Thursday, November 28, 2013

Miracast facts

  • Miracast can provide a HDMI connection to your TV without using a HDMI cable.
  • If your TV does not have Miracast built in, you may add an receiver. The receiver connects to the HDMI port of your TV. Actiontec Screen Beam Pro and Netgear Push2TV PTV3000 are very similar. Avoid Rocketfish (and anything BestBuy's house brands). Some Android TV bars such as MK808 can be used as a receiver too.
  • The Actiontec Screen Beam Kit is Screen Beam Pro plus a USB transmitter for extra $10. The transmitter won't work with other receivers such as Push2TV. 
  • Actiontec Pro includes a HDMI cable. It runs hotter than Push2TV. Its latest firmware no longer work with my Note 2 (4.1.1).
  • Push2TV is very light and slim, much slimmer than Actiontec.  It uses a mini USB port for power and a very slim and light charger is included. It drains very little power and an external power bank for phones can power it up for days. So it is truly portable, if you need Miracast in a conference, hotel or friend's house.
  • Old 4:3 monitors do not work with above two receivers, even if you've been using them fine with a HDMI-VGA or HDMI-DVI adapter. The output video mode of these receivers are not compatible with old 4:3 monitors' display mode.
  • Windows 8.1 supports natively Miracast, but your hardware must support it too. For example, Acer W3 does not have the necessary hardware; so even if you upgrade to 8.1, it still cannot do Miracast.
  • If your computer does not have the compatible hardware, you may add an Actiontec Screen Beam Kit but it is limited to 720p and it does not support Windows 8.1. OK for low-res online TV and youtube but too crappy and too much delay for HD video playback.
  • Dell Venue 8 Pro works well in extend and second-only modes, but duplicate mode is limited to 800x600 (an update from MS has addressed this issue).
  • Samsung call Miracast as Allshare. However, the "Allshare" found in initial Galaxy Tab (7") is not Miracast. With Note 2, S3 and S4, you simply slide down from the top and tap "Allshare Cast" and what you see on the phone will be showing on your TV, cannot be any easier.
  • Miracast does not use a WiFi accesspoint/router, it is direct one-to-one. You can use normal WiFi and Miracast at the same time. With my Note 2, for example, I can stream YouTube through WiFi (or 3G) and meanwhile watch it on my TV too.
  • My 3-year-old Thinkpad X220 notebook computer has an Intel 6205 WiFi card that features WiDi  - the elder brother of Miracast. It works extremely well with the Push2TV. Although screen resolution is limited to 1280x720, but HD video playback is perfect - excellent image and audio quality without noticeable delay.
  • Bridged network conflicts with Miracast. If you installed Vmware or Virtualbox, uncheck this protocol.
  • In my case, I can stream smoothly 1080p 8Mbps movie from NAS over WiFi and cast it to TV through PTV3000. 15Mbps movies stutter.
...... to be continued and updated.

Netgear vs. Actiontec:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Three major problems of Dell Venue 8 Pro

As the price is incredibly low, $210-230, should you get one? After a day with it, here is the deal break:
  • Touch screen is too sensitive to be usable. When I touch the screen once, the tablet almost always take it as double taps. When I use on-screen keyboard to type, it ends up like this: "...aalwayyss  ggoooodd...". Therefore, it was impossible to write this article on this tablet. See the youtube below for how erratic it is.
  • In duplicate mode, Miracast cannot cast higher than 800x600 (update: Dell has fixed this problem on 12/02/2013). I tried it with Actiontec Screen Beam and Netgear Push2TV PTV3000. A Windows 8.1 tablet with Miracast is by far the best way for online TV watching, but this tablet cannot be the one.
  • No way to charge it while USB is being used. Lacking of HDMI port, this problem puts salt on the cut if you're thinking of a USB-VGA adapter.

The too-sensitive problem is not just my case, see this review:

The duplicate problem is reported here:

The USB charge problem is discussed here:

If above three problems can be solved, this is really a fantastic tablet - thin and light. Now I hold my breath on the Lenovo MIIX 2. It is even thinner and lighter, hopefully it will arrive in stores soon and won't have such major problems.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dell 8" Windows 8.1 tablet for only $229

At a Walmart store near you. One of the best uses of this tablet is TV watching through WiDi/Miracast. If your TV does not have built-in WiDi, simply buy an Actiontec Screen Beam Pro, Netgear Push2TV or an Android TV bar (such as MK808), then what you see on this tablet (or virtually any Windows 8.1 laptop/notebook/tablet) can be watched on the TV.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shutter shock - the biggest problem of mirror-less cameras

Why Panasonic G5 offers an electronic shutter? Mostly trying to solve the so called shutter shock problem.

Mechanical vs. electronic shutter (shutter shock effect): 

However, electronic shutter has problems of its own:
  • It cannot be used with a flash.
  • It cannot be used when ISO is above 1600.
  • It suffers from rolling shutter when the object is large and is moving too fast.
Mechanic vs. electronic shutter (rolling shutter effect):

Learned from Sony, in the new GM1, Panasonic now uses electronic method only for the first curtain. So far the perfect solution. More details here:

And here (the section by Dave Etchells):

If you want to know more, just google "shutter shock", such as this one:

Here I summarize with my own experience:
  • Almost all lenses produce blurry photos to some extent, but some are more notorious, such as the Panasonic PZ x14-42mm which revealed this "shutter shock" issue to general public. The new 14-140mm is also pretty bad on this, see above slrgear link.
  • Some cameras are worse, such as Panasonic GX1. G5 is not too bad, even using mechanic shutter.
  • Longer focal length is worse. I can see blur even at 25mm, but 42mm is guaranteed.
  • It is also shutter speed related, mostly between 1/30 and 1/300, depending on the combination of lens and camera.
  • Olympus's solution, shutter delay, is lame to say the least.
  • A tripod won't help, at least not much.
For now, I use G5's electronic shutter whenever possible. When price finally goes down, I'll buy something like the GM1 that has this problem solved. Some cameras, such as G3, will use electronic shutter for high speed burst shooting (20 fps) - a workaround. On G5, burst mode uses electronic shutter too and no ISO limit! However, burst mode is limited to half size JPEG only (no RAW).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2600 mAh External power pack for only $1.98

When I was on a train in China couple months ago, I wished I had something like this. Although my Note 2 has a huge 3100 mAh battery, it still could not last long enough, because the phone (US SIM) always roam on 3G over there and signal comes and goes while a train is moving at 250 kpm.

I ordered 4, the maximum quantity for free 5-15 days shipping, total $7.92.

Not sure about its quality, but seems well designed and for this little money I have nothing to lose. According to its size, the cell should be really 2600 mAh. If its DC-DC converter is low efficiency, the actual output will be significantly reduced. For example, if DC-DC is only 50%, then the actual output will be only 1300 mAh. Even so, it is still worth the 2 bucks.

[update 12/18/2013] It's been almost a month and I still have not received any item or illegible tracking #. I opened a dispute with Alibaba, but the seller rejected it and offered partial refund ($6 out of $7.92). I requested again full refund. If the seller will play tricks again, I'll call my credit card company tomorrow to charge back.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reduce Photo Size - please!

before you send it out. These days phone cameras are 5MB or 8MB, a picture is a 3MB or so file, too large to send via email etc. On the phone, a very good free app for reducing picture size is Reduce Photo Size by shoozhoo.

It is very convenient to do. For instance, when you attach a photo to GMail, you'll see a prompt like this:

Touch on Reduce Photo Size, not Gallery (yet). This is the key. Then you'll see:

Let's pickup an image on the phone, you'll see the first prompt again. Touch on Gallery this time:

Then just pick up the photo, such as this one:

As you can see, the photo is 2.9MB @ 3264 x 2448, unnecessarily too large to view on most screens. Touch on "Reduce", and select 1280 x 960. BTW, you may do cropping and rotation too if needed.

Now you can see the photo's size is less than 200KB, nice. Simply touch "Done" and you are done! The reduced photo is very good quality, far better than other such apps' I've tried.

The reduced photo is automatically attached, you don't need to do anything else!  Don't worry, the original photo is untouched.

If you need to draw something on a picture, there is a very simple and good free app for that: PicCanvas by dev.kosiro.

To reduce photo(s) on a computer, the best and easiest method is PhotoResize. There are two ways to use this simple tool:
  • Method 1: Download the PhotoResize400.exe to your desktop, then drag your photo(s) and drop them on it. That's it, cannot be any easier. You may rename the "400" to any width, say, "1280".
  • Method 2: If you want more control on the reduced photo size and quality etc., you may rename the file to PhotoResize.exe and make a shortcut to it. Right click on the shortcut, select Properties, add this option line after the target:
 -cC:\Users\Mike\Desktop\<NAME>_1.jpg -o -m -^1280 -q93

Note: there is a space after ResizePhoto.exe, i.e., the entire target line should read like this:

C:\Users\Mike\Desktop\PhotoResize.exe -cC:\Users\Mike\Desktop\<NAME>_1.jpg -o -m -^1280 -q93

Change "Mike" to your user name, obviously. Then simply drag and drop your photo(s) on to this shortcut. In few seconds, you'll have new copies on your desktop. You may change 1280 and 93 to any width and quality.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Boat - the best browser

I had been using Opera as my primary browser on my phone and tablet. It's getting slower and the new versions no long keep text wrapping - its unique feature. Further more its preview mode was killing me - had to double click on each and every page.

So I wanted an alternative and I gave the Boat browser another try. Wow, it is really fast, much faster than Dolphin, no need to mention Opera. And, now it supports text wrapping and, better than Opera, you can turn this feature off if you don't like it.

Dolphin and many other similar browsers do not support text wrapping after zooming more:

Text wrapping with Boat and Opera, no matter how much you zoom:

Another big problem with other browsers except Opera and Boat is that they consume CPU constantly - keep your phone hot and drain its battety for nothing:

Smallest browser, only 2MB (the mini) but still fully featured, enen a night mode:

This article is written in Boat on my Note 2.

[update 1/30/2104] The latest Opera now has an option for text wrapping. It still does not have an option to turn off preview though, very stupid.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A walk through Panasonic camera settings

This video is done with a GF3, but should apply to all Panasonic M4/3 cameras including GF2, GF3, GF5, G3, G5 and etc. The goal is to achieve the best image quality for both JPEG and video. Some descriptions can be found in this and other related articles.

Touchpal HD is the best keyboard

for both phones and pads. First it is the only keyboard can show what I am typing in landscape mode:

Try it on your phone and see what you can see. Even Touchpal X (the phone version) cannot show. Actually Google Pinyin can barely show, but it has two big problems. First, the symbol and number labels are too dark and vague to be visible. If you have Google Pinyin installed, adjust its height to the shortest and try to find the ":":

If you adjust the height high enough, the labels become more visible, but then the typing area is masked in landscape mode.

Another problem with Google Pinyin is the arrow keys, they are available on the phone-pad layout only. And, you have to slide the single cursor key, very difficult, nothing like TouchPal:

This article is written with Touchpal HD on my Note 2 phone.

Abstract in Chinese


Friday, November 8, 2013

Panasonic G5 camera kit for $299.99

If you have been wanting a better camera that's smaller than DSLR, you may pull the trigger now. G5 takes perfect video that's equal to $$$$ dedicated prosummer video cameras. Its photos are better than entry-level DSLR's. Most of my published video and photos are its job.

According to past experience, $299 is the lowest clearance point for brand new Panasonic kits. So, if this camera fits your needs and you prefer new to used, you should not wait any longer.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

My view of the ASUS T100 tablet


This feature is only available in Intel Core i5-2/3### and Atom Z2/3### CPUs, such as i5-2150M, i5-3150M, Z2760 and Z3740 etc. This is currently the only HD video compression technology that is fast (up to realtime) without visible loss. Celeron CPUs do not have this feature and AMD CPUs are no compare on this regard.

The ASUS T100 has the Z3740 CPU with QS. Can it do 1080p HD video? First, you need a good video editing software such as CyberLink PowerDirector 11 that can take fully the advantage of QS. Compared to i5, two differences are:
  1. In PD11, when you preview a clip in realtime mode, sound and video are not synchronized. You may choose non-realtime mode, then preview looks like slow-motion with sound muted. This is still quite doable, not a deal break. i5 is fast enough to sync in realtime preview.
  2. HD video encoding is 2x slower than i5. For example, i5 takes 25 seconds to encode a 25 seconds clip (i.e. realtime) while Z3740 takes 51 seconds. The older Z2760 is even slower, about 3x.
Keyboard and touchpad

Although MS spent huge amount of time and effort to make Windows 8.1 a touchscreen OS, you still need a keyboard and mouse if you really need Windows. If you tell me you can without, then you do not need Windows in the first place and you would be much happier with an iPad or Android pad.

I have not noticed any issues with T100's keyboard and touchpad. I especially like the two-finger scrolling - not up to the liquidness of Mac but works like a charm. The buttons are loud and deep though.


Windows simply cannot live with 32GB or 64GB. If you tell me it can, then again, you do not need Windows in the first place. I heard that ASUS is going to release new T100 versions that come with 500GB in the keyboard. This is a fantastic idea and it makes this T100 perfect. Right now, a 7-oz iron is found in the keyboard, truly stupid.

So, ASUS invented netbook 5 years ago but it was killed by stupid restrictions from Intel and MS. Now, ASUS is reinventing the netbook again and it is doing it right this time with the T100. Will it success this round? Yes, if, and only if, both Intel and MS agree that T100 and its kind are everyone's primary computer, on road and at home. Because, iPad and Android pads have already taken the place of the secondary.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Iron in the keyboard of ASUS T100 tablet

The iron plate in the keyboard weighs 7 oz and you carry this extra weight for nothing but to balance the tablet body for just a little more angle. Fortunately, you can remove it:

I'll wait for the new version that offers a 500GB hard drive in the keyboard. As you see in the video, there is no interface for connecting a HDD or SSD in the current keyboard.

Now I have a better solution than the iron.

Monday, November 4, 2013

VPS is the cloud star

Many of you have not even heard of it; so why you need VPS? Let's start with VPN. When you buy a VPN service, it has the following problems:
  • Blocked by China's Great Firewall, you still cannot access blocked sites from China.
  • Cannot use it on a mobile device (phones and tablets), because they all ping every 5 seconds or so - drain out battery in no time.
  • Available ports are very limited and are usually blocked by IPS and mobile networks.
  • Bandwidth is limited.
  • Monitored by FBI and Hollywood.
  • Cost $10 to $30 per month.
  • ......
VPS cost only about $20 per year. You get your own IP address, not so easily blacklisted like shared VPN IP. You also get your own Linux server, you can do whatever you need:
  • Install OpenVPN (VPN server) and avoid all above problems.
  • Install Squid (proxy server).
  • Install Apache (www server) to host your own website. Install GetSimple CMS so managing and publishing your website is extremely easy including photos, video and files. 
  • Install BIND (DNS server).
  • ......
Each above services will cost you far more than $20 per year, but a single $20 VPS does them all and, the most important, you have full control to make things work your way. The only catch? Linux skills required. If you don't have the skill, you may contact me and I'll set up one for you.

If you do know Linux, here I give you some hints:
  • Find a cheap and good VPS here.
  • If you need anonymity, buy a Vanilla gift card with cash and use it to pay for VPS. Do it in a public WiFi such as McDonald.
  • Select the VPS server location close to you, or west coast for China.
  • Select Debian 6 32-bit as the OS. It is the most easy and efficient.
  • Use the script to test speed.
  • Don't install OpenVPN Access Server, it is very limited and only 2 free accounts.
  • All the tutorials are on the net. For example, if you want step-step instructions for OpenVPN installation, just google "Debian OpenVPN install".
  • Post your questions here, I'll answer them as always.
Abstract in Chinese:


Friday, November 1, 2013

Got two Panasonic GF3 with Chinese interface!

I've had many Panasonic cameras, GF1, GF2, GF3, G3 and G5, never seen Chinese support in them. The ptool hack adds an option for many languages including Chinese, but still no Chinese display due to lack of character library.

What's interesting is, recently I bought two GF3X on ebay and both come with traditional Chinese built in!

So I did some search, seems there is a service mode for initial language selection:

 2、非更换主板,只有后缀是 EG, EF, EB 和 EC的可以修改,其他的都不能改,但 EG, EF, EB 和 EC 都不是大中华区销售的型号,是否有中文菜单要看机器才知道。"

If you have a Panasonic camera, you may give it a try:

The service menu also allows you to check total counts of power-ons, shutter releases and flash firings.

BTW, there are quite some GF3X on craigslist, ebay and Amazon for really cheap ( about $200). The "X" suffix means PZ 14-42mm lens:

This is an extremely small package that's very capable on both still images and video. Its image (up to ISO-3200) and video quality is quite close to my G5's but it is only half the weight (12 oz vs. 22). If not for its articulate screen and EVF, I would have sold my G5 immediately. GF3X is my cup of tea - small, efficient, capable and low cost, it'll be with me everywhere I go.