Surveying the state of small desktop computers

The fact is that I’m in need of a new desktop computer. My current desktop was purchased an embarrassingly long time ago. It was an impulse purchase, inspired by an attractive offer at Woot.com.

These sorts of transitions are no surprise. I’ve been on the lookout for suitable replacements for a year or more. I know that I don’t want just another huge box. I want something potent, but small and hopefully very quiet.

Is that what they call, “out of the box thinking?” Here are some thoughts about a few notable candidates.

1. CompuLab’s Airtop PC

I’m still seriously enamored with the Airtop PC from Compulab. It’s a fine piece of engineering.

It’s completely fanless, so dead silent. It has both Intel Iris Pro 6200 onboard graphics and an nVidia discrete graphics adapter. It’s capable of driving 7 (!) displays.

The 5th generation Intel i7-5775C CPU might be getting older, but it still measures well against the current crop of Skylake and Kaby Lake processors.

It accommodates six storage devices while maintaining a compact footprint. It even has one PCIe slot to handle my HDMI capture card.

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Logitech’s Brio 4k Webcam Pro

There’s a new webcam in the house…errr…home office! Yes, I have received a sample of Logitech’s latest, the Brio 4K Webcam Pro.

Even before the sample arrived I had a great conversation about the Brio with Dave Michels. Dave captured that discussion for publication on his blog.

I’ve put the Brio through a few simple experiments and learned a few things. At least superficially, it does what it says. Connected via USB 3.0 it delivers a 2160p30 (aka 4k) stream using MJPEG encoding to vMix and OBS.

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Introducing VB-Audio’s Spectralissime

It’s been said that, “You can’t manage what can’t be measured.” While this idea is most generally true, it’s definitely true with respect to various types of signal systems. Throughout my career I’ve focused on audio and video production, so I find myself drawn to new tools in that space.

A couple of years ago I discovered Vincent Burel’s VB-Audio software. His Virtual Audio Cables, VoiceMeeter, and later VoiceMeeter Banana, have fundamentally changed how I handle sound on my computers.

A short while ago he released a new software package called “Spectralissime.” This program is a real-time audio analyzer (RTA.)

RTAs are used to evaluate the spectral makeup of a sound. That is, they create a visual representation of the loudness (Y axis) vs the frequency (pitch) along the X-axis.

RTA’s are profoundly useful. In the most simple case, I’ve used them to evaluate a signal path for HDVoice capability. I’d send a white noise tone across a SIP link between two soft phones, comparing the the result against the original tone.

A more common use would be to setup a music playback system. It would help you to balance the low, mid- and high-frequency playback elements. They’re routinely used to analyze the acoustics of a room for unwanted resonances.

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Logitech Launches A New Flagship: The Brio 4K Pro Webcam

With a commanding 73% market share, Logitech is the leader in webcams. They’ve been very successful at diversifying their product range, introducing the ConferenceCam, GROUP and PTZ Pro models aimed at business users.

These business oriented offerings have vaulted the company to new heights in the VC/UC space. Yet the meeting/huddle room focus left desktop users clinging to the HD Pro Webcam C920 and C930e. While these are both excellent products, they have been around a very long time.

All of that changes today with the launch of the Logitech Brio 4k Pro Webcam, their first completely new model in a long while.

This new model is a new flagship, offered to both business and consumer users. At first glance, Brio looks to be the webcam that we might have been expecting when the C922x launched last fall.

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Sometimes life throws you a curve…or a curved HDTV

Back in December we replaced our aged Sharp Aquos HDTV with a new Vizio model. As is my way, I spent considerable time researching the purchase.

At the time I knew what I wanted to spend, and had some guidance about how large I could go without getting into trouble. We were replacing a 42″ model and Stella did want something too much bigger.

Along the way, I noticed that there appeared to be a passing fashion in curved HDTVs. I say “passing” because in Q4-2016 the curved models were very heavily discounted, where their flat counterparts were not.

samsung-tv-suhd-ks9000-curved-600px

Similarly, I’ve seen curved computer monitors offered at greater discounts than comparable flat models from the same manufacturer. Although the trend is not as pronounced with computer monitors.

I had my doubts about curved displays for general use. My suspicion seems to have been well-founded, since a writer at The Verge today posted a short and rather pointed negative review of their new, curved Samsung HDTV.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the display or the electronics. It’s just that the curved geometry virtually ensures that you’re going to suffer a huge amount of glare in any typical viewing environment.

I settled upon a 50″ Vizio M Series (M50-D1) as being the best choice. It was a newer model and very well reviewed in multiple places, including CNet, Reviews.com, Digital Trends, amongst many others. Everyone liked the product, which gave me some confidence.

I may have something to say about the Vizio TV one day soon. It lacks a tuner and comes with a low-end Android tablet as a remote control. So far we’re pretty happy with it.

Do you have one of the curved TVs or monitors? Do you think the curve is a good thing?

A Story About Keeping The Wine Cool

wine coolerA few years ago my wife gave me a lovely Kenmore Elite wine cooler as a gift. This appliance lives in our kitchen, doing exactly what you’d expect. That is, until last month. Last month the cooler temperature went down to near freezing and could not be adjusted. Thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit is much too cold for wine.

Since it’s a Kenmore appliance I called the Sears appliance repair service to come service the gadget. The technician arrived and diagnosed the issue based solely upon my description of the problem. He said that controller board was faulty and should be replaced. It seemed a sensible diagnosis.

He then quoted me $130 for the part and $275 in labor to install it. With taxes, the repair was going to cost around $450. That’s not much less than the cost of a comparable, brand new wine cooler. A new cooler would have a warranty.

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