15/09/2021

Humax Aura a great Freeview PVR (but missing stuff)

Humax released the Aura a while back and it's a great little PVR (it comes in 1TB or 2TB versions which equates to 500/250 or 1000/500 hours of SD/HD recordings respectively) and supports displaying 4K HDR10 on a 4K TV for supported apps.



It runs genuine Android TV (v9 Pie) which is optimised for this kind of device and it has the Google Play store for downloading apps (not all apps will run on a PVR) and it can be paired with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. You do need to sign into your Google account in order to actually download anything and use the added functionality. It runs on a 4 core CPU with 16GB of Flash storage and 3GB of RAM.

It has Google Assistant built in, which allows controlling the system and well as normal assistant functionality. There's also built-in Chromecast, so content on an Android phone can be displayed through the PVR.

As a Freeview Play device, it's possible to record future programs (and series links) as well as catching-up on stuff that you may have missed (requires an Internet connection). The EPG is 7 days in future as well as 7 days past which directly accesses the Freeview Play catch-up service.

If you happen to have content on a USB drive, plug it in and play away (as long as it's FAT32 formatted) via the USB3.0 port, accessing NAS drives via the network also works and it's possible to install a Plex client (via Google Play) for added functionality.

There's an accompanying Aura app (Android/iOS) that allows live streaming, recording and reminders etc.

The remote is easy to use and allows access to the EPG and a big button with Prime Video to access Amazon Video. There are a lot of apps available, but there's a HUGE omission in that so far there's no direct access to Netflix (that may not matter if you have a relatively modern TV with it built in). There are 'hacks' around to side load Netfix, but no official version seems to be available and it looks unlikely it will ever appear.



The actual box is nicely sized (258 x 43 x 200 mm) and easily fits under or next to a TV, on the front there's a strip that glows red if in standby and blue if turned on, it will go purple if recording or orange if recording in standby and white for Google Assistant.

The Ethernet LAN port supports Gigabit Ethernet connectivity or there's 2.4/5GHz WiFi.

There's an co-ax input and output for the aerial connection (and to TV) and also a single HDMI port (supporting HDMI 2.1 with HDCP 2.3 and CEC) and a S/PDIF optical port for audio out (to say a sound bar). There's Dolby Audio (Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus) Dolby Atmos (pass-through) DTS-X surround sound (pass-through) over HDMI as well as HD Audio at 24bit/192KHz.

Nicely Humax include an Ethernet, HDMI and co-ax cable and batteries for the remote.

When the system is initially powered it takes a while to set-up (needs to tune, upgrade Android TV and any apps) and it can be fiddly if you get the order wrong.

Settings are also accessed by pressing the Freeview button, which isn't necessarily obvious, but everything is really an app on Google TV.

Though the lack of Netflix may be a game changer for some, it does have access to a lot of video services such as BT Sport, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and My5, iPlayer etc. It's also possible to run some games, though those that require additional peripherals may not work as expected.

26/05/2021

Need to grab something from you Mac, TextSnipe it

Mac's have come with a screenshot utility for quite a while (surprisingly called Screenshot), it's pretty useful and allows capturing the complete screen, a window or a (selectable) area. It can do this as an image or even a video.

While active it takes screen focus so you are unable to interact with the screen, so there's a nice feature allowing a grab in 5 or 10 seconds so setup the grab area, interact with whatever's needed and then screenshot will grab an image (this works well for grabbing drop down menus and other such things).


 The above image is a screen grab of the dropdown menu of TextSniper.app, While Screenshot grabs an image or video, TextSniper grabs the content of the highlighted area and saves it to the clipboard.

Grab the screen around some text (that text can be on an image, PDF document or anything) and whatever is there will be text in the clipboard. Just open your favourite editor and paste and it's all there. It will also do the same for a QRcode, again just bound the QRcode on screen and the contents are saved in the clipboard (useful for reading things like the UK NHS Covid QRcode - your phone will just say it's unidentified content), this will also decode barcodes as well as QRcodes.

TextSniper will also grab stuff from a connected iPhone or iPad (needs to be connected by USB or WiFi) and then you can take a photo, scan documents or add a sketch.

If Text to Speech is clicked, then when text is captured as well as being copied to the clipboard it will be read (playback speed is selected in Preferences).

This may be one of the most useful utilities out there, it can be purchased directly from the TextSniper.app for $6.99 or from the Apple Mac Store though the price goes up to $9.99 (and may vary with local pricing). Highly recommended.

28/04/2021

Want the perfect microphone, then be sure with Shure

Shure has been in the commercial microphone and in-ear phone space for many years (almost 100 as it was founded in 1925) starting in AM radio, then in the 30's developing microphones, then in the 40's developing headphones for the allies. The 50's produced the first stereo phono cartridge in conjunction with Columbia records. The 60's went swingingly with a dynamic microphone used by the White House ever since and the SM58 (studio microphone) favoured by rockers the world over. The 80's moved into teleconferencing products and cardiod microphones suitable for high gain while being resistant to feedback. The naughties (90's) went wireless and in ear personal monitoring system (earphones).

Moving into the millennium Shure acquires Tripp Ribbons Microphones and launches their SRH range, then in 2010's it's all about 24bit wireless, pro in-ear and the MOTIV digital line and now in the 20's it's working from home and partnerships with Logitech, prosumer home microphones and Ionic wireless in-ear.

That's a lot of products, so what's suitable for you?

There's a plethora of microphones, though all could be used, some are better suited to particular uses vocal, loud etc. and Shure have designed a simple quiz to help people select the best microphone for it's intended use and budget.

It's really designed for musicians and singers and it would have been nice to add sections for bloggers/vloggers, Zoom and other non-music activities, but it's quite useful as is.

Shure do make some very nice audio products and now with Home/Prosumer do have a look.

Go back in time with a Divergence Meter Nixie clock

Clocks are useful things, mostly they tell the time and this is generally a good thing.

Though we live in a digital age, people do have a thing for clocks, especially those that are worn on the wrist and these come in a multitude of varieties. These were analogue, then came the invention of the digital watch and then people spent a lot of money on analogue versions again.

Clocks (as in actual clocks) have tended to remain analogue, circular discs with hands that move around pointing to digits painted (or embossed) around the edge. Clocks can be powered with some clever electronics so they keep time accurately such as using a radio time signal.

Digital clocks to exist and they use flat displays such as e-ink, OLED or LCD. They tend not to be very pretty.

In the past, lots of devices used something called a Nixie display, they look like vacuum tubes, except rather than warming up they have a variety of cold cathodes inside, shaped to look like numbers or digits. They were popular in the 1960's but there has been a recent resurgence and a numeric variety the IN-14 is still available.

Nixie tubes are filled with low pressure neon (and sometimes some other gasses or mercury to change the colour) and when a voltage (around 200V) is applied, the cathode will glow. If the gas is neon based, it's usualy a nice orange glow.

Some enterprising Ukrainians have decided to design and build pretty clocks based on Nixie tubes. These come in several varieties and can be Arduino or Raspberry Pi based using IN-14 or IN-18 Nixie tubes and in kit form or preassembled. This review is on the Arduino Shield NCS314 IN-14 variety and has an external DS18B20 temperature sensor. It's also possible to connect an external GPS that uses NMEA protocol and the clock will maintain time, however the GPS unit does need to maintain visibility of the sky so may not be suitable for indoor use.

There are also RGB LEDs that illuminate the base of the Nixie tubes, but these can be distracting rather than adding aesthetics. This also uses the Arduino MEGA board which runs the software (all available on Github).

There is a mode button which switches between time, date and alarm mode (and up and down buttons to change settings). The LEDs are turned on and off by long pressing the down button and then using the up and down buttons to change the colour.

If you're into pretty old fashioned "digital" clocks, you cant go wrong with a Nixie clock (it is beautiful). The costs vary depending on what options are selected (with/without tubes, sockets, temp sensor, GPS, Arduino Uno/MEGA), but the version shown is about $170.00

14/04/2021

It's a bendy electronic thermometer

 It's always useful to be able to measure your temperature, especially when the world is in the throws of a pandemic where early signs of a fever could be mean getting help or not.

Kinsa is a US company that make thermometers with an app, they state their mission is "to stop the spread of infectious disease by knowing where and when it starts" and they have a HeathWeather map (currently seems to be US only).

There are two thermometers, one is an in ear device and the one reviewed here is inserted orally, under the arm or rectally (not tested). It has a flexible stem with a metal tip, which connects to a round top which contains the electronics, battery (CR2032) and a display which has a backlight.


The companion app is available on iOS and Android and allows multiple profiles for different users. The device must be paired with the app before use.

The backlight is quite bright which makes it quite difficult to show the display, but it can display in Centigrade or Fahrenheit which is set through the app.


It's really easy to use, just push the button and 3 dashes will appear on the display and then insert in to the relevant orifice. Within a short time the temperature will be read and appear on the display and in the app where it can be assigned to a user and the temperatures displayed as a timeline that can be shared with health professionals.

The thermometer is fully FDA approved.

It's available online directly through the Kinsa Health store for a very reasonable $24.99 (though can be cheaper on big shopping sites that will ship to the UK).

04/04/2021

It's time to move those bits at 2,500 Mb/s

 No idea why people like quoting figures like 2,500 mA (2.5A) for chargers and other devices, well thankfully D-Link have announced the DUB-E250 a USB-C to 2.5G Ethernet adapter.

D-Link DUB-E250 box


Opening the box reveals a large plastic holder into which the adapter is firmly held in place (though a complete was of plastic packing) and a paper limited warranty in many languages (that no-one is likely to read).


The adapter has a plastic rectangle with Ethernet socket at the end and a standard USB-C connector at the other.

It just works, plug it in to the USB C ports of a PC, Mac or Linux box and a Ethernet device appears supporting up to 2.5Gb/s networking. No drivers, no installs.

Unfortunately there was no 2.5G infrastructure to plug it into at the time, but it also works perfectly happily with 1G network switches just operating at 1Gb/s speeds. Will probably try in on a iPadPro with USB-C port to see if anything is detected and upgrade the blog if it does.

It costs around £30 on-line and if you have a lot of data to get on or off a PC device and a network to support it, then it's a good option, though most consumer hardware is still only 1Gb/s and there won't be any gain to upgrading.

In future as consumer does move to 2.5G or even 10G then this could be for you (probably more realistically a good device for 'techies' who need to plug into Dada Centre networks and monitor and access services or as companies go back to work and update their networks.


08/03/2021

Fingerprints, It's all about the FAP

 Isorg is a French company that develops large scale image sensors. They can produce Organic Photo Diodes (OPD) on to a thin film transistor (TFT) backplane.

This is being used for a FAP10 compliant fingerprint sensor (with a surface area of 1.27 by 1.65 cm).

FAP 10 is a complete solution, incorporating an image sensor, dedicated light source, optical filters and driving electronics. To support customer product development, Isorg will provide a reference design with its latest integrated ROIC (Read Out Integrated Circuit) and software processing for image quality enhancement that is optimised with Isorg’s OPD sensor technology.


The sensor can withstand bright light sources such as indoor spot lighting and direct sunlight. It has now received approval from the FBI for use in secure applications such a door control, voter ID and other applications.

The sensor can also be used on mobile devices.

The next device will be a FAP60 product which allows identification based on 4 fingers and then palm ID.

12/02/2021

Your computer can now smell

The new Smell Inspector is launching on Kickstarter. The developers call it an "E-Nose Developer's Kit and End-User Gadget".

It's based on a 16 multichannel chip based on nano technology called the IX16 and there are 4 mounted on the Smell board giving 64 channels which reads data every 1.8 seconds. The output is in ASCII and be be used by any type of computer like Arduino or Raspberry Pi.

The actual IX16 chips is very low power using less than 1uW and uses 16 chemiresistor-type nanomaterial based gas detectors, Kapton foil, particle filter. It has a high sensitivity to various gases and VOCs (<80 ppb for NH3, PH3, H2S).

Software is available for Linux and Windows and will be for Android and iOS though your own applications can be developed too.

Super Early Bird pricing is finished, but Early Bird is available for €269