Monday, April 3, 2006

Micro Innovations Wireless Optical Mouse

Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Attractive design, good range, inexpensive
Cons: Horrible battery life

I was never a big fan of wireless mice, as the thought of my batteries dying in the middle of a game left me a little uncomfortable. I had always loved the thought of it, no cord to tangle around and get in my way... so I asked for a wireless optical mouse for Christmas last year. I was presented with this Micro Innovations (model PD950P) to play with. Upon destroying the package (oops) I recovered the micro wireless optical mouse, the PS/2 receiver, a 3.5" floppy with the driver on it, a user's manual and a warranty information card.

First thing to do is connect the PS/2 receiver to an available PS/2 port on your computer. The manual suggests you shut your computer off first, but really it don't particularly matter. The manual also suggests you install the drivers from the included floppy diskette, but Windows XP and SUSE Linux both detected the mouse and it worked just fine without them. You need to install two AAA batteries, which are not included. Flip the mouse over, remove the little door and put them in. The final step is to press the big round button on the receiver, which will make the little green LED blink. Then you grab a pen or pencil and push the little button on the underside of the mouse. This synchronizes the mouse to the receiver.

The PS/2 receiver has a four foot long cord, and the mouse itself has a six foot range from the receiver. The four foot cord leaves you plenty of room to place the receiver somewhere out of the way. The six foot range of the mouse is more than sufficient to use the mouse anywhere around my computer, on either side of my monitor. I haven't had any problems with electrical interference from my speakers, cordless telephone, monitor, etc; so I'm pretty happy there.

The receiver measures about three inches by an inch and a half and is about an inch tall, while the mouse itself measures about five inches by two and a half, and is about an inch and a half tall. The mouse weighs about a pound with batteries installed. The matte black finish is fairly attractive and there is a silver plastic piece that goes up the center of the mouse and encircles the scroll wheel. It's symmetrical design allows the mouse to be used by right or left handed people equally.

It's a standard three button mouse, with the scroll wheel acting as the third button. The two main buttons are built into the mouse body, so the mouse is smooth completely across the top, save for the silver plastic piece that goes down the middle. The scroll wheel clicks a little as you scroll it, but it's not too loud and it still scrolls pretty smoothly. The two main buttons are actually a tiny bit louder than the scroll wheel button.

The 800dpi optical sensor is pretty good, it scans the desktop at up to 2300 frames per second. The mouse works fairly well on my desk, which has a smooth, light colored wood grain surface. Only occasionally do I notice the pointer jump across the screen randomly, but that could easily just be me picking the mouse up off the desk to move it instead of sliding it. I've got a bad habit of doing that...

The battery life is every bit as bad as I thought it would be. I used a couple of high capacity rechargeable Duracell batteries in the mouse. They were the same batteries I use in my digital camera, and they were fully charged. The mouse worked fine for about one week, and then the batteries died. The computer was turned on the entire week, so it may not seem so awful (though it still seems bad to me) but the mouse shuts itself off after about ten minutes to conserve battery life, so it really didn't get that much use. If I ever try another optical mouse, it will be one with a cradle charger so I can leave it to charge every night when I go to sleep. This replacing batteries once a week just isn't going to cut it.

The mouse has a lifetime limited warranty, where Micro Innovations will, at it's option, either repair or replace a defective mouse at no charge. Of course "no charge" means for parts or labor, you still are expected to pay to ship it back to them, and you have to enclose $5.95 shipping and handling for them to return it to you. By the time you pay shipping both ways, you're better off just tossing it in the trash and buying a new mouse, as it's about the same price anyway.

System requirements include an IBM compatible PC, Microsoft Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, an available PS/2 mouse port, and an available 3.5" floppy drive.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Verbatim DVD+R Double Layer Recordable Discs

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros:Fast burn speeds, high reliability, no coasters Cons:A little more expensive than other comparable media

Initial Views

I ordered the Verbatim 95166 discs on and they arrived a few days later. After removing the DVDs from the box of other stuff, I was presented with a little cardboard package measuring about 5.5" by 7" by 1.5" and weighing about a pound. I opened it up and received a media cake box spindle containing my 10 blank discs.

The discs are silver colored on the top, with "DVD+R DL" and the Verbatim logo across the top in gold. "Double Layer" and "8.5 GB" are written in the middle one on each side of the hub, and the bottom contains 3 gold lines for you to write on. The bottom of the disc is a reflective blueish color.

While not the best looking media, they are nice enough looking; though for a more professional looking disc you may want to try media with a white printable surface, or (providing your burner supports it) Lightscribe media.

Why DVD + over DVD -?

There are a lot of differences between the two formats, for example DVD-R uses a 140.6kHz wobble and carries information on pre-recorded pits between grooves. DVD+R uses an 817.4kHz wobble and carries information by a phase modulation of the wobble. Most of the differences have little relevance to consumers, so I won't bore you with the details. The one difference that is a big selling point for me is the ability to change the book type of the media, so it will play in my older model DVD player.

The book type is a four bit field in the physical format information section of the control data block at the start of every DVD. A lot of devices use it to figure out what type of disc is inserted, and how it should go about accessing that disc. With DVD + media you can use bitsetting. This allows you to change the book type to fool older devices into reading the discs anyway, even if they were manufactured before the newer format was defined. Hence, if you burn a video to a DVD+R DL disc, and try to play it in a slightly older DVD player, it may not be recognized as valid media with the default book type value of "1110". So, you use bitsetting and change it to "0000" and the older DVD player thinks it's a normal DVD-ROM disc. This can greatly increase the compatibility of DVD + media.

The part of DVD - media that contains information about the disc is pre-written during the production of the media. This part of the disc contains things such as the CSS (Content Scramble System) key, which is part of commercial movie copy protection; but it also contains space for the booktype field. This means that bitsetting is not possible on DVD - media.

Disc Capacity

A DVD-5 disc is a 12 CM single sided, single layer DVD. It holds approximately 4.37 GB of data, which is over 2 hours of video. This DVD-9 media is also a 12 CM single sided disc, but contains a second layer, and holds approximately 7.95 GB of data, or about 4 hours of video. It accomplishes this by making the first layer transparent, so the laser can shine through it to read the inner layer.

The reason a dual layer disc will not hold twice the data of a single layer disc, is because the pits that hold the data are longer (0.44 um opposed to 0.4 um). The pits are also further apart; these factors make it easier for the laser to read the pits correctly. That means there are less pits to hold data, so dual layer discs have a slightly reduced capacity per layer than single layer discs, but much more capacity overall because of the second layer.

Reliability & Speeeeeeeed!

The Verbatim 95116 media advertises a maximum supported speed of 2.4x. What, that's all? No, not really. Aside from the 2.4x speed rating, the package is stamped "Up to 8x speed with compatible high speed DVD+R DL drives". I burned the first 2 discs at the advertised 2.4x, then I jumped up to 4x for the next 2 discs and they worked flawlessly. Discs 5 and 6 were recorded at 6x (that's about a 20 minute burn) with no errors. The final 4 discs I burned at 8x, and 3 of them worked perfectly; while the 4th froze up during the transition between disc layers on my DVD player. That may just have been my player though, as it is pretty old and is prone to act up regardless. The disc plays perfectly fine in my computer.

I created my data with a program called MemoriesOnTV, which allowed me to take hundreds of pictures and a bunch of video clips from my computer and make a slideshow, complete with audio and text. I filled my project up to the maximum I could fit on a dual layer disc, and ended up with about a 3 hour long DVD. It surely would have been longer, had I not used such high resolution images and video. I burned this to the discs in DVD format with Nero.

Burning a full dual layer DVD at 8x took me approximately 15 minutes. They were all burned with my Lite-On SHM-165P6S using the latest firmware. I would have tried to burn a couple at even faster speeds, just out of curiosity, but 8x is the maximum my burner supported.

Disc Care

Keep discs away from heaters, hot equipment, direct sunlight, pets, and children. Don't throw them out in the snow bank, or stick them in your freezer or microwave. Always store DVD discs at temperatures between -4 to 122 degrees F, or -20 to 50 degrees C - according to the DVD specification.

Always clean DVDs with a soft lint-free cloth. Data is situated circularly on discs, so always wipe in a straight line from the center to the outer rim. This way you aren't as likely to damage the data the disc from causing microscopic scratches while cleaning, and your discs will last a lot longer. Try not to use strong or abrasive cleaning solutions; water or isopropyl alcohol work just fine.

Scratches effect more data on a DVD than they do on a CD, because the data density of a DVD is four times greater than that of a CD. That is not to say that DVDs are easier to ruin though, as the error correction is a lot better for DVDs than it is for CDs.

DVDs are read by a laser, and thus never wear out from being played over and over again like VHS tapes do. Also note that DVDs (and CDs) are not effected by magnets like floppy discs, hard drives, tapes or zip discs are. If you take care of your DVDs they might just be around long after you're gone. These particular discs use a high performance metal azo dye to ensure data reliability and extend the life of the discs.

Final Thoughts

The media code is MKM001, manufactured either in Singapore by Mitsubishi Chemicals (as Verbatim is a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation); or by Moser Baer in India starting early 2007 (Mitsubishi outsourced some production to Moser Baer). A Verbatim spokesman confirmed that the India plant still uses the same high quality methods and materials as the main Singapore plant, and MKM media is one of the best.

All Verbatim discs also come with a limited lifetime warranty, and Verbatim provides toll-free technical support and service.

While the Verbatim 95166 may not be the most inexpensive media on the market, it's exceptionally reliable, really fast, and by far the best media I have used to date. I whole-heartedly recommend the Verbatim 95166 media to anyone.