Tuesday 1 October 2013

Everything changes...

I just want to say that as from today, this blog will no longer be carrying new product reviews (existing ones are unaffected). This is due to my changed employment circumstances - basically, I am no longer freelance but an employee.

I'm going to leave the blog online, though, and may update it occasionally with tips & tricks I come across. Thanks to everyone who has visited the site over the past four years, and I hope it has been (and continues to be) of some use to you.

Bye for now!


Monday 23 September 2013

Review: Fritz! FON M2 DECT cordless phone

Just over two years ago, AVM introduced a rather swish DECT phone, the Fritz! Fon MT-F, which was specifically designed for use with its Fritz!Box routers. I quite like the MT-F, but it is expensive at nearly £70 - and it won't even work as a standalone phone, as it doesn't have an integrated base station.

The new M2 phone is similar in many respects, as it just has a charging base, but no base station. However, it is much cheaper - we found it on offer at WAE+ for £38. It also lacks the classy black styling and large colour screen of the MT-F, with just a mono backlit LCD screen. But it does have almost all the great functions and features of its pricier sibling when connected to a Fritz!Box, such as an internet radio/podcast player, email client and RSS reader.

The beige plastic case may look a bit plain, but I actually prefer it to the MT-F - it's much easier to hold comfortably during a call, and the slightly raised buttons are easier to press. The layout of the keypad is identical to the MT-F. The screen is excellent, with a pale white backlight, but it's perfectly clear in daylight even when the backlight is off - the resolution is much lower than the MT-F, but it does the job. It doesn't support custom background pictures like the MT-F, of course.

I loved the audio call quality of the M2 - it has the same HD DECT feature as the MT-F, but seems even clearer than the MT-F, and a bit louder - perhaps it's the larger case size giving a fuller frequency response. The ringtones (which are the same as on the MT-F) don't seem quite as loud or clear, though. The downside is there is no headset jack, so power users might still prefer the MT-F. The recharging base is a vast improvement on the MT-F's, holding it securely in place even when lightly knocked.

It's a great phone for use with a Fritz!Box, as it integrates with all the various extras mentioned earlier, but it can also be used with any GAP-compatible DECT base station, but then you lose many of the unique features, including the address book.

The low price makes it a great option for Fritz!Box owners, especially if you don't need the stylish looks and colour screen of the MT-F.

Find it on Amazon:

Sunday 22 September 2013

Using the amazing Prelinger Archives to create video mashups

A slight departure from my normal posts here, but thought it worthwhile as it is definitely computer-related. Those who like playing around with video editing software, perhaps for home movies, special occasions or even work use, often get stuck looking for free stock footage they can use to add a bit of variety to their creations.

One amazing resource that's often overlooked is the Prelinger Archives, which is available at the Internet Archive . Everything in the Archive is in the public domain, meaning it can be used for any purpose whatsoever - even commercial use - with no permission or licence fee needed. You can download the clips in a variety of formats, such as MP4, MPEG-2 or Ogg video files.

Of course, the biggest problem is finding suitable material. Luckily, there is a decent search feature, but even this is not totally reliable. Many of the home movies are untitled and have not been indexed, so it's sometimes pot luck what they contain. I found that using the search box at the top of the home page gave better results than using the keyword search.

One very useful feature is the thumbnails - if you open a clip's page, on the top left is a link to thumbnail images, which are automatically created every 30 seconds or so for the duration of the clip. This is very useful for getting a rapid idea of what's in the clip.

The range of content in the Archive is amazing. There are full-length colour documentaries, music clips, silent movies, home movies, educational films and all manner of more weird stuff from most periods of the 20th Century. It's an incredible resource, not just historically, but also for those looking for interesting video or sound clips to spice up a home movie or business presentation.

As an example of what can be done with it, here's a 5-minute music video I recently made using only material from the Prelinger Archives (the music is a reworking of one of my own songs by the talented Barry Snaith). It took about 2 weeks to make in my spare time, and most of the time was taken finding the clips.

I used about 16 separate videos from the Archives, mostly home movies and popular music clips. The software I used was Avid Studio (which is now Pinnacle Studio). This has a great collection of professional effects from Red Giant (now only included in the Ultimate version of Pinnacle Studio). Although Avid Studio hasn't had updates for a long time, it does work perfectly well in Windows 8.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Windows 8.1 launches in UK on 17th October, 2013

Just received the news from Microsoft's PR that Windows 8.1 will launch in New Zealand at 12.00am on the 18th October (so midday on the 17th in the UK) and roll out worldwide via a free update in the Windows Store. So yes, you will need a Microsoft Account to get this. Having tried the preview, I reckon it will definitely be worth the upgrade, as it fixes many broken features and improves usability, particularly for non-touchscreen devices.