7 Apps to Earn Extra Cash for the Holidays (and Beyond)

Amid the holiday season where budgets feel squeezed and pinched to the max, there's help in the form of cash-inducing apps! To help make the gift giving gauntlet easier on the bank account, here...

VIZIO M50-E1 SmartCast 4K HDR Display Review: An Amazing Picture for an Amazing Price

I’ve been a fan of VIZIO displays for a number of years, and have had several of their big screen TVs in my house. Currently, my living room sports a first-generation 70″ P-Series 4K display which has served us well for a few years now, offering up very good image quality, and great reliability. When VIZIO reached out to me to test their latest M-Series display, I figured that it would offer a lesser image quality than my high end 2014 P-Series, but to my shock, this sub-$600 display looks even better than the screen I spent about four times as much on a few years back. Now I know it’s unfair to compare a 70″ display to a 50″ display, but for sheer image quality, it’s amazing how much VIZIO’s latest displays have taken things since 4K UHD first hit the scene.

The M-Series 50″ display I tested was the M50-E1, which is currently on sale from VIZIO for just $579.99(USD), including free shipping. For that money, you get a razor-sharp, local-dimming 4K display with built-in apps, Dolby Vision HDR, Chromecast support, and much more.

Unpacking and setup is easy, and takes less than 10 minutes, including attaching the chrome leg stands, connecting to your home network, updating to the latest firmware, and configuring a smartphone if you want to take advantage of Chromecast streaming. The display has 4 HDMI and a 1 component video input for attaching cable boxes, DVRs, game consoles, etc, but is also more than capable of serving as a standalone entertainment system – as long as you have a high-speed internet connection.

Once set up, it became immediately apparent that image quality has reached such a point that even an inexpensive display like this can look stellar. Gone are the days of patchy, grey LED backlighting, replaced by rich, inky blacks, amazing contrast, and brilliant, almost hyperreal color. The photos below are only about 1/4 resolution, so they don’t do it justice, but definitely click to zoom in to get a little better idea of how good the image is. Also, ignore that vertical line on the top left of the display – it’s just a reflection from a window in the room.

Thanks to a robust suite of built-in apps, I was able to start viewing some amazing 4K and Dolby Vision HDR encoded content in minutes. Right out of the box, you get apps for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crackle, iHeartRadio, Vudu, xumo, Pluto, HaystackTV, and Fandango Now. Not all of these providers offer UHD or HDR content, but I tested out some 4K content from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and it all looked amazingly sharp on the VIZIO.

The display offers something VIZIO calls “XHDR Plus” which is a fancy way of saying that its high dynamic range is better than others on the market, with richer color depth, and more extreme contrast. Since I didn’t have another HDR display to run alongside the M-Series, I can’t say if that’s the case, but the picture quality sure is impressive to my eyes. Everything pops off the screen, with rich colors, and the ability to push out some impressive brightness while still maintaining contrast and detail.

Black levels are amazingly good for an LED backlit display, thanks to a 32-zone local dimming array, and VIZIO’s proprietary Xtreme Black Engine Plus. Even challenging content like the white text on a black background in closing credits is well defined, and with none of the blooming effect that earlier full-array local dimming sets displayed. Also, off-angle viewing is surprisingly good, with little drop-off in contrast or color until you’re at a really extreme angle.

The built in app interface is easy to use with the basic remote that comes with the display, and is fast and responsive. There’s also support for using your iOS or Android smartphone as an interface for streaming content via Chromecast. This technology has continued to improve and support more apps than ever before. Simply load up any Chromecast-compatible app, and you can use your phone to control the stream running on the big screen. One thing I did notice with Chromecast was that it took maybe 10 seconds more for the resolution to bump up to the full 4K, versus a near instantaneous 4K stream on the VIZIO’s built-in apps.

Right now, there are literally thousands of apps with Chromecast support, including everything from HBOGo to Google Play to Playstation Vue, and many more. There’s a full list available over on the Google Chromecast website. Of course you can hook up set top boxes and other video sources, and the M-Series does a great job with that content as well.

Overall, VIZIO has knocked it out of the park with the M50-E1 SmartCast 4K HDR Home Theater Display. Its picture quality, app flexibility, and great pricing makes it a fantastic choice if you’re looking for a new television for any room. For those interested in other sizes, VIZIO makes its M-Series displays in 50″, 55″, 65″, 70″ and 75″ sizes, with list prices ranging from $599.99 to $2499.99.

FTC Disclaimer: Technabob was provided with the hardware tested in this review by VIZIO at no cost. However, all reviews on Technabob are the unbiased opinions of our authors, and in no way represent the views of the product manufacturers represented here.

Focal Listen Wireless Headphones Review: Crisp and Clean Bluetooth Cans

I’ve been gradually making my way through the entire lineup of headphones from audio equipment maker Focal, and so far, I’ve been quite impressed with the audio quality of their entire series – from their value priced Spark in-ear headphones, up to their ultra-premium Utopia open-back model. Across the board, sound quality has been very good, accompanied by a clean and timeless design aesthetic.

After having a chance to test out their mid-line Listen over-the-ear headphones and liking them very much, I got my hands (and ears) on the recently-released wireless version as well.

Like their wired brethren, the Listen Wireless sit snugly over the ears, offering confidence that they won’t slip and slide around if you start bobbing your head to your favorite jams. The snug fit also does a great job shutting out background noise. Their earcups are nicely padded with thick memory foam cushions, and their foldable headband offers a good amount of adjustability to fit just about any head size, including my giant noggin. Their styling is quite clean and simple, with more steak than sizzle.

One thing I miss from the wired version are the matte chrome ear covers, which looked better than the shiny piano black plastic on the $50 more expensive wireless model. My best guess is that the metal was interfering with the wireless antenna, and that’s why they had to go, but the plastic makes them look and feel just a bit cheaper than the wired model. Plus piano black is a notorious fingerprint magnet.

In terms of sound, the Listen Wireless headphones don’t disappoint. Like all of the Listen headphones I’ve tested, there seems to be a great concern with preserving the original sonic properties of music, rather than artificially emphasizing certain frequencies like some other headphone makers do. sounds are clean and natural, and well suited to listening to vocal-centered tracks, as well as jazz, classical, and rock music. There’s still good low-end too – it’s just not bone-rattling. In my listening tests, low frequencies started to emerge around 18 Hz, and the highs cut out just north of 20 kHz. Imaging is good when fed with well separated stereo sounds, though their soundstage is fairly small.

Some wireless headphones suffer in the volume department, but that’s not the case here. There’s plenty of amplitude to go around here, and without distortion or harshness. Battery life is also very good, offering up to 20 hours of playback on a charge. Of course, this depends on volume level, but it’s an impressive figure even at half that, and more than enough for all but the longest transcontinental flights. In the event that you do manage to run out of battery for any reason, Focal includes a 3.5mm cable, so you can plug into devices that have a headphone jack too. On a wired connection, they can reach an even higher volume level – more than any human who wants to keep their hearing should ever need.

Focal has another winner on their hands with the Listen Wireless Headphones. Like the wired version, they sound fantastic, offering up clean and accurate music reproduction, with excellent vocals and very good dynamic range. They’re priced at $299(USD), and and you can find a local retailer via the Focal website.

Edifier S2000Pro Speaker Review: Amazing Sound in a Compact Package

There are numerous powered speakers on the market, but the vast majority of them make some compromises to provide integrated amplification. Not so with the Edifier S2000Pro series. These bookshelf-sized powered monitors are about as good as it gets when it comes to sound quality, volume, build quality, and versatility.

Right out of the box, the S2000Pros look impressive, with a substantial build with thick, real wood side panels, vibration isolating feet, and excellent fit and finish. They measure in at 13.5″ (h) x 8″ (w) x 10.5″ (d), making them just the right side for a bookshelf, tabletop, flanking a home entertainment center, or a really tricked out computer desk. Each speaker has a 5.5″ aluminum cone mid/bass driver and a planar diaphragm tweeter. Powering the speakers are digital amplifier chips from Texas Instruments, for a total of 50 watts per channel to the mid/bass, and 12 watts per channel to the tweeters.

Sound quality is excellent across the board, with crisp, bright highs, smooth mids, and a rich low end. Clarity and imaging is excellent, and you can take advantage of their wide soundstage using the included pro-grade 16-foot cable, which separates treble and bass signal paths. They push out a tremendous amount of volume for their size, easily filling a 20 foot x 25 foot room, and there’s not an iota of audible distortion, even at full blast. The low end is quite good for their size, but I’d love to see the option to add an external subwoofer.

They offer excellent musicality regardless of genre, they’re exceptionally deft at reproducing studio quality vocals. You can choose from four different equalization settings beyond their bass and treble knobs, including modes to optimize for vocals, a classic hi-fi sound, enhanced dynamic range, or a pure, unmodified studio monitor. I found the vocal mode to be quite satisfying, enhancing the front and center impression of vocals, though I spent most of my time enjoying the pure, uncolored sound of monitor mode.

It’s rare that speakers with this kind of audio quality offer so many input options too. You can connect devices via analog RCA jacks, digital optical, coax, or balanced analog via XLR jacks. In addition, they provide support for Bluetooth 4.0 with lossless aptX support. Even when driven with a wireless sound source like an iPhone, they sound spectacular. When connected to a digital source, they can replicate signals up to 24-bit @ 192KHz.

The S2000Pro comes with a full-size remote control, which provides access to volume, equalization mode, input selection, and Bluetooth play/pause and previous/next controls.

Priced at $399.99(USD), the Edifier S2000Pro speakers are an excellent option for an office, den, living room, or a home recording studio. If you’re looking for a self-contained pro quality speaker system that requires no external amplification, you’ll be extremely happy if you purchase these. They’re available for purchase now over on Amazon.