Archive for August, 2008

End Part 1: The Cube is Done

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Although there will be more to come in the form of speakers, the Companion Cube Subwoofer is finished. I glued the last pieces last night and took some glamor shots this morning. I’ll let the pics do the talking. I’ll continue the other half of this project in Part 2: GlaDos Speaks with Her Eyes. The sub weighs in at just under 40lbs. It’s heavy.

Talk about this in the forums: www.modsandends.com/forum

A long awaited update to the Cube

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

After some trouble getting the EL wire, I finally got it and worked hard on the Companion Cube Subwoofer today. I did a number of things. First I drybrushed a metallic gray onto the cube to give it a sheet metal sort of look. It worked pretty well and I am very satisfied with the results. It really added some depth to the gray.

I drilled holes and ran the EL wire. This is some pretty fun stuff. The pink is just right. Here is a great blurry picture of the cube in the dark. The wire is run in the grooves and holes are drilled so the wire can from one track to another on the inside on the box.

A quick mock-up with the corners on. The wire will have epoxy over it, and then the epoxy will be painted pink. The glow will show through when it is dark, just like in the game.

Here is the EL wire inverter. It will just hang like it is, but it can be removed. It is on the back, next to the sub amp.

I put epoxy in the grooves to bury the EL wire, and then painted it pink. I then added the mounted the amp and woofer. Here’s a pic of the results.

Some glue on the corners, and this is getting very close to done.

A pic of the back. You can see the amp and the inverter. I hate waiting for glue to dry.

Companion Cube Continues

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Today I waited for the mail to come, but I didn’t get the EL wire I ordered.  Maybe tomorrow.

Instead, I worked more on the paint. The screenshot shows that There is some grading between the gray of the cube, and the complete white of the corner pieces. I decided that I would try my hand at dry brushing to add the gray. I first added the gray, and then after it had dried a little more I added another drybrush layer of white. It turned out pretty ok. There’s some natural looking wear on the corner pieces, and grade from gray to white looks pretty good too.

Here’s the cube sanded. The white was way too shiny, and the finish wasn’t completely smooth. Sanding also added some wear to the cube that it needed. None of the pictures here show the detail very well.

Here you can see the gray added and the super light white coat to cover up the wear that was a little overboard.

Finally, here’s a close up of the gray to white. There’s too much white in the pic. Sorry, there’s nothing I can really do to fix that.

Later I will add a clear coat, but first I will wait for the EL wire to show up and I will get it mounted and epoxied in.

Another Update to the Companion Cube Subwoofer

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

I was unsatisfied with the results I was getting, so I decided to repaint the cube. It was frustrating, but worth it. I like the new results a lot more and after some dry brushing and a few coats of clear, it will look perfect. I’m still waiting on the pink EL wire to ship, but it should be here before the end of the week and then I can finish the subwoofer. The speakers will come next. I have the drivers, but everything else to make them needs to be purchased.

Let’s take a moment and compare the new paint job and old to a screenshot of our favorite cube.

Now, knowing that the new paint job isn’t finished yet, which is closer to the screenshot?

Zune80 and Zune AV Dock Review

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

Back in December I purchased the Zune80. I was tempted for a while to get the Zune30 to replace my 20gig iPod that has slowly been dying, but decided to wait for the Zune80 instead. Here I will go through the review and give a final score.

If you have not yet heard of the Zune, it is a portable media player that is able to play music, videos, radio, podcasts, and display pictures. I got my Zune80 at Target for $250 and brought it home.

Unpacking

Here is the box.

From the back.

The top of the box slides off the bottom vertically. The design is pretty cool considering the whole thing is made from cardboard. I like the orange/pink fade theme that Microsoft uses. Very cool.

Inside the base is a box with a flap; lift the flap and you will see your Zune.

The box that holds the Zune is removable. Behind it are boxes that hold the USB cable and the headphones.

Underneath those boxes is a cool graphic that reads, “Welcome to the Social”

Opening the headphone box you can see that the orange/pink theme is even carried to the inside of the box. Details like this make the packaging pretty darn cool.

Here are the Zune Premium Headphones. The cord is wrapped in woven nylon and the earbuds are magnetic to help with tangling issues. The earbuds come with three sizes of covers, for variously sized ears.

Here are some closeups of the earbuds.

Magnetically held together.

Side shot.

Here is a shot of the USB cable for the Zune. It comes with pink shields that are pretty cool in all honesty.

Finally some shots of the Zune.

Zune alone. The screen is glass which makes it very scratch resistant, but to protect it even more I added an Invisible Shield screen protector from ZAGG. I am sold on their screen protectors. You can go to their site here and see the gizmodo test here. You can also see another torture test here.

The back. Too small for me to get a picture of is that is says “Hello from Seattle” near the bottom with the serial and model numbers.

A comparison shot to my old iPod.

A shot of the screen.

Specifications:

Capaicty:
The Zune has hard drive based storage with a capacity of 80Gb.

Dimensions:
It’s 4.26 x 2.41 x 0.51-inches.

Screen and Resolution:
It has a 3.2 inch screen with a resolution of 320 × 240, but can output to a TV at a resolution of 720×480.

Compatible audio formats:
Mp3, AAC, and WMA.

Compatible video formats:
Mpeg-4, and WMV.

The Zune could not be used in the slightest until I had installed the software on my computer and updated some firmware on the Zune. This was very frustrating as I knew that there was music and video on the device already. Once the software was installed, however, I was pretty very happy.

Software Pros:
The software automatically updates the music in your collection by actively searching the folders you have designated to the Zune. If there is any new music or videos, it gets added to the library, no work from you. This is a huge plus for me.

Software Cons:
The software is very clunky. Very often it will freeze when opening a song. This is frustrating, but I don’t usually use the software for media playback. I mostly just use it to get the media from my computer to the Zune.

There are also issues with music with an unknown artist. If there are several CDs or songs with an unknown artist, they all must be changed to the same artist. I discovered that this is because the software doesn’t search the metadata to know these things, but searches for where the file is located to name the artist. If you rename the artist, the folder containing the music will be renamed. This can be fixed by going into the folder and sorting the music out, which in the end is better because it forces you to keep your music organized, but is still irritating.

First Impressions of the Device:
It is not much bigger than an ipod, and weighs about the same. The big improvement is the 3.2 inch screen. It is a lot easier to see than the ipod’s. Microsoft was also smart to make the words big and easy to read. The “squircle” is a really cool interface, but I find that it is a lot harder to use the touch function side to side than it is up and down. One drawback of the squircle is that people inevitably try to use it as a scroll wheel . Music playback is great. I love the menu and how you can navigate between lists of artists, genres, albums, and songs without having to go back first. This is a big improvement over the iPod.

Music sounds great. The headphones are noise isolating, so they block out some outside noise. Bass response it decent, but when I went to equalize it I was unpleasantly surprised.

NO EQUALIZER!

The lack of an equalizer is a huge oversight in my opinion. It’s frustrating on many levels. However, the sound quality overall of the Zune is enough for me to forgive the fact that I can’t adjust it. Music sounds clear and crisp. Details are not lost. In the end I am ok with no equalizer, but I hope that they release a firmware update soon to add one.

Video is amazing. The screen is bright and big. The resolution may be the same as the iPod, but the fact that I have so much more screen to look at means that I actually use the device to watch movies and TV shows. It’s really very beautiful and something you have to see in person to really appreciate.

Zune AV Station

I have a friend who purchased a Zune30 and in the end was unsatisfied with it and returned it. He had the Zune AV station (which was un-returnable) and asked if I wanted it. I said yes, so here are some shots and my impressions of it.

Everything.

The AC adapter. Really it just turns AC power to USB. You use the same USB from your computer to power the dock, although another USB cable is included.

The remote.

My Zune plugged into the base.

Output to my TV. I’m sorry for the poor quality. I was never able to get a good picture.

Impressions
The AV station turns this portable media machine into a home entertainment monster. You can view slideshows of pictures along with music, you can watch your videos at DVD quality on the TV. The remote works flawlessly with the same controls as the Zune itself, minus the touchpad capabilities. I absolutely love the dock and don’t know how I got along for so long without it.

Final Thoughts
If you are debating between the Zune80 or an iPod, stop. The Zune is your device (unless you own a mac). The screen is bigger, it can play the radio, music and video. It is beautiful and durable. The AV Dock integrates flawlessly with the device, allowing you to use all your media in your home’s entertainment center. I am in love, and I’m not scared to admit it. If the software is ever fixed then we will have a product that I feel will actually be an iPod killer, or if not a killer, at least a little brother that steals his older brother’s girlfriend.

Final Scores:

Packaging:10/10
Device:11/10
Software:7/10
AV Dock:10/10

Portal Shirts Review

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

Here is my review of the Portal shirts available at the Valve Store.

I ordered the shirts and they arrived about two weeks later. The first thing I noticed was that the shirts feel incredibly soft. I looked back on the site and read “100% combed soft jersey cotton.” This is different than the other shirts on the site, which look and feel no different than your typical tee.

The designs on the Weighted Companion Cube Tribute Tee are taken right out of the game. The back reads,

The GLaDOS shirt has a picture of GLaDOS on the front and one of her eyes on the back. The color and feel of the cotton is the same as the first shirt.

I only have one complaint about these shirts. The images are slightly pixelated, as if made from a computer image that was blown up too much. I cannot decide if this is because Valve was lazy in the production of the shirts or if they were printed at the maximum resolution possible, which is just not that detailed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I love these shirts. Because they are softer and thinner than normal shirts, I always wear an under shirt and I do not wear them for yard-work or other labor that would wear them out. However, they do look nicer than a regular tee, and because of that I can wear them in situations where dress is not formal, but I do not want to look like a slob. They are sleek and have a designer look and feel. They are high quality, which justifies the $25 price vs. the $20 price of other shirts on the site. If they are your taste, I recommend picking them up for yourself at http://store.valvesoftware.com.

And some more pics . . .

A bigger shot of the back of the cube shirt:

And the back of the GlaDos shirt:

. . .and the Cube Goes On

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

In a previous post I revealed that I am working on some speakers. Well, not it is very obvious that I am building a set of Portal speakers from the game developed by Valve. I’ve been working hard on the Compaion Cube Subwoofer and here it is almost finished. I am going to add a few details this week and by this Saturday it should be done. The speakers that will go with it haven’t even been started, and details on them is still secret. All you can do for now is just enjoy what I give you.

I got all my parts from Parts Express. Here’s the sub amp and 8″ woofer.

I know what you really want. You want to see the sub box with a little more detail. Here’s the box painted up. It’s a little darker than I hoped, but there’s not a lot you can do without getting it custom painted at an autobody shop. Later this week I will add the EL wire and glue on all the corners. Then there is a little wiring, and screwing in the amp and woofer. Then the Subwoofer will be done!

Boostaroo Review

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

The Boostaroo will give you a 12″ cord and the power to go for many more hours.

I could’ve resisted, but it was just too good to pass up.

The Boostaroo is a headphone amp/splitter that allows you to share music without having to divide the power from your device.

Read the tech specs from the site.

What does all this mean?

Well, normally when you get a headphone splitter, the power from your CD player/MP3 player gets divided up between the number of headphones. In essence, if two people are sharing headphones, they each get half the power they would have had.

Things are different with the Boostaroo. The signal from your device gets amplified. If another person plugs into the Boostaroo, the power stays the same. Your volume is just as high after they plug in as it was before, and their volume is equal to yours.

Why did I buy the Boostaroo? I looked at this product for a few years when I was in high school and always loved the idea, but never loved the $26 price tag, and never got it.

Another reason it was desirable for me was that I owned a pair of Zalman ZM-RS6F 5.1 Surround Sound Headphones, and I wanted to use all six speakers on the headphones while on trips.

So, the other day I was at the local Fred Meyer and I saw a boostaroo for $20. Six dollars less and no shipping talked me into getting it, even though my need for it now is practically zero. I got to the register and got some mystical $6 rebate on it and only paid $14.

To test it I used the Boostaroo with my Zalman surround phones with all jacks plugged in, and with my Ultraphones. The device itself is great. You can turn the volume from your CD or MP3 player down to save battery life on it and still get the same volume. Sound quality is not lost. There is a tiny bit of white noise that you get from the device, but you will only hear it if you are listening for it, if you are in a silent room, and if you have a pair of extremely nice headphones.

Testing the Zalman headphones is kindof unfair at this point. Judging the quality of a pair of headphones that you can buy for $40 against a pair that goes for $220 is a little unfair. The Zalman headphones a crap in comparison. I can’t go back from the amazing quality of the Ultraphones and be able to tell you the benefit of buying the Boostaroo and the Zalman ZM-RS6F 5.1 Surround Sound Headphones. There is just no comparison to a pair of really good headphones. However, The Zalman headphones sound infinitely better when all three plugs are being used with the boostaroo. There is a definite difference in the channels in the Zalman headphones. There’s a woofer, mid, and tweeter, and the headphones sound best when all speakers are being used. I would reccomend the Boostaroo to anyone who already owns the Zalmans and wants to use them on the go.

There are a few issues with the Boostaroo. It’s good that it gives a boost of volume and power, but you need to remember that if you are using these to help overpower the sound of jet engines or road noise, you are using higher and higher volume. This can be very damaging to your ears. You will be much better off buying a pair of noise canceling or noise isolation headphones, which can protect your hearing and let you hear your music too. This really means that there is only one practical use for the boostaroo, which is to share your music with other headphone users without dividing the power. Because of this lack of variation in use, it is hard to recommend it. The last thing is that there is no individual volume control, so if one user has nice headphones and the other user does not, then one person is inevitably going to be too loud or soft.

Pros

  • More Power!!!
  • Up to three listeners. All get the same power
  • Small
  • Not that expensive
  • Good for Zalman Surround Sound headphone owners
  • Much better than a normal Y-splitter

Cons

  • Loud music can damage your hearing
  • Is that white noise I hear?
  • Only one practical use
  • Does not replace a pair of good headphones

To conclude I have to say that I reccomend this only to those that go on long bus trips (any band geeks here?) and want to share their music with others while on the trip. If that sounds like you then don’t delay and get the Boostaroo. If you were thinking of getting this product to help the quality of a cheap pair of headphone, then save the money and get better headphones instead. There is no replacement for a pair of really nice headphones.

As a post review laugh, let’s lookat the silly packaging. As you can see, a politically correct group of friends are listening to their “hi-fi” music, all thanks to the boostaroo. Haha.