Computer Hardware Archive

Using Bluetooth for wireless keyboards, mice and game controllers

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

Bluetooth could be the preferred way to go for all wireless keyboard and mice applications

A lot of wireless mice and keyboards offered at affordable prices and pitched for use with desktop computers are implementing a proprietary wireless setup which requires them to use a special USB transceiver dongle.

This is compared to some wireless mice, keyboards and games controllers that are offered for laptops and tablets where they have integral Bluetooth support. This is because the laptop and tablet computers are the main computers that come with Bluetooth on board. It is compared to desktops, mainly traditional “three-piece” desktops, that don’t have this feature and require the use of a USB Bluetooth dongle to gain Bluetooth connectivity.

Wireless mouse dongle

The typical easy-to-lose dongle that comes with most wireless mice

A reality that is coming crystal clear is that the laptop computer along with the all-in-one desktop computer is being seen as a viable alternative to the traditional “three-piece” desktop computer for one’s main computing device. This is underscored with laptops that are taken between work and home along with myself seeing quite a few computer setups where a laptop computer is hooked up to a traditional keyboard and mouse and one or two desktop-grade monitors. Some of these setups even run the laptop’s screen as part of a multi-screen setup.

Sony VAIO J Series all-in-one computer keyboard

Bluetooth shouldn’t just be for mobile keyboards

To the same extent, most of the “all-in-one” desktops are being equipped with Bluetooth functionality as a matter of course. This is more so where the goal is to compete with the Apple iMac range of “all-in-ones” or make this class of computer more impressive.

The Bluetooth advantage does away with the need to install a USB wireless dongle for that wireless keyboard or mouse or the risk of losing one of these dongles. For traditional desktop users, they can use and keep one Bluetooth dongle which works well if you want to move a Bluetooth keyboard and/or mouse between a secondary laptop and the desktop computer. Similarly the same Bluetooth dongle can support multiple devices like a keyboard, mouse, game controller and multipoint-capable Bluetooth headset.

The gap I am drawing attention to is the lack of traditional-sized keyboards, trackballs and mice fit for use with desktop computers, including novelty mice like the “model-car” mice, that work using Bluetooth. Manufacturers could offer a range of traditional-sized input devices that work with Bluetooth, preferably having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support, as part of their product ranges to cater for laptop-based and all-in-one-based personal computing setups.

Having Bluetooth LE (Smart) support would benefit this class of device because users shouldn’t need to be changing the peripherals’ batteries frequently which is something that can affect Bluetooth setups.

As well, there can be an effort towards improving responsiveness for Bluetooth keyboards, mice and games controllers to maintain Bluetooth’s appeal to the gaming community. Here, this would also be about working with other Bluetooth device clusters such as in a LAN-party environment where toe goal for gamers is to frag each other out rather than being “trampled on” by the enemy.

What really should be looked at is to standardise on Bluetooth as a way to wirelessly connect input devices like keyboards and mice to computer equipment.

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Buying a projector for your small business

Some of you may be buying a projector for the first time such as to add large-screen video display to your organisation’s presentation abilities; or you are replacing your existing video projector that has got a bit long in the tooth.

Praise and worship at church

Choosing the right projector can allow a church or other organisation to gain the most mileage from it

But when you are considering the purchase of a projector, take time to consider where you are intending to use it and what you are using it for.  This will make sure you are going to end up with a machine that can satisfy your needs exactly by projecting the brightest and sharpest image where you are using it.

What to look for

There are certain attributes that you need to look for when buying that projector such as its brightness and contrast-ratio specifications along with factors that affect how you can install your projector.

How your projector’s image will look

Brightness (lumens)

This specification affects how bright the images that appear on the screen will be. A projector with more lumens is also able to deal with competing light sources like room light easily. Today’s office projectors will typically end up with a brightness of at least 3000 lumens.

It is worth noting that a projector will yield the quoted brightness when it is using a relatively-new lamp and set to operate at full brightness.

Video and photo material along with games places more demands on the visibility of the image especially in existing light compared with graphic material that changes infrequently. This may call for a projector to have increased brightness. As well, you may have to look for a projector with increased brightness if you aren’t able to control the ambient lighting especially for video or photo content such as with rooms that have a lot of natural lighting.

The rule of thumb here is to buy the brightest machine you can afford no matter how small or brightly-finished the room is. This is more important if your room has large windows and you have a view to using the projector there during the day such as hospitality applications; or you intend to run the projector with the room’s lighting switched on which is the reality with most business or worship applications.

Contrast Ratio

This specification identifies how dark the black parts of an image will be and how white the white parts of that same image will be. It may influence the “perceived sharpness” of the projected images.

How your projector will “fit in” to your venue

There are certain specifications that concern how far back you have your projector from the screen or wall you are projecting the images on in order to have the largest useable image.

Throw Ratio

Projector setup diagram with distances

Throw distances and ratios explained in a projector setup

The projector lens’s throw ratio determines the effective size of the projected image in relation to the “throw” which is the distance between the projector’s lens and the screen. A lower figure allows for the projector to be closer to the screen for the same image size than a higher figure.

A projector that has a zoom lens, like most of the equipment pitched at small businesses and community organisations, will be specified a minimum and maximum throw ratio that is determined by the focal length you set the lens to. The zoom lens may help you with getting your image “just right” for your setup after you position the projector for best image size.

The “standard” throw ratio for most office and classroom projectors will come in at between 1.5 and 2.0 while a short-throw projector will come in at between 0.5 and 0.7. The newer ultra-short-throw projectors typically have a throw ratio of 0.3, allowing you to position them very close to the screen.

When you choose your projector, a short-throw projector can earn its keep in small rooms or for portable / temporary setups. These machines can earn their keep if you want your projector to be “ahead” of your audience. There are environments where an ultra-short-throw projector can come in handy like a small room such as a classroom, or a permanent installation for a space which gets crowded very quickly like a bar. Similarly, you may find that your venue has a bulkhead near the screen’s location where you can feasibly mount your projector, which may call for an ultra-short-throw model.

Projection Distance

Manufacturers will also provide a minimum and maximum projection distance specification in order to specify how close to or back from the screen the projector should be to yield a useable bright image.

But your setup’s “throw distance” will be based on the throw ratio of your projector’s lens multiplied by the width of the screen and this should be within the distances specified for the projector you are using. Once you know this figure, you can then determine how far back the installation’s ceiling bracket should be positioned.

Aspect ratio and Resolution

A projector, like a digital camera, is specified with a native aspect ratio which is the aspect ratio for the actual LCD or DLP image panel that realises the pictures. As well, they have a maximum native resolution that the LCD or DLP can handle for best results.

The "pillar-box" effect when you show 4:3 material on a natively widescreen display

The “pillar-box” effect when you show 4:3 material on a natively widescreen display

They can handle other aspect ratios but will yield “letterboxed” or “pillarboxed” images which have the black borders at the picture’s edges. You may have noticed this effect when you watch television and you watched some newer widescreen content on your old TV or you watched older TV content on your newer flat-screen LCD TV. In this case, you would need to determine your screen size based on the projector’s native resolution.

A projector with a wide native aspect ratio like 16:9 makes better use of wide screen areas whereas a projector that uses 4:3 as its native aspect ratio may work well for narrower screen areas including “traditional” screens.

Native 16:9 projectors are important if you are regularly showing live TV, movies or other video content turned out in this ratio; as well as yielding that wide look that easily impresses. You can get away with a native 4:3 projector if you occasionally show video but show a lot of graphics material or digital photos prepared in this ratio. It is also worth knowing that projectors that have a native 16:10 aspect ratio may allow for some flexibility between allowable screen area and what you show and is a go-between for 4:3 and 16:9 as well as accommodating scanned 35mm slides and prints.

As for the resolution, I would work towards projectors with a vertical resolution of at least 768 lines even for business applications. 16:9 projectors with the 1920×1080 “Full HDTV” resolution would earn their keep with most of today’s TV and video content, especially if you are running them with an HDTV set-top box or Blu-Ray player.

This is important because your audience will want to see a very sharp clear picture and the eye is less forgiving about fuzzy or blocky images on the big screen.

Connectivity and Functionality

Essential Connections

Economy data projector with VGA input sockets

Nowadays a projector should have an HDMI socket for newer computer and video equipment as well as a VGA socket for legacy equipment

Make sure that the projector that you are after has at least an HDMI input with HDCP for today’s computer and video equipment along with a 15-pin “VGA” RGB input for older computers that don’t use this connection.

If you intend to use your projector with consumer video equipment especially the Apple TV box or pay-TV services, make sure that the HDMI connection supports HDCP content projection. As well, a projector that implements HDMI-CEC control functionality can be a real boon with providing “one-remote” operation with most consumer electronics equipment especially Blu-Ray players.

HDMI is now par for the course for computer display connections

HDMI is now par for the course for computer display connections

Integrated image/video projection functionality

An increasing number of projectors are being equipped with the ability to display images and video footage held on a USB memory stick, onboard memory or other media which can make them become today’s equivalent of the old movie and slide projectors. This feature can be used for “there-and-then” applications or where you can’t connect a computer to the projector and is highly relevant to portable applications.

Sony BDP-S390 Blu-Ray Disc Player

Most recent Blu-Ray and DVD players can show still and video material from USB storage devices

On the other hand, if you don’t want to use a computer to show pictures or file-based video content, you can use a recent DVD or Blu-Ray player, network media player or similar device to fulfil this role.

Wireless and network projection

Another feature that is available with an increasing number of video projectors is the ability to project images from a computer or mobile device via a network, a dedicated Wi-Fi link or a Bluetooth link.

Most of these implementations are very dependent on the client device running particular software or the purchase and installation of certain interface devices. At the moment, Miracast and Intel WiDi are considered stable standards in this space but you need to be sure if there are other implementations that are able to work across devices offered by multiple manufacturers.

On the other hand, there are video-peripheral devices like the Apple TV and the Google Chromecast which can answer this role effectively. This is more so if you want native network-projection support from iOS and Mac OS X devices in the case of the Apple TV or Android and Chrome OS devices in the case of the Chromecast.

Audio

Most projectors will have an integrated amplifier and small mono speaker for sound reproduction and many will have an audio DAC if they are equipped with an HDMI connection. This is good enough at a pinch but I would rather use a powerful sound system such as a hi-fi, home-theatre or PA system for reproducing the sound.

It is also worth knowing that most of the projectors with an integrated amplifier and speaker will have a stereo line-out connection, typically in the form of a 3.5mm stereo phone jack. This comes in to its own with HDMI-equipped projectors that reproduce the sound from the HDMI connection and earns its keep if you have the sound system located close to the projector so you can keep a short unbalanced analogue audio link between the projector and the sound system’s amplifier.

If you want the sound to be reproduced independently of the projector such as to play music without a visual display, you may have to either connect your computer directly to the sound system or use an HDMI audio-extractor also known as an HDMI audio adaptor or HDMI DAC for best results with your sound system.

Lamp life

A projector will have its lamp life rated based on how long the machine will continuously operate before the lamp is half as bright. This is against the common logic of rating the lamp life based on how long it will operate before it “blows” (burns out). But I still factor in the reliable operation angle in that same equation. This specification is based on having the projector run at full brightness but being treated properly.

But most of today’s projectors implement lamp-management logic to effectively run the lamp for a longer service life. Examples of this include offering an “eco-mode” or similar setting to run the lamp at reduced brightness, tapering the lamp’s brightness slightly when the projector is showing the same image for a long time or some even adjusting brightness based on room lighting.

Problem can still surface with some projectors where the lamp lasts a long time but hits the end of its useful life and a good quality replacement isn’t available for that machine anymore. This can happen when a manufacturer makes equipment that is less “parts-common” with prior models when it comes to user-replaceable parts and it could be more financially viable to replace the machine with something of a similar or better standard when the bulb comes up for replacing.

Solid-state lighting (“lamp-free”) projectors

An increasing number of manufacturers are offering projectors that implement solid-state projection lighting which implements LED and/or laser-diode lighting technology. This is compared to the common practice of using a bulb-based lamp and allows for lower maintenance requirements. Manufacturers call these projectors “lamp-free” by virtue of not having to factor in the risk of the projection lamp “blowing” and stopping the show or you having to keep a spare lamp on hand.

These projectors offer best value for installations like displays where you are likely to have the projector running constantly. In other cases, you can get by with a projector that implements the regular light-bulb technology.

Buying guidance

When you choose your new projector, buy a projector which has as high a lumens rating as you can afford and look towards units with at least 3000 lumens. This is more important if you intend to use it in settings where you intend to run video content or show photographs in ambient lighting or your environment is brightly finished or has plenty of natural lighting.

Look towards purchasing projectors that support a 16:9 or 16:10 native aspect ratio unless you are using a narrow wall space as your screen.

Short Throw or Ultra Short Throw projectors earn their keep with small rooms or where you want the projector to be in front of the audience.

If you expect to frequently run your projector for long sessions, like a display, a worship scenario, or a bar that is showing the big sports fixtures every weekend, look for equipment that has a very long lamp life. If you can afford it, you may want to consider a projector that implements solid-state “lamp-free” technology.

Making sure your projector lasts a long time

You will typically get around five to seven years useful life out of a good-quality projector if it is operated and maintained properly.

To achieve this, make sure that the machine is on a sturdy surface before you turn it on. This also is of importance if you are using something to raise the front of the projector slightly to get the picture right. As well, transportable projectors have to be handled gently especially when they are on or just been turned off. If you are setting up an integrated installation, make sure you are using a good-quality mount kit and that it is anchored properly to the mounting surface.

At the end of each session, make sure that the projector is properly shut down so that the lamp, image panel or electronics isn’t damaged by excessive built-up heat. This procedure is more important for transportable or other small projectors, or units that are in an installation where they can be enclosed when not in use like “drop-down” installations. Here, you have to turn off the projector using the standby button on the unit’s control panel or its remote. At this point, the lamp and the circuitry associated with the projector’s signal path are turned off but the fan will continue to run for a few minutes. Depending on the machine you are using, an indicator light on the projector will flash or glow to let you know that this is taking place. This cool-down process is completed when the fan shuts down and only the “standby” indicator glows or no lights glow depending on the machine. Only then you can unplug it from the AC power.

Avoid the temptation to turn the projector on and off too frequently because this can shorten the projection lamp’s lifespan. Here, if you need to have nothing on the screen such as when loading up subsequent content, use the “Mute” or “Blank” button on the unit itself or the remote; or a similar function on your display computer’s software to achieve this goal.

If your projector uses filters, make sure you change them on a regular basis. As well, it is a good idea to clean the ventilation grilles to stop dust building up in them. This may simply be a case of running your vacuum cleaner’s crevice nozzle over these grilles; and is more important in dusty areas.

Be aware of how your projector fan sounds when you are using your projector. If you hear excessive grinding or squealing noise, this is an indication that the fan’s bearings are on the way out and it could cease to do its job. It leads to unreliable operation and heat build-up which could shorten the lamp’s lifespan. This may be a time to send the projector to a repair workshop and have the fan replaced.

The screen you use for your projector

The other factor that you also have to consider when you buy a projector, especially for the first time, is the screen on which your projected content will appear. This may not be of concern if you are simply replacing an existing projector with a newer model.

Fixed Screens

Some of you may use a white wall or whiteboard as a fixed screen for your projector when you are on a budget or, in the case of a whiteboard, you intend to implement an interactive-whiteboard display.

On the other hand, you may purchase a dedicated fixed screen that mounts on the wall or on an adjustable bracket.  Wall-based setups will occupy wall space even when they aren’t used and you may use doors, shutters or curtaining that complement your décor to conceal the screen when it is not in use. The adjustable-bracket setup will earn its keep with classrooms, worship applications and the like where you have a main focal point of attention.

Here, it would be preferable to have a fixed-screen setup if you have a permanent setup or can keep unencumbered wall space available for a screen.

Retractable and Portable Screens

But, if you don’t have that wall space, you may find that you have to purchase a retractable screen of some sort.

Portable screens

These come in a portable form that either is the classic tripod screen that most of us are familiar with or a “pull-up” screen which is a simpler larger form with the screen coming out of a large tube that sits on the floor or table. Some of the “pull-up” screens may be designed so that they can be attached to a wall, bulkhead or other similar feature on a temporary basis so they are effectively portable pull-down screens.

Fixed retractable screens

Presentation shown on retractable screen

A presentation shown on a retractable screen

On the other hand, you have fixed retractable screens that have a roll that is permanently mounted.

These screens, commonly described as “roll-up” or “pull-down” screens, are pulled down like a traditional roller blind when they are needed. They can be mounted with the tube that the screen rolls into exposed or this tube can be concealed, whether in the ceiling or a specially-built pelmet with the screen emerging from a slot in the ceiling or pelmet.

There are some more expensive varieties that extend and retract under electric control but are more suited to permanent installations. These may look more elegant and opulent but you will also find that they last a lot longer because they are less subject to the manhandling that a typical manual roll-up screen is subjected to. I would recommend this type of pull-down screen for those venues where the equipment is expected to gain a lot of regular use.

What to look for here

Here, you need to place importance on the screen’s build quality because this affects both durability and image quality. This is more important with retractable and portable screens when your screen will be set up and put away by many different people such as what happens if you have a high turnover of staff or volunteers.

As well, when you buy that portable screen in a “bricks-and-mortar” retailer, try to set it up and pack it up yourself before buying it. This will allow you to identify if it is well-built and can be easily set up or packed up by an inexperienced person, something expected of in volunteer-driven organisations like churches, or businesses like bars or cafés which have a high staff turnover rate. You also have the chance to see how stable the screen is once it is assembled in order to be sure of a high-quality picture and less need to adjust the projector during a showing.

It is worth paying attention to the fabric that the screen is made of. A heavy fabric or a lighter fabric that uses tensioning at the edges leads to high-quality images especially when you intend to use it with ultra-short-throw projectors. You can get away with a matt-white screen finish when you are using today’s video projectors so avoid being sold the exotic finishes like glass-beaded surfaces if you want to save money.

Conclusion

Whether you are replacing an existing projector or are buying a new projector and screen setup for your organisation, it pays to take some time to purchase the right equipment for your needs rather than rushing in to it. This will allow you to see a highly-reliable setup perform for many years of use.

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Product Review–Brother PDS-6000 document scanner

I am reviewing the Brother PDS-6000 high-speed sheet-fed document scanner which is intended for use as part of workflows where many paper documents have to be scanned. This machine offers a higher throughput than the scanners integrated in most multi-function devices due to the fact that it implements a “straight-through” paper path.

There are two variants of this scanner – the Brother PDS-5000 which can scan at 60 pages per minute and the Brother PDS-6000 which can scan at 80 pages per minute. The model I am reviewing is the Brother PDS-6000.

Scanning speed Price (RRP – tax inclusive)
PDS-5000 60 pages / minute AUD$1399
PDS-6000 80 pages / minute AUD$2199

Brother PDS-6000 high-speed document scanner

The scanner itself

Brother PDS-6000 high-speed document scanner - loaded deck

Ready to scan a document

The Brother PDS-6000 connects to your computer using a USB 3.0 cable and requires you to use the CD-ROM optical disc to install its driver and utility software. I would like to see Brother provide a complete always-updated one-click-install software package on its Website especially as we are moving away from optical discs as an installation medium especially with ultraportable computers.  For people who own Brother multifunction devices, they could provide a software plug-in that works with the existing Brother Utilities and ControlCenter4 software so you can scan in to that from this machine.

I scanned an old police-statement document using DS Capture and this worked properly, turning it in to a multi-page PDF very quickly. I also scanned a snapshot photo that I took in the 1990s using this same scanner and it turned out as a very sharp JPEG and without destroying the original photo. Similarly, this scanner worked well on single-pass duplex-scanning when I scanned a memento letter for someone else.

USB 3.0 connectivity on Brother PDS-6000 document scanner

USB 3.0 connectivity on Brother PDS Series scanners

As well, I raided my wallet and scanned a payment-terminal receipt that I had in it using this scanner to see how it handles those thermal-printed till receipts associated with many a transaction. This represented the typical crumpled condition that a lot of these receipts end up in when they live in wallets or shoeboxes until it comes the time to reconcile them for tax or reimbursement purposes. Similarly, you may be tempted to run the transaction journal from your cash register or your payment terminal through this machine to save it as a PDF file.

Brother PDS-6000 document scanner control panel detail

Control panel

The Brother PDS-6000 was able to handle this job well and turned out an accurate copy of this receipt without jamming. Brother recommends you using a carrier sheet that they sell as an optional accessory if you are doing many of these receipts or other small or brittle documents at a time. It is because the scanner uses a simple straight-through paper path that doesn’t involve going around bends which primarily allows for high-speed scanning but is gentle on documents.

There is the ability to start scan jobs from the scanner’s control surface but I primarily started these jobs from the computer more as a way to configure the machine for job-specific requirements.

Easy access for maintenance or rectifying paper jams

Easy access for maintenance or rectifying paper jams

As well, the Brother PDS-6000 document scanner opens like a clamshell so you can easily rectify paper jams or perform maintenance on it. This avoids you having to grope around the inside of the machine and ruin your fingernails if the paper was jammed in it.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One improvement would be to supply an always-updated installation package that can be downloaded from Brother’s Website or use local storage within the machine as a more valid alternative for deploying the driver and scanning software on optical disc. The software could support tying in with the software that Brother supplies with their multifunction printers so that you don’t need to go to different programs to scan from different devices.

It could then be a chance for Brother to build out an improved document/image scanning application that allows for functions like page reordering or deletion so you can effectively edit out scanning mistakes for that document you are electronically archiving like deleting pages or manually split and combine PDFs. This application, which could come with their scanners and MFCs or be available as a separate download, can come in handy if you are scanning parts of a document from your MFC’s platen while scanning other parts from a sheet-feed scanner or your MFC’s automatic document feeder. Such an application would appeal to those who do a lot of “scan-to-PDF” work.

As well, Brother could have it feasible that this device connects directly to one of their MFCs to supplement the integrated scanner on these machines. This could allow quick “scan-to-copy” for their laser products or quick “scan-to-fax / scan-to-email” for fax-enabled products and could allow the unit to integrate with the business’s network. Even connecting this to an HL-series laser or LED printer could enable these printers to work as copiers.

A feature that these scanners could have is a “slow throughput” mode which allows you to run delicate documents through the machine without a risk of them being damaged. Here, this may work with various optimised imaging modes such as being able to scan letters written on thin paper including the “aerogramme” letters that were commonly used for sending personal correspondence by airmail.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Brother PDS family of high-speed document scanners for professionals where there is a requirement to scan many paper documents to electronic form. This is especially with tax accountants who are working for employees or small businesses and need to scan all the receipts in their client’s receipt shoeboxes.

Similarly a law firm will find this useful for handling all the paperwork associated with litigation or other legal processes so they can have their electronic copies of the documents.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015–Part 1–Personal Computing Trends

IFA LogoI am reporting on the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2015 in Berlin which effectively is the show that determines the consumer electronics, personal IT and appliance technology trends that will affect Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia. It is also the time to publicly launch technologies that have been ready for prime time by the middle of the year.

Personal Computing

This year has become a year where smartphones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers are seen as one force where hardware and software vendors are working across these devices as of they are simply personal-computing devices.These are primarily based around operating systems which allow people and companies to develop the software that suits different users’ needs.

Desktop, Laptops and Tablets

Intel, Microsoft and others have caused a huge refresh to this class of device thanks to new hardware, software and standards.

Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10

Microsoft had just launched Windows 10 while Intel replaced their existing processor silicon with the new Skylake range. These new chipsets are focused on increased performance for the same amount of energy used. This allows for manufacturers to create a granular lineup of products that suit different needs and budgets while assuring “best bang for the buck” in this context. As for peripheral connectivity, the USB 3.1 and Type-C standards along with the Intel Thunderbolt 3 standard had been made firm and more systems honouring these standards were being launched. Acer stands behind the Thunderbolt 3 standard with USB Type-C connectivity because they want to allow users to enhance graphics performance on their computers using an outboard graphics expansion dock of the Alienware Graphics Amplifier or Sony VAIO Z Series Blu-Ray expansion module ilk..

USB Type C plug press image courtesy of USB Implementers Forum

USB Type-C plug – the way to go this year for multipurpose connectivity

Nearly every computer name has catered to the hardcore gamer market by offering high-performance  computers that are tuned to this class of user. Increasingly everyone is offering this kind of performance not just as a desktop or tower form-factor but as a laptop or notebook and some of these manufacturers are offering these products under a “performance” sub-brand like Acer Predator. Acer has even worked on the first Android-driven gaming-grade tablet and smartphone to cater for the mobile gaming community.

Lenovo IdeaCentre Y900 gaming tower PC - press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo IdeaCentre Y-Series gaming tower PC – the first product Lenovo offers for core gamers

In some ways, this is the late 1960s and early 1970s where GM, Ford and Chrysler fielded to the American and Australian markets a lineup of highly-powerful aggressively-styled “muscle cars” targeted at younger buyers. Examples of these include the Dodge Challenger and  the Chevy Camaro released in the US and the Ford Falcon GT, the Holden Monaro and Valiant Charger released in Australia

It is part of a strategy common amongst this year’s exhibitors where they are offering different ranges of computer products to suit the different user groups in a similar way to how the common vehicle builders like Ford. GM and Toyota pitch vehicle ranges to different kinds of drivers. This factor has been more demonstrated by ASUS, Acer and Lenovo who are effectively “pure-play” personal-IT companies.

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock - press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS RoG GX700 water-cooled gaming laptop with radiator dock

ASUS have built out their Zen Republic of Gamers sub-brand. One key example that ASUS had offered is the GX700 gaming laptop which is liquid-cooled when connected to a special dock that has an integrated radiator but is able to perform with less power when independent of this dock. As well, ASUS have fronted up with the Zenpad S 8” tablet which has a USB Type-C connector for power and data.

ASUS Zen AIO S Series all-in-one desktop computers press picture courtesy of ASUS

ASUS Zen AIO S Series all-in-one desktop computers

They also released the Zen AIO S Series of all-in-one desktop computers which are driven by Intel Skylake processors such as the i7-6100T, a 23” 4K screen or a 21” Full HD screen with both having touch as an option, NVIDIA discrete graphics, up to 32Gb RAM and 2Tb hard disk capacity and optional 128Gb SSD. These are endowed with connectivity in the form of 2×2 MIMO 802.11a/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet for your home network along with Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready wireless and USB connectivity in the form of 1 x USB 3.1 Type C, USB 3.0 x 4 and USB 2.0 x 1. These shows up a reality that the all-in-one can have the same kind of specification as a regular desktop computer.

They also fielded their VivoStick which is a direct competitor to Intel’s “Compute Stick” when it comes to a “PC-on-a-stick” that plugs in to a TV’s HDMI port. Here, the VIvoStick has two USB ports so you can use a keyboard and mouse without the need for a USB hub. They are still at the “toy” stage by using Intel Atom horsepower, 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage.

Acer is building out their Predator gaming lineup of performance computing equipment. Here, they had pitched the first performance-grade Android gaming tablet known as the Predator 8 Tablet. This runs on an Intel Atom x7 processor and Intel Generation 8 graphics serving an 8” Full HD screen. It will have 2Gb RAM and 32Gb or 64Gb storage and a microSD expansion slot. It has 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, tactile feedback, an aluminium housing and four front-facing speakers. This is estimated to arrive in North America on November 6 for US$299 and will arrive earlier in the rest of the world in October for EUR€349.

They also are running the Aspire V Nitro Series range of laptops as performance laptops without the aggressive “muscle-car” looks associated with gaming computers. These 15” and 17” laptops, along with the Aspire V 13 ultraportable are driven with the latest technology – Intel Skylake processors under the hood, USB Type-C connectivity, 802.11ac 2×2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi with the Black Edition variants offering Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type C.

Acer also fielded the first Chromebook R11 which is the first Chromebook to come in a 2-in-1 form factor rather than the cheaper “clamshell” style. This is also accompanied by another Yoga-style 360-degree convertible in the form of the 14” Aspire R14. They also demonstrated the Revo Build which is a modular personal computer where functionality is added on simply by one plugging extra modules on to the computer.

This year, Lenovo stepped into the gaming fray by offering the Y series of performance-grade computing equipment. They fielded the IdeaCentre Y900 and Y700 gaming towers which are based on the traditional ATX form factor. This allows for core gamers to improve these systems with the hardware that suits their performance curve, much like the way the “petrolheads” liked to “hot up” the Ford  and GM cars to turn them in to “street machines”. These use quad-core i7 horsepower and discrete graphics under the hood with the Y900 being able to work with 2 display cards. The IdeaPad Y700 range of gaming laptops can be based on Intel or AMD processors  but implements discrete graphics, a 10-point multitouch screen and a RealSense 3D camera. This is augmented with a surround-sound headset, precision mouse, mouse mat, laptop-optimised backpack, mousemat and a mechanical keyboard which is a brush with their former self due to the original IBM PC keyboards.

Lenovo MIIX 700 detachable tablet press pictue courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo MIIX 700 detachable tablet – to snap at the Surface Pro

Lenovo is snapping at Microsoft’s heels by offering the Miix 700 12” detachable tablet which is a spitting image of the Surface Pro lineup. It comes with the keyboard folio and has a 12” touchscreen with 2160×1440 resolution and runs Windows 10 Home.  Lenovo also entered in to the Chromebook game with the 100S Chromebook and fielded the IdeaCentre AIO 700 which is a range of all-in-one desktops that have a 24” or 27” screen with resolution up to 4K and upgradeable discrete graphics. These can come with Intel or AMD processors and a RealSense camera.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 3 press image courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 3 – the latest incarnation of the Yoga Tab lineup

The Yoga Tab series has been refreshed with these Android tablets fitted with features like rotating cameras along with new horsepower. The Yoga Tab 3 Pro still has the projector so you can throw a picture on the wall as big as one of today’s flat-screen TVs. These are being pitched more as entertainment devices rather than as general-purpose iPad-style tablets.

But they have come strong with more additions to the laptop range. Lenovo had shown 2 Xeon-driven mobile workstations along with their latest ThinkPad Yoga 2-in-1 laptops both driven by Skylake processors and having a silver finish. The ThinkPad Yoga 260 has a 12” Full HD screen, 16Gb RAM and 512Gb solid-state storage while the ThinkPad Yoga 460 comes with a 14” 2560×1440 screen, 8Gb RAM and either a 256Gb SSD or 1Tb hard disk along with discrete graphics.

LG have launched the G Pad II which is a 10.1” Android 5.1 tablet that uses a Full HD screen. This has 2Gb RAM, 16Gb storage, microSD expansion and connects to your home network via 802.11a/g/n/ac Wi-Fi. It is also available with an LTE wireless-broadband modem as an option and comes with that brilliant bronze look.

Toshiba has been big on the 2-in-1 computers this year. They launched the Satellite Radius 12 which is the first 360-degree “Yoga-style” convertible notebook with a 4K screen. This convertible ticks the boxes when it comes to up-to-date requirements like having a USB 3.1 Type-C socket and a capable Intel i7-6500U Skylake processor, 8Gb RAM and 512Gb SSD storage. Some press reports called the 4K resolution a bit of overkill for a portable computer of that 12”-13” “portable-typewriter” form factor especially because of Windows not handling display scaling properly and these machines typically earn their keep as being the smallest size to comfortably type on.

There is the Satellite Radius 14 which is a 14” “Yoga-style” convertible with Full HD resolution and available with either Intel or AMD processors. Toshiba also offers the Satellite Click 10 detachable which is based around an Intel Atom CPU from the Skylake family, 4Gb RAM and 64Gb SSD storage. These 2-in-1 computers exploit Windows 10 to the fullest by working hand in glove with Continuum display switchover, a dedicated button to access Cortana and dual-array microphones to improve speech recognition.

Samsung and Apple have pushed the barriers for mobile-platform tablets with the former offering an 18.4”  Android tablet and the latter heating the rumour furnace with the intent of the 13” iPad Pro family of iOS tablets. Do I see these tablets as something that competes with the 13” 2-in-1 laptops that run Windows 10 as a mobile computing device for group browsing or composing new material?

The tablet you get to do mobile computing activities on doesn’t have to be an iPad anymore.

Handheld devices (smartphones and phablets)

There is a main trend affecting the European smartphone market where more Android devices are appearing from brands other than the usual smartphone market leaders. It is more so with devices that are pitched to the mid-range sector. This is because it is harder to cut in to the high-end sector because Apple and Samsung have cornered the market with the iPhone and Galaxy S / Note phones respectively.

One main trend affecting smartphones this year is the fact that Android 5.1 offers native support for dual-SIM operation and this function is becoming more mainstream in this year’s smartphones. The feature may have relevance for a person who roams between different countries and wants better call value or local mobile-number presence in both these countries or a person who has a “work” or “business” SIM card and a “private” SIM card in the same device. This is typically offered by having two card slots with one that takes the main SIM card and another that can take either a microSD card or a secondary SIM card.

There is also the fact that Microsoft is intending to launch the Windows 10 Mobile operating system very shortly and it is bringing forth an improved third contender for handheld operating systems.

Lenovo Phab Plus phablet press picture courtesy of Lenovo

Lenovo’s answer to the Samsung Galaxy Note products in the form of the Phab Plus

Lenovo is pushing in to the European market with its Vibe and Phab phones which are all Android based. An example of this is the Vibe P1 mid-tier phone with a 1.5GHz processor, 5.5” Full HD screen, 5000mAh battery and 16Gb storage. There is also the Phab range which is meant to join the phablet market  One of these is the Phab Plus which is a dual SIM / microSD phone having a 6.8” Full HD screen, Snapdragon 615 chipset. 2Gb RAM and 32Gb storage.

Acer even has pitched an Android gaming-grade smartphone which is the first for a handheld device. This Android smartphone will use a deca-core MediaTek ARM system-on-chip with 4Gb RAM and a 6” Full-HD display.Some questions may be raised about how long it would last on its own battery especially if you play games on this phone or whether it even scales back on performance when you aren’t gaming.

They also fielded the Liquid Z630 mid-tier Android smartphone which also has MediaTek system-on-chip horsepower, 2Gb RAM, 16Gb storage, 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi and 8 megapixel cameras on the front and back. It also has a 4000mAh battery and runs for EUR€199.

They also are fielding entry-level smartphones that can be packaged with Windows 10 Mobile or Android Lollipop like the LIquid Z330 Series. There is also the Jade Primo Windows smartphone which has a USB Type-C connector and is made to take advantage of Windows Continuum display-mode switching courtesy of an accessory dock, keyboard and mouse. This is a 5.5” screen with Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

Archos is another company who are offering smartphones that can be specified with Windows 10 Mobile or Android. These dual-SIM phones will have the usual lineup of features like LTE, Wi-FI and Bluetooth Smart connectivity, microSD card slot. But they have 1Gb RAM and 8Gb storage which can be limiting.

Gigaset has risen to the European market with the ME series of smartphones. The ME phone is powerful but doesn’t go too far. having a 5” Full HD screen, USB Type-C connection, Snapdragon 810 processor and Adreno 430 graphics, 32Gb storage, microSD slot and 3000mAh battery. The ME Pure phone is considered a “foot in the door” phone having 16Gb storage and a Snapdragon 615 processor while the ME Pro has the larger 5.5” screen.

Marshall, known for their guitar amps used by many of the famous rock stars, have pitched a music-focused smartphone in the form of the London. This has a similar styling to their amps in that some of the controls have brass accents and the phone has a rubberised housing which has the same texture as these amps. The London 4.7” HD smartphone is one of a few smartphones that implements a discrete sound subsystem and the only app that Marshall furnishes with this phone is a DJ app. It will be sold in the Boxpark retail area in Shoreditch, London for GBP£375 and I would describe this as being a high-quality MP3 player with smartphone functionality attached to it.

The premium end of the market still hasn’t lost its ground despite the imminent arrival of Apple’s iPhone 6S and 6S plus phones. They also offered a clip-on keyboard for these phones as an optional accessory. Before the IFA 2015, Samsung had released the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge+ phones which are pitched on thinness. As well, Sony launched their XPeria Z5 family comprising of the XPeria Z5, Xperia Z5 Compact which is the smaller of the bunch and the Z5 Premium which has a 4K ultra-high-definition screen. They also offered the XPeria G8 which has the same camera abilities as Sony’s standalone digital cameras courtesy of improved focus abilities.

The next article in this series will cover the trends affecting wearable devices, display technology and the home network with subsequent articles covering home entertainment and appliances.

Part 1 – Personal Computing Trends

Part 2 – Wearables and the Home Network

Part 3 – Home Entertainment

Part 4 – Home Automation and the Internet Of Things

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Gaming with a regular computer and the big screen in the lounge?

Article

How To PC Game From The Comfort Of Your Couch | Gizmodo

My Comments

Alienware gaming laptop

An Alienware gaming laptop that bridges performance and portability

Gaming on the big-screen TV isn’t just restricted to the likes of the XBox One or the PlayStation 4 consoles. You can engage in these games using your PC especially if you are using a laptop or dare to bring the tower-style gaming rig in to your lounge area. This is more so as the regular computer platforms i.e. Windows, OS X (Macintosh) and Linux still maintain a strong level of open-frame software deployment and become more the areas to try out gaming ideas.

This is brought on by the increase in the number of portable computers that have performance-computing chops whether in the form of mobile workstations or gaming laptops is making this kind of gaming more real. The manufacturers see this as a valuable niche for people who value performance and portability for work or play.

Dell Precision M2800 Mobile Workstation courtesy of Dell USA

Dell Precision M2800 – a mobile workstation that also bridges performance and portability

This will apply to those of you who are at home or at a friend’s house because you could bring your gaming computer in to the living room or games room and play that game on the big screen from the comfort of your couch. Those of you who are staying at a college dorm (university residence hall) or similar location can use the big-screen TV in the common lounge area for playing that epic game on your gaming laptop.

What do you need?

TV and sound system

The TV or home-theatre system would need to have a spare HDMI connection for you to plug in another video peripheral.

Here, you are relying on HDMI as your audio and video connection and the equipment must be able to play the sound from an HDMI connection rather than just be a switcher. Recently-made home-theatre receivers will most likely be able to satisfy this requirement but beware of lower-end equipment that can’t achieve this goal.

One of the big-screen TVs that is worth playing games on

One of the big-screen TVs that is worth playing games on

If you are buying a newer large-screen TV and you expect a regular computer to be connected to it, you should look for sets that have a high refresh rate like what would be expected for most well-bred monitors. As well, if your gaming setup is of a temporary nature, I would recommend that the equipment concerned has an HDMI connector on the front panel for a home-theatre receiver or similar device or on the side edge of a TV so that it is easily accessible without you needing to shift the equipment out or grope around the back whenever you want to play games.

Your computer

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook left-hand-side connections - Ethernet, HDMI, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader

HDMI connection on a laptop

HomePlug AV adaptor

The HomePlug powerline adaptor – a no-new-wires network with gaming chops

The computer should have HDMI as a video output option and be capable of directing the sound through that output. This is to achieve the goal of one cable between the computer and the TV or home-theatre receiver rather than worrying about many cables, with this cable carrying a digital audio signal along with the high-resolution video signal.

When you set up the sound, make sure that you know what your equipment can handle at best. If you use a home-theatre system, make sure that you set the audio output for Dolby Digital 5.1 bitstream or a similar codec that your equipment handles so you can take advantage of games that implement surround sound.

As well, it may be worth paying attention to an article that I wrote about multiple sound devices in Windows. In this case, you have to make sure that the sound device you are using for your game is the “display audio” or “HDMI audio” device associated with the graphics infrastructure you are using. Here, it’s about preparing and passing the sound through the HDMI connection to the TV’s speakers or the home-theatre receiver in a manner these devices can handle.

Control devices

Games that require frequent interactive activity would benefit form a console-type controller if you are leaning back on the couch. There are some wireless controllers out there but you can use an XBox 360 controller that works with Windows courtesy of an adaptor that is sold for “pennies worth” by Microsoft.

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (open) press photo courtesy of Microsoft

These Bluetooth keyboards also earn their keep on the couch when gaming in the lounge

If you are needing to use a keyboard or mouse, it may be preferable to use wireless peripherals so you avoid cable clutter. Personally I would prefer to use Bluetooth equipment because you only need to use one transceiver dongle across them all and if the computer has integrated Bluetooth, you don’t need to worry about any of these transceiver devices. Sometimes a wireless keyboard or mouse pitched at tablet use can work as a wireless keyboard for gaming use.

Network

It is preferable to have an Ethernet socket in the lounge area but this may not be a reality. For your home or a friend’s, you may find that setting up a HomePlug AV500 powerline-network segment may work well in these circumstances.

Some college dorms and similar places may have an Ethernet socket connected to the premises’ network and Internet service not far from the common lounge area  HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 may work well in using a no-new-wires setup to bring the connection closer. In some cases, this connection may be locked down for specific devices and uses and it doesn’t hurt asking the staff about whether the connection is a “general-use” connection or can be set up as such.

At a pinch, you would need to use Wi-Fi wireless and make sure you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection at your computer. Wi-Fi networks that use Web-based login can be tricky to use and may require you to keep the “login successful” Web page minimised while you play that online game.This is best done with a Web browser that doesn’t take up much memory space.

Similarly, if you are playing against multiple computers across a public network, it may be difficult to discover the opponents’ computers because these networks are most likely set up to provide client isolation.

Setup

There are some things you will need to be sure of when you are setting up for gaming in the living room or other lounge area.

One would be to use a rug to cover long cables that travel between the computer and the TV or home theatre so as to avoid the situation of people tripping over the cables. This is important for situations where the area between the couch and the TV equipment is part of a thoroughfare.

A tray-table is also a good place to position your gaming laptop or to use as a mouse mat. On the other hand, you may want to use the coffee table for that same purpose. This is to assure stability. Even those “Stable Table” trays with integrated cushions can come in handy as a mouse mat.

As for online game managers, Steam is the only such platform that provides a “big-screen” mode courtesy of their “Big Picture” mode. This will allow you to manage it while viewing the display from a distance. But when you are actually playing the game, this may not be a problem.

Conclusion

Once you know that you can game on with the big-screen TV and your gaming rig or laptop computer, you could be able to add that bit extra to your solo or group gaming experience.

Update:

12 September 2019 – Identified the “display audio” sound device that is used by your computer’s graphics infrastructure for passing your game’s soundtrack via the HDMI port.

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Samsung hits it for 16Tb on a solid-state drive

Article

Wow, Samsung’s New 16 Terabyte SSD Is the World’s Largest Hard Drive | Gizmodo

My Comments

Samsung has released a solid-state storage device with the world’s largest capacity for a fixed-storage device.

This is in the form of a 2.5” 16Tb solid-state drive that is based around 256Gb NAND flash-memory dies rather than the usual 128Gb dies. At the moment, this drive, which has an asking price of approximately US$5000 to US$7000 will end up in enterprise and datacenter applications.

But it shows what a high-capacity solid-state drive in the order of 16Tb could be about. For example, it could be feasible for manufacturers to offer desktop and laptop computers with a solid-state drive that excels on performance, power consumption / battery runtime and storage capacity. It would also appeal to a situation where we will end up keeping a lot of data such as a 4K UHDTV movie collection or RAW “digital-negative” image files.

Other application classes I see this benefiting include digital cameras, camcorders and audio recorders where the goal is to see a compact device that can be used to acquire a lot of material for a long time without running out of battery power.

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Microsoft makes a foldable version of its universal Bluetooth keyboard

Article

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (side) - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard

Microsoft Releases Universal Foldable Keyboard | Tom’s Hardware

Previous Coverage

Microsoft Hardware now offers a Bluetooth keyboard that works with all mobile platforms

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Folding Keyboard

Press Release

Video

My Comments

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (open) press photo courtesy of Microsoft

The keyboard folded out

Microsoft previously released a universal keyboard pitched towards those of us who use smartphones and tablets. This Bluetooth keyboard is designed to be operating-system agnostic so you can use it with your iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or tablet or your Windows Phone or tablet. This is facilitated with a hardware switch that allows you to select between different devices and keyboard layouts.

Now they have issued a variant of this keyboard that folds up like a book. They haven’t neglected the keyboard’s intended use and working around the problems associated with this. Rather, the Universal Foldable Keyboard is designed to be durable so as to allow for frequent and heavy “on-the-road” use which also involves throwing it in to backpacks, handbags and other similar personal luggage. The key pitch and keyboard switch design makes it similar to most small notebook computers, thus allowing for accurate touch typing.

At least this is an example of a keyboard that isn’t just about catering to an iPad or an Android tablet. Rather it is one that can even cater to a lot more devices that have Bluetooth connection for input devices, including desktops equipped with USB Bluetooth dongles or smart-TVs, games consoles and other video peripherals that have Bluetooth functionality and support use of Bluetooth keyboards. It is also about something that is neat and compact and ready for travel with your mobile devices.

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Simplified hand-switching for pointing devices

What is the problem?

Work needs to be done to make it easier for left-handed and right-handed users to use the same computer

Work needs to be done to make it easier for left-handed and right-handed users to use the same computer

A feature that I notice is sorely missing from Windows is the ability to switch between left-handed and right-hand use of the mouse without having to go to the Control Panel and select the Mouse option there.

It would be OK for a person who has a normal hand to “switch” the computer to work to their hand using this method, but would be difficult in some circumstances.

One of these circumstances would be where a computer is shared amongst multiple users with one of the users being left-handed and others being right-handed. Examples of these include workplace, school or public-access computers or computers shared amongst members of a household including houseguests such as the common “his ‘n’ hers” setup.

Windows mouse control panel

Mouse Control Panel dialog – Windows 7

Another circumstance is where a user has to switch between left-handed and right-handed operation as part of a physiotherapy requirement for their hands or simply to keep their hands supple. It is something that is becoming common with older people who want to stay active with their hands.

But having to head to the Control Panel or similar preference settings in your operating system each time you have to do this can bewilder people who don’t have much confidence with technology.

There are ways that Apple, Microsoft and the open-source community could facilitate this.

What are the possible solutions?

Hot-key selection

One would be to use something like a hot-key combination or a simultaneous-mouse-button combination to switch between the operating modes. This could be an option that one could enable in the preferences settings for the pointing devices.

Having this feature would earn its keep with shared computers, workplace computers and public-access computers because users only need to press a certain key combination or operate the mouse buttons in a certain way to “switch hands”. It would also earn its keep with users who find navigating dialog boxes very bewildering and intimidating.

Maurice Tejado wrote an “add-on” utility for Windows (available through CNET Download.com) that allows you to “switch hands” using a hot-key routine.

Set preferences on a pointing-device basis

Another way that could work even better would be to set the operating mode for different pointing devices. Here, you could have two mice connected with one sitting on the left hand side of the keyboard and one on the right hand side. Or you could resolve to use your laptop’s integrated trackpad as a “left-hand” device and a Bluetooth mouse as a “right-hand” device or vice versa. Here, you could set one device to be left-handed while another device is right-handed.

This function is supported by some desktop Linux distributions but isn’t supported on Windows or Mac OS X. But there is a third-party free utility that can support this in the form of EitherMouse which supports multiple pointing devices in use at the same time with different settings.  This can cater also for users who are slow with trackballs and trackpads but quick with mice.

How can this be done better?

Having to use add-on programs to achieve this goal can become awkward, especially when it comes to computer performance and stability and operating systems could go better by baking this kind of functionality in to their pointing-device code.

As well, some computer users and IT departments don’t have confidence in the use of add-on programs because of the fact that these programs can be poorly written or can contain questionable code that can jeopardise computer stability and security. This is more so with those of us who had passed through the “bulletin-board” / “download-site” / “CD-ROM” era of computing where there was a lot of poor-quality software for download.

Rather, operating system developers could write this functionality in to a subsequent version of their products to answer these needs more effectively and especially cater towards older users who are still using today’s technology.

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Now a program to help with troubleshooting your computer’s keyboard

Article

Desktop keyboard

Now you can check whether you need to replace that keyboard

Switch Hitter Helps You Diagnose Keyboard Problems | LifeHacker

From the horse’s mouth

Elite Keyboards

Switch Hitter Keyboard Diagnostic Software (Product Download Page)

My Comments

As well, you can determine whether you need to take the laptop in for warranty repair because of the keyboard

As well, you can determine whether you need to take the laptop in for warranty repair because of the keyboard

You may find that your computer’s keyboard may not be behaving in a consistent manner and this may be an issue that may have you taking your laptop computer in for warranty service or buying a new keyboard. Or you find that you are losing those battle games and find that the keyboard isn’t allowing you to demolish the enemy.

But there is a Windows utility that helps you to troubleshoot your keyboard. Switch Hitter gives a visual display similar to a touch-typing tutor program to show whether any of the keys are responding as you press them and identifies which keys are stuck down. This can also work with identifying contact-bounce problems which surfaces as repeated keypresses as well as keys that don’t respond and can be symptomatic of a keyboard that has had the life bashed out of it.

It also shows up which keyboard layout you are using and what keystroke combination you are sending, which may be an issue with area-specific layouts.

This can allow you to supply to a repair agent a more qualified diagnosis of the problems you are having with the keyboard, especially when it comes to that warranty service. As well, you can know if you are actually dealing with an improper setup, a dodgy keyboard-computer link or a keyboard that is to be replaced.

This can also be used to check whether that gaming keyboard is being responsive and satisfying the claims that the manufacturer is touting, thus being suitable for that online fragging session.

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Rollei sells slide scanners suitable for large slide collections

Article

Rollei DF-S 290 slide scanner press picture courtesy of Rollei Gmbh

This slide scanner can scan 10 of the old memories at a time to an SD card

Diascanner: Negative und Dias digitalisieren | Netzwelt.de (German language / Deutsche Sprache)

From the horse’s mouth

Rollei

DF-S 290 HD Product Page

My Comments

Those of us who lived through the 1950s to the 1970s often dealt with 35mm photo slides being par for the course for family photography. This was most often through people keeping large collections of these slides or sitting through many evenings where it was time to drag out the slide projector and show these slides on a screen. It was infact the kind of activity that tended to take place once someone came back from a long trip overseas.

These people valued the slides as a photographic medium because they were compact and you could either show them to many using that projector or view them personally using a handheld viewer.

WD MyCloud EX2 dual-disk NAS

A fast-track path for your old photographic memories to end up on that DLNA-capable NAS

There have been some unsatisfactory attempts to get these slides along with 35mm negatives on to a computer form. This typically involved a very expensive process of sending the pictures out to a digitizing service who would scan them to a CD or you were dealing with a scanning device that would turn out low-resolution images of these pictures and allow you to handle up to five of them at a time.

Rollei have raised the game with this class of device by selling a range of standalone slide / film scanners that had a 10-slide “continuous-feed” tray as standard. Here you could place 10 slides in this tray and work a lever to feed each slide through the machine once you scan them using the machine’s control surface.

Here, you could scan the slides stored in one of those classic yellow Kodachrome slide trays with very little fuss and is an improvement on similar scanner devices and multifunction printers that have transparency-scanning abilities because you don’t have to place slides in to a carrier like ducks in a row. It can also be of benefit to those of us who have limited dexterity, something that will come about as we get older.

Where do the images end up? They end up on an SD card that you provide and you transfer this card to your laptop to download the images. There is the ability to correct exposure or colour balance using the Rolei slide scanners’ controls, along with the ability to correct slides or negatives that were put in the scanner the wrong way. Some of you may find these options superfluous if you use software on your computer like iPhoto or Windows Live Photo Gallery to adjust the picture quality as part of using your computer to add metadata to your image scans. But this can come in handy if the goal is to have those memories appear on an electronic picture frame or similar device, or simply to “dump” them to a DLNA-capable NAS to be available on your home network or a Dropbox folder that you share with your family .

As well, the Rollei DF-S 290 also has an HDMI connection so you can use your large-screen TV or computer monitor as a preview screen or as a playback screen for showing those slides.

Of course, there is still a gap in the marketplace for certain “off-the-film” image-scanning jobs.

One of these is handling large slide collections that are stored in slide-projector magazines like the Kodak Carousel. This is because most of the scanners that support these magazine systems tend to fetch premium prices and are typically designed to work as peripherals for computer systems.

Another gap is being able to reliably scan film that isn’t held in a carrier that is supplied with a film scanner. This is of annoyance for people who deal with long flimstrips such as slide film that is “strip-processed” or negatives that you developed in the darkroom but didn’t cut in to the standard strips.

Yet another gap is being able to handle film formats other than the common 35mm film. In the consumer space, these surface as the 110 or 126 “Instamatic” cartridge films whereas in the hobbyist and professional space, these surface as the 120 or 220 “medium-format” roll films. It also is true for people who use equipment that uses variants of the 35mm film format like half-frame or panorama cameras.

Here, a scanner design could answer these needs through the use of optical zoom or digital zoom with a high-resolution imaging device. As well, for “on-device” editing, there could be the ability to crop to various aspect ratios supported by these films or stitch together panorama images taken by multi-frame panorama cameras.

At least someone is taking a proactive step towards providing affordable equipment for scanning those large slide collections and making them available to view on our home networks.

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