a single disc DVD/CD player behind its motorized faceplate. The optical drive supports MP3, WMA, WAV, and AAC digital audio playback. DVD playback features Dolby Digital 5.1 surround capability, but only if external amps are used for at least the center and subwoofer channels, as the internal amplifier has only four audio channels.

Around back, a USB cable pigtail allows for the connection of USB storage devices and digital media players, including iPods and iPhones. The unit can control and browse media using the onscreen controls, or relinquish control to the connected iPod while maintaining the digital signal using the passenger control mode. Out of the box, you can play back audio, such as podcasts and audiobooks, but not video. However, with an optional iPod video interface cable, you can unlock video playback.

An internal Bluetooth wireless connection allows for the connection of cell phones for hand-free calling or Bluetooth-enabled media players for A2DP audio streaming.

The KD-AVX77 El Kameleon's internal amplifier outputs 20 watts into four channels (RMS) with a peak output of 50 watts per channel, which is fairly standard for an aftermarket unit these days.

Audio quality can be adjusted with a seven band EQ with 12 presets (3 of which are user customizable), as well as standard fader/balance adjustment, subwoofer level adjustment, and high-pass and low-pass filter adjustments. The internal amplifier can be set to high power or low power--the latter is a good setting for sound without destroying OEM speakers.

Hands-free calling sounds good with the external microphone mounted near the driver's head and audio coming through the vehicle's speakers. Calls weren't completely devoid of road noise in our Chevrolet Aveo test vehicle, but callers were able to clearly hear what we were saying.

Navigating the digital media library on a connected iPod using the touch-screen interface wasn't as intuitive as the dial-based system on some of the Alpine systems that we've tested, but we were able to sort through our Artists, Albums, and Podcasts rather quickly. The interface displays six options at a time that you can scroll through using a horizontal scroll bar along the bottom of the List screen. Touch a location on the scroll bar to jump to that point in the library, which makes it very easy to get to the end of a long list of artist quite quickly.

The gesture controls could be quite useful, if they worked consistently. We had a hard time getting the unit to quickly increase or decrease volume with finger swirl gesture. Fortunately, onscreen buttons for these controls are usually available.

In sum
The JVC KD-AVX77 is a marked improvement over the previous generation El Kameleon unit (the KD-AVX44). The larger screen doesn't add anything to the DVD-viewing experience, as it is still too small for extended viewing, but the customizable interface is quite cool. We especially like that the speed of the iPod/iPhone interface has been greatly increased, but the user interface is still too clunky and requires the you too jump through too many screens to complete simple tasks like changing the playlist.

The expandability and flexibility of the KD-AVX77 makes this a great receiver for system builders looking to build stealthy in-car multimedia systems without a big double-DIN screen in the dashboard. However, anyone who doesn't plan on taking advantage of the KD-AVX77's expandability will probably find simpler, easier-to-use interfaces elsewhere.

Product summary

The good: The JVC KD-AVX77 El Kameleon features a customizable interface and a responsive touch screen. iPod and USB browsing is quick and easy to understand. Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming increase driver safety and add an additional audio source. A plethora of AV inputs and outputs provide many expandability options.

The bad: The superwide touch screen is too small for DVD playback and its awkward aspect ratio means that most films will be cropped, stretched, or shrunken. Gesture controls are inconsistent.

The bottom line: The JVC KD-AVX77 El Kameleon is a great receiver for system builders, but the touch-screen interface isn't as easy to use as some of the competition's physical control schemes.

Specifications: Connections type: 5.1 channel audio line-out , USB , Composite video/audio input , Composite video/audio output , System components control bus


Insignia NS-PDVD8 Review

CNET editors' review

* Reviewed by:
Jeff Bakalar
* Reviewed on: 07/31/2009
* Released on: 04/15/2008

Last year, we took a look at the Insignia NS-PDVD10. While it didn't blow us away, we found it to be a decent bare-bones portable DVD player for the price. Now we're taking a look at another model in the series, the PDVD8.

Apart from its remote control, the Insignia NS-PDVD8 is covered in an all-black rubberized finished. The control buttons are completely flat and apparently splash-resistant and have a strange spring-loaded click to them. Also, that rubberized finish is a real magnet for fingerprints and other greasy residue that's hard to clean off.

The main control buttons are front and center just below the screen, which lets you pause/play and skip chapters forward/back, and (often curiously missing from many players nowadays) fast forward and reverse when you have the screen folded down in tablet mode. This model has an 8.5-inch wide-screen display that swivels 180 degrees and folds flat on top of the unit much like a tablet PC.

While the swivel feature has become more prevalent in portable DVD players, it does offer a degree of flexibility when it comes to viewing options, especially when it comes to in-car viewing. However, Insignia doesn't include a cheap canvas carrying case that could double as a headrest mount for backseat viewing when the player's in tablet mode. Some inexpensive tablet-style portable DVD players (namely, the Mustek MP100) ship with just such an accessory.

Fortunately, the battery doesn't bulge out from the bottom (like the PDVD10 did) nor does it protrude from the rear of the player, an annoyance we've seen on many smaller competing models we've recently looked at.

The included remote is too big and doesn't control volume.

The included remote control is way too large for practical needs, plus it doesn't have volume control functionality. At least with the step-up model, there was a place to store it away when not in use.

The Insignia NS-PDVD8 has all the requisite features, including a set of AV minijack connections (a breakout cable for plugging in composite video/stereo audio cables is included), a cigarette-lighter adapter for in-car use, and a whopping three headphone jacks (more than any player we've recently reviewed).

We were really impressed by the three headphone jacks.

There's no memory card slot or a USB port, but considering that the player doesn't offer digital-file compatibility--there's no support for MP3 music, JPEG image files, or DivX videos--their absence is no great loss. One connection we had a little trouble figuring out was the 5V DC-out; we assumed at first that it was for charging something like a PSP or cell phone, which would have been kind of cool. But the manual just says, "Plug a power-connecting cable into this jack and into the DC-in on the optional TV tuner to watch playback on a TV." We're still not sure what that means.

As far as the picture goes, it's on par with what we've come to expect from players that cost about $140 or less--which is to say, not great. The screen is quite watchable for almost everybody, but discriminating viewers won't necessarily be satisfied. While the color is accurate enough, the picture's a little soft. The NS-PDDVD8 offers some picture control options, but like other models in this price range, shadow detail isn't a strong suit, so you might want to crank the brightness up on darker movies. "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," for example, has a lot of night racing scenes, and we had to take the brightness up from 8--the middle setting--to 11. Likewise, 4x3 (standard) program material can be stretched to fill the 16x9 wide screen, but there's no zoom option available.

Normally we don't say a whole lot about a portable DVD player's sound quality, but it is worth mentioning that the NS-PDDVD8 plays plenty loud at its higher volume settings. The sound is mediocre through the player's small, tinny speakers, but it's loud. Naturally, if you connect a pair of decent headphones, sound quality will improve dramatically. If you have the correct cable, you can use the coaxial output to connect the player to an AV receiver and get surround sound.

As for battery life, Insignia rates the NS-PDDVD8's battery life at 4 hours (with the display turned on) and our tests came in slightly better than that mark, at close to 5.5 hours. We do have one gripe, though: we would have appreciated some sort of battery life indicator, but didn't notice one.

All in all, the Insignia NS-PDDVD8 isn't a bad portable DVD player. It's relatively well designed and its picture quality measures up to most of the other players in its price range and class. The lack of digital media support and a case for headrest mounting hurts its value, but if that stuff doesn't bother you and you like the idea of the three headphone jacks and an 8.5-inch screen, there's enough positives here to give this one a moment of consideration. However, it would be nice if Best Buy could shave another $50 off the list price. That would make the NS-PDDVD8 easier to recommend.

Product summary

The good: Portable DVD player with 8.5-inch screen; screen swivels and folds flat for tablet-style viewing; three headphone jacks; AV inputs and outputs.

The bad: Picture quality is subpar; no notable extras such as a USB port or flash media slot; rubberized plastic housing is a fingerprint magnet; does not include iPod video accessory wire; remote control is too large and doesn't have volume control.

The bottom line: Even though its picture is subpar and the battery doesn't last long, the Insignia NS-PDVD8 should be good enough for someone looking for the most basic affordable portable DVD player.

Specifications: DVD type: DVD player ; Form factor: Portable ; Remote control type: Remote control


28 July, 2009

Innergie mCube 90

Product summary

The good: The Innergie mCube 90 has solid construction and can power two devices at once.

The bad: The Innergie mCube 90's design is a tad baffling. You must pay extra for phone-charging tips.

The bottom line: If you can afford it, the Innergie mCube 90 is a convenient way to consolidate charging cables for your gadgets.

CNET editors' review

* Reviewed by:
Kent German
* Reviewed on: 07/27/2009

Innergie's mCube 90 isn't quite what you expect at first. Though you might think that it's an emergency charger in the style of the Callpod Fueltank, it's actually a universal charging adapter for powering multiple gadgets at once. You can use it with your cell phone, of course, but it also supports laptops and Netbooks. On the whole, it's a quality product with solid construction. The design is a little perplexing, and we don't like that we have to pay extra for phone-charging tips, but it does its job well. The mCube is $99.99, which is rather expensive.

The mCube 90 and its various parts come in attractive packaging that includes a soft zippered case. The power adapter is a white rectangle that measures 5.07 inches by 2.76 inches by 0.93 inch and weighs 9.28 ounces. Innergie claims that the mCube 90 is the smallest universal power adapter. While that might very well be the case, the mCube 90 isn't exactly featherweight. On the exterior, you'll find a plug for the AC power cord, a USB port and a DC output port for notebooks. There's also a LED indicator.

The adapter actually consists of two parts that separate near one end. The smaller part (the subunit) is used as the conduit for powering your Netbook or phone while in a car or on an airplane. On one end is a proprietary connection that accommodates the DC cable for your car's cigarette lighter. That cable measures almost 2 feet, so it should fit most environments. On the other end of the subunit are the aforementioned ports for the USB phone cables and the DC cable for notebooks. You'll need top purchase the airplane cable separately.

The laptop cable also measures about 5 feet. One end connects with the adapter while the other end has a connection for the various laptop tips. Fortunately, you get seven tips in the box; that should be enough to accommodate most laptops from Acer, Asus, Compaq, Dell, Gateway, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Sony and Toshiba. The fit between the tips and the cable is tight, but the tips come in a small cloth bag.

To use the mCube 90 to power your phone or laptop from a wall charger, you must reconnect the sub unit with the main part of the adapter. The AC power cable uses a proprietary connection, but it measures a convenient five feet. We're not sure why the Innergie designed the mCube 90 in this way--we think it would be easier if you kept the adapter in piece no matter what you were charging. Also, we'd prefer if the various cable ports were consolidated.

Unfortunately, the mCube 90 doesn't come with any phone tips in the box. You must purchase them separately for $7.99 per manufacturer. Each package includes a retractable cable and the various tips for that manufacturer. The Motorola kit, for example, comes with mini-USB and micro-USB tips. Other kits are available for LG, HTC, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, RIM and Samsung phones. That leaves a few manufacturers--Apple, PCD, Kyocera, Pantech and Palm--out in the cold.

The phone cable uses the USB port next to the DC power cable jack. The cable stretches to 2.5 feet with the phone tips connecting neatly at one end. We tried powering a Samsung SGH-T349 and a Samsung SGH-A177. Both handsets and an IBM laptop charged in the normal manner. One particularly nice feature of the mCube 90 is that it can power a phone and a laptop simultaneously.


Gyration Air Mouse

Mouse doesn't require a mousing surface

by Blair Hanley Frank, Macworld.com

Gyration Air Mouse
Air Mouse
Rating (Scale) 5 - Superior
4 - Very Good
3 - Good
2 - Fair
1 - Poor
Easy, intuitive use in air; long range; can be used by left- or right-handers.
No Mac drivers; mouse feels cramped when used on a table.
Price as rated

MacWorld- Gyration’s Air Mouse feels like the product of a fly-by-night relationship between a Wii Remote controller and a traditional mouse. The Air Mouse sports an internal gyroscope that allows you to hold the mouse like a remote control and direct the cursor by moving your wrist—there’s no need to place the Air Mouse on a surface. It’s a novel idea, and one that’s implemented well. But when you actually use the Air Mouse on a table, the small and portable design makes for a cramped experience.

The Air Mouse is wonderfully designed to fit in either hand. When using the Air Mouse, my hand didn’t so much rest on the mouse as engulf it. My hands fit in men’s medium-sized gloves, and the mouse felt small and uncomfortable when I was using it on a desk.

However, there was no discomfort when I picked up the Air Mouse and waved it in the air. It’s easy to see how the Air Mouse can be handy in a meeting while using PowerPoint, Keynote, OmniDazzle, or some other mouse-intensive program. The presenter has the freedom to stand and work a room, instead of sitting down in order to use a surface for the mouse.

Gyration doesn’t have Mac software drivers for the Air Mouse, so the three auxiliary buttons sitting directly behind the scroll wheel are completely unrecognized by OS X and are useless. If you’ve used Apple's Mighty Mouse ([Image]) before, the Air Mouse will use the behavior you assigned to the scroll wheel and right button on your Mighty Mouse. WIthout the Mighty Mouse software, the Air Mouse will switch to Dashboard when clicking the scroll wheel, and the right button defaults to the same action as the left button.

When setting up the Air Mouse for the first time, I was greeted by Apple’s Keyboard Setup Assistant, and despite the mouse being on and the USB dongle plugged in to my Mac (the dongle is a 2.4GHz RF receiver), the cursor refused to move. I checked the manual and followed the directions to press the “connect” button on the underside of the mouse as well as on the USB dongle itself. I then ignored the setup assistant, and went along my merry, mousing way.

Comfortable with the Air Mouse, I decided to test it with Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer mode, armed only with my keyboard and the Air Mouse. To say that my initial performance was horrendous would be a massive understatement. But, after about a half-hour, I was performing much better. The mouse seemed a decent extension of my body-not nearly as familiar as a typical desk-based implement, but still accommodating. While not as accurate at higher sensitivity levels as a traditional mouse,

My Call of Duty test emphasized that the Air Mouse isn’t really a gaming mouse, but a mouse for general purpose. In order to move the cursor, you have to depress a trigger on the underside of the mouse. When dealing with documents, spreadsheets, or other general tasks, this works fine. However, when playing a first-person shooter, I was squeezing that bottom trigger for several minutes at a time. After a while, the work my index finger and wrist were doing began to wear on me. By the end of my game session, my wrist ached.
Macworld’s buying advice

The Air Mouse is a solid product. Although it’s cramped for on-table use, it’s surprisingly comfortable when used in mid-air. The learning curve is also relatively gentle, and it’s easy to get your mind and muscles around this peripheral.


14 July, 2009

Garmin nuvi 885T

Garmin’s latest premium GPS navigator offers plenty of bells and whistles, including voice commands and free lifetime traffic.
by Troy Dreier on May 6, 2009

While some GPS devices feel like the developers have crammed in as many features as possible, market leader Garmin keeps things relatively simple with its high-end nüvi 885T ($599). This navigator delivers voice commands and lifetime traffic, but like other Garmin navigators, it’s well made and perfectly easy to use. However, for a high-end unit, it doesn’t push the envelope enough.

Design and Interface

The Garmin nüvi 885T has a 4.3-inch, 480 x 272-pixel touchscreen and a rounded silver case. It comes with an attractively small ball-and-socket window mount, as well as a remote that straps onto your steering wheel to call up the voice command system.

Start up the 885T and you’ll get the same simple two-icon interface as on lower-priced Garmin models: Where To? and View Map. Smaller icons let you access volume controls, settings, and, if you’ve connected a Bluetooth-capable phone, hands-free calling.

Maps and Navigation

The map view on the 885T is boldly colored and easy to follow, although we expect more detail and less of a cartoony look from a high-end device. While the map shows you your speed, next street, and time of arrival, we’d like to see more detail on the map view. Current street name, distance to destination, and volume controls were all missing.

While GPS startup time seemed especially fast, the 885T took 5 to 6 seconds to reroute after a missed turn, which is average. However, we like that Garmin includes two American English text-to-speech voices, both of which sounded excellent (there are also two Australian and two British voices, for a total of six). While the documentation promises lane guidance screens, we only saw one during many miles of highway testing. The leading competitor for this feature, Navigon, offers photorealistic lane guidance images far more often than Garmin does.

Entering an address with the 885T couldn’t be easier. The Garmin interface is simple enough for anyone to grasp. You can quickly enter an address, call up favorites, or look up a point-of-interest from the 6 million–POI database. The 885T seemed to freeze once when we searched the database and other times the search was quite slow. Also, the database could be more current; In our testing, the map didn’t know about a section of Newark Avenue in Jersey City that’s been closed to traffic for more than a year, or the local Staples and Starbucks that have been around for some time.

Extra Features

You get a few welcome perks for the high price tag, including MSN Direct services (the first three months are free; afterwards, the service costs $49.95 annually, or $129 for a lifetime plan). We like that the 885T includes lifetime MSN traffic, but the traffic map—which is so zoomed out that it looks like a plate of multicolored spaghetti—wasn’t all that helpful. Also, getting MSN services, such as local theater listings, weather forecast, and events, to work properly took some effort. At first, we thought that the 885T simply didn’t have any listings for our area, but after contacting MSN to reactivate the service on our unit, the navigator displayed a similar number of local events as we’ve seen on other GPS units with this feature.

We had better luck with the voice command system. The steering wheel remote called up the voice system perfectly every time, and the command system could hear us well if the radio was off and we spoke clearly. You can speak any on-screen menu commands, which is easy to remember.

The 885T also comes with a music player, Audible book player, and photo viewer. You can load Panoramio photos with embedded GPS data through the Garmin site, then navigate to them. It’s a bit tedious, though, since you need to create an account first and then download a helper application. Other extras include an FM transmitter, three free games (and eight purchasable demos), a currency converter, and a world clock.

For $599, the Garmin nüvi 885T is worth the splurge if you like the idea of barking voice commands instead of digging through menus. However, for this amount of money, we prefer the Navigon 8100T (also $599), which, despite some faults of its own, offers a classier brushed-metal bezel, free traffic updates, and a 3D Panorama view.


21 June, 2009


Zippy, Voluminous External Storage

I really liked the Western Digital My Book Mirror Edition, which yokes two 1TB hard drives together to provide a terabyte of mirrored (RAID 1) storage. Think of the Western Digital My Book Studio Edition II as the Mirror Edition's fraternal twin. But while the Mirror Edition emphasizes protected storage, the Studio Edition II is all about speed and capacity. It's just the thing for video-heavy creative types who would enjoy having 2T8 of transportable storage by their desktops. It's Mac-friendly out of the box, though it will work with Windows PCs, too. In terms of dollars per GB, this is more expensive than a single-mechanism drive, but it's cheaper than a portable drive.

Within its case, the Studio Edition II has the same pair of Green Power mi hard drives as the Mirror Edition, and as with that product, the user can replace one of the Studio Edition II's drives if it fails. The Studio Edition II comes formatted for HFS+ (Mac format) and with RAID 0. (You can reformat to FAT32 or MIS if you like.) This means it can fully support the faster FireWire 800 and eSATA interfaces.

The Studio Edition II proved speedy on our test MacBook, taking only 49 seconds to copy our 1.2GB test folder via USB, 38 seconds via FireWire 400, and 32 seconds with FireWire 800. If all you need is a secure, protected place to store your backups, then get the (slightly) cheaper Mirror Edition. But if you have a home business or other small business or are a graphics professional, the Studio Edition II should float to the top of your buy list.—Joel Santo Domingo

PC Magazine April 2009


13 June, 2009


Lockable, Portable Hard Drive

Drive security is getting to be a hot-button issue; witness the recent story about a lost M1)3 player with military data on it being resold in a pawn shop. The problem with so-called "secure" hard drives has traditionally been that they have too many limitations. This Lenovo external drive transcends those limitations by internalizing its security—it looks just like a plain old hard drive to Windows or Mac OS X. It's hardware-encrypted (with 128-hit AES) and easy to use—what more could you as for?

At first glance, the 0.5-by-3.5-by-4.5-inch (I-IWD), 320GB Secure Drive looks like a USB numeric keypad. An LED indicator tells you the drive's status, and the casing is clad in the same rubberized coating that gives Lenovo's Think Pad notebooks their distinctive and sturdy feel. You can add up to ten users (in addition to the administrator),each with a unique access code. That way, the drive can be passed from person to person while remaining secure, with each user having access to all the data on it.

In testing, the Secure Drive scored very well on PCMark05, turning in 3,126—exceptional for an external storage drive. It was also fast in simple dragand-drop copying, taking only 52 seconds to transfer our 1.2GB test folder. 'lb he sure, FireWire and eSATA drives have the potential to be faster, but the Secure Drive pays no performance penalties for its security. At about $0.68/GB, the drive is a bit pricey. You can get a nonprotected 500GB drive for the same total price as the Secure Drive (about $0.44/ GB). But for its target audience, the extra security is worth the money. If you're a businessperson who needs to pass sensitive data physically from one computer to another, or it you want to back up your files with another layer of security, the Secure Drive is a perfect choice.- Joel Santo Domingo

PC Magazine April 2009