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This little beauty – the SurroundXi – looks best with an iPod Nano, but plays well with other music toys. I’ve been tinkering with these speakers for a couple of weeks now, and they’re fun, highly portable and easy to use. The sound isn’t Bose quality, but with my iPod Shuffle and my iPod Mini, it’s not bad at all. Here are the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Plug and play
  • Very portable (runs on wire and on batteries)
  • Works with multiple audio players and flash drives
  • Auto-play from flash drive is seamless
  • Comes in many colors
  • Cheap! $40 at Target, but word on the Web says you can get the speakers for much less

Cons:

  • Music played from a flash drive worked very well the first time around, but now is accompanied by a very loud windy sound out of one speaker. Faulty unit? iPod Shuffle still plays well.
  • I plugged the SurroundXi into my Squeezebox a while back, and initially it worked reasonably well, but now the speakers make an annoying buzzing sound.

Bottom Line: The SurroundXi speakers are fun and cheap, but probably won’t hold up to years (months?) of use. Buy’em with that in mind, and you’ll be happy. Continue Reading…

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Photo frames are pretty much commoditized at this point, but the subtle differences among them still make it difficult to choose the right one. I recently tested Aluratek’s 11″ product (MSRP $230), and while it doesn’t offer anything revolutionary (still waiting for a workable frame that receives emailed photos…), it does an elegant job of displaying photos, and it requires virtually zero technical ability. Bottom line: It’s a great photo frame for mom’s living room.

aluratek-frame-accessories.jpgThe Aluratek comes with a power cord, USB cable, remote and 1GB memory card in the box. In my case, I plugged the frame in and then connected a USB flash drive. A library of my photos popped up immediately, and by clicking “enter” on the remote I got the full-screen visual. The remote also has a handy “slideshow” button for one-click slideshow action. No need to drill down into menus. I have to admit I had momentary difficulty getting the remote to work until I realized the need to remove a plastic covering. Chalk that one up to user error.

Manipulating photos on the Aluratek frame is extremely easy. Pressing “enter” a second time zooms in on photos, and pressing “up” or “down” rotates them. For complicated maneuvers you can go into the menu to do things like add photo transitions. You know, if you want to get fancy.

aluratek-frame-image-graininess.jpgMy one beef with the Aluratek is that if you get up close there is some graininess. (Click on the thumbnail right for a close look.) Photos look perfectly fine at a distance of a foot or more away, but if resolution is your thing, the Aluratek is not the best choice. There I’d still go with a Westinghouse. (Similar frame sizes are comparably priced on Amazon under $190)

Other cool features on the Aluratek include video and music modes. I plugged in my Flip video camera and instantly had access to the video stored there. (Some digital photo frames still don’t support video.) Unfortunately I couldn’t hear the sound on the videos, but I’ll give Aluratek the benefit of the doubt on that – perhaps it had something to do with the Flip, rather than the frame. In slideshow mode when the frame was just showing demo images from the Flip the demo music was perfectly audible. Decent quality too.

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All in all, I’d recommend the Aluratek frame. It’s stylish (I like the cherry-wood color) and it’s easy, easy, easy to use. Lots more photos after the jump. Full specs available here. Continue Reading…

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As you can see from the pics below, I’ve gotten the Vudu review unit unpacked and hooked up. The out-of-box-experience (OOBE) is decent and the Vudu build quality looks and feels very nice.

The movie selection is quite large, though they don’t offer enough current blockbusters. Not to mention… Like other services, some films are available as rentals, some as purchases, some as both. We can’t pin this one on Vudu – blame the studios.

I’ve already developed a love-hate relationship with the remote control. It’s unique shape is quite comfortable and the scroll wheel makes quick work of navigating lists. However, the remote utilizes RF. I can live without adding Vudu as a Harmony activity, but I would have appreciated IR for TV volume buttons.

The interface is fairly simple and mostly logical. However, the remote’s scroll wheel makes navigation much more efficient than finding movies on the Xbox 360 and (recently departed) Moviebeam. Interacting with Vudu is also very responsive – partially due to that scroll wheel and, generally speaking, most modern STBs seem quick compared to TiVo’s UI. Given the large catalog of movies, I appreciate the Wish List bookmarking feature.

We’ve watched three movies (Memento, Reno 911: Miami, Simpson’s) on the 30″ bedroom HDTV. Playback of the SD flicks was instantaneous – in addition to the P2P functionality Vudu touts, I suspect some initial film content is pre-loaded to assist with that quick start. Video quality looked good, on par with Xbox SD movies – meaning: better looking than Amazon Unbox on TiVo.

So, is the Vudu worth $400 plus per movie rental or purchase fees? As solid as it seems, given the market I’m still not convinced a single-function box will succeed at $400. For comparison, an Xbox 360 with movie downloads (including HD) or a PS3 with integrated Blu-ray playback also come in at $400. Not to mention many folks get their VOD fix via cheap-to-free cable or satellite boxes. For a period of time, Vudu was selling the box to technology evangelists for $99. At $99, I have no problems recommending Vudu. For someone who always wants a large selection of movies on hand and is willing to pay, I’d even endorse the Vudu at $200-$250 – once more flicks are offered in offered in HD and with 5.1 audio. However, as an Xbox 360, TiVo, and HD DVD player owner I wouldn’t pay more than $100-$150 for a device like this.

I’ll continue to explore the Vudu, get it hooked up to the larger living room plasma, take video of the interface, etc… So, stay tuned.

Click the thumbnails for a larger view:

Disclosure: I’m not participating in the Vudu Evangelist program. This unit is a loaner from Vudu’s PR agency.

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Many Home Theater PC users have been clamoring for a silent, easy-to-setup media extender that can handle High Definition video – a plug & play box that lets users remotely access their HTPC content from any TV in their home. Today, SageTV is answering their customers desires by delivering a new HD Media Extender ($199) now available for sale today that works with SageTV, their flagship PC DVR software. I had the opportunity to get a review unit to run through the paces prior to release. Over the past week I’ve been giving the SageTV STX-HD100 a workout by using it to extend my Home Theater setup.

I was very impressed with my overall experience with the SageTV STX-HD100 extender. It matched my SageTV interface almost exactly and handled just as well as the SageTV server does with a much easier setup than a full-fledged HTPC box. The only issue I had with the extender was one that was easily fixed with a firmware update. The positives far outweigh the negatives. This extender gives you the ability to place your digital content (TV, Movies, Music and more) wherever you want it – all in a small, silent box that’s affordable.

As Chris Lanier pointed out, SageTV has beat Microsoft to the market with an excellent HD extender that can handle about any file format you throw at it with great picture and sound quality. I highly recommend the SageTV STX-HD100 to anyone who owns or is considering the SageTV HTPC software for their Home Theater PC needs. This new HD extender by SageTV is an excellent solution for getting your media from your HTPC to your bedroom, living room or anywhere you have a television.

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Check out the entire SageTV HD Extender review and many more pics over at Brent Evans Geek Tonic.

Guest blogger Kevin Groppe is a digital media enthusiast, located in the DC metro area, who covers media centers and home theater computers at Floppyhead.com.

Two things I hate about exercising with my current MP3 player are how the cable from the player to earbuds constantly bounces around and how covered in sweat my MP3 player gets when I hold it. With this in mind, OTTO has developed a Wireless MP3 Player Headset.

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The unique concept behind the OTTO Wireless MP3 Player Headset is that it combines an mp3 player and headphones into one compact device, eliminating the wire from earpiece to MP3 player. For most people, carrying around your entire music collection in your MP3 player is overkill. 10,000 songs in the palm of your hand is great for long vacations or business trips, but not necessary for your commute or trip to the gym. OTTO embraces this fact and has developed an MP3 player that has a useful form factor with the following specs:

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Dragon’s Lair HD DVD Review

Guest Blogger —  September 19, 2007 — 3 Comments

Infinite free respawns never felt so good? Kevin Tofel, of jkOnTheRun, shares his Dragon’s Lair thoughts and pics.

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Ah, 1983. A time when I was waiting for my growth spurt, had no gray hair and could often be found in an arcade or pounding away on my Commodore 64. I enjoyed all different game genres in the arcade: I didn’t discriminate on which machine was worthy of a quarter. However, I was always drawn to Dragon’s Lair which was one of the first laserdisc-based games. Maybe it was the movie-like cartoon graphics that captured my attention. (Actually, it was more likely glimpses of the spunky li’l Princess Daphne, but I digress so let’s get to current day.)

dl2.jpgFast forward to 2007. I’m still waiting for that growth spurt, I bleach the grays and have no time for arcades these days. And what’s with these “tokensâ€? everyone keeps trading real money for: is this Second Life in the real world? No, these days, I stay home and play games in high definition on an Xbox 360 and 60-inch Sony SXRD set. It’s all exactly as I would have predicted back in 1983, of course. ;)

That’s why I was excited to get a copy of Dragon’s Lair in HD-DVD to review. With the remastered disc from Digital Leisure and my Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive, I figured I’d be giddy with Daphne sightings, er, I mean, ready to once again quest away as Dirk the Daring.

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I do not bash products lightly, and I feel I have been extraordinarily patient with the eStarling digital photo frame. However, there is a limit. It is now mid-May, five months after the eStarling debacle started, and my parents’ main Christmas present is still not working as promised. Actually, it’s not working at all.

After running the netconfig utility at least half a dozen times, the newly shipped version of the eStarling frame still will not connect to the Internet and therefore will not operate. The folks over at Gizmodo apparently got their unit to work (though they still didn’t like it), but we tried connecting ours to two different wireless networks (in two different states!) with no luck at all. That’s it. I’m done.

While I’m still yearning for the advertised eStarling feature set, I have in the meantime taken a Westinghouse digital photo frame for a spin and found it very satisfying. My mom was on hand when I took the Westinghouse frame out of the box and her first reaction was that she couldn’t imagine hanging such a thing in her house. Then she saw the photo resolution.

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I have the 14.1″ Westinghouse model for review and the picture quality is beautiful. (My lame photography doesn’t do it justice.) If you have a half-way decent digital camera, the photos fill the frame in slideshow mode. You can also choose mosaic mode for four photos at once, set photo transitions, save favorite photos and watch MPEG videos.

Best of all, the product is dead simple to use. There are three steps on the box: Plug in frame. Insert memory card. Turn on frame. And it’s literally that easy. The frame comes with 128MB of internal Flash memory and has ports for several card types (specs after the jump) as well as USB connections. I successfully tested file transfers from a PC and connection with a Flash drive. For general use, I’d suggest stocking a large Flash drive with gazillions of photos and keeping it plugged in. It’s easy enough to update a Flash drive with new photos when needed.

I’m definitely planning on writing in for a refund on the eStarling frame, and I just may put the proceeds towards a purchase of the Westinghouse 14.1″ digital frame model. The only thing possibly holding me back is the Westinghouse price: $349. Ouch. If you’re interested, Westinghouse does offer frames in different sizes. And the Live Digitally blog likes the 8″ version. But I have to admit, the large screen is delicious.

Want specs and more photos? Keep reading.

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