LG HX350T LED Projector

LG projector.jpeg

Recently, a friend of mine blurted out upon seeing the size and array of inputs on my LG HX350T projector, “This is the SMC Barricade of projectors!” The SMC Barricade was a great wireless router. Hackable, cheap, simple, versatile. Nothing like high-end, but a reliable piece of gear that did far more than its size and price implied. It’s a fair description of this projector. It’s easily portable (1.7 lbs), has thoughtfully arranged inputs and menus, and comes with a nice full-size (not membrane-keyed credit-card sized) remote control.

I’ve been watching LED projectors for a while. This is my second, and the first I’ve actually bought (the other was a demo unit). While at 300-lumens it’s no longer the brightest LED-based projector in its price class (Optoma now has one with slightly better resolution claiming 500-lumens ), as far as I know this is the cheapest LED option at this junction of brightness and resolution to feature a built-in tuner. The tuner works well enough, though I’ve tried it only briefly and with conventional (non-HD) resolution. For $50 less, you can also go tuner-free.

Besides the coax input for cable signal, there are inputs for a composite TV signal, VGA, and HDMI signals, as well as a USB slot. You can plug in a USB key with video files in any of a fairly wide array of supported formats, and play them straight from there. It’s not the very smallest LED projector on the market, but it’s hard to see how it could be much smaller and still have so many input options.

All the inputs in the world don’t matter if the output doesn’t look good though, and I’m happy to report that, to my eye, it looks great. On any white (or even light-colored) wall, the image is sharp enough for my taste; on a screen, though, it’s even better. (I’m using it with an Epson Duet 80” screen, selected for portability, and for having a wide-screen mode.) Realism dictates that a 300-lumen projector be used in a room that’s not brightly lit. In a dark room, it has no problem providing a 6-8 foot 720p movie screen. You’ll never mistake the output for that of a multi-mega-lumen high-end projector. This is a game of trade-offs. For my purposes, computer demos, home video screenings, late-night movies, and projecting scary scenes for a home-made haunted house, it works fine so long as I can control the lighting. In a room that’s merely dim, it still looks great in the 40″ range, which is a pleasant way to use it as an adjunct computer monitor.

Speaking of which: this projector is very nearly plug-and-play on my laptop, which is currently running Linux Mint (Debian Edition). I had to click on the “Monitors” control widget to specify its spatial relationship to the laptop’s own screen, but that’s about it. Even for this perpetual newbie, it was blessedly trivial. I plugged in the HDMI cable, and suddenly I had my first dual-monitor setup.

The sound is an understandable weak point in a tiny projector. Rather than harp on this, I accept that the output of the miniscule in-built speaker is on the wrong side of mediocre, and choose to adopt the attitude of “You mean it has *sound*?!” If you want better sound, or surround sound, bring your own. (There’s a stereo minijack on the back, which can be connected to a stereo, or computer speakers, or headphones; you could instead hook up your video source itself to whatever sound system you’ve got on hand.)

My only other niggles with this device: the first is that the focus wheel doesn’t have much throw. I haven’t actually had any trouble getting acceptable focus, but I wish it had more room for fine-tuning. The second is that there’s no zoom lens, so you must figure out a physical arrangement of projector / screen / source that works for you. A cheap camera tripod might be in my future.

It comes with a fairly nice carrying bag and cables for VGA and analog signals, but not HDMI. My advice: go mail order, and save the big-box store markup on an HDMI cable.

The Optoma I mentioned beats this one on most specs, but weighs (a bit) more and does (slighly) less, so I remain happy and declare this a very cool tool. And I’m looking forward to its successors!

-- Timothy Lord  

LG HX350T LED Projector
$650

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by LG



InjectIR HDMI/IR Adapter

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When you’re hanging an HDTV on a wall, the biggest pain is fishing wires through walls to the video equipment that’s hidden in a closet or another room. It is necessary to run an HDMI cable through the wall for the audio/video, but the other pain is figuring out how to control all of your hidden equipment with your remote controls since remotes require a direct view to work (like Blu-Ray player and TIVO in the case of my parents). This tool is really cool because it lets you use the HDMI cable that is already installed to relay the IR signal back to your equipment so I don’t have to run a second wire through the walls.

I’m the one in my huge obnoxious family that everyone asks to wire their house with an ethernet network, surround sound system, home theater set-up, etc. This is my third home theater set-up job, the other two I’ve used a wiring system that requires you to screw a connector block to the closet where the equipment is and to run these wires through the wall. That took hours. This kit takes a couple minutes to set up. All you really have to do is unplug your HDMI cable from your TV, plug in the IR injector adapter, and replug the HDMI cable into the IR injector adapter (and then repeat on the video equipment side). Then, I just took the IR blaster that is on the equipment side and pointed it in the direction of the video equipment, and it works like a charm 100% of the time.
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In the past I have used the wired kit from Cables to Go a couple times. It is a really reliable kit, but it is almost twice as expensive and takes twice as long to install. I’ve also seen other wireless models but read in forums that those convert the IR signal into an RF signal that can go through walls, but that the RF signal is too similar to your wifi signal and so the interference makes it not work 100% of the time.

-- Colin Cameron  

InjectIR IR over HDMI for Remote Controls Adapter
$45

Available from and manufactured by Sewell



Google Drawing

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The best simple drawing program there is is hidden away inside of Google Docs. It’s free, and completely intuitive to use. Google Drawing is the opposite of Adobe’s Illustrator, which while insanely deep (and expensive) requires hours if not years to master. You can draw with this one in seconds. The controls of Google’s app follow the same general novice format as those in Power Point, or Word, but don’t require any other software beyond your browser. More importantly, it is a no-brainer to export the drawing directly to the web, or as a jpeg or even PDF. And it has the usual advantages of cloud life: the drawing can be collaboratively worked, and it is backed up automatically. Despite being idiot-proof you can do amazingly sophisticated work with it — diagrams, charts, doodles, or paint over photographic images. For 99% of your drawing needs, this handy free app will satisfy nicely. As Jerry Micalski, who introduced me to this gem, said of it: “it’s as simple as MacDraw but smart enough to publish to a Web page.”

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-- KK  

Google Docs Drawings
If you’re already signed into Google Docs, click the “Create new” button, drop down to Drawing



TinEye

TinEye is a handy reverse image search engine. If finds where on the web an image comes from. You can use it to find where a photo of yours appears elsewhere, to find a higher res version of an image, or to locate the origins of a photo someone forwarded to you.

It does not use keywords, watermarks, or inbound links (as Google does) to locate images; rather it locates images via matching digital fingerprints of the image’s pixel arrays. This means it can find images that have been renamed, or cropped slightly, or even screen grabbed.

Currently TinEye is not exhaustive. In my experience it won’t find all the copies of an image. (They only claim to recognize a billion images so far, which is a small subset of all images on the web.) But it will find enough to be useful.

It can browse your hard disk for a target image, but even cooler is the Firefox plugin which enables you to select in image on a web page and in a click find where else on the web this image also appears.

-- KK  

[TinEye's business model seems to be using this technology in mobile phones to identify products. You snap a picture of an item and it gives you info about where to buy it, sample it, etc. Their first product (which I have not tried) is an iPhone App that recognizes CD covers (the few still being bought!) to provide you with the iTunes album options on your phone. If you have you used this App or anything similar and can report positively or negatively, please let us know below in the comments or via the submit page. -- KK]

Sample Excerpts:
tinyeye2.jpg



Death & Taxes Poster

I’m a chart hound. I love the way one large intelligently designed single image can open up a world. My studio walls are covered with such portals. (For previously-reviewed cool charts see the Histomap of World History and A Correlated History of Earth). Recently I’ve add to my walls the 2009 “Death & Taxes” poster. In one large sheet this chart shows how your federal (US) taxes are currently divvied up among various agencies and programs. No matter what we claim our values are, how we spend our hard earned money speaks a thousand times louder and more truthfully about our real priorities. The immensity of military spending is made plain in this chart; the paucity of science funding equally vivid. But there are lots of other surprises: The size of health related spending, and highway funding. The numerous large sums for things you’ve never heard of.

A democracy needs informed citizens. This chart can quickly educate you about your government in a new way, a way in which a long list of incomprehensible budget numbers can not. The brilliance of this chart is Tuftian way it diagrams quick sense out of the complexity of a superpower’s government and yet rewards close scrutiny.

You can scroll through this chart at close quarters via the online version, but you’ll miss the punch of the big picture. Before you vote this election, spend some time with this guide to see how our national priorities shape up.

-- KK  

Death & Taxes: 2009
24 x 36 inches
$24
Available from Wallstats

Sample Excerpts:
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The Eye is Quicker

As any kid with iMovie knows, you assemble a film from short pieces cut from raw shots. Ah, but where do you cut? This frame, or that one? And which order do you join them? The art of a movie often lies in exactly how it is edited frame by frame. Much like the art of placing one word after another. The possibilities could go a million ways, but only one sequence will appear inevitable in retrospect. So how do you decide?

Of all the many books on editing motion pictures, I found this one explains the logic of editing best. It assumes you can handle the mechanics of the craft (no software menus or photo tech speak here). Instead what I got from this idiosyncratic book is a set of very handy rules of thumb for editing moving pictures. I’d say that this guide won’t be of much help for your YouTube videos, but would enlighten any attempt at a long-form film.

-- KK  

The Eye is Quicker
Richard D. Pepperman
2004, 350 pages
$18

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

One Sunday evening, while my family watched one of Ed’s magicians, my father offered up the ‘secret’ of their incredible practiced craft. “The hand is quicker than the eye!” I have heard the assertion many times. It is not true. The eye is quicker! This fact is indispensable for film editors. It holds a very simple significance: Directly it means that the moment selected for the joining of images must be ‘calculated’ to the very speedy interpretive facility of our eyes — a specific cut can work well or poorly. It is equally fundamental to our ability to ‘decode’ collections of images: The eye is ever alert to ‘take in’ information, and swift to embrace intricate descriptions. The eye is quicker than you might envision to ‘get the picture.’

*
David Mamet gives a clear — and simple — example of this in On Directing Film: “The movie… is much closer than the play to simple storytelling. If you listen to the way people tell stories, you will hear that they tell them cinematically. They jump from one thing to the next, and the story is moved along by the juxtaposition of images — which is to say by the cut. People say, “I’m standing on the corner. It’s a foggy day. A bunch of people are running around crazy. Might have been a full moon. All of a sudden, a car comes up and the guy next to me says…”

*
Witness. The Amish Boy in the Train Station Restroom scene. Time is extended — many more toilets than earlier — as one of the killers searches the stalls looking for the source of a low cry. The Amish Boy escapes detection. the shot holds on his face. Beat, beat, beat. Then a cut: We see the back of a policeman. We hear police walkie-talkies. The policeman clears the frame, and we see the Amish Boy in the arms of his mother. They are seated on a bench in the station waiting area. Policemen are all about.

By ‘passing up’ images of the Amish boy ‘screaming’ out from the restroom, a brilliant instance of pure cinematic storyshowing is crafted:

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The clout in Time Left Out!
*
Plainly put, the good film editor strives to join the many film fragments, so that the structure established might hold enchantment, with no attentive concern about a cut. If there is form and purpose the audience can be captivated by the experience. In all creative storytelling, whether film, theatre, or literature, the aim is the same: have the fragments fade, and what remains is the harmony of the whole.

*
I never cut for matches, I cut for impact. –Sam O’Steen

*

Editors are sculptors who bend, mold, and breach time — in semblance, not in exactness. … This means that a ‘feeling’ has been stirred that a pause, or a ‘holding’ (on a shot) of some additional ‘time’ is required; or that the opposite is needed — an existing beat, or two, shouldn’t.




Roku + Netflix

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Real movies the instant you want them have been expected for … well… at least 100 years. You think of a movie, then you can watch it. This trick has been tried scores of times over the past decades, but never seemed to work. Clunky boxes. Expensive contracts. No choices. Weird constraints. Lousy pictures. But now, finally, the trick works.

The Roku box from Netflix allows you to watch movies on your TV whenever you want to, for no extra charge, in DVD quality. It is a tiny thing that sets up in a few minutes. If you have wi-fi in your household it will link up to that so you can put the box near your TV. For achieving such a complex task it has a remarkably simple interface and no-fuss approach, very similar to an iPod. We were watching a movie within ten minutes of opening the shipping box.

You use a small clicker to control your Netflix queue on your TV. Movies are streamed (no waiting beyond a few seconds at the start) in unexpected big-screen TV quality. I don’t know how they do it. It is miles better than the streaming on those little YouTube boxes. There is no noticeable stutter, blobs, lags, or hiccups. But it ain’t hi-def, either.

The service is a joy to use. You manage your queue — adding and re-ording flicks — on your computer, and the Roku box automatically syncs up. Back at the TV you click through the instant choices, pick one, and in a few seconds the movie starts. You can pause, change movies, and resume the first where you left off.

Here’s the kicker: you can watch as many movies (no ads) as you care to. There is no extra charge beyond the basic Netflix monthly (and you can still get them mailed to you as DVDs if you prefer). Ten movies a month or a hundred. Anytime. This thing is dangerous.

Here’s the only caveat: so far only about 10% of the total Netflix catalog is available for instant download. But that total is naturally swelling by the day.

The Roku box is cheap at $100. You can watch all the instant Netflix movies for free without it, if you want to hook your PC up to a large screen, or watch on your monitor. Since the Roku is so small and wireless we can move it to our projector and stream movies to the big wall.

It’s a nicely done cool tool.

-- KK  

Roku 2
$60

Available from Amazon

Also available from Roku
Amazon's Video On Demand service for Roku.



9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering

This documentary is a wonderful testament to what can happen when bright folks from different disciplines get together to make stuff. In 1966, 30 engineers from Bell Labs collaborated with a number of modern artists in New York to create a series of pieces/experiments. Open Score by Robert Rauschenberg, the first release in a 10-part DVD series on these pieces, captures what is essentially a high-tech indoor tennis match. Two players rallied with racquets wired with FM transmitters that amplified each stroke. As the lights in the room dimmed, the whole event coalesced into a participatory, multi-media “happening.” Since engineers reappropriated infrared lenses — primarily a military tool back then — the artists were able to film and project shots of the crowd.

A combo of 16mm performance footage and more recent interviews, the documentary is short (35 min.) but totally inspirational. These days we’re used to SRL shows and Maker Faires and the melding of science and art. We’ve come along way since C.P. Snow suggested the dangers of intellectual isolationism. Watching the old footage and listening to the collaborators reflect on the evening really emphasizes the beauty and importance of such cross-pollination(s).

You may feel inclined to tinker. You’ll likely feel a renewed appreciation for collaboration. More than anything, you’ll be reminded not to pigeonhole. Tom Robbins said it best: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world, and those who are smart enough to know better.”

Just ask engineer Larry Heilos: “I got a deeper appreciation for the artist, per say. I began to realize that, hey, while they were doing things that were different, they were really just people like the rest of us, with some tremendous imagination and with some forethought as to what they could work with and what was available to them. Very stimulating.”

[Netflix doesn't carry it (yet). Also, there's a book on this subject, which I have not read. -- SL]

9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering
Part I: Open Score by Robert Rauschenberg
DVD
$25

Available from Amazon



Spiderbrace Video Camera Stabilizer

This stabilizer fits most any video camera and makes all handheld shots steadier, as the weight of the camera is distributed across your body. It is made out of lightweight PVC and the handles are covered with a thick foam cushion, so it’s very comfortable. The unit is also machined, as the tubing is strategically bent and shaped at the correct angles. Some devices advertised online are cobbled together 100% from the Home Depot plumbing aisle — and they look it. This sharp-looking device doesn’t draw any attention to itself. It also costs less than any other comparable unit I’ve seen, and works just as well. While there are many plans on the Internet for making your own stabilizers and mounts, this one is manufactured well enough and at a cheap enough price to not have to build something that looks, well, like I built it. My wife and I run a small video company doing mostly weddings and other events and about half of our shooting time is spent in less-than-ideal conditions. Using the Spiderbrace 2 really helps keep the camera steady for long periods of time, and you are not burdened with a tripod or other unwieldy device should you need to move positions.

-- David McKnight  

Spiderbrace Video Camera Stabilizer
$70
Available from SpiderBrace, Inc.



The 911 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

This is a comic book version of the 911 Commission Report. No joke. It takes the narrative of the official National Commission Report and transforms it into a page-turning thriller. It’s a very fast read. Their visual timeline of the four hijacked flights is scarily clarifying. The artists do a marvelous job of weaving the many threads that lead up to the event of 911. In fact before reading this I had not appreciated how interconnected the many previous encounters with the jihad network were. This graphic book also reveals in simple pictures how seriously the government bungled many early clues, how sadly it bungled its real-time response to the events and how it continues to bungle the complexity of this new world. The comic does all this while remaining faithful to the the Commission’s text, yet underscoring its clarity by telling the story in pictures. It’s a showcase for the power of the cartoon media. Highly recommended.

-- KK  

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colon
2006, 144 pages
$12

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts: