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Profile for Mr. John Manning > Reviews

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Reviews Written by
Mr. John Manning (Penarth, Vale of Glam Wales)

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Popcorn Hour VTEN Ultra HD Multimedia Player (4K, UHD, Ultra HD, HDMI, LAN, 3D, NJM Media Jukebox, 1024MB DDR3, NMJ Navigator App, Fanless, Sigma Designs SMP8757, ARM Cortex A-9, 2x USB host, eSATA, SD cardreader, IR receiver port, Gigabith ethernet, Wi-Fi optional, movies, series, music, pictures, DTS, DTS-HD HR, DTS-HD MA)
Popcorn Hour VTEN Ultra HD Multimedia Player (4K, UHD, Ultra HD, HDMI, LAN, 3D, NJM Media Jukebox, 1024MB DDR3, NMJ Navigator App, Fanless, Sigma Designs SMP8757, ARM Cortex A-9, 2x USB host, eSATA, SD cardreader, IR receiver port, Gigabith ethernet, Wi-Fi optional, movies, series, music, pictures, DTS, DTS-HD HR, DTS-HD MA)
Price: £149.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts, 16 Nov. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I purchased this item intending it to replace my C-200 media player, which in turn had replaced an A-100. I mainly required it to play UHD material that I create both using video from a Panasonic FZ1000 camera and also slideshows created in UHD, both edited using Sony Movie Studio 13. Whilst my LG UHD TV will play this material, it is not totally comfortable with fast-moving pans and zooms, exhibiting some judder for about a second before smoothing out. My hope was that the VTEN would fare better.
First impressions were that it was surprisingly small - roughly the same size as the 2TB WD Elements USB2 HDD I intended to use with it. Setup was relatively quick, including a firmware update, and I used a 16 GB SDHD card in the slot provided upon which I downloaded the NMT apps which makes the unit's connection with my LAN more convenient. The GUI was different from previous units, but familiar enough to be easily used.
I feed the VTEN's HDMI output into a Pioneer receiver which handles audio via HDMI, and is set to pass through the video to the TV unchanged. In this mode the VTEN played HD (1080i 50 and 1080p 50) material excellently, both from USB and my wired LAN. It would not, however, display the menu of iso'd Blu-ray discs, which was disappointing as the C-200 will handle this easily. Upscaling to UHD 25 fps was excellent; subjectively I felt that overall video and audio output was slightly better than the C-200.
The big disappointment was that the VTEN could not handle my UHD material, which is 3840X2160 25fps with a data rate of round 90 MB/s in MP4 format. I tried via the USB 2.0 HDD (powered from its own adaptor), a USB 3.0 Seagate HDD powered via USB, and a USB 3.0 memory stick - in all cases the VTEN stuttered badly and was unuseable. If I used a DIVX converter to reduce the data rate of my files to about 30 MB/s in mkv format things improved considerably but still didn't equal the TV's own efforts.
Whether the VTEN would perform more acceptably with 4K/UHD in another format, I cannot say, but I do not have that option in my editing. My quick conclusion is that it gives excellent results on HD material, if you can overlook it's lack of full DVD/Blu-ray ISO support, but it cannot handle (my) UHD material adequately. I have not attempted to use the apps to access the internet as this function is not of interest to me.

Having now experimented for a week with my DivX converter program, I have improved the quality of its output by increasing the ridiculously low default bit rate from 5MB/s to the maximum 31 MB/s and chosen a higher output quality setting. This has resulted in the creation of MKV UHD files that are subjectively difficult to distinguish from the original MP4 ones, and typically one-third of the size. The VTen now will play these files smoothly (more so than the way the TV plays the original MP4s), not only from attached USB drives but also from drives on my (wired) LAN. This only leaves me wishing that a firmware upgrade could allow the VTen to play ISO files fully, including menus. My score must increase to 4 stars ****.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 14, 2016 7:45 AM BST

DURAGADGET Large Rugged Comfortable Padded Double-Zip Case With Adjustable Shoulder Strap For The New Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ1000 (2014 Release)
DURAGADGET Large Rugged Comfortable Padded Double-Zip Case With Adjustable Shoulder Strap For The New Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ1000 (2014 Release)
Price: £25.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good value for a well-padded case with plenty of storage, 11 May 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Good value for a well-padded case with plenty of storage. I have withheld one star only because the case was advertised for a Lumix FZ 1000 and I find it somewhat bigger than ideal for that camera. Still, better that way than the opposite.... so a recommendation.

Water Music, Music For The Royal Fireworks (Mallon)
Water Music, Music For The Royal Fireworks (Mallon)

5.0 out of 5 stars Handel, naturally, 12 Nov. 2014
In his notes, Kevin Mallon states that he examined an 18th century manuscript of the Water Music with John Eliot Gardiner, and he has deliberately given all this music a 'lift', with fast tempi. It certainly works for me, and apparently also for the Aradia Ensemble, who play with great relish and delicacy.
I am not an lover of period instruments as a rule, and they are used here, but they are well-suited to this repertoire; instead of wincing at the sound of the brass I merely raised an eyebrow and then forgot all about it and simply enjoyed the music.
Naxos has treated us to a fine recording, the 5.1 surround tracks using the rear channels sparingly, but nevertheless creating a believable soundstage. Amongst other things,the entry of a tambourine caught my attention, beautifully captured without spotlighting. The stereo tracks are unlikely to disappoint, either, from my sampling of them on a smaller, stereo-only system.
What a pity that Naxos, with several other companies, has abandoned SACD. This one shows how well they could do when they tried.

Music for String Orchestra
Music for String Orchestra

5.0 out of 5 stars Grieg's music played for all it's worth, 2 Sept. 2014
The Australian Chamber Orchestra under its artistic director and leader Richard Tognetti are a force to be reckoned with; they play with a precision and unanimity that can take one's breath away. The opening work, Grieg's only completed string quartet, is given extra body and smoothness without losing its intimacy. At about 32 minutes, this is the longest work in the collection, dwarfing the more well-known Holberg Suite. Tognetti made the arrangement of the quartet, and also the Lyric Piece 'Erotikk', (originally for piano). The 2 Elegiac Melodies, originally songs, complete the disc.
The sleeve notes assert that The Times newspaper declared this ensemble to be the world's best chamber orchestra; I cannot confirm or deny this, but on the evidence of this SACD they are mightily impressive.
And so is the 5.0 surround recording, which uses the rear speakers sparingly but excels in depth and clarity.
This is a real winner

Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade [Peter Oundijn, Toronto Symphony Orchestra] [Chandos: CHSA 5145]
Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade [Peter Oundijn, Toronto Symphony Orchestra] [Chandos: CHSA 5145]
Price: £8.99

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little (1001) night's music, 1 Sept. 2014
This recording is offered at a reduced price by Chandos, presumably to reflect the lack of another item of music, which makes the disc a little less than 60% full.

The music is well-enough known as to require no introduction, and the orchestral players acquit themselves admirably, playing the solo items with great panache. This of course includes the solo violin representing Sheherezade (or Scheherezade: I don't know why the spelling is different here). One might expect a live performance to be high on overall impact rather than carefully detailed, but my first impressions of this one were that the conductor was keeping a careful grip of his forces and perhaps losing a little of the flow of the music; either I became accustomed to it or the performance loosened up and by the conclusion I no longer had any reservations.

The 5.0 surround tracks were higher in overall volume than my average setting, and I was able to detect very few low - level coughs (that were not significant). Overall I felt the suppression of audience noise was achieved by expert multi -miking, and all sections of the orchestra were admirably clear (perhaps with the exception of the percussion, which I found a little recessed, especially the bass drum). Lower strings were gratifyingly clear, and the solo contributions from all sections appeared to me to have been assisted slightly. Again I have to commend the recording engineers for capturing a wide frequency response from the lowest double-bass notes to the highest piccolo; however I did feel the totality to sound a little 'stage-managed' rather than naturalistic.

I have enjoyed this recording, and hope to many times in the future; whereas I do not consider it to be the ultimate, it has many virtues.

Pioneer SC-1223-K 7.2 Channel AV Receiver - Black
Pioneer SC-1223-K 7.2 Channel AV Receiver - Black

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Versatile powerhouse, 9 Aug. 2014
My Pioneer SC-1223-K receiver is at the heart of a system including the sources below, and driving four Acoustic Energy Aegis Evo One speakers and a Paradigm PDR 10 subwoofer, in 4.1 configuration.

Sky HD box
Oppo BDP-83 disc player
Panasonic DMR-BW780EBK blu-ray recorder
Popcorn Hour C200 media player
The display is a Samsung UE46F5000AK LED TV.

Previous receiver Sony STR-DA2400ES

My main interests are in classical music, and HD video both off-air and my own material edited on a PC.
I was first attracted to the receiver by its ability to decode DSD directly from HDMI; most of my serious music listening is now of SACDs and previously I had fed the excellent Sony receiver with the analogue multi-channel outputs from the Oppo player. The Pioneer enabled me to simplify the wiring greatly, everything being on HDMI apart from return sound from the TV, which is optical. (This is due to the Samsung not supplying return audio via HDMI).
Firstly, the setup of the Pioneer receiver was reasonably straightforward, and I was impressed with the most comprehensive automatic speaker setup. After some listening and consideration, I opted for a part-automatic alignment, specifying my speakers as being small (which they are not) in order to direct the receiver to use the subwoofer for all low bass. Without doing this a 5.0 SACD would not use the subwoofer at all, which was a disadvantage.

Firstly I will comment briefly on the video performance of the receiver; there is little to say except that all HDMI sources appear at its output without any apparent change. Since I do not have a 4K TV or use any analogue inputs, I cannot say anything about its upscaling ability, except to say that it is comforting to have some future proofing for when 4K becomes more common.

Similarly I cannot find any criticism of the audio performance. Power output is generous for my 7 metre by 4 metre room, and the receiver copes admirably with both the extended frequency response and dynamic range of SACDs, and overpowering sound effects from blockbuster movie blu-rays. My first impression on changing from the Sony receiver (which I considered to give excellent sound) was an added high frequency clarity with slightly more natural sibilants . The BBC Proms were especially impressive, with a believable soundstage corresponding to a wide-angle view of the performers, and surrounded by the audience.

Decoding of various formats has given no problems; I have tried the USB input with mp3 files of differing bitrates, and with high-quality multi-channel flac files. All were presented admirably. Since I have a wired connection to my local router I have listened to internet radio and been impressed both by the number of sources and the fidelity available from many of them.

I offer a few assorted comments; I am a little surprised that such a futuristic machine does not offer DAB radio, and that the on-screen menus appear to be 780p rather than full HD (If there is a menu setting for this I have not found it....). Since I have a selection of components to control, I use a Logitech Harmony 1+ universal controller. This will handle the basic functions of the Pioneer, but there are problems with internet radio mode where the arrow keys appear to be inoperative. I would emphasise that this is almost certainly a Logitech problem and seems to be connected with the 'receiver' button on the Pioneer remote.

In conclusion I am very satisfied with the performance of this receiver; it has surpassed all that I have previously enjoyed from Sony, and with a more economical power consumption. Time will tell if its longevity will match its competitor also, but I have no reason to doubt it so far. I am getting much pleasure from using it, and look forward to much more in the future. Its large range of inputs, including 8 HDMI ones, and flexibility make it a very attractive proposition.

Panasonic DMC-TZ60EB-K Lumix Compact Digital Camera (18.1 MP, 30x Optical Zoom, High Sensitivity MOS Sensor) 3 inch LCD (New for 2014) - Black
Panasonic DMC-TZ60EB-K Lumix Compact Digital Camera (18.1 MP, 30x Optical Zoom, High Sensitivity MOS Sensor) 3 inch LCD (New for 2014) - Black

6 of 106 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why no underwater capability like the previous TZs?, 20 July 2014
I don't own this camera, so why am I submitting a review? Because Panasonic have dashed my hopes of a compact camera that my wife and I can use for snorkelling and diving, with a viewfinder that allows us to see what we are shooting, and so we will not be buying this one.
I am a Lumix fan, using a FZ200 for above-water shots; I have owned TZ7s and 20s and at present a TZ30 and TZ40 all with underwater cases, for the wet ones. I have been more than happy with the results from all my Lumix cameras, and IF ONLY I COULD SEE the subjects, the LCD screens being useless in bright sunlight (not helped by being in a plastic case), I would be totally satisfied.
At last, thought, it would be like the good old days when I used Sony camcorders with EVFs and could follow a fish underwater. I was very disappointed to realise that not only was there to be no marine case, but the underwater scene mode had also been dropped. Maybe the extended 30X zoom range has given problems in designing a case; I would have settled for the previous 20X and the opportunity to have an EVF underwater.
I have reviewed the FZ200 and would have loved to have reviewed the TZ60 too. Sorry, Panasonic, you've lost my custom.
Comment Comments (17) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 3, 2015 11:17 AM BST

Panasonic DMR-BW880EBK 500GB HDD Blu-Ray Recorder with Twin Freeview HD Tuners
Panasonic DMR-BW880EBK 500GB HDD Blu-Ray Recorder with Twin Freeview HD Tuners

3.0 out of 5 stars BEWARE of the dreaded DRM, 19 July 2014
Picture and sound quality are excellent, but the machine is slow to boot up and shut down.
The programme guide works well, but is not as intuitive as some others (e.g Sky+). Recording to the HDD from 2 HD channels simultaneously is possible, transferring recordings to DVD-R or BD-R requires a little thought for the best results.
Please be aware of one big snag - while finalised DVDs and Blu-rays made on this machine can be played on some - reputedly most - other makes of under-the-TV machines, and DVDs can be played on computers with DVD drives, it has been deliberately decided that blu-rays may not be played on computers with appropriate drives (to avoid copying). This is a very retrograde decision. It took me a long time to find this out as Panasonic's technical help service deliberately misled me into thinking that there was a problem with my computer; I merely wished to grab a frame from a Blu-ray to print on the disc, and to play them on my Blu-ray capable laptop when away from home.
I cannot fathom out the reason for this Luddite behaviour, especially as commercially produced Blu-rays can be played on computer drives. Shame on you, Panasonic, and all others who support this backward reasoning.

Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Price: £12.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Virtuosic pianism, 28 Feb. 2014
At the time of writing there are two previous reviews on Amazon UK, both praising the virtuosity of the soloist but one finding the characterisation of the first concerto unsatisfactory. I can sympathise with this view, but can also understand why the artists wished to avoid making 'just another' recording of Tchaikovsky's very familiar first concerto. Please bear in mind that I find it possible to accommodate a range of interpretations when I say that I enjoy this one a great deal; if you feel you may not then this recording may not be for you - unless like me you are keen to have a SACD of the second concerto. As has been pointed out, this is the first available.
My reason for bothering to add a review is to mention the recording. I have reviewed several of the Mariinsky SACD issues, and have not been totally happy with the sound of any. This one, I'm afraid, continues in a similar vein, and, looking back at my review of the Rachmaninov 3rd concerto with the same artists, I find similar criticisms coming to mind. The piano is balanced forwardly, and solo contributions from the orchestra also. Violins lack body, and overall I feel the frequency balance mirrors this. There is minimal ambience and the rear channels add little. All in all I do not hear a believable concert hall sound, and have to make some comparison with the LSO Live series of SACDs, many of which are not enhanced by the Barbican hall.
Matsuev's virtuosity and Gergiev's accompaniment do a great deal to mask my doubts, however, and hence I can give my qualified welcome to this release.

Franck / Debussy / Tchaikovsky
Franck / Debussy / Tchaikovsky

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant music, beautifully played, 17 Feb. 2014
This disc contains nearly 69 minutes of delightful music for violin and piano, sensitively played. As the description seems incomplete, I will list the contents. Cesar Franck's sonata in A is the longest work, and is followed by Debussy's sonata in G minor. From Tchaikovsky there is a Humoresque (op. 10 no. 1), the well-known Souvenir D'un Lieu Cher and his Valse-Scherzo op.34.
From the contemplative opening of the Franck there is much to delight the ear, given by two consummate artists in complete harmony.

The sound is fairly close, and there is little from the rear speakers in surround mode, but both instruments are reproduced excellently; I suspect the violin has been assisted a little; it is never overwhelmed by the rich and deep-sounding piano.

This disc has been offered at a bargain price for some time; I would urge anyone likely to enjoy this music to take advantage. At full price, however, this is still a very attractive purchase.

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