Monday, December 5, 2022

The right cable for my second monitor

I assumed one video cable just as good as another. That’s what I was thinking when I connected two monitors to my new M1 Mac Mini. I plugged my main monitor, a 32-inch curved Dell, into the Mini’s HDMI output and all was good. Then I connected a second monitor using the Mini’s USB-C port and all was not so good.

The second monitor lit up, but only after nearly a full minute of blinking and struggling to make a connection. You can see what I’m talking about (running in double time) in the video that I uploaded with this review. 

Must be a faulty cable, I thought, so I tried a couple of other HDMI cables. Same result. Then I bought a new HDMI to USB-C cable -- yes, a cheap one - and the monitor still had the jitters. 

At that point, I decided the problem must be in the monitor and I would just have to live with it. So I did, for more than a year.

Then I saw the TECHTOBOX cable and decided to try a cable that was advertised as being actually designed to handle high-speed 4K content. Now I have a secondary monitor that springs to life maybe two seconds after the main screen, and with no blinking or flashing. I also tried it with my MacBook Air and again got an instant display of crisp, clear image that mirrored the built-in screen.

The cable appears to be well constructed with braided shielding, gold-plated connectors and metal tips with rubber protector sleeves. I don't know what's inside the cable that allows it to deliver a signal that doesn't cause my monitor to sputter and hiccup and, frankly, I don't car all that much. I'm just glad it works as advertised.  

And now that I have a second monitor that no longer acts like it’s about the die, I'm thinking of getting another one of these cables to use with my portable gear.


Thursday, December 1, 2022

This monitor riser falls short

After several months with a 32-inch curved monitor, I thought I needed a monitor stand. Raising the monitor by a few inches would put it in slightly better eye position and the stand would pair it with a second monitor that I like to use in a vertical orientation. But the Yaohuoo riser that I ordered on Amazon fell a bit short of my goal. 

My first surprise came when I saw the number of pieces I would need to assemble this dual stand: 10 wood veneer panels, four metal connecting plates and more than 40 screws, pegs, locking posts and their companion discs. I’m an IKEA fan, so complicated assembly tasks don’t really bother me but this seemed like overkill for such a simple item.

If you look closely at the images on the riser’s sales page, you will see that the center part of each surface has a different color. Turns out that’s because those accent pieces are separate segments that must be attached using the four metal plates and 24 screws. I ignored the little allen wrench that Yaohuoo provided and grabbed my cordless drill. Otherwise the work might have taken all day.

When I finally got all the pieces connected, it was time to set up my Mac Mini and its two monitors. It was not a good choice for my 32-inch curved monitor. I could clearly see that bolted-on center panel begin to sag under the weight of a 20-pound monitor.

So call it my fault for choosing a square peg for a round hole. In my defense, the product page shows the stand being used with a pair of Apple monitors which can also be pretty heavy. On the plus side, this double riser can be deployed in several different arrangements. I expect it would work just fine for a laptop and maybe a 24-inch companion monitor but it wasn’t right for my setup.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

COLBOR delivers a blast of light for video shoots

After a frustrating couple of years trying to light my indoor video scenes with underpowered LCD lights or clip-on work lights from the hardware store, I finally decided to get my hands on a good pro-level studio light. 

I picked the COLBOR CL60. It's a lightweight and affordably-priced LCD light that delivers far more illumination than the cheap alternatives I was trying or the low-wattage ring lights I've seen pitched to YouTubers.  

The lamp in the CL60 can produce a color temperature raging from 2700K to 6500K with variable brightness. That was all the I needed to shoot a couple of product videos in an indoor setting.  The primary job of the CL60 is to be the key light, the main lighting source for the star of the show, whether it's a person or a product. Let's say your star is a cook positioned behind a kitchen island, ready to demonstrate a recipe. A single CL60 would provide adequate lighting for that type of video. 

The light comes with a horn-shaped reflector which is good for directing light on a specific spot. I tried the light for a scene that involved several people in my living room. The COLBOR light focused on people in the center of the group, leaving those on the margins in the shade. 

The shot would likely have come out better if I had used a diffuser attachment in place of the reflector. Making that switch would have been easy as the CL60 comes with a Bowens mount adapter to hold the reflector. The mount is a ring that lets you snap in a variety of other attachments including diffusers and other light-shaping tools. 

Judging by the photos on the sales page for the CL60, you might think that the light is a portable unit with it's own power supply. It's not. The light needs a external power source, either the USB-C charger that comes wit the gear or your own charging brick. 

The light comes with a nicely-designed carrying case. The only item I had to purchase was a metal screw adapter that I needed to mount the light on a tripod. Overall, the COLBOR CL60 turned out to be just what I was looking for: a versatile and affordable first step into pro-level video lighting. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

Pro-level tripod is a serious upgrade

I don’t consider my self to be a professional videographer, but have produced dozens of commercial product videos for online sellers. And I’m always interested in upgrading my equipment with pro-level gear. 

The GEEKOTO tripod I found on Amazon is definitely a step up from the consumer tripods that I’ve been using. Even the best tripod in that collection is a poor option when I use my SLR and have to worry that the rig is going to topple over.

The first thing I noted about this tripod is the quality of the materials. The legs are solid and stable, even when the tripod is extended to a full 5.25 feet. The head holds a larger than normal ball that rotates smoothly and easily locks into place. And the head is so sturdy that it can function as a low-angle camera stand when it’s separated from the legs.

The head platform can work with a standard sliding shoe or with a screw mount for a phone, light or other gear. I really like the large knobs that tighten the ball socket and the horizontal panning scale that helps you get a smooth pan.

My video highlights several of the tripod’s main features, including some that I have never seen on consumer tripods. One is the notch points that let you lock in each of the three angle positions for the legs.

Another is the hook built into the center post. It lets you add a weight or a secured line to the center of the tripod to provide an extra measure of stability. And the center post is reversible. Why would you need that? Let’s say you shoot from a position close to the ground but with a slight upward angle, perhaps for a remote shot. You can mount the head and your camera between the tripod’s legs and lock in the exact view that you want.

The GEEKOTO is going to be my go-to tripod, even when I’m traveling. It’s advertised as a travel tripod and it does indeed collapse down to a snug 20 inches. And although it is slightly heavier than most consumer tripods, its high quality is fair tradeoff for a few extra ounces.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Car time is better with this MagSafe charger

While many iPhone owners rave about the new phone’s camera or some of it’s other well-known features, I’m excited about MagSafe charging. After I got my latest iPhone, I went about replacing all of my charging stations with new magnetic devices. And this one from Magjieyx fit perfectly in my car.

The charging puck arrived with two ball connectors and two options for dashboard mounting: a bendable plastic plate with an adhesive strip for drivers who want their phone on the the top of the dashboard; and a ball with a pincer jaws mount on the air vent.

I went with the vent mount. The ball needed a pretty solid push to get it into the socket on the back of the charging disk. And had to remember to position the threaded locking ring on the ball stem before making the connection. But once the ball and socket were joined and the ring was tightened, the two elements had formed a lasting partnership.

The next step was locking the jaws onto one of the blades of the air vent. I remembered another jaw clip that I had to wrestle into place on a previous car and that I broke one or two blades in the process. That din’t happen this time. These jaws were thin enough to slide smoothly into place and solid enough to hold the charger and my phone in the position that I wanted.

I connected the charger using the high-speed adapter plug and USB-C cable that came with the kit.

The whole process took about 15 minutes to get everything installed and positioned. I really like how the charger’s magnet grabs my iPhone and gently pulls it into place. And now I’m through fumbling with the charging cable every time I enter or exit my car.

The charger is designed for iPhone models 12, 13 and 14. The kit also comes with a lightweight metal disc that can be attached to a non-MagSafe phone to adapt it for wireless charging.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Mini projector casts a maxi image


Anyone who has stopped at my home on a Halloween evening over the past 10 years has been treated to more than some candy. Halloween nights are movie nights on my front porch. 

Using a projector and a white sheet, I show one of my creepy favorites, like Ghostbusters or Creature From The Black Lagoon. This year the show will be even better because I have a new -- and far better -- projector. 

The Alvar Mini Projector is small, lightweight an inexpensive projector that offers a bright picture (9000 lumens and 1080p resolution) with support for both Bluetooth and Wifi. And it can deliver video and other images from a wide variety of sources. Input options include HDMI, USB, AV, SD memory cards and VGA. 

I hooked up an older DVD player that doesn't have HDMI by plugging it into the AV input  and routing the audio to a powered speaker. The picture quality was quite satisfactory, though I'm sure an HDMI link would have been better. I also videos stored on a USB thumb drive. The projector immediately played an MP4 video and played M4V and MOV videos after apparently creating duplicate files.

I would expect any projector to show images from those sources. What really impressed me was Alvar's support for wireless streaming. Using the iOS Cast option on the projector's home screen I was able to mirror on-screen content from my iPhone as easily as streaming to my Apple TV box. I could play games on my phone and watch video on You Tube or on websites but not from apps like Netflix or YouTube TV.


The projector also supports Miracast, a streaming option used by many Android and Microsoft devices. And Alvar says its HDMI port will support TV stick devices like Amazon Fire and Google's Chromecast. 

What else do I like about the Alvar projector? It comes with a desktop tripod to help you get a level image and the lens has a keystone ring to eliminate tilted images. 

What it doesn't have is a way to reduce or enlarge the projected image. The manual says image sizes can vary between 35 and 240 inches (20 feet!). But there's no function to change the size from the projector. Alvar's solution is to move the projector closer to the screen or farther away. 

That's a minor disappointment that I'm sure I can live with. Overall, I'll be very happy to my old clunker of a projector with this new and modern one.


  

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

MagSafe charger is a bedside buddy

Several years ago I scrapped the clock radio that had been my bedside companion. Didn’t we all? Who needs an alarm clock or a radio when we have a mobile phone? 

In its place, I bought a charging stand that had a platform with a Qi charger for my iPhone and an arm where I could attach a charging cable for my Apple. 

It was a good set up that worked as long as I was careful to put the phone and the watch in the precisely correct spot for the chargers to work. That didn’t always happen and I would often awake in the morning to find that one or both of my devices had not recharged because they weren’t settled in the charging sweet spot. 

That doesn’t happen with the Hatalkin 3-in-1 Charging Station. The phone charger uses MagSafe technology that grips my iPhone 14 and slides it into position no matter how clumsy and sleepy I am. And if I get a late-night alert, I can grab the phone, check the screen, and replace it and get back to snoring without coming fully awake. 

My Apple watch parks on a drop-down disk on the back of the charging station. That puts it out of view, and I miss seeing the watch’s always-on clock face that I could view from my pillow, at least the watch is hidden from my fumbling fingers.

This stand also has a third charging surface for my AirPods Pro charging case. It refuels all three devices using one 47-inch USB-C cable that comes in the box along with a matching charging block. 

I like to keep my Apple devices close bay, even when I’m in bed, so this stand is just right for my bedside table. It delivers a 15-watt charge and refuels my phone much faster than the Qi chargers I have used, so I may get another one of these stands for my desk or kitchen counter.


Monday, September 19, 2022

A little bridge between lightning and USB-C

As an owner of multiple Apple products, I would be happy if the whole world of electronic devices were powered with Apple’s lightning cables. But that’s clearly never going to happen. 

USB-C will soon be the King of Cables, if it isn’t already. My MacBook Air uses USB-C and it’s appearing on other devices, including the battery charger for my action camera. Apple put a USB-C port on newer iPad models and I expect to see it on more devices in the future.

That’s why I was attracted to the CHAFON M3 multi-plug adapter. It’s a thick two-inch long cable with four different plugs: a full-sized USB, a lightning plug and two USB-C plugs.

Each end has a magnetic connector that turns the cable into a small loop when they touch. That makes it convenient to store in my computer bag or on a keyring. A rubber cover protects the two ends and keeps them from separating and the cable that connects the two ends is inside a very sturdy nylon sheath. 

During a recent vacation, I used the CHAFON cable to power my camera battery charger and to recharge my phone and my AirPods from my computer. The cable is also just the right size and length to connect an iPhone or iPad to a portable power bank.

The CHAFON cable would be a little more useful if it included a mini USB plug. I still have a few gadgets that use that format. You know, the one that you have to rotate two or three times to get it to fit. That plug is fading fast and devoting two of the CHAFON cable’s four tips to USB-C is the right way to go for the future. 



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