CES 2015 Video: SleepPhones Bluetooth speaker headband

 

One of the more quirky gadgets on show at CES is the SleepPhones headband. This headband has Bluetooth speakers built-in, for music during sleep or after washing your hair. The headband has medical approval – it’s developed by a family doctor – is washable, and can go a full 8-12 hours without needing a recharge. It can also be recharged by USB or wireless power block. SleepPhones describe the product as ‘Pajamas for your ears’ and they could be the perfect gadget for anyone who enjoy’s listening to music while they sleep, but cannot stand having headphones on all night.

SleepPhones are available now for £29.99 for the classic version, or go wireless for £69.99. Visit SleepPhones to find out more.

Turtle Beach Ear Force Stealth 500P: first look and hands-on

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Turtle Beach, purveyors of some of the finest audio equipment available on the gaming market, recently announced their latest addition – the Stealth 500P. This headset, while being of the popular Turtle Beach pedigree, will also be the first wireless gaming headset exclusively created for the PS4 and PS3 games consoles. The folks at Turtle Beach sent us one of these headsets to try out – and it left me impressed in many areas.

The main bonus with this headset is of course its wireless capabilities. First I tried out the headset with my home laptop – setting up the headset was as simple as plugging the dongle (the size of a memory stick) into a USB port and letting it install itself. Holding down the side of one of the headphones switches the set on – while wearing the set a voice can be heard, announcing “Powering on”. The headset instantly connected to the dongle and began playing music straight from my laptop instantly.

I was impressed by the range at which the headset still functions, heading downstairs 2 stories proved an adequate test, and the headphones maintained signal all the way, refusing to go quiet until I reached the bottom floor of my house, which is a decent range for the headset and means that you can continue listening to your game and talking to others even if you have to get up for a moment, which is a real game changer if you enjoy socialising via gaming.

Sound quality also held up rather well across the board – classical music on YouTube or the sounds of gunfire in-game were high-quality and audible at all times. The audio also centred well in-game, with distant cannon fire as audible as the sound of bayonets clashing during a Napoleonic skirmish, which is pleasing to a history buff like me. The power of DTS HeadphoneX: 7.1 Surround Sound kept the game as immersive as ever.

However, with the high quality and impressive features mentioned so far, there were also a number of drawbacks. I am no newcomer to the use of Turtle Beach, and am rather fond of my Turtle Beach P11 headset which I purchased for my PS3 around a year ago, which of course became my comparison point.

In the midst of battle I connected and enabled the 500P headset’s microphone (easily done with the aid of a button built into the unit) and entered discussion with my fellow players. They were less impressed with the headset, with most reporting that my microphone’s quality was far lower than the usual they expected from my P11’s microphone. Additionally, I noticed that the headset was prone to picking up the sound of my breathing which left a huge amount of static, much to the annoyance of everyone else. Thus I was left somewhat disheartened by the microphone provided with the 500P, and surprised that it was a lower quality than my older and cheaper headset.

Further use also highlighted a few other issues, one most notable being the fact that the headphones hug the head rather tightly, which becomes very uncomfortable after extended use. Additionally, the small but very bright light emitted by the dongle became rather distracting when connected to the side of my laptop, where it was likely to point for the corner of my eye, which became somewhat irritant after an hour or so. This, coupled with the other issues and the pleas of my fellow players had me reaching for my old P11 headset before long.

Taking the headset from the PC to my PS3 was a breeze however, with my PS3 already being tuned to using external audio devices, it was simply a matter of plugging the dongle into the system and connecting the optical cable from the dongle into the rear of the PS3. I could find no faults in the headset when running them from my PS3 – the speakers instantly captured the sounds around me in-game beautifully and maintained its quality throughout my session. Conversation with other characters sounded clear and lifelike, with the sound of babbling streams and the wind in the trees creating a solid atmosphere from the headset.

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Overall, I am impressed with the 500P headset. If you are just entering the world of gaming headsets, this would make a great first choice – the ease of use provided by a wireless setup is wonderful, and the 500P captures this ease very well. The lower microphone quality may be off-putting for those like me who are already used to one headset, but if you have not use a headset or do not intend to have use for the microphone, this headset would make a great choice. The quality of sound and ease in setting up the system is great, and shows that Turtle beach is a solid choice for gamers looking to maximise their audio capabilities.

The Stealth 500P headset will be available on 10th October 2014, at an RRP of £99.99.

Our full unboxing video can be found below.

Ricoh WG-M1 storms into the action cam market

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If you’re the adventurous type and like to keep a track of your exploits you’ll know that regular digital cameras and smartphones don’t quite cut the mustard. Enter the action cam – an ultra-ruggedized alternative that’s guaranteed to stand up to the hardiest of punishments, and enter Ricoh with the WG-M1, the latest to hit the market.

At first glance this is a fairly chunky device, and a far cry from sleeker models doing the rounds in terms of design. It’s waterproof to 10 meters, shock-resistant against falls from two meters and resistant to temperatures as low as -10°, so should certainly tick most of the boxes. Part of the benefit of the size is an ability to offer an ultra-wide angle lens that can take still shots at 14 effective megapixels or full HD movie clips, and it offers continuous shooting at speeds of approximately 10 images per second. All of this can be previewed on a 1.5” colour LCD or through a wireless connection on a smartphone or tablet, which also allow you to take pictures or view live video from afar, and there’s a whole bunch of optional accessories depending on where you want to mount it.

Clearly aimed at stealing some market share from GoPro’s impressive series of rugged snappers it’s nice to see Ricoh coming up with something that certainly looks the business, but looks, as they say, can be deceiving. It’s a bit early for reviews, but a few people have had a look at some early models, so let’s see what they had to say.

1ClickNews does have some issues with the design, but thankfully they’re not too damaging: “Holding it in the hand is an odd experience, thanks to the fact that the 1.5-inch LCD display is embedded in the “top” of the unit, so holding it requires a claw-like grip.” It goes on to state that since it’s not supposed to be used as a handheld camera, this shouldn’t be a problem, and also notes the impressive viewing range given by the wide angle lens “the field-of-view while taking video is an impressive 137 degrees, although that’ll increase to 160 degrees for stills.”

Camcorders Reviewed goes on to explain a little about the shooting modes and formats available:

“Different crop modes will let you treat the camera as if it had different focal lengths built-in—even though it only really has one. There are a few different video formats at the camera’s disposal, with 1080/30p as its highest quality recording mode. You can also get 60fps if you’re willing to go for 720p clips, and there’s a slow-mo 120fps mode at a resolution of 848×480.”

It was also impressed by the range of different mounts available, which include a grip adapter that makes it handle a bit like a gun, adhesive mounts for snowboards and helmets and a handlebar mount for a bike. It concludes by saying that Ricoh has produced a genuine alternative to GoPro’s veritable monopoly with a product that shows a lot of promise.

Popphoto seems to agree, and is impressed by the fact that it has avoided the mistake others have made by imitating the GoPro designs too closely. Digging into the look and feel it is impressed by the deceptively light weight and small size:

“Overall, it’s roughly the same size as a GoPro 3 in its waterproof housing, but a little bigger. The lens also sticks out past the body. From the original pictures, the fact that it has a built-in screen can make it seem bigger than it actually is. It was also actually a little lighter than I expected it to be in my hand.”

The controls are also well situated, making it easy enough to use whether in the hand or mounted, and though the screen feels small, it’s at least a handy option to have, and of course the smartphone option is a genuine alternative in certain environments.

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The WG-M1 is available in black or orange and retails for £199.99, with a release date to be confirmed. Expect to spend a fair bit more accessorising with some of the optional mounts though.

SoundBlaster Roar: Redefining “all-in-one”

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The Creative Sound Blaster was the soundcard of choice, back in the day when people still bought soundcards. However, as the previous sentence indicates, times have changed quite significantly, and Creative have found a way to innovate themselves out of obsolescence. The Sound Blaster Roar is a new kitchen sink approach to the Bluetooth speaker, with feature-packed functionality and great quality sound pouring out of almost literally everywhere. But is it as Creative claim, “the pinnacle of portable wireless audio”?  The Roar is packed with 5 drivers and powered by 2 high-performance amplifiers and a built-in subwoofer. But the Roar is also brimming with all sorts of technology – a built in battery, NFC, integrated voice recorder, microSD card recorder and a host of weird features like the ability to randomly blurt out noises to keep you from drifting off.

You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck. According to Will Greenwald at PC Mag;

“The Sound Blaster Roar defines overkill in terms of features. Creative seems to have thrown in every function I can think of for a wireless speaker short of AirPlay, and adding a few I hadn’t even considered.”

However, rather than over-egging the pudding, this works in the Roar’s favour.

“The Roar is the most audacious Bluetooth speaker I’ve ever seen, pulling tricks out of its hat I wouldn’t have imagined for a product this type, size, and price. It’s really quite impressive. The tricks are of varying usefulness, but there are so many of them you can find at least two or three you’ll appreciate.”

Over at Tech Radar, Nick Pino was enamoured with the Roar’s sleek design.

“Where the Pulse seemed to pander to a younger crowd with its lava lamp-style lights, the SR20 looks more like a hefty novel with chrome accents and a jet-black trim. It may not make for a great conversation piece like JBL’s Pulse, but the SR20 is refined, elegant, and would look sharp almost anywhere in the home. This Sound Blaster is compact, too. Measuring 2.24 x7.95 x 4.52 inches (W x D x H), the device should be easy to bring around town or, thanks to included international adapters, on a trip overseas. It’s a bit hefty, though, at 2.5 pounds, which may make you think twice.”

However, Micky Campell over at Apple Insider provides a small caveat.

“Given that the device’s guts are jammed into one side of the cabinet, while the grille-covered area houses three drivers and air, it should come as no surprise that balance is a bit off. This has no effect on sound reproduction, however, and is only mentioned out of consideration for those thinking about hand-carrying the speaker.”

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However, the key focus of any speaker review should be the device’s sound and reviewers agree that the Roar was no slouch.

Barry Brenasal over at Computer Shopper praised the Roar’s detailed sound.

“The sound wasn’t spacious, by any means, and the velvet was missing from the strings, but for a portable system in its price range, we were impressed. This naturally led us to test further in the same direction, and see just how deep that bass response could get in an album designed to spotlight this. That meant, first, one of our favorite test records, Ikon II (Hyperion 67756), with Stephen Layton leading the Holst Singers. Here it was possible to tell that the upper bass was fine, but that the really chthonic, deep bass response—the kind that seems to reach up from the deep in the earth below and grab you by the feet, before moving up your legs and spine—was completely missing. Even with the Roar button engaged, that sound wasn’t there in Balakirev’s Let all mortal flesh keep silence, nor Chesnokov’s jubilant Let thy good spirit. Nor, for that matter, to change gears in a big way, could it be found in Aerosmith’s Back in the Saddle. What we did get in the Aerosmith, at louder volume levels, was a slight amount of bass breakup.”

However, Tyll Hertsens over at Inner Fidelity uncovered an mild annoyance – one endemic to most speakers competing for attention in the crowded marketplace.

“On two occasions in the last month I’ve run across smart streaming speakers that have their internal equalizer set to something other than flat out of the box—the Sound Blaster Roar SR20 and the Philips Fidelio Sound Spheres. It seems to me that what’s going on here is that speakers are shipped with the EQ set to be attention grabbing and exciting on the display room floor or for unsophisticated users. The bass was set too high on the Sound Spheres, and the sound from the SR20 was overly punchy and slightly strident out of the box.”

“In both cases, in the normal flow of doing the review I found companion apps on-line that allow more comprehensive control of the device. Once I opened these apps I stumbled upon the fact that the equalizers were set to something other than flat. I’m going to make an assumption here that engineers in the company who designed the product calibrated it to be as flat as possible with the settings flat, and that subsequently folks in Sales and Marketing decided that punching up the sound of the product away from flat would improve sales. Sadly, they’re likely correct, and I can’t be too hard on the practice. What I can do though is warn you when purchasing products like this that it’s well worth the effort to find companion apps and to check the EQ settings.”

The Roar doesn’t quite live up to its name – but is a far cry from a miaow. Tech Radar summarised it well, pointing out that,

“While it won’t replace your soundbar or high-end speaker, the feature-rich SR20 is a cut above its compact competitors at the $200 price range.”

While at Inner Fidelity sum up the device’s potential best.

“Having now lived with this little gem for a month or so, I can say that while other Bluetooth speakers will likely get my ears for music playing, I have no doubt the Roar SR20 will always be within arm’s reach both at home and on the road. It’s just too good an audio tool to be without.” 

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The Roar is available now with an RRP of £129.99.

For more information visit Creative.

SOUNDSIGHT: World’s first video recording smart headphones

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What do you expect from your headphone these days? To give you good sound surely, and maybe a wireless connection to give you freedom of movement during your weekly jogging – but what about a camera?

Soundsight Headphones do just that! You can record video up to 720p HD resolution and take pictures up to 1080p HD all of that by just taping the left side. You may think why? But now a days it is all about sharing and been able to do that freely as possible. The headphone will last up to 4 hours with the camera in constant recording, 18 hours when using noise cancellation and 24 hours on standby. The headphones on-board memory is 8G and they come with a Bluetooth connection (through partner Tectonic Audio Labs) that promises to provide HiFi studio sound quality equal to when the headphone are wired. The headphones also have noise cancellation, USB audio output and has a frequency range between 16 to 20,000Hz.

Headphone are big business at the moment with news that Bose has just filed a lawsuit has reported in the media (Forbes) against Beats for patents infringing on the noise cancellation. This comes on the back of the other big news that Apple have now officially completed the purchase of Beats.

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SoundSight headphones are available in black as well

The headphones will come with a free standard app to download on your devices to edit your sound and video. Until the 30th of July you will be able to download the premium version for free and after that it will cost you $4.99 (£3.90).

With the app you will be able to “utilize the patented ColorTune™ auto-suggest feature to match video colors to music notes with a simple touch of the hand, trim, apply film-look filters, edit and Clip&Mix™ music from your device for video content through the SoundSight application”.

You can pre-order now at Soundsight for $349 (£205) for delivery by Christmas. Otherwise, if you want to wait and see what they’re like, they will be in retail by Spring 2015 for $499 (£293).

Roku adds ITV Player to its Chromecast-esque Streaming Stick

Streaming-Stick-HDMI-Version-3The Roku Streaming Stick is the latest streaming device from the U.S manufacturer Roku and adds the functionality of a Smart TV to a normal TV for less than £50 (£49.99). The Roku Streaming Stick is in a similar market to that of the existing Google Chromecast.

The latest news from ‘Camp Roku’ is that they’ve added ITV Player which means you can now access over 750 channels in the UK including the ‘big ones’ such as BBC iPlayer, 4oD and Demand 5. On the top of those you can access Netflix, Now TV and Sky.

In case you’ve not heard about it already, the Roku Stick turns a TV into “smart TV” just by plugging into a HDMI port. You will need a spare plug nearby as the Roku Stick has to have external power, although if you have a TV with a USB port, it can be powered through that instead.

It is a bit more expensive than its rival from Google (the Chromecast is £30) but, as pointed by Tech Radar, you do get more than 50 times as many compatible apps and a physical remote control. If you lose the remote you can also use the app from iOS or Google Play app. The app has been described as really good by Tech Radar who said “you’ll never want to hunt and peck with the remote’s direction pad again after using the app”.

To set up the device you need a minimum of a 1.5MBs internet connection to stream standard definition and 3.0MBs upwards if you want to play full HD. The device takes about 30 mins to set up according Trusted Reviews. You will need to link the device to your Roku account by using your laptop or smartphone. Payment details are expected during registration (in order to make future purchases on Channel Store) but don’t worry as it comes with a PIN to prevent any accidental purchases.

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Streaming Stick Size

With over 1,000 apps, even if a large chunk of them are niche apps no one has ever heard of, the Roku has the most apps on the market – as pointed in the review by Tech Radar. Over all they gave it 5 out of 5 stars for performance and 4.5 stars for usability and stated that:

The Roku Streaming Stick slims down Roku’s popular app delivery system and halves the price of the Roku 3. There are over 1,000 apps and yet the grid is easy to customize. Its interface ties everything together and the remote is small enough for one-handed navigation. Those are two things missing from Chromecast.

Their issue was with the design, which they awarded 3 out of 5 stars, pointing out that:

The size of this streaming stick is larger than the head of any HDMI cable, and some TVs tuck their HDMI ports into the frame of the television. That can make the Roku Streaming Stick a tight fit.

All in all, it is a fraction of the size of the previous Roku 3 and while it’s more expensive than the Chromecast, it does offer a lot more apps than its rivals. It’s available now and you can find out more at https://www.roku.com/uk/choose-your-roku

LG bring World’s first curved 4K OLED TV to the UK

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LG Electronics have announced the forthcoming arrival of what they’re calling the “World’s First Curved ULTRA HD 4K OLED TV in the UK”. Technically it’s going to be two TVs, a 77” and 65” model, both of which are due to go on sale from October.

Both models combine Ultra HD 4k (3840 x 2160 pixels) with LG’s proprietary WRGB OLED technology.  The mammoth 77” headline model is the recipient of the highly-prized Best of Innovations at CES 2014 and is reported to be the World’s largest screen of its kind.

The colour temperature of each pixel is automatically controlled by the LG Colour Refiner, resulting in superior consistency and balance.  For high resolution viewing options, the 77EC980V and 65EC970V are equipped with LG’s own True 4K Engine Pro, which can upscale SD, HD or Full HD content into near-4K picture quality.

LG are calling these TVs “future-proof” (we would hope so at this price!) as they able to decode broadcast signals in both H.264 and HEVC H.265 formats, at 30p or 60p. A built-in decoder also makes it possible to display ULTRA HD 4K content from external devices connected via the TV’s HDMI, USB or LAN ports.

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Side view of the TV

The folks over at The Register were recently invited to check out the TVs at a press event in London.  Overall their first impression appears to be favourable, with the reviewer stating that vivid, faithful colours and image clarity aside, what you also get are great viewing angles regardless of whether it’s 4K or Full HD” but as he also points out: “[…]at these prices, that’s precisely what you’d expect. 

Putting aside their concerns of the over-used display model, the team at HDTVtest were also generally in praise of these latest TVs from LG stating that:

We’d seen a lot of the demo material previously on 4K LED LCDs, and while the resolution was the same on both, the impact generated by OLED display technology was in a different league.

Guide retail prices are £19,999 for the 77” and £5,999 for the 65” LG Curved ULTRA HD 4K OLED TVs. As mentioned before, both models are set to be available “from October”.

Humax STA-1200 BSW: The “world slimmest soundbar”

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Humax, a UK provider of specialist digital set-top boxes, has entered the audio market, launching what the company claims to be the “world’s slimmest” soundbar. The STA-1200 BSW is a compact and stylish soundbar, which, according to the Humax press release, is packed with incredible audio.

Despite being just 20mm thick, the STA-1200 BSW blasts out 80W of sound from a total of four front speakers. The ultra-thin soundbar comes with a separate 100W passive subwoofer, which has a built-in Bass Enhancer. As well as penetrating deep tones throughout a room through the Bass Enhancer, Humax also draws our attention to the wide spatial sound the STA-1200 BSW produces for a “powerful cinema effect”.

Coming with wall mounting brackets and a shelf stand there’s no excuse not to put the soundbar in a prime position on the wall. Set up, the company promises, is easy. Multiple inputs, including AUX, SPDIF and Bluetooth, mean you will be able to connect the STA-1200 BSW to various devices.

As well as improving the sound on your TV, the STA-1200 BSW can be connected to music devices and used to enhance the sound. The connection can be made via either a 3.5mm audio headphone jack socket or Bluetooth. As Pocket-Lint points out this means “Streaming music from a mobile, tablet or laptop should be straightforward.”

Whilst none of the tech press has yet to have the pleasure of reviewing the STA-1200 BSW, there has been a fair amount of interest generated from Humax’s new product. Pretty much all of the credible technology publications have made reference to the STA-1200 BSW and were keen to include the comments of Graham North, commercial director at Humax.

“Humax has a proven capability in delivering feature-rich digital home products and we have applied that technical expertise to the audio market, with a high performance product that delivers powerful sound into the living room for a highly competitive price,” said North.

The STA-1200 BSW soundbar is priced at £199 and was released on May 1.

If you’ve not heard of Humax, they’re the guys and gals responsible for bringing us Freesat and Freeview set top boxes. The brand’s venture into the audio market should be interesting to review. Though having entered audio with the “world’s slimmest soundbar”, Humax has seemed to have got off to a good start and their audio ventures look promising.