by Arpad

How to select the best TV for the Olympics

July 28, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Best TV to watch Olympics

How to select the best TV to watch the 2012 London Olympics

The Olympics seems to inspire many people to upgrade to the latest and greatest TV technology. Those who may have been considering waiting for a new technology to become main stream or the prices to come down, sometimes finally pull the trigger in order to be able to enjoy the games better. Today’s high definition, large, flat screen TVs provide such vivid pictures that the viewer can feel like he or she is sitting right in front of the athletes.

This year a new dimension opens up for viewers to immerse themselves in the games, literally. NBC announced that 242 hours of coverage from London will be in 3D. NBC says the coverage will be available to about 80 percent of US viewers, including just about every cable provider, the Verizon Fios TV and DirecTv (sorry, Dish Network customers are not included). The coverage won’t be in real time. Viewers will be able to see the events in full HD 3D the next day. NBC will use Panasonic’s state-of-the-art 3D production technologies and fully-integrated twin-lens Full HD 3D camera recorder products.

The 3D coverage may be a good reason to get a 3D capable TV. Since the original source is Panasonic product, there might be a slight advantage to buying a Panasonic TV. However, that advantage will end once the games are over.

Most of the Olympic sports involve fast movement. Therefore it is important to select a product that is good at following fast changes. In general Plasma TVs have higher refresh rate (for more information see post if LCD or Plasma is a better choice). When buying an LCD (LED) TV, it should have at least a 120 Hz rate.

The bigger the screen the better it is of course. The price point is such today that most customers will buy a 60 inch or bigger screen.

One thing a lot of customers do not consider until they buy an expensive TV is the importance of the quality of the signal going into the TV. The best TV may not help if the signal is not HD quality. The 3D capable TV will not work in 3D unless the signal contains the appropriate information. A good quality signal goes a long way to make the experience enjoyable.

The list below shows some of the better rated products on the market that fit in these categories.

Samsung PN60E6500
The second-highest-rated TV at CNET this year, Samsung’s midrange plasma earns my nod over the Panasonic ST50 (below) for this list by dint of its included pair of 3D glasses. It’s also currently cheaper, and since the two have nearly identical picture quality, aside from the ST50′s light output advantage, the Samsung wins.

Panasonic TC-P60ST50
Our current Editors’ Choice and a superb all-around performer, the ST50 packs a light output advantage over the Samsung above, which may prove beneficial if you watch a lot of daytime events live. It doesn’t include 3D glasses, but Samsung’s $20 specs do work with this Panasonic.

Sharp LC-60LE640U
No, this Sharp doesn’t have 3D, but since the 3D Olympics coverage is on 24-hour delay, you won’t miss it, right? If you can clear that mental hurdle, the 640U is one of the best LED values available, and if you can’t, there’s always the 745U (below).

Sharp LC-60LE745U
Looking for a good value in a 60-inch or larger 3D TV that’s not a plasma? Here’s our pick. The downsides? Its 2D picture quality isn’t quite as good as that of the 640U above and, perhaps just as important for people who want to enjoy 3D sports with their family, Sharp’s glasses are proprietary and expensive.

Panasonic TC-P65VT50

If the price is not a significant issue but picture quality is, this might be the right choice for the Olympics.

  • Screen Type: Plasma, 65 inch, 3D, 1080p
  • Refresh Rate 600 Hz
  • Wi-Fi
  • Internet streaming services Skype FOX sports SHOUTcast AccuWeather VIERA Connect Hulu Plus MLB.tv Pandora YouTub
  • Price: $3,000
  • Benefits: Exceptional picture quality (deep black, vivid accurate colors, uniform appearance over the screen, wide viewing angle without degradation); brighter than most competitors (good for day time viewing); it is expensive for a plasma but much cheaper than LED; great industrial design.
  • Disadvantages: Expensive; higher power consumption than LCD; screen more reflective than matte versions; 3D glasses not included; poor 3D picture crosstalk.
  • Conclusion: Exceptional picture quality for relatively high price.

Sharp Elite PRO-X5FD LED

If price is not an issue but picture quality and having an LCD TV is, this could be the best choice

  • Screen Type: LED-LCD 70 inch, 3D, 1080p
  • LED Backlight type Full-array with local dimming
  • Wi-Fi
  • Internet streaming services: CinemaNow, Netflix, Blockbuster, Pandora, Napster, Facebook, Twitter
  • Price: $7,000
  • Benefits: Very deep black color; great picture quality at non-optimal viewing angles; accurate colors; great shadow details; energy efficient; 3D glasses included; great feature set.
  • Disadvantages: Very expensive; accuracy of blue and green colors could be better; too much reflection.
  • Conclusion: Exceptional picture quality LCD (LED) for a very high price.
by Arpad

The New Google Tablet Nexus 7 Powered by Jelly Bean

June 27, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Google Nexus 7 Tablet Running on Jelly Bean

The new Google Nexus 7 Tablet running on Jelly Bean

Google has stepped back into the hardware arena with a new tablet called Nexus 7. It is powered by the new Android flavor Jelly Bean. Google has been very successful with their Android platform. The company announced that their platform powers 400 million devices around the world with 1 million new devices each day. Google has chosen to provide an open platform for any manufacturer that enabled them to surpass Apple that owns both the hardware and the software. However, Google has been less successful with tablets.The other problem is that the open platform model allows others to make Android their own. That is what happened with the most successful Android tablet products. It is owned by Amazon and increasingly becoming its own world. The new Nexus 7 probably combats that more than anything. The size and the price seem to indicate that they are aiming to compete with the Fire and not so much with the iPad.

Google’s new tablet, Nexus 7, was introduced a at the company’s annual “Google I/O” developer conference, as well as the next version of its popular Android operating system: version 4.1, code named Jelly Bean.

The $199 tablet weighs 12 ounces, has a 7-inch screen more like the Amazon Kindle Fire than the 10-inch Apple iPad, and has up to 300 hours of standby time.

“It’s built for Google Play. It’s running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. And here it is,” said Hugo Barra, director of product management for Android, showing off the new tablet for the first time. The Nexus, which was built for the company by Asus, has a 1,280 x 800 display, a chipset from nVidia with a quad-core CPU, and an eye-popping 12-core graphics processor.

“That’s basically 16 cores,” he noted. Few modern computers exceed four cores.

Google demonstrated several neat features of the Nexus, including improved mapping features thanks to a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, a Google Play magazine app that works like a newsstand, and a variety of games that take advantage of the device’s powerful graphics hardware. 

“Who says mobile gaming has to be casual?” the company joked.

The device is available for pre-orders today starting at $199, Barra said, and will ship in Mid-July. It comes with a $25 coupon for the Google Play store as well. 

Google also unveiled a “cloud computer” for the living room called Nexus Q, designed to stream music and videos to the television from your Google devices. 

The show began with Barra touting the features of the Jelly Bean OS.

“Jelly Bean builds upon what we created with Ice Cream Sandwich,” Barra told the crowd of developers. The new software offers smarter resizing of screen icons, improves text input thanks to a predictive keyboard that guesses the next word you type, and boosts speed.

Jelly Bean can also see the future.

’1 million new Android devices are activated every single day — that’s about 12 new Android devices every second of every day.’

- Hugo Barra, Director of Product Management, Android

The operating system anticipates where your fingers will touch the screen and plans accordingly, explained Dave Burke, Android engineering director. This and other modifications designed to improve the operating system were part of a program called “Project Butter,” Burke explained.

The new version of the software rethinks search as well, based on the massive revamp to the company’s search engine unveiled in mid-May. 

The company calls it the Knowledge Graph, and it has more than 500 million such things, with 3.5 billion connections between them. 

Earlier versions of Android used voice recognition to translate your speech into emails, but the engine doing the translation was online. If you’re on a plane, you can’t use it.

The speech recognition function has been built into the Jelly Bean version of Android, Barra said, so that it will work offline. Google also added 18 new input languages, including Persian and Thai.

A new dimension to the search experience is Google Now. “Google Now knows that I’m a Giants fan and knows that there’s a Giant’s game coming up in a few hours,” Barra said. The app updates in real-time and if you want, you can conveniently buy tickets from Google Now cards.

A software development kit for Jelly Bean would be made available to developers immediately. Google said it would roll out update over the air to the Galaxy Nexus and Xoom devices in Mid-July.

by Arpad

The new Microsoft Surface – a PC that is a tablet

June 19, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Surface Microsoft PC tablet

Surface Microsoft PC tablet

Microsoft made a major announcement on June 18, 2012. Speculations were building due to the mysterious nature of the invitations to journalists about the Los Angeles media event. Many industry experts predicted that Microsoft would unveil either a tablet computer or a system that uses an upcoming version of Windows to help people access TV shows and movies across a range of devices.  The event seemed to imitate the Apple style introduction of new products trying to tap into their success.

The suspense was building when the company, which had withheld the location of the event until Monday morning, announced it would be held at Milk Studios, the photography studio of a media company with locations in New York.

Steve Balmer’s introduction talked about how the new device fits into their strategy of the new Windows 8 operating system and the full MS ecosystem that competes with Apple’s. Steve Sinofsky from the Windows team revealed more details. “A tablet that’s a great PC, a PC that’s a great tablet. A new kind of computing.”

Surface comes with advanced industrial design completely designed by Microsoft employees. Surface represents a unique vision for the seamless expression of entertainment and creativity. Extensive investment in industrial design and real user experience includes the following highlights:

  • Software takes center stage: Surface sports a full-sized USB port and a 16:9 aspect ratio – the industry standard for HD. It has edges angled at 22 degrees, a natural position for the PC at rest or in active use, letting the hardware fade into the background and the software stand out.
  • VaporMg: The casing of Surface is created using a unique approach called VaporMg (pronounced Vapor-Mag), a combination of material selection and process to mold metal and deposit particles that creates a finish akin to a luxury watch. Starting with magnesium, parts can be molded as thin as .65 mm, thinner than the typical credit card, to create a product that is thin, light and rigid/strong.
  • Integrated Kickstand: The unique VaporMg approach also enables a built-in kickstand that lets you transition Surface from active use to passive consumption – watching a movie or even using the HD front- or rear-facing video cameras. The kickstand is there when needed, and disappears when not in use, with no extra weight or thickness.
  • Touch Cover: The 3 mm Touch Cover represents a step forward in human-computer interface. Using a unique pressure-sensitive technology, Touch Cover senses keystrokes as gestures, enabling you to touch type significantly faster than with an on-screen keyboard. It will be available in a selection of vibrant colors. Touch Cover clicks into Surface via a built-in magnetic connector, forming a natural spine like you find on a book, and works as a protective cover. You can also click in a 5 mm-thin Type Cover that adds moving keys for a more traditional typing feel.

Two models of Surface will be available: one running an ARM processor featuring Windows RT, and one with a third-generation Intel Core processor featuring Windows 8 Pro. From the fast and fluid interface, to the ease of connecting you to the people, information and apps that users care about most, Surface will be a premium way to experience all that Windows has to offer. Surface for Windows RT will release with the general availability of Windows 8, and the Windows 8 Pro model will be available about 90 days later. Both will be sold in the Microsoft Store locations in the U.S. and available through select online Microsoft Stores.

Contributing to an Expanded Ecosystem

One of the strengths of Windows is its extensive ecosystem of software and hardware partners, delivering selection and choice that makes a customer’s Windows experience uniquely their own. This continues with Surface. Microsoft is delivering a unique contribution to an already strong and growing ecosystem of functional and stylish devices delivered by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to bring the experience of Windows to consumers and businesses around the globe.

Surface for Windows RT

  • OS: Windows RT
  • Light(1): 676 g
  • Thin(2): 9.3 mm
  • Clear: 10.6” ClearType HD Display
  • Energized: 31.5 W-h
  • Connected: microSD, USB 2.0, Micro HD Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Office ‘15’ Apps, Touch Cover, Type Cover
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 32 GB, 64 GB

Surface for Windows 8 Pro

  • OS: Windows 8 Pro
  • Light(1): 903 g
  • Thin(2): 13.5 mm
  • Clear: 10.6” ClearType Full HD Display
  • Energized: 42 W-h
  • Connected: microSDXC, USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort Video, 2×2 MIMO antennae
  • Productive: Touch Cover, Type Cover, Pen with Palm Block
  • Practical: VaporMg Case & Stand
  • Configurable: 64 GB, 128 GB

Suggested retail pricing will be announced closer to availability and is expected to be competitive with a comparable ARM tablet or Intel Ultrabook-class PC. OEMs will have cost and feature parity on Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Steve Sinofsky was emphasizing the ergonomic aspects as well. “Feels great in your hands, like a book. It just fits there.”

Surface also has built in HDMI, HD video camera. “If you use your PC to design and create things, this is for you. It’s less than 2 lbs, less than 14mm. It’s a full PC.” The surface also has a great resolution display. Anguilo was basically calling it a retina display without using those words. Dual high performance antennas and receivers, so you get the best WiFi performance no matter how you hold it. The two by two MIMO should also increase the range for WiFi.

The smart cover is called a “touch cover”. “This PC has specs that rival those of the finest ultrabooks that have ever been announced.”

Surface uses “digital ink,” so you can write on it with a stylus. The ink is 650 dpi. The distance between it and the pen is the closest of any stylus ever. “Windows sees the proximity of the pen, and stops taking touch input.” The pen is magnetic, so it just connects to the top of the device.

Microsoft is calling Surface a PC, and are very careful not to call it a tablet. Surface also has a full modern trackpad with clicking buttons.

Later in the presentation Panos Panay took the stage, the leader of the Surface team. In a video showing the people who worked on it, a lot of shots showing the folks making it in the factory in China. MS is probably trying to contrast with Foxconn and Apple.

For more information about Surface, visit http://www.surface.com and http://twitter.com/surface

 

by Arpad

What is the next Apple Move?

June 1, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Apple iTV

Apple iTV

Apple, like many American companies, does not typically compete in market segments where pricing is the number one criteria of success. It is not easy to do with the type of wages and extremely high taxes those companies in the US face. It usually leads to low profit margins any way. Instead, Apple has been very good at coming up with ideas that change the landscape and introduce products that consumers did not know they wanted. Many people have been trying to figure out what the next idea is that Apple will pull out of the magic hat.

Jony Ive, the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple was knighted recently for his work on products such as the iPod and the iPhone. In an interview to the Daily Telegraph he said that he believes he is doing his most important work right now. “A lot does seem to come back to the fact that what we’re working on now feels like the most important and the best work we’ve done, and so it would be what we’re working on right now, which of course I can’t tell you about.” Ive could, of course, exaggerate. None of the less, he thinks that Apple might be coming out with another game changer soon.

Many think the next Apple gadget is a TV. This was reinforced by Steve Jobs before he passed away by saying that he finally cracked the TV conundrum. There is also news coming from suppliers that they are gearing up for production of TVs for Apple.

Here is what Tim Cook, the new Apple CEO actually said at the All Things Digital’s tenth annual conference.

He wouldn’t comment specifically on the upcoming “iTV” Apple is widely rumored to be readying for launch, but he did say Apple will focus more on the television market moving forward. ”This is an area of intense interest for us,” Cook said while speaking about Apple TV, noting that Apple has sold more than 2.7 million Apple TVs so far in 2012. “We’re going to keep pulling this string and see where it takes us.” Some reports suggest Apple’s HDTV will launch in the fourth quarter this year.

As far as Apple’s voice-controlled virtual assistant Siri is concerned, Cook made it clear that big things are coming in the next few months. “There’s more that it can do,” Cook said. “We have a lot of people working on this. You’ll be really pleased with the things you’ll see over the coming months. The breadth that you’re talking about… we’ve got some cool ideas about what Siri can do. We have a lot going on this.”

The Apple World Wide Developers Conference in mid-June will introduce a dramatically new version of the Apple TV operating system. This new OS is said to be much more feature-complete than the current OS that runs on the Apple TV, and is apparently the one that Apple’s upcoming HDTV will run.

Apple is actively trying to court manufacturers to use a new “control out” API in order for third-party manufacturers to make accessories that are compatible with the new Apple TV OS and the upcoming “iTV.” It’s said that by using the API, it will be possible to control any connected components all from the Apple remote (and the Apple remote iOS app as well).

This would be a enormous change in the home theater landscape, which has until this point relied on a mess of thousands of infrared codes and physical cables in order for devices to be interoperable or Wi-Fi-controlled apps for each component and piece of hardware.

The control out API is said to work with all aspects of various popular components, even allowing control over things like program guides on a cable operators’ set top boxes and other hardware components.

So what would an Apple TV actually look like? Recent claims suggest Apple has an aluminum HDTV in the works powered by iOS and Siri voice controls.

Lately some analysts have been changing their tune and saying that Apple may not be coming out with a TV after all. So why is there so much smoke if there is no fire? The answer, some speculate, maybe that the new Apple iTV may not be a TV after all. It may be some sort of command and control center for the home and the family that brings all the other Apple devices all together. It could be a sort of iHub.

It could be a device that allows the integration of all the calendars, music libraries, photos and videos. Control the flow of data between iPads, iPhones, computers and laptops, TVs, cameras, and any other device you can think of. It could be some sort of wall mount touch pad device that is installed somewhere in the family room.

Would Apple be able to convince consumers to buy another device? They have been successful with their other products so far. Regardless if it is a TV or a hub a lot of Apple fans will be waiting with high expectations. Although, recent speculations indicate that they may have to wait until 2014.

by Arpad

Apple Reveals the New iPad 3

March 7, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

iPad 3

iPad 3

The wait is finally over. Apple has announced its new iPad and yes it is called iPad 3 indeed. Most of the rumors and expectations turned out to be true only a few expected features got left off. The new iPad 3 has a higher resolution screen, it has a faster processor, higher data rate connectivity, more powerful battery, better cameras and Siri is included as well. On the other hand the features that turned out to be rumors only are quad core A6 processor, smaller screen size and tactile technology for the touch screen.

The heart of the new iPad 3 is the A5X processor. It is a dual core processor architecture with a quad core graphics processor (the X denotes that) added to it. So the new tablet has the same processor speed as the previous model but the graphics capabilities doubled.

The iPad 3 has a better resolution screen than the high definition (HD) TV sets at 1080P. The higher resolution makes text look smoother pictures sharper. However, the source has to have high resolution as well. Therefore looking at a picture from a website will not look much better because the picture itself is presented in low resolution.

The connectivity may be another area where the difference is very obvious right away. Some of the new iPad 3 models include LTE capability as well. LTE (Long Term Evolution) is the new wireless standard that is capable much faster speeds for uploading and downloading data. Both Verizon and AT&T has been rolling out their LTE networks as fast as possible as a result the coverage is fairly good in metropolitan areas. (At least it is good until there are too many users.) The new iPad model is also equipped with enhanced 3G or could be called 4G capabilities. If an LTE network is not available HSPA+ at 21 MBPS (million bits per second), or DC-HSDPA at 42 MBPS still offers a good download data rate. The download speed will be limited by other factors most of the time any way (the source website or even the phone company’s own data connection). The use of these services, of course, requires a subscription from the phone company. The higher data rate also means using more battery power. Especially LTE uses a lot more juice. The user could always save money and power with the Wi-Fi only version that is cheaper, does not require the monthly fee and uses less power. For customers, using the tablet mostly at home or in the office, that could be a better option.

The look and feel of the new iPad is very similar to the older iPad 2 models. It is 9.4 mm thick and weighs 1.5 lb.

The price is structured similar to what consumers are used to. The iPad 2 models will get a $50 to $100 discount.

The iPad 3 is available in stores on March 16, 2012, Friday. The countries initially are US, Canada, UK, Germany, Germany, Switzerland, and Japan. In order to avoid camping out in front of the store a preorder from Apple at the Apple Store might be the best option.

Specifications:

  • Processor: A5X dual-core processor with quad-core graphics processor
  • Display: Retina display: 9.7″ with 2,048 x 1,536 pixel matrix resolution (3.1 million pixels total), with 40% better color saturation than previously.
  • Wireless Connectivity: Wi-Fi; with certain models LTE with AT&T and Verizon in the US; Rogers, Bell, and Telus in Canada; HSPA+ (21 MBPS), DC-HSDPA (42 MBPS)
  • Operating System: iOS 5.1 (Siri)
  • Cameras: 5 megapixel 1080p iSight backside illuminated camera, 5 element lens, IR filter, ISP, and video stabilization; HD front facing camera
  • Battery: More battery capacity for an extended battery life (10 hours of normal use on WiFi, 9 hours on LTE)
  • Storage: 16/32/64 GB models
  • Color: White and Black casing
  • Dimensions: 9.4 mm thin, weighing in at 1.4 lbs
  • Applications: Over 200,000 custom iPad applications

Price:

  • 16 GB with Wi-Fi: $499
  • 32 GB with Wi-Fi: $599
  • 64 GB with Wi-Fi: $699
  • 16 GB with Wi-Fi and LTE: $629
  • 32 GB with Wi-Fi and LTE: $729
  • 64 GB with Wi-Fi and LTE: $829
by Arpad

Smart TV

March 5, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Smart TV

Smart TV

A smart TV is a TV set with some sort of built in computer that can handle direct connectivity with the internet as well as run applications. These apps mostly enable the user to get content from an internet based provider and interact with the provider directly from the TV via the remote.

Roughly fifteen years ago, the technology world was filled with buzz regarding the technological integration of TVs and computers. It has taken much longer than anyone thought back then but we seem to be close. However, technology changed a lot and solutions are not exactly what engineers had in mind back then either.

There are many different approaches still. You can stream content on your computer, tablet or smart phone. You can connect your TV to your computer, game console (PlayStation, Xbox, Wii) media streaming device (Apple TV, Roku), or with the smart TV you can connect directly to the internet via your modem.

Usually you receive a modem from your internet provider (do not try this with a dial up connection). The modem connects the World Wide Web to this modem via the phone line (DSL), cable (cable modem by cable TV provider), fiber optics cable (Gigahertz connection by specialty provider), T1 line or some other solution. The output of the modem goes into some sort of router (wired, wireless) that provides the home network. A lot of times the modem and the router reside in the same box. The network connections could be done by CAT5 or CAT6 cable for faster and more secure connection or via Wi-Fi for a less expensive and more convenient connection. Most smart TV has a built in Wi-Fi connection. So if the wireless router is close enough to the television set the connection is stable and fast enough to stream the video signal for even HD quality picture.

Most apps on a smart TV can be placed into one of the following categories:

  • Online video streaming (Netflix, Hulu, …)
  • Video-on demand (Vudu, Cinema Now, …)
  • Games (Angry Birds, …)
  • Social networking (Facebook, Twitter, …)
  • Others (Photo Sharing, Weather, …)

Many of the most popular applications come preloaded on the TV but the user can add others as well as update the old ones as they become available. The manufacturers offer app stores where the software can be downloaded from. In this regard it is very similar to any smart phone or tablet. Some of these applications are free (e.g. Facebook) but others only work if the user pays a monthly subscription fee (e.g. Netflix).

The “computer” part of a smart TV is similar to any other so called smart device. The main parts are processor that executes all the processes and some sort of data storage that stores any data you need like your setup information, etc. Smart TVs are a little more expensive than their not so smart counterparts but the difference is minimal so they are built in to most modern high end TV sets.  These are televisions that typically have a big flat screen with high definition (HD, 1080p), surround sound, may be set up for 3D (with the proper goggles the viewer sees a three dimensional picture if the original signal carries the necessary information), wireless connection.

Most smart TVs have similar collection of apps downloaded, usually Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Facebook, Twitter, news, sports, photo sharing, sports and weather apps.

Netflix is the 800 lb. gorilla. Although recently they had some gaffs and lost a lot of their customers but they are still the biggest streaming video service out there. Netflix started out as a DVD rental business via mail. Later they added the streaming component to their service for their existing customers for free. That is how they were able to become so big so quickly for streaming. After a few iterations they are back to offering the streaming for free to their customers who use the DVD rental service and they offer a streaming only account for $8 a month. Netflix has a large selection of TV shows and movies that are not so recent. Some movies never make it to the streaming library some make it very quickly. It probably goes on an individual bases. For example you can stream Toy Story 3 but not the previous two. The foreign film library is excellent though. Netflix also offers apps for mobile devices. The viewer can start a movie on the TV and continue where it stopped on a mobile phone or tablet.

Hulu is another option that provides on-demand streaming video of TV shows, movies, webisodes and other new media, trailers, clips, and behind-the-scenes footage from NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, Nickelodeon, and many other networks and studios.  Hulu also provides web syndication services for other websites including AOL, MSN, MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo!, and Comcast’s xfinityTV. Hulu is a joint effort between several big players of the traditional media Fox Entertainment Group (News Corp), NBCUniversal (Comcast/GE),  and Disney-ABC Television Group (The Walt Disney Company), with funding by Providence Equity Partners.

Hulu Plus is a subscription version of Hulu for $8 a month. It does offer a bigger variety of content than the free version; however, there is content that can be found in the free version but not Hulu Plus. Hulu Plus removes most of the episode and content limits and lets the user watch a full season or series worth of episodes for some shows up to 720P resolution. Hulu Plus doesn’t offer sport and news and has virtually no premium cable content like HBO and Showtime. Hulu Plus gives customers the same amount of ads, and doesn’t make episodes available earlier than the free service. Netflix offers much of the same deep catalogue of content as Hulu Plus, but from more providers, including premium cable providers such as HBO and Showtime. Hulu Plus is easier to navigate and has better video quality, but with Netflix consumers can see a wider variety popular shows and movies without dealing with ads. However, Hulu has is the ability to watch full seasons of currently running shows that is not available on Netflix.

Video-on-demand apps are usually Vudu, Blockbuster and Cinema Now. In this case a one-time rental fee is paid to watch the selected movies. The fee allows the user to view the content typically for 24-hours.

 There may be a difference between the apps that are available on one or another manufacturer’s models. However, many times these differences can change as the app is written for a bigger variety of platforms. There are also possible alliances between TV manufacturers and content providers. So some of the apps and the content may only be available for a certain manufacturer. One of such partnerships is between Sony and Google called Google TV. But some other providers blocked the access to their content from Google TV.

Consumers complain that some of the user interfaces are not very intuitive. There may be a better chance for differentiation in this area. Apple is of course, the master of user friendly interfaces. They have done the same for MP3 players, smart phones, tablets and now possibly for television. The last thing that Steve Jobs worked on before he passed away was TV. He supposedly said that they finally got it. Rumors exist that Apple is already starting production in the near future for the new product possibly called iTV. The expectation is that Apple would make deals with the companies generating the content similarly how it was done with the record labels. Some TV shows and movies are already available from iTunes, but the selection is not as good as what cable companies offer. If Apple is successful changing the landscape ones more, that could spell trouble for the cable companies.

by Arpad

Should I wait for the iPad 3?

March 3, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

iPad 3

Apple iPad 3

If you are thinking about buying a tablet, you may want to consider what Apple may have coming. The rumors are alive and well regarding the release of a new iPad this Spring. Some people even set an March 7 date for the announcement. Let’s see what to expect based on the past actions of Apple. Just like when it comes to the stocks past performance is not a guarantee for future results, we can make predictions what the new iPad will be like. Although, like the iPhone 5, that did not show up on time and was actually called iPhone 4S, the prophecies may be false.

You can read articles that make predictions based on back covers or other little clues that supposedly belong to the new iPad 3 (or iPad 2S or iPad HD) but there is nothing real concrete of what the design may look like. Apple has a track record of releasing new products in the Spring (iPad: April 2010, iPad 2: March 2011). If the tradition continues March or April of 2012 would be right on schedule.

Connectivity:

The iPad 3 may have LTE. The Verizon version would almost have to have LTE, considering how fast Verizon is trying to replace their current network that gives them technical disadvantages compared to the competition. The AT&T model would do well with an enhanced 3G (also called 4G with the higher data rate HSUPA), LTE combo version. This would work relatively fast regardless where you are on the network.

Although LTE has a price that you pay, higher power consumption that translates to shorter battery life. The price is even paid when the data rate is not necessarily so high. This could be because the upload speed of the source has a limit, there are too many users on the same cell and they are splitting up the bandwidth, or you just do not need any faster speed (streaming).

Is it worth to buy the LTE option? I would say that it depends on the user. If you are an outside salesman showing presentation videos from you server, you should get it. If you are reading the latest best-selling novel on your couch, probably stick with the WiFi version.

Voice Recognition – Virtual Assistant:

With the introduction of Siri Apple seemed to have made a commitment into this direction. This commitment will most likely continue for the new iPad 3. Although a phone has more reason to have this feature since when you are driving you might be much safer talking than looking and typing. It may not be so important for a tablet. However, Siri is more than just voice recognition. It is a step towards artificial intelligence. Most users with iPhone 4S do not actually use the feature though. It is possibly because they are just not used to it. It also increases the need for increased data flow in both directions by about three fold.

Camera:

The current iPad 2 camera is behind industry standard. Although Apple usually tend to be behind other companies with implementation of new technology, we can expect better cameras for the iPad 3.

Screen resolution – Retina Display:

This is one of the features that generated the most buzz when it comes to the iPad 3. People seem to be very excited. Will it make a big difference? Photos will look probably a little sharper. Since we are already close to the resolution of the human eye, the difference may not be so obvious to everyone. It also depends on how good your vision is.

Touch Screen:

Apple may be coming out with a new feature for touch screen that has an emerging tactile technology. If it is true that would be the icing on the cake, the one feature that would not just be an incremental change but a bold new move that makes people talk about the product. Rumors only started circulating recently so Apple has been successful keeping the lid on this information if indeed it is true.

Touchscreen interface solutions developer Senseg hinted that Apple may use the company’s groundbreaking technology in the new iPad. Companies have been trying to make it possible for users to feel with their fingers on touch screens. One of the reasons it is more difficult to type on a flat surface compared to a keyboard is that the finger cannot tell where the keys exactly are. It looks like Senseg went beyond this goal and opened up a whole new dimension. The company website states:

“Senseg turns touch screens into Feel Screens, …  With Senseg touch screens come alive with textures, contours and edges that users can feel. Using Senseg technology, makers of tablet computers, smart phones, and any touch interface device can deliver revolutionary user experiences with high fidelity tactile sensations. Your customers will Feel the Difference with Senseg.”

Processor Speed – Multi Core:

As we got used to the never ending race with PCs, faster processors bring needier software. You can never have enough speed. The rumored A6 chip a quad core fast processor maybe coming with more than a GHz clock speed. A new 3D architecture is talked about for the processor where the connection are not only on a surface.

Other Features:

Bigger storage would be a no brainer considering the decrease in the price of flash memory.

There is talk about thinner as well as thicker body compared to the iPad 2. The thickness is already at a level where consumers may not want to pay extra for going even further down. Increased battery life (or at least maintained with LTE) would be a more valuable feature.

There are rumors about a smaller screen size. However, iPad Mini could be in addition to the iPad 3 later this year, not instead. This would allow Apple to compete with the Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barns & Noble’s Nook that are cutting into their sales numbers.

Many users are wishing for SD card slot or standard micro-USB port or near filed communication. However, Apple traditionally did not give in to requests like that and valued control over satisfying geeks.

Conclusion:

The iPad 3 will probably have enough improvements so that customers have a reason to buy it over the iPad 2 that will probably be offered at a lower price. Some of the retailers are already offering some discount because sales dropped thanks to the rumors.

Check out the news article on Apple revealing the new iPad 3.

by Arpad

Is there a mini iPad on the way?

March 2, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

iPad Mini

Is iPad Mini here for Christmas?

There are rumors floating around that Apple is planning to launch a mini iPad tablet. The product is expected to be in stores for Christmas.  This reduced size iPad is already on the assembly lines at Apple’s manufacturing partners.

The new version will include a 7.85-inch display as the main feature. Why would Apple move into this direction? Amazon Kindle Fire was reported to have surpassed expectations last quarter and sold 5.5 million units as well as Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet is doing well. They are significantly cutting into Apple’s sales figures.

The smaller tablets are much easier to hold. If you are mostly reading books, newspaper or browsing the internet, you will be in the same position for an extended period of time. Your hands will not get tired as quickly if you are holding a smaller lighter tablet. Most users will use their tablet for reading primarily. That also makes it less important to own a more versatile and powerful tablet. So why spend the $500 or more if you are better off with a $200 product?

That is why Apple needs to diversify and come out with a smaller product at around $250. This is also the beginning of the battle of the ecosystems. If you own Apple products you will use iTunes. So the hope is that you will purchase content (books, music, movies) from Apple. However, if you own a Kindle Fire you will more likely buy from Amazon. So let the battle begin. The winner is usually the consumer.

by Arpad

Why Half of Internet Capable TVs are not Connected

February 20, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Internet Connected TV

Internet Connected TV


More and more TV sets on the market offer built in internet capability as a feature. This means that the consumer can connect them directly to the internet without any other device like a game console (Play Station, XBox or Nintendo) or streaming media device (Roku, Apple TV). The connection makes it possible to play digital content directly from Netflix, Hulu, Pandora or one of the many other sources already available.

However, many of the users do not take advantage of the feature. According to research only 47% of internet capable TVs are actually connected. So what do people do instead? They continue using the usually more expensive but tried and true methods like set-top box for cable or satellite.

What are the reasons why more Smart TVs are not utilized?

1. Manufacturers and retailers do not explain very well what these features are and how to use them. Professional installation cost too much extra for people to take it.

2. Consumers are used to that watching TV is a passive activity. They just want to relax when they sit in front of the box. Some of the possibilities like playing games and posting on social networking sites are not fitting in that picture.

3. This feature was not an important part of the purchasing decision so they do not even know or care about what it means. The price difference is not significant.

4. Poor user interface. When the feature is activated a bunch of icons appear where the applications can be selected. Most of them are not widely known what they are. A lot of them require signing up and even subscription. So unless the user is already excited about using them, they may not seem that important to have.

TV manufacturers compete with each other. So they feel like they have to offer this feature but they do not care if it gets used. The situation is similar to early smart phones where most users did not use most of the features. They did not have a reason and it was too complicated. That is why Apple changed the landscape. They already had content to sell so they were motivated to change the status quo. This may be a good opportunity once again for Apple to turn the landscape upside down. If they figure out how to make Smart TVs truly smart, how to build a system that is easy and intuitive to use, they will sell a lot of units and content to a lot of people around the world. Rumors are already out there that the TVs are being built. Steve Jobs said before he passed away that they finally figured out how to do it right. Apple is playing 3D chess while others are playing checkers. Lets see what happens. Consumers and Apple are probably the ones to benefit at the end.
 

by Arpad

What is Apple TV?

February 18, 2012 in MultiMedia by Arpad

Apple TV Streaming Video Device

Apple TV Streaming Video Device

Apple TV is a streaming media device that allows you to get digital media content from the internet or digital sources in your home (computer, network drive, etc.) and make it accessible on your TV.

The philosophy of AppleTV is very similar to that of most other Apple products. The user gets something that is very intuitive and easy to use, works well, seamlessly interacts with other Apple products and provides content that is controlled by Apple. Some of the technical specifications also not fully state of the art compared to the competition.

The Apple TV’s exterior design may be over a year old, but it’s still best-in-class. The compact all-black box has a glossy finish around the sides, and a matte finish on the top that does a good job of resisting fingerprints. It’s technically larger than the competing Roku 2, but both are so small that you’ll barely notice them in your TV cabinet.

The Apple TV’s 0.6-pound weight gives it a solid feeling, especially compared with the hollow-feeling Roku 2. That heft doesn’t just give it a perceived boost to build quality; it also helps keep the Apple TV planted in place despite the weight of an HDMI cable tugging at the back. (The textured nonskid surface on the bottom helps too.)

Around back are the Apple TV’s few ports: HDMI, optical audio output, and Ethernet. (There’s also a Micro-USB port, but it’s only used for service and support.) Note that HDMI is the only video connection available, so if you have an older TV, you’re out of luck.

Of course, Apple TV also has built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi–the fastest currently available. So as long as you’re using the Apple TV either in an area covered by your Wi-Fi network or with an Ethernet cable, you’re good to go.

The included remote is minimalist in a classic Apple way. It has just a navigation circle at the top, a Menu button (which doubles as a Back button), and a Play/Pause button. That may not seem like enough, but we never felt the need for additional controls. Skipping forward and backward is intuitively done with the navigation circle and although we thought we wanted a Mute button, Play/Pause worked just as well in every instance we ran into.

The Apple TV can also be controlled with an iPad or iPhone using Apple’s Remote application, and the experience is quite good. You can remotely control music from your iTunes collection, and use swipe gestures to navigate menus. We did prefer using the actual remote for navigation, but if you already have your iPhone out, it’s useful in a pinch. If you’re playing music from your iOS handheld and the Apple TV is hooked to a separate audio amplifier, you won’t need to have the TV on, either.

User interface
The Apple TV’s user interface is far better than that of any other streaming-video box we’ve yet seen.

The main interface has simple, straightforward menu choices. Jump into movies and the experience gets even better, with large cover art for browsing. The detail page for a movie has a plot summary, with cast and crew information, plus Rotten Tomatoes movie ratings. We also loved that you can also browse by actors and directors, so if you liked Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” you can browse his other films. The only competing streaming-movie service that looks nearly as good is Vudu, which somewhat surprisingly isn’t offered on the Roku 2.

Apple TV Interfaces

Apple TV Interfaces

TV offerings are similarly laid out, and if you subscribe to a season of a show, you’ll even get an iOS-style red number in the upper left corner letting you know there are new episodes.

The user interface isn’t quite as strong when it comes to third-party services like Netflix. The Apple TV forces Netflix to adopt an Apple TV-like look that forces you to pick categories like “Instant Queue” or “Recently Watched” right away. It’s fine, but it’s not as good as the more standard interface used on the PlayStation 3, which gives you large cover art from the first screen and lets you quickly browse between the different categories. It’s not surprising that Apple wants to control the look and feel of the menus, but in this case it hurts the user experience. The same criticism extends to many of the other third-party services.

Our other frustration is the lack of cross-platform browsing and search. For example, if you browse movies, you’ll notice that “The Trip” is available to rent for $5, but it’s also available to watch on Netflix at no extra charge if you’re a subscriber. That’s not necessarily a knock against the Apple TV, since no other device handles this well either, but it would be nice if there were a “Watch for free on Netflix” button when browsing movies.

The Apple TV definitely provides a vastly better browsing experience than the Roku 2, but as one CNET editor put it, the Roku 2′s interface “gets the job done.” It depends on how much you care about ease of use and eye candy.

Movies and TV shows
Last year, Apple’s Apple TV offerings were a mess, with a only a fraction of the content on iTunes being available to stream on the Apple TV. The rest of iTunes’ catalog required you to first download it on a PC using iTunes. The upside was 99-cent TV show rentals, the downside was limited selection and confusion.

Apple switched its approach over the summer and it’s made a huge difference. Now all TV shows available on iTunes are available to stream on the Apple TV. TV show rentals are gone. Instead, you can purchase an HD episode for $3 or a season at a discounted rate. The selection of TV shows is really quite comprehensive, with tons of shows offered both by major networks and cable stations. If you’re interested in what the selection is like, check out iTunes.

Apple also remembers your purchases now with iCloud. That means not only can you rewatch shows on your Apple TV, but you can also download them to a PC or other iOS device. That’s a great option, especially for long trips.

The main iTunes competitor here is Amazon Instant, which just happens to be featured on Roku’s line of competing boxes. For TV, the selection of shows seems to be nearly equal between the two services, and the pricing for HD shows is the same at $3. However, Amazon.com does offer the option to purchase SD versions of shows for $2. It’s a nice choice, especially for shows where you’re not as picky about image quality. On the other hand, Amazon currently doesn’t provide the option of downloading movies or TV shows, only streaming them.

Streaming services: Netflix, MLB.TV, and more
Aside from iTunes, the Apple TV also supports a few streaming-media services, including Netflix, MLB.TV, NHL, NBA, YouTube, Vimeo, and WSJ Live. It can also stream podcasts and Internet radio, plus it provides access to photos via either Flickr or Photo Stream. Apple doesn’t do a great job of pointing this out, but the podcast section includes video podcasts, so you can get content from sources like Revision 3, CNET, and TED Talks.

That’s not a bad collection of services, but the Roku 2 has many more and we’re not just talking about niche content providers–the Roku 2 supports Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, Pandora, MOG, Rdio, and Epix. Of course, it all depends on how much streaming content you consume, but heavy streamers will be better off with the Roku 2.

AirPlay
The Apple TV’s lack of streaming-media apps is somewhat made up for by AirPlay. We’ve covered AirPlay plenty in the past, but it’s a killer feature if you own other iOS devices. The idea is you can stream photos, music, and videos straight from another iOS device to the Apple TV. That includes many third-party apps, so while the Apple TV doesn’t have a Pandora app, your iPhone does and you can listen via AirPlay. Notice we said many third-party apps, because not all of them support it, including Hulu Plus and HBO Go. So while AirPlay can substitute for some apps, it’s not a panacea.

The other awesome aspect of AirPlay is that you can stream your personal music collection. It works with any music you have stored on an iOS device and you can also stream your iTunes music collection from a computer. It’s one of the easiest ways to listen to your digital music in your living room and it’s only going to get easier with iTunes Match–more on that later.

AirPlay mirroring
AirPlay mirroring is the latest update to the Apple TV’s AirPlay functions, but despite the hype, we don’t think it’s a very useful feature yet. The mirroring displays exactly what’s on your iPad 2 or iPhone 4S on your TV screen, including games, the iPad’s menus–almost anything. The exception is apps that don’t allow “HDMI video out,” which includes HBO Go. Also, don’t count on AirPlay mirroring as a way to get streaming-video apps like Hulu Plus on your Apple TV. The video quality is much too choppy and the resolution of the iPad is too small to be enjoyable on a TV.

iPad mirroring is a cool trick and it’s definitely fun to show off, but right now it doesn’t have much of a practical purpose.

iTunes Match: Coming soon
The Apple TV home screen lists movies and TV shows, but there’s strangely no header for music–yet. Expect that to change when iTunes Match is released later in October. You can read the full details on Apple’s site, but the idea is that for $25 a year Apple will store your personal music collection in the cloud.

We haven’t had any chance to use iTunes Match yet, but it’s an intriguing option that we think could add a lot of value to the Apple TV. We’ll update this review when iTunes Match is released later this month and we gets some hands-on time with the service.

Performance
A lot of fuss is often made about the fact that the Apple TV isn’t 1080p, but we don’t think that’s a major shortcoming. Streaming content in general looked very good, both from iTunes and Netflix. We could nitpick about some of the minor false contouring we saw, but the most people won’t notice the difference. Wireless performance was also rock-solid over our testing period.
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