Random: North-West Metro, Swollen Redmi Note 4X, New Sharp Aquos S3 (FS8032) & more

It’s been another busy week – so busy in fact that I can’t see myself doing much in the way of blogging for the next month or two. Between working away on my research, RoadTest reviews and keeping everything running, it’s not easy to find the time to write something. As a result, I thought that it would be easier just to lump everything together this week … into another random post!

North-West Metro Gets an Opening Date!

Commuters have long been told that the North-West Metro would be opening somewhere around the middle of the year but without any specifics. Even during the recent trial of the Cooee Busways On-Demand Public Transport service, drivers were none-the-wiser as to when the metro would begin service (and consequently, when they would begin revenue service as well).

This has seemingly changed, as this banner on the Opal website proudly proclaims –

The Sydney Metro will begin service on Sunday 26th May 2019. The dedicated Metro page is here, suggesting that initial service will be supplemented by a night bus from Sunday to Wednesday, presumably to provide time for service maintenance, alterations and adjustments to take place. It reaffirms our understanding that it will be charged as a regular train fare, with the currently published timetable showing service intervals of five to ten minutes which is a little less than the four minutes I had expected based on previous publications but still quite adequate.

Along with this, The Ponds On Demand service page has now appeared in the TfNSW pages, which although lacking data, does seem to suggest that fares are starting from $2.20 standard and $1.10 concession as previously alluded to (prior to the cover-up of the yet to be fully launched Cooee Busways site).

Swollen Redmi Note 4X & Depleted Mi Max

When it rains, it pours … and when it comes to my Xiaomi phones, this seems to be the case. The first patient is my Xiaomi Redmi Note 4X. This unit was bought second hand for about AU$100 in October, 2018 making it about six months old. It was that price because it had a cracked screen – but I didn’t care because I needed a phone with a decent LTE modem to serve as my WAN connection (tethered via USB to a Mikrotik hAP ac). I originally had a perfectly fine Note 4X in this role, but since a family friend needed a new phone, I sent the fine Note 4X to them, exchanging it for the cheap second hand unit.

Unfortunately, and rather predictably, all that connecting-to-USB didn’t do the battery any good. As I had discovered in the past, while it’s not possible to overcharge a Li-Ion/Li-Poly battery due to the protection circuitry, the constant “floating” and micro-cycling of the battery causes voltage stress on the battery. As it is at a high state of charge all the time, this makes it more likely to swell up – in this case, so much so that the screen is visibly bowed with the backlight visible out of the crack on the side of the phone on both sides.

From the rear, this is most obvious when looking at the fingerprint sensor, which now has a gap all the way around. Operating with a swollen battery increases the risk of the battery containment being ruptured and potential for a “vent with flame” event to occur, which is sometimes reported as an “explosion”.

Because of this, I was pretty keen to get rid of the unit as soon as I could – but I needed a replacement first – hence the phone seen in the next section of this post. Unfortunately, the phones are not designed with ease of repair in mind, so while I did wish to repair the phone, I didn’t feel that I would succeed. The other issue would be economics – as Xiaomi don’t usually sell genuine replacement parts, all of the parts online are likely to be fake and cost upwards of $14. If serving in the same situation, they would likely swell again. With this phone out of software support now, there is really no reason to invest any money into repairing it – so I decided I would repair it with only parts I had lying about.

Opening the phone proved to be a rather interesting experience. At first, I spent some time separating the screen from the chassis only to find two opposing ribbon cables causing issues with removing the screen. Then I realised the plastic frame around it can be released from the back with just fingernail pressure. D’oh. There was no reason to pry at the screen and risk the digitiser and shards of glass separating …

Once the rear cover came off, we can see the culprit in its full glory.

This Li-Poly battery is a 3.85V version with a 4.40V charging termination voltage. This battery was manufactured by Sunwoda Electronic Co. Ltd. The date of manufacture was 2nd June 2017, so it is almost two years old.

The swelling is most prominent from the side, where it looks more like a pillow than a prismatic cell. Separation of the cell from the frame proved to be rather difficult, as the adhesive is rather firm and I didn’t want to add any heat to the battery. The release tabs did not work – they were more useful for removing remnant adhesive after separating the battery.

After a nerveracking operation which stressed the plastic pouch sufficiently that it is no longer pressurised, the battery was separated without puncturing the cell. Note to self – next time, discharge the cell first to reduce the likelihood of accidents!

The rest of the phone is as above – it seems just fine, but now comes the more difficult part. Since the battery uses a very special clip-on terminal attached to a flex lead, the only way I can salvage the phone is to salvage the protection board containing the connector from the existing battery. Through careful unwrapping of the adhesive tape at the top of the cell and cutting the cell tabs, I was able to free the protection board.

With this, I could attach wires to the board to attach an external battery.

Because the charging circuitry is optimised for a 4.40V termination voltage, replacing it with a regular 3.7V 18650 cell is probably not safely possible, unless an additional protection circuit intervenes to terminate charge early. I had a thought and performed some experiments to prove the possibility of using Ni-MH cells as a replacement, but I had something even better.

Enter a BM42 cell from the original Xiaomi Redmi Note 3G (first generation). I had this battery left-over from a friend who submitted their Redmi Note 3G to me for recovery. That phone was ultimately junked and destroyed due to an eMMC failure as determined by trying the manufacturing tools to flash the unit, but as it had removable batteries, I kept them just in case.

As the cell is 3.80V, it’s a little lower than the 3.85V nominal voltage of the original but close enough (I figured) because of tolerances. The additional protection board of the cell should keep it safe, but the voltage drop through the first protection board and wires should provide additional margin. Maybe when this battery fails and swells, I will consider replacing it with another, but because it is external, the process is significantly simplified.

Because of the vulnerability of the flex connector, I decided to glue the wires and wrapped-up protection board to the phone casing to eliminate stress on the connector. The rear cover could be drilled to accommodate the wires, but I found it easier just to omit it entirely in its modem role as there are no printed antennas on the casing anyway.

Which brings me onto the second patient … my Xiaomi Mi Max which has been my “faithful companion” for about two years of heavy use. It travelled around Asia with me and served as my “every-day” phone. Unfortunately, it too is having some battery issues.

What once was a super-enduring 4850mAh battery that could do 14-hours of screen-on time is now a shadow of its former self, offering closer to just four. I can’t make it through a whole day without a top-up, which is not helped by my voracious appetite for faster-than-realtime video playback on my commutes to and from work. At a measurement of the current consumed when charging and assuming it has a 100% efficient switching converter, the remaining capacity is no more than 2900mAh or about 60%. In reality, it seems to be even less, as on overnight “idle”, it can consume about 20-25% of charge. At least the battery has not swollen.

Because of this, I have now relieved the Xiaomi Mi Max from its “everyday phone” duties, transitioning to a new phone (below). I didn’t feel that it was worth risking opening it, or buying a sub-par battery that could be just as bad, so instead it will remain a Wi-Fi connected remote control/web browser/video and audio player for use around the house.

Quick Look: Sharp Aquos S3 (FS8032)

As the resurrection of my modem phone and the lifetime of my “everyday” phone was not guaranteed, I went looking for a relatively good value phone to act as insurance. You don’t want to be repairing your one and only internet access phone with the potential of breaking it and thus being offline until a new phone arrived. Because this is just a brief look at the new phone, I didn’t feel it deserved its own post, so it is included here.

I scoured OzBargain as I usually do, and saw the Sharp Aquos S3 (FS8032) via AliExpress for about AU$208 delivered. For the specs which include an 5.99″ FHD+ screen, all-Australian band support, NFC, 4GB RAM, 64GB Flash, dual-rear camera and Snapdragon 630 SoC, I thought that to be great value compared even to the Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro, so I grabbed one. As usual, it takes nearly forever to arrive … while the modem phone continues to serve with a swollen battery and I continue to worry about the potential for a “vent with flame” to occur.

Eventually, it arrived in this sharp looking box, in red and white as their corporate style dictates.

The box shows the handset up front with gold foil accents. The rear panel lists the full specifications.

Inside, we are greeted with the phone, wrapped in protective plastic with Korean text, thus this appears to be a Korean market device.

The box itself is three-layered with the accessories underneath the phone.

The middle layer contains a wrap-around soft-touch plastic shell cover for the phone – we’ll see why this is important in a second.

Looking at the phone, we can see that the screen extends fairly close to the edges, with discreet Sharp logo along the bottom bezel edge. The screen does not have protective film, relying on the wrap-around plastic for protection.

The rear of the phone has a glossy, glassy surface (after the IMEI and regulatory information label has been removed). Because of this, it is a fingerprint magnet, but potentially may also shatter if mistreated. The wrap-around shell is probably there to prevent this.

The bottom reveals a hole for the microphone, a USB-C connector and a speaker grille.

Along the long side, there is the power and volume rocker buttons. There is a rose-gold style accent along the edges, matching that surrounding the fingerprint sensor.

Also supplied is the SIM tray ejection tool, headset (with additional tips), flat USB-C cable, USB-C to 3.5mm adapter and a charger with EU prongs. The unit is capable of dual SIM operation but the SD card shares the slot for the second SIM. The charger is a standard 5V/2A charger, dated October 2018.

In use, the phone is as I had expected – snappy enough as a normal mid-range phone, with fairly good reception and throughput, with a bright, sharp and saturated screen (including a notch which I’m not a big fan of) and a decent dual camera. It is surprising to see a phone of this category use a USB-C connector, although, this is at the expense of a 3.5mm headphone jack. The downsides that occurred to me are the integration of the menu/home/back buttons as soft-buttons on screen along with the notch, so the extra real-estate is a bit of a lie compared to old rectangular-screened phones with capacitive touch buttons and no notch, the weak and tinny monaural speaker, the Smile UX launcher and bundled apps which are limited and at times unstable (including RoboS). The battery is a little on the smaller side, thus only has average battery life. The included headset is very average, nowhere near as good as most third-party IEMs and the included charger is not Quick Charge capable, even though the phone appears to be.

But considering that I paid only around AU$208 posted, it is very good value. Aside from the issues noted above, the biggest disadvantage may well be the lack of support and limited OTA upgrades, as the product while branded Sharp, has almost no support site available online as it is an OEM product of Commtiva Technologies and only has Android 8.0.0 available even though there are “sister” models with Android 9. Accordingly, accessories for the Sharp Aquos S3 are rare and relatively expensive.

For advanced users, like myself, there is another big caveat …

… namely that it seems to be quite secure. Which unfortunately means there is no way to root the phone. I looked for regular means and out of desperation, tried even “shadier” methods such as KingRoot.

But after a long period of trying, the device cannot be rooted. As far as I can tell, it can’t be bootloader unlocked either, with no custom recovery available either. As a result, users will have to live the “regular” unrooted life.

This phone was pressed into modem service for the better part of an hour and a half, before the Redmi Note 4X was deemed successfully repaired and returned to its original role. Now, the Sharp Aquos S3 takes over the role of my Mi Max as the “everyday” phone.

The Problem with No Bootloader Unlock & No Root

It seems that the modern trend is to move away from rooting phones entirely, as the vendors and operating systems conspire to make it more difficult and apps perform lots of checks to try and deny rooted users the ability to use the apps. Unfortunately, for those who haven’t tasted the sweetness of a rooted phone, they really are missing out.

The first part usually starts with unlocking the bootloader which allows the underlying firmware to be replaced. Once unlocked, the fun can begin. One of the most useful things to have is a custom recovery – my preferred one is TeamWin Recovery Project (TWRP) which allows for easy installation of software from onboard storage, SD card, or even cabled to a computer via ADB Sideload commands. It’s useful for making full nandroid backups of the phone that can save you in case an update fails (or something goes wrong when you’re overseas), but also can save your bacon when your main system is stuck in a bootloop, allowing you to clear your caches and try again or even to navigate and copy your precious data from internal storage to SD card and vice versa.

Assuming you’ve rooted, perhaps using SuperSU (as an old-hat) or Magisk (for the more modern folk), then superuser access is now available and a whole realm of superuser applications is now at your disposal. Some of my favourite things to do with root include:

  • having root explorer functionality on many file managers to allow you to tweak configuration options (e.g. build-prop) so that you can install “incompatible apps”
  • having Busybox installed with a basic terminal like Termux, to having access to a full-blown Linux
  • being able to run software like ProxyDroid to selectively tunnel apps via proxy servers, which could include tunneling through SSH with Connectbot to keep everything safe while overseas without needing a full-blown VPN, or use Tor clients more effectively
  • being able to block ads through hosts file modification using AdAway such that the whole system is free of ads, including most “free version” apps
  • being able to run my phone as an SMB server using Samba Filesharing
  • being able to backup and restore apps and settings with Titanium Backup
  • being able to modify the system DPI using something like Easy DPI Changer so that you can fit more onto the screen and reduce text sizes below the minimum in the settings.

Since moving to the Sharp, I’ve really missed the ability to do all of the above, which makes the phone a bit less appealing. It reminds me of just how noisy and trashy the internet is with all the ads – Chrome Mobile is almost unusable on many websites, so I have had to resort to Firefox with uBlock Origin as an extension. But other apps being no longer free of ads has led me to ditch them. The lack of ad blocking also means that tracking is probably also occurring in ways that wouldn’t happen on a rooted phone with a custom hosts file – maybe that’s why myMaccas now works smoothly on this phone since it’s not trying to phone home to some blocked tracker! Losing some of the capabilities can otherwise be worked around – instead of the phone being an SMB server, I use the phone to connect to an SMB server and push files over instead. But many of the more unique and useful capabilities are not possible without root access.

Migrating to the new phone “manually” by installing and setting everything up is a rather slow process, but reminds me of how many apps became unsupported and abandoned by their developers and eventually removed from the app store. Others may be supported, but then are not permitted to be installed because of some limitation on devices and have to be side-loaded from a copy stolen from a rooted phone. I experienced this frustration with the Sharp as well, notably with ES File Manager which was pulled from the store as part of a crackdown on DO Global’s click-fraud. I suppose that’s not a bad thing, as the app was very much bloated, loading ads and spamming notifications, so I went to MiXplorer and that’s actually been a good change. I had QuickPic installed, and that’s still around, but unsupported. I couldn’t get CSipSimple, so I had to grab that along with the codec pack from the rooted Mi Max. Older Keysight mobile meter/insulation test apps are no longer on the Play store either, which is a shame. It was a good chance to clear the cruft and reduce the number of useless apps installed as well.

Hopefully someone might be able to work out how to get the phone rooted in the future, so I can have all of these capabilities back …

“Open Heart Surgery” on a Computer

In the recent past, I did a teardown of the Coolermaster SickleFlow X 120mm fan as it was rattling incessantly. At the time, I took out two of these fans from my case, as they were both end of life with bearing rattles and vibration. I left the third one in, as it was still doing just fine. At the time, I replaced one of the two with a Fractal Design Silent Series R3 fan, while the other slot was occupied by an old Antec 120mm fan that came out of my 1100 chassis that still worked well. I already knew by then, the third one may well become a nuisance, so in preparation, I bought a spare fan and left it in a drawer waiting for the day to arrive.

Indeed, separated by just half a year, I heard more “galloping” noises from the case. But I couldn’t afford to shut down the PC as it was busy with many experiments. As a result, I had to perform some “open heart surgery” on the PC, fumbling with screws, a screwdriver and plugging in a small finicky connector. With a bit of careful alignment and patience, it was accomplished without shutting down, suspending or rebooting the machine at all. The things I do for uptime …

This time, I replaced it with a Corsair AF120 with white LEDs – not that I really wanted any LEDs in the first place, but that was what was in stock for a reasonable price at my local computer shop that wasn’t one of the “no brand” lucky-dip fans that are sure to fail sooner rather than later. Since this one was optimised for airflow, it seems to push a bit more air than the fan it replaced while being quieter, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

The only concern now? All fan slots in the machine have different fans in them! It looks a bit unusual, but at least there is no odd humming for now, even though each of the fans do spin at a different speed. However, just leaving my hand on the chassis, I can feel that perhaps I have another fan bearing that isn’t long for this world … maybe I should just bite the bullet and change them all over to something better, like Noctua fans which never seem to go wrong.

Firefox Extension Mayhem

While some people may regard Firefox as a footnote in today’s browser market, or perhaps as a relic from the browser wars of the past, many more technical users tend to use Firefox despite its ups and downs. I am a Firefox user myself for the most part, as I don’t really trust Google to be behind my browser, nor do I find Firefox to be as problematic and slow as others often claim. I guess it boils down to familiarity with the browser, its tools and extensions, as well as an understanding of Mozilla’s mission as being distinctly different to perhaps that of Google.

Just yesterday, however, something unusual happened causing many users (including myself) to suddenly lose access to all our extensions with a bright yellow banner exclaiming “One or more installed add-ons cannot be verified and have been disabled.” The cause appears to have been reported as a lapse of an intermediate signing certificate.

Mozilla are working on the issue as evidenced in their blog updates, with a fix supposedly rolling out in hours, but I’d have to say the response is a bit lukewarm at best, seemingly without the understanding of the urgency of the matter at hand.

On one hand, the browser still functions as it would. But on the other, we have lost access to many of the features that makes the browser great. Losing access to extensions like Ghostery, NoScript and uBlock Origin means that users who are concerned about privacy now are left without defenses. It also reminds us of how “cluttered” the web is with advertising, while opening users up to potential malware attack by the very questionable advertisements we have tried to block.

The responses are even more puzzling. While it can be understood that there may not be a very rapid-fire patch mechanism, the initial hotfix was offered via the Studies program – something many privacy conscious users are likely to have disabled along with telemetry/health report/crash reports. In desperation, I suspect some users may well have enabled Studies, but not seen any fix from it for hours. There were even reports that this fix did not work as suggested.

On other sites, comments included disabling the signing check for extensions using an about:config tweak. While this would certainly work, it would expose all the users to potentially running malicious extensions – perhaps not such a big issue if you are careful about things, but often users will “fix” things by disabling options or changing options that could conflict and break things in the future or leave them vulnerable.

There is another response which was supposedly the hotfix patch file uploaded to a file sharing page. I suspect many people would have downloaded it and installed it blindly – but without verifying the source and integrity of the file, perhaps this could be a vector to install malware. Call it paranoia, but I suspect during desperate panic situations, you can convince users to do things they wouldn’t normally do.

While I can understand the desperation, it got me wondering why so much of modern software “phones home” so often and silently. Why does an extension that was installed and running for years suddenly need to check if it’s still valid? Moreover, this is a way potentially for Mozilla to know when someone fires up their browser, how long they use it for, which extensions they have installed, even if they didn’t intend for it to happen. It’s just like one of my other pet peeves – OSes which “check” for internet connectivity thus alerting the “mothership” as to my existence, download updates silently without consent and install them, chewing up my precious 4G quota. Given that many OSes and devices rely on NTP servers for time, I’m sure the public NTP servers could probably determine when certain IP addresses are active based on the queries they get.

But even more than this, it’s important to realise that by adding this “function” into a system, they’ve suddenly increased the number of dependencies needed. This creates an interdependency issue – for example, when a certificate authority sneezes, a good chunk of HTTPS sites could go down. It’s part of the reason I resisted going to HTTPS for as long as I could … as there are many legitimate websites that really don’t need to have HTTPS.

Conclusion

It’s been both a frustrating and exciting week. I can’t wait for the North-West metro to arrive – in fact, I’ll probably try to be there on opening day to snap some shots and give it a few rides.

It’s also been a busy week servicing phones and migrating to a new one just to keep myself reliably connected – some risks were taken, but the reward was worth it. It is frustrating, however, that the new phone I have migrated to (the Sharp Aquos S3) is so rate that accessories are expensive and rare, but also that bootloader unlocking, custom recovery and rooting are not possible at this stage. This really does affect the phone experience, especially if you have been accustomed to the benefits of root-access.

It was good to have solved another rattling fan without rebooting my computer – I’ve got so much running on it that it never really ever gets shut down. With experiments in progress, I’d be set back a few days if it ever did go down unexpectedly. The issue with Firefox extensions was a reminder just how unbearable the internet can be without ad-blockers, as well as another reminder about the non-obvious issue of interdependencies and how many apps do things that you might not have considered necessary or even realised was happening.

But as usual, life goes on and busy weeks keep coming. Hopefully I’ll have some time to write as there are a few products I’ve tested that perhaps deserve a review posting … one day.

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Project: DSE K5415 Video Fader & Wiper Kit (EA 4/98)

This weekend’s been quite a busy one, especially as I’m starting to sink my teeth into a number of RoadTest reviews. But it turns out that this weekend is also the weekend in which I have have finally come to the end of my Dick Smith Electronics kit journey, completing the final kit I purchased from the Wyong Central Coast Amateur Radio Field Day.

The Kit

The kit is flanked with a blue label, as part of the Audio Kits series. This kit is the K5415 Video Fader and Wiper Kit, based on the article in Electronics Australia Magazine of April 1998.

According to the side panels, it features the ability to produce manual fades and wipes of the horizontal or vertical variety, to any shade of grey/black/white. It also has a “high peaking” enhancement facility to compensate for loss of high-frequency content in dubbing and can disable the fade/wipe feature for enhancement only. The kit comes in the largest box of all of the units I’ve recently built – that’s because it comes with the components, PCB, plastic case, hardware, power adapter, pre-punched and screened front panel and rear panel label.

Unpacked, this is what it looks like. A lot of knobs, a large front panel, a case with a sloping front and a DSE multi-voltage wall-wart adapter. Definitely would have been the priciest kit of the lot.

As with the other kits, there is a black-and-white assembly manual along with the disclaimer and quality control cards. This one is stapled with two staples, consisting of a few more pages than usual. This one is marked Edition 1 in the top corner.

It’s almost as if they meant to write Edition 1 up there, as I found these two pages had repeating text and as a result, some of the alignment instructions are actually missing in this manual. No matter, I’m sure we can figure it out eventually.

Unlike the other kits, the front cover of the Guide to Kit Construction is a little different. I realise that I’ve never shown what’s inside the manual, so I picked two representative spreads to show – despite the cover difference, the contents are unchanged.

Contained inside is information that informs kit construction and basic troubleshooting. As a sign of the times, everything is black-and-white, consisting of high-contrast photographs and line-art drawings. A “typical” multimeter of the era is a moving needle type, as shown in the image … not so typical nowadays.

The prefabricated front panel is a heavy piece of steel with a very nice grey finish for a professional look. The screen printed labelling also looks very attractive. Having the holes pre-drilled is a big help as well. The rear label is a lot less exciting by comparison.

Rather unfortunately, the single-sided, non-silkscreened, non-solder-masked PCB supplied was a bit sub-par. The tin plating was uneven, with blobs which covered some of the drilled holes. The tin plating also tarnished in parts of the board as well.

Compared to the other projects, the board is rather substantial, with quite a number of ICs. Also, due to the need to handle higher frequency video signals, it seems it has been designed slightly differently with wide ground planes and small dimples cut out of it to act as thermal breaks to limit heat-sinking from the soldering iron and solder flow.

The case is unlike the other basic jiffy/zippy boxes – this is more akin to an instrument case with a sloping front and comes with a heavy aluminium front panel and raised rubber feet. Very nice.

Construction

Construction is relatively straightforward, with all through-hole components. The only difficulties were related to the tarnishing and oxidation of the PCB, the IC socket legs and some tin plating obscuring drilled holes.

Regardless, I commenced with constructing the PCB. The circuit operational theory is almost visible on the ICs alone which includes a few gates, a sync separator and some timers. Unlike the other kits, this one deals with a fairly high-frequency signal by comparison, so I’m not quite convinced such a design would be optimal for video being quite large and unshielded. That will become apparent later.

The board was completed with my flux-ey solder rather than the solder it came with – the solder it came with is more like my DSE super solder which has a clear flux but is not as aggressive.

My next step was to construct the front panel by mounting the switches and potentiometers onto the front plate, then mounting the whole plate to the top of the chassis along with the rear body label. This step was fraught with a little difficulty as the knobs fit on the multi-position switches with some resistance – I pushed them down which resulted in the switch assembly disassembling itself and the ball bearings responsible for the ratcheting action pinging across the room. It took me a while before I found them and reconstructed the switch.

My next step was to mount the PCB into the base of the box, drill out holes for the BNC video in and out and power and connect them to the board. Unfortunately, my choice of BNC location was not the best, as they encroached on a support tab which I needed to cut away to be able to firmly screw them in. Now it comes to the really daunting part – the front panel wiring.

There are a lot of wires to go between the board and the front panel, along with the resistor and capacitor that had to be mounted “air-wire”. Unfortunately, I got the connections to the switch the wrong way around, so had to rotate the switch around resulting in the strange wiring job. I also tried to avoid wires for the resistors and capacitors, leaving their legs to do the work. Regardless, the wiring was correct, even if a little messy.

Finally, the unit is constructed. Quite professional, although modern products would not be built using this sort of material anymore.

The sloped box really does present a more “ergonomic” interface.

The sloping rear isn’t necessarily the best though, as this puts the BNC connectors on a slight downward angle which could result in clearance issues if the cables had large rubber boots.

My mis-positioning of the BNC connectors is clear – the video out should have been more to the left. But there’s no going back once drilled … so I had to live with it.

This time, I countersunk the board mounting screws with a 6.5mm bit and they sit perfectly. The supplied rubber feet are still good and the screws hold the halves of the case together.

Testing

In order to test and align the kit, I had to obtain two BNC to RCA plugs, as the choice of plugs on the kit are not the ones commonly used today. Only earlier VCRs had BNCs by default. Regardless, with this, I was able to film a short video demonstrating it in action after aligning the white-level, sync pulse level, vertical and horizontal wipe periods.

While it does work, I suspect the lack of shielding and amount of local RF interference is what causes the occasional speck or fleck to show up on the screen, despite my effort to try and reduce the amount of unshielded video cable. This is because there is so much unshielded wiring from the board to the front panel and back to contend with as well.

Conclusion

The Dick Smith Electronics K5415 Video Fader and Wiper kit was the largest kit I had attempted from Dick Smith. The kit basically works around a chip which does sync pulse detection, sets of 555 timers which produce a time offset relative to the sync pulse and gating/masking the video signal based on a generated voltage level. As a result, the kit basically works on a “line-by-line” basis. The construction and alignment involved many steps, although most of them were straightforward, this was not helped by errors in the assembly manual. Despite this, the build was successful and performed the functions as promised although necessitating finding some BNC to RCA connectors to adapt the connections to something “more modern”.

It’s a bit of a sad occasion, as this is the last kit in my stash of Dick Smith Electronics kits. At least they have all bought me some joy and nostalgia in the process of building them, even though by now, their functionality is all but obsolete. It also reminds us of the potential simplicity of analog compared to high-bandwidth digital signals of today.

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Fake: Hoya PRO1 Digital UV Filter

Recently, having purchased a new lens (even though it was only a kit lens), I thought it would be a good idea to protect the front element with a clear UV filter. While this practice is sometimes debatable as filter glass will have some negative impacts on clarity and light transmission and often shatters into sharp splinters, it’s still a convention for me just for some piece of mind. The main thing for me is to protect the front element and any coating on it.

When it comes to filters, the first name that comes to mind is Hoya – a Japanese company specialising in optical glass, part of Tokina. Having found a filter with the right size from their high-end PRO1 series from eBay, I ordered it without a second thought.

Is it Real or is it Fake?

What arrived was slightly ambiguous and confusing. I had my skeptical hat on at first –

but looking at the packaging didn’t immediately ring alarm bells. The only thing that did was comparing it with an image (below) of a genuine product taken from an Amazon listing (which matches the one shown on Hoya’s website) that clear differences.

For one, the printing is very much brighter on my filter, lower quality as well. The bottom label is poorly registered with a design difference in the text “Designed Exclusively for Digital Cameras” which does not stretch across the bottom and is of a smaller size.

My suspicions are confirmed when reviewing the rear of the filter packaging – the barcode is printed on the existing label and not on a separate label as with genuine Hoya products. While the barcode number is correct for the product, the text above does not have the filter-thread diameter as genuine products would.

The smoking gun was looking at the surface. If you know what a multi-coated filter should look like, it has a particular coloured reflection depending on the number of coats. I couldn’t see any coloured reflection from this filter at all, so it seemed to be uncoated.

Testing it by putting it on top of a black DVD case next to a lower-end Hoya HMC UV(0) filter that’s supposed to have higher reflection than the PRO1 series, we see that the fake filter reflects so much, the detail in the DVD case cannot be resolved, while the HMC reflects only slightly. Such a high reflection is likely to reduce the light reaching the lens and camera sensor – slowing your lens! Without further assessment, I don’t know if the glass was as optically transparent and free of defects as a genuine Hoya would be – I suspect not.

There have been several other reported instances of fake Hoya filters originating from China.

Seller Response

I initiated a case against the seller as the product was not as described. The seller did not reply and rapidly refunded the purchase price in full, as if to admit their deception. Later, they attempted to cancel the transaction with the claim that I did not want the item – ultimately I ended up agreeing as I received my refund.

A look at their feedback is rather alarming – there were many cases of positive feedback left, with only one or two people ever questioning the legitimacy of the filters. I surmise that the other purchasers may not be aware what a proper multicoated filter looks like or might have been blind …

More than that, it points to the major glaring flaw in eBay’s feedback system – a defective transaction cancelled cannot leave negative feedback as a warning to others. As a result, the seller is a “Top-rated seller” selling counterfeit filters.

Conclusion

It’s unfortunate that our favourite Hoya brand is not necessarily the “safe” mark of quality that it might have been in the past, now that in China, various counterfeits with different anomalies have been created and circulate in the market tarnishing their brand. Buying a genuine Hoya product from eBay probably requires more care than just buying the first matching listing … assuming the sellers are uploading representative photos of the final product you receive.

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