Category Archives: Reviews

But How Good Is It? Headphones – Sennheiser HD280 and PC360, Creative Sound Blaster Arena Surround and Tactic 3D Sigma, JVC HA-S600 Review

2 Sennheisers, 2 Creative Sound Blasters and a set of JVCs. Which are best? Find out here…

Sennheisers
Recently I have tried Sennheiser HD280(~£90) and PC360(~£160) headsets, some very expensive devices, which I would never have bought mainly due to their extreme price. The 280s were fairly uncomfortable, however the 360s fit fairly well. With the HD280s, I felt the sound was distant, further away from my ears, and the cups sat on top of my ears and started to hurt slightly after a while. I found the 360s much more comfortable, and the audio seemed closer and more surrounding. The microphone on the 360s looks very good, folds up when not in use, and my friends say the quality is amazing. Both Sennheisers use 3.5mm headphone jacks, (the 360s use 2, headphone and microphone, the 280s lack a microphone and only use one) – which is nice if you want to use it with an MP3 player or phone – anything that isn’t a computer. I believe both sets also allow their earcups to fold up – making them slightly smaller.

Sennheiser HD280s
Pros:

  • Headphone jack

Cons:

  • I didn’t like the audio quality – seems fair away and quiet
  • No microphone
  • Hurt to wear for extended periods (although my helmet size is XL)
  • Not very noise cancelling

Overall: Didn’t like them that much. 3/10

Sennheiser PC360
Pros:

  • Microphone (A good one too, apparently)
  • Headphone jacks
  • Look really good
  • Better, closer, more defined audio than the 280s
  • Comfy – non squeezing – very wide
  • Fairly noise proof

Cons:

  • Very expensive

Overall: A headset I would use fairly happily, if they were my only ones. Good gaming headset. 7/10

Creatives
What’s the difference between the Arena Surround and Tactic Sigma? The Sigma headsets are newer than the old Arenas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are superior. Both support detachable microphones, which I think is a great feature, both have very comfortable, ear surrounding, soft cups, both have an adjustable volume option on the cable with microphone muter, and both have great audio quality – the best from any headset I’ve tried in my opinion. There are a few differences between the old and the new however, the white Arenas have a USB connection which is a shame as I would wear them everywhere otherwise, but they can make themselves slightly smaller – the cups rotate so they can be packed flat – with the cups facing away from you. The Sigmas don’t collapse at all – making them very bulky, but have the best of both connections – 2 3.5mm jacks that you can use with your phone, but also come with a THX headphone jacks to USB adapter – which I guess makes the audio even better, with the right software and drivers.

Creative Sound Blaster Arena Surround (white ones)
Pros:

  • The best, closest, sound quality in my opinion
  • Feel very durable, good cable too
  • Onboard volume controls and microphone mute
  • Comfy cups! Could, and do, wear the, for hours
  • Very noise resistant
  • Make you look like a pilot
  • Closer to £35 than the huge Sennheiser prices

Cons:

  • USB connection only, so I can’t use them more

Overall: I love them, favourite headset, but USB limits use. 9.5/10

Creative Sound Blaster Tactic 3D Sigma
Pros:

  • Very good audio quality
  • Looks like a very good microphone with foam around it
  • Both USB and headphone jacks!!!
  • Volume controls and microphone mute
  • Good noise resistance
  • Around the £50 mark at a quick look

Cons:

  • Bulky, don’t collapse, feel a bit more fragile and less rugged
  • Cable is flat, more like a rubber ribbon, doesn’t feel as durable

Overall: Great headset for your desk, not for travel. 7.5/10

JVC
And finally a pair of JVCs. Why? Because I bought these myself. For me to buy tech usually requires extensive research by searching online of reviews and trying to find the best price. I was with my flat mates in HMV trying out the funny looking Beats headphones (£150-£350+), found that the £350 pair were actually quite good. The smaller headsets that didn’t encompass your ears weren’t so great, and not worth their price tag. Trying on some other brands, I came across some £30 JVCs, which almost silenced the store when I put them on. They have no noise cancelling ability, but their cups comfortably fit right around your ears, preventing some noise and cold air from entering them. I wear them every day on my commute to work, and am wearing them now, sat on a train. Why? They are feel fairly sturdy, collapse to a much smaller size than any previously mentioned headset – great for travel and being stored in a bag. Audio quality is great, and feels close to my ears. I have blue ones, but saw someone with the white variety on the train just today, which look really good.

JVC HA-S600
Pros:

  • Headphone Jack
  • Very comfy to wear for extended periods
  • Fold up to a convenient travel size
  • Audio seems encompassing and close, like the creatives
  • About £15 from Tesco online when I bought them
  • Fairly noise cancelling

Cons:

  • No microphone, but you wouldn’t want one on a travel headset
  • Sound quality isn’t quite as fulfilling as the creatives

Overall: I love them, brilliant for travel, when I eventually wear them out, I will buy more. 10/10

But How Good Is It? Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver

I have always wanted to be able to use my Xbox 360 controller with my PC, as I am much more accustomed to it than a mouse and keyboard for First Person Shooter (FPS) and driving games. There are two ways to go about hooking up an Xbox controller to the PC, buy a wired Xbox controller (should work on both Xbox and PC) or buy a “wireless gaming receiver”. You cannot use a “play and charge kit” wire (controller – USB) to use your controller with the PC, as it seems to only transmit power and not data.

I went for the wirless gaming receiver, an unofficial one. Official ones were about £20, I got mine for £10 including postage.

What’s in the box?

Included in the box was:

  • The wireless receiver with a very long cable, 6 foot apparently.
  • Mini disc with drivers, instructions, software etc on it.
Installation

On many review that I read before buying, I saw a lot of people had problems with the drivers, especially with Windows 64 bit, which I have.
Sure enough, I plugged in the device – “Device not recognised” by Windows.
I popped the disk in and found the instructions, and drivers for 32 bit Windows.
After a quick Google, I found that the drivers seem to be built in already (and this unofficial device seems to use the same as the official one?), and found the following instructions on this website.

  • Right click on Computer
  • Go to Properties
  • Click on Device Manager
  • Right click on the Unidentified Device
  • Go to Properties
  • Go to the Drive tab
  • Click on Update Driver…
  • Browse my computer for driver software
  • Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer
  • Microsoft Common Controller for Window Class
  • Xbox 360 Wireless Receiver for Windows Version: 2.1.0.1349 [8/13/2009]
  • Update Driver Warning
  • Click Yes

My device manager listed 2 unknown devices, so I repeated this process, clicking whatever was the newer dated driver.

First Use

Now the right drivers were installed, the controllers connected easily (and quicker than to the Xbox 360). I connected 2, and it seemed all happy. There is a standard connect button on the device to press to open it up to new devices (controllers/headsets etc). Had a few teething issues, selecting it in a game seemed very easy (tried it in Off Road: Drive, Race Driver: Grid and Trucks & Trailers so far), and I configured the buttons to do what I wanted. One problem I had was that Off Road Drive kept pausing, but after restarting the game it seems fine now. With Trucks & Trailers (lorry driving), I noticed that when the steering wheel had been moved, it would move back to its normal (straight) position, but sometimes would be slightly off centre. This seemed to be the controller steering slightly in one direction once being used to steer, and I countered this by turning up the steering deadzone slightly.

After the odd tweak to the settings here and there, I had great fun in using my controllers with the different driving games, providing as I hoped, much more control over the vehicles. One thing you must remember is that the Xbox controller has much less buttons than a keyboard does! This is fine for GRID etc, but for Off Road Drive, with all of its different options in game for locking differentials, delfating tyres, engaging winches etc.. I had to double up some buttons (e.g hold RB and press A to turn the winch on, just A itself is handbrake).
On the disk comes some software which comes with an old HTML troubleshooting guide, and can display battery status etc, as shown in the image below.

Would I buy it again?

Yes, definitely. Would I go for the official version… possibly. This one hasn’t really let me down yet, and I believe it must be almost as good as the official ones.
Matt

But How Good Is It? Samsung SyncMaster 2033HD

Bit of History
When I first got a desktop, I had a CRT (fat) monitor. Since then I have had an unbranded 15″ish silver plasma display, and a 17″ LG LCD TV. CRTs are now a thing of the past, the old monitor I had was fine, but had some terrible speakers built in either side. The LG Flatron M1721A is an okay TV. Built before HD was so common, I managed to get it cheap – £75 I believe, as there was a new Maplins opening in Kidderminster. It has speakers that are okay and ports on the back include ariel, VGA, scart and the 3 coloured component ports that old Xbox’s and PlayStations plug into (red white and yellow). I noticed after a while, a year or two, the reds that the tv displays, it displays them, then also copies them and displays them a short distance faintly from the original. Not sure why, and not too noticeable for most things, but sometimes you do see a red blur. It is currently in use connected to my Toshiba laptop, as I am home for Christmas – and it is doubling as a second screen.

Samsung 2033HD

Samsung SyncMaster 2033HD
On Amazon, I was looking for monitors and came across the Samsung 2033HD – a 20 inch widescreen monitor/tv with freeview built in and a whole host of ports on the back. It looked so good, my parents bought one too for their bedroom. They were priced at a very reasonable (must have been reduced) price of £120. This monitor/tv did not disappoint – it could do everything I wanted and more – I could connect my HDMI Xbox 360, my old Xbox with it’s component connection, my scart freeview box, my VGA pc etc etc.. it was so good, I wanted two.

But How Good Is It?
Very, with 720p HD (not quite 1080p), built in freeview – you just need an external antenna, dozens of ports and a pretty sleek design – I liked it. So what about the specs? Well it is a 20 inch LCD widescreen, with 16.7 million colours – which has to be enough for any domestic situation.. Speakers are in there, and to be fair are pretty good – I have played guitar hero on it, and not had a problem at all. It does sound better coming through my £15 logitech speakers, but only if you compare them consciously. 5ms response time seems to be as low as most other TVs out there, a TV remote is included, as is a stand, and the TV is wall-mountable if you buy a bracket.

Ports – in my opinion the most impressive part of this TV..

  • 2 x HDMI (1 on the side, under a little flap)
  • DVI-D
  • SCART
  • VGA
  • Component video input – RCA x 3
  • Audio line in – RCA x 2 (red and white from the yellow, red, white)
  • Audio line in – mini phone stereo (normal headphone jack it seems)
  • SPDIF – TOSLINK – fibre optic audio – never used this, probably never will
  • Another headphone jack on the side – very useful for connecting to speakers intermittently
  • Antenna in
  • Common interface – on the side – never used – something to do with DTV receivers.
  • USB port for servicing/firmware I believe. Don’t think you can use flash drives with it.. I’ll have to try..

Well that’s the list, the main ones are the 2 HDMIs for PC graphics cards / new laptops, VGA and DVI for PCs etc and the headphone jack on the side is useful too.

Montiors - old pc left, new pc right

Old pc CHKDSKing on the left, new pc installing Realplayer on the right

What’s in the box?
Included is:

  • Samsung 2033HD TV
  • Remote control
  • Stand (bottom bit)
  • VGA cable
  • Instructions

Overall
Overall a fantastic all-rounder TV, and good for the budget concious, they do occasionally seem to drop in price, keep your eyes on eBay. I loved mine so much, I bought another – exactly the same (although one seems to be a millimetre shorter or so). It makes the computing experience so much nicer having identical dual screens. I got the other one second hand off eBay, only quibble it has one dead pixel in the middle which is a little annoying (stuck on red), tried all I could to shift it, but nothing worked. I use a HDMI – HDMI and HDMI (TV end) to DVI-I cable to get from the TVs to my ATI HD6850 graphics card (outputs: HDMI, DVI, DVI, Display Port).
I am very happy with the pair of them, they look pretty cool, they have a blue glow in middle-bottom under the TV when it is on (pulsing if standby). They are made from black very glossy plastic, which gets dusty quick but does look good. One thing to bear in mind if buying twin monitors that are the same – they will BOTH respond to one remote control if it is pointed generally in their direction. I have had a few times where I go to turn the one off, and the other starts as well. I turn the awakened one off, and the other one comes on in reply.. can be prevented by putting the remote right next to their little sensor (bottom right dot on the plastic). No major hassle really. They also do have a fair few controls onboard the TV – along the right hand side (the little flat for the HDMI, headphone jack and CI is on the left), including power, vol up and down, source, programme up and down too I think. The main ones you use are source and power (bottom) though.

Quick Pros and Cons
Pros: Lots of ports, TV in built with freeview, HDMI, great quality, wide screen, big enough to have a document snapped left and right to each half (windows key and left / right arrow keys for Windows 7).
Cons: 1 dead pixel on one of mine, its a fairly unlikely event though, they take a couple of seconds(3-4) to fire up, which is a bit more than a normal pc monitor. I don’t think they are that adjustable – they tilt forwards and backwards I think, which is more than good enough for me – but I know e.g some dells can go up, down, forward, backward and even rotate..
If you want to see a video including this monitor starting up, click here.

Would I buy it again?
Yes, I’d buy two.
Matt

But How Good Is It? – Reviews

When buying new things, especially  technology, I take time – and lots of it. Why? Because I really like making informed decisions, and I want to know exactly what I am getting, what it will or will not do, will it work as I expected, and will it still do so a few months down the line?

Not much to ask normally, but it can be hard to find the a good bit of tech with the huge range of manufacturers and models out there. How many 20″ monitors are there? Thousands? Bound to be some rubbish ones and some “easter eggs” (amazing finds) in that mix.

So I write a few reviews of the things I have purchased – in the hope that it will allow someone to make a slightly more informed decision – as I try and put myself in the “user”s shoes – which is especially easy when I am a user. I will find out what annoys me about the product, could something be made better, and if there is something great about it. So comes the review set of blog posts about some of the tech I own, if its worth buying, crucially – would I buy it again?

First I am going to talk about a Samsung Display I have. But how good is it?