Thursday 13 August 2015

Windows 10 - it's ugly and broken.

Windows 10, all the press is raving over it, so I thought I hate it’s flatness, but maybe an increase in performance will win me over? OK time to trial it on a newish machine.

I have a HP Z Book given to me by my employer/institution, my relationship with them is a bit of a grey area which is why I have two desks and two ID cards for the place. This was given to me in early 2015, and is brand spanking new, with crappy Intel HD Graphics 4600, and less crappy Nvidia Quadro K610M graphics chipsets in it. It came with Windows 7, on request, and works fine. For what it is though, a regular 1080p 15 incher, it weighs a tonne, but the battery life is great, lasts for hours on end. I opened it to work out where all the weight was coming from, and it was not obvious, however I was informed that it is heady due to having a steel cage inside it, as it is a ‘business laptop’.  Unfortunately it came with a hard drive and no SSD. I have a spare SSD, so I thought I’ll put that in there too, but it only has two of those mSata/PCIe slots etc. and I was determined not to spend any money on it. The cheapest solution was to buy a cheapo optical drive bay adaptor. Problem solved, but looking at the drive bay, they just wasted space, it would have been so easy to stack two 2.5” drives.

Back to Windows 10, I used a clean hard drive to install a fresh copy. So far so good. I log in, install a few things, get rid of nearly all the live tiles etc. Then I left the machine for a few minutes to do something on my main beast, the mighty desktop PC. When I came back to it, it had gone to sleep so I woke it up. The screen flickered on, then off, a good few times, the hard drive was busy, I waited, waited some more, pressed a few keys, and then, well, this:-

…and it was frozen, no not a screenshot from that overrated movie, this was a good old Amiga style crash, a spectacular where the screen is garbled, though not as many colours, Red and Black Guru Meditations notwithstanding of course.

OK a really bad one off, lets ignore it and carry on. So force a reset, reboot, install Firefox, try some more things, and I cannot help but think of one thing, boy is this ugly, it’s ugly beyond belief, all is flat, there’s no transparency, apart from the task bar where you don’t need it much. I really hate the way this looks. Note how Firefox has gone funny, those are not meant to be black boxes.

Next I try Cortana, a lot of faffing around and not much done, so I give up on it. Yes I was busy shouting at the mic for it to do things is all that I’m going to say on this. I needed to Skype call someone, great a real world test, let’s install Skype. Oh but it can’t, gives an error about not being able to update ‘the Store’, goes around in a circle i.e. update now, and back here again, I give up and leave it.

Later, much later, I try to wake it up, same screen flashes etc. and it crashes again, this time it decides to tell me what went wrong:-

Oh right, same picture as before, but not garbled, this is what it was trying to tell me last time. I should now stop wasting my time and give up, but oh no, I’m in ‘guy in flasher mac who stands in front of a hungry dog fond of sausages when flashing’ mode and decided to look up the problem. Turns out this igdkmd64.sys is an old Windows 8 hangover problem that they’ve managed to bring over to Windows 10. More digging still and it turns out it’s an Intel Graphics driver problem. So go over to Intel, no driver for Windows 10 yet, use Microsoft's, yes the one that crashes, instead.

So that was it, my Windows 10 experience was over, hard drive reformatted to use elsewhere. Oh no why did I try it out in the first place? Oh now I remember, the performance increase I was meant to get. Well it didn’t boot any faster, then again I was using a hard drive instead of an SSD which its Windows 7 usually boots off, but still it was perceptibly slow. All of which is an irrelevance as I sleep my PC and it awakens form it's 5W sleep state quicker than the time it takes me to sit down, or turn the monitor on. I use a master plug which cuts all power to my monitor and amplifier once the PC sleeps, which is why my monitor needs to be turned on, and doesn't just come out of standby.

Yes the file copy dialogue box is interesting, but I’ve been using Teracopy for years, and it does a lot of extra things that even Windows 10’s file copy doesn’t.

I simply haven’t the time to waste on more faffing around with Windows 10, it’s ugly and broken. Windows 7 works just fine for me thanks. Oh I mentioned ‘Frozen’ before, I just can’t help one final reference to it, because it just applies so well here; when it comes to Windows 10, I ‘just let it go!”. Now it becomes obvious why I blog under a pseudonym. Oh as for the two desks thing, I only sit at one of my desks, even if my name is on two doors in the building, because I cannot yet replicate myself so as to occupy both simultaneously. I prefer the company at the one where I sit and feel I would be an undue distraction at the other, where my just walking in one day and saying ‘Hello’ resulted in a good few minutes of laughter. Apparently, it was stated that, I said it in a “1950’s British comedy accent”.

Monday 30 March 2015

The 65" Hisense 4K UHD LED Display in pictures.

Yes, I bought one of these (A Hisense LTDN65K680M3D just to be clear) from Amazon and took some pictures. So here they are to give you some idea as to what to expect if you buy one. At the offer price it was quite good value (under £900 if you must know). However for standard definition playback, not pictured here, it's actually quite bad. Only 720p or greater will look any good on this display. All photos were taken with my Canon G9 camera. Oh, and to get it going with my PC at 4k UHD, had to try a number of HDMI cables. Oddly some of the 1m ones wouldn't work, but one of the 10m ones did. All are non branded cables, and yes I consider Monster cables to be a waste of money. Offended? Post abuse below as you see fit.

Skyrim in 4k UHD, looks and runs great (MSI R9 290)

30Hz hardly appeared to matter

Close up, very detailed, nice.

The icons in the middle lie on the right of my 5.3 WQXGA (2560x1600) monitor.
Another pic.

HD TV from a BT (Humax) Youview box, no I'm not a DPRK fan, it was just on at the time.
This picture is one of particular interest, look at the sky, it should be even, but it isn't it seems to have dark patches. I looked into this, and it's a common LED problem apparently, due to the way in which they are illuminated. Oddly enough spending more not only fails to solve the problem in most cases, but some more expensive LED displays have an even more pronounced problem.

Now the 1080p Zotac ID-41 media player running Kodi

Taken with the camera flash on.
I took this just so that I knew where the ports were, and was too lazy to look at the user guide.
That tear in the box (bottom left) was worrying, fortunately not an issue as the display inside was fine.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

The Razer Chroma, the final keyboard?

Had the most surreal BT experience, whereby a number of calls and e-mails are exchanged, and the matter of cancelling my BT TV Essentials is meant to have completed. Only I receive a bill a few days later, and I’d been charged in full for the following month. It’s as if the entire episode simply never happened. Surreal.

Keyboards, well I did it, I ordered a Razer Chroma, and the process of buying it, well that’s another story. As for the keyboard, well, it works well, but with one tiny niggle. Again the difference between Razer (Kalih) switched and Cherry switches is noticeable, even lay people I’ve had press a few keys can tell. This time it's Razer Green vs Cherry Blue. Here’s the thing, the Razer have a squidgy activation click, the Cherry have a much more crisp click when depressed. As for the activation force required to register a key press being reduced, I’m not that sure that’s desirable, well it’s not noticeable, does it cause more typos? I just can’t be 100% sure, but it appears not to. However I was so convinced that the click requires more force, that I used some coins to test the claim. Sure enough the Razer Greens do need less force, but that squidgy feel appears to take that away, and gives me the psychological impression that I am using more force, even though I do not appear to be. Confused? Well I remain so.

On the lighting front, it’s just amazing, the things you can do, ripple parts of the keyboard, have other parts cycling colours etc. It’s just brilliant, to the point that I have almost accepted the Blue/Green switch difference. The colours are nothing like the washed out Corsair ones. The only downside is that they no longer dim well, I pretty much need them at maximum brightness to match the old Razer green backlight at mid-level. Doesn’t bother me, apart from the inter key light bleed now being more pronounced. One last very minor issue. The Caps/scroll lock/Num lock LEDs, they’re so dull, even at maximum brightness, that they may as well not be there. But I never look at them, so no biggie. The media keys are still FN shifted, so no new keys, disappointing. Obviously I went nuts and coloured the keyboard silly, with the keys right of the enter key set to cycle through colours, it was too distracting to have the main typing area cycle in the same way.

Deep rich colours here, the photo doesn't do them justice.

As for the Corsair RGB Cherry Blue, I left that on order at Amazon, some three months ago, after three date changes, in the first week of February, it no longer had a delivery date at all. Finally they cancelled the order altogether. I checked on-line and discovered that they have a problem making switches that have a consistent feel, with some users returning theirs as they felt that some keys were stiffer than others. Rather cheekily Corsair suggested that the market for Blue switch based keyboards is minimal, because apparently they largely sells Red switch based keyboards! They might want to tell Razer who for years have only ever sold Blue switched keyboards, and now its green switched variant. Of course Razer could fold tomorrow and I’d look gift horse in the mouth, but isn’t it meant to be about giving the user/customer what they want? Even Razer decided to start selling softer switch for those who just don’t like the Blue and Green switch's actuation click.

On a final note, I have to admit, my keyboards' lighting does make me a little more cheerful when I come to use my PC, it does make a psychological difference, it’s just nice to look at. Sounds petty, but it’s true. Some may assume that I lead a sad life that is brightened by a gaudy coloured keyboard, but nothing would be further from the reality of how I live, the main issue is that I use my PC for work too, and my ‘work’ has troughs and peaks, as does most work.

Oh the BT problem, they actually fixed it, a relief.

Saturday 28 February 2015

Going 4k UHD with a 65" Hisense

Right, so I end up buying a 65” display. There were rationales’ behind this, fist that our main living room TV is now ancient. It’s a 720p Panasonic, still going strong, but now obsolete. My wife complained not so much about the size, but more so about the image quality, as generated by the old Sky+ box connected to it.

I saw Amazon selling the Hisense 65” UHD for £900, so I though kill three birds with one stone, get UHD, upgrade downstairs TV and the as yet unmentioned 3rd bird, the Samsung buzzing problem will be part solved, the one they promised to fix February last year (2014), yes I know that experience deserves a blog entry of its own.

So it arrived, box slightly beaten up, so we videoed it’s unboxing, however all was fine physically.

There are some reviews of this around, however performance wise, the most significant issues is that normal def, often referred to as 576p, or that which is broadcast by my Sky HD and BT Youview box as standard non-hidef, looks awful. This is quite apparent when comparing it to the 59” Samsung Plasma.

So now I have a ‘technology that just doesn’t work’ issue. The Samsung not only buzzed, which was quite noticeable during quiet scenes, charging input on it was a nightmare, the way it would start trying to tune channels when there’s no aerial connected, how slow it would be moving between inputs, the timeouts etc. It made turning the TV on a fist fight with the TV, it amazes me that so many people put up with this. From a UI perspective the Hisense doesn’t offer much, but it is just such a relief that changing inputs is so much better. Anyway that aside, my problem is, what is the best way to drive it? The BT (Humax) Freeview box, i.e. status quo is out of the question, the non Hi-def output is just far too poor to live with, and HD content thin on the ground.

Next up using my Zotac ID-41 media player, and then buy a DVT USB device for live TV. The Zotac is a 1080p device, and I noticed that recodings, that looked bad on the Humax, looked a lot better when up-scaled by Kodi on the Zotac. Worth mentioning that use of VLC is not an option the GPU is an Nvidia Ion which does a good job of rendering h264 mkv’s at 1080p, but the processor is an Intel Atom that struggles with h264 playback.

But then I tried my PC, which has a rather OTT graphics card that I bought cheaply, an MSI R9 290, that has Ultra HD output, i.e. 4020 by 2160. Now use this and the quality is excellent, with Kodi upscaling so well that even 1080p mkv’s look better than they do on the Zotac in its native 1080p. Even though I have an AMD FX-8350 Eight Core CPU running at 4.3 GHz, when using VLC it struggles to play 1080p files in Ultra HD. Problem is that if I use Kodi with dual display, I can’t use my PC at the same time, because if I take the context away from Kodi by using any other application, it turns off its output to the second display, i.e. the Hisense 65”. Though I can run its output ‘in a window’, that degrades its performance somewhat, but I have yet to try that one. The latter is because I am not keen on using my heavy weight PC as a media player in the first place, though it tends to be on when we’re watching telly anyway.

So here’s my dilemma, what to do? Buy an Android based ultra HD media player that uses Kodi for about £60, e.g. M8’s etc? (.. and if so which one, there are so many!) Then stick a USB DVT box on it?

Should I get the spare stuff I have and put a little PC together, with a display card that can manage quad HD?

Oh as for the Hisens’s built in Smart apps etc. nearly all useless, German, and slow (on YouTube for example), not to mention that it’s managed to crash a few times. A relative bought a new Samsung 50" display, has near identical Smart apps (is this some Android variant?), just as slow and useless, i.e. doesn't play a lot of mkv's and flv's etc.