Brother Colour Laser Printer (HL-L3270CDW)

The HP 1518ni finally became too unreliable and it was time for a replacement, I was surprised to discover we bought it back in 2009 – 14 years is a pretty good run for any bit of technology. I’d done both toner refills, and aftermarket cartridges in that HP printer with fairly good success. If I was willing to toss another $100 towards new toner it probably would have gone on for more time, but far too often it would choke with the size of print jobs being sent from the various systems (32MB of RAM just doesn’t cut it anymore).

I spent a while searching through various options. We’ve recently gotten a subscription to Consumer Reports and I used that as a source to help decide between many options. Some of the multi-function printer & scanner combinations were pretty attractive. Initially I had 3 choices I was looking at in detail.

  1. Brother MFC-L3770CDW Printer – $599.99 – OEM and 3rd party toner options.
  2. Canon Color imageCLASS MF743Cdw Printer – $649.00 – OEM and 3rd party toner options.
  3. Epson EcoTank ET-2850 Printer – $399.99 – InkJet, but without the small cartridge problem.

The cost of the multi-function laser helped reduce my enthusiasm for them. The physical size of the units would have also been a challenge for the space I had currently for the printer. The InkJet option was something I seriously looked at, but after seeing an in-law’s regular InkJet printout, I immediately noticed the crispness difference relative to laser on text printing. Any of these three would be good choices, well reviewed and very capable machines.

A few more options I explored.

  1. HP Color Laserjet Pro M255dw – $484.99 – Single function, OEM toner only.
  2. Brother HL-L3270CDW Printer– $399.99 – Single function, OEM and 3rd party toner.
  3. Canon imageCLASS MF642Cdw Colour Laser Printer– $399.99 – Multi-function, OEM and 3rd party toner.

You’ll see that my choices have pivoted to laser printers only, and at a lower overall price point. The HP was eliminated based on price, but also it seems that HP has become very hostile to 3rd party toner. Now it’s not clear if Brother has also adopted a similar posture, there seems to be some evidence they have in newer firmware updates. I didn’t dig too deeply with the Canon, but suspect similar hi-jinks is happening. While I understand that from a product service and support point of view only allowing OEM consumables simplifies things, I wish they’d allow you to override it as an opt-out of support choice vs. forcing you down a path.

It became a bake off between the Brother and the Canon, while they were the same price point they offered different features. I really wanted to like the Canon, despite the Brother having better quality prints as per the reviews. Both appeared to have pretty solid OSX support, where the HP did not. In the end, the physical size of the Canon eliminated it as an option, it simply wouldn’t fit in the cabinet where I keep the printer.

The Brother neatly fits in the same space as the old HP. It had no problem with a wired connection and the web interface came up without any fuss.  From a client perspective, the Macs running OSX and Chromebooks also were able to connect to the printer just fine. So far printing has ‘just worked’ which is the ideal. I was able even to print directly from my Pixel 4a which worked surprisingly well. Having 256MB of RAM and current OS support is a huge uplift in usability.

Looking at firmware updates, I can see that the current latest version is 1.60. My printer status page says that I’m currently on: Main Firmware Version 1.33, Sub1 Firmware Version 1.14. Unless there is a super important reason to upgrade, I’ll not. The security risk is minimal relative to the pain of being blocked from using 3rd party toner. I may still buy OEM toner for the first while, but having the option to use cheaper toner is attractive.

Wiistar HDMI Audio Extractor teardown (WS-E11B)

Back in 2020 I moved to a Roku Premiere as my primary streaming device. As my audio gear is older (pre-HDMI) I required something to split out the audio from the HDMI signal and the Wiistar HDMI Audio Extractor was a good fit.

At the time I mentioned that the device was a little suspicious, but it worked and kept working just fine for some time. After a year of trouble free operation, I did have a couple of times when the box would give up and pulling the power and rebooting it seemed to fix things. Stuff happens, no problem.

More recently it’s been acting up a lot. Blanking out, then coming back or not. Tapping or banging on the case seems to help ‘fix’ things temporarily. It appears that there is something not quite right with the power connection. This meant it was time to take things apart!

There is a horizontal seam on both sides of the device, you can see it right by the mini-USB connection and the switch. By pressing with a knife blade on this seam, I was able to un-snap the sides. This took a little doing, but was pretty easy. Some gentle wiggling freed the circuit board from the snap case.

No surprises here. It’s a single chip solution, likely decode HDMI, re-encode HDMI. There is likely a small audio amplifier circuit here to feed the 3.5mm jack. It’s pretty amazing that you can get something like this for the price.

The USB-mini power jack seems to be well affixed to the circuit board (no bad joints). I inspected the cable as well, and it looks to be a power only cable – only two pins on the plug. I tried adjusting the connector fit a little which might help my power problem (and I could have done from the outside of the case).

Then I took a closer look at that one chip..

Yup, that’s a blank, unbranded chip. I’m guessing this is a chip that failed QC and was discarded or sold off as seconds. Bunnie wrote about counterfeit chips which will give you an idea of how this chip may have ended up being used. In this case, they aren’t even trying to fake the chip – they just are trying to use one that was cheaper.

Well – it was interesting to open it up which turned out to be easy. I may have improved the power connection, but first try and it’s not working. Meanwhile I’ve ordered an AmazonBasics HDMI audio extractor as a replacement. The AmazonBasics device has a lot of (mostly) positive reviews. There is a youtube video teardown which while it’s terrible, does give a peek inside. There seems to be QC stickers on the circuit board, and the underside of the case appears to have FCC logos etc.

It’s likely a very similar solution, also needing a 5V 1A power supply. The pictures show you powering it from a laptop USB port, which is only going to provide 500mA – so there is some suspicious stuff going on here too with the marketing. Also, I suspect based on the comments it accepts up to 4k input, but can only output 1080p – which is fine for my needs.

Roku Premiere Review

Last year leading up to ‘Black Friday‘ we started to think about getting a modern console gaming system – our Nintendo Wii and PS3 were starting to feel a little dated both having been initially released in late 2006.

The Ps3 has been my blu-ray player, and streaming box at the heart of my home theatre. When I bought it, it was one of the best players you could get, and it was reasonably priced for the quality. I was frustrated earlier this year when the Plex app stopped working with the PS3 and it was clear that it would no longer be supported. We’d also noticed that Netflix was starting to feel like it took a long time to start up. The Amazon Prime app would also glitch out on the rare occasion.

We decided to get a Nintendo Switch, but that got me thinking about getting a new TV for the playroom so I could reclaim the theatre as my domain and have the after school game sessions happen somewhere else. This meant finally saying goodbye to the 24″ Sony Trinitron, it was still going strong 15yrs after we bought it.

The TV I picked was the TCL 55″ 4K Roku 55S423CA from CostCo. This is the 4-Series version of the set, but at the sub $400 price point it’s hard to go wrong. This is a 4k display: 3840 x 2160 = 8294400 pixels. If my math is right, that’s 20k pixels per dollar!

While I was looking forward to a modern TV, I had not really thought much about the ‘Smart TV’ features. I just wanted all those pixels. The TCL comes with Roku built in.


Yup, before I can even use the new TV I have to do a firmware upgrade and log into Roku, which also requires me to create an account. I’d much rather turn on my new toy and immediately get to use it, but it was a pretty smooth experience given it happened all over WiFi. You did need a second device to complete the setup (web browser), but at this point that’s not a bad assumption.

Once we get past the initial setup, the Roku TV experience is pretty slick overall. Netflix and Prime both appear to start faster than the PS3. While I initially purchased the TV primarily to be a game console display, it’s ended up being used to watch shows quite a bit. There is a fireplace in that room, as well as the treadmill where I often run and watch a movie.

Roku has a useful Android app, and that app supports local listening. This feature lets you redirect audio from the Roku to your android device (phone). Paired with a wireless bluetooth headset and I’ve got private listening.

With the PS3 starting to show its age, and the Roku feeling like a slick media player I began to think I should pick one up for the theatre. My requirements for such a device were:

  1. IR control – to integrate into the existing single remote setup
  2. SPDIF (optical or coaxial) output to feed the sound system
  3. Ideally wired networking

This make me think the Roku Ultra was the right choice, but frustratingly the Canadian devices are a subset of what was available in the US. I did think seriously about picking up the Ultra anyways, but concerns about getting an old stock (7th generation vs 8th),  software compatibility (Canada vs. US) and generally the hassle of actually buying one resulted in my picking the Roku Premiere.

The Premiere is an 8th generation device, is officially available in Canada, and is a really nice price point too. It only has one of the 3 requirements, but the Ultra only had 2. I did have a minor concern about the WiFi support not being dual band, but it turns out that hasn’t been a problem at all. I did find the wikipedia article helpful in finally arriving at a decision on which model to get.

If I can live without wired networking, I still need to get SPDIF output. This was easy to achieve with an add on HDMI box that stripped out the audio. The box I got is pictured in the top photo on the right. What is amusing is the back of the box.

This is very clearly a single box used to packaged multiple devices, and it suffers from some inaccuracies (no power supply required?). If I had to guess, the device I got was the HDV-M612. On Amazon it was advertised as “HDMI Audio Extractor HDMI to SPDIF/Toslink Coaxial 3.5mm Stereo Audio Splitter Converter with USB Interface for DVD HDTV STB Laptop PS4” – yeah, jam in all those keywords.

Aside from the suspicious packaging, the device itself was simple to setup. HDMI input, USB power, HDMI output, Coaxial SPDIF output. It has a small red LED indicating it’s powered, and it just works.

Maybe not surprising, but I thought it was pretty amazing that it was only 25hrs between ordering it on Amazon and having the two devices in my hands – with free shipping.

All in all, it was easy to setup and just works. The Roku experience is simpler than the PS3 and just works. It’s hard to argue with the quality and performance of the Premiere.