Monthly Archives: December 2006

Oppo DV-981HD

To go with my recent TV upgrade, I also purchased a new 1080p capable DVD player, the Oppo 981 from CRT Projectors for £189. The reasons for buying an Oppo (which only plays normal DVDs, not HD-DVD or Blu-ray) were as follows:

  • Multiregion and firmware upgradeable
  • 1080p digital output of upscaled DVDs, including DCDi video processing

I haven’t owned a premium DVD player before (I own a Toshiba SD220 and a Tevion 8000), so I’d expected some significant improvements, and so far I’m very impressed.

Very configurable, nice remote, and lightning fast responses. It can’t work miracles with poor quality material, but the playback of recent discs (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire being one example) is the best I’ve ever seen. Good detail (although not a rival for HD, despite what people say), but the most impressive thing is that the motion is silky smooth, with few artifacts that I could notice.

The only issue that I’ve encountered is that it failed to mount a DVD a couple of times (it just kept spinning away without recognising the disc). Opening and closing the DVD tray fixed that problem.

Anyone expecting true HD performance will be disappointed, but if you have a 1080p set and a good sized DVD collection, I doubt that you’ll regret buying an Oppo 981.

Sony KDL-46X2000U

Following on from the issues with the Goodmans set, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a 46 inch Sony X Series LCD.

I’d wanted one of these for a long time, but could never justify one as they’re one of the more expensive sets out there (just over £2500 online as I write), and have a few issues that I wasn’t happy with:

  • It’s a Sony, and recent things like the dodgy HDMI on my Sony projector, PS3 delays, and PSP firmware updates haven’t impressed me
  • The 46″ X Series LCD has a silver surround, and the optional black plastic surround costs about £150, which I find insulting for two pieces of plastic
  • 1080p only over HDMI, not component or VGA
  • The VGA input only accepts signals up to 1360×768

Knowing all the above, I still took the plunge. This was for three reasons:

  • The display always looked good when I checked it out in shops (as long as it was being fed HD material)
  • The feedback on AVForums was the best that I’d read for any LCD TV
  • Christmas was approaching fast, and I didn’t want to be without a good TV over the holidays

Having now had the set for a couple of week, I’m absolutely over the moon with it. Other than the issues I mention above, it has no problems at all. In particular:

  • Great blacks and colours
  • No buzzing or banding
  • Good viewing angle
  • 1080p over HDMI at 50Hz and 60Hz, with no overscan
  • Massively configurable through an extensive menu
  • Despite its cost, the black surround is a big improvement over the default silver surround
  • Very good sound quality (although I mostly use a Denon receiver and KEF speakers for my sound)

Goodmans GTVL42W15HD

Just before Christmas I decided to upgrade my home cinema setup, starting with a 1080p LCD TV (to replace my old 43 inch Pioneer Plasma).

This Goodmans set looked like a bit of a bargain. I managed to get it from LX Direct for about £1040, once various discounts had been taken into account. Not bad for a 42 inch 1080p set, and initially I was pretty impressed.

Good points:

  • It wasn’t bad looking, and the build quality was OK for the price
  • The surround was black, which I much prefer over silver (less reflections)
  • It seemed to handle standard definition feeds quite nicely
  • It was happy to accept 1080p at 60hz over DVI with no overscan (nice with my Mac mini)
  • 1080p over VGA from the Xbox 360 was handled very well
  • Colours and blacks were quite good
  • No dead or stuck pixels

As I explored further (and followed the relevant thread on AVForums), the following problems became apparent:

  • The volume of the sound went very high (useful), but the increments were too far apart
  • There was a buzzing and crackling noise from the backlight (changing the backlight level affected the noise), which could be clearly heard across my living room
  • The set had “vertical banding” that could be seen on TV footage with significant horizontal panning
  • The optimum viewing angle was quite narrow
  • The RGB SCART sockets weren’t RGB, although to be fair, the TV handled composite signals very well
  • The DVI and HDMI ports seemed rather picky about resolutions and refresh rates (especially the HDMI). If you’re not too bothered about overscan (on HDMI) or forcing 50Hz vs 60Hz, it wouldn’t be an issue, but I’m picky about these things
  • No builtin Freeview, although I have to admit that this wasn’t really a big issue for me

To cut a long story short, I gave up on the Goodmans, and decided to try out a different set.

Nintendo Wii Internet Channel

I managed to get a Nintendo Wii when it was launched in the UK a couple of weeks ago. I’ll probably post about it when I’ve had more chance to play with it, but I wanted to do a quick post on the Wii Internet Channel (basically a version of the Opera web browser) that was released today.

On first impressions, I’m very impressed. It renders very well, has reasonably useful zooming, and works beautifully with the Wii Remote (the vibration as you move your cursor over a link is great).

However, I’m beating round the bush here. All that matters is that YouTube works, including full screen playback. For some people, a small wireless device like the Wii, which shows photos and plays YouTube videos on their TV, will be well worth buying, regardless of the fact that it also plays games.

Carol Singers

Possible Scrooge warning….

I’ve always loved this time of year (especially all the lights and decorations), but there’s a new trend that’s been annoying me this year – Carol Singers.

Not organised Carol Singers (I have no problem with them, especially as it’s usually for charity), but unaccompanied small children knocking on my door at night, singing a poor rendition of “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, and then looking puzzled when I say thank you and goodnight, and shut the door without giving them the money they’re obviously expecting.

I feel bad about doing this, but I’m not going to be party to encouraging them to knock on stranger’s doors at night, putting themselves at risk, and probably worrying some old people.

New Wireless ADSL Router

I spend an awful lot of my life online (too much if I’m honest), so having a reliable ADSL router with builtin wireless is very important to me. Over the past five years or so, I’ve been through a range of routers, never quite finding the perfect device. I’ve just picked up my fifth router, and will discuss it in a moment, but first, some brief comments on my past devices.

  1. A PC running Smoothwall, and then IPCop, connected to a 3Com wireless access point and a Speedtouch USB ADSL modem: This was back in about 2001-2002, and while it worked pretty well, it was very complicated compared to the integrated routers we have these days.
  2. A Draytek 2600G: Expensive, but well built and was far easier to live with than the PC solution. Unfortunately support seemed to dwindle, and mine started freezing for ten or twenty seconds at a time, which I couldn’t remedy, despite upgrading to the latest firmware, and doing a factory reset. Which reminds me – it was very picky about accepting firmware upgrades. Often it would just refuse to accept a new firmware upload. Very good in the early days though.
  3. A Zyxel 660HW: Cheap, and handled wired connections very well. Pity that its wireless was slow and unreliable.
  4. A Belkin 7633: I was tempted by this because it had a very good reputation with ADSL Max services here in the UK, due to its Broadcom 6348 chipset. Wireless was supposed to be less than great though. Ended up very impressed with both the wireless and ADSL Max performance, but it seemed to freeze up occasionally, and wasn’t happy with talking to my Xbox 360 over wireless through a switch (wireless connection to a Belkin wireless bridge, connected to the Xbox 360 through a NetGear switch). No firmware updates for almost a year either…
  5. My latest aquisition is a SpeedTouch 585, purchased from DSL Depot for the bargain price of £30 inc VAT and delivery. Basically it’s a similar chipset to the Belkin, but it hasn’t frozen up yet, and plays nicely with my Xbox 360. Wireless is good, and it seems far more configurable than the Belkin, although the user interface is quirky to say the least. The only issue I’ve had is that the DHCP didn’t cope when I tried to change the IP address of the router (it kept on giving out its old address as the default gateway), but it wasn’t that big a deal to change my IP addressing to match its default setting, and I suspect I could have fixed the issue if I spent long enough fiddling around with its command line interface.

Lots more RSS feeds and related sites (motorcycle and mobile phone) now have the following new RSS feeds:

  • Site wide comments
  • Reviews and comments by region
  • Reviews and comments by manufacturer
  • Reviews and comments by model

Hopefully that should make it much easier for people monitor specific areas of the site that they’re interested in. The feeds are available through links, feedicons, and RSS autodiscovery on the relevant pages.

As a technical aside, these feeds are not being generated live, but are generated once an hour (for the site wide and region feeds), or once a day (for the manufacturer and model feeds). This is intended to keep to any rise in server load to a minimum.

Improved voting and ad layout

I’ve just release a set of minor but linked changes to and related sites (motorcycle and mobile phone):

  • The review voting form has been replaced by a set of buttons. Now it’s only one click to vote rather than two, and the buttons take up less space on the page
  • The layout of ads near the bottom of the review pages has changed, with a skyscraper replacing the bottom footer ad

The World of Cars

As I run a pretty large car website, with reviews of almost 2000 different models, I need to look up rare models from time to time.

On Friday I happened across the 2006-2007 edition of World of Cars in WH Smith for £6.95. I initially assumed it would be fairly limited in coverage, rather like the Daily Express car guides from years gone by. I couldn’t have been more wrong; although the guide only covers current cars, it claims to detail 8,500 models (including kit cars), and every model I could think of was there, including such rare beasts as the Pyonghwa Motors Hwiparam from North Korea.

I thoroughly recommend tracking down a copy.