Whenever some new, paradigm-changing gadget comes along, there are new adopters and there are late adopters. Usually, I fall into the latter category. I don’t think I owned a cellular phone until 2005 or so, and the I carry around now is still used primarily to make phone calls. No Internet, or WI-FI, or apps. Heck, it was only a few years ago that we actually got cable TV at my house. I still had rabbit-ears on top of my TV five years ago.

So it’s perhaps odd that I sprang for a Kindle. Amazon claims, apparently, that they’ve sold 2.5 million of the things. That’s a big number, but then apparently Apple has sold ten times that many iPhones, and I’m still making phone calls on the free Sony Ericsson I got when I signed up for my plan. I guess that makes me, if not an early adopter in the field of e-readers, at least not a late one. Which sort of makes sense, since I’ve always read more than I did much of anything else. (Remember how long it took for me to get cable?)

Another admission: my wife bought one first. By about a week. She was prompted by the fact that Amazon had just dropped the price for the entry-level Kindle 2 (the basic model currently available on their website) to $189. I was prompted by the fact that hers came in the mail and seemed pretty cool.

What the thing basically is, in case you’ve happened upon this review by chance and you have no idea what you’re reading about, is an iPod for books. It used to be that I’d go on vacation with a portable CD player and a carefully-chosen binder of 30 CD’s. Then, four years or so after Apple started selling iPods (I said I was a late adopter), I bought one of those, a 20G model with a black and white screen. Instead of 30 CD’s, I could bring the equivalent of thousands with me when I traveled. I still listen to CD’s on an actual player in the house. Speakers sound better to me than headphones, and I like browsing the shelves of my collection to find something to listen to. But the convenience of bringing that much music with me when I leave, and bringing it in a package the size of a pack of cigarettes instead of the lunchbox-sized bundle my CD player and binder used to make, that’s a big advantage.

The Kindle is the same thing. It’s an electronic reading device like the iPod is a music storage device, and it lets me squeeze a lot more media into a lot smaller package for convenience’s sake. I haven’t traveled with it yet, but I’m in the habit of bringing two or three books with me on vacation. More sometimes, if it’s one of those relaxing vacations where you’re sitting on a beach somewhere with nothing much to do except read and try to recover from work. I can already see that the Kindle is going to let me pack that much lighter.

Now, I love books. Just like I loved records when I could still buy them. CD’s were a bit of a step down. The album art was so small in comparison, so you couldn’t actually hold the album sleeve in your hands and feel the same sort of impact, while you listened to the music, that you could with LP sleeves. And then mp3′s replaced CD’s, and that was another step down. I like physical media, is what I’m saying. And the Kindle is a compromise in some ways. It stores books, but simplifies the layout and appearance of the page. I’ve seen book publishers do interesting things with layout, but those sorts of tricks probably wouldn’t transfer well to the Kindle’s screen.

I’ve also heard that people complain that the e-ink screen the Kindle uses isn’t as contrasty as a book, and they’re right. With a paper book, the background is white and the text is black. On the Kindle’s screen, the background is more of a light gray. There isn’t the contrast that there is with paper, and there’s a bit of a reflection if you’re holding the screen at just the right angle in bright light. Neither is particularly distracting, though, and I found that I almost immediately found reading on the Kindle to be more or less equivalent to reading from a paper book.

One advantage the Kindle has over a traditional book is the ease with which it can be read one-handed. In the weeks since I bought the thing, I’ve spent a lot of hours lying on the couch, holding the Kindle up in front of me to read and pressing the “Next Page” buttons (there are two, one on either side of the device, so that you can perform that function with either hand) with my thumb. This is a comfortable position, but I’ve never been able to hold a book open comfortably in that position, let alone turn pages.

Another advantage the Kindle has, if you’re willing to pay for it, is instant gratification. Instead of making a trip to the bookstore or ordering a book through the mail, you can pay the fee for the ebook on Amazon’s website and the file is downloaded a minute or so later to your Kindle, which is registered to your Amazon.com account, through the 3G wireless service that is provided for the device without a monthly fee. Amazon clearly thinks that they’ll make enough money off of people willing to spend $10 a pop on intangible digital copies of books that they can afford to eat the cost of maintaining the equivalent of a cell phone data-only connection for everybody who buys a Kindle, and if my wife’s buying habits are any indication, they’re probably right. However, I tend to read a lot more classics and less new fiction. There are a number of books available on Amazon for direct download to the Kindle at no cost, by authors like Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde. Those are some of my favorites, so I haven’t actually gotten around to paying for Kindle content yet.

Also, there’s the fact that Amazon ships their Kindles out with a power cord for recharging that’s actually a USB cable with an attachment on the end to plug it into wall current. If you’re looking for classics that aren’t listed on Amazon’s site (or aren’t listed there for free), you’ve got the option of downloading them from sites like Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org) and uploading them to your Kindle for free. That website offers ebooks in the .mobi format that Kindle likes, though it can also handle text files. Moving the ebooks from a computer’s hard drive to the Kindle’s storage is easy, just like using a USB drive, though you can also download management software (I use Calibre, available at calibre-ebook.com) that acts like iTunes, managing the ebooks you have stored on your computer and converting them from other formats that Amazon doesn’t support to Kindle-friendly ones that it accepts. That software can also periodically download stories from news sites, like the Huffington Post or the New York Times’ website, so that you can avoid paying Amazon the subscription fee for wireless downloads. Or, if you’d prefer, you can pay the fee and have the paper wirelessly and automatically downloaded, without having to connect the Kindle to your computer. It’s up to you.

Speaking of that power cord brings up the question of how long the Kindle holds a charge. I’ve found that, with the 3G wireless on, I needed to recharge it in the evenings but could read for most of the day without a problem. Once I hit upon the idea of turning the wireless off, I could go for several days of reading without a recharge.

There are a few other functions hidden in the Kindle’s menus that might interest some users. There’s a basic web browser. It’s very limited, as it only deals well with websites that are mostly text-base and it’s limited by Kindle’s e-ink screen to black and white, but I’ve used it once or twice when I wasn’t near a computer, and one big advantage is that it’s free, using the 3G that Amazon provides in the hope that you’ll download books. There’s a text-to-speech function that seemed to work fairly well, the one time I turned it on. There’s also a function to look up unfamiliar words as you read, either using the Kindle’s included dictionary or online resources. All of these are welcome additions, but I haven’t used any of them very much. The meat of the device is as an ebook reader, and it performs that function very well.

In the final assessment, I’m happy with what I’ve got. It works very well for keeping a lot of media in a small package, and the text it displays is easy to read. The black and white display would be limiting for people who might want to read comic books instead of traditional books, or who wanted to upload pdf files (which the Kindle handles, but not well) to the device. But to carry around a large selection of books, stripped of formatting but very readable, in a small package that performs well, I’d definitely recommend it.

 

Sony BDV-E570 Home Theater System Review

Sony BDV-E570 Theater System Review

HISTORY OF THE CHOICE

One thing you should know, the wife and I had a really screwed surround sound. The rear speakers only gave muffled sound, if any sound. The subwoofer was more like a large box that sat near one of our couches and served more like a short coffee table than a technological sound-enhancing gadget. The amp was a combo type that could play DVDs, CDs and the radio. It had long lost the ability to play a DVD or CD, though it sometimes stubbornly felt like it should be playing one and we were treated to the sound of it whirring stubbornly as it spun the empty disc tray – for no reason (this was especially frustrating when we just wanted the audio to work). We never had a remote to the damn thing and I am unsure if the brand name was actually real or not.

The second point of this historical recollection of the road leading to the purchase of the Sony BDV-E570 is that our previous player had been donated to us by my technophile brother. It was a Sony BDP-S300 and from the moment we first got it, the wife was dubious of my claims that BluRay was better than DVD. It was slower than our old (very reliable) Toshiba dual-disc DVD player (which still sees duty in our bedroom) – in fact, it was a lot slower. It often would start to play a BluRay only to stop after the minutes long load time to let us know we needed an update. Updates would take on order of an hour or more as I would have to download it from the Sony site, burn it on a disc and then let the player run the disc with updates. Let’s just say the player had pretty much run its course since we got it as a hand-me-down gift a couple years back.

The final incentive along this road was the release of Avatar.

Neither the wife nor the mother had seen the movie in its original theatrical release, but both wanted to see it – nay, they both wanted to experience the Avatar movie.

With the release came a warning that many players may need updates and so on. Being the diligent and dutiful man, I went to Sony’s site and attempted to get the latest updates for our frustrating player. Fuck if it wasn’t an exercise in frustration and misery. I had reached my breaking point.

We needed a new player.

PLAYER OR THEATER SYSTEM?

At the point I was convinced we needed a new player, I had already started looking at our surround sound system for about the last year or so.

Admittedly, I was leaning more towards upgrading our amp than buying a whole new set of speakers – upgrade by pieces had been the plan. Now, although I make halfway OK money, I am by no means a person of great wealth or free-flowing cash. A $500 piece of equipment for me is not just a frivolous or offhand purchase – but it also will not break the bank.

I am not sure why I started to look at a complete system – but for some reason I had been looking since the beginning of the year.

I had not been convinced, but I had been looking.

So, the individual players – Toshiba had ruled my DVD player choice (as I said we still have my old Toshiba SD-3109, the best DVD player I had ever purchased and I still swear by it every day I wake up and see its clock illuminating near our bedroom TV) – but, with the advent of BluRay, I liked Sony. I had had nothing but positive reviews of the Sony PS3′s player and even some of the resident techies here backed it.

Plus, as much as I hated the interminable slowness of our Sony BDP-300, I enjoyed it immensely once it was operational steam.

It was then that I saw the Sony BDP-S570.

Reviewed by CNET as having the fastest loading speed that they had reviewed, that was a huge selling point.

But, at $250, it still not really fix the sound problems we had. Remember, the wife had purchased Avatar and expected a movie night that Friday night.

She specifically expected better sound for the experience.

What to do? Buying a ton of equipment separately was not a good thing – remember, money was a little bit of an object?

Fine. Fuck it.

I held back my manliness and started looking at an all-one-system.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Sony BDV-E570 for just about $300 more than just the player. I am not entirely convinced that it carries the same player as the BDP-S570, but I am fairly certain it is. And I had owned a Sony stereo system that rocked in 1986. Online reviews varied and had little real information that a real person could use (and I hope this review goes beyond that).

We bought the system that afternoon.

BRINGING IT HOME

The box is easily manageable by one person of reasonable ability and the packing job is very professional (having worked in a warehouse, I can attest that this system should arrive safe in most circumstances).

Make sure to have enough room to pull everything out and lay it all out.

The provided speaker wires are color-coded and the quick cheat set up sheet lets you know instantly what color speaker should go where.

Sony also provides setup DVD, comprehensive book and all the other standard paperwork for registering your warranty and so on.

INITIAL SET UP

I ran the speakers first. Setting each speaker where I knew I wanted it (I had already created wall mounts for most of them and they were interchangeable enough with Sony’s speakers that I could pull the old ones down and place the new speakers on the same hangers – except the center speaker), I then ran the wires to near our TV stand.

One thing – our room is a rectangular 13 feet x 16 feet.

On one long wall, we have an interior wall – with the back juncture being an exterior wall with a single window. The front juncture of this length is open leading to the kitchen, front entryway and access to the hallway leading to the other rooms. On the opposite long wall, we have a large sliding glass door that leads to our patio and backyard.

Living room setup for BDV-E570

The room is 13' x 16'

Since we don’t like running the wires along the ceiling, we run them on the floor – but we have tile floors, so hiding the wires has become an issue.

I currently run the wires for left rear speaker behind the couch, match it up with the wire from the right rear speaker and then run them along the wall until it reaches the large sliding glass door. The groove cut into the tile for the door frame is large enough to shove the speaker wires down into and it is a nice solution and very hidden from casual observation.

This is where I first ran into trouble with the wires provided.

The left rear speaker wire is not long enough to run that distance. I had to splice some of my old speaker wire to get the length I wanted.

In fact, I would say you will want to keep some speaker wire handy when you install this system.

I don’t think we have a huge living room. It is fairly small when in comparison to a lot of other peoples’ – but I made sure to give you an idea of what I am talking about so you can make your own judgment.

By my estimation, I was short by a good 5 or 6 feet.

The second issue I had with the wire lengths was minor.

When I set up our subwoofer (indicated by the red speaker icon in the schematic of my living room here) previously, it had sat to one side or the other of the rearmost couch. Typically, on my side – the left side.The instructions even indicate that you may place the subwoofer “anywhere” in the room when installing the system. Problem?

The length of wire you get for the subwoofer is minimal. I mean really minimal. Putting it anywhere but within 6 feet of your system is not an option without some splicing happening.

The final issue I had with the wiring was also pretty minor – but for those that are real particular about tech stuff and maybe have aspirations of upgrading the speaker wires to like some sort of gold, unobtanium-plated, super non-resistant techie wire, you will have to look at the funky connectors that Sony made for plugin into the system. I am sure a determined techie could overcome it, but for the average idiot, you may want to look elsewhere if your super custom speaker wire is the be-all end-all for deciding on your system.

I personally just used the given wire and spliced to the speaker end of the wires – as they plug in with the old school two wires.

Once all the speakers and wires were set, it was time to plug in and turn on.

INITIAL POWERING UP

Warning – If you have a dog, you may want to excuse them outside.

When you initially set up, you will have (if you followed all the instructions) plugged in a microphone that is placed at the center of your room. The system will then move through a 20 or 22 step sound test to optimize your levels.

This was cool enough to me and it gave me a certain amount of tech-hardness. Not a full-fledged boner, but enough to be pretty happy.

The testing will blare static noise from each speaker – and you can watch on your TV as it highlights each speaker – I guess to be sure you hooked them up correctly as well. Our dogs were none to happy about the static blaring from one level and then in steps up or down in volume. One of the dogs (we have 3) hated enough that she fiercely came unglued and started charging the front speakers – barking her displeasure.

After removing the dogs, I ran the test again to be sure we were getting a clean enough signal.

Our system “failed” – the rear speakers were not being detected enough or some such.

I did not include that we have a cat condo tower in each rear corner of the room there and we determined that they were likely the culprit in the test failure. The wife wondered if we should move them to run the test again and possible get a good result on ALL the speakers, but I had already been at this for coming up on 2 hours and I knew how long Avatar was. How long could the mom and wife last? Maybe midnight. It was already approaching 8:00pm.

Time to keep moving.

The player also can do some auto adjusts to whatever type of TV you are using and the type of connection you are using, as well. I had it connected with HDMI to the TV and a digital sound cable to the cable box. It ran some diagnostics and saw we had a less-than-optimal 50-inch plasma 1080i. It seemed to turn its nose up at us. After all, this thing is designed to operate at the latest 3D level.

Ah, well, suck it up bitch – we own you now.

I spent about 20 minutes looking for my network’s WEP key to hook it up to the internet (no more burning discs for updates – I was stoked so much, I farted the hidden WEP key number location right out of my brain).

Looking at an 8:30 start time for Avatar, I crossed my fingers and announced the start of movie night.

THE FIRST MOVIE

I was amazed at how fast the player loaded Avatar.

I was amazed that we watched the entire disc with no issue and no sign that it needed the updates I ran later that night.

It even seemed to make our old 1080i plasma stand up and dance a little more skillfully.

The remote feels backwards in my hand at times, but I am sure I will get used to it.

The sound was perfect at a less-than-blaring level and we often use the sound now to watch everything since the normal speakers are inaudible at less than 80% from across the room.

But, yes, it can play the most advanced (that I know of) BluRay: Avatar.

OTHER FEATURES

The wireless internet is only obtainable with the provided plugin adapter – which can be cool or not, depending on your situation. For instance, our network is good enough to run our Wii wireless without the need of actually needing a wired adapter. If you have issues and would like to be able to have a little more flexibility on getting a better signal strength, the provided adapter might be the answer for you.

Speaking of wireless strength, the internet features are kind of a pain – but no more than other systems, I imagine.

My advice on the internet features is to have a pen and paper handy when you start. Go to each feature that you want or are interested in, as you click on them, you will be instructed to go to a site on your PC and give the site specific instructions to acquire your machine. If you happen to have a Bravia TV, you will have a slightly different method to get your internet features functioning. I would write down ALL the site addresses, that way you are not having to go back and forth between your home office and the living room.

Alternatively, just have a laptop handy and do each site/feature from your couch.

You will have some features that are free – but unless you are amused by watching an episode of Fantasy Island, there is not much free that will pique your interest.

I did watch some of the streaming of the movie Ghandi and have to say that the HD version was a little more stilted than the Standard broadcast of Fantasy Island. I am sure it has something to do with signal strength – but you would think the buffer would fix that.

The function changing is hard to get used to without switching inputs to see what you are doing – and I am not entirely sure if there is a way to get around having to do this for certain functions. Like going from the radio to the input sound from the cable box.

Speaking of radio, the provided antenna does not seem very strong. We don’t live very far from a station I enjoy out of Ventura (about 45 minutes south of here) and the signal is plenty fine on my car stereo and also on our bedside radio. But, for whatever reason, the provided FM antenna is kind of cheapie.

OVERALL

I have really enjoyed this system. The load times on the player is just amazing and if you are willing to toss money out the window – you can even increase them with some sort of quick start feature (we have opted to not use this feature – so if you are, maybe you can give us a comparison?). Compared to our old BDP-S300, this thing is like shit through a goose (to borrow Patton’s euphemism).

For the price, you really can’t go wrong if you are willing to deal with the few drawbacks that I adjusted to.

SPECIFICATIONS

Video

  • BD: HD (24Hz) (24p True Cinema) : Yes
  • BD: HD (60Hz) : Yes
  • BD: HD 24Hz to 60Hz conversion : Yes
  • BD: SD (60Hz) : Yes
  • Block Noise Reduction : Yes
  • Component : Yes (480i/480p/720p/1080i)
  • DVD Upscaling : Yes (HDMI 720p/1080i/1080p)
  • Frame Noise Reduction : Yes
  • HDMI™ Connection(s) : Yes (480i/480p/720p/1080i/1080p(60Hz))
  • Mosquito Noise Reduction : Yes
  • Video DAC (Component) : 1080i,720p : 12bit/148.5MHz
  • Video DAC (Y/C) : 480i : 12bit/54MHz
  • XMB® (Xross Media Bar) : Yes

HDMI™ Audio

  • Dolby® Digital Plus bit-stream out : Yes
  • Dolby® Digital bit-stream out : Yes
  • Dolby® TrueHD bit-stream out : Yes
  • LPCM 2ch (192kHz/96kHz/48kHz) out : Yes/Yes/Yes
  • LPCM 6ch (192kHz/96kHz/48kHz) out : Yes/Yes/Yes
  • LPCM 8ch (96kHz/48kHz) out : Yes/Yes
  • dts® bit-stream out : Yes
  • dts®-HD High Resolution bit-stream out : Yes
  • dts®-HD Master Audio bit-stream out : Yes

Modes

  • Stand-by Mode : Yes (Normal / Quick Start)

BRAVIA® Sync™

  • BRAVIA® Theatre Sync : Yes
  • Control for HDMI – Easy Setting : Yes
  • Language Follow : Yes
  • One-Touch Play : Yes
  • Remote Control Pass Through : Yes
  • System Audio Control : Yes
  • System Power Off : Yes
  • Volume Limit : Yes

Format

  • AVC-HD (8cm/12cm) (DVD+R/RW/-R/-RW) : Yes
  • BD-R/ RE (BDAV/BDMV) : Yes/Yes
  • BD-ROM (SL/DL) : Yes
  • BDAV/BD-R v1.0 (SL/DL) : Yes/Yes
  • BDAV/BD-RE v2.0 (SL/DL) : Yes/Yes
  • BDMV/BD-R v2.0 (SL/DL) : Yes/Yes
  • BDMV/BD-RE v3.0 (SL/DL) : Yes/Yes
  • CD (CD-DA) : Yes
  • CD-R/RW : Yes/Yes
  • DVD+R (DL) (+VR) : Yes
  • DVD+RW (8cm) (+VR) : Yes
  • DVD+RW/+R (+VR) : Yes/Yes
  • DVD-R (DL) (VR) : Yes
  • DVD-RW-/R (VR) : Yes/Yes
  • DVD-RW/-R (8cm) : Yes/Yes
  • DVD-RW/-R (Video) : Yes/Yes
  • DVD-R_(DL) : Yes
  • DVD-Video : Yes
  • Hybrid Disc (BD/CD) : Yes/Yes
  • Hybrid Disc (BD/DVD) : Yes/Yes
  • Hybrid Disc (HDDVD/DVD) : No/Yes
  • JPEG : Yes

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