|Updated: December 2, 2021|
A special Technofile rant.
Music lovers suffering the socially distant blues have an interesting and rewarding musical experience available that they may not even know is there. And it could really up your enjoyment ante, depending of course on your taste, technology, and budget.
I'm referring to the average home theatre today, whether stereo, 5.1, 7.1 or Atmos-compatible. Even entry-level home theatres today can offer spectacular audio quality, as you may have noticed the last time you played an action movie with Big Sound. And this newer technology even gives you a chance to experience audio formats that came along a long time ago, had their swing at the marketplace, and died.
Yes, it's like Jurassic Park for audio – except there's little chance of the music turning on the owners. So far…
I'm speaking especially of four channel, quadraphonic sound, which made a big splash in the 1970's but died out far too early, in my never humble opinion. Why did it die? There are many reasons worthy of speculation, but I believe it was all based on money.
And what a surprise that is! Money, because the electronics manufacturers and software (music) companies weren't making enough of it. And that, I believe, is because of competing, incompatible formats (remember the VHS vs. beta war that came later?), plus the high cost and comparatively low power of the equipment. Add to that a lack of inventory compared with regular two channel audio releases and you have the perfect storm of bad news for quad fans.
When it comes to the hardware, for example, back in the day I owned the "second from the top of the line" Sansui (a once-fine Japanese brand that has all but disappeared) quadraphonic receiver, the QRX-3500. I don't remember what I paid for it, but I believe my wife is still upset some 40-something years later. And that didn't include the cost of the four speakers (second from the top Sansuis – about $350 CAD apiece back then), plus turntable and reel-to-reel tape deck, plus cabling and wiring – and of course the cost of the software, some of which were albums I had bought in stereo already but wanted to re-experience in quad.
Power, as mentioned, was a big consideration. I owned "high power" speakers rated at the time as handling 100 watts into eight ohms, but my four-channel receiver only put out 15 – so the speakers basically loafed and were never challenged. When I finally dumped the QRX for a stereo receiver, I immediately went up to 80 watts output, and the difference was outstanding immediately. I lost half the channels, but upped the audio ante considerably. My speakers seemed a lot happier, too.
I mourned the demise of quadraphonic sound for decades – until the advent of the surround sound home theatre. That innovation not only allowed for the return – and growth - of multi-channel audio, it also helped open the door to good ol' fashioned stereo sound, but with high resolution audio that promised even better sound. more...
It's comfortable, offers all of the electronic features we've come to know and perhaps to love (or not), and it's big enough to cut a major swath through traffic as you pilot it around town. But is the Lincoln Navigator any good?
I suppose that depends on the eye of the beholder. After spending a week or so with the 2021 Lincoln Navigator, I came away impressed with its capabilities but also grateful that I have bus driving experience in my past so I was much more comfortable behind the wheel than I might have been otherwise.
Yep, it's that big! So big that my wife refused to get behind the wheel (the baby!). And that's too bad because I think she would've enjoyed the experience once she got used to being at the helm of a road-based aircraft carrier.
Huge or not, the Navigator is all Lincoln – by which I mean luxurious as all get out, with three rows of leather-trimmed seats and about as much comfort and convenience as one could expect from today's auto marketplace.
Which means that, besides plenty of leather, you get stuff like wood trim and metal accents and power-operated second and third row seatback folding. It also means you get a twin-turbocharged V-6 that Lincoln says makes 450 horsepower and 510 lb.-ft. or torque, with a rated towing capacity of up to 8700 pounds.
That power and torque combo is plenty to move this behemoth along with alacrity, and to add to its flexibility Lincoln offers six driving modes, from eco (which they call "conserve") to "sport" (which they call "Excite" in – to rip off the Simpsons – the most blatant case of false advertising since "The Neverending Story"). There are also settings called "Slippery, Deep Conditions, Normal and 4x4". Each mode tunes the Navigator's drive train, including its shift points, the adaptive suspension, drive lines, information displays etc. You make your choices via a knob on the centre console. more...
Subaru's Outback is branching out for 2022, offering a new, limited edition "Wilderness" trim level that ups the off-road ante in a vehicle already known for its non-asphalt manners.
Like most Subarus, the Outback – which arguably came to fame when Australian actor Paul Hogan pitched them back in the 1990's as the world's first sport utility wagon – has a loyal following, and the vehicles are very popular in areas where outdoorsy folk congregate.
When I was in Alaska about a decade ago, for example, it seemed as if the only vehicles around were either pickup trucks or Subarus. Ditto for rural areas of the British Columbia interior that I've frequented. And of course, city folk embrace them as well, undoubtedly for their all-wheel drive prowess that comes in handy when the roads get less than optimal.
At the heart of Subarus' appeal is its full-time all-wheel drive, which every Subaru except for the sports car BRZ comes with as standard equipment. It's a kind of nod to Audi's quattro system, in that it isn't a front or rear wheel drive car that can send torque to the usually non-powered axle when necessary. Nope, this is a real AWD wagon – Subaru calls it Symmetrical Full-Time AWD – and that's a wonderful feature on road and off because it can take an already good handling vehicle and make it seem as if it's on rails.
Subaru says its 2022 Subaru Outback is built on the Subaru Global Platform, and it can be had with a choice of two BOXER engines, though the Wilderness version only gets one: a 2.4 litre turbocharged direct injection Boxer Subaru says puts out 260 hp @ 5600 rpm and 277 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2000-4800 rpm. This is plenty. Lower trim levels come with a 182-hp, 2.5-litre direct injection four-cylinder boxer.
What's also plentiful is the turbo lag, which is there in abundance! My goodness, you step on the go pedal of this thing, wait a beat, and then the power comes on in a whoosh that would be quite wonderful had it been there when you actually called upon it. It's ridiculous and, depending upon when you need that whoosh, could even be dangerous depending on traffic and the like. more...
Roku, the maker of some really great streaming devices, is raising its ante with a new version of its streaming stick, an affordable and efficient way to bring an entire world of free and/or paid programming to your home (or wherever).
It's also adding lots of new stuff to watch on it, thanks to additions to its free Roku Channel, a "broadcasting outlet" that not only offers a wide variety of old and new programming but also some "live" TV channels on which you can watch – for example – 24/7 streams of old Johnny Carson and Carol Burnett shows. It's quite the thing.
The new 4K streaming stick, which retails for about $70 CAD – cheap for the potential goodness you get from it – is claimed to be faster and more powerful than ever. It does seem to boot up faster, which is always nice, and it also includes Dolby Vision and HDR 10+ capability to up the 4K ante even more.
The thing is so darn portable, too, that you can take it with you when you travel, using it in your hotel room, or to blow away whoever you're visiting with the programming content you can carry with you in the palm of your hand (or in your carry-on luggage). more...
The Suicide Squad is the latest in the DC comics universe to come our way and, unfortunately, it suffers from the same fate as most DC Comics movies – it just isn't very good.
I could live with that, but it's worse than merely not being very good. It's very bad and it's also a lousy home theatre experience on 4K disc if you don't have the ambient room light controlled tightly.
Now, I managed to avoid the first Suicide Squad movie; Warner Home Video never sent me a screening sample and from what I'd seen and read about the film I didn't mind. This time, however, they did send a screener and, since it's the kind of movie I would like, normally, I felt obliged to sit through its interminable 132-minute running time.
Wish I hadn't! Naturally, your mileage may vary and according to some online reviews I've read, this James Gunn version of the franchise is just what the doctor ordered. Probably Dr. Fauci… more...
It looks pretty new inside and out and it sports a lot of things to love. And it'll probably become a top selling sedan in a marketplace increasing eschewing such sedans as folks seek out SUV's instead.
It's the 2022 Honda Civic, a really nice new entry in the long line of Civics. And I liked it a lot, Honda-isms that I've whined about in recent years notwithstanding. Even with my Honda-ism angst, I think this new generation Civic is terrific, and I can't wait to see what Honda does with the hot versions that are sure to follow.
The new styling on the outside makes the Civic look more aggressive – and dare I say fun? – than the outgoing model I reviewed a while back. It's still inoffensive enough to not frighten away folks who just want a car rather than a racing vehicle, but the new look is terrific, especially after some of the recent Civics with their heavily creased bodywork that made them look as if they were designed by a committee of the blind. This one is, if nothing else, much more subtle. more...
Electric cars are all the rage these days, or probably would be if more people would buy them without coercion or other people's money. We're promised – well, beaten over the head with – an inevitable electric future, even though it appears few have given thought as to from where the electricity to charge these vehicles will actually come.
Yeah, we're led to believe the power will appear magically, where in reality it's coming generally from coal, natural gas, hydroelectric or nuclear sources. But at least it isn't filthy oil, right?
I've only driven a couple of electric cars over the years, from the silly little Mitsubishi iMiev I spent an interminable few days with in 2012 (it was like a $32,000 Toyota Yaris, only not as nice as the real Yaris) as well as some quick drives in a couple of electric cars at AJAC's Canadian Car of the Year Testfest. I liked their performance as cars – the instant torque, for example, is quite intoxicating – but felt that until they get the prices down and the ranges up they'd only be curiosities. more...
The Honda Ridgeline is an interesting beast, a mid-sized SUV crossed with a pickup truck's DNA to offer what Honda thinks is the best of both worlds – the utility of a truck with the comfort and capabilities of a two row SUV.
In short, a true crossover, if you permit me the use of that term for what isn't really an SUV. And as such, it has occupied a unique niche in the vehicular market since it was introduced back around 2006. It must be working, because Hyundai and Ford are throwing their corporate hats into the niche with their upcoming Santa Cruz and Maverick which, like the Ridgeline, are unibody trucks rather than full body on frame ones as you'll find with pretty well all of the competition.
It's a pretty neat vehicle, too, if you don't need the robustness and capacity of a "real" truck. And it also offers some nifty features you can't find on other trucks regardless of their size, configuration, and capabilities. more...
What's in a name? In the case of Nissan's Rogue, it's a carryover from a previous generation, but rogue (defined, among other things, as "a dishonest, knavish person; scoundrel") is not something the Nissan SUV is.
Who'd want it to be, anyway? I mean, do you want a vehicle that's dishonest, knavish or a scoundrel?
So forget the name. The Rogue is a straightforward mid-sized SUV and judging by the number of them I see around here, a lot of people like that it's just a straightforward, mid-sized SUV. And that's fine.
Getting into Nissan's sample Rogue SV AWD will set you back $37,098, which is in line with at least two of its main competitors: the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V (all trim levels and options being equal) and it's better looking than the Toyota and less annoying than the nanny-heavy Honda. So that's good. more...
Fans of the cinefantastique are in for a treat – well, maybe – with new 4K disc releases from Paramount and Warner Brothers. One is a boxed set of the four earliest Star Trek movies and the other is a massive upgrade – well, maybe – of a major DC comics universe stinkeroo.
Let's talk Trek first. I've been wanting to see these movies in 4K since there was 4K, especially the first film – the ponderous Star Trek the Motion Picture. It was, as was advertised back in the day, a "toy for the eyes" with fantastic special effects that made the trusty old Enterprise look simply splendid. Alas, that was about all there was to it; the story was a rehash of the old TV series' The Changeling, except that the old TV episode was better and accomplished its story in an hour-long venue with cheap and cheesy special effects.
It was the best looking of the early Trek films and I really wanted to see it upgraded to the 4K experience. And Paramount has done a reasonable job. The studio says in its press materials that it, and the other three in this boxed set, have all been remastered from their original elements, and that's a good place from which to start. more...
It may have started life as basic transportation, an affordable alternative to the Big Three's coupes and sedans of the 1970's, but since then the Honda Civic has grown up in every way. And now that it's in the process of being replaced by a new generation, this classic family car could offer you some deals if you can still find any on a Honda lot.
Note that I said "could" rather than "will." Kind of like COVID COULD kill 90 per cent of the population but probably WILL not. You'll have to do your own homework here (including looking for lease returns) and not just trust some guy with a word processor. Even if he's me!
Anyway, Honda Canada sent the Touring version of the sedan, a car that's much more attractive and straightforward-looking than some of its other, bumpy and bulbously creased versions. I hated those Civics, if only for their looks (though Honda has some other issues I'll address below), but ever since the 1976 Civic hatchback my wife and I owned back then (or perhaps before) it has always been a very good car, efficient and reliable.
And surely that's what's important to many people. more...
Lexus' IS series sports a new set of clothes for 2021 as well as some tweaks the company thinks should make this sporty sedan an even more compelling choice for folks shopping in this market niche.
Arguably Lexus' sportiest sedan, especially in the V-8-powered IS F trim level that appears occasionally, the IS has been around for some 20 years now and through at least three generations. My son has had a first generation IS 300 for many years now and still loves to drive it. He'd love it more were it equipped with a manual transmission, but such is the case with any IS today anyway – a stick is not available at all. And that's shame.
It means you're stuck with an automatic transmission, and depending upon the IS model you get it could have six or eight speeds. Six is best, for driving enjoyment though perhaps not for fuel mileage, and the subject of this particular rant – the IS 350 AWD F Sport – comes with the six speed. And, unlike what you don't get with the stock eight speed, it comes with paddles behind the steering wheel that give you back some of the control an automatic takes away.
So that's good. What's also good is the beautiful 3.5 litre V6 that comes in it, as well as in the IS 300 AWD (though it's not as powerful in that version: 260 horses versus 311 – with 280 torquey thingies – for the IS 350). This is a silky and smooth engine with lots of oomph and a lovely voice when you press it. more...
Earbuds are a dime a dozen these days, and wireless ones are really charging into the marketplace. But is there a way to find a great noise-cancelling set of wireless buds that actually sound great?
Well, I haven't tried nearly all of the offerings out there, but I've tried several and these new P15's from Bowers and Wilkins are easily the best I've tried. They ain't cheap, but it does appear to be a case of one getting what one pays for.
Bowers and Wilkins also introduced the P17's, which take what's great about the P15's and adds even more goodness. I haven't tried them, but if my experience with the P15's is any indication, they're undoubtedly even more terrific.
Developed by the same team behind the Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamond loudspeakers, which they claim are found in Abbey Road Studios (and I assume, used there as well, otherwise what's the point?), they feature "industry-leading sound quality, immersive Adaptive Noise Cancellation, intuitive Wireless Audio Transmission, and wireless charging to benefit an on-the-go lifestyle," according to their press materials. more...
Talk about a tough decision!
Which is better, the Mazda 3 or the Mazda CX-30? Both are mostly the same under the skin – or close enough anyway - and both are relatively inexpensive (comparatively, anyway) in their very competitive marketplaces.
And both are available with Mazda's terrific 2.5 litre turbo four engine and all wheel drive.
Which would you choose?
I guess it depends on whether you're a car or an SUV guy. I'm a car guy – actually I like hatchbacks and wagons because of their storage space and a bit of extra weight not on the front wheels – so I'd lean toward the 3 over the "taller 3" represented by the CX-30.
Then again, I absolutely hate the styling of the current 3 "Sport" hatchback, from the beginning of the C pillar back. It reminds me of one of the huge butted Shaak critters from Star Wars Episode II (the Clone one), when Anakin and Padme are falling in love on the planet Naboo.
And it's enough to make me think of embracing the dark side of the force and opting for a damn SUV over a beloved sports wagon. more...
It may not be in the league of Forbidden Planet or Destination Moon, but Flight to Mars is a fun outing from the early 1950's, when the exploration of space was starting to become a hot topic for Hollywood to handle.
And now it's out on a special edition Blu-ray, from the Film Detective.
I try to stay away from Blu-rays these days, preferring to help the 4K disc format find an audience, but once in a while a title will come along that intrigues me enough to break that rule of thumb. And this is one.
I'd never seen Flight to Mars before, though I've certainly heard of it, and I've certainly seen my share of such flicks over the years. My favourite space movie from that time is Destination Moon, the George Pal-produced look at how a trip to Earth's satellite may have looked to post World War II society. It was a serious and quite scientifically accurate story that benefited from the mind of the great science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein.
Flight to Mars doesn't have that benefit. In fact, it starts off seeming like it's going to be a "poor man's" Destination Moon, but it goes a lot farther than just charting a flight to Earth's nearest planetary neighbour and back and actually raises some pretty hefty issues both scientific and cultural. It's a neat yarn. more...
Cameron Crowe hit it out of the park with Jerry Maguire, and followed it up with this even better movie, a semi-autobiographical tale that's also a wonderful capturing of a moment in pop culture history.
And if you like your game-inspired movies violent and graphic, Warner Brothers thinks it has you covered.
Parmount's Almost Famous, unlike Maguire, doesn't come with a built-in high-powered star, and I think that works to its benefit. As for the pop culture moment, just like George Lucas' American Graffiti captured the feel of its era, so too does Almost Famous. It's a time I happened to live through, and in fact its 1973 setting is the year I got married. I had also dabbled with bands by that time and after, and also with producing the written word. So, yeah, this movie really got to me.more...
Ford's Explorer came back with a mostly all-new generation for 2020, and if you're a traditionalist – or a hooner – you might like what it has to offer.
That's because the new generation Explorer has returned to its roots, as a rear-wheel drive model that can send torque to the front wheels when it's needed. That's as opposed to the last couple of Explorers that were front-drive-based but could send torque to the rear wheels if necessary.
"Who cares?", you may say. "What difference does it make?", you may say.
Well, if you aren't an enthusiast, it may make little difference, especially if you've been told over and over over the years that front wheel drive is better for traction because the engine's weight is right over the front wheels.
Fair enough. But there are definite advantages to rear wheel drive as well. more...
Wouldn't it be loverly if one of the all-time great musicals found new life in a pristine 4K video presentation, with newly-remastered and remixed Dolby Atmos audio?
It would, if you ask me. But no one asked me and we have to live with a newly scanned (at 8K, apparently) version of the restored and remastered My Fair Lady that debuted on Blu-ray several years back. So instead of a brand, spanking new and pristine print with state-of-the-art audio, we get a major upgrade from the Blu-ray as far as video quality is concerned, but that's about it.
Fortunately, that's enough.
I was all set to be disappointed. After all, Warner Brothers has made some really great 4K discs in the past, including ones from decades ago. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey, for example, looks and sounds so great in 4K it's almost like seeing it for the first time. Ditto for Paramount, who now appear to be distributing Warner video stuff.
Then I revisited the excellent "making of" documentary on the Blu-ray that accompanies the My Fair Lady 4K disc and was reminded just how much better the picture and sound are already compared to what they had to work with when they started the restoration process way back when. And I am once again amazed at what they've managed to pull off. more...
Three row SUV's are a common sight these days, whether from mainstream or luxury names, and some are much better than others.
This isn't surprising, of course; some things are better than others in any field. My beloved Calgary Stampeders are tops when it comes to regular season performance in the Canadian Football League, for example, whereas the damn Toronto Argonauts seem to have the number of most teams when they actually make it to the final. It's really annoying.
So if you're looking for a three row SUV, you don't have to look very hard. In mainstream trim, you can find them from Mazda, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Volkwagen, etc. etc. etc. And in this niche, Honda offers the Pilot, which is a decent vehicle based upon the company's high end Acura division's MDX. And that's a pretty good place to start!
Vehicles such as this make a decent choice for people who think they need a minivan but who would rather be torn apart by wild dogs than drive one. They have nearly as much room and in general drive much more nicely than the typical minivan does – though such folk really ought to try the current Toyota Sienna if they want a minivan that doesn't really drive like one.
The Pilot comes only in an all-wheel drive configuration in Canada, and all versions get most of the same underpinnings. This includes a 3.5 litre V6 engine Honda says puts out 280 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 262 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4700 rpm. more...
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