Apex 660 DVD player

I had read a few reviews about the Apex 600 DVD player. It plays CD-R's that have mp3 files. I thought it was a nifty feature. Yesterday, I went to Circuit City to get some thanksgiving bargains, and there was a bunch of Apex DVD players stacked in front for $90. I thought about it, and decided I really needed a DVD player...

But these inexpensive players didn't play mp3 files. So I ended up buying the more expensive Apex 660, which is supposed to play mp3 files. It was inexpensive, at $150 (with a $20 rebate). I took it home and started playing Contact. That worked well. I then put in a cd-r I had that was full of mp3's. But they wouldn't play. You see, I record all my mp3's with variable bit rate (VBR), so more bits are used during complex passages and less during simple passages. Its part of the mp3 standard, though most encoders don't do VBR encoding.

And the Apex doesn't seem to do VBR mp3's. I called their number, but got no answer. I couldn't find a web page. I took it back to Circuit City. Imagine my surprise, when there were two other people in line returning the $90 Apex DVD players. They were both defective. Not good quality control...

There was another DVD player that said it did mp3's. It was a Aiwa, and cost $200. I popped my disk in, and it seemed to work, based on the time counter on the display. But there was no way to listen to it. You see, the clever folks at Circuit City had about 30 DVD players on the showroom floor, but no way to switch between different ones to play audio or video. And they were backed against a wall, so you couldn't just hook up some wires at the back of the unit. Pretty clever way to sell equipment, Circuit City (go buy a clue, and buy an A/V switcher at the same time).

Needless to say, I cannot recommend Apex due to poor quality control, as well as a substandard implementation of mp3 decoding. Shouldn't take more than a megabyte of code to completely decode mp3's. I wouldn't be surprised if they couldn't do other unusual formats, like high bit rate...

Blaupunkt Casablanca CD50 car stereo (DSP FM tuner)

Why is a car stereo listed here, in a review of home A/V equipment? It is here because it was the best FM tuner made in its day. I used to have a Tandberg 3001A tuner which I sold to buy this. It cost around 2000. I paid about $150 for it. Why is the tuner so great? It is the first FM tuner to use a DSP chip. Blaupunkt calls it a 'DigiCeiver'. I bought it after reading a review of it in The Audio Critic, issues 26 and 27. After the FM is converted to 10.7mhz (the IF frequency) by normal means, the DSP takes over, and all further processing is done digitally. This isn't a digital radio because it has numbers rather than an analog dial. It is a digital radio because the demodulation and stereo decoding is done in the digital domain. Also the IF filtering is done digitally. The Tandberg 3001A has 3 manually selectable IF filters, which are the best analog parts. The Blaupunkt has many and switches between them automatically, depending on the signal conditions. This was simply the best FM tuner of its day. Perhaps if you live in the wilderness and there are only a few FM stations, a conventional tuner might have lower noise or less distortion. If you live anywhere where there are lots of FM stations, this will pick up more stations with less noise than anything else (except for the newer Sony radios).

I bought a 3 inch EIA faceplate, and mounted the unit in it. I added a 12v power supply to power the unit. In addition to being a FM tuner, it also is an AM tuner, a CD player, and it has tone controls and volume controls. It also uses RDS, which displays the station name and the song and artist being played. I bought 3 of these units, one of which is in a car, one of which has never been installed, and one of which is mounted in the 3 inch EIA faceplate. If anyone wants one, they are for sale.

MGM / 20th Century Fox DVD Class Action Lawsuit

MGM had a class action lawsuit in 2005 about some of their DVDs having cropped pictures. Some of the DVDs included Rollerball (the original), Hannibal, and others. You could send back the DVDs and they would send you a few dollars for each movie. I did that for 3 or 4 movies. I was supposed to get the check, but I never did. I called 20th century fox (which took over MGM), and asked about it. I was given a case number. I may have been called once on the phone, but I never got a letter, a check, or any email. I called back and made sure they had my email address. I called 3 or 4 more times, but I have not heard from them. Whenever I call, I am told that my information will be given to the legal department, but they never contact me. I know sometimes mail or information gets lost. I accept that. What I don't accept is being ignored when someone owes me money after I have repeatedly contacted them. I do not recommend doing business of any kind with them, as they have are clearly non-professional at best. I wonder how they would react if someone owed them money for over eight years and didn't pay?

Philips DVP5928 DVD and media player

After spending lots of effort to build a Media Player to play my compressed video files, I found a Philips DVD player that has very similar functionality. In addition to playing normal NTSC DVD's I believe it will play PAL DVD's. It will also play almost anything that is stored on an external USB drive, thanks to its USB input on the front panel. I have tried it on a variety of flash drives, but I am told it also works on USB hard drives as long as they are formatted in FAT32. It plays 95% of the compressed media that I have tried to play. Occasionally, I have to use my Media Player and VLC to play something quite obscure. Considering it has a remote control, costs $50 and uses virtually no power compared to my Media Player, I consider it quite a useful device. It is also really quite thin, being slightly over 1 inch thick.

Sandisk Sansa c250 mp3 player

I finally bought a mp3 player, because it was a crazy deal for $5 after rebate. When I took it home, I hooked it up to my computer. It was supposed to have a mode where it is treated as removable storage. I went through the menus and I couldn't set the player to that mode. I called Sandisk on Sunday, and after going through several options, the tech guy said it was defective and to get a new one. The new one acted just like the old one, but the tech guy was different. He said to update the players software. After doing that, I was able to access the mode to set the player as removable storage.

This player has a micro secure digital (SD) slot so you can add more storage. I called up Sandisk, and they told me as long as the player was at least V2, then I could use micro secure digital high capacity (SDHC) which was good news. I looked on the back of my player, and it said in very small letters V2. So I ordered a 4gb micro SDHC drive. I put it in, and it wouldn't work. I tried a 1gb plain SD drive, and it worked. I called Sandisk and they told me to check the firmware version of my player. I told them it was version 1. They told me my player didn't support SDHC. I told them I had called them previously and they said if the back said V2 then the player was V2. The tech suggested someone switched the back. I told them that wasn't the case, as I had bought it new one week before. They had no explanation. A friend has a player like mine, except it has version 3 firmware. His back says V2. His player also worked with the 4gb micro SDHC. This demonstrates that Sandisk has issues labeling their product accurately. This also demonstrates that some of their tech people are a bit clueless (like the first tech I spoke to).

Others know of these problems. For example, at the Rockbox twiki they say "...The v1 hardware uses firmware named 01.xx.xx, while the v2 hardware uses firmware beginning with 03. This version number can be retrieved under Settings->Info. All other indicators, such as markings on the casing or packaging, are unreliable due to SanDisk's practice of reusing these things without consideration for the hardware inside."' So clearly Sandisk has a history of being sloppy at best labeling their products.

Overall it is a decent product, but the screen could be easier to read.

Recently, I found out that there is open source software for many media players, including mine. It is called Rockbox. In addition to being free, it has many features that the Sandisk software doesn't. It can play mpeg1 and mpeg2 video files. It supports many types of audio files including flac, aac, ogg, wav and many more file formats. It even has a variety of games including chess, jewels, reversi, sobokan and many more. Right now it is only supported with version 1 software, so I am able to install it on my player.

Samsung C-5500 Blu Ray Player

This was my first blu ray player. It has hdmi output, component video output and composite video output. New blu ray players don't have analog video output, because evil pirates might steal the signal and illegally copy it. It did all the things a blu ray player should do. It even had a usb port on the front that would play almost all types of digital videos. Only when I got my new blu ray player and attached it to an old tv, I found out that the component video does not work. The composite video works, but that is pretty crappy quality. I know it used to work, because that is how I used to view blu ray discs. Sometime after I stopped using it, it must have failed. I am pretty sure it is out of warranty, and I cannot buy a new blu ray player with component video. So until I replace the perfectly good tv, I am stuck with composite video.

I did a factory reset on the player, and it did not fix the component video output. I called Samsung. After speaking to a few people they told me they would call me back. It has been over a week, and they never called me back. I am disappointed with their tech support.

Samsung BD-HM59C Blu Ray Player

This was my second blu ray player. It has hdmi output only, like all new blu ray players. It has built in wifi and 3D and lots of other features. 4 control buttons are on the front right of the player, which makes it impossible to stack other stuff on top of the blu ray player. Unlike the C-5500 Samsung player it can only control the power, input, and volume of other Samsung TVs. The C-5500 can control a very very long list of TVs, many brands of which I have never heard of. The player is reasonably inexpensive and quick to boot. It has some internet 'apps', which are amusing. It does not have a qwerty keyboard, so input is quite awkward. The apps include Netflix, YouTube, and the like.

Sony Electronics consumer electronics

Sony used to make the best consumer electronics in my opinion. They had Beta VCR's (which are better than the comparable VHS units). They have the trinitron CRT which is a superior design. They invented the Walkman, and many other clever and innovative products. When I needed a TV, I bought a Sony XBR. When I needed a VHS VCR, I bought 2 Sony VCR's. When I needed a DAT drive for my computer, I bought a Sony SDT-5000 DAT recorder. Life was good.

Sony CDX-GT700HD Car Stereo

I decided I needed a decent car stereo. I wanted a good tuner, and the ability to play mp3's. I found out that Blaupunkt (who makes the DigiCeiver) had gone out of business. I tried to search the internet for another FM radio that used DSP based processing. I was unsuccessful. I contacted Brian Beezley, who wrote the review on the Sony XDR-F1HD home DSP based FM tuner, and he pointed out that Sony had a HD radio adapter called the XT-100HD. I thought about buying that and a Sony car stereo to interface it with. Then, after looking around a bit, I noticed that the CDX-GT700HD had a built in HD radio, and seemed to have similar specs to the XT-100HD. Sony doesn't have many specs, other than FM usable sensitivity (8dBf), S/N ratio, and Selectivity, and Separation. I especially like the Frequency Response of 20-15 KHz without any +-db, which makes it useless. Nonetheless, I am pretty sure this is the same DSP based FM tuner as the Sony XDR-F1HD. I bought the unit, and I was able to pick up very weak stations, with a separation of only 200 KHz, which doesn't happen with conventional FM tuners.

As a whole, it is a nice unit. The display is pretty dim overall, and quite dim when viewed off axis. There are a few other nits, like it beeping when you turn it off, and there being no way to disable it. The RDS data is all there, but you have to press a button several times to see it. On the Blaupunkt, it all it all displayed by scrolling. Nonetheless, overall it is the best FM tuner by far for a car stereo. It plays CD's, has a USB port, an aux input port, and the usual features found on a car stereo. Highly recommended.

Sony XDR-F1HD DSP FM Tuner

I read about this tuner at The Audio Critic. It is a more modern version of the Blaupunkt DigiCeiver . Like the Blaupunkt, it uses a DSP processor to all the FM signal processing. It also receives HD radio, unlike the Blaupunkt. It costs $100, and is a small box not much bigger than a car stereo. It has an annoyingly bright display, and loses station presets when the AC power goes out, and has most of the buttons on the top of the unit which is quite annoying, as it is mounted in my AV rack. Other than that, it is as close to a perfect FM tuner as I have ever seen. Brian Beezley did a detailed review at Sony XDR-F1HD featuring quite detailed measurements of the tuners performance. The short form is it is the best tuner in the world. It even has a remote control, unlike my older tuners.

Sony VCR Cable Mouse

Well, the honeymoon is over. The DAT drive broke three times. I traded it in for a HP DAT drive which as worked flawlessly for me. Perhaps I just had a bad unit, or so I thought until my 'cable mouse' on one of my Sony VCR's failed. I verified it was the 'cable mouse', because the other Sony VCR's cable mouse worked in the VCR with a broken 'cable mouse', and the broken 'cable mouse' didn't work in the other VCR.

The cable mouse has an Infrared LED transmitter which controls a cable box. When it fails, the VCR records the wrong station because the cable box doesn't change stations.

Well no biggie, a broken cable mouse. I called Sony, and found out a new one would cost $62.99 plus $6.95 in shipping and handling, plus tax. I thought that a bit much, given that new VCR's are inexpensive, and the VCR with the broken 'cable mouse' was about 2 years old.

I told Sony as much, and added that I would be buying a JVC VCR instead. The one I got has many many features, including the ability to record Super-VHS on normal VHS tapes, as well as the same functionality as a Sony 'cable mouse'. And brand new, it cost $232.42 including shipping. I bought it from One Call, which has always had the best prices around. I have bought four VCR's from them, and two TVs, and recommended them to my friends. Here is their banner:

OneCall: Your Home Theater, Digital Camera, and HDTV Experts

Since I have some electronics skills, I decided I was going to try to fix the 'cable mouse'. I took it apart, expecting to find just an IR LED. I was surprised to find that there were lots of parts inside, including a large integrated circuit, and a bunch of surface mount stuff, including transistors. This stuff would be very difficult to fix. But the unit used to work, and failed without anything notable happening to the unit. So I checked the connector to the circuit board looking for a broken wire. No good, all the wires were ok. The only suspicious part was a 10volt, 100microfarad electrolytic capacitor. These are generally the least reliable parts in electronic circuitry. So I removed the Sony one (which is really a Marcon CE-SE part), and replaced it with another capacitor that I had lying around (ok it came from a circuit board of a scrapped answering machine). The cable mouse now works!. So Sony either bought a substandard part, or designed the circuit in a marginal fashion. I'm not impressed, as this stuff should work for more than 2 years.

Sony XBR 36 HDTV

Well, I should have learned my lesson. But I was a moron. When my mom wanted my old 27" XBR TV, I gave it to her, and I decided to buy a wonderful 36" XBR TV. It has all kind of wonderful features, and is HDTV compatible. What this means is that it accepts 'component video', and can display pictures up to 1080i mode. Most importantly (for now) it can also play 480p signals from a 'progressive scan' DVD player. So (again) like a moron, when my mom wanted my old DVD player, I bought a new Sony DVD player that does progressive scan.

It is a bit complex, but a DVD player can put out '16*9' output, which means the picture is 16 units wide, and 9 units high. The TV can also deal with '16*9' input, which is good. For video 1..4 it automatically detects and processes '16*9' input. For the component video inputs, you either enable or disable it (no automatic). Well, I enabled '16*9' mode for my DVD player, and the picture looked great. I then switched to a different input (like watching broadcast TV). When I returned to the DVD player, the '16*9' mode was disabled. Sony admits it should not be that way. However, since I bought the TV over a year ago, parts and service are not covered under warranty. It doesn't matter that I just found out about the problem yesterday (because component video devices used to be hard to come by and were generally expensive).

So I will have to pay many hundreds of dollars to get this problem fixed. I now swear, I will never buy another Sony product. I called them up and explained the situation. Sony said it was out of warranty, and it does not matter that I just found out about it yesterday. That sure is a good customer attitude. At least a good attitude for losing market share.

Sony NS-755V DVD player

I bought a Sony DVD player because it had component video outputs, which at the time was a big deal. It was $200, and works ok. Nothing exceptional except it also plays DVD-A disks (that is high definition audio disks) which few players play.

Tandberg 3001A FM Tuner

I bought this tuner around 1982 for about $1200. It is likely the best analog FM tuner ever made. It has 3 separate IF sections, for wide, normal, and narrow filtering. It has a great signal to noise ratio. It did have a few problems however. After a few years, the tuner stopped working. The buttons didn't work, and the manual tuning didn't work either. I had to get the circuit repaired, which cost a few hundred dollars. A few years after that, it failed again. There was an upgrade to deal with know problems that involved changing quite a bit of parts. It was also a few hundred dollars. After that, it worked with no issues. It had a very odd power plug. It was likely some kind of Swedish type of plug. It had a 2 inch strain relief, which didn't fit in my stereo cabinet. I ended up fabricating a new plug out of balsa wood, brass and epoxy with a cord that came out the side. I ended up selling it when a more advanced DSP based FM tuner became available.

If you have comments or suggestions, Email me at turbo-www@weasel.com

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