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Until recently, I made my living on the road. Everything I bought involved size and durability as the leading consideration. As a result I have always only enjoyed the view of a laptop screen.
But my new stationary existence and expansion into the world beyond Word and Excel had me dreaming of the extra real estate of an external monitor. Twelve hours a day hunkered down in front of a screen and the prospect of my first pair of reading glasses looming hastened the search for 22 or 24 inches of relief.
The market is flooded by as many opinions as affordable options in the TN panel world. Although the TN is considered an inferior option as far as displays go by the design community and color purists, for most of us, they work more than adequately and really enhance the computing experience.
As someone using a bit of Photoshop, Final Cut Pro and engaged in web editing I looked at my best options for the $300-$400 range with the hope that I might be able to swing a 24″ monitor.
I am not a gamer, but the performance of a monitor for viewing film was another consideration. Additional features as available ports, VESA compliance, warranty and customer service rounded out the parameters.
What makes the search more difficult is the fact that many of the specific models are not always carried by brick and mortar stores. Side by side comparisons are rare. So after an exhaustive search online, a handful of actual in-store views and calls to a few friends of mine that work in IT, I drew a bead on the Benq G2400WD and pulled the trigger. Featuring a 5ms response rate, 1920×1200 resolution, 1000:1 image contrast ratio, HDMI, DVI-D and VGA connectors, 1:1 scaling, 3.5 audio jack for HDMI line out to speakers and a 3 year warranty, it is a lot of monitor for the money.
The price of the model averaged around $400 at a number of online retailer plus or minus shipping or applicable sales tax. Amazon.com has the G2400WD for $399 including shipping. They offer one of the best return policies and ordering through them would have been a no-brainer, but they are now required to charge sales tax in the State of New York. Instead, I opted to order through PC Nation which had the Benq for $395 including shipping. PC Nation did not charge the $32 bucks in tax. Also Benq receives high marks for selling screens with healthy pixels so I felt pretty confident going this route. The order went in on a Tuesday at 3:00 pm and the following Thursday at 9:30 am, Fedex was ringing the buzzer. Nice!
I had been warned that the shipping material included with the Benq G2400WD was a bit flimsy, so I hoped that the monitor spent as little time as possible in the back of a truck. I was also warned by numerous board posts to check the outside of the box for any signs of trauma before you accepting it. Once the box is opened you are responsible for the freight back on a DOA monitor if you order through PC Nation, and there is a minimum 7 dead pixel policy. So if Amazon doesn’t charge sales tax in your state, I would go with them. The reports of the skimpy box proved to be true as I held my breath opening a remarkably slim cardboard box with relatively spartan styrofoam packing materials.
Everything seemed to be in order as I plugged it in to my Macbook Pro 2.4 and fired it up. I then opened up displays in preferences and ran the calibration utility. After setting the Benq as my primary monitor and dragging the toolbar over I was ready to go.
The view on this monitor is great. The native resolution 1920X1200 is crisp and the colors accurate. I had read about the narrower viewing angles inherent in TN panels but as the monitor sits on my desk in front of me there is not a lot of side to side movement that would result in any kind of distortions.
I did unfortunately find one pixel stuck on red that made me crazy for the first few days. There are utilities out there that will attempt to work out a stuck pixel and I ran JscreenFix a number of times to no avail. But oddly enough after I watched a few movies the pixel righted itself and after over two weeks of continuous use there are no dead or stuck pixels whatsoever.

Here is a breakdown of specs for the Benq G 2400 WD:

Screen Size: 24″ Widescreen
Product Color: Black
Resolution: 1920×1200(WUXGA)
Display Area: 20.43″ x 12.76″ (518.5 x 324mm)
Pixel pitch (mm): 0.27 mm
Response time: 2ms GTG/ 5ms
Brightness: 250 cd/m2
Dynamic Contrast Ratio: 4000:1
Contrast Ratio(Dynamic Contrast Ration): 1000:1
Display Colors : 16.7 million
Viewing Angle (L/R;U/D) (CR>=10): 160/160
Speakers: N/A
Headphone Jack: Yes (HDMI Only)
Input Signals: HDMI/ D-sub/ DVI-D (HDCP)
HDCP: Yes
Horizontal Frequency (KHz): 31 – 83 KHz
Vertical Frequency (Hz): 55 – 76 Hz
Video Bandwidth (MHz): 25 – 135 Hz
Colour temperature : Reddish/sRGB/Bluish + user mode
Auto Switching Power Supply : 55W (max)
Adjustments :Built-in
Weight: 13.6 lbs
Net Weight: 16.5 lbs
Dimensions (HxWxD): 25.29 x 20.64 x 5.59 (inch)
Dimensions without the pedestal stand: 17.44 x21.98 x 6.72(inch)
Tilt: -5/20
Swivel: No
Pivot: No
VESA Wall Mounting: 100 x 100 mm
OSD language: 8
Regulations: TCO’03
Frame Color: Yes
Accessories: VGA and DVI Cable
1:1 Pixel Mapping: Yes

I had originally thought of installing a VESA mounted stand on this monitor, but once it sat on my desk I realized I wouldn’t need one. Sitting about 2 feet away from it, the tilt stand allowed me a perfect viewing angle. Aesthetically, the design is very clean and very black. The Benq logo is discretely displayed in the lower left corner and the power button glows dimly to avoid distraction while watching film in a dark room. This is an excellent monitor for the money and anybody considering a 24″ should give this a close look.

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Sennheiser CX300 Earbuds

One of the most prevalent complaints I hear about Apple’s Ipod line is that the enclosed earphones or “buds” are almost immediately replaceable. The ubiquitous white headphones were a trademark of the Ipod craze’s early days and immediately branded early adopters as Ipod owners. Apple,after all, is not a headphone company, and although they were nice enough to include them they could have come up with a better design. I now own 3 Ipods and after sampling the first set the remaining two reside hermetically sealed and buried in a drawer.
I was late to the Ipod craze as I was quite happy with a CD based mp3 player that served me well in the gym and on a lot of flights. I also owned a number of different headphones over the years as I grew up in the Walkman era. Being somewhat partial to Sony in the past, I still cherish a pair of fully functional Fontopia’s that I bought 6 years ago in Tokyo before they were widely available state-side. This original pair has still not shorted-out on me, although subsequent pairs that were purchased did not fair as well. I also own a pair of Sony MDR-V500 “mini-cans” that served as my “weapon of choice” when venturing out street-side but eventually proved a bit cumbersome. Further experimentation lead me to a pair of Shure E-4′s (single driver, no bass response) and my final quest, a pair of UE Super.fi 5 Pro’s (which deserve their own post). As glorious as the Super-5′s sound, they don’t exactly make for a great gym/cycling bud.
After getting ready to replace yet another set of Fontopias, I decided to see what else was available in the world of buds without spending much more than $50.
After an extensive search I came upon the Sennheiser CX300′s. Available in silver, black , white and even pink I found they sound a lot better than the Fontopia’s. They run about $20 more, but for the difference in price they are well worth it. Having owned this pair for over a year, I can attest to their durability as they get almost daily use in the gym or when I am out cycling. The primary attraction for me beside the quality of sound is the fit and comfort when wearing them for an extended period of time. They are almost weightless and Sennheiser includes three sets of adapters for different sized ears that result in a nice snug fit. This tight fit isolates exterior sound that allows you to hear your music street-side without having to turn up the volume to compensate. You should, of course, be careful as you really cannot hear things around you. When cycling through traffic I advise to pull out at least one of the buds to hear the rush of the cab that just nearly hit you.
The CX300′s come with a 2 year manufacturer’s warranty and for the less than $55 price tag you will be hard pressed to find buds that will give you the kind of bass response and clarity these offer. The buds also feature a 43″ asymmetrical cable which allows the user to string them behind the neck, instead of hanging down in the typical “Y” design fashion.

ExpressCard 34 Options

If you are an owner of a MacBook Pro, or a Laptop equipped with an ExpressCard/34 slot, you may not be aware of the options available to enhance your productivity or just expand available port options. As an owner of one of the early editions of the MacBook Pro (2.16 duo/100gb), I had a huge gripe with the folks at Apple for dropping the FW800 port that was a standard feature on the former PowerBook line. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, as subsequent model revisions have returned the FW800 slot to it’s deserved place on the right flank. This is great for new owners, but what do early adopters do when desiring the speed of FW800 or for that matter flying with eSATA?
When starting my search for a solution, naturally I turned to Mac. Surprisingly, none of the Ishrines even stock ExpressCard/34 adapters. The ExpressCard/34 slot lives on the left side of your MacBook Pro and if you have a wireless air card with Sprint, Verizon or ATT you are already aware of if (if not, see the picture above). When asking one of the Apple store sales associates about the reason for the lack of adapters, he asked me why I would need a FW800 slot as the speed was not significantly higher than FW400. As much as I love Apple, I am sometimes stunned by the answers I get from some of their employees. Time to look elsewhere.

BTW, For the record:
* USB 1.1 – 15 Mbps
* FireWire 400(1394a) – 400 Mbps
* USB 2.0 – 480 Mbps
* FireWire 800 (1394b) – 800 Mpbs
* SATA 1.5 – 1.5 Gbps
* SATA 3.0 – 3.0 Gbps

I checked Datavision and Comp USA (R.I.P.) to no avail. Further searches online yielded rather expensive solutions ($89-$119) with spotty user reviews. Then, while shopping for an external hard drive on the OWC website I found the Apiotek Extreme line of adapters for almost half the price ($59). I now own and use three of the Apiotek ExpressCard/34 adapters. One of the dual FW800 variety and two of the dual eSATA ($39) that run my OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro’s which i recently wrote about. Set up is a snap. The FW800 adapter does not require a driver and the eSATA model comes with a disc, or you can download the latest driver from Apiotek directly. Initially I wondered how well these adapters would operate given that they were so much cheaper than other models. But since I have had nothing but good experiences with OWC so far, it was a very easy decision.
I had some minor setup questions regarding the eSATA adaptor which OWC’s technical staff helped me out with and for the last 8 months all three adaptors have been running completely trouble free.
If you own one of the older, FW800-free, MacBook Pro’s and also own a FW800 ported external hard drive this is your solution for a considerable upgrade in speed. If you are considering an eSATA equipped external drive like the Mercury ELite-AL Pro, and you should, then this is the last piece of the equation you will need. OWC also features other ExpressCard/34 adaptors from Apiotek, it’s own line, and others including USB2.0, FW400, and media card readers.

Apiotek Dual FW800 Extreme:

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Mercury Elite-Al Pro Quad Drive | OWC

We all know it and we all fear it. That given enough time, every hard drive will eventually fail.
This digital grim reaper has yet to darken my door, but I have had enough close calls to worry.  With a carefully manicured 130 GB itunes library, ever-growing video files and ten years of photos at stake…well you get the picture.
The price of external hard drives continue to drop, while we salivate at a future of solid state.  500 gig hard drives are now a fraction of what they were just years ago. But these bargains often come with limited capabilities (USB only) and as we all know manufacturers are always looking to reduce costs with cheaper parts. While doing my regular gear rounds recently I was shocked to see that most of the Western Digital line of MyBook external hard drives are now made with entirely plastic cases.  I own a Western Digital MyBook Pro that I got a few years ago that still came with an aluminum case. It’s lack of an on/off switch and louder than average hum was a bit of a turnoff but at least it wasn’t made of plastic.
As you move up from USB into FireWire and eSATA, you quickly learn that speed can really enhance your experience. My itunes library outgrew my Macbook Pro’s internal hard drive a long time ago.  While running the library externally via a USB port, I experienced lags and the more than occasional beachballs.  After moving up to eSATA, the external hard drive runs just like the internal one.
My current advice for anyone needing room to expand is OWC’s Quad interface Mercury Elite-AL Pro series. Available in sizes from 250GB to 1000GB(1TB) and currently ranging in price from $147.99 to $299.99, they all feature USB2.0, FW400, FW800(2) and eSATA ports as well as 7200RPM speeds.  The best bang for the buck comes with the 750GB($219.99) model, of which I own two.  These drives run quiet, cool and really fast. Housed in a sexy brushed aluminum case and equipped with a metal clip stand that allows the drive to rest vertically, it is the perfect compliment to your rig. Aesthetics aside, this is one tough, well made piece of gear featuring all-metal construction and shock isolation. The package includes high quality cables for each of the ports and Prosoft Data Backup software (a $59 value) which I use on my Tiger machine and offers more features and flexibility than Time Machine for Leopard users. For those preferring the simplicity of Time Machine in Leopard, the OWC is the perfect solution.   The drive is already formatted for Mac so it is truly a plug and play experience.  The folks at OWC even include a 1.5 GB gift box full of free-ware (love menumeters!) on the drive which you can pick through and use or delete.

Macworld gave the 1TB OWC four mice last January. Their only criticism being the price and the lack of a security slot. Since then the price of has dropped from $420 to $299.99 making it a real value if you need the added space.  The entire Mercury Elite-Al line comes with a 2 year limited warranty.
Finally, dealing with OWC is truly a joy.  They even have a tech support line manned by competent, friendly mid-western types at their base outside of Chicago.
With the cost of recovering data from a dead drive running well over a thousand dollars coupled with potential horror of realizing your data might be lost forever, you really should do yourself a favor and visit OWC.

*  750GB External OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro “Quad Interface” Drive
* 36″ High Quality Double Shielded eSATA connecting cable
* 36″ High Quality Double Shielded FireWire 800 connecting cable (9-9 Pin cable)
* 36″ High Quality Double Shielded FireWire 400 connecting cable (6-6 Pin cable)
* 36″ High Quality Double Shielded USB 2.0/1.1 connecting cable
* External AutoSwitching 100/240v 50/60Hz Power Adapter
* Intech® SpeedTools Utilities™ OEM (For Mac OS 8.6 – X only)
* Prosoft Engineering® Data Backup for Mac OS X v10.2.8 or later
* NovaStor NovaBACKUP® for Windows 2000 or later
* Over 1.5GB of Freeware/Shareware/Public domain software installed

MPEG Streamclip Video Editing Magic

For TEKB8T’s first post I had to highlight one of the handiest pieces of freeware I have run across. If you have ever wanted to do a little quick editing of a video file but lack the chops or the software, then today is your lucky day. I recently came across Squared 5′s Mpeg Streamclip a very tasty bit of freeware, that is a swiss army knife-like player,editor, and converter. The user interface is lovely, dead simple and for those of you running PC’s, yes you are also invited!

Supported Video Formats Include:
MPEG, VOB, PS, M2P, MOD, VRO, DAT, MOV, DV, AVI, MP4, TS, M2T, MMV, REC, VID, AVR, M2V, M1V, MPV, AIFF, M1A, MP2, MPA, AC3

So let’s say that you have created or downloaded a video clip and would like to edit a specific bit short enough to upload elsewhere or email. Basically, it can be as short as a 5 step process.

1. open file
2. play clip
3. set the “in”
4. set the “out”
5. save the edited file.

Mpeg Streamclip also allows you to pull down a video by just inserting the URL. You can also extract the just the audio to create a mp3 file.

It really is that easy and it really is free.

www.squared5.com