Mini review: Elgato Thunderbolt Dock

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There are Mac accessories that are exciting or fun, and others that are boring but useful. The Elgato Thunderbolt Dock most definitely falls into the latter category.

As regular readers will know, I’m of the view that wires are evil. Anything that can be wireless should be wireless, and any wires that are unavoidable should be hidden from sight. This is particularly easy if you have an Apple Thunderbolt Display, of course, since all you need in the way of wires from a MacBook is power and Thunderbolt: everything else can be plugged into the back of the monitor.

But if you share my aversion to visible wires and don’t have a Thunderbolt display, or you are frequently connecting and disconnecting your MacBook from a bunch of devices on your desk, the Elgato Thunderbolt Dock may be the answer …

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Amazon announces $99 Fire TV set-top box shipping today: automatic recommendations, voice search, games and more

Amazon has just announced its Apple TV competitor, dubbed ‘Fire TV’. You can buy it now from Amazon.com for $99. The product roughly resembles an Apple TV in size and shape, but is thinner by a few millimetres and has square (rather than rounded) edges. Spec-wise, Amazon claims it is three times as powerful as Apple TV or Roku. It runs on a quad-core processor with 2GB RAM. The fireTV can stream video at 1080p over HDMI, alongside Dolby Digital surround sound.

Input comes via a Bluetooth remote that features a five-way directional pad and some ancillary buttons. The remote has an inbuilt microphone, so you can speak show titles to have it automatically search for them.

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Final Cut Pro updated to version 10.1, 4K monitoring, Mac Pro optimisations and more

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 08.26.00

Alongside the release of the new Mac Pro, Apple has updated Final Cut Pro in the Mac App Store to take advantage of the machine’s immense raw processing power. Specifically, Apple says that playback and rendering has been optimised for the Mac Pro’s dual GPUs.

Final Cut 10.1 also adds 4K support, including monitoring across Thunderbolt 2 and HDMI displays as well as 4K titles, transition and generators. The update also adds a whole slew of other minor features and changes to the modern (if controversial) video editing suite.

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Review: Seiki’s 39-inch 4K TV as a display for a 2013 MacBook Pro with Intel Iris

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On Black Friday week, Amazon ($449) and Sears ($499) went into a price war on the 39-inch “120Hz” Seiki 4K displays culminating in a Sub-$400 price (that I jumped on) for the 39-inch variant.

I’ve been using it as a 4K, 3840×2160 display for my MacBook Pro 2013 base model (no discrete graphics) off and on for a week.

How is it as a HDTV? Can you use it as a 4K display? Should you? Here’s my take: Read more

Aiptek shows off a combo projector/battery pack for iPhone 5 available starting this month (Video)

Aiptek, the company behind a number of mobile projector products that we’ve seen in the past, is about to release a brand new pico projector for iPhone 5 and we just got our first look at the product during the ShowStoppers IFA event in Berlin. Texas Instruments, who provides the DLP technology powering the product’s projection experience, was on hand tonight at ShowStoppers showing off the new “MobileCinema i55.” It’s similar to other pico projector cases Aiptek has launched in the past, but this time provides a couple new features on top of built-in Lightning connector support for the iPhone 5. We went hands-on and have a video of the product in action below the fold.  Read more

Review: 29-inch 21:9 Philips Brilliance 298P4QJEB LCD monitor creates new MacBook/Desktop opportunities

I’ve been curious about the 21:9 display format since it started to creep into mainstream displays last year. Originally developed to display cinema grade movies natively, computer users are now snapping these up to give themselves a sort of wide ‘Bloomberg terminal’ without the break (and the swivel between displays).

I received the Philips 298P4 29-inch 21:9 display a few weeks ago and have set it up as my display at my desk.  It has an unusual 2560×1080 pixel display which is the same amount of pixels across as traditional 30 inch 16:10 displays or 27-inch 16:9 displays (like Apple’s 27-inch iMac or Thunderbolt Display). The 1080 pixels high however matches up with a typical 1080P display. I didn’t use it like a traditional desktop computer or with a laptop off to the side.

For me, I saw an opportunity to add a display on top of my Retina MacBook Pro whose keyboard/trackpad layout I find more usable than anything else out there including Apple’s Wireless Keyboard/Trackpad combo. The Philips’ stand (and this is the key part) allows the display to grow over the top of even the 15’inch Retina MacBook Pro so that I can continue to use the MBP keyboard and display even while looking up (for much improved posture) at the Philips display. It is also great for watching movies while working :D, unless productivity is a priority.

For this it was great, but how was the quality of the display?

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Apple *could* upgrade the little computer in the Lightning HDMI adapter to do better 1080p

Digital-A-V-connector-Lighting-take-apartWe reported over the weekend that there was some confusion over exactly how Apple’s new Lightning digital AV adapter works and why it lacks the ability to carry a native 1080p signal. One theory is that Apple was using an AirPlay wireless streaming protocol, but we’ve since learned that is not the case. According to a post  that purports to be from an anonymous Apple engineer explaining how the cables function, Apple does not use Airplay protocol. It instead uses the same H.264 encoding technology as AirPlay to encode the output into the ARM SoC. From there, the data is decoded and sent over HDMI:

It’s vastly the same thing with the HDMI adapter. Lightning doesn’t have anything to do with HDMI at all. Again, it’s just a high speed serial interface. Airplay uses a bunch of hardware h264 encoding technology that we’ve already got access to, so what happens here is that we use the same hardware to encode an output stream on the fly and fire it down the Lightning cable straight into the ARM SoC the guys at Panic discovered. Airplay itself (the network protocol) is NOT involved in this process. The encoded data is transferred as packetized data across the Lightning bus, where it is decoded by the ARM SoC and pushed out over HDMI.

Perhaps even more interesting is that Apple could improve the quality with future software updates since the firmware is stored in RAM as opposed to ROM. The poster noted that Apple deemed the quality “suitably acceptable” but *will* make improvements with future iOS updates: Read more

Quick Review and Gift Guide: Synology DiskStation, AOC 27″ IPS Monitor, DLP portable projectors

As we approach Christmas and the end of the year, we thought we would throw together some of the more interesting review items we received over the past months.

27-inch AOC LED IPS super slim monitor


First up is the $299 27-inch AOC LED IPS super slim monitor (I2757FH) that has a vague Mac aesthetic with a silver stand and ultra-thin bezel around the edges. This one comes with two HDMI ports, a VGA port, AUX audio ports, and some small speakers. The 27-inch IPS LED display is very nice, but it is obviously not as crisp as a Thunderbolt Display of the same size. And, after some adjustments to the default washed-out look, I was very happy with the color representation. Front capacitive controls are easy to deal with, and overall build quality is very nice, especially for AOC, but the downsides include: the lack of a USB hub, it is not easily wall-mountable, and the super small and poor tiny 4W speakers. You are definitely going to want to have separate speakers.

This AOC display would be best suited in an office/dorm room/bedroom doing double duty as a PC/Mac external display and perhaps display for an Apple TV/Cable box. Recommended at $299, or check out the USB Display link powered 22-inch display

Synology Diskstation NAS… Read more

Sharp’s new 4K IGZO 32-inch display has Apple written all over it

Sharp is announcing a 32-inch 4K monitor today that uses its LGZO LCD tech expected to hit the Japanese market in February 2013. The roughly $5,500 PN-K321 monitor sports a 3,840-by-2,160 resolution and HDMI and DisplayPort inputs. According to Sharp, it will also be the thinnest monitor frame on the market at just 35mm. Even if analysts were wrong about a full-fledged TV set from Apple next year, these new Sharp displays would certainly make a pretty Thunderbolt display.

Sharp will put its IGZO displays in the hands of consumers in the near future, as it recently announced its first 7-inch tablet to take advantage of the technology’s low-power consumption features. Apple decided to not go with Sharps’ IGZO displays for its latest round of iPad launches. It instead sourced display components from AU Optronics, LG Display, and Samsung, but several reports in the past indicated Apple is interested in the technology. Apple was even recently rumored to be potentially making an investment in the failing company—much like Apple partner Foxconn previously agreed to.

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First third-party Lightning to 30-pin adapters show up on Amazon for $10-18 (Ebay too)

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Look what just popped up on Amazon: A company called Nanotch is offering pre-orders for 30-pin to Lightning adapters. There had been concern when a report last month said the 9-pin adapters were only going to cost $10 each and Apple would be the sole manufacturer, but neither looks to be true.

The company listed the following features:

  • Lightning cable adapter for newest generation of Apple products.
  • Adapter to use your new Apple products with older accessories.
  • Use your iPhone 5 with older models of accessories.
  • 20cm cord.
  • Small adapter for easy connection.

There was some controversy in the first few hours of the iPhone 5 pre-orders because Apple’s Store website said a 30-pin adapter was included with the iPhone 5. Apple quickly removed the error but confused some customers in the process.

The Nanotch item is currently listed for pre-order. As with most third-party Amazon sales, buyer beware.

Update: Ebay has these as well and another item, which more closely resembles Apple’s adapter, is from seller ‘iTronz” below and ships next week: Read more

Retina MacBook Pros run three external displays, refreshed Airs get dual external display support

Picture by Gabor Cselle

While Apple already recognized in its support documents for Thunderbolt that the new Retina MacBook Pro supports up to three external displays (as pictured above from Other World Computing’s recent tests of the setup), it has yet to confirm official support for the refreshed Ivy Bridge MacBook Airs. Today, we get word that the new MacBook Airs indeed support two external Thunderbolt displays thanks to the recent “Mac OS X Lion Update (Mid-2012 MacBook Air)” update that “improves external display support.” Apple has not updated the device’s specs page to reflect support for dual external Thunderbolt monitors.

The image below from OWC shows two iMacs running at 2,560-by-1,440 as Thunderbolt displays, and it shows an LG monitor at 1,920-by-1,200 via HDMI. The post noted “moving images and media didn’t create any lag and we were able to play video on all four displays simultaneously.” This makes the new MacBooks the first to support up to four displays at their native resolution. Note: You could theoretically add even more space with AOC DisplayLink displays.

The refreshed MacBook Air with dual external Thunderbolt displays is pictured above, while the MacBook Pro with three displays is below:
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Review: Epson MegaPlex MG-850HD Projector turns your iOS device into a portable home movie theater

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Just seeing Epson’s MegaPlex iOS device projector at tradeshows and in still pictures doesn’t do it justice. Set up in a small, awkward booth and surrounded by bright lights, the projector does not inspire a second look. It was not until I got a private screening at Macworld that I really saw what this thing could do.

The MegaPlex MG-850HD is an incredibly bright 2800 lumen 720P projector with some mighty 10-watt stereo speakers built-in, but it adds something that you would not find in many other high-end consumer projectors: a 30-pin iOS device dock. The dock will accommodate anything from an iPod touch, iPhone, or even any iPad.

Amazon has the MegaPlex MG-850HD for $612. Buy.com has it for $620.

This thing is a Portable. Home. Movie Theater—and I mean that in every sense of the word “portable.” At less than eight pounds and with a sturdy handle, it is easy to pack and take it to the parents’ house, or even move it from the basement to the bedroom. Your iOS device is the “brains” of this thing, and it starts working immediately upon plugging in, so it takes only seconds to set up. You can watch your iTunes, Hulu, or Netflix videos in under a minute after choosing a destination.

Similar to most high-end projectors, this one features manual movable feet to adjust projection angles, focus, zoom, and horizontal keystone. The MegaPlex also does auto-vertical keystone and iris controls to make setting it up at angles surprisingly easy.

This thing boasts some range, as well. With the early spring weather this year, we turned an evening birthday party into an impromptu outdoor movie showing on the backside of our house (with a sheet over a window). The MegaPlex is rated for an over 25-foot diagonal screen, and I can attest that it looks fantastic even before it is fully dark outside.

With that said, something even better happened with the release of the new iPad and 1080P Apple TV…

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