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October 20, 2016

Angels and Demons 4K
Angels and Demons is director Ron Howard's 2009 sequel to his earlier The Da Vinci Code. more...

Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV
The latest in the increasingly misnamed "Final Fantasy" franchise is also a ripping yarn, a blend of science fiction and fantasy more...

13 Hours
13 Hours plays more like Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down than Bay's regular fare. more...

Star Trek in 4K
Paramount has jumped into the 4K disc market with the release of the first two Star Trek reboot titles. more...

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Dodge Challenger

Dodge Challenges for muscle car supremacy

Dodge's Challenger Scat Pack Shaker (and no, the scat pack doesn't mean it leaves stuff behind it on the road) is not only a great muscle car experience, it's also an interesting lesson in semantics.

That's because it teaches us that the word "standard transmission" no longer applies to a stick shift, at least in this instance. Nope, in this case, the 485 "horsepowerhouse" comes "standard" with an automatic transmission, whereas the great Tremec six speed stick manual transmission is a thousand dollar option.

And a good option, too - better than a lot of the nannies for which you can pay more!

And all for 57 grand! Well, to be fair, the base Challenger Scat Pack Shaker starts at a still substantial but somewhat less frightening $48,895 and, also to be fair, you get a LOT of car for that.

It starts with the retro design, of course, a design that very nearly made me want to seek out a couple of gigantic earth movers to test its ultimate stopping power. Fortunately, the urge reached its vanishing point quickly… more...

Acer's Switch Alpha 12 surfaces as an excellent laptop/tablet

Consumers having trouble deciding between a real laptop computer and a real tablet have an abundant number of choices, and with its Switch Alpha 12 convertible PC, Acer is ensuring that the decision waters are even muddier than before.

It's a Microsoft Surface-like full Windows 10 PC (64 bit) that not only comes with a magnetically attachable/detachable full size keyboard, it has a nifty little stand that folds out from the tablet section so you can perch it on a desk or your lap (or wherever) easily, at pretty well whatever angle you want. And that stand is rubberized along the bottom, which makes it more stable on a slippery surface. more...

New Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a mostly excellent and state-of-the-art drive

Mercedes-Benz' new E-Class is a bit of a revelation, not only about what a current mid-size luxury sedan can be, but also about where the market as a whole is going. And, like the E-Class, it should be an interesting ride.

I expected to like the E-Class, but after a week in Mercedes-Benz Canada's sample E 300 4MATIC (all-wheel drive) I came away wishing I didn't have to take it back.

As if that's never happened to me before…

The new E-Class shows that Mercedes-Benz continues to be on a roll, both as far as styling and driver engagement are concerned. As the for tech stuff, well, you may find it a "love it or  hate it" scenario. I certainly loved some of its toys and tools, and was amazed by some - but others would be real deal breakers, though fortunately, the ones I hated most (lane departure warning/assist) can be turned off. more...

Angels and Demons 4K rocks while Final Fantasy XV show the way ahead for animated actors

Two great new disc releases from Sony show how technology is moving entertainment forward, and in the case of one release, it could also offer hope to actors and actresses who Hollywood may judge past their prime or otherwise "not ready for prime time."

The first release, Ron Howard's take on Dan Brown's novel Angels and Demons, is one of the latest 4K discs to hit the market and it's a compelling yarn even on the 1080p Blu-ray disc that accompanies the set and holds its interesting set of supplements.

The second, Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV, is a computer-generated extravaganza based on a game franchise and its not only a good home theatre romp, it's a fascinating look at how movies can be made with, or without, "real" actors. more...

Time Sagas

Ford Fusion hybrid adds mileage but - like most hybrids - subtracts driving joy

It drives like a hybrid - with a whiny CVT transmission and more leisurely acceleration than some might like - but at heart Ford's 2017 Fusion hybrid is a very nice car. And if you don't want a hybrid, they make enough other models to satisfy nearly everyone.

Those "other models" include a plug in hybrid and a Fusion Sport that sounds really fun and interesting (more on that in a future column) - and there's also a Platinum trim level now that tosses about every creature comfort and technological gewgaw you could think of into the mix.

But this column is about my week in the Fusion hybrid, in its Titanium trim level. And if you take it out of eco mode and ignore the CVT's whine, you might find it a very nice choice in the mid-size sedan niche. more...

Classical music comes to smart TV's - at a price

If you're going through classical music withdrawal and would like to hang out with a famous symphony orchestra, there - to repeat a hackneyed phrase - is an app  for that.

It's called Digital Concert Hall and it comes courtesy of the Berlin Philharmonic. And if you love classical music performed live in concert you might find it a wonderful app to add to your smart TV's apps menu. Just beware that once you finish your seven day free trial it's going to set you back 15 Euros a month.

That seems like a lot of lucre to me, cheapskate that I am, but I'm sure enjoying my free week and not looking forward to it ending this weekend. But as much as I appreciate the service, I'll be going back to YouTube for my live classical fixes once my time is up. more...

Ford F-150 Limited a big but luxurious worker

There are many reasons why Ford's F-150 truck is the biggest selling vehicle in North America, and has been for decades. It's rugged, hauls a lot of stuff, and with every generation it gets more advanced and sophisticated.

The current generation, for those who've missed the many, many commercials for the F-150, even switched from a steel-intensive body structure to one made of "military grade" (whatever that means) aluminum. That decreases the vehicle's weight, which can increase its payload capacity and/or reduce fuel consumption, both of which can be handy features in a large utility vehicle such as this.

It's near the end of the model year, but Ford of Canada sent me a 2016 Limited trim level of the F-150 to drive anyway and, truck person that I am not, I wasn't really looking forward to it. But - alert the media - I really liked driving it, its size and utility notwithstanding. more...

LG creates a TV that doesn't take sides - and Shomi drops the curtain

Talk about being two faced! LG, the South Korean electronics giant, is proving there really are two sides to an issue, at least if the issue is how many TV's can you get into one package.

I pun, but last Friday my good friend, Les, invited me up to his company's headquarters to get a look at LG's new two sided commercial OLED monitor, and it blew me away. Oh, I doubt it'll be a popular consumer choice, though I can see applications for that, but LG isn't likely to care because this $14,000 (Canadian) unit is meant clearly to be used in commercial installations. And I can see it being a hit there. more...

Jaguar brings a different kind of Pride parade to its vehicular road show

Jaguars, as in the big cats, are apparently solitary animals for the most part, but when you bring them together in a group it's referred to as a "pride," just like with lions.

And I'd be lion if I told you I didn't have a really great time at Jaguar Land Rover Canada's Art of Performance tour, which stopped in Calgary over the September 17 weekend. In fact, my buttocks had to be "pride" from the seat of an F-Type before I'd leave.

The Art of Performance tour is billed by the company on its website thusly: "Thrill your senses. Introducing the all new XE, XF and F-Pace, our new generation of vehicles at the Art of Performance Tour." And that's what it turned out to be, a two and a half hour first impression of the marque's newest vehicles, with a bit of "fake off road" Range Rover performance thrown in for good measure. more...

LampChamp powers your stuff while Budweiser lights up your hockey games

Budweiser is bringing new meaning to the term "light beer," while LampChamp is bringing new flexibility to your travelling power needs. Somewhat.

Which to tackle first, a convenient item for those toiling on the road, or a fun fan thing for hockey nuts? My wife and my mother would undoubtedly admonish me to get the work done first, so I'll start with a couple of quick impressions of the LampChamp. Then we can relax over a tall cool one! more...

Kia Sportage a compelling small crossover

Chalk up another win for Kia. The South Korean carmaker's 2017 Sportage is a handsome and enjoyable vehicle that's full of modern technology and safety features. It's decent to drive, too.

And fortunately, it comes with a warranty - not that that's unique. But read on!

Available in three trim levels - LX, EX and SX Turbo, both in either front or all-wheel drive configurations (the SX is AWD only, though) - the SUV/Crossover starts at a reasonable $24,895 CAD for the FWD LX and climbs to $39,595 for the top line SX Turbo. The SX is the one Kia Canada sent for test purposes and other than a flutter in the two litre engine that would undoubtedly be fixed easily under warranty, I found it a really nice vehicle. more...

Audio-Technica makes turntables wireless while Ford ups its audio ante with a Bang

Remember turntables, those hardworking platter spinners with which many of us grew up? It appears that reports of their demises are, if not completely wrong, at least overstated - and Audio-Technica is taking steps meant to ensure the old fashioned disc player is still relevant in a digital and wireless world.

I finally sold my turntable a few years ago, though I still have a few record albums around that my wife really wants me to get rid of. But I rarely throw anything away; heck, I still have a bunch of laserdiscs, a once high end video format that committed suicide almost the day that DVD's hit the market.

But unlike laserdiscs, which are showing no signs of being reanimated, vinyl records are staging a comeback. Oh, I doubt they'll ever become truly mainstream again, but they seem to be finding an audience, as evidenced by the turntables still (or newly) on the market and the bins of vinyl records being sold in many music stores. more...

Mazda's new CX-9 downsizes the engine but keeps the 'Zoom-Zoom' intact

The bad news is that you can no longer get a V6 engine in Mazda's biggest SUV. The good news is that you may not care.

I must admit that I was worried when I heard that Mazda was dumping the V6. I liked the old CX-9 a lot - I have yet to drive a Mazda I didn't like - and I was concerned that trimming it down to a turbocharged four cylinder engine would lead to a vehicle that wouldn't be as much fun to drive. But I needed have worried! After spending a week in the new CX-9, I commend Mazda for their choice because the new CX-9 loses nothing important in the way of performance, yet it shed weight and undoubtedly upped its fuel mileage in the process.

Therefore, we have a new turbo four, the first turbocharged SKYACTIV engine from Mazda, and while its horsepower rating of 227 may not set the world on fire considering the size of the CX-9, its 310 lb.-ft. of torque, available at a nice and low 2,000 rpm, makes up for it very nicely. more...

LG Super UHD smart TV sports pretty pictures and good sound

LG's newest line of 4K TV's ups the company's ante when it comes to state-of-the-art smart TV's, offering excellent video, better than average audio and a host of other features designed to make life with the TV more pleasant.

The company sent me a sample of the 55 inch 55UH8500, a fine TV marred only by an annoying, mouse-like remote control that's meant to make accessing the set's myriad features easier, but which in my never humble opinion actually works against that ease of use.

Fortunately, the conventional remote from my older LG plasma worked fine. more...

Ford's Flex is a capable true crossover

In the tradition of the little engine that could, Ford really could call its Flex crossover the minivan that isn't.

That's because it isn't a minivan, but it might as well be. Even better, it isn't an SUV either, as compared with most "other" SUV's on the market. And it's a station wagon, too! Really, the Flex is one of the few true "crossovers" I can think of, a vehicle that transcends the niches between the various and supposedly "soccer mom movers" that make up a so much of the marketplace.

Ford could be accused of trying to maximize sales by straddling the line between two or three, niches, but that would only be fair if the company had come out with some mishmash that didn't do any job adequately. Fortunately, the Flex is, if not formidable, at least very good - and surprisingly driveable as long as you keep its turning circle in mind when you're angle parking. more...

OPPO Digital creates a flexible Wi-Fi - and more - speaker

It's a company known best for making spectacular universal networking disc players, as well as some personal audio products, and OPPO Digital has now branched into the crowded speaker market with a networking system designed to go head to head with other, more established systems.

By "more established", I mean the Sonos and Boses of the world (not just them, of course, but they're perhaps the most high profile), companies that not only offer good speaker systems, but speakers systems that interact with your music regardless of where it may be: on your network, your smart device, in "the cloud," on a USB drive, whatever. more...

Nissan adds a famed diesel name to its Titan line

It's big, it's brawny - and, for those who want maximum hauling performance, now you can get it with a torquey and businesslike Cummins diesel engine.

It's the Nissan Titan, and I just spent a week in Nissan Canada's sample 2016 Nissan Titan XD Platinum Diesel Crew Cab 4x4 (one of five versions offered), tooling around the city and environs, cutting a swath through lesser vehicular traffic - which is most vehicular traffic!

If you're a regular reader of my stuff - and thanks, by the way! - you'll know I'm not really a truck guy, so to ensure as much fairness and accuracy as possible I enlisted the help of a couple of friends, one of whom owns a first generation Titan and one of whom owns two big Ram trucks, including a diesel. I defer to their knowledge and experience, though of course I also have my own opinons for whatever they're worth. more...

Panasonic 4K panel offers spectacular picture

The latest generation of 4K televisions is in stores now and if you're in the market for a new TV it's hard not to recommend embracing the new, ultra high definition format. And if you're thinking of doing just that, Panasonic's $2499 TC-55CX850U is well worth a look.

After spending a couple of months with my posterior parked in front of the Panasonic I may be over my devotion to plasma as the best picture you can get with a flat panel TV. Plasmas may have been the best you could get before 4K, but they're effectively dead now anyway - and this Panasonic's 4K picture, even up converted from lower resolution sources, is spectacular enough that I probably won't mourn the passing of the plasma. more...

Ford ups the content ante on 2016 Mustang

It wasn't exactly a mid-life crisis, but it sure may have looked like it to people not inside the car.

I'm referring to my recent week in the 2016 Ford Mustang GT convertible, which just happened to coincide with my 64th birthday and came at a time when the weather cried out for a ragtop.

Mustang has always been my favourite muscle car, sometimes called Pony car - but only because the Mustang is the original pony car, appearing first in 1964 and changing the fun car market ever since then. Well, mostly. There were some Mustangs during the 1970's that weren't fit to carry the horse logo and, I have to admit, none of the Mustangs really turned my crank between 1970 and the car's reboot in the early 2000's.

But that's just me. The Mustang has cantered on all through those years regardless of what I thought of it and now the car exists with its most attractive styling ever; it's also full of modern electronics and gewgaws, yet it retains its pony car demeanour and heart - an interesting balancing act Ford seems to have pulled off with aplomb. more...

Shomi streaming tries to cut into Netflix' business

Netflix may be the several hundred pound gorilla in the world of TV content streaming - and with good reason - but competitor shomi has a lot going for it as well. I don't think it has the depth and breadth of what Netflix offers, but there's still plenty of programming to peruse.

Most people will undoubtedly want to compare content - the amount of stuff you can watch from the particular service - and in that regard shomi comes up short compared to Netflix. more...

Mercedes-Benz C Class coupe a real coup

Mercedes-Benz certainly seems to be on a roll these days. The German luxury car manufacturer is currently making some of the most attractive vehicles in its history, beauty being in the eye of the beholder of course, and they're integrating the latest technology into their models without making most of it unnecessarily annoying and/or obtrusive.

And that's on top of their long-held reputation as the maker of some of the finest cars on the market - an impression they continue to foster via their slogan "The best, or nothing."

The result of their work can be seen in cars such as the new C 300 coupe, with which I spent a week recently. It's a beautiful car, though its roofline seems a tad Honda Accord Coupe-like to these eyes (which would be a compliment were I not also whining about it being a bit derivative), and it drives very nicely too. Oh, it isn't a "real sport coupe" like a BMW M4, but it doesn't claim to be - and it's undoubtedly easier to live with than a BMW thanks to its easier-to-figure-out interfaces. more...

LG G PAD III a nice and handy little tablet

Tablets are everywhere these days, so much so that it can be hard to decide between them. Do you want Apple or Android, big or small, cell/data service built in or not, whatever?

Into this crowd LG has released the G Pad III 8.0 FHD, a nice little unit that falls into the marketplace as a smaller tablet, yet one that has plenty of features going for it. more...

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