Category Archives: Gadgets

Toy Industry Rebounds a Bit: Toys R Us & FAO

After the sale and retrenching quite a bit, Toys R Us is back on the growth track … mostly by opening a Babies R Us with Toys R Us together and/or converting single stores into both (my closest TRU just re-modeled and added a Babies R Us):

“Toys “R” Us will open 16 of the side-by-side superstores this year, each with combined retail space of 60,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet. The company also will convert “dozens” of existing toy stores into smaller side-by-side locations this year, and within a “few years” will turn the rest of its 585 U.S. outlets into this format or build new superstores.”

Also noted:

“The side-by-side siting strategy addresses a weakness that has handicapped the company in battling discounters. In the past, Toys “R” Us shoppers with children have visited an average of once every nine months, while Wal-Mart and Target have drawn these shoppers weekly with a broader array of goods, says Sean McGowan, an analyst for Needham & Co. in New York.”

That’s interesting, I think most CARS collectors try and visit every other day, right? :-)

From the WSJ via AZ CENTRAL.

TRU is even doing great in South Korea … and hey, everyone shops at TRU, right?

Yea, any riff-raff can walk in – that’s why I’m waiting for the more exclusive FAO Schwartz inside Macy’s … Guess we can look for the 2009 Motor Speedway With Track Extension Exclusive … :-)

May the Schwartz be with us.

(I think what Brad is saying above – “Do they EVER re-stock?, Where are the Pitty 3-packs?”)

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Mac’s: 66% Market Share – Facts Not Spin

It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. NPD’s report that Apple Mac’s market share of $1,000+ personal computer is 66% is not really subject to interpretation – except apparently for the last dying gasp of PC fans.

Here’s how this works.

Of the people who had and were willing to spend $1,000 on a personal computer, 66% looked, shopped and choose a Mac. It’s as simply as that.

You can dig further down but extrapolate that generally, the more well-heed your customers are, the better off you are (as a seller) – whether you’re selling cars, refrigerators or computers. For the company selling products, it generally means you have higher margins or better yet, have created a brand of higher value.

In other words, the market share of Windows OS personal computers in the $1,000+ group has slipped from 98% to 34% in 7 years. That is not a good trend.

Why is that? Part of the reason is that Microsoft has poisoned its own name. They traded short term profits (1992 to 2002) for long term branding. By neglecting Windows and placing their NAME large & square in FRONT of every virus report, every global trojan and the poor customer choice of blaming the hardware manufacturer who then blamed Microsoft for the user woes – what are they left with?

A brand that is perceived as a commodity that’s just built in – it’s the OS assigned to you at work much like the OS on the fax machine or the copier. It’s just there. Now, in the beginning of the desktop technology age (1985 to 1995), Microsoft’s brand held esteem as the leading edge of technology and why not buy the brand I’m using at work, right? Why not get my opportunity to own the leading edge also? But Microsoft frittered that away through arrogance, later neglect and now apparently cluelessness – what does the name Microsoft now mean to the average personal computing consumer?

It is the OS you get when you buy a $499 computer. It’s useable, it’s passable but that’s all it’s worth. How can we tell? What percentage of PC users paid for the full Vista upgrade? Versus what percentage of Mac users paid for the full retail upgrade?

And of course, now this stat. Which basically can be summed up as such: If I have or am willing to spend more than $1,000 on a personal computer, I’m 66% more likely to buy a Mac. That’s what the numbers say in black & white. Not many ways to spin it.

Whether you think Macs are over-priced does not matter in this equation because there are literally thousands of PC’s choices that are readily available – it’s not as though there is limited competition in the $1,000+ PC category – the bottom line is those can afford or are willing to spend more than $1,000 on a computer will 2 to 1 buy a Mac now after considering a PC.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with selling to the masses at the low end – there is certainly money to be made, the audience is large – the margins are much lower but it’s a living.

But PC fans & MS still think it’s 1995 – it’s not for Microsoft’s real reality. Face the facts, they are simply the low priced OS of “choice” for those who don’t wish to spend $1,000 on a personal computer. Microsoft should stop having pretensions otherwise, that is the problem. Somehow, because Bill Gates is worth $50 BILLION dollars, that means his company brand should carry high esteem and brand worth but it’s exactly like Wal-Mart. There are dozens of Wal-Mart billionaires also and like WM, the store – they are profitable but everytime WM tries to go upscale or even slightly upmarket, they get pushed back to their new natural order (with WM, it’s the George apparel line).

It is exactly the same with Microsoft now. They occupy the low tier of brand value for consumers now – hence why MSN, the ISP could not defeat AOL (after MS spent $4 BILLION dollars!), why WIN mobile phones sell so poorly after 8 years in the marketplace, nor could they “revolutionalize” the watch industry … not the home networking industry and why after 18 months, they have “shipped/sold” as many Zunes that Apple sells in 1 WEEK.

When given a CHOICE, consumers do not choose Microsoft unless price is the sole factor.

This is also why MSN Search is such a colossal failure – even when FREE and a switch is 2-seconds away, MSN or LIVE Search is still such a failure and LOSING market share after plowing $6 bilion in R&D & marketing.

Consumers didn’t randomly arrive at their mistrust and assignment of MS products and technology to the low tier/price as the sole factor in decision making – this is a hard fought battle of amazing neglect on Microsoft’s part. From blithely ignoring and blaming users for viruses and trojans, their solution after 6 YEARS and hundreds of millions of infections? – send us $100 for virus patches … to the case of the Xbox 360, instead of building consumer goodwill by actively acknowledging build & over-heating issues, again, their solution is to try and ignore the problem – again, poisoning their own well for a short term gain … triumphing 10-million console sales but not accounting for the 10-30% returned and non functional units … and after a year, they have lost 30% of the market to the Wii and slipping behind sales of the PS3 – the pattern repeats itself. They still have a fan base but beyond that?

This is a company that has literally and figuratively failed in EVERY consumer venture since 1995. The company has been propped up by enterprise sales so unlike most companies that can spend some $50 BILLION over the past ten years on divisions that has accounted for ZERO profit, they just keep plugging along as if showing up and saying we’re #1 is enough for everyone to fold up and go home. It doesn’t work that way in the consumer market. Microsoft should do two things – a) either just concentrate on the enterprise market or b) acknowledge that they are a lowly consumer brand and accept that fact and just sell on pricing. They have spent too long on poisoning their own name for anything loftier and even if you want to go upscale and upmarket – their recent attempts are just as feeble and ill-conceived such as the Zune or Vista – both positioned as if they’re cool and better than anyone else. They simply aren’t because it’s from Microsoft – a brand that consumers mistrust and associated with poor working technology. It can be fixed but first they have to get off their arrogant horse and realize they are riding an ass and not a horse – no one is fooled.

Buying Yahoo and/or causing further complications (such as requiring users to have a LIVE name to access anything) is only going to further sink their cause.

They are rapidly losing the highest margin customers to Apple. Those with more than $1,000 to spend on a computer are buying Macs 2 to 1.

We know in all computer sales, while PC sales have slowed to a few % points growth, Apple is galloping at 35% – of course, Apple is starting from a smaller base but growth is growth and apparently with each sale, Apple is obviously adding in revenue at $1k per machine while MS only adds $50 per machine in OEM Vista sales.

So, Microsoft is losing market share in the below $1,000 personal computer category – even to Linux in the below $500 category – and what is their response to forces pushing them in from all sides?

To buy Yahoo?

What happens if Google builds an internet desktop that doesn’t require Windows – knowing Google, it will be bundled for FREE with a $300 personal computer … leaving Microsoft with no high end margin sales (or very much diminished if Apple continues to add 35% growth every year) and Google gives away a free OS?

Windows 7 available in 3 years selling for $169 will resolve this?

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Filed under Advertising, Apple, Apple Mac, Computing, Design, Financial, Gadgets, Internet, Marketing, Media, Retail

Mattel Disney Pixar CARS: Motor Speedway of the South – Or Buy This …

Ultimately, that’s something you have to decide for yourself.

It’s limited, it’s nice looking and you get to have CARS before anyone else (other than about 1,100 other people in this world) in a nice box … can you logically argue for and against buying this set? Of course.

It’s certainly not “cheap” by most measures at $300+ … but it’s not unheard of … want the Sideshow Toys PREMIUM Indiana Jones figure? $280 clams + shipping.

Or the Aliens Power Loader (sold out) also from Sideshow Toys – $249

Plus $139 for the Alien …

Or you don’t have to go far, HWC has been selling this set with display case for $199 + shipping since last October …

Of course, there are plenty of things you can buy outside of toys for $200-$300 … how about a Louis Vutton hair band?

Is this also known as a scrunchie? This Louis Vuitton version is $335 BTW.

Of course, you can also spend money and not have a lot to show for it …

Parking in a bus zone in SF? $250

Fine for parking in a Bus Zone
Violators are subject to a fine of $250. Parking in a bus zone is a hazard to passengers attempting to board or exit a bus and may prevent disabled individuals from boarding.”

The Digg story of the guy who spent $300 for an email address?

You can buy an HDMI cable for your TV – $374 … oh sorry, $373.99.

Or 6 Your Love Makes My Heart Blossom figurines – only $50 each. They are so gosh darn cute!

cruzincoolerwithtrailer.jpg

If this global warming thing is true – time to step up and motorize your cooler for double duty … now in electric versions! Your teenage kids will love a ride in this to school. A little spendier at $399 plus $100 for the cooler trailer.

Are you like most people who think – this is the 21st century – why am I living like a barbarian of the neolithic age and still have to pour my own cereal? Yes, civilization has finally advanced … finally, battery powered cereal dispensing … and as they note, “ it looks great too!”

WAIT, there’s more! “Because the unit is automatic, there are no dials or cranks to be twisted or to crush the cereal. Just press a bowl against the dispensing mechanism and
out comes the cereal.”

FINALLY! Yea, the last unit I got, the squirrel fell down into the crank and I not only got crushed cereal but crushed squirrel flakes.

So, my friends – spend your money wisely or poorly …

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Wall-E World: The Disney Pixar Thinkway Action Figure Toys

It is a Wall-E world we’ll soon be living in it … you might’ve heard of a company named Disney and a company named Pixar … apparently, they are releasing a film on June 27, 2008 and I suppose if you’re the kind of film-goer who likes plot, well written characters, humor, drama, pathos, dialogue, editing and dazzling animation … you might like this film. It’s probably no LAND BEFORE TIME XXXXVIII though (just kidding :-) )

Then there are the toys.

A few of the basic toys have hit the shelves – they look pretty cute.

The most basic series is this one (called B1 Action Figures?) – with Wall-E about an inch tall with 11 figures sold separately.

This is the back of the card, Your choices include: Eve, Wall-E, M-O & The Captain – I’m guessing the others are in wave 2.

The detailing was decent but for some of the smaller figures, was a bit spendy at $5.99 each (WM might be less?) – maybe there will be a multi-pack coming that’s more reasonable.

The next size up are the “Movie Scenes” where Eve is about 2″ tall (she’s the white floating robot).

These were a better value – with three different choices, I grabbed the one with the lunch cooler. Nice sculpts and a better value at $6.99.

The next size up are the 6″ inches ones … while the card is kind of dull, they do feature a lot of interactivity, Eve’s eyes can change expressions, she can blast a boulder and store stuff – pretty cool.

There will be 7 different figures on cards for this size … as you can sort of see in the blue panel on the back of the cards – the U-Repair Wall-E seems cool as he comes disassembled for you to assemble, there is also a Dancing Wall-E, a Cube & Stack Wall-E … they were smart to short-pack the Captain (the fat dude) – otherwise, pegwarmer … (sorry dude). ;-(

There also seems to be a bunch of $24.99 Wall-E’s – this one interacts with Eve and if he “hears” a loud noise in your house, he reacts … There’s another one you can plug your iPod into called iDance Wall-E … There is also a Talking Eve.

The $189 fully programmable version looks something like this called the ULTIMATE WALL-E:

From the Disney/Pixar Press release:

“Based on the title character from this summer’s highly anticipated Disney*Pixar theatrical release, the Ultimate WALL·E is an advanced robot that truly brings the character to life. Designed and developed through a close collaboration between Disney, Pixar animators and Thinkway, the Ultimate WALL·E features 10 motors, giving it a high level of movement and animation. The remote control makes it easy for kids to program WALL·E’s movements. An innovative touch programming system lets kids direct WALL·E simply by making patterns on the remote’s touch pad. With voice activation and a follow-me mode, WALL·E can follow the sound of a human voice and detect someone entering a room. He also has several emotional states and an easy system for programming thousands of combinations of movements with the remote. Numerous sensors allow him to detect and respond to his environment, including infrared sensors that allow him to detect obstacles and steer around them, sonic ears that detect sound direction, and touch sensors. The Ultimate WALL·E is also MP3 compatible and features built-in speakers. USB cables and rechargeable batteries are included. The Ultimate WALL·E will debut this fall at ToysRUs and http://www.disneyshopping.com; SRP $189.99″

The teaser trailer, trailer & even a short sneak peak can be found at the Apple QT site:

The official Disney site is here.

Thinkway Toys who is working with Pixar/Disney on these (also on Nemo, Cars & Buzz LIghtyear) doesn’t really have any info up yet – probably so they don’t give away any spoilers and the fact the first wave just hit the stores.

About the only disappointing thing is that the short in front of WALL-E is nora CARS related one but, Presto is a five-minute short about Alec, a magician’s rabbit who becomes increasingly disgruntled as a hat trick involving him makes his master famous. When the magician goes out to dinner one night, he leaves Alec locked in a cage, gazing longingly at a carrot just out of reach.”

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Mattel Disney Pixar CARS: The Short Card “Lane Mates” & Checklist

It’s never dull collecting the Disney Pixar CARS. There is always something going on – and of course, when there’s nothing going on – there’s still something going on.

And apparently instead of designing CARS RV’s or the Cozy Cone Motel playset, the project group that made sure there was a Buzz & Woody in every store on every shelf corner on every street all over the world has finally finished their work – and moved onto something everyone felt was long overdue.

Mainly, Purple Ramone on a new card.

Waiiittt? Whhaaat?

Man, I should start reading those petitions I’m signing in front of Target.

Yes, our long national nightmare is over.

Purple Ramone is finally here on a short card.

That is what you’ve all been shouting from the rooftops, right?

Mattel has introduced a growing number of CARS on smaller cards called “Lane Mates.”

It is everything you ever hoped for on a backing card and just a little bit less.

You know what the regular card backs look like for CARS?

Yea, these are shorter – hence the name ‘short’ cards but in actuality, they are called ‘Lane Mates’ for the checkout lanes …

According to sources, they are NOT a K-Mart exclusive as I first thought but will be gushing into Mattel pipeline soon. I was just surprised that since Kmart received them, they might be an exclusive but nope … they’ll be available soon to Mattel wholesalers so no need to go the eBay route if you’re a completist.

While in theory, Mattel is saving some money using less paper and ink, the oddity is that the cards are custom (examples below) – see where Ramone or McQueen poke out “off” the scene? That is a custom cut – with all (except Barney Stormin’) of the previous 100+ cards from the line, other than the printing, the cards are all exactly the same cut and shape. With these, out of few examples below, we already can see several different CUSTOM shapes. If you order a couple million, it doesn’t add much to the cost but it’s odd because the few pennies they are savings in paper & ink, Mattel is plowing back into the custom die shape … strange if this is solely a cost savings measure …

Sure, retailers might like it because they can stock a few more rows & pegs but that also means they have to order more so it’s not a huge difference maker …

Is this merely to provide Kmart with an ‘exclusive’ but nothing that WM, Target or TRU care a whit about? Retailers and retailer buyers from a ‘competitor’ don’t really care about packaging exclusives especially as ‘mundane’ as smaller cards. So this might be a safe way for Kmart to get an exclusive that don’t affect the relationship with the much more important WM, TRU & Target.

Casual buyers don’t really care – only ultra completists will care.

What’s really amusing is the back art … or lack thereof … the back of the short cards art?

A photo of the regular card.

I hope they extend this concept. They can do an even smaller ‘mini’ card that will feature the ‘short’ card art on the back … and eventually just do a blister shape CAR with the art of the ‘mini’ card on the back … how small can you go? How small can you go?

And of course, “Collect Them ALL!”

Though what’s disappointing is that the ONLY art on the back on ALL the cards is LIGHTNING McQUEEN … so that would fall under the ‘money savings’ category obviously …

Thanks “Mike” for the photos and the update on the card backs!

And what the Mattel Hot Wheels short card looks like:

“Husker_Crazy” has been kind enough to give us a running checklist so far …

Bling Bling Lightning McQueen
Brand New Mater
Chick Hicks
Crusin’ Lightning McQueen
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dinoco Helicopter
Dinoco Lightning McQueen
Doc Hudson
King
Lightning McQueen
Lightning Ramone
Mater
Radiator Springs McQueen
Ramone – Purple
Tongue Lightning McQueen

UPDATE: There is a a A & B Case – each also with 18 cards/CARS. As soon as I have a full breakdown, I’ll let you know. Presuming only Box A is out, there might be up to 18 Lane Mates cards/CARS or the more likely possibility of 14-16 …  How much overlap is there with case B?

Some people have asked about their collectibility value and to that, I say – yes, no, maybe …

Mattel is using its best Jedi mind power, ‘These are the CARS you are looking plus many more in larger card sizes.’

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Mattel Disney Pixar CARS: Carrying Case II

mcq-mater.jpg

I’m not often in the CONTAINER STORE since my goal is to digitize anything but was wandering around one and ran across another CAR carrying possibility. It’s not cheap at $49.00 but it’s solidly built.

What’s classy is if you depress the dark blue bar, it “unlocks” it and removes as a tray.

What’s nice is the thing is solidly built so if you remove a drawer, it does not feel like it’s about to tip over or fall apart. The drawer is also pretty thick plastic and of course, once snapped open, reveals 10 compartments within each drawer you can customize the storage area within with the slats (ignore the non-related plastic shelves in the back of the photo).

You can view the item online here – with some other photos.

So, probably not the cheapest carrying solution but probably the nicest plastic carrying one – heavy plastic, solid built and with solid drawers that lock and in a apparatus that won’t tip over and is definitely not flimsy.

And also plenty of room on top to add stickers … let us know if you get one or if you looked at it and what you thought.

The Costco alternative.

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The Mac Clone: Pointless in 2008

In case, you’ve missed, a company called Psystar is selling a Mac clone for $399 & up. As the Guardian noted, they are either operating out of mom & dad’s garage or in a new office.

For $399, they are offering you a Mac Mini (specs) encased in a large (but nice looking) PC case.

For some reason, this seems to excite people as if what we really want in life is a cheap knockoff of something, REALLY? This is really a goal in life? Don’t sell me the real thing, I’d rather pay slightly less money for a thing like the real thing?

A clone made sense when not just Macs but all personal computers sold in the $2,000+ range. Of course, at that price point, I’m willing to compromise a little here and there for a computer in the $999 range.

But for a savings of $200 versus a Mini? What is really the point?

They like to talk expandability as if that’s some great thing worth the savings of $2,000 versus a MacPro desktop. (Um, never mind the MacPro has a quad core and thing isn’t even a duo core).

Sure, in the days of serial ports and wonky SCSI on the Mac side, anything you could install internally pretty much meant it would be easier for the OS to find and for it to work.

But now with firewire and USB, I can daisy-chain 128 firewire devices and nearly as many USB drives with powered hubs. Sure, they don’t don’t look as attractive but how many drives can you fit into most cases anyway, 4? I can buy 4 1TB drives that stacked on top of each other take up about as much desktop space as 4 inside a desktop case.

Expandability inside the case is not that important anymore – with USB & firewire, EVERYTHING is expandable in less than 5 minutes and no chance to cut your hand open trying to fit a HDD onto a tray inside a computer.

If anything, it’s better because if an external drive is really going down, I can unmount it and plug in a new drive without even restarting.

And If you are the 5% of users who will actually replace their graphics card, are you really going to buy a underpowered $399 Mac clone just to spend $2,000 on a graphics card?

Even as recent as 10 years ago, the margins on the PC side were that you could save substantially by building your own but now if your time is money, there’s no real savings. You have to be the type that enjoys tinkering because if a component breaks, you think it’s bad trying to get Dell to admit the power supply went down now, good luck getting a power supply you bought and installed replaced yourself from some company in Muncie? And yes, you can save a little here and there but the quality of the components? How many no-name fans are built for about 6 months before they start making noise slightly louder than a F-22 flyby?

And sure, you can save $200 by not buying a Mini … but what is iLife worth to you?

Or what is it worth to you that Apple has 200 stores around the globe open and ready to take responsibility and answer any question for your Mini (or any other Mac you buy?)

The time is passed for clone makers. The $200 dollar difference is too miniscule (never mind that the website sort of implies that they don’t guarantee any other OS other than 10.5 will run on this – and never mind the legal issues or that this business seems to have started last week). Even if you started selling these at a retailer where customers could return it such as Wal-Mart, $200 savings is just not enough of a difference – now if this clone were selling for $99 or $149, then you might have a business as saving $450-$500 dollars, that’s actually substantial enough to make a difference.

But right now – pointless.

(and yea, Apple will sue – if Apple doesn’t, customers will walk into Apple stores trying to get tech support or more likely, warranty support – your OS is bundled with it?! Apple could care less if you wanted to sell an open source $399 computer but bundling Apple OS as if they had a license to bundle or sell it – implying to customers there is a relationship? That won’t fly).

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Review: Neuros OSD MP4 Video Recorder + the Mac

The Neuros OSD is a deceptively simple looking device.

osd-3lsideanglejpg.jpg

It is a recorder that will record ANYTHING as a QUICKTIME Mp4 video file …

That’s right, ANYTHING that has RCA outputs and or S-Video, the Neuros OSD can record.

Cable TV
Satellite TV
DVD
VCR
TiVo
DVR
Video Game Screens

Anything … and unlike some current solutions, your storage is only limited by the USB hard drive you’re willing to buy … and unlike most solutions that require a proprietary hard drive, any USB drive will do … if you’re not much of a TV saver or you want ultra portability, you can record also onto:

Memory Stick: Duo and Pro Duo
Compact Flash: Type I and Type II
Microdrives with CF type II interface
Secure Digital (SD)
Multi Media Card (MMC)
USB thumbdrives

The Neuros OSD can pretty handle ANY format you can throw at it.

It is in many aspects a dream device.

Sure, a TiVo or DVR has good capacity but there is a limit unless you hack it and of course if you want to transfer a file to a computer or a portable device like an iPhone/iPod or PSP, that requires getting around a proprietary format like .tivo and/or DRM and/or having to convert from one format to another … or of course you can output to a DVD-R but then you have all these DVD-R’s after which you still have to convert from VOB to MPEG-4 … and it’s hard to edit out commercials or simply to edit. You have to convert from VOB to MPEG-4, edit and then re-output …

Doable but more work than necessary.

The Neuros OSD saves you time. It’s MPEG-4, if you want to watch on your Mac, iPhone, iPod or PSP, just save it in the scale size it prefers (480 x 320, etc, etc …) or if you prefer just a QT MPEG-4 ready for editing from iMovie to FCP, it’s already done. Of course, you can also just watch it on your TV.

The Neuros OSD does not have a lot of video plugs/ports though.

(1) S-Video IN
(1) “Mini” to RCA IN
(1) “Mini” to RCA OUT

(Most people might know them as camcorder out cables (pre firewire/USB days) – one end is the “mini” connector and the other end are the three headed RCA plugs of yellow for video and red/white for audio).

218x206_442cables.jpg

(there are some other plugs/ports I’ll cover later that do not have to do with video)

The simplest setup would be your cable/satellite box out via s-video and RCA’s to the Neuros OSD and then the Mini from your Neuros to your TV input (RCA’s).

There is no s-video out, no composite and no HDMI (in or out).

So, yes, no HD.

There is another Mini plug for the IR Blaster (which actually works-hurray!).

There is also a mini to serial port but unfortunately, it’s only for developer debugging.

There is an ethernet port for the network and on the other side, there are memory/flash card ports and a USB port.

So again, the basic setup is pretty straightforward.

For the price of a Neuros OSD (@$180), and a USB hard drive (in my case – 1TB for @$250), you have a 1 TB MPEG-4 DVR for about $430. A price that is not possible to beat. You can find, cobble, hack or buy a hacked TiVo, PC-based DVR or a retail 1TB DVR’s but other than DIY kits, you’re not going to find one for $430 – especially one that can putput a MPEG-4 file literally within seconds of setup.

BUT, it’s not for everyone.

If you can identity a USB plug from a firewire plug or know where the black nub is on a S-Video connector receptor, then the Neuros OSD & setup will work fine for you but if you cannot, then you might reconsider as the software and setup portion as it’s not really ready for the average person.

osd-10remotejpg.jpg

If you understand the setup choices outlined above, then the Neuros MIGHT be for you. Again, if you can identify your composite in and outs, which are component in and outs and all the other ports by sight, you’re fine and/or if you don’t mind experimenting – then you’ve passed the first test and you may proceed to the next level.

THE SOFTWARE/UI

There are two parts. First, the on-screen “OS” is functional – though it could stand much improvement but it’s not the worst on-screen menu design.

And of course, the UI & OS are still very much a work in progress with apparently a major OS upgrade coming in a few weeks though it’s impossible to say what will be improved and what will not.

Like most Linux based OSes, there are some aspects of this OS with a thousand choices (well, okay not 1,000 :-) but taking up a huge chunk of real estate) while other seemingly important choices are grouped with much lesser functions.

I’m not going to go into great detail as some might be fixed in the upcoming major firmware revision but suffice to say, you are warned that it’s not exactly like plugging a VCR – think more like a programmable remote. All the features are there, you just have to wade through its reasoning.

And yes, I uttered the phrase ‘firmware revision.’

The “Hidden” OS portion …

Which of course is good and bad. Good that it’s being upgraded all the time and not so good that you have to update the OS (but of course, only if you want). If you have it hooked up to the internet, it will ask you if you want to update if there’s an update.

For people who know Linux or commands, you are set, go out and buy the Neuros already. For those who are not, the TV functions are nice looking and for the most part function fine and you can’t really wander off the reservation into command line territory so don’t be scared by that but for those who know/love Linux, it’s an extra bonus … for instance, you can telnet and remotely set or change the record function. For those that do not understand the last sentence, the good thing is somebody might be kind enough to write a web browser accessible page in the future – so that everyone can remotely access their Neuros graphically … but no promises.

The Remote

The next part of the problem is that the setup is done entirely with the remote and frankly, the Neuros IR eye is not very sensitive to this and while this remote is seemingly designed for the Neuros OSD, it’s not very well designed for it. The important HOME button should be larger and well, it’s just not very well thought out from a user point of view – clearly they just took an average remote and crammed in the Neuros functions on it.

It’s not horrible, it’s just not as good as it can be.

Other User Notes

One huge major flaw is the inability to type titles with a keyboard. And there’s no qwerty keys on the remote … so you get random sequential file names – now, if you intend to port everything over to your Mac to edit or load onto an iPhone/iPod, it’s not a huge deal since you’re probably going to open the files anyway to trim the beginning and end but unlike TiVo or most DVR’s, there’s no thumbnail, preview or any indication what you recorded when you get to your text list of things you recorded. You have to hit play before you can see what it is. So, if you just want a massive DVR for TV viewing and you’re the type who hates to have to remember to type in a name while you’re setting the record function or go back and have to add it later – this is probably not the way to go as you’ll get frustrated both by trying to edit its name on screen and not knowing what your dozens to hundreds of shows actually are.

PICTURE QUALITY

Beyond its user functionality. Of course, the critical consideration is picture/video quality. It’s not HD but you can select 2500 kpbs which is the encoding rate for AppleTV and/or directly select a setting for your iPhone/iPod or PSP. The final image is a little soft but acceptable. Honestly, my opinion is its fine for viewing on a smaller TV or monitor and it’s fine for the iPod/iPhone/PSP but beyond that, that will be your call. Personally, I found it too soft for archival purposes unless you’re only interested in watching it on a portable device or on a laptop … it works fine for me as that’s all I’m interested in. If you want a back up of a DVD at its best resolution, I’d still advise using Handbrake as it creates a much crisper file. (Our HT and subsequent Handbrake, MPEG Streamclip & El Gato Turbo Stick tips & reviews). But if you find the quality acceptable, it is generally a quicker backup to hit PLAY on your DVD into the Neuros OSD than if ripped it via Handbrake unless you have a quad-core Mac Pro, then it might be close … and if you can spare the bandwidth, I would advice ripping it in Handbrake.

Here’s your checklist:

If you’re interested in a expandable PVR where you can literally record some 600 movies (on a 1 TB drive) and you don’t mind it a little softer than your typical cable reception … plus the advantage of no DRM to transfer to a portable device or to a desktop computer for editing, it’s a great way to go.

If you want to convert VCR files to MPEG-4, you pretty get what you see – so if you have a nicer VCR with s-video outs, it’s about a 98% video quality “preservation” transfer. Good enough for VHS.

If your goal is to back up your DVD collection, depending on picky you are, the resolution might be a tad too soft. It still looks very, very nice – it’s just not “virtually” a DVD picture resolution – again, if your intention is to watch it on an iPod/iPhone/PSP for your morning commute or on a plane, it’s fine. If you want to watch your DVD’s on your laptop without carrying discs or the dreaded 10-pre roll ads plus FBI warning, it’s pretty good. It’s probably not for watching Blade Runner for the first time on your laptop but if you’re watching it on a re-sized window, it should be fine.

Unlike Handbrake which will rip you a MPEG-4 file of your DVD that is virtually identical to the DVD – Neuros is not quite there. So, if your preference to watching video on a 17″ laptop monitor is full screen or death, you should still back up your DVD’s using Handbrake.

But it is subjective and you might think I’m being too picky.

INPUTS & OUT

The main problem is you only have one s-video in and no s-video or composite out which would improve the picture quality greatly.

Here are some screen shots that give you a decent idea of the resolution loss:

Here is a scene from the film CARS when it focuses on #86 Chick Hicks who has a lot of sponsors and detailed text on screen

I also selected CARS because in addition to my DVD rip, it is playing as an HD video-on-demand choice this month and of course, I still have my DVD.

The screensnaps below were opened in Photoshop only to resize to fit WordPress. No color adjustments were made. Also note, a screensnap of a paused QT video screen is not necessarily a 100% accurate representation of the true image but it’s a relatively accurate apples to apples comparison.

#1 is from a DVD – converted by Handbrake using the Apple TV setting.

(2500 kbps bit rate plus other settings automatically included when selecting ‘AppleTV’ in Handbrake)

You can not find much fault with the MPEG-4 file converted from a DVD VOB file.

#2 is from a DVD – as played by a Pioneer DVD player and into the Neuros OSD.

(2500 kbps bit rate plus other settings automatically included when selecting 2500 kpbs in Neuros OSD)

You can clearly see that it’s “pretty good” but not nearly as sharp as a DVD rip.

#3 is from Cable TV – Comcast HD VOD into the Neuros OSD.

(2500 kbps bit rate plus other settings automatically included when selecting 2500 kpbs in Neuros OSD). Though note, since the Neuros OSD only has S-video in’s, of course, it’s not TRUE HD being recorded but it is still much higher resolution and less compression than regular cable.

You can clearly see that it’s slightly different from DVD to Neuros OSD but about the same resolution – again, “pretty good” but not nearly as sharp as a straight DVD rip.

Again, how many films are going to require you to read text throughout?, this scene is about 2 seconds long. And keep in mind, that you can pretty much read all the logos you can can in scenario #1 so again, it’s a matter of your standards and your final viewing hardware choice.

Is the Neuros OSD the best solution for archiving DVD’s? No.

Is the Neuros OSD good enough for using as a TiVo/PVR to record and erase after watching? Yes.

Is the Neuros OSD good enough to transfer over to a portable device? Yes.

Is the Neuros OSD good enough to transfer over to a laptop or desktop? Yes.

For the three yes’ above, are you compromising – yes but it’s hard to beat for a $170 PVR that can record anywhere from 60 to 600 movies by adding a HDD ($100 – $300) for an out-the-door price of $270 to $500.

And you get a file to edit.

If you want the easiest way to get a video file for editing, again, hard to beat something that can record in MPEG-4 – ANYTHING you can output via RCA’s.

You can simply unplug your hard drive and connect it to your Mac.

You can set up the networking feature, mount it as a remote drive and copy files over.

Then just drag or import into iMovie, Final Cut Express or Final Cut Pro.

Then you can ‘sharpen’ the resolution before outputting.

It’s not “broadcast” quality but it’s fine for the iPhone/iPod and watching on a laptop as long as full screen 17″ HD is not your minimum requirement.

The alternative is a DVD-R recorder. The Panasonic one I have is great but if you want one with a 250GB HDD, it’s over $700 dollars and you have DVD-R’s ($.30 each) to contend with – you can only fit about 4 hours and 20 minutes (at standard resolution) on one and then you have to convert from VOB to MPEG-4 before editing and of course, DVD-R’s and DVD-R recorders are flakey, you have to ‘finalize’ each disc and that’s just one more possibility of a file error … so are the hassles, convenience, time savings and cost of the hardware setup worth a 5-10% tradeoff in resolution from a DVD recorder?

That’s your call to make.

Other Relevant

AND hopefully, the next firmware upgrade will improve the picture quality even more. I’ll let you know if it does.

Other things to note – the file size is about the same as a Handbrake rip – about 1.5 GB for a 90 minute movie or about 1GB per hour.

Each file is limited to 4GB or about 4 hours – it will continue to record but only after FINALIZING this file at around the 4-hour mark before continuing so if your interest is to tape sports only, this might not be for you as during the finalizing phase, it will STOP RECORDING to finalize the file before starting a new file for the next 4-hours period. This will take @15-seconds.

So, you will have a 15-second gap. Of course, if you’re watching. You can stop during a commercial break and you can start a new recording session and then edit them together or hope that stop/finalize/restart new file takes place during a break in the action.

Also note, it only has one tuner and/or software that can only do one function at a time so unlike my DVD-recorder where I can enter the next recording schedule while it’s already recording, the Neuros OSD will ask you if you want to stop recording. But the IR Blaster works great in changing channels so just remember to set all your programming in advance before it actually starts recording.

The remote control works best when the side of the Neuros with the compact flash card is facing towards you.

The initial setup & understanding of what’s going one will take you a couple hours including testing so it’s not exactly like swapping out a VCR where you are ready to go in 5-minutes. This will take some time and some tweaking.

AND remember, only ONE input so you will need a solid intermediary machine to handle more than one input before feeding into the Neuros – and a NON OR POWERED SWITCHER does NOT WORK … at least not for me. It degenerated the video quality even more. You will need a high quality receiver/switcher that is an actual video component if you’re interested in feeding a VCR/DVD-R/DVD/Video game console or anything else into the Neuros OSD (of course, you can just switch cables since it can only record one input at a time anyway).

Other Nice Points

The Neuros Forum/help/support is amazing. I have never had a question that was not answered correctly or promptly within 12 hours

Summary

A fun DIY video recorder that works as promised. It could stand with some improvement in many areas including more inputs, better OS/UI and slightly better video quality (but that might be solved with higher end inputs such as composite in’s).

It does a lot for an inexpensive price with a lot of flexibility – particularly for those who are tired of wonky DRM transfer technology and or time-consuming conversions for editing.

Not perfect but still pretty cool.

Can’t wait for Neuros OSD v2.0

I also can’t help but recommend Amazon, the first one I got had a flawed IR Blaster port (no connector) – Amazon shipped me out another one overnight without waiting for me to mail back the other one – great customer service!

Mac Users Hard Drive Additional Notes

The drive needs to be formatted in FAT32 mode so the Linux OS can recognize. Most drives are formatted for the PC but to be absolutely sure, launch DISK UTILITY (in the UTILITIES folder) and format it for MS-DOS. This will take 30-minutes or so.

There are also some great deals at Amazon on 1TB drives.

I bought the Western Digital My Book 1 TB drive (USB) for only about $220 (for 1 TB!!). Looks nice, fairly compact and quiet. Only real non-feature is it has no on/off switch but not a huge biggie – just make sure it’s sleeping when you unplug it. If you want Firewire & SATA, you can step up for more connectors for about $30 more. (the Neuros OSD only has a USB connector port but if you manually will switch your drive for editing or transfer to your Mac, then the Firewire version might be your prefered choice).

Have fun!

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Frankford Make Your Own Candy Ice Cream: Perfect For This DIYer Generation

The Frankford ‘Make Your Own Gummy Candy Ice Cream’ kit is clearly the most elaborate and most awesome candy ever – perfect for this generation that wants everything their exact own way and DIYers …

gummy-ice-cream.jpg

Sure, there’s plenty of candy choices where you buy it, unwrap it and stick it in your mouth …

Yawn! See it. Eaten It. Been there!

But here, unwrapping the candy is not just half of it but more like only only 8% of the fun!

Pick a mini cone – choose from red, green or white but wait – that’s not not nearly enough, you get YELLOW also? That’s more cone color choices than at Baskin Robbins!

Choose an “ice cream” flavor – chocolate, strawberry or Madasgascar almond pecan (okay just kidding – third choice – vanilla).

But wait, don’t eat it yet!

You need to add the chocolate sauce!

But wait, don’t eat it yet!

You get NOT one choice of sprinkles but TWO, that’s right.

Our long national nightmare is over – we can choose between tiny pellet dots OR good-old fashioned sprinkles!

That’s right, you have TEN different choices to make just to eat some candy!

Or some 44 DIFFERENT combinations!

How much would you expect to pay for this?

$9.99?

Surely you jest!

$7.99?

You’re crazy?!

$4.99

Close but still not good enough!

How about $1.19?!

That’s right, 44 candies in one for the low, low price of $1.19!

Life is grand! We live in wonderous times! It’s better than the Renaissance! (we know to brush our teeth after eating candy unlike then – plus that whole Black Plague thing …)

I found these at Walgreen’s. Frankford Candy has been around for 60-years and they make tons of licensed candies for “Nickelodeon, Disney, Hasbro, Barbie, Harry Potter, Care Bears and many others,” but they have clearly out-done themselves this time!

This is the greatest make-it-yourself-candy bargain since the Peep explosion and subsequent colored marshmellow flood of 1957 when the streets ran with free Peeps.

I love it when technology, artificial flavors and Lactic Acid all combined into fun and DIY goodness!

candy-open.jpg

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Disney Pixar CARS: The Art of CARS Live at the L.A. Petersen Automotive Museum

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© Copyright Disney/Pixar

The great Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles will open the “The Art of Cars” starting on March 29, 2008 (and running ’til November 2, 2008).

“The Art of Cars” exhibit includes more than 60 watercolor and pastel drawings, pencil and marker sketches, and a variety of three-dimensional pieces, including:

•Life-size replicas of the movie’s main characters: Lightning McQueen and his tow truck buddy, Mater.

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© PRNewsFoto/Becker Group

•Three-dimensional maquettes of Mater, Doc Hudson, Sally, and The King, which were used as reference to guide animators when drawing their characters.

•Illustrated character studies that illuminate the development of supporting characters Flo and Ramone, Luigi and Guido, Fillmore, Sarge, DJ, and Wingo.


cars134web.jpg
© Copyright Disney/Pixar

•Digital, pencil, and marker sketches interpreting the cars’ eyes, gestures, and expressions.

xcars_1.jpg
© Copyright Disney/Pixar

•Pencil and marker drawings of the fictional Los Angeles Motor Speedway, Sally’s “Cozy Cone” motel, and iconic diners, curio shops, and service stations based on actual locations along “The Mother Road.”

cars207.jpg
© Copyright Disney/Pixar

•Pastels, watercolors, and pencil sketches of such scenic vistas as Ornament Valley, Cadillac Range, and Radiator Cap Butte, based on familiar landmarks as Arizona’s Monument Valley rock formations and the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

The book, Art of CARS was great – however, it will be so much better to see the actual sketches, drawings and maquettes used as the path to the completion of the film.

While MoMa & the New Science Museum (UK) has featured an exhibit on Pixar Art (20 Years of Pixar), this is the first exhibit devoted entirely to the film CARS and the Petersen Museum in LA is perfect – as it’s a place that only reveres cars but also understand how much fun cars can be.

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The Petersen Museum has this upstairs …

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The LA County Museum a few blocks away has: “German Expressionism: The First Generation” …

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Maybe your kids should decide which museum to linger longer … :-)

Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit info (CARS is not up yet). Admissions Info & Directions. (note – they are closed on Monday’s).

Perfect part of town for the whole family, near the Grove & Beverly Center shopping (as well as Beverly Hills) and lots of restaurants.

All Art © Copyright Disney/Pixar and Courtesy of Disney/Pixar and the Petersen Automative Museum.

FULL PRESS RELEASE BELOW:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PIXAR’S “THE ART OF CARS” EXHIBIT LAUNCHES AT THE PETERSEN

Pixar Animation Studios and the Petersen Automotive Museum Announce
“The Art of Cars,” an Exhibit Featuring Pre-Production Artwork from the Golden Globe-winning feature film

Los Angeles, Calif. (February 2008) – Route 66 ends this year at Fairfax and Wilshire with the launch of a special exhibition “The Art of Cars,” the first-ever creative collaboration between Pixar Animation Studios and the Petersen Automotive Museum. “The Art of Cars” showcases the artistic process behind the creation of the animated feature film Cars. The exhibit will run from March 29 through November 2, 2008.

Inspired by a family trip and his overwhelming love for cars, Director John Lasseter’s enthusiasm seeped into every detail of the movie. Lasseter and his team enlisted some of today’s most famous automotive personalities to give life to the vehicles, including Paul Newman (Doc Hudson) and racing legends Mario Andretti (as himself), Richard Petty (The King), Michael Schumacher (Ferrari), even Darrell Waltrip and Bob Costas (announcers). “The Art of Cars” exhibit guides fans through the process of creating the films’ many characters, personalities, and locations.

“When we started working on Cars, I knew that getting the details right would be essential to the story,” says Lasseter. “The spirit of Route 66 is in every scratch on a fender and every curl of paint on a weathered billboard. Pixar is honored to partner with the Petersen Automotive Museum on the ‘The Art of Cars’ exhibit, so that the public can experience firsthand our passion for the movie through our artists’ eyes.”

“The Art of Cars” exhibit includes more than 60 watercolor and pastel drawings, pencil and marker sketches, and a variety of three-dimensional pieces, including:

• Life-size replicas of the movie’s main characters: Lightning McQueen and his tow-truck buddy, Mater
• Three-dimensional maquettes of Mater, Doc Hudson, Sally, and The King, which were used as reference to guide animators when drawing their characters
• Illustrated character studies that illuminate the development of supporting characters Flo and Ramone, Luigi and Guido, Fillmore, Sarge, DJ, and Wingo
• Digital, pencil, and marker sketches interpreting the cars’ eyes, gestures, and expressions
• Pencil and marker drawings of the fictional Los Angeles Motor Speedway, Sally’s “Cozy Cone” motel, and iconic diners, curio shops, and service stations based on actual locations along “The Mother Road”
• Pastels, watercolors, and pencil sketches of such scenic vistas as Ornament Valley, Cadillac Range, and Radiator Cap Butte, based on familiar landmarks as Arizona’s Monument Valley rock formations and the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas

“It’s been our pleasure working with John Lasseter and his team to create ‘The Art of Cars’ exhibit” says Dick Messer, Executive Director of the Petersen Automotive Museum. “This movie was very special to me and many other car nuts I know–young and old–because of the way it entertains with real-life references to the racing industry with non-stop action and more than 100 years of automotive history.”

About the Petersen Automotive Museum:
The Petersen Automotive Museum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, a pioneer in automotive education, and one of the nation’s largest and preeminent automotive museums. The Museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax) in Los Angeles. Admission prices are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students with ID, and $3 for children ages 5 to 12. Museum members and children under five are admitted free. Covered parking is available for $6 per car. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday and holiday Mondays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For general Museum information, call (323) 930-CARS or visit the Museum’s website at http://www.petersen.org.

About Pixar Animation Studios:
Pixar Animation Studios, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, is an Academy Award®-winning film studio with world-renowned technical, creative and production capabilities in the art of computer animation. Creator of some of the most successful and beloved animated films of all time, including Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, and most recently, Ratatouille. The Northern California studio has won 20 Academy Awards® and its eight films have grossed more than $4 billion at the worldwide box office to date. The next film release from Disney•Pixar is WALL•E (June 27, 2008).

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