Review #51: Amazon Fire TV (Gen 3 - 4K HDR) ★★★★☆

Normally, whenever I get a new device, the instinct is to analyse it in depth. Unfortunately, certain constraints prevent me from doing so with the Fire TV 4K, primary of them being that I have no 4K display devices at present. However, a lot of thought had gone in to purchasing this device for a 1080p non-HDR TV, even though it is not officially available in India. So, I would like to share these thoughts along with the experience of setting it up so as to get the most out of it. Thus, this article will straddle the line between a tutorial and a review, but I have decided to classify it as the latter since this article, while being instructional, is still appraising the product.

Review #50: RHA MA650 Wireless Earphones ★★★★☆

When wireless doesn't mean getting less! 

Bluetooth headsets have always been a matter of convenience for me rather than a technological evolution over wired headsets. For a long time, I preferred to use wired headsets whenever possible and took recourse to Bluetooth headsets when on the move. However, the abysmal performance of Bluetooth plug-in headsets like SBH54 and the Fiio BTR1 left me extremely disappointed and finally set me on course to finding a standalone wireless earphone.

Review #46: Fiio BTR1 (Bluetooth Amplifier with AK4376 DAC) ★★★☆☆ (Updated!)

A small device with big sound on a budget.
The removal of the headphone jack on phones is a recent phenomenon but I have been dilly-dallying with clip-on, stereo Bluetooth headsets for quite some time. The excuse for doing so was convenience, at the expense of sound quality. Without putting so much as a thought, I went with Sony in those days and hence my initial experience revolved around the MW-600 and SBH54. However, while the MW-600 was a solid device for its time, the SBH54 was a huge disappointment. Hence, Sony was never in consideration for my next device.

With the iPhone 7 being my primary device, I gave some thought to using a lightning connector device prior to considering other Bluetooth choices. The 1More Triple Driver was certainly at the top of the list but the price premium for the lightning version put it beyond the price range I was looking at. Another option was to go for a 3.5mm adapter and the i1 turned out to be the most prominent among the limited options available, but it didn't take much to understand that it didn't really offer a better value proposition compared to Apple's adapter. However, it was this visit to the Fiio site for the i1 that put me on course to the BTR1.

Review #10: Sony SBH54 Bluetooth Headset (October 2017 update) ★★★☆☆

Good design, let down terribly by software and connectivity
Update #6 (Oct 30, 2017): For the first time in a long time, an update is not about the latest firmware. I recently got my hands on the Fiio BTR1, so stay tuned for that review later in the week. However, over the course of testing that device, I revisited the SBH54 and finally checked its codec support. Sony only lists support for the A2DP v1.2 profile, so the exact codec support isn't clear and I can't believe that I didn't test for it until now. Guess it's better late than never.

1. SBH54 has AAC support, so Apple Music and local AAC files are directly transmitted to the SBH54 without re-encoding.
2. The device doesn't support the optional MP3 codec, so direct decoding of it fails. Since the SBH54 also lacks aptX support, MP3 files are re-encoded to SBC prior to transmission.
3. Similar to MP3, Spotify streams in Ogg Vorbis are re-encoded to the much inferior SBC prior to transmission to the SBH54.
There you have it. The complete list of codec support includes the optional AAC in addition to the mandatory SBC. I assume that Sony also didn't include support for its proprietary ATRAC codec, but even if it did, it's redundant and doesn't have any practical usage. So, AAC (Apple Music) files are the best way to go on the SBH54 as they are played back natively, to the best of the device's ability. Meanwhile, if your MP3 collection and Spotify didn't sound so good on the SBH54, then you know why.

Review #29: TP-Link TL-WN823N USB WiFi Adapter (A Pi perspective)

The Raspberry Pi is always a moving target in terms of projects as you may have read previously. The dumb Ethernet is sometimes the best option for the Pi as it doesn't require any configuration at all. I preferred this option as well when the Pi was sitting close to my router and was interfaced with the PC monitor but its use as a media centre meant the proximity changed towards the living room TV. Samsung's TV WiFi adapter proved useful in this regard as it had dual band support and was based on the common Realtek RTL8188 chipset which has wide support across Linux distributions. However, the TV gained its smartness after a long time as the Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and iPlayer apps were finally put to good use. This meant the search for a new USB WiFi adapter for the Pi.

The intention was to purchase the fastest budget adapter and the TP-Link TL-WN823N popped up at the top since it was priced lower than comparable N150 adapters. The one available on Amazon is the v2 variant with the RTL8192EU chipset. Initially, I simply replaced the Samsung adapter with this one when using OSMC and it worked fine. However, later on when I booted to Rapbian, it didn't indicate the presence of a wireless interface. It was then that I realized that most of the information on the web about the compatibility of this adapter with Linux is based on the 3.x kernels and there is no out of the box support with any 4.x kernels.

It was easy enough to load the drivers on Raspbian using the information available on the Pi forums and it worked flawlessly. However, other distributions like LibreELEC or Lakka were a different ball game as they used different kernels. In case of LibreELEC, the 8192eu drivers are already present but don't work with this adapter even after adding the device ID. In case of Ubuntu, there seem to be driver packages available but I haven't tested the same. Even then, it will require patching with every kernel update and isn't the "just works" solution that most would be looking for.

Thus, it seems best to stick with the well proven chipsets from the past. A N150 adapter is still faster than the 100 Mbps Ethernet port and much faster than the reading/writing speeds of most SD cards, so you are not giving up much. Sometimes, it is better to just take a step back to move forwards.