Jun 14, 2021

Mood lighting for your TV: Govee Flow Pro light bars

Ever since I saw the Philips Hue HDMI sync demo 6 months ago, I've been wanting to buy them for my TV. However, at $150 for the light bars (which I actually have) and $250 for the HMDI Sync kit, they're a bit much.
Since then a few alternatives came to market but none are good enough, until Govee released the Flow Pro Light bar kit. However, it was unavailable for a while and still a bit expensive so I waited.

Well, yesterday I came across an awesome deal where these can be had for $34! I couldn't pass up such a deal so I bought one.


Thanks to the magic of Prime shipping, I got it today. Yay!


Quick review


Pros:
  • No HDMI pass-through so you don't lose any function between your source and display. With pass-through solutions, you can lose advanced functions such as HDR and HDMI 2.1. Without those, you might as well stick to a 2018 TV. No lighting effect system is worth losing those features.
  • Much cheaper price. At around $64, this kit is about 1/6th the price of a comparable Hue Play + HDMI Sync box.
  • Amazing customizations. There are 6 individually controlled segments per bar for a total of 12. You can also control brightness for each section independently.
  • Music modes are awesome. The best I've seen in any LED products thus far.

Cons:
  • Slight input lag (i.e. display shows blue half a second before light shows blue). Although the latest firmware update greatly improves this area, it's still there. Best mode is to use game + split screen.
  • Some inaccurate color detection. That camera gets it right most of the times but sometimes, it misses. Not too bad though. Accuracy improves alot after I calibrated the set using the included 8 orange squares.
  • This is a nitpick but, 2 bars aren't enough to properly light a 65" TV. I'd like to see them add an extension kit for 2 more bars via a USB Y-cable. I'm sure it can be done.
  • I wish the lights auto turn off after 3 mins of detecting only black screen (i.e. screen off). As is, I have to manually turn it off after use. Annoying.

Overall rating: 9/10
This kit gave me exactly what I wanted ever since I bought my OLED TV: a dynamic background lighting system to match its beautiful pictures. The more I use this system, the more I appreciate how it subtly extends and complements the picture shown. It's a definite improvement on an already amazing home theater experience. 

Kit includes:

  • 2 light bars w/ USB C connector
  • 1 camera w/ USB A connector
  • 1 power adapter w/ typical power plug
  • 2 vertical stand adapters
  • 2 behind-TV stick-on brackets
  • 8 little orange squares with adhesive back (for calibration)
  • Manual and a little paper about Govee

Here's what they look like (stock photos):



How they work:

  1. The webcam (mounted on the top or bottom of your screen) "sees" colors on your display then send signal to the LED light bars to reproduce them.
  2. In between, there is a Bluetooth-enabled controller which controls the lights.
  3. This controller pairs with the Govee app on your phone to give you customize and control the lights, as well as work with Google or Alexa. You can tie them to your smart home setup if you wish.

Here's a demo video as well as a few pictures I took to showcase this lighting system:


Here's a fast action video to show the input lag of this system. It's there but not too bad. This is with the latest firmware update on gaming & splitscreen mode. 

Not shown here but these also have multiple modes including music sync modes, scene modes, as well as timer and voice controls. 


No true white LED so you see a typical purple-tinged approximation of white



Color display is a bit inaccurate here. It's supposed to pick up orange, not purple

Apparently it only reproduced the center color






Installed without adhesive

I don't want anything sticking to my OLED TV so I didn't use the 3M backed mounts. For now, they are resting on the TV's sub. Not ideal but decent enough. 
I'll decide if I want to use the rear mounts later.
Who cares about cable mess behind TV right? 😁

Jun 3, 2021

How does a 2018 computer fare in 2021?

I had some time today so I played some PC games. Of course it's been a hot minute since I played any game so I had to do a bunch of software updates.

Here's my gaming pc:

PassMark Rating

More details can be found in the original 2018 post.

After some light gaming, I decided to update all drivers and even the BIOS to see if there's any performance improvement.

Well, good news and bad news.

Good news is my PC is still fairly competent. It's ranked in the 88th percentile in the world, which isn't too shabby. The driver and BIOS updates seems to have improved some performance, especially in the storage area.

Bad news is 2D video performance is severely limited by the Spectre and Meltdown patches Intel and AMD applied to "fix" inherent flaws in their CPU architectures. This almost halved my 2D graphics performance! 😠
This, plus recent "optimized" graphics card settings from nVidia caused my overall graphics performance to slip. My PC is now in the 93rd percentile vs 97th in 2018. To be fair, a bunch of people upgraded their computers as well as bought new, more powerful computers so yeah, my computer is no longer in the top 3% 😤. Eh, it's all good. My games still run decent.

Here's the current performance benchmark:
This system is losing its edge but still decent

In comparison, here's what it used to look like back in 2018 (overclocked of course):


A side effect of updating BIOS is a reset of all my overclocked settings. Doh!
Good thing I wrote down the old overclocked settings for Ryzen 2600 on a Gigabyte Aorus B450 WIFI motherboard. Here it is in case you need it (I'll probably need it later too):
  1. Go into BIOS (press Del when the computer starts up)
  2. Set CPU multiplier to 40 (default is 3.5)
  3. Set Vcore offset: +0.120 (stock voltage is 1.25v so this will bring it up to 1.37v. 1.35 is recommended but I wanted a stable system and have plenty of CPU cooling so I added a bit for more stability). That said, I might drop it down to 1.35v later.
  4. Set memory to XMP 1.0 profile, which forces it to run at 3Ghz (rated speed for my memory). I can go further since my memory can handle up to 3.2Ghz, but I prefer stability so this is good enough.

Current specs:
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 2600
Memory: 32GB Patriot Viper RGB DDR4-3000
Storage: 
  1. ADATA SX8200 480GB NVMe
  2. StoreMI array w/ 240GB SATA3 SSD + 4TB 5900Krpm Seagate HDD
Case: BeQuiet Dark Base 700 (inverted)
Cooling: Corsair H110i - Front-mounted with 2 x 140mm fans + 2 BeQuiet 140mm fans in push/pull config.
Cooler Master Fan Pro kit: 1 rear-mounted 140mm + 2 top-mounted 140mm.

Other items:
HP Omen 32" 1440p monitor
Razer Blackwidow RGB mechanical keyboard
Logitech G502 SE mouse
CORSAIR - MM800 Polaris RGB mouse pad


Possible upgrades in the future:
  1. RTX 3070 or 3080 (when the current GPU shortage blows over)
  2. New motherboard, CPU, and RAM

Apr 24, 2021

New keyfob cover for my '21 Mirai

I love my Toyota Mirai but the plasticky keyfob was a let down. Coming from a metal key on my previous luxury sedan, I was expecting the Mirai to have a similar keyfob, but I was disappointed. So, I set out to find aftermarket keyfob covers.
I found a few good options on Aliexpress and bought two of them. The first one arrived and boy is it nice.


Apr 17, 2021

Every Day Carry (EDC) tools

I've always liked EDC tools. Over the years I cobbled together a bit of a collection. However, as I go through them, I realized I like to keep things light and compact, so I've been slimming down what I actually carry everyday.

Well, after years of carrying and un-carrying stuff, here's my current EDC:

Contents: 
  1. Leatherman Style CS (latest addition)
  2. Toyota Mirai keyfob in leather cover
  3. SanDisk Ultra Duo Luxe 256GB USB drive
  4. Pickering prescription glasses.
*Note: the keyring and keyfob covers are holdouts from my old car. I have a new set coming soon.

These, plus my phone, are the bare essentials. I love thin and light EDC tools. I had a capsule style slide-out mini knife before but the Leatherman CS replaced it. The CS gave me my pocket knife plus 5 other tools, all in that tiny thing; Amazing! I recently bought it because Costco was running a deal where you get the Leatherman REV (full-size multitool) and the Style CS for $20! The REV is $40 and the CS is $30 if bought separately.

Actually, this EDC collection is missing my Olight i1R2 mini flashlight. It added a bit too much bulk so I left it out. I'll have to rely on my phone for quick flashlight duty from now on.

For reference, here's my already slimmed down EDC from last year:

Come to think of it, I still carry most of this stuff lol. I changed the keyfob but left out the Keysmart keychain as it has too many edges. I  love that 3-color pen (my fav out of my 50+ pen collection) but only carry it when I need.

Some say I have too much time to play with things like this. That maybe true, but this is how I balance a busy (sometimes stressful) life. A man's gotta have his own time for his stuff ya know. 😁

Apr 7, 2021

Futuristic Hydrogen station

I've had my share of fueling experiences, some are great, some, not so great, but all of those experiences pale in comparison to what I just had at the True Zero station in Fountain Valley.

This is a brand new, high capacity station that came online last year. However, due to some issue, it's been down for the past 2 months. It's now back up and man, is it awesome.
After hearing it was back online, I decided to check it out. I heard hydrogen was cheaper here, and was thinking it might have a happy hour deal like the Torrance station.

Design

My wife reluctantly went along on this late night hydrogen exploration, but even she said "Whoa" when she saw this station. It looks like something from a sci-fi movie.

Apr 4, 2021

The case for a unified EV future (including FCEV)

As a recent owner of the 2021 Toyota Mirai, I now have experience with actually owning and driving an EV, and I love it! Why didn't I do this earlier?

Actually, I have been interested in EVs since 2006, when Aptera announced their electric car, long before people know about Tesla. However, failures and broken promised kept me from owning one. Aptera failed, along with many other EV companies, but Tesla persisted and became the Tesla we know today.

Since then, I've considered purchasing a Tesla multiple times (starting with a CPO model S, then model 3, then the cyber truck), but not having access to my own overnight charging made owning an EV difficult. I do live near a super charger station but, driving past it every week and seeing just how busy and full it always seems to be, I couldn't pull the trigger. Having to wait 30+ minutes to charge at a public station is a hard pill to swallow, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Tesla took the EV torch and brought it very far, but the fact of the matter is, EVs still have some big hurdles to overcome. Here's a recent EV experience highlighting some of those challenges.
That said, we're finally seeing the golden age of EVs: the beginning of mass adoption, where more cars are on the road and more infrastructure has been, and are being, built. While that's happening, Toyota is blazing the trail on another path: hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs). In fact, Toyota exclusively focused on hydrogen fuel and has made it their "EV play" for years, to the disappointment of many fans. 

Technically, FCEVs are Electric Vehicles; their motors run on electricity. The only difference is they generate electricity on the fly, by combining hydrogen with oxygen. Electricity is fed either directly into the motor, or though a battery, or a combination of both. 
Toyota is the king of hybrid, and this is simply their latest hybrid technology. It has lots of potential, and that potential has been proven through the Mirai program for the past 7 years. With the 2021 Mirai, Toyota brought its hydrogen car platform (Mirai) to a much larger audience: people who want a great-looking, quality, luxury car that doesn't look like a science experiment.

The world can't fix its fossil fuel problem soon enough, and automakers know that. But first, they have to build exciting vehicles that make people want to drive, not because they want to be green and save the earth. Well, it looks like Toyota has done it. As a new hydrogen/electric car owner, I genuinely cannot wait to drive my Mirai. It's so quiet and smooth that I feel like a downgrade when switching my 2017 gasoline-chomping SUV (fully loaded mind you). Compared to the Mirai, my gasoline cars feel coarse and unrefined (including a recent 2021 RAV4 loaner).  
So, what's the problem? Well, quite a bit.

The problems

  1. For starter, hydrogen infrastructure is very limited. In the US, it is currently available in 44 stations in Northern and Southern California, and 1 in Hawaii. Globally Europe has more, but most are concentrated in Germany. Japan, of course, has a few too. And Toyota just launched a station or two for all of Australia!
  2. Hydrogen infrastructure is immature - Many stations are prone to break down, exhausted fuel, and other problems (such as pumps freezing or needing temporary re-pressurization). In addition, there are multiple types of connectors. As a new user with only 2 fueling stops, I've seen no less than 3 types, 2 are described in the manual. 
  3. Hydrogen prices are still high. They've come down but still are about twice as expensive per gallon equivalent than gasoline.
  4. Mass hydrogen outages - Yes, this is a thing and it has happened multiple times in the past few years.
  5. Hydrogen production is also still a dirty process (involves co2 release). Although greener methods exist, they cost more and thus are not feasible on a mass scale, but things are improving.

So, what's the solution? 

Since my hydrogen car purchase, I became interested in the tech and ongoing conversations/debates between BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) and FCEVs. Both sides have pros and cons but, currently, resources are finite and the conversation turns to which infrastructure we need to focus on; we can't build both, right?

Well, I have an idea that could justify investing in both infrastructures, solve BEV's scaling dilemma, range problems, and hydrogen's challenges: a hybrid between BEV and FCEV.

Think of an FCEV with a large battery that can also charge from pure electric stations, AND offers 800+ mile range. Holygrail right?
It could be easier than you think. Hear me out:
  1. The new Mirai already has a battery and extra trunk space capable of handling a large battery. Without changing much of its current structure, the Mirai can accommodate a much larger battery. Add a charging port in the back of the trunk and you don't even need to modify the frame.
  2. This could be implemented as an additional, connected battery or a modification to existing battery to fully extend it into one big, cohesive battery pack. One with an attached electric charging interface. Pop open the trunk, plug in. Or, better yet, wireless charging pad under your car!
  3. Add a software update so the system knows how to properly handle the larger battery and dual charging mechanism. Mirai already knows how to handle electricity from either FC stack or battery, or both. Maybe a tweak to provide 100% independent, top-end power from the battery. Basically turning the FC stack into a dedicated onboard charger, or just leave it as is for more flexibility (for combined, increased power).
  4. The above would be a short-term mod/update/upgrade of the current Mirai. Call it the Mirai XLB (extended battery) upgrade. The next generation would be even more exciting. 
  5. Build a ground-up, next gen Mirai. Call it Mirai NX-S (for sedan)
    1. Redesigned base platform to store solid state battery pack around the hydrogen tanks on the bottom of the chassis. This should free up trunk space but should raise the platform a bit.
    2. Raise the floor alot more for bigger battery and make it an SUV! Call this one Mirai NX-U (for utility vehicle).
    3. Add dedicated charging port to the right of the car (hydrogen port on the left).
    4. Change motor and electrical system to deliver more power (Tesla X level) now that you have beefy battery and FC stack to handle it. Their power can even be combined, like they already are in the Mirai.
    5. Remove half the top, add bigger battery and even more power then call it Mirai NX-T (truck).
Want to see what the Mirai NX-U looks like? 
Here you go:







Open that back and you've got yourself a truck (Mirai NX-T). Cyber what now?

No, Toyota didn't make it already. This is the Lexus LF-Z concept. It is supposed to be their future BEV platform, but why would Toyota, the number 1 hybrid car company, want to be an also-ran in the crowded BEV space? They want to be the leader, and nobody can build hybrids, and luxury, quality cars like they can. Toyota is literally the only company who can make an FCEV-EV hybrid work. They hold most of the cards, but they still lack in a few key areas:
  1. Software - Tesla's software is way ahead of Toyota, who is even behind other legacy automakers. Toyota needs to catch up. It looks like they have an upcoming project to help in this department. 
  2. Autonomous driving - This is technically part of software, but it's a very important part. Toyota already developed auto-parallel parking (it's in the Mirai Limited) and lane centering adaptive cruise control (in all 2021 Mirais) but it's years behind Tesla's Autopilot.
  3. Access to supercharging and similar networks - Tesla is already opening their supercharger network as are a few others. This is the way.
  4. Battery production - Panasonic is the de-facto battery partner for EVs. It has a hold on global supply of battery and is the number 1 battery contractor for Tesla and others. Toyota would do well to leverage their upcoming collaboration with Tesla to define a common battery platform for the industry. At the very least, for themselves and Tesla so they can scale up with ease. I believe this is already part of Toyota's strategy. 

Why do this?

  1. With such a hybrid system in place, we will have a redundant, robust, green vehicle  platform that will finally release us from our fossil fuel chains. 
  2. It allows for legacy oil/energy companies and green energy companies to play in the same space, and not necessarily compete with each other.
  3. It allows for investment into both pure electric and hydrogen infrastructure everywhere. No more fear about putting money into potentially failing infrastructure. 
  4. Commercial trucks and busses can move forward with their hydrogen infrastructure knowing that infrastructure would play a part in the personal vehicle space too. More stations for everyone!
  5. No more fighting between BEV and FCEV camps. We can finally relax and chill in our buttery smooth, AI-driven electric cars of the future.

Toyota may, or may not have thought about this idea, but I think it paints a very possible road map towards a unified EV future for all. Especially one where Toyota could unseat Tesla. Or, better yet, both sell techs to each other and work together to maximize their niche.
Tesla is already moving into green energy market (10x larger than EV) and could focus on that in the future. Let automakers make cars that consume Tesla energy products, while Tesla continues to focus on software and energy. Hardware is where existing players like Toyota shine, let them have it. Control the operating system, and the energy going into it.

Elon Musk is a brilliant man, with lots of amazing people (and investment money) behind him. But resources are finite. He needs to focus resources in order to get the most bang for the buck. I believe giving hardware to the auto industry but controlling software and energy is the right, long term play. There's also SpaceX and so many other exciting areas Tesla could focus on.

2021 Mirai - Quick walkaround video

Today was a beautiful spring day in Southern California. I took the Mirai to visit family for an early Easter dinner. As I looked back to lock it, I saw how the car's pearlescent white paint glows under the sun -- she looked so beautiful. I had to quickly capture that beauty.

I was debating between Oxygen White and Heavy Metal (dark grey) but I'm glad I went with white.

You can tell I'm still in love. 😍



Also, here's a great video I found that covers a lot of the lesser known qualities of this car (body rigidity, advanced suspension, sound dampening system, etc).