Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hitachi P50H401 1080p 50-inch Plasma HDTV with HDMI - Stunning Video

At the end of 2007 I decided to upgrade a plasma TV. I just could not resist the pre-Black Friday deal that Best Buy had. A 50-inch Hitachi plasma TV with 1080p-compliant inputs for $996? Yes, please.

So, credit card in hand, I walked to the closest Best Buy store on the day it was available at $1,000 off regular price (it sold at Best Buy and for $1,999 before and after this deal) and performed the transaction within 35 minutes of the store opening. For the total of a little under $1,150 (delivery included) and with no waiting in lines, I became an owner of the Hitachi P50H401.


The P50H401 is a 50-inch plasma HDTV with 1080p-compliant inputs (even though lists it as 1080i). It features 3 HDMI inputs, 1 S-video, 2 component video and 4 composite video inputs.

The screen has a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9 and a maximum native resolution of 1280x1080 (not quite full 1920x1080, but at least the vertical resolution is the same as 1080i/p signal’s).

The TV has a 3D Y/C digital comb filter, a built-in HD tuner. It has an optical digital audio out, 2-channel stereo sound with 10 W per channel and simulated surround, comes with a preprogrammed remote control.

The TV weighs 107 lbs with stand (92 lbs without). The stand (which I use) has a couple of holes for screws to bolt it down.

The TV has no PC input (unless your PC has DVI), no memory card reader slot (the SD slot it has is for upgrades only). Be advised that the TV has a power switch on the back/lower panel that has to be turned on initially, otherwise the TV will (obviously) not work. Delivery guys complained that they get returns for the sole reason buyers forget or do not know that the switch is there and is off by default.

The TV comes with a full 1-year in-home warranty from Hitachi (parts and labor) despite the sales person in the store trying to tell me that it is only 90 days for labor and that I have to ship it for warranty service. He repeated that he is non-commisioned several times. Sure.

I think he tried to sell me a warranty extension for $250. Since there is a full warranty for 1 year and I was buying with a credit card (which extends warranty), I declined.


I was considering hanging the TV on the wall, but decided against it the TV stand I have provides excellent viewing distance and perfect height. The supplied stand raises the TV enough for me to put my Athena C.5 center speaker directly in front of the TV and still be able to see the screen and even HITACHI logo directly below it.

The rear panel has most of the inputs with some in front, including one HDMI. I connected the Toshiba HD-A3 HD-DVD player to one of the HDMI inputs and the Pioneer DV-400V upconverting DVD player to another using 1080p setting.

I also used component video connection before the HDMI cables I ordered online arrived and the image quality was almost as good.

I use the optical digital audio out to feed audio from the off the air broadcasts to my Panasonic XR57 receiver. The sound from DVD players comes to the TV through the HDMI connection, but I also connected both of the DVD players to the receiver using their digital audio connections (optical and coaxial).

The TV is rated to consume 240W typical/480 W maximum, which is not bad for a 50-inch plasma TV.

The powering on and switching between channels (as well as menu operations) are a bit slow, but it is the curse of all HDTVs. The remote is OK, but not perfect. The buttons have high effort and could be laid out better.

Picture Quality 

Out of the box, the TV produced good picture, but (as is always the case) has over-boosted color and sharpness. Using AVIA calibration DVD, I made adjustments to the image. The settings I have are as follows: brightness (white level) 100, contrast (black level) 54, sharpness 34, color 37, color temperature high, noise reduction off, MPEG noise reduction off. There are other settings there as well, including several levels of black enhancement, out of which I use low or medium.

After calibration, the skin tones became normal, the images no longer looked cartoonish and the edges of objects stopped having white lines around them. The off the air programming, especially 1080i sports broadcasts, looks stunning. The TV has a good tuner that can pull in more channels analog and digital) than my previous analog TV could hope, with the same rabbit-ears antenna by Terk.

Update 09/2009: For over a year now, I have been using the Terk HDTVa amplified antenna, which lets me watch more channels than the previous Terk rabit-ears model.

The TV, unlike many plasmas, does not suffer from excessive glare and is no worse in this aspect that a CRT TV. In fact, it is better. The black level suffers however. The black is not pure black but rather dark grey. In this aspect, Panasonic TVs are the best. But despite poor black reproduction, the TV holds details perfectly in both shadows and highlights with brightness all the way up to 100 and contrast at 54.

The viewing angle is also excellent. I can see the images on TV while watching it almost perpendicular to the normal angle of view, which is not something LCD TVs can offer either.

I evaluated image quality with the HD-DVDs of 300 and the Bourne Identity that shipped with the Toshiba HD-A3 HD-DVD player over 1080i HDMI connection. By the way, each input remembers its own settings, so make sure you adjust contrast, etc. for all of them.

The images have superb cinema-like appearance in 1080. The detail level is excellent despite being not quite full 1080 in native resolution. The images have three-dimensional quality to them that DVD or anything standard-def cannot approach. You truly feel like you are there and looking at what is happening on the screen through a piece of glass.

Especially it is apparent in scenes with snow falling in Bourne or ashes flying in 300.

The only issue I see (and have no problem with) is the black level. Aside from it, the 3D-like sharp, detailed and smooth images make me want to never go to the movie theater again.

Standard-def images look good too, although not as detailed or 3D as high-def. The TV has quite a few zoom modes, including 4:3, 4:3 zoom, two 16:9 modes, 16:9 zoom, etc.


The TV has speakers, but I rarely use them. They can provide adequate volume for TV watching and have 2 mute modes (soft mute of 50% volume and full mute). The sound itself is OK for watching talk shows, no more than that.

The TV has an optical digital out that can output digital surround sound (e.g. from off the air broadcasts), which works perfectly with my Panasonic XR57 receiver.


I have had this TV for over 4 years and it worked well (it survived a move and a couple of earthquakes). I used it with the Terk HDTVa amplified antenna and got a lot of digital channels. I had to get rid of the TV thereafter, for reasons unrelated to its performance.

Pros: Excellent video quality, features, connectivity, viewing angle, lack of glare, price, warranty
Cons: Black level, some usability issues (slow menus, etc.)


Despite a couple of issues (black level, semi-decent remote, slow menus and input switching), the P50H401 is excellent. Its image quality is breathtaking, especially with high-definition sources, where you feel like you are watching the three-dimensional action through the glass and not on the screen. The excellent resolution, detail level in both shadows and highlights and smooth color make me very happy.

I probably would have bought this TV at its full list price if I had a choice of getting it or getting nothing. And that is not something I say often. I highly recommend this TV. Just make sure you calibrate it properly (as described above).

Canon PowerShot SX110 IS 9-Megapixl Digital Camera with 10x Optical Stabilized Zoom

It is difficult to "downgrade" from the mega-zoom camera to a compact point-and-shoot model. Having to forego 10x optical zoom after being able to zoom in dramatically is not fun. So the smaller mega-zoom cameras, such as Canon SX110 IS fill the niche between larger mega-zoom cameras with over 15x magnification and small 3-4x zoom pocket models.

Almost as compact as the compact cameras, but with versatility of 10x zoom, the SX110 IS is a neat camera. Mega-zoom cameras are fun to use overall. Not only you can really zoom in and therefore practice your creativity, they also have optics that is generally better than in pocket-sized cameras, resulting in sharper images.

Before digital mega-zoom cameras were available, you would have to carry around a bunch of lenses and a camera body to be able to get to 10x magnification, but now you can get a digital camera with 10x optical zoom and over for less than $300-400.

With 10x or more optical zoom, you can zoom in to magnify far-away objects while staying far from them. But not all mega-zoom cameras are created equal. Some cameras have no image stabilization at all (although, thankfully, they are rapidly becoming extinct), resulting in blurry images at high magnification levels and/or in dim light. Some cameras rely on increased sensitivity setting (ISO) to increase the shutter speed thereby reducing blur caused by the shake when the camera is handheld.

At the top of the mega-zoom hierarchy are cameras with optically-stabilized zooms. These cameras move an optical element within the lens (some shift the CCD sensor itself) to reduce or eliminate blur caused by shooting handheld. The Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is on of these cameras.

I have used many mega-zoom cameras, including the Panasonic DMC-FZ28, the Panasonic DMC-FZ18, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS, the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS, the Fuji S700, and others.

I recently bought and used the new Canon PowerShot SX110 IS with 10x optical zoom, optical image stabilization and 9-Megapixel resolution. Although this model is a good camera overall and has its advantages over the Canon SX10, it has its shortcomings, especially apparent after using the Panasonic DMC-FZ28.

What Is Canon SX110 IS? 

The Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is a digital camera with optical image stabilization, 10x zoom, 9-Megapixel resolution, 3-inch LCD. The camera has face detection and uses SD storage (SDHC capable).

The camera uses 2 AA. Its 10x optical zoom and optical image stabilization work together to give you sharp pictures when shooting handheld and/or at long distances.

The 10x optical zoom is an equivalent of 36-360mm. The SX110's maximum apertures is f/2.8 at wide angle and f/4.3 at full telephoto. It stores images on an SD cards in JPEG format. In addition to digital still photographs, the camera can record video clips with sound at up to 640x480 30 fps.

The camera is available in black or silver color. It is relatively compact and feels solid. The camera features fast USB 2.0 connectivity.


The SX110 IS lets you shoot at the resolutions of up to 9 MP, which lets you print enlargements or crop the part of the picture and print it with excellent results. And, of course, it is more than enough for the standard 6x4 prints.

The camera features selectable ISO between 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 as well as Auto and High ISO Auto. The camera has a very bright autofocus-assist light for better and faster focusing in low-light conditions. It works well in dim light.

The camera also features manual focusing mode with magnification, but frankly it is not something that is needed, since the auto focusing works so well.

Metering and Exposure 

The exposure modes include Program AE, Aperture and Shutter Priority mode, and even full Manual mode. The shutter speed can be set between 15 and 1/2,500 sec with speeds slower than 1.3 sec available in Shutter Priority or Manual mode and operating with noise reduction.

The light metering can be selected between Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot (center or AF point). I find Spot and Center-Weighted modes useful when taking pictures of people at distances where the flash doesn't reach in backlight. In Evaluative metering mode, the faces might turn out underexposed, unless you dial some exposure compensation.

In Spot mode, you can set metering to properly expose the face of your subject. Also, the Spot metering mode can help you figure out the proper exposure in difficult lighting conditions be metering off the object with known tonal characteristics and then dialing some exposure compensation.

The Program AE modes let you avoid figuring out the details and the full auto mode turns the operation into fully-automatic point-and-shoot affair.

Movie Mode 

The camera can record AVI movie clips at up to 640x480 pixels at 30 or 15 fps with sound.


The camera has an excellent Macro mode, which lets you get very close to your subject. It also has manual focusing, which, in conjunction to available manual exposure, makes it a very versatile camera.

LCD and Viewfinder 

The camera has a 3-inch LCD with good 230,000 pixels that covers 100% of the view. There is no viewfinder however. The LCD is fluid, has pleasing colors and good resolution. It is fluid, even in low light. I found that the LCD is well-visible in regular conditions, but in sunlight, visibility decreases.


Unlike the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS or Fuji S6000fd, which use 4 AA batteries or other cameras (e.g. Panasonic DMC-FZ28) which use proprietary Li-Ion battery packs, this model uses 2 AA batteries. Canon includes 2 alkaline batteries with the camera, but obviously you have to get your rechargeable batteries, preferably NiMH of high capacity and a charger if you plan to use the camera at all as the alkaline batteries that are included don't last long and cannot be recharged.

I have used 2 Rayovac 2300 mAh NiMH batteries. I personally dislike cameras that don't come with rechargeable batteries (unless they are inexpensive) and here is why. Usually, cameras that use 2 AA batteries are slow in recharging their flashes. The ones that use 4 AA batteries are bulky and heavy once batteries are loaded, plus it is cumbersome to remove and reinsert four of them. With 4 AA batteries, the additional disadvantage is the price of batteries and the charger, the weight and inconvenience of having to deal with 4 batteries instead of one.

Still, I am willing to give a camera a chance if it is very good in other respects. The advantage of using AA batteries is the ease of finding replacement rechargeable or disposable batteries.

As mentioned above, the 2-AA battery cameras have issues flash recycle time. Just as I suspected, the SX110 proved this simple truth once more as its flash recycle took up to 11 seconds.

A quick suggestion on maximizing battery life: turn off its continuous focus and continuous image stabilization, both of which are battery hogs. If you disable both of them (and switch to focusing and OIS only after the shutter release button is depressed), the battery life improves.


The camera provides up to 9MP resolution, which provides excellent prints up to 10x8 inches, provided lighting is good.


The camera is well built and has a solid feel. The camera has a SLR-style body and is relatively convenient to hold. Upon arrival, I loaded my two 2300 mAh Rayovac NiMH batteries, inserted my 512 MB SD card and was ready to shoot.

In comparison to some other mega-zoom cameras, a positive difference of the SX110 is the absence of the lens cap that needs to be removed manually. The camera uses lens doors that open automatically, which is nice.

In the Box 

The camera comes with 2 AA-sized alkaline disposable batteries, a wrist strap, an AV cable, USB cable, a "starter" SD memory card, CD-ROM and manuals.


The camera's operation is fast. The power-up takes less than 2 seconds (mostly taken by the lens extension) and is relatively quiet. The camera focuses very fast as well (under a second), seemingly as fast as the Panasonic FZ28 or Canon SX10 IS.

The zooming is precise and fast. The shutter lag when pre-focused is virtually absent and the picture is taken almost instantaneously. The shot-to-shot delay is a bit more than one second. In high-speed shooting modes, the images were captured at about 1-1.5 fps.

Shooting with flash is slower since the flash needs time to recharge. Not surprisingly (taking into account only 2 AA batteries) the flash recycle time can reach 11 seconds (shooting in dim light at smallest aperture opening).

The flash is raised or lowered manually and has features such as output adjustment, It has red-eye reduction modes, which still don't eliminate the red eye completely. There is a red eye removal option in playback mode. I normally fix red eye in Photoshop.

Battery Life 

The image stabilization has several modes: Off, Continuous, Shoot Only, Panning. The Continuous mode is a battery hog, so I suggest that you do not use it. I haven't used the continuous image stabilization as it reduces battery life and, more importantly, produces slightly more motion blur in images in comparison to the image stabilization during the shutter release only.

I was took more than 210 pictures without seeing the low-battery warning.

Manual Focus 

I liked the manual focus ability. When focusing manually, you see the focus area enlarged to help you fine-tune your focus and you also see the distance markings. Truth be told, I find manual focus rarely needed as the automatic focus works really well. It is certainly no match for the cameras that lets you focus using a focusing ring around the lens.

Automatic Focusing 

The camera focuses fast, even in dim light and even at full telephoto. It had no issues in any light indoors.

Picture Quality 

Canon is the leader in consumer digital cameras for a reason. When friends ask me for camera recommendations without being able to specify the exact usage criteria, I catch myself thinking (and frequently recommending) Canon cameras. One of the reasons is the fact that they (at least currently) simply do not have poorly-designed cameras. Other manufacturers have better (in my opinion) cameras in some specific areas. But as far as the overall lineup goes, Canon cannot be beat.

One of the outcomes of this is the uniformly excellent picture quality of Canon cameras. True, some of them (e.g. small SD-series cameras) have slightly blurry corners. But overall, Canon cameras have uniformly excellent colors, good sharpness and produce images that look good printed.

This model provides generally very good pictures. They pictures are richly saturated, mostly sharp (in the center) from wide angle to telephoto and have pleasing colors. I really like the sky colors and the way the camera renders clouds. The corners are soft though, especially at wide angle.

The chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is apparent in areas of high contrast at both wide angle and telephoto.

The image stabilization worked well and let me take handheld photos at full telephoto at 1/100 and sometimes at slower speeds. I also could take handheld photos at 1/10 (and slower) at wide angle. This is much better than the rule of the recommended handheld shutter speeds (1/equivalent focal length) suggests. Without image stabilization I wouldn't be able to take pictures at the above shutter speeds. 1/500 at telephoto and 1/50 at wide angle would be the slowest I could use.

I mostly used the lowest ISO available (ISO 80) and saw no noise. At higher ISO settings, the noise starts to appear. At ISO 200, you can see noise appear in the shadows/darker areas and ISO 400 has quite detectable noise, the ISO 800 features even worse noise, which becomes rather bad and the detail level suffers too. Fortunately, you can avoid having to use it in most situations by simply using a slower shutter speed and/or larger apertures (e.g. F2.8 at wide angle). Image stabilization lets you use those slower speeds handheld without fear of motion blur appearing on your pictures.

But if you have to use a faster shutter speed, then you have to use ISO 400-1,600. Surprisingly, the noise at ISO 800 is not as bad as I expected and ISO 800 photos can be printed at 5x7 or 4x6 size. You can print ISO 1,600 pictures, but I would only recommend it in situations where you have no other choice.

Keep in mind that ISO 800 or higher will not let you print sharp 10x8 photos; they will be grainy. So if you need to print photos larger than 5x7, use ISO lower than 800.

And a note on the flash: not only it takes forever to recycle, the flash has only moderate reach and uneven coverage at wide angle.

Ease of Use 

Once you get used to Canon menu systems, they are pretty easy to use. Overall, the eaqse of use is very high and almost reaches my all-time favorite (Panasonic).

Computer Connectivity 

The USB 2.0 on this Canon is a "real" USB 2.0 High Speed however - the transfer speeds are fast. I mostly used my memory card reader however, just as always. It is faster, more convenient and conserves the batteries of the camera.

Face Detection 

Just as many other recent cameras, this model features face detection technology. The face detection works surprisingly well, finding faces in the frame, showing you that it found them by displaying focusing rectangles over them, focusing on them and making sure they are focused on. I played with it (I just had to) and discovered that you can defeat it by covering an eye or covering the mouth. Overall, I feel it is a useful technology and a cool one too.


The camera came with 1-year parts and 90-day labor warranty.

Pros: Low price for features (for a Canon), good performance, image stabilization, 10x zoom
Cons: Chromatic aberration, slow flash recycle, slightly soft corners, no viewfinder

Bottom Line 

The Canon PowerShot SX110 IS is a good choice if you need an inexpensive camera with 10x optical zoom and optical image stabilization. Its relatively compact size, features and price make it a good choice.

Panasonic DMP-BD35 1080p Blu-Ray Player Review

At a time, a $100-cheaper alternative to the excellent Panasonic DMP-BD55, the Panasonic DMP-BD35 differs from it only slightly. It lacks the BD55's 7.1 analog audio out. But it works pretty well overall. I personally have to confess that I jumped on the HD bandwagon a while ago and have used the Toshiba HD-A3 for a while. Since HD DVD lost (and therefore the Blu-Ray won), I have been looking at the newer Blu-Ray players. I had good experience with Panasonic DVD players as well as other A/V gear (I am currently using the Panasonic XR57 receiver), so, after liking the new Panasonic BMP-BD55 and being impressed with it, the next logical step was checking out the DMP-BD35. I do not have a 7.1 setup yet, so even though the Panasonic SA-XR57 class-D receiver I am using would have issues decoding new 7.1 audio formats from Blu-Ray, I am not very concerned about it. At least not enough to avoid saving $100.

The BD35 is a clear indication that newer Blu-Ray players, no longer priced in the stratosphere, that conform to BD profile 2.0, are also faster in operation than the previous models. Having experienced HD DVD and Blu-Ray before, I did not expect anything less than stunning image quality, but hoped for better load times than the earlier models' as well as better usability and better standard DVD playback (although I can use my Toshiba HD-A3 for that).

About the Panasonic DMP-BD35 

The Panasonic DMP-BD35 is a high-definition Blu-Ray DVD player with HDMI (up to 1080p resolution, including 24 fps), component video outs (up to 720p/1080i), standard-resolution DVD upconversion through HDMI 1.3 (720p/1080i/1080p), S-Video, stereo analog audio as well as an optical digital audio out.

The player plays Blu-Ray DVD, DVD-Video, CD-Audio, MP3 CD, JPEG Photo CD and DVD-Audio. It plays CD, CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-Video, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-RAM. It also decodes Dolby Digital, DTS and Dolby Digital Plus.

It also features onboard decoding for the Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio. It has an SD slot for using SD cards for onboard storage for BD-Live content.

The player also supports Deep Color and x.v.Color.

In Use 

The player is rather light, at least comparing to earlier designs and to my Toshiba HD-A3 HD DVD player. The build quality is pretty solid though. It looks quite stylish as well. I put a 1GB SD card in the slot, connected the player through its HDMI to my Panasonic XR57 receiver and the receiver to Hitachi P50H401 50-inch plasma TV (also using HDMI) and watched Mission Impossible-III Blu-Ray disc. Not the best movie, but a decent test for the player itself.

I am happy to report that the load time is very short, both comparing to earlier BR players and my Toshiba A3. In as little as 20 seconds the player is on and the disc is playing. Standard DVDs are as fast as in a regular DVD player, which is also a welcome improvement.

The player supports playback at the material's (BR DVD) native resolution through either component video out (up to 1080i) or the HDMI out (in other words, 1080p is only available through HDMI). The player supports all the latest features, including 24 fps video output and Dolby True HD as well as DTS-HD, Deep Color and x.v.Color.

I discovered that if you have an HDMI-equipped player that cannot decode newer audio standard, you have to use "PCM" output option of the player, so that it converts the new formats into PCM and passes them to the receiver over HDMI. Make sure you experiment and get the best possible option that your receiver supports. Maybe subjectively (most likely not), but PCM output of newer audio format sounds better over HDMI converted to PCM than does regular DD or DTS.

Performance and Image Quality 

Not surprisingly, the image quality when watching Blu-Ray discs is excellent and is pretty much amazing. I cannot see much difference in playback quality of the BD35 and the HD DVD Toshiba A3, but that is no longer relevant since HD DVD is pretty much dead, although I can still get HD DVD discs through Blockbuster Online. So it is more like a living dead/zombie. Lame.

The BD35's images are three-dimensional, comparing to DVDs that look somewhat flat (even upconverted in any of my players). Also, there are details you would never see on standard-resolution DVD. The colors are great and the sound is better than what I get from regular DVDs.

Unlike the earlier Samsung BR player I tried a while ago (Samsung DB-P1000 Blu-Ray High-Definition DVD player), this Panasonic excels at standard DVD playback as well. The standard DVD playback (with upconversion or without, but still over HDMI) is simply excellent. Although no match for true high-definition DVD playback, the player produces excellent detail level, which is as good as with better standard DVD players I have seen and my Toshiba HD-A3.

The layer change is pretty fast as well. Overall, the player is very impressive in terms of its features and preformance.

You can use the front SD slot for viewing HD JPEG photos or videos in AVCHD format.

Remote Control 

The remote control is pretty good (although not backlit or of the "glow in the dark" type). It is similar in button shape and color to other recent Panasonic remotes, including the remote of Viera TVs and my Panasonic SA-XR57 receiver. The buttons are large and well-labeled. And although the remote is not backlit, the button layout is very intuitive and the buttons are large and easy to find in darkness.


I used the following connections: the player is connected to the Panasonic SA-XR57 class-D receiver using an HDMI connection (through a passive HDMI switch, along with the Toshiba HD-A3 and the Pioneer Elite DV-48AV, since the receiver only has one HDMI input). The HDMI out of the receiver is connected to my TV. Both HD players output PCM over HDMI. Pioneer can output DD/DTS and DVD-Audio over HDMI (up to 192 KHz).

Pros: Price, features, performance, picture quality playing both Blu-Ray and standard DVD, good remote
Cons: No 7.1 analog audio out

Bottom Line 

If you want an excellent Blu-Ray DVD player that also excels playing standard DVDs, the Panasonic DMP-BD35 is an excellent choice. In addition to solid performance it is also easy to use, loads discs fast and has a good remote control. And the price is right.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Inaccurate MPG Display in 2014 Honda Accord

For the last 9K miles I relied on the trip computer/MPG readout in our 2014 Honda Accord EX-L. Turns out it is quite inaccurate. I checked it against my calculation by filling up and dividing distance traveled by the amount of gallons of gas consumed and here are two results:

Indicated 38.3 MPG, calculated 40 MPG over 543 miles
Indicated 37.3 MPG, calculated 34.5 MPG over 458 miles

The second fill-up I drove more aggressively. What does it all mean? Perhaps the trip computer is too optimistic when driving aggressively and too pessimistic when driving smoothly. Another possibility is the electronic measurement is actually correct and my method is inaccurate die to the gas pump stopping when the tank is "full" at different levels.

Still, I finally managed to get 40MPG over the whole tank, with some street and stop/go driving. Nice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Philips DVP5992 DVD Player with HDMI, 1080p Upconversion, DivX and USB

I have always liked Panasonic DVD players, despite the fact that one of them died while I was not abusing it in any way. Still, Panasonic DVD players historically lacked the semi-essential feature: a USB port. This is not something that can be said for recent Philips DVD players. Since (and I repeat myself) one of my Panasonic DVD players died on me with an error indicating a motor failure, I decided to check out the Philips DVP5992. I used it with the 42-inch Panasonic Viera TH-42PX80U TV, Panasonic XR57K receiver and Athena S.5 speakers.

Although the Panasonic DVD-S54 would let me use an all-Panasonic setup with Viera Link functionality and coordinated colors and design, the DVP5992 was less than $50 and plays virtually all formats as well as features a USB port.

My trust in Philips DVD players is founded on using some of their previous models. I have been using the Philips DVP642 DVD player in the past and it excelled at playing DivX, PAL, AVI and MPEG. But the remote control was horrible and the picture quality while playing store-bought DVDs was not the best. It had no HDMI out or USB port. The Philips DVP5960 that I got later was better and improved the standard DVD playback and gave me a decent remote as well as a front USB port. Not to mention DVD up-conversion with an HDMI port. Still, I switched to Pioneer DV-400V later.

My mother uses the, similar to this model, DVP5990 and it works very well. The DVP5992 improves on the DVP5960 with USB 2.0, better DivX playback and upconversion up to 1080p.


The DVP5992 can play DivX, Xvid and JPEG files, MPEG1, VCD, SVCD, MPEG2, MP3, WMA, DivX (3.11, 4.x, 5.x, 6.0, DivX Ultra). You do not need to create a VCD disc structure, just copy the MPEG/AVI files to a CD-R/W or DVD-R/W or DVD+R/W disc and insert it into this player and it will play them. That is, of course, in addition to playing DVD-Video and CD-Audio. Pretty mach all formats are supported short of DVD-Audio or SACD. And, of course, Blu-Ray or HD DVD would not be supported at this price.

The player can play PAL and NTSC discs on a PAL or NTSC TV. It can even convert PAL to NTSC and vice versa. Nice. The progressive scan and the upconversion to 720p, 1080i or even 1080p are also nice features, as is the HDMI out (which is even more important).

The player is DivX Ultra certified. It can also play music, video and JPEG images directly from the USB port (e.g. from a USB flash drive or even a USB-connected hard drive).


The DVP5992 has a coaxial digital audio out (no optical). There is also an analog stereo audio out, a composite video out and a component video out (progressive scan/interlaced), but no S-Video. There is also an HDMI out. Pretty much all you need (well, some people might prefer an optical audio out over coaxial; but I personally do not care since I use the HDMI out). All outs are well-marked and arranged.

The front panel has a USB jack, which you can connect USB drives with media files to and play those files from the drive (USB drive or even an external HDD).


This DVD player is medium-sized and is rather light. There are only a few buttons on the front panel: power, eject, play, stop. The display is bright, but is still pretty small in terms of the amount of information it fits. For comparison, the Panasonic displays feature several colors, clear separation of digit groups and more real estate.

The player is more intuitive to use than the DVP642. Its remote is much better than the remote control of the DVP642, which had rows and rows of poorly-marked buttons with some buttons having several uses. Although still not as good as Panasonic DVD remotes (which I could use my eyes closed, until the player died from the motor failure, that is), this remote is usable and is definitely more stylish.

The onscreen displays are not as informative or well-designed as the ones of Panasonic or the Pioneer DV-400V, but are better than the DVP642 ones. The player can convert PAL to NTSC rather well. I noticed no jerky movement and the image quality was pretty good. Interestingly, when the TV is turned off, the player senses it through the HDMI connection and turns itself off also.

Picture Quality

Using the player's HDMI out to connect it directly to the 42PX80U 42-inch Panasonic Viera plasma TV, the quality is great. The player is set to upconvert to 720p, which is the TV's native resolution (or close to it). The image quality overall was great. The player played my MPEG and AVI computer files flawlessly. There is a delay before the playback of the each file, but it was pretty short.

Over HDMI, the picture quality is excellent and upconversion works really well. It is almost as good as the upconversion of my Toshiba A3 HD DVD player when I play regular DVDs on it. Still, upconversion is no replacement for Blu-Ray or HD DVD. You can still see jagged diagonal lines (stair step), which is especially apparent while watching South Park. You can see that Cartman's mouth is made of individual pixels and upconversion only makes them larger squares.

So is upconversion better than no upconversion? Well, your TV will upconvert any standard-def programming anyway, but if you supply 480i (or even 480p) signal over analog connection from your DVD player, the DVD converts the signal from digital to analog first, then the TV will have to convert it into digital form again and scale it. The result is blurrier image with less detail and depth. A DVD player with an HDMI input can pass the signal in digital form to the TV and even if it is in 480i or 480p format, it is still better than if you used any analog connection: composite, component or S-Video.

I conducted a small test. I took the older Philips DVP642 and connected it to the TV using its component out with 480p progressive scan enabled. I also connected this Philips DVP5992 using HDMI with 720p upconversion enabled.

The results were remarkably different between the component video (480i/480p) and HDMI upconversion to 720p. The component video and no upconversion produced images that were softer, lacked detail, contrast and produced stairstep artifacts during any motion. The results over S-Video and composite video connections were progressively worse.

The result over HDMI using 720p was much, much better. No noise, sharper image with better contrast and colors, no artifacts during camera pans. So the moral of this story is: if you have a decent newer TV, get an upconverting DVD player with HDMI like this one, or you are wasting your TV's potential.

And also keep in mind that the cheapest HDMI cable (provided it is not broken) would provide better picture quality than the composite, component or S-Video connection (even if you use the most expensive composite, component or S-Video cable).


Not unlike other DVD players that can play multiple formats, the files can be burned on a CD-R/W or DVD disc of any format (+/- R/W) just as a regular data CD with no VCD structure needed. You can even record AVI and MPG files onto a DVD-R/W or DVD+R/W and the player will play them.

I like the fact that the DVP5992 plays PAL on an NTSC TV and plays computer-friendly videos. The great player for people who need to play European DVDs or downloaded videos was improved upon and is now a better choice for ones who also want to play regular DVDs with no mental anguish.

The player's USB port in front accepts flash memory drives that are formatted with FAT32 and plays material from them well. This is very convenient for several reasons: you don't have to burn whatever you want to play on a CD/DVD (be in videos, photos or music), you can fit a lot on a flash USB drive or a USB hard drive, you get your material faster from the computer to your TV.


I discovered that this player can play DivX better than my current universal DVD player of choice, the Pioneer Elite DV-48AV. It plays some of the discs that the Pioneer refuses to load and also smoothly plays some DivX files that stutter on the Pioneer. Nice!


I like the player's low price, features, connectivity options, PAL playback and conversion to NTSC, computer video file playback. The player has good build quality, very good video and sound. Its HDMI and upconversion up to 1080p, USB 2.0 port, improved DivX playback are great features.


Although it is not fair to complain at this price, I still would like to mention the player's feature-less LCD display.

Bottom Line 

If you need an inexpensive player that plays virtually any format, plays PAL discs on an NTSC TV, plays computer files (including MP3, WMA, MPEG and AVI) and DivX, and plays media files from a USB drive, the DVP5992 is a great choice. And the HDMI port and upconversion at this price are also impressive. But if you just want a DVD player with excellent picture quality and ease of use, you might want to consider the Panasonic DVD-S54 for similar price.

Latte iVu MP3/WMA/AVI/MPEG Player with FM transmitter and 2MP camera

Since the beginning of my MP-player phase, I went through quite a few MP3 players, from the lame, but functional Philips HDD077 to excellent iPods of different generations, including Nano models. I still like iPod Nano, but it cannot be denied that it has its shortcomings, including the lack of memory expandability, lack of WMA support, audio recording or radio and its high price.

The iPod uses a proprietary connector so you cannot charge it from just any USB-to-mini-USB cable or a cell phone charger, it does not come with a wall charger and you cannot copy music from just any computer (iTunes software is a requirement).

Having used Latte Neon M3 MP3 and Latte ICE players, I was expecting good performance and feature at an attractive price from the new iVu. Once I got the new Latte iVu 4GB MP3/WMA/AVI/MPEG player (Latte Communications, a Silicon Valley-based company, provided me with it for the purpose of writing this review), I was eager to try its features, especially its built-in FM transmitter and the 2-Megapixel camera.

What is Latte iVu? 

The Latte iVu is a portable MP3/WMA/Video player and photo viewer, 2-Megapixel digital camera, FM radio, voice recorder, portable drive and an E-book reader. It has a built-in FM transmitter for being able to listen to your tunes through your car's stereo without having to use a cassette adapter or cables. It also has built-in stereo speakers on the front panel. The player has a 3-inch wide-screen display (400x240 QVGA).

The player comes with either 4 or 8 GB of built-in memory (depending on the model). It comes with headphones, USB cable, car DC adaptor, software and manuals.

It features a built-in microphone for voice recording (WAV format) and built-in stereo speakers that are activated when the headphones are detached. The music can be copied to the player directly over USB with no need to install any software. The same applies to files of any kind when you use this PMP as a flash drive.

The player plays MP3 at 64-320 Kbps and WMA at 64-192 Kbps. It supports menus in many languages. It can play MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, ACC, APE audio formats and AVI, RM, RMVB, FLV video at up to 30 fps.

The interface is USB 2.0 High speed.

Advantages Over iPod Nano 

Just as the Latte Neon M3, the iVu has a mini-USB jack (used for charging and data transfer). This means you can use your mini-USB cell phone chargers, if you have one (the one for my Motorola V3 works perfectly). The supplied 12-volt car power adaptor, along with the built-in FM transmitter hints at the intended use of this player. We will get to this subject shortly.

The music transfer to the player does not require special software: you just connect it using the supplied USB cable and copy MP3/WMA/JPEG/etc. files over. iPods require iTunes software. The only time when you might have to use the supplied software is to convert video files using the supplied AVI converter to be able to watch them on the this player.

 The player also plays WMA, which is a file format iPods do not like (but I sometimes do), AAC, OGG, FLAC, ACC and APE.

The iVu has an FM radio and voice recording with a built-in microphone. It also has built-in stereo speakers, can play MPEG-4 AVI (requires conversion using included software) and lets you view JPEG photos.

The player supports text reading and has a flexible equalizer, including graphical equalizer function, where you can adjust individual frequency ranges.

Not surprisingly (after using the M3 and ICE), the iVu features excellent sound quality, can play very loud (even with aftermarket headphones of low sensitivity); the display is very clear and its radio has good reception.

The built-in transmitter is a nice feature too. With an iPod, you have to get a separate accessory and the integration is sometimes not ideal.


The player sounds very good, even with the supplied headphones. Of course, for an apples-to-apples comparison, I used my usual headphones of choice: Koss KSC-75. The sound is detailed, has well-defined bass, mids and treble and the instrument separation is very good (if you use the highest bit rate possible).

I used my Koss KSC-75 and Sennheiser HD202 headphones and discovered that the player provides good amount of bass and overall sound is as good as I have heard from an MP3 player.

Furthermore, unlike mediocre Philips HDD077, which could not play loud enough with aftermarket headphones, and even iPod Nano that plays just loud enough for medium-grade aftermarket headphones, the iVu can play extremely loud. I used its volume at up to 12-17 even with my aftermarket headphones (the music was loud enough then) and it can go 32. Make sure you do not overdo it with loud music though and your hearing will thank you later.

The radio reception is very good (the headphones have to be connected since the cord serves as an antenna, so you cannot use it as a radio through its built-in speakers with no wires attached) and the sound is also good. The radio station/frequency display is very legible and uses large lettering.

Car Use 

I was excited most about the player's built-in transmitter since my Infiniti G35 doesn't have an auxiliary input and an attempt to connect my iPod through its cassette deck (which I never use otherwise) by means of a cassette adaptor failed miserably.

At first (and without reading the manual) I just powered the iVu on, selected a song to play, set the transmitter frequency to an unoccupied frequency and turned the transmitter on (all can be done from the same menu). There was only static in the speakers. Then I realized that the player needs headphones to be connected since the cable serves as an antenna for the transmitter as well as for the radio.

Connecting headphones helped the situation, but with a caveat. The music was pretty quiet and I soon discovered that the transmission power is adjusted by the volume. Therefore, I had to crank the volume all the way up to improve sound quality and volume through the car's speakers. The downside to this is I fear for the life of the headphones because at this volume they might not last long. Solution: use some throwaway headphones for this purpose.

Another caveat is the sound quality. It might depend on you car's radio's performance, but since mine is not the best (the reason I rarely listen to music on radio), the sound quality is not as good as playing a CD.

The player comes with a DC adaptor that has a USB port on the other end, in which you plug the supplied USB cable and the other end of the cable goes into the mini-USB port of the player. Neat.


The huge 3-inch screen is very sharp, colorful and is informative. The icons are good-looking, the audio playback features a spectrum analyzer, instant bitrate display and more (including the ability to view ID3 tags).

The photos look very good (surprisingly for the 400x240 resolution) and the screen seems just huge comparing to the one on the iPod Nano. The colors are pleasing and backlight is bright.


Another advantage over iPod is the ability to navigate the directory structure directly. I frequently struggle to find any given song in my iPod Nano's memory because the search is only possible by genre, artist, album, etc. Some of my MP3s have no ID3 tags, some have them in a very non-English language, which does not help.

The iVu lets you find the song you want to play in its directory tree simply by navigating it.


The 850-mAh lithium polymer battery lasts up to 15 hours, depending on the screen usage, volume and functions used. I normally use it for about 5-6 hours in a row and see no sign of battery depletion, so the battery life is suitable for me.

It Is Easy To Use 

The Neon M3 had some usability issues, which were improved upon in this player. The Latte iVu is easy to use once you get used to all controls being on the top of the player. The buttons feel solid and provide good feedback when pushed.


The player feels solid. It has a stylish black plastic body with controls requiring reasonable amount of force to operate.

USB Speed 

The player has USB 2.0 High-speed interface, which is definitely an improvement on the previous models'. I measured transfer speed from my computer and it clocked at 3.5 Megabytes per second, which is very impressive.


The built-in 2-megapixel camera is a nice bonus. The pictures taken with it are similar in quality to pictures taken with a good cell phone camera.

Pros: Built-in FM transmitter, features, looks, large screen, playback volume, weight, battery life
Cons: Your car's radio can limit the sound quality when using the transmitter


A product with a lot of features and reasonable price, the iVu is a good deal. It plays music well and if you have a car with no auxiliary input, its built-in FM transmitter may be its best feature. Its huge screen, features and performance at a good price make it a very good choice.

The Westin Heavenly Bed by Simmons Beautyrest

I once was able to try the Westin Heavenly Bed mattress with pocketed coil springs while staying at Westin hotel in LA. At the time, the mattress I had was not exactly top notch and I was really impressed by the level of comfort the Westin's mattress provided. You can try this mattress before buying by simply spending a night at a Westin hotel where these mattresses are used.

So even though I was going to purchase my replacement mattress from the Sam's Club (Serta), I decided to get the Westin Heavenly Bed mattress instead.

What Is the Westin Heavenly Bed Mattress

Prior to placing my order, I learned about the Westin Heavenly Bed mattress online. The mattress and its boxspring are produced by Simmons. Similarly to Simmons's Beautyrest mattresses, this model utilizes individual coils that insulate one person movements from another. In other words, unlike the regular mattresses, these do not transmit motion and vibrations as much.

The mattress has a 13-inch pillow-top design with a box spring (a.k.a. spring unit), which is available in two profiles: regular (8 3/4 ") and low profile (5 1/2"). I got the 60x80" Queen size with a regular boxspring, but other sizes are obviously available (Twin, Full, Split Queen, King and California King). As a side note, I live in California, but I am not its King (at least not yet), so purchasing a California King mattress might be a future option.


After receiving the mattress, I confirmed that it is very comfortable, just as I remember from my stay in Westin hotel. It is relatively firm overall, but the pillow-top makes its top part cushy and comfortable. The pillow-top is coddling the parts of your body that touch the mattress and it is a feeling that is most appreciated in cold weather.

The use of individually-pocketed coil springs does, indeed, insulate one person's movements from another rather well. I tend to turn a lot when I sleep and I wouldn't want my wife's sleep to be disturbed by my movements. The individual pocketed coil springs, of which the mattress has over 800, work well for the movement insulation. Not perfectly well, but well enough and much better than those of the traditional mattress.

I had my concerns at first about the durability of this approach. It seemed that the individual coil springs would be more susceptible to becoming gradually permanently compressed in some areas. Fortunately, it has not happened in the few years I had this mattress.

What happened however is the localized compression of the pillow-top. I used to sleep on the right side of the mattress and after about 1-1.5 years, you could see that some parts of the pillow-top became permanently compressed in those areas that held the bulk of my weight. Since, I switched to the other side and might switch back again, because the prior compression seems to have been remediated by time. Surprisingly, the side I am on now does not seem to be affected, even though my weight has not decreased (unfortunately, it is the opposite, but not by much). I weigh 185 lbs.

Otherwise, the mattress and its spring unit had stood the test of time surprisingly well so far, including a move. And I am a heavy user :) . The outer fabric is very durable as well. And for the $1,630 I paid it is a great investment.

Update 12/2011: The mattress is still in great shape and should last a very long time, especially considering that I dropped some weight and now weigh 172 lbs.
Update 2/2012: Unfortunately we had to dispose of most of our belongings, this mattress included. I since bought a similar Simmons Beautyrest mattress, but with no pillowtop.

Pros: Reasonable price, excellent comfort and overall durability, movement insulation, 10-year warranty
Cons: The pillow-top might develop temporary impressions and small lumps, not the cheapest

Bottom Line

I bought my mattress at the Westin's web site, but it is sold at other places as well. I highly recommend this mattress and other Simmons Beautyrest mattresses (my mom has one of those and it is very similar in quality and comfort).

Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max

Our 2014 Honda Accord EX-L came shod with Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max tires in 215/55R17 size and V-speed rating. After 8 thousand miles I have to say that these tires provide excellent fuel economy and decent wear, but the ride could be better.

After 8K miles, there is virtually no wear, but the ride is somewhat firmer than what I recall when they were new. The treadlife mileage warranty is 65,000 miles or 6 years, if bought aftermarket. On our car, these were OEM tires so no mileage warranty applies.

The noise is muted, but the squealing in turns is discouraging. These are not performance-oriented tires by any means.

The fuel economy is impressive, some of which is due to these tires. I average 36 mpg with freeway commute resulting in over 40 mpg. But once they wear out, which will take a while, I am going to get something else

Yokohama AVID Touring TRZ Tire - Quiet, Smooth, Long-Lasting, But Not Perfect

My mother's 2006 Honda Accord came with mediocre OEM Bridgestone Turanza EL41 tires in 195/65-R15 size. Check out my review of the EL41 to see how mediocre they were. Without waiting until they were worn out, I decided to replace them with something better. Which is not difficult, considering there are so many good choices out there.

Having had a very good experience with the Yokohama YK520 in my 2004 Infiniti G35, and having read good reviews for the TRZ, I decided to give a similarly-patterned tread a try and got the Yokohama Avid TRZ tires from the Tire Rack. The size is "plus zero" - 215/60R15.

So, for under $400 shipped and installed, the Avid TRZ seemed like a good deal. Especially with its 80,000-mile warranty and the premise of good ride, low noise and decent handling.


The Yokohama TRZ tires I got so far have 22,000 miles. The wear looks minimal, almost non-existent. At the rate they are wearing, I am pretty sure I can get at least 60K and probably more than 80,000 miles.

The Yokohama Avid Touring TRZ is a touring asymmetrical non-directional tire, which can be rotated to any position. The outer, meddle and inner parts serve different purposes for dry, wet and light snow duty (the tire is an all-season one). Therefore the name (TRZ) stands for Tree Ride Zones.

The silica-enhanced all-season tread compound remains more pliable in cold temperatures to enhance cold weather traction. I like in Sothern California and couldn't care less.

The outside zone has large blocks and continuous ribs for better dry road cornering. The center zone has circumferential grooves for effective water evacuation for wet traction. The inner zone serves for better winter traction and features lateral grooves.

Internally, twin steel belts reinforced by spirally-wrapped nylon and polyester cord plies, along with other cool features provide comfortable ride, noise insulation and predictable handling. Or so they claim.

I have to say that the Yokohama TRZ tires did not disappoint me. I had high expectations after having used the Yokohama YK520 tire with very similar tread design, and internal construction. The Accord's ride became much smoother and quieter with the TRZ, comparing with the Turanza EL41.

The traction in dry and wet weather is very good and much better than the EL41. The tire is speed-rated T and can go to 118 mph, which as fast as I can legally (and somewhat illegally) drive. Yes, the Accord can go faster than that, but obviously it is a big no-no in the US.

I took this tire to about 105 and the car was very stable with no vibration or excessive tire noise. Tires are speed rated to ensure the construction is robust enough to withstand the force that tries to rip it apart the faster the tire spins. So the T rating is good enough for me.

The Yokohama TRZ definitely provides better traction than the EL41 tire. There is less squeal and less sliding in turns, ditto the braking. The tires are not very suitable for spirited driving for at least three reasons. Just as the YK520, they are not very responsive: it seems that the initial split second you turn/accelerate/brake nothing happens. Is it the fault of the progressive sidewall that gives you cushy/quiet ride? Maybe.

Also, these are the tires designed mostly for longevity and cushy ride, which ensures that you cannot extract maximum traction out of them. And then, there is the T speed rating.

Although after 22,000 miles they are more noisy and less cushy than when new, they still seem to provide good ride and noise characteristics, especially comparing with the aforementioned OEM tire.

But the good traction overall, combined with low price, smooth, noise-free ride and the projected longevity make it a great everyday tire.

Pros: Long-lasting, low price, low noise and cushy ride, non-directional design for flexible tire rotation
Cons: Not the most responsive, T speed rating


The Yokohama Avid TRZ is a quiet, smooth and very long-lasting tire with above-average traction in dry and wet weather (no snow here so I cannot comment on this aspect). It is an excellent choice for an everyday tire. Provided you want exactly that: smooth, quiet tire with good traction that will last long. A great replacement for any OEM all-season non-sport tire. But if you like spirited driving, you might want to look for a more responsive one.

It is not for you if you want responsiveness and/or the best traction possible.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Canon PowerShot Digital Elph SD1200 IS 10-Megapixel Compact Digital Camera Review

Canon is never standing still. You can count on your Canon camera to produce good pictures, but you can also count that in less than a year a new model that replaces the one you have will appear on the market. Such was the case with the Canon SD1200 IS that replaces the previous model, Canon SD1100 IS. I didn't expect surprises from the new model since it represents an evolution of the long line of the Canon SD cameras (also known as "Digital Elph").

The Canon SD1200 is a 10-Megapixel camera that is even slightly cheaper than the last year's 8-Megapixel SD1100, yet features higher resolution and more features. "Cheaper" is always a good thing, provided the quality is there.

What Is Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS? 

The Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS Digital ELPH is a 10-Megapixel super-compact stylish digital camera with 3x optical zoom (35-105 mm equivalent), optical image stabilization, large 2.5-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels, zooming optical viewfinder and face detection.

The camera is powered by a compact rechargeable battery (NB6-L) and stores pictures and videos on SD (Secure Digital), SDHC or MultiMedia memory cards. The SD1200 IS features fast USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection to PC and Mac computers. It also supports direct printing (without computer) with PictBridge compatible printers. The strap, cables, software and rechargeable battery with charger are included.

Just as the previous Canon SD cameras, this model looks stylish and high-tech. The camera also has a movie mode of up to 30 fps at VGA resolution (640x480).

Getting Started 

The SD1200 looks and feels durable. It features a retractable lens that extends and has a lens cover that opens when the camera is powered on. When the camera is powered off, the lens retracts and the lens cover closes.

The on/off button is on the top deck, which also has a zoom rocker and a large shutter release button. The bottom of the camera has a threaded tripod mount and a battery and SD card compartment lid.

The rear panel has a large 230,000-pixel 2.5-inch LCD screen, an optical zooming viewfinder, control buttons and menu controls with a FUNC./SET button in the middle of it. There is also a sliding switch between auto mode, movie and still picture taking modes. Unlike the previous models, the view mode is selected using a separate button, which is (at least in my opinion) a very welcome change. In cameras that rely on a mechanical switch between all modes (including review), you have to switch very frequently, which is time consuming. The dedicated button of this SD1200 makes it much faster and more convenient.

The side has a small cover, underneath which you can find a USB jack and an A/V jack. Otherwise, the SD1200 looks very similar to other SD-line cameras. The SD1200 uses a compact proprietary Li-Ion battery that looks like a cell phone battery. After I inserted it and my own Kingston Elite Pro SD memory card into the battery/memory compartment, I was ready to shoot, review and upload.


Admittedly, it is difficult to go wrong with Canon cameras when it comes to pretty much any aspect of functionality and the ease of use is one of them. Just as its predecessors and its siblings in the model lineup, the SD1200 is very easy to use. The menus and icons are slightly more descriptive than that of the older-generation Digital Elphs like SD400 due to more available space on the screen (2.5-inch vs. 2-inch). For example, the pictogram that shows mountains now says Infinity underneath to tell you that in this mode the focus is fixed on infinity. The camera uses the latest version of Digic processor by Canon (Digic 4) that provides responsive operation and low power consumption.

In case you have used a Canon camera before, you will be able to use this camera in no time. I have not read the manual (it is still sealed), but was able to use the camera and all its features instantly. This camera can be used by any member of the family and by photographers of all levels of expertise from novices to advanced ones (albeit it will not give you much control over the shutter speed or aperture; even Manual mode will only allow you to use exposure compensation and that is about it). And now you can see the aperture and shutter speed information on the screen before you press the shutter release - a feature that was not available in the Digital Elphs (SD line of Canon cameras) prior to SD1000.

The camera is very fast and responsive. The large and bright LCD screen shows pictograms of selected modes (e.g. Macro, Flash mode, etc.) large and legible on the screen (sometimes with subtitles) and then they move to the side of the screen. A very cool and useful feature, especially for people with impaired vision or when operating in difficult conditions, e.g. sunlight

The switch on the back panel has a dedicated position of Auto. Not surprisingly, the camera comes pre-set to Auto mode, in which you have no need or way to adjust settings. You do not have to do anything other than point and shoot - the camera takes care of the rest. The camera uses intelligent autofocus, integrated with face detection. Once you press the shutter release button halfway to make camera focus, the camera shows you (on the LCD screen) where it focused by displaying one or more green rectangles. Then you take the picture by pressing the shutter release button all the way. In dim conditions, the camera uses its focus-assist light, which is effective in focusing at short distances.

Both Macro and Infinty modes are available at a push of a button. Also, the ISO settings can be set to Auto or Auto Hi Sensitivity in Auto mode. In Manual mode, you can select a fixed ISO as well (e.g. ISO 100).

In case you want more control, you can select Manual mode, which is not a real manual mode where you would be able to select the shutter speed and aperture, but rather a mode in which you get access to selection of several parameters. In Manual mode, you can set the ISO, white balance (several presets and custom), use exposure compensation to make pictures darker or brighter, use picture effects, color replacement effects, etc.

In addition to fast ISO selection, the camera gives you instant access to the flash mode selection (flash off, red-eye reduction, night portrait, auto flash), macro or infinity mode as well as drive mode (single frame, timer or burst/continuous shooting) at a push of a button: arrow down and arrow right.

One persistent complaint I have centers on the menu control buttons or, in particular, on the disc that holds them. Unlike some previous models, but just as the SD1000 and SD1100 before it, the SD1200 has a disc that is too flat and too leveled with the back surface of the camera making it less easy to use - it is difficult to distinguish where the edge of the button is by touch.

More on Features and Controls 

The camera features selectable Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot metering modes. The camera has a built-in flash that is quite powerful or its size and has a red-eye reduction function. It features a shutter speed range of 15-1/1,500 sec and selectable ISO of 80-3,200 as well as ISO Auto and High ISO Auto.

The camera also has a Macro mode where it can focus very close. The available movie mode records movies with sound (the camera has a microphone and a speaker) at up to 640x480 up to 30 fps, providing fluid playback.

The camera has the widest aperture of f/2.8 at wide angle, f/4.9 at telephoto. It seems that the aperture is a two-step type with no fine control over aperture. The camera doesn't let you control the aperture or the shutter speed directly, but even if you select Infinity mode (the icon looks like mountains) or try shooting in different lighting conditions, you will soon discover that your resultant photos have only one of two aperture values at any given focal length.

Unlike 3 generations ago or before, at least you can see the aperture and shutter speed on the screen now. It is good to know the aperture while shooting at telephoto to figure out if the background will be blurry.

You can use the exposure compensation in the manual mode and it comes in handy in the morning or sunset hours as the camera overexposes the picture trying to preserve the shadow detail.

There are a bunch of scene modes as well, which help the camera tweak the focusing and exposure settings according to the type of scene.

Build Quality and Ergonomics

The camera has a solid feel and good build quality, although it looks and feels somewhat cheap comparing to some earlier (and more expensive) SD-line cameras. The major controls are within easy reach and the tactile response is good. The camera a bit too small but for its size, but it is convenient to hold and its compact size lets you put it in a jacket pocket or a purse easily. In fact, it is so small, you can almost put it in a shirt pocket.

Tripod Mount

The camera has a threaded tripod mount. It is useful if you want to take macro pictures or pictures with long exposures (e.g. nighttime). The camera has a timer (2-second or 10-second), which you should use to avoid blurry images when the camera is on the tripod.


The SD1200 uses the latest version of Canon DiG!C processor (Digic 4). It is the same processor used in larger Canon digital SLR cameras and it gives this Digital Elph excellent speed. The camera takes less than a second to power itself on in review mode and only about a second or two to power on and extend its lens in shooting mode.

Although zooming is reasonably fast, I wish it were more responsive. You can fully zoom in or out in about 2-3 seconds. I find the 3x optical zoom the camera has sufficient for most situations, but wider angle would be useful for indoor pictures.

The camera can capture images at about two per second in burst mode (I used Kingston Elite Pro SD memory card in my testing). In single-frame mode, the camera could snap pictures as fast as I could push the shutter release button. The focusing takes less than a second, even in dim lighting, at wide angle. But at telephoto the focusing can take a little more than a second. And in dim light at telephoto, the camera may fail to focus at all. The shutter lag, when pre-focused, is virtually nonexistent.

LCD and Viewfinder 

The camera has a 2.5-inch non-articulated (fixed) LCD screen and an optical zooming viewfinder. The LCD is large, bright, gains-up in the dark (increases brightness) and is fluid. The resolution of the LCD screen is excellent (230,000 pixels). And the icons/menus are large, colorful and legible.

The LCD coverage is about 100% - you can see exactly what will be recorded. The viewfinder, however, covers only about 80% of what will be recorded.

IS: Image Stabilization 

The IS in the model name stands for image stabilization. It allows you take photos at 1-2 stops slower shutter speed handheld with no blur. This feature is especially useful for smaller cameras at telephoto or/and in low light. In other words, you will be able to take sharper photos in low light or when zoomed in.

Computer Connectivity 

The camera uses USB 2.0 Hi-Speed connection to transfer pictures to a computer. You can also remove the SD memory card and use a memory card reader (if you have one), or use the camera with the USB cable supplied. I did the former since it is more convenient.


This model has a built-in flash is quite bright for its size. It has a red-eye reduction mode and is sufficient at up to 10-12 feet away. It has a recycle time of about 8-10 seconds. The flash has a red-eye reduction mode and the camera itself features face detection and playback-mode red-eye removal. It works pretty well.

White Balance

The camera's automatic white balance is usually quite accurate with the exception of the incandescent lighting, where you are better off either selecting Incandescent white balance setting or using the available manual white balance.


You let camera focuses using its auto-focusing system augmented with face detection technology. The camera will show you green rectangles over the areas where it focused so that you can confirm the focus areas. There is no manual focusing provision.

There are also two special focusing modes, accessible at a push of a button: Macro mode and Infinity (Infinity available in Manual mode).

Movie Mode

I tried the 640x480 movie mode at 30 fps. The video was fluid and sharp. Although not a replacement for a camcorder, it was certainly usable.

Image Quality Settings

The camera lets you select between Super Fine, Fine and Normal compression levels (regardless of resolution). You can detect occasional JPEG artifacts in the mode of highest compression and some fine detail may be lost (only visible when printing enlargements or viewing at 100% on the computer monitor). But the two lower-compression modes (Fine and Superfine) are rather good.

Image Quality

I usually take photos that contain all primary colors at different focal lengths, apertures and compression ratios. Some photos are taken outdoors, some indoors with and without flash.

Oftentimes, I take a bunch of photos while standing at my window. Those photos features all colors: blue sky, green foliage, red curbs, yellow fire hydrant and cars of different colors.

Taking photos at different focal lengths and apertures reveals the camera's optical quality: corner sharpness, chromatic aberrations as well as overall sharpness.

Taking photos at different ISO settings shows how well a given camera can keep noise levels low in dim light. I mostly evaluate the image quality using my computer monitor, but I also print some photos at different sizes using either my printer or online services like Shutterfly, Snapfish and Costco online photo center.

The SD1200 IS produces excellent photos, which are well-exposed, sharp, contrasty and richly-colored. The photos have pleasing "Canon" color with slight oversaturation and nice blue skies - the kind of color consumers like.

Just as the case with previous SD models, the corners of the frame are not as sharp as the center at some focal lengths. This will be mostly unnoticeable in printed pictures since corners normally don't make it to the print due to the aspect ratio difference and other factors. Aside from slightly blurry corners, the photos came out sharp with very pleasing colors.

The image noise is virtually absent at ISO 80 and 100 in shadows, appears (slightly) at the ISO 200, gets more pronounced at ISO 400 and gets worse at ISO 800. The ISO 1,600-3,200 are even noisier (note ISO 3,200 is only available in special "ISO 3200" mode), to a point where I would not consider using the ISO 1600 and above at all. It is usable at 6x4, but if you look closer you will see that it is somewhat soft and a bit noisy.

If you are printing 6x4 or 5x7 pictures, the noise should not be visible up to ISO 800. At ISO 80-100, you can print your photos at up to 13x19 inches with good detail and ISO 200-400 should be good up to 10x8.

Overall, for its size and price, the camera produces pictures that are among the best in class.


Based on my experience with previous SD-series models, I expect good reliability from this model, provided it is not abused.

Battery Life 

I have not fully tested the battery consumption, but after fully charging it, I took more than 130 pictures and the low battery warning has not appeared yet. Canon claims you can take about 260 photos on one battery charge with the LCD on (or 700 with LCD off), which is an improvement comparing to the older model.


The camera is available in many colors, from dark gray to pink.

Pros: Price, size, image stabilization, looks, large screen, fast operation, great photos, dedicated view button
Cons: Slightly blurry corners, no manual control over aperture or shutter speed

Bottom Line 

I really like the new Canon SD1200 IS. It is compact, stylish and capable. Its 10-Megapixel resolution, good optics, image stabilization, features and 2.5-inch LCD screen make it capable and pleasant to use. And for its size, it produces some of the best-in-class photos. And the price is right. I highly recommend it, in any color.

Canon EOS 500D / Rebel T1i 15-Megapixel Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm IS Lens

Technology is a great thing. Whether deflation is here is a subject of debate among economists. If properly defined as a contraction of money supply and credit, then it is. But regardless of this, digital cameras definitely provide ever increasing amounts of features and performance for the constant unit of money. Technological deflation has been happening every since technology existed.

Let's turn our attention to the new digital SLR camera from Canon, the 15-Megapixel Canon EOS 500D Rebel T1i. An HD-recording, 15-Megapixel digital SLR with an optically-stabilized lens for less than $900? Deflation or not, this is pretty sweet.

What is Canon EOS 500D Rebel T1i Kit? 

The Canon 500D Rebel T1i is a digital SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera with 15.1-Megapixel resolution, HD video recording and a host of other cool features. This model supports interchangeable lenses of Canon EOS series. The kit also includes the 18-55 mm EF-S f/3.5-5.6 IS image-stabilized lens, which is 29-88 mm equivalent (the APS-C Size CMOS sensor warrants 1.6x conversion factor).

The camera has a 3:2 aspect ratio APS-C size CMOS sensor, which is perfect for 6x4 prints and very close to other formats people usually choose for printing. The sensor in the new model is self-cleaning and uses ultrasonic vibrations to remove dust from its low-pass filter (EOS Integrated Cleaning System).

The camera stores the images on inexpensive SD or SDHC memory cards and is powered by a rechargeable proprietary battery pack (LP-E5, same battery as the previous model). The T1i features fast Digic 4 processor and in addition to JPEG can record images in RAW format.

The camera has a built-in flash as well as the hot shoe for external flashes. It features automatic modes as well as manual ones. The camera has a large 3-inch high-resolution LCD screen with 920,000 pixels and an optical through-the-lens viewfinder. The camera uses a CMOS sensor instead of a CCD that most compact consumer-level cameras use.

The camera accepts EF and EF-S lenses. The included kit lens features manual and automatic focusing and a solid construction as well as optical image stabilization. The camera supports ISO 100-12,800 (and the latter is not a typo) and features USB 2.0 connectivity.

Improvements Over Predecessors 

The improvements over its predecessors include higher resolution, higher resolution of the LCD screen, faster processing with new Digic 4, movie mode of up to 720p of 30 fps or 1080p at 20 fps.

Getting Started 

I did not bother even opening the manual, but was able to attach the lens to the camera, charge and insert the battery and the SD memory card that I have and was ready to shoot.

If you plan to use the camera's advanced features or haven't used a digital SLR before. Make sure there is no excessive dust present where you are attaching the lens, because the dust is a big problem and a headache if it gets on the sensor (CMOS), even though the camera has dust-reduction technology.

In the Box 

The camera comes with its lens (if purchased as a kit), battery pack, battery charger, strap, video and USB cables, manuals and software.


The camera and the lens are very well constructed. The camera is pretty light for a digital SLR and relatively compact. The lens has the zooming and focusing rings that require just enough effort to rotate to have a solid feel.

The memory compartment lid is solid as is the door of the battery compartment. The camera came pre-set to its automatic mode and I was able to take pretty good pictures in that mode by switching the lens into automatic focus mode (the switch is on the lens itself) and just pointing and shooting. The camera even pops its flash up when there is not enough light. This mode is obviously designed to let even people who are not familiar with photography take good pictures. Point and shoot is something this camera does well without any knowledge.

If you have used a compact digital camera before, you might be surprised that you cannot use the LCD when composing the shot, at least in its regular mode. The screen stays blank until you take the picture. Aside from this kind of review, the screen is also used for menus and control functions. You use the viewfinder to compose the shot, confirm the focus in manual focus mode or the focus points in the automatic focus mode. The IR sensor turns the LCD screen off when you are composing the shot so that the light from it does not interfere with you looking into the viewfinder, especially at night.

The Live View mode lets you use the camera similar to a compact digicam: view the subject and compose the shot using the LCD screen. This mode is accessed by pressing Print/Share button and is also used when using the camera to record videos.

The camera uses its 3-inch LCD screen for displaying its shooting parameters (basic shooting information like shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation). The shooting parameters are also shown in the viewfinder, under the frame. The camera lets you adjust the shooting parameters (aperture on aperture priority mode or shutter speed in the shutter priority mode) by rotating the thumb-wheel on the top of the hand grip. Overall, the controls are mostly carried over from the previous model, which is a good thing since the ergonomics are excellent and time-tested.

Ergonomics and Ease of Use 

The camera is convenient to hold. The handgrip has good surface texture and configuration and the lens lends itself to being held by your left hand, SLR-style (duh). The viewfinder is slightly dim with the supplied lens (the lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at wide angle or f/5.6 at telephoto) but adequate for most situations.

As expected, the major controls are within easy reach. As with any SLR camera, you have to remember that you zoom using the ring around the lens and manually focus (should you decide to forgo autofocus) by rotating the outer barrel of the lens as well. No button operation a-la compact digicam.

The camera shows you where it focused in the automatic mode by briefly illuminating the selected focus points within the viewfinder, which is convenient. The tripod mount is located well and the camera is stable when mounted on a tripod.

The menu system is easy to use and some functions are called directly by a push of a designated button (e.g. White Balance).

The kit lens has an outer barrel that rotates when focusing, which may make using a polarizer difficult, but not impossible. The zooming ring has clearly marked focal lengths, but the focusing ring has no distance markings. It is difficult to expect a non-rotating barrel on a cheap kit lens though and pre-focusing, then adjusting the polarizing filter works well.


The camera lets you adjust a wide range of parameters. The resolution goes up to 15 MP. There are also different modes of RAW shooting: RAW and RAW JPEG. The 14-bit RAW files that I got were huge! But they have a lot of information comparing to 8-bit JPEGs.

You can also adjust the ISO (100-12,800), white balance, sharpness, contrast and other shooting parameters using the menus. The menus are quite easy to use, appear fast and look good.


The camera powers on or off instantaneously, but the sensor cleaning takes time. The focusing is very fast at under a second, even in the dim environments (the camera has an autofocus-assist light.

The shutter lag is virtually absent when pre-focused or when using the camera's manual focus. The camera can take pictures at about 3-4 frames per second. In RAW mode it does it for 9 consecutive frames, then slows down to 1-2 seconds per shot. In JPEG mode, takes pictures at 3.5 fps.

Image Quality

I mostly used the camera in its RAW mode, adjusting white balance, contrast and other parameters in Adobe Photoshop. But the JPEG pictures were also very pleasing in color, had good white balance and color saturation. All images had very low noise levels, excellent detail level and dynamic range.

The kit lens produces generally sharp results with very slightly soft corners at full wide angle and full telephoto ends. There is very little purple fringing (chromatic aberrations) at wide angle, but nothing visible at telephoto. The lens makes corners softer at widest aperture settings, but behaves better stopped down, in the middle of its aperture range.

The colors were pleasing and WB worked well in full auto mode. The noise levels are very low. There is no noise visible at ISO 100-800. At ISO 1,600, there is some noise, but it has fairly fine pattern. And there is progressively more noise at higher ISO settings, but not as much as what consumer-level compact digital cameras produce at ISO 400 (except perhaps for Fuji SuperCCD cameras, now defunct).

The lens's optical image stabilization works well and lets you shoot at about 2 stops slower than normal. Result: sharper photos in low light and/or at telephoto.

The camera produces 15-Megapixel images that can be printed sharp as large as 16x20 at pretty much any ISO up to 800 and higher ISO photos will look great at smaller sizes. Heavy cropping with smaller-size prints is an option as well.

Battery Life 

The battery that comes with the camera should be able to produce up to 500 shots. But if you use Live View and/or flash a lot, the number of photos will be lower. I took about 140 photos with no signs of battery depletion.

About the Kit Lens 

The supplied image-stabilized lent is solidly built and works well enough for an inexpensive kit lens. For general photography it will be sufficient. But if you are going to crop extensively and print resultant crops rather large, you might need a better lens (e.g. prime lens or a more expensive zoom).

The IS (image stabilization) works well, lets you shoot at about 2 stops slower shutter speed and results in sharper photos in dim light or at telephoto when shooting handheld.

Movie Mode

The camera records HD videos in either 720p at 30 fps or 1080p at 20 fps. There is even an HDMI out.

Pros: Excellent-looking photos, build quality, compact and light for SLR, resolution, HD movie mode, IS lens
Cons: Price, 1080p at only 20 fps

Bottom Line 

I am very pleased with the new Canon Rebel T1i (a.k.a. EOS 500D) and its IS kit lens. Not only the camera and the lens are solidly built and feature-rich, they perform very well too. The excellent image quality, high resolution, low noise levels and great battery life make it an excellent choice. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sunpak PicturePlus 55mm Circular Polarized Filter - Great Color and Sharpness

Sunpak makes filters for many sizes of camera lenses. I have been using different diameters of Sunpak circular polarized filters for many years on my film and digital cameras. It all started when I wanted to get a circular polarizer filter for my Nikon N55 camera's Nikon Nikkor 28-80 AF-G lens, which has a 58-mm filter thread diameter. I didn't want to spend too much money on it, so the expensive filters, like of Tiffen were out of the question.

I found that Sunpak produces inexpensive filters and decided to give their circular polarizer a try. In Sunpak PicturePlus package, for less than $30 (shipping included), I have not only received a 58mm circular polarizer but an UV filter as well. I have been using that combo in my cameras that needed 58-mm filters.

But I also needed a 55mm polarizing filter for my other cameras, e.g. Panasonic DMC-FZ5. So I went the same route, purchasing a 55-mm combo of a circular polarizing filter and a UV filter. As I recall, the price was also below $30. This is a very low price for a circular polarizer, even disregarding the extra UV filter. Let's talk about the 55-mm polarizing filter, which I since used on Panasonic mega-zoom cameras and on a lens of the Nikon D60.

Circular Polarizer and Why You Need One 

In my opinion, the easiest way to improve the color and clarity in your photos, is the use of a polarizing filter. The polarizing filters help you get rid of unwanted reflections in your pictures.

The reflected light often becomes polarized (light is essentially an electromagnetic wave) and the polarizer filter helps you get rid of it. Using a polarizer, you can make the sky look deeper blue, accentuate the clouds, make the water surface more transparent and make the color in the picture softer and more natural-looking.


The filter comes in a transparent plastic box with a lid. My filter is made in Japan.


The filter has a 55-mm diameter thread on the forward edge, which lets you attach one filter to another. I usually attach the UV filter to the camera's lens and the polarizer to the UV filter. That way, I can either use them both as a combo, or detach just the polarizer, leaving the UV filter on the lens to protect it from scratches, dirt, elements and fingerprints.

Regardless, you can use one filter only if you so desire. The polarizing filter has an outer ring/barrel that needs to be rotated to obtain the maximum effect. First, you have to focus, then, while looking through the viewfinder, rotate the ring until the scene looks better. Obviously, you have to use an SLR camera (or a digital camera with electronic viewfinder) to see the changes. I have used this particular filter on few cameras, including the Panasonic mega-zooms and Nikon D60 digital SLR.

Example of use: I focus on infinity, point the camera on the cloud and rotate the ring until the contrast between the cloud and the sky is the greatest.

Most inexpensive SLR lenses, have an outer barrel that rotates when you focus (in fact, I rotate it myself for manual focusing, which I do most of the time). Unfortunately, this makes the filters rotate together with the lens. Since the polarizer has an outer barrel that you have to rotate to adjust the polarizing effect, this necessitates holding the outer barrel of the camera's lens with one finger while rotating the polarizer ring with two others.

The aforementioned slight annoyance is the fault of the lens itself and not of the polarizer. And the effort required is by no means excessive.

I have also used the 58mm version of the same filters with digital and film cameras that have 58mm thread, all with great results. Both the 55mm and 58mm versions are easy to attach or detach to/from the camera's lens.

The 55-mm diameter makes this filter suitable to be used with cameras that specify this filter size. Examples include many Panasonic mega-zoom digital cameras as well as some SLR lenses. When I used this filter with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5, I was able to attach the lens cap to the filter when it was on the lens in the same way I could to the lens when no filter was on it.

There was no interference with the lens hood supplied with the camera either.


The 55mm filter performs very well, at least for the price. I have taken the same shots with and without filters and the difference was dramatic. The shots reveal that without the filter, the sky is hazy and less blue; the objects in the distance are hazy and has grayish color. With the filter, the sky is deep blue with contrasting clouds; the objects have purer and more life-like colors. The filter makes colors more pleasant and reduces harshness of light In brightly-lit daylight shooting.


One thing to keep in mind is that the polarizer affects the exposure. I noticed that as the polarizer ring is rotated, as the scene darkens the required exposure time increases (at the same aperture setting). The change in exposure reached about 2 stops, which means you might want to use either the film with higher ISO (or higher ISO setting on the digital camera), the longer exposure time (hint: tripod may be required) or wider aperture (if available and if depth of field allows).

I used the polarizer with ISO 100 setting and got good results shooting handheld in bright sunlight. In dimmer conditions, the polarizer still could be used with ISO 100 setting in cameras with optical image stabilization (Panasonic FZ cameras and the IS lens of the Nikon D60), but in those conditions there might be no need to use it. In other words, when shooting handheld, the optical image stabilization compensates for the need for longer exposure if using a polarizing filter. ISO 100-200 is sufficient in most outdoor conditions if the camera has IS. And, of course, cameras have settings higher than ISO 100 for even dimmer conditions.


The 55mm filter proved to be durable. I have not subjected it to any kind of extreme abuse, but I have dropped the 58mm version while taking photos in London. It fell from the height of about 4 feet on the hard asphalt and surprisingly didn't break. The outer metal edge was bent, which I corrected using pliers. It still works fine as there was no damage to the glass. Do not try this at home. Since the 55mm version is very similar to the 58mm one, I expect it to be durable as well.

Pros: Low price, excellent performance, build quality, durability, color and sharpness, looks
Cons: None


The 55mm Sunpak circular polarizing filter is a great value and a must for somebody who doesn't want to spend the big bucks and still wants to improve the picture. This filter brings with it the deep blue sky and better, less hazy landscapes. Not getting this filter is a sacrilege.

Sonicare Elite/Essence Replacement Heads (E-Series)

For many years I have been using Sonicare Advance A4100 power toothbrush with A-Series brush heads. The toothbrush worked great for me and I had no particular complaints about the A-Series brush heads either. They did require periodic cleaning, otherwise toothpaste accumulation caused an unpleasant substance to form inside the brush heads' bases and the toothbrush's handle's top part.

Recently I got the new Sonicare Essence e5500, which uses E-Series heads. I also bought some extra replacement E-series brush heads. To my surprise I discovered that their packaging indicated that they "now work with A-Series handles". I wish I had known earlier, and here is why.

Is E-Series an Improvement Over A-Series?

Not only these brush heads work perfectly with the ne E-Series (or e-series) handle (I use e5300), they work with my A-Series handle better than the A-Series brushes. Mostly.

The E-Series brushes have somewhat longer, but more slender neck, which is angled and, just as the product advertisement says, helps it reach better. Yes, to those, so-called, "hard-to-clean" areas. Nice!

The A-Series heads had a thicker neck, which was also straight and seemingly shorter. They were definitely not as good in reaching the "areas". Rear surfaces of the furthest teeth and such.

Also, somehow the E-series heads feel like they clean better and produce stronger vibrations. This is always the case when replacing older heads with the fresh ones, but only to some extent. This time, the extent is more significant.

The bristles themselves have more curved arrangement, which is probably a good thing.

These are the positives. However important they are, I have to mention the negatives as well. First of all, the E-Series brush heads are marginally more expensive than the A-series. The difference is microscopic and since they work better, the question, of course, is "who cares?" I don't.

Then, they are somewhat more cumbersome to put on the A-series handle, because you have to align the front of the brush with the front of the handle perfectly. A-series heads were easier in this respect.

Then, there is a question of cleaning up. Despite having some soft material in the top part of the joint between the brush's neck and its "nut", or whatever you want to call the part that attaches to the handle, the toothpaste reliably collects in the area between the brush and the handle on each ingle use. A-series heads were made completely of hard plastic and they collected seemingly less. Fortunately, the new brush heads are easy to rinse.

Then, which is neither here nor there, there is a question of the replacement interval. The new heads came in a package that indicates that they need to be replaced every 3 months for best results. The A-Series used to came in a package indicating 6 months. Although I definitely felt that they were not cleaning as well as new much earlier than that. I cursory online check reveled that both kinds of brushes now recommend 3 months. Works for me.


The E-series heads have solid construction and feature differently-colored bands around their necks, which helps one differentiate his/her brush from the others'. The heads are made of plastic, which is seemingly whiter than that of the A-Series heads. A-Series heads look like an anachronism in comparison to the new E-Series ones.

Pros: Fit E-series and A-series handles, excellent cleaning and comfort, reach far and well
Cons: Need to clean after each use to avoid buildup of toothpaste and other stuff

Bottom Line

Whether you are using an A-series handle, or an E-series one, the E-series replacement brush heads are awesome. I will keep using them and replace at 3-month intervals, while rinsing after each use. Highly recommended.