Wednesday 25 January 2017

Tech review: Adrian Weckler on the latest and cool gadgets

Published 23/01/2016 | 02:30

Chromecast
Chromecast
Thermo baby tech
Sony PSH-X500 USB turntable  
Samsung 170-inch TV  

Our technology editor reviews Chromecast, Withings Thermo, Samsung 170-inch TV  and the Sony PSH-X500 USB turntable.

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New Chromecast puts Netflix on your TV

Google Chromecast

Price: €39

Rating: 4 stars

It's not the slickest TV streaming device on the market, but Google's updated Chromecast gadget is probably the best value.

For those unacquainted with the device, the Chromecast is a small gadget that plugs into your telly via its HDMI slot (the same port you connect your DVD player to).

The device connects to your home wifi and then streams TV programmes, videos and movies from a phone or tablet that is also connected to your home wifi. In this way, you can watch Netflix, catch-up TV players, YouTube or other forms of video content on your TV.

And even though it's coming from your phone or tablet, it still plays in HD.

Google first introduced such a gadget in 2013 but has now come out with this newer version, which has upgraded software that makes it a little easier to use. Google has also updated the design so the device hides away behind your TV instead of sticking out from the side, like its precursor.

Admittedly, it's not perfect. It doesn't have its own remote control, for example, which means you need the same phone or tablet to control it at all times (in a family, this really means having a dedicated budget tablet for it that sits beside the telly).

And it's not quite as easy to use as rivals such as Apple's TV set-top box system. But if you want value, this is a great buy.

Thermo baby tech gets warmer

Withings Thermo  

Price: €99  

Rating: 4 stars

Anyone with a baby or toddler soon becomes well acquainted with thermometers.

But it can be difficult to use the instrument effectively without causing upset to the child.

Withings has come up with a knacky little wifi thermometer called Thermo, aimed mainly at parents with babies and very young children.

You place it just above the skin on a person's temple and it takes a temperature reading.

It's a very non-invasive, hygienic alternative to traditional thermometers.

Sony preps your final vinyl

Sony PSH-X500 USB turntable  

Price: n/a  

Rating: 3 stars

There are two kinds of vinyl users. Those who are really dedicated to it and those who tried it out to be cool for a few months.

If you're one of the latter group and are finally ready to admit to yourself that vinyl is just way too expensive and time-consuming for the kudos it brings you, Sony has a slick new escape route.

Its new X500 USB turntable lets you record your vinyl records into high resolution digital audio via a normal USB connection on your computer.

From there, you can save your tracks into iTunes or other digital libraries and listen to them on the go.

This isn't a new idea as USB turntables have been around for quite a while. What Sony is bringing to the table is the high resolution audio bit. To hear this in full glory, you'll have to play back the audio on a high resolution player such as Sony's digital Walkman. (To simply hear your tracks in ordinary digital quality, you can listen in the normal way on any player.)

High resolution players, incidentally, aren't as ludicrously expensive as they were a year or two ago.

Sony's latest high resolution 'Walkman' models, for example, start at €220.

Samsung has big ideas for  the future of ultra HD

Samsung 170-inch TV  

Price: €100,000+  

Rating: n/a

They don't make TVs like they used to. In fact, pretty soon, they may not make what we regard as 'normal' sized tellies at all.

At this month's Consumer Electronics Show - the Las Vegas trade event that sets tech trends for the rest of the year - I didn't see a single new launch featuring a TV under 65 inches.

Indeed, ask any Irish retailer and they'll tell you the most popular sizes have gone from 32 inches to 40 inches and are now gravitating towards 50 inches.

Still, little will prepare you for the behemoth that Samsung unleashed at his year's CES show. Its 170-inch telly is the same size as an entire wall in many ordinary Irish houses.

But it would be the most expensive wall in the dwelling, with the TV attracting a price of well over €100,000. What Samsung has actually done here has a whiff of alchemy about it. The 170-incher is actually a modular construction made up of several separate panels that coalesce smoothly together in 'super UHD' (4K) pixel resolution.

In other words, it could actually be bigger, if you wanted. One obvious issue here is that no-one actually makes TV content (or movies) for 170-inch home screens, meaning the 4K resolution of the footage looks a little stretched if you're sitting within 12ft of the screen.

Then again, with a display area this big, it would only make sense to sit at least 30ft away. And even the McMansions of Cavan and Monaghan don't have living rooms that big.

Samsung will sell you a system like this if you ask them. But don't expect to see it in Argos any time soon.

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