Thursday, July 27, 2006

Suggest-A-Zot at MacZot

MacZot is a website that offers discounts on shareware / small developer software and they've had some pretty good stuff for decent prices. They also use creative ways to decrease the cost of these apps - and sometimes offer them for free.

However, I've often wondered if they are running out of ideas or candidates for discounts. I also wondered if they would listen to any suggestions I have. Well, it looks like they are now taking such suggestions via their first Suggest-A-Zot.

You first download a small app on the website called 'Suggest-A-Zot'. This app's interface is a lot like AppZapper - so I have to wonder if the AppZap creators developed it for MacZot. Unfortunately, it only works with applications (thus far) and not prefpanes (like TextExpander) or plugins/add-ons for applications. And you have to drag the app icon over the program window. So you have to either own the program or have downloaded the unregistered/demo version. You can drag apps from open DMG files, so you don't actually have to install the app you want to submit.

What do you get out of submitting app suggestions? Well, if you are the first to submit an application, and they do use it for a MacZot promo - you'll get that app free. If you submit an app that is already submitted, they'll add your vote to the total and they'll enter your name into a drawing for a free license of that app. The remaining benefit seems clear - you might get the app you've always wanted to purchase, but can't bear to pay full price for, for an inexpensive price. And the more votes an app gets, the more interest it signals for MacZot.

Go for it!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Two Years Too Late - Wireless Mighty Mouse

While the MacSheep blogs are hyping the release of Apple's new wireless mouse, I think it's time to throw some cold water on the pack to wake them up.

Fact one: this product should have been released years ago and has been conspicuously absent while vendors like Logitech and Kensington have had advanced wireless mice on sale for the last 4 years.

Fact two: BlueTooth may not be an advantage over other wireless protocols for mice. I've been pushing for decent BT mice for quite a while, after seeing some very mediocre products released. So far, they have either been too expensive, too quick to drain the battery, or bad performers in the tracking/sleeping game. Apple has to get all three of these right in order to impress me and other folks. At ¥8700, they are not off to a good start.

Fact three: The MightyMouse form factor is not particularly enamored by most Mac users I know. The two button function doesn't function correctly all the time, and the side buttons are awkward to access. The stoopid scroll ball is not easy on the fingers will eventually get jammed up by some microscopic particle. Yeah, Ok, I read how to clean it and I suppose I could wash my hands every time I use the mouse - but the fact is that I DON'T HAVE TO DO this with any of the Kensington mice I use (or even my mediocre BlueTake BT500).

Perhaps the "Laser Tracking" feature will give use something the wired MM doesn't - I'm not sure. But there are other laser mice out there. Let's hope that this is a good feature and an improvement over the wired MM that couldn't track on the surface of my wooden desk.

I don't know - maybe I expect too much from Apple. But I just don't feel the MM form factor is that innovative or in any way superior to other mice. And though I'm happy Apple has improved its mouse line, it's very late in coming.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Product Review: I-O Data GV-1394TV/M3 - as kludgy as its name

In my quest to find the ultimate Analog-Digital nirvana, I purchased a different video converter box a couple of weeks after returning the EyeTV200. I decided to go with a product designed by a Japanese company, so that it might work better with Japanese cable set-ups. I bought the recently released I-O Data GV-1394TV/M3, I-O Data's latest iteration of their firewire video converters for Mac. I'd seen this running at a couple of Akihabara Mac vendors, so I assumed it was pretty good. It was much cheaper than the EyeTV200 at ¥26,000, so less punishment on my credit card. It also has a pretty good rating on the Apple Japan Store website.

The GV-1394TV/M3 is a relatively large device, as deep and a bit broader than a Mac Mini. The case is solid metal - so it's a brick. There is an LED power switch on the front of the unit, so you can easily turn it on and off with a touch. There is also an LED switch to go between antennae and S/analog input. This converter connects with firewire to your Mac, but it's powered from an external power adapter. Portability is not its strong suit. The box has inputs for antenna coax, S, and composite analog video. There is no remote, but you can purchase one separately.

Setting up and installing the GV-1394TV/M3 was not so easy. I don't read much Japanese, but could get through the process with a bit of trial and error. Plugging in the connectors was no big deal, but the GV-1394TV/M3 software was no party. This product relies on six different apps to do what the EyeTV did with one app. The list includes:

TV視聴・録画ツール「DigitalTV Recorder」
チャンネル制御ツール「Channel Commander」
予約録画ツール「Channel Manager」
CMカットツール「Ulead VideoTrimmer」
iPod対応オリジナル変換ソフト「GVencoder for iPod

Channel Manager is a scheduling app that boots up each time you login on your Mac. Channel Commander is for setting up your channels and controlling what is active (channel or video input type). DigitalTV Recorder is for recording whatever it is you are inputting. The other utilities are for video editing and saving videos in iPod compatible format. However, none of these apps has a very friendly or clear interface. Butt ugly...

The actual process of setting up channels is a bitch. For terrestrial analog, you have to select what region and subregion you are in, then wait forever while Channel Manager searches for them all. Then, you are expected to label all the channel IDs yourself via pull down menu. If you decide to leave any blank, it won't finish the set up. :-( Our antennae connection yielded a ghosty image, so the supposed 'Ghost Reducer' feature must have given up the ghost. Connecting your cable coax to the box, then scanning for channels also takes a long time (longer, actually because there are more channels). Unfortunately, like the EyeTV200, only BS channels were unscrambled. I'm not sure the point of having a device that can scan and save 64 channels, when 50 of them can only yield audio. However, we have digital cable (like 85% of Japan) so this shouldn't have been surprising.

The lack of cable channel control didn't discourage me, as I intended to input my analog signal off the cable box instead. Shockingly, this didn't work at all. Switching from antenna channel input to S video or composite analog input from the cable box resulted in a half second of video then a frozen picture, with the 'converter' LED blinking a 'no connection' warning. I tried every variation of analog feeds from the cable box, from using S video, to routing it through the VHS recorder, to using the TV output. I even tried different cables with different lengths. Nothing worked. WTF!

I then assumed that something was amiss with the converter hardware. However, I found that VHS recording output from the VCR did produce an analog signal that the GV-1394TV/M3 could input and record. So, apparently this wonder box can detect broadcast signals, even routed through other devices, and prevent you from inputing it. My guess is that this "feature" keeps the broadcast and other media industry in Japan from demanding royalties or something ridiculous like this. I couldn't find any clear explanation of this in the documentation, and my Japanese translator's (my wife) patience with technical manuals was pretty short. So, I decided to return this unit as well, after a week of fiddling. I'm sure the Yodobashi clerks were not happy to see me at the return desk twice in a month.

As far as the video recording and editing functions, I only used the DigitalTV Recorder app. I had difficulty figuring out which format was best for initial recording, and found it very slow to get up and running, compared to the EyeTV software. I can't comment on editing functions, as I didn't use them. Perhaps most people would be interested in the iPod video capability. Again, I didn't use these features, but would think that if you could only input a VHS signal or broadcast TV channels- there isn't much worth recording for an iPod. Remember, DVD material can be played/converted directly by your computer.

So... you can guess my conclusion here. If your needs are rather narrow, the GV-1394TV/M3 might fit the bill. However, I think most people would not find this device useful and the software frustrating.

Nothing to see here... move along now.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Product Review: EyeTV200 Falls Short

I bought this product in order to edit some VHS video material (baby ultrasound), and view a bit of TV on my 20" iMac while I work. I used it for a week, before deciding to return it.

In Japan, there are several products available for Analog to Digital conversion, some with TV tuners, some with Mac compatibility. Most of these are under ¥30,000, but the EyeTV200 is sold for ¥40,000. In fact, this is higher (¥10,000) than what you'd pay outside Japan for the same model - if you can find it. I say 'if', because ElGato has phased out the EyeTV200 and replaced with the newer EyeTV250. So the 200 appears to be obsolete everywhere but Japan. Go figure.

This product is easy to set up and use and comes with EyeTV Software version 1.8X from ELGato. It comes with a firewire cable, and short antennae cable so you can attach it to VCR or antenna connector. Setting up the TV channels is also easy for both antennae and cable.

Unfortunately, the EyeTV200 cannot 'descramble' cable signals, so it only works with BS cable channels, at least with JCOM. Actually, it finds all your channels, but you get a snowy video feed for non BS stations (no pun intended). However, you can take your analog signal from your cable box and feed it to the EyeTV200. This leaves the EyeTV200's remote somewhat useless, but you can change channels with your cable box remote.

Another shortcoming is the software. The included EyeTV software (EyeTV 1.8x) will not allow you to save to mpeg4 format and freezes. Also, it cannot save to the current format of iMovie, and you get an error message when it opens iMovie after you try to do so.

The EyeTV v1.8x is software also outdated - everywhere but Japan. You can go to ElGato's site to get the latest 1.8x (1.8.2, IIRC). And ElGato offers version 2.0 for purchasers for of the EyeTV200 since last year - except for in Japan. Roxio Japan runs the support site for the EyeTV200 in Japan. However, there are no free upgrades to EyeTV2.0 or much anything else other than FAQs on the Roxio site. They don't even mention v2.0, even as a purchase. I can't understand this.

Hardware-wise, the EyeTV200 has good and bad points. The converter box is lightweight, lowe profile, and is powered by the firewire data cable. However, box always draws power and gets quite warm, even when you turn it off with the remote. The only way to get it to stop drawing power is unplug the FW cable. The box also has the expected inputs for analog, S-Video, as well as antennae coaxial. There are no video outputs, unlike on other converters, but this may not be so important.

How does the EyeTV200 stack up with other video converters available in Japan?
Good question. I later purchased a Japanese-made I-O Data converter for Mac (GV-1394TV/M3) after returning the EyeTV200. It was less expensive (¥26000) and made by a Japanese company, raising my expectations. Unfortunately, the GV-1394TV/M3 came up very short. (Check back later for a review on this converter.) But I can't recommend either of these products at this point.

There are several other video converters available in Japan for Macs, all less expensive than the EyeTV200. Unfortunately, none of ElGato's more advanced products are available here, even the EyeTV250.

Friday, July 14, 2006

King of Comments

Wow! It was my lucky day yesterday. I was King of the comments on The Show (July 12).


Fame is fleeting...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

iUseThis - Cool Mac Site

I've been busy lately - not much time to post - but gathering lots of materials. Sorry for the silence.

Anyway, I caught this site mentioned on PowerPage - iUseThis - a site for Mac users with an interesting tweak on the social networking angle. Basically it maintains a list of MacApps and a database of which registered members use them. You can submit the apps you use which are missing, and select other users of your favorite apps and designate them as 'friends'. You can also make comments and suggestions to app postings.

There doesn't seem to be a way to see or search the entire Friends list for particular users (at least when I tried it), so adding "Friends" is difficult. I could only do this by looking at the user list for each app. There is also a "neighbor" list, but I'm not sure what this is. There is also a "Recommended Application" list for registered users, but it didn't seem to be functioning. (It said, "Not enough data to determine recommendations" or something like that...)

Loading app data is a bit problematic, as you have to cut and paste URLs from another browser window. And loading program icons was confusing. I assumed you could select the program via the browse button and it would snatch the icon. Unfortunately, this gives you an error when you submit. Also jpegs don't seem to work - you have to get the icon in .png format. So, what you get are not real icons, but screen captures of icons or website graphics. Perhaps they have some of these bugs worked out.

The site got a lot of hits yesterday, and apparently it is offline today for maintenance. Let's hope that they get it up so everyone can try it. I'm also hoping they'll add more features, like adding your blog links to your profile, and a way to see what web SITES are most popular with Mac users. Or even music, hardware or related things might be neat to add.

Anyway - go check it out when they get back on line! Looks like it's up now.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Free iClip on MacZot

iClip is a third party app that works as a multiple clipboard and scrapbook and was featured on a previous MacZot promo. Now you can get this $20 app for FREE at MacZot for the next few days.

Apparently, the developer of iClip will be releasing version 4 soon, so they are giving away the current version 3.