Sunday, December 11, 2005

Zenith ZHDTV1 Indoor Antenna Review

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a little 19" widescreen LCD HDTV for my bedroom. Unfortunately, due to incompetence on the part of my cable company and inflexibility on the part of my condo association, I can't get cable run into my bedroom. This leaves me with broadcast reception only upstairs.

Of course, I knew that before I bought the TV. In fact, one of the things that finally pushed me into buying an HDTV tuner was the fact that my local ABC and FOX stations aren't carried by any of the local cable companies in high definition. When I bought my first HDTV, I thought it would be no time flat before ABC and FOX would be available. Someday maybe I'll learn to stop putting faith in the competence of others.

When I picked up my tuner, I bought an amplified indoor HDTV antenna that cost me $40. I could tune in all of the local stations but virtually all of them required the rabbit ears to be in a different position. If this weren't annoying enough, tuning in a digital broadcast is extremely frustrating. If the signal gets too weak, you don't just get a bit of snow, the picture goes completely garbled. Unfortunately, until it falls beneath that threshold, it's perfectly clear. As such, you can't tell if you're improving the signal or making it worse as you move around the antenna aimlessly and hope. The tuner I bought does have a signal strength indicator which is helpful but it's buried in the menu system. This really should be right on the front of the unit.

Things clearly weren't working out with my setup but I figured the chances of getting an outdoor antenna past the condo association were slim. After doing some digging around, I decided to order the Zenith ZHDTV1 HDTV-UHF Digital Indoor Antenna.

When I opened the box I was surprised at how flimsy and cheap the antenna felt. I suppose for less than $20, my expectations shouldn't have been high. Just about the whole thing is made from what seems like a low-grade, lightweight plastic.

I was also caught off-guard by how large it was. At 9.5" x 13" x 13.5", it's not enormous but it's bigger than it looked in the picture I bought it from.

Supposedly, the ZHDTV1 is a highly directional antenna that needs to be pointed in the direction of the tower broadcasting the channel you've tuned to. I set it up next to my TV, plugged it into the tuner and mentally prepared for hours of turning it an inch this way, an inch that way. Interestingly enough. I had perfect reception on every channel instantly.

So, in a nutshell - this thing is cheap, flimsy, piece of crap that likely to break if you drop it once but the damned thing works amazingly well. If it were sturdier, I'd probably have to give it a perfect score. As is, I give it 1 steaming pile.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Rating system explained

Most product reviews rate an item by giving it a ranking between 1 and 4 stars. The premise being that most stuff is good but some stuff is better than other stuff. What fantasy world do these people live in? I say most of the stuff that you and I spend our hard earned money on is garbage. Even if it's manufactured well (rare given how inexpensive it is to manufacture goods in China), it's probably designed poorly.

Disagree? When was the last time you had something repaired other than your home or automobile? When was the last time something you owned broke and you didn't just throw it away and get a new one? Cell phones - disposable, VCR's and DVD players - disposable, TV's and computer monitors - disposable. Almost everything we buy today is disposable and as such, almost everything we buy today is made as cheaply as possible, not as well as possible.

This whole situation warrants a different perspective. The things we buy should be rated based on how crappy they are. Ditch the stars. You're not in kindergarten anymore. Things should be rated by steaming piles of crap.

0 steaming piles = not crap:
This is a rare honor to be bestowed on only the finest products currently available on the market.

1 steaming pile = crapolicious:
These products were clearly developed by motivated people who knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, unrealistic deadlines, shoddy project management, and/or overbearing marketing departments have messed up what could have been a fantastic product.

2 steaming piles = crapperful:
These products were designed by people that cared a little about the product, manufactured by people who cared a little about the people who designed the product, and marketed by people who had no clue what the product was actually meant to do in the first place.

3 steaming piles = craptastic:
The people who developed this product would be criminally liable in a perfect world. They cranked out a knock-off of a product that never really worked in the first place but made it look attractive enough to sucker people into buying it.

4 steaming piles = crapnotic:
In a perfect world, anybody attempting to sell one of these products would be struck dead on the spot. If not by a lightning bolt from God, then from overwhelming shame.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

AVB Retractable Earphone Review

Well, here we are. It's a week after Thanksgiving. People are lining up to buy as much crap as they can for their friends and family members. It's my favorite time of year. I get to see how lame the things I've bought for other people are as well as the things they've bought me. It's a smorgasbord of suck and I'm ready to eat it up.

Like many people, I did some traveling over Thanksgiving. I flew 2000 miles to see my mom in Phoenix Arizona. Even with a direct flight, it's about 4 hours spent crammed into a severely undersized airplane seat. Although I get nearly orgasmic while carefully reading every page of the Skymall catalog, I can only maintain Nirvana for an hour or two before the effects wear off and I need to find some other pastime to occupy my brain. As such, I dumped a bunch of horrific podcasts to my iPod in anticipation of the flight.

Unfortunately for me, it was just hours before my flight when I realized I had no clue where my earbuds were. I primarily use my iPod with an FM transmitter in my car. Because I have to unplug the earbuds in order to plug in the transmitter, I regularly lose my earbuds. Well, I obviously had to replace them but time was not on my side. I could go to the nearest Radio Shack or Walmart and pick up any old set of headphones but that wouldn't work. I couldn't be seen without the white earbuds! People would think I was one of the remaining 2 people in this country that don't own an iPod. That would mean I'd either be mistaken for Bill Gates or my grandmother - neither of which seemed appealing. Nope, I had to get to a store that sold iPods and iPod accessories fast.

I rushed off to a MicroCenter around the corner from my house with just minutes to spare before I needed to leave for the airport. Of course, I would have had plenty of time if one didn't have to arrive at the airport 14.6 hours early in order to make it through meaningless security procedures. The next time they ask me to take off my shoes, I'm just going to strip completely naked in the middle of the airport, and lie down on the x-ray conveyer.

Anyhow, where was I? I quickly rushed to the Macintosh section and was disappointed to discover that they were out of apple earbuds. I was even more dismayed to find that the only pair of earbuds they had were AVB Retractable Earbuds. Just what I need... a pair of headphones with moving parts to break. Annoyed as I was, what's a guy supposed to do? I had a plane to catch and it was either buy these for $14.99 or pay $80 for an even crappier pair at the airport news stand.

Not having much of I choice, I bought:

AVB Retractable Earphone

Sound Quality:
You, the reader, should be happy to know that I'm not going to review these things based on sound quality at all. People who review earbuds based on sound quality are pricks. First off, to a truly discerning listener, all earbuds sound worse than a nice pair of full-sized headphones or studio monitors. I don't care if they're $3 generic earbuds or $300 in-ear phones (yes these exist and some jerk buys them). Secondly, they're meant to be used with portable audio devices. Nowadays, that means an iPod or a pathetic iPod knock off. If you want pristine sound quality, you're not going to get it out of a lossy AAC or MP3 file anyhow. Get over it. It sounds good enough to listen to and you can take your whole library with you wherever you go - and that's exactly what it's designed to do.

Retractable Cord:
The cord winds up into the plastic enclosure that lives halfway along the length of the cord. To extend the cord, you simply pull it out. To retract it, you pull it out a little further and it retracts itself - sort of like a window blind. Being able to retract the cord is a nice feature. When storing the phones in your pocket or bag, you won't have to untangle a spaghetti mess every time you want to listen to something. However, it's not without problems. The biggest problem I've discovered with it so far is that there is no way to lock the mechanism and prevent it from retracting. What this means is that every now and again, you'll turn the wrong way or accidentally pull on the cord and it will retract, removing the earbuds from your ears. It doesn't happen to me very often but I'm a pretty sedimentary listener. I think this would happen more often when using the headphones during running or otherwise exercising. Surprisingly, I haven't had any problems with the cord tangling up. I thought for sure it would be a tangle nightmare when I first saw it. It's not.

Apparently nobody on the design team for these things ever put them into their ears before they went into mass production. The earpieces don't have the foam covers that one usually sees on earbuds. Without foam covers over the ends, they're extremely uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. In addition, the smooth rubbery surface surrounding the earphones is pretty slick. As such, they fall out of my ears every few minutes. Finally, my ears are really waxy. They're, crazy, disgusting, mutant ears. I could start a candle farm. Without any sort of cover, these things are going to be a nasty mess eventually. I'm hoping that a pair of foam replacement covers for another set of earbuds will fit but I haven't tried a pair yet.

One thing that confused me when I bought these phones was the little roach clip near the plug. I tried clipping it to my clothing, the cord, my nipples - nothing made sense. Finally, on a whim, I clipped it to leather case that I keep my iPod in. With the headphones clipped to my iPod case, I can retract the cord and it all stays together - even if the plug is removed from the iPod. As such, I can use my FM transmitter without losing my headphones. This, when combined with the retractable cord is what keeps me from tossing these things in the garbage (or losing them the next time I get in my car).

They're uncomfortable. They fall out of my ears when they aren't ripped out by accidentally retracting the cord. I expect the retraction mechanism will break long before the phones would have failed otherwise. However, the fact that they stay neatly connected to my iPod case and won't get lost means I'm stuck with them for quite some time.

In the end, they were much less crappy than I originally would have guessed. On the crap scale, I give them 2/4 steaming piles (0 being best, 4 being worst - rating system to be explained in a future post)