Category Archives: Gadgets

Tronix Rules

I wanted a Quick Charge Kit for my 360 because the Play & Charge kind of defeats the object of the wireless controller and was getting on my nerves, but since it’s not out here I decided to jump online and import one from the US. I’d heard of Tronix as a great resource for US imports way back when I used to read EGM circa 1998 but had never used them so I gave them a shot.

Now how’s this for service? I placed my order at 8pm on Wednesday, and on Friday morning I got a knock at the door where the FedEx man was waiting to hand me a package containing my Quick Charge Kit. A turnaround of 40 hours or so for an order from the States is bloody impressive, especially since there are UK retailers that wouldn’t get it to me that fast.

What’s more, they’d marked it as a promotional product without me having to ask which meant no import duty (it was probably within the allowance anyway, but you can never be too careful), and it cost me £20.21 for the thing plus FedEx shipping. When it eventually gets released here we’re probably talking £19.99 or £24.99 anyway. Kudos to them, and they have my hearty recommendation for anyone looking to import a US game. Unless you’re already in the US, in which case that would be silly.

As a side note, the Quick Charge is much better than the Play & Charge, even if you’ve already bought the old kit. I now don’t need to ever wire my controller and always have a fresh battery ready to go. Joy!

Logitech Z-5400

Logitech Z-5400

I’ve got a decent TV, a decent DVD player, and decent cables connecting everything into it, but the slightly incongruous link is my sound system, an Interact DSS-900, which has served me well enough for a few years but just isn’t that great. It only cost me as much as three of the digital coaxial cables that I use though, so I suppose it’s been good value.

It’s been loud enough to annoy my parents on a regular basis (late night Call of Duty 2 is a particular sore point) but it only supports Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic II which has left DTS on DVDs inaccessible and it doesn’t have a remote which means that even with my lovely Harmony I have to get up to turn it off with the rest of the system unless I want a low hum 24/7.

Anyway, with a student loan to blow I decided it was time for an upgrade, so I went for the Logitech Z-5400. It has a remote and supports DTS which is two of the criteria down immediately, it’s more powerful and so can keep family members awake even more effectively, and it has support for seven devices at once (up from three) while negating the need to flick an optical/coaxial switch hidden away on the back when I want to change between DVD and 360. At a shade under £150 I’d say it’s even better value than the £100 spent on the old one, and just look at the white-on-black LCD. Look at it. That’s worth the money alone. Continue reading Logitech Z-5400

HD-DVD Impressions

Serenity on HD-DVD

The first HD-DVD players on the market, Toshiba’s HD-A1 and HD-XA1, have been out for a couple of weeks in the US now, and although they’re not due for release here until the autumn I’ve just been to see the HD-A1 in action. A friend got one off eBay ($800 including shipping!) so I went to his house to check it out.

While I wouldn’t pay that much, I’ve been considering importing for a couple of weeks since the early players are apparently region free, but also because that old trick of swapping out the $ for £ when setting prices has reared its ugly head again according to HDTV UK. $499 is £285: £214 ($375) less than the UK RRP. Disgusting, even for Serenity and Batman Begins in HD.

But holy crap, HD-DVD looks amazing. Obviously it looks sharper and more detailed than DVD since this is 1080p video (I saw it in 1080i), but what impressed me equally was how fantastic the colours were. It just looks colourful and vivid with a real three-dimensional quality to the picture. No artifacting that I could see either, even during scenes that push DVD like the rainy scenes in The Last Samurai. The landscapes in that movie were absolutely beautiful on DVD, and it was just accentuated in HD.

The menu system is especially cool. After the ubiquitous copyright messages and a good HD-DVD promo (including HD footage of The Matrix, amongst others) Samurai goes straight into the movie – no main menu. Pressing the menu button displays the options for scene selection, languages, and extras along the bottom, and they can be fiddled with while the movie continues uninterrupted in the background. Serenity’s slide out from the left very much like the Xbox 360 guide. Very slick.

The main thing that’s keeping me from getting on board immediately is the hardware. Besides the fact that it has the most godawful remote on the planet which becomes indecipherable in anything less than direct sunlight, the HD-A1 takes around 30 seconds to go from standby to actually playing the movie which is something that will inevitably be improved with future hardware generations. The other thing is that it’s pretty much the same size as my LaserDisc player despite only playing standard 12cm optical discs. Annoying that the only obstacle to HD bliss is my lack of space, but I suppose I’m going to succumb to a moment of credit card-induced monetary inhibition before too long.

Logitech Harmony 525 Impressions

Logitech Harmony 525

The need for a universal remote became apparent to me recently because when I’m juggling so many devices it’s a real pain to change all the inputs and switch everything on with five different remotes, but research taught me that they can be really expensive if you want one with the ability to do more than switch between the TV and VCR.

Well I just bought the Logitech Harmony 525, the cheapest of the Harmony series which can be had a little under £50. It lacks the colour screen (a real necessity on a remote control), favourite channel memory, rechargeable battery/dock, motion sensor, and extra buttons of the more expensive models but otherwise is functionally identical. Plus it has one of those snazzy blue backlights of which I’m such a fan.

The aesthetics and build quality are acceptable for the price, if a bit creaky sometimes, but what I really like about these remotes are how they’re set up and keep the functionality updated. The remote connects to a computer (Windows or OS X) via USB and setup is done through the Logitech site. It asks you to select the make and model of all the devices that you want it to control – if it has an IR port, chances are it’ll be compatible – and then makes programming macros (called “activities” here) almost automatic.

Without me doing anything it had set up hotkeys to watch TV, watch a DVD, listen to a CD, play the 360, play the PS2, and watch a Laserdisc, and any of these could be tweaked further. The programs are just downloaded straight to the remote and it’s ready to go. Almost. Mine had some problems changing to the correct inputs because the TV requires you to either go through a menu system or press a button to cycle through inputs, but will skip certain ones if nothing active is connected to them, meaning that the number of button presses to a certain input is rarely the same. A little digging around showed that the TV actually does have IR commands that skip straight to a certain input that aren’t present on the standard remote, so with a bit of testing I programmed those in and it works perfectly now. It was also set by default to send a stop command to the DVD player before switching it off which would stop it saving my place in the movie, so that needed solving too.

Something that gets the thumbs up from me is that it’s infinitely better laid out than the horribly convoluted remote that came with my DVD player, which still has me pressing the wrong buttons two months after I got it. It does a great job of acting exactly how you’d expect it to, switching inputs and button functions and turning devices on and off when they’re needed. It’s very intuitive, and can all be customised if you want to change the default functions. I’ve also heard great things about the free support line, but I (thankfully?) haven’t had the need to use them.

If you’re a perfectionist it can take a while to get them set up exactly how you want, but the setup process is one of the best I’ve seen for a remote, and it’s superb once it’s working right. Definitely recommended.