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How To Shop for a Home 3D Printer

3D printing's popularity continues to grow and more people are taking the plunge into this new consumer technology. With Will and Norm having built a Printrbot Simple for us, I thought it would be a good time to talk about buying your own printer. There are a many choices out there and it can be a lot of confusing misinformation which overwhelms you. It's not possible to cover all the printers out there, so we'll cover the basics and things to consider when buying a printer and places to look for information.

The Basics

As a refresher, let's walk through the fundamentals of a typical home 3D printer. Most are going to be Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) machines that use plastic filament pushed through a heated extruder which 'draws' onto a print bed, layer by layer until the model is finished. Many machines print with Polylactic Acid (PLA), a biodegradable, non-toxic plastic that produces nice, but semi-brittle prints. The other common plastic is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)--the same stuff LEGO is made from. ABS is a little trickier to print with and does produce some fumes but it's also more flexible and durable than PLA.

A higher-end choice but still in the realm of home printers are some SLA (Stereolithography) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) machines which print with liquid resin which is cured with light. They produce highly detailed prints but tend to cost more for both the printer and materials and we'll cover those in a later article.

How to Steal a Soviet Lunar Probe

In the mid-60s, the Soviet Union staged an international exhibition to showcase the achievements of Communism to westerners. Included in the exhibition was a never-flown, production version of one of the USSR's Luna moon probes. This io9 article details the caper, but The National Security Archive has a declassified version of the original report as well as several other fascinating declassified documents, including details about the Navy's attempts to use the Moon for untraceable communication.

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Tested Builds: Japanese Papercraft, Part 3

While Will and Norm are at Comic-Con this week, the build of the Japanese papercraft model continues! Progress is made to the foundation of the chateau, but the pace needs to quicken if the project is going to finish by week's end. Just look at how many tiny pieces have to be cut out and individually glued! To watch and follow along with the build, sign up for a Tested Premium Membership by clicking here. Post your comments and questions about the build below!

Adam Savage's Prop Replica Drawings

In the process of building one of his replica props, Adam accumulates an extremely detailed inventory of all the components of that prop, with specifications that match the original as best as possible. Now, Adam has taken up drawing as another outlet for his obsessions, sharing that wealth of knowledge in beautiful sketches and original graphic designs. Find out how you can get one of these art prints here.

Tested: Overcast Podcast App for iOS

I've spent the last week testing Overcast, a new podcast player from Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper. I spend most of my time in the car listening to podcasts, but I've never found a client that worked exactly as I expect. While there are several apps out there that should provide what I want in a podcast player--a constantly updated list of the shows I listen to, downloaded when I'm on Wi-Fi, and ready to play whenever I hop in the car or hit the play button on my earbuds--every client I've tested has had problems.

In my week of testing, Overcast hasn't had any of the issues I've come to expect from my other podcast players. Whenever I press play in my car or on my earbuds, the last show I was listening to starts playing. When a new version of one of the shows I subscribe to is uploaded, the app downloads it automatically so it's waiting when I want to listen. And once I created an Overcast account (the process is free and took about 15 seconds), my podcast subscriptions and current progress in each episode were synced automatically between my phone, iPad, and the rudimentary web client at http://overcast.fm.

The dynamic playlists are the real heroes of Overcast. The playlists collect the most recent or In addition to all the sorting options that are common to many podcasting apps, when you create a new playlist, you can choose which shows to include (or which of the shows you're subscribed to exclude) and note that a subset of those shows are priority shows. When you play the playlist, it plays episodes you've listed from priority podcasts first, then keeps going down the list of podcasts that are part of that playlist, until a new priority episode hits. Many podcast apps include similar features, but this is the first one I've used that consistently worked the way I expected.

The app is brand new, and has a handful of rough edges. I'd love to be able to set my own defaults for the per-podcast episode retention and notification settings. It's a hassle to have to open settings and adjust the retention from 3 to 1 and turn notifications off for every show I subscribe to. I also encountered some inconsistent behavior when setting shows to be included or excluded from playlists. It took a few times for my changes to stick.

Overcast is free, with a single $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock a handful of advanced features: variable speed playback, voice compression for shows with audio issues, and a nifty feature that shortens shows by removing some of those pregnant pauses. There aren't any ads, but you do need to sign up for a free account if you want syncing to work. If you give Overcast access to your Twitter account, it will pull recommendations for new shows to listen to from your feed. The free version of Overcast is already the best podcast client I've used for iOS and it's well worth the $5 if you want any of the additional features or just want to support people who make great software.

Hands-On with Nvidia's Shield Tablet

Nvidia's first Shield was a dedicated gaming handheld, but its new model is a high-end tablet with gaming accessories. We spend a little time with Nvidia's new Android gaming tablet, compare it to the original Shield portable, and give our thoughts on this device's appeal to PC and mobile gamers.

Tested Builds: Japanese Papercraft, Part 2

Will and Norm continue to build the Porco Rosso Japanese papercraft kit, and the details of the structure they're constructing being to take shape! We only got through one page of the instructions in the first episode, so this next one is extra long at over an hour to catch up and keep page. To watch and follow along with the build, sign up for a Tested Premium Membership by clicking here.

The Best Blu-ray Player Today

After spending almost 20 hours with the best new Blu-ray players for 2014, the $90 LG BP540 came out on top after our previous pick was discontinued. The LG fits our criteria for a good player thanks to integrated Wi-Fi and the most popular streaming apps. More importantly, it has a better interface and video quality than the competition and offers the best combination of price and performance of those we looked at.

Who am I to make that claim? I’ve been handling almost all the Blu-ray reviews for Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity since 2010 and have had nearly three dozen players come through my hands. I’ve subjected them to countless objective and subjective tests. I’ve even thrown them on a $15,000 HDMI Analyzer to verify their performance. Often, as is the case with the LG, the picture from a cheap player is 100 percent identical to an $8,000 player’s.

If the LG BP540 sells out, the $90 Sony BDP-S3200 is our runner-up choice that is almost as good. The menu system is more confusing than our top pick’s and the overall interface leaves a lot to be desired, but it offers a wide selection of streaming content, and Blu-ray content does very well. Be warned, though: The Sony shows some jaggies while watching DVD content with diagonal lines.

With more expensive players, you’re usually paying for better CD playback quality or niche features. Along those lines, and if you also want the absolute best in audio and video quality, the $600 Oppo BDP-103D is the best high-end player you can buy. It has better DVD scaling than any other tested player, performs flawlessly even with foreign content and weird frame rates, and supports all audio formats as well. The integrated Darbee video processing is a favorite of most reviewers, including video purists, and Oppo has better service and support than other companies. For most people, though, the price difference isn’t justified.

Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured.

If you only want Blu-ray playback and don’t care about streaming whatsoever, the Samsung BD-H5100 is our step-down choice at $63. It does fine with Blu-ray content and the lack of Wi-Fi saves you some money, though it also means you’ll have to perform firmware updates manually or have hardwired Ethernet to do so. You’ll want to have updated firmware since it may affect your ability to play newer Blu-ray discs in the future.

Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured, but alas, it is not. It was less expensive than the LG, had the same streaming options, and loaded discs faster. If you bought our pick from last year, or you happen to find it somewhere on closeout, there is no real need to upgrade.