Review: Hue Animation Studio

Way back in the midst of time (2011 if you must know) we reviewed the Hue Animation Studio. We loved it and are inordinately pleased to find out that a new and revised version is now available. This time round, you get a printed animation book with your camera and software, which proves invaluable for looking at stuff while you’re actually doing your animation.

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While the camera looks the same, the resolution and general picture quality is a million miles away from what it was with the old kit, and the focus ring (not documented brilliantly) really lets you get in close to the action in full HD. The interface looks simple and clean, without looking childish, something kids will appreciate. Despite being squarely aimed at kids, the software is pretty powerful; it lets you do Chroma Key (aka green screen), has onion skinning switched on by default (shows you a ghost image of the previous frame so you can make sure your animation is smooth), and a lot of other pretty advanced effects.

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The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say, so we set up the 8 year old with the software and a stage for him to make a video on and left him to it. There were three things I had to do: 1) log him in to the laptop, 2) select the camera to use from a menu and 3) save the movie for him at the end. He intuitively worked out how to delete rogue frames, took to the onion skinning like a pro and probably sat at it for an hour or so before his first masterpiece was ready. As with anything, there is a learning curve but to be fair to him, his creative vision was vying with his impatience to get the vision down on the screen. The default frame rate on Hue Animation Studio is 10FPS but we dropped it to 8 for his video. That means the 16 seconds or so of video has around 130 separate shots in it- impressive when you break it down like that. Obviously if you want The Hobbit level frame rates (48 a second I think), things will look super-smooth but you might just die of old age before you finish your masterpiece.

So the boy’s first attempt looks like this:

I’d note we’ve not exported it at the highest settings but we have had it’s worldwide premier on our 60 inch 1080P television from the source material and I can say that it looks ace. I’ve sent him away now to read the animation guide and script out his next story. Once we’ve completely mastered the basics, production will get more involved and exciting…

You can pick up the Hue Animation Studio as a bundle for £49.99, which is great value to my mind. Whilst there are DIY solutions, as anyone who has ever looked into Lego/Brick animation will know, you spend more time tweaking settings on unfriendly software than you do actually animating. The Hue Animation Studio lets you get right down to it with no fuss and a minimal learning curve.

Musical wishlist

91OZN9lmo4L._SL1500_[1]I’ve written about HiFi snobbery in the past on the other blog and how much it annoys me but it’s equally true that I get irritated with people who think a good set of headphones are a pair of headphones that give such a ridiculous amount of bass that they’re in danger of discovering the mythical brown note

No, I like my music, so I have to pay attention to what I’m listening to it on. It’s a bit like preferring to watch stuff on Blu Ray over DVD; why would I watch it on some inferior old technology when I have the chance to listen to it on something better.

When we recently had a huge tidy up of our house before my 40th I was faced with the choice- indulge myself in a proper old fashioned separates system or get myself a PS4 and an electric guitar for my mid life crisis. I don’t regret not getting the HiFi set up but it is still definitely on my wish list. An interim set up that makes use of i) all our music that’s been ripped and is stored on a NAS box and ii) the streaming subs we have to Spotify and Google Play Music, like the Panasonic wireless speakers, is probably a good start. I actually won a Panasonic wireless speaker a couple of years ago, and it’s still installed in pride of place in my parents dining room so my dad can listen to the Beautiful South constantly. Great quality bit of kit.  

technics_c700_set_a_0[1]Still, if I don’t end up with something like a wireless speaker set up, I’d be more than happy with something like the Technics c700. Technics are more than a bit legendary in music circles- so much so my brother in law is still ecstatic about rescuing a Technics turntable from a cupboard at work.  A lot of what I listen to (and force the rest of the house to listen to too) was recorded before the Loudness wars pretty much ruined any modern recordings. I love my Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Kinks and King Crimson, so listening to either the .flacs on our NAS box or the latest remastered CD does require the right bit of kit. And as a 40 something now, it’s about time I indulged myself don’t you think?

Review: MyDlink Home Smart Home HD Starter Kit

When we were burgled last year I spent a lot of time mentally kicking myself that we didn’t have any form of home security in place. As we pieced together the insurance claim after clearing up the mess, I couldn’t believe how much a lot of trivial little things added up to, nor how sentimental about various “valueless” items I could be. All told it took almost 4 months from returning home that evening to the point where the claim was paid out and I vowed to make our house less attractive to the light fingered fraternity going forwards.

The first thing we did was install a burglar alarm, with sensors on all the windows and several motion sensors dotted around the house. This made me feel safer going forwards but when the chap two doors down was burgled a couple of months later, the police officer doing the door to door asked if we had any CCTV. My answer was no but the question I asked myself was why? Wireless IP webcams are ridiculously affordable now it seemed like another potential element to fortress home. I bought a couple of D Link DCS 932L cameras and crafted a home-made external enclosure for one. You can read about my exploits here.

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However around the same time D-Link contacted me directly and offered the opportunity to review their MyDlink Home Smart Home HD Starter Kit, so I thought I’d give that a shot too. The kit itself comprises of three items; a smart plug, a motion sensor and a camera. The camera is significantly better than the ones I bought, and they weren’t shoddy either. But the really clever thing comes on how the individual components can interact on the MyDlink platform:

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That’s right, you could, if you wanted to (and it’s very easy to do), set the motion sensor to trigger an alarm to you and just use the smart plug to put a light on a timer BUT you can also get the two components to play nicely together so, for example, if a window/door is opened, the radio comes on at full volume. How clever is that? Very clever. When I get a moment, I’m going up in to the loft to dig out our old mains powered tap deck. I intend to put Robocop’s ED-209’s “You have 20 seconds to comply.” speech on tape, so when the sensor is tripped, the tape player is turned on to belt that out at full volume. Should be good for scaring the kids witless if nothing else!

As befits a higher end bundle, there is a more advanced app called Mydlink Home that works with a plethora of compatible devices. In theory the app should allow a seamless set up- following the on screen guide to press a couple of buttons to get your device onto your home WiFi network. In practice it took a little bit more faffing about to get this sorted- partly my fault as I hadn’t written down the SSID password which was on the back of the sensor before I plugged it in (the WPS one touch connect didn’t work for some reason) but partly because the devices didn’t seem to want to do what they should have. I was stuck with flashing green lights when I should have had either flashing orange or solid green. Still, I got them connected in the end via the alternative method, which was simple to follow and didn’t require a degree in comms and networking to figure out or anything.

As the basis of an easy to use off the shelf security system, I’m pretty impressed with the Dlink Home Surveillance Kit. Unlike a lot of other set ups, you don’t need a PC constantly running with a monitoring programme on it; you can do it all via the app, in or away from your home. The camera can be set up to send an email when it detects motion, and you can set the sensitivity and “active” detection area via the app. It would be nice if it sent a still image of the motion it detected but I haven’t found a way to do that. The night vision on the camera is exceptional; I can’t believe how far on the technology has come since I last played around with IP cameras around 8 years ago.

Delving a little deeper under the bonnet, if you log in to the camera itself via it’s ip address, you have a wealth of other options, including automatic uploading of video to a NAS (network attached storage) box, which is what I’ve done so we get a log of traffic past the house. The only downside of the app itself is if you’re using like I am, the app is running quite intensively in the background and does drain the battery faster than normal. I could of course turn the notifications off for this camera while leaving it on for the ones detecting motion over the flat roofs, something I’ll probably do as I fine tune my settings.

You can pick up the kit for around £120 if you shop around, which considering the camera retails for £75+, the smart plug £35 and the sensor £25 strikes me as a fair price. Adding additional devices to the system is very easy, just make sure they are Smart Home compatible!

Review: LEGO 76035 DC Super Heroes Jokerland

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Wwpid-img_20150809_201205783.jpgith 3 incredibly popular (and rather good) videogames,  a great cameo in the LEGO Movie and a standalone movie in the pipeline, LEGO Batman is rapidly becoming one of the premium LEGO licensed sets. It’s quite funny if you think about it; a licensed character that’s been LEGOised, and then gains a life of his own.

LEGO must be pretty special because I can’t think of any other manufacturer has both Marvel AND DC superheroes on their roster.  Batman LEGO is of course nothing new, this is the latest set in a series that has been about for a few years now and the Jokerland set effectively replaces the Funhouse Escape Set.

Jokerland is one of the premium sets, retailing for £89.99, and containing six standalone pieces, including a funky Batmobil, rather than one monolithic build.  In some instances this works well, in others it doesn’t but we were pleased to find out that in this case it worked really well.

wpid-wp-1439149012816.jpgWhat’s really brilliant though is the set contains 8, yes 8 mini figures: Batman, Robin, Beast Boy, Starfire, The Penguin, The Joker, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. So in one set you get all the big baddies from Batman, which allows for a lot of play, regardless of the actual set- the baddies have already teamed up with Ultron to hand it to the Avengers.

I like LEGO minifigures and this contains a lot of fairly coveted ones- I think the big one left for the collection is the Flash.

The set is rated for 8-14 year olds and contains over 1,000 pieces. It took the boy (8) pretty much all morning to build it. The Joker’s Ride is the biggest individual piece, followed by the Batmobil but we found for such a large set this compartmentalised build approach helped stop the boy getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of LEGO involved. He worked his way through each of the constituent parts quietly and methodically over the course of a morning.

The RRP is £89.99 but if you shop around, you can get the set for considerably less. Given the number of characters and pieces, it’s a good value set in our opinion.

And the Batmobil is really cool. We’ve got other Batmobils but this one is definitely the best:

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