dish-voice-remote

DISH Hopper and Joey owners can now pick up a voice-controlled remote for $30. While we’ve yet to test its capabilities, voice interaction appears to be a highly successful initiative for Comcast and it’s certainly something I’ve periodically appreciated on Roku or Fire TV (and something we continue to wait on with TiVo).

Roughly half the size of a traditional remote control, Voice Remote fits in the palm of the user’s hand, much like a smartphone. DISH designed the remote to interpret natural language, populating search results based on program title, actor or genre, and building contextual searches to narrow options, as desired. It also utilizes voice commands to control basic functions of the receiver, including recording and changing channels.

Beyond the spoken word, DISH also appears to take the historically limited and fussy remote touchpad to the next level by hiding optionally illuminated numbers under its clickable surface. The backlit remote also conveniently includes IR to control your television and provides a remote finder feature.

nest-cam-outdoorAfter months of corporate drama, Nest attempts to reboot the conversation with their latest innovation — a $200 weatherproof, outdoor camera that the company expects to ship this fall.

While it’s not entirely fair to pass judgement on a product that hasn’t yet been released, there’s no way I’ll be purchasing one. And, no, it’s not the $10 monthly fee for continuous recording and supposedly smart alerts. It’s the 25′ of power cable you need to screw into your siding. I do recognize Nest’s approach is designed to accommodate a large percent of households unwilling or unable to hardwire and their technical implementation isn’t exactly battery-friendly. Regardless, it just doesn’t work for me.

With that in mind, here are some similarly priced alternatives that solve this problem with a more sophisticated approach:

Kuna
Kuna replaces an entrance light (in three different styles) and cleverly integrates a positional camera into the casing.

Ring
Ring replaces or augments a doorbell and can be either hardwired or rely on a rechargable USB-powered battery.

Arlo
My personal favorite is Netgear’s battery-powered, magnetically mounted camera. Unlike Ring, there is an added expense in replacing the cells every few months. However, the generous free tier of service largely makes up for it.

prime-phones

After the debacle that was the Fire Phone, Amazon is back in the smartphone business with what appears to be a winning strategy. Instead of developing their own devices, at significant expense, Amazon is partnering with manufacturers to replicate their Kindle and Fire tablet ad-serving, subsidized-hardware approach in addition to pre-loading the companies commerce and consumption apps. So they end up with a similar sort of footprint in this space from a far smaller investment. And, on the flip side, their smartphone partners (initially Blu and Motorola) secure a new and potentially meaningful distribution channel. The only potential fly in the ointment is they’ve started with low- to mid-end devices and it’s unclear (to the casual observer) what the “Prime” demographic might prefer. Amazon’s intent is, likely, also to expand Prime’s reach by making these phones exclusive to the $99/yr program.

With Apple presenting Sling TV at WWDC this week, it’s safe to say their Apple TV television service remains on hold. Unfortunately, Sling TV still features a problematic interface and doesn’t provide access to “the locals” — like NBC and CBS. Further, while Sony’s PS Vue does include broadcast networks (in some regions) and a 28-day DVR, that service is currently limited to Playstation and Amazon Fire TV hardware. Well, today, Tablo has made good on their CES promise to deliver both live and recorded DVR television to Apple TV.

As a refresher, Tablo is something of a roll-your-own DVR. It’s a small headless box (starting at ~$200, plus service), featuring 2-4 tuners, that you attach a hard drive and an antenna to — with streamers like Roku, Fire TV, and Nvidia Shield delivering the video to your television. Of course, you can also view and manage Tablo from smartphones and tablets. Continue Reading…

logitech-alexa

Despite some hopeful announcements, Apple HomeKit continues to limp along. And many have turned to Amazon as the voice-controlled switchboard of their smart homes. Indeed, after originally unloading two Echoes as a novelty, I’m back on board with one Echo and an Amazon Dot — happily barking commands at Alexa. Amazon’s platform is far more inclusive, interoperating with just about anything, sometimes with help from IFTTT, without Apple’s onerous hardware encryption requirement — although endpoints aren’t vetted for security and Amazon is perhaps more ripe for (verbal) abuse, the possibilities seem endless and it’s oh-so-convenient. Next up to the mound is Logitech, who’s working on native Harmony support to start and stop Activities without picking up that remote control or smarthphone.

Logitech is beta testing Harmony remote control integration with Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap. With this integration, Harmony remote control users will be able to start and stop Harmony Activities using Alexa voice commands. If you own an Echo, we’re looking for people like you try out this new integration and provide feedback on their experience prior to full public release.

appsLike other smart television platforms, TiVo’s had something of a revolving door policy when it comes to over-the-top services. Apps come, apps go – dependent upon business relationship, cost of upkeep (on aging platforms), etc. While TiVo has managed to keep the Netflix and Amazon tentpoles around, others such as Yahoo Weather, Dominos, and Rhapsody have all joined the deadpool. And, now, Spotify has exited, stage left. At least as far as Virgin Media TiVo subscribers are concerned. Granted, most TiVo apps aren’t updated at the frequency of other platforms, like Roku, and are comparatively slow to get going. In fact, when Spotify launched here, I did a little performance test… which was downright depressing. Yet, a notable TiVo marketing hook has been the merging of linear content and online services. So hopefully Spotify’s departure is limited to the UK and more a reflection of Virgin’s strategy (sorry, friends) than a foreshadowing of things to come here in the US on retail TiVo boxes.

(Thanks, Randy!)

To deflect the bad news, ahead of what sounds like a number of interesting reveals next week, after crunching the numbers Microsoft has announced their intention to pass on the messy, potentially limited but free Xbox One DVR functionality:

After careful consideration, we’ve decided to put development of DVR for Over-the-Air TV on hold to focus our attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming experiences across Xbox One and Windows 10. We’re always listening to fan feedback and we look forward to bringing more requested experiences on Xbox One, Windows 10 and Xbox Live this year.

OneGuide_TonightShow_WithMenu

So, where does that leave us? Presumably, Xbox One live antenna television, via USB tuner, will carry on – including a 30-minute buffer and in-home streaming to iOS and Android devices. But those alluring recording capabilities, from multiple tuners will remain out of reach to this refocused gaming console. Fortunately, a pair of solid DVR alternatives exist in the headless Tablo and a resurrected TiVo Roamio OTA. HDHomeRun network tuners will soon also provide DVR options, in the form of software from manufacturer Silicon Dust and the developer behind Channels — although you’ll need a computer or NAS in the mix. Lastly, I wonder if Amazon might surprise us with something?

philips-hue-white-br30

It was inevitable. After years of pining, as soon as I purchased additional, colorful Philips Hue BR30 bulbs, a white variant was sure to be released. And, sure enough, here we are. While FCC docs indicate we’ll shortly see a tunable white BR30, the lumens still clock in pretty low at a reported 680 (compared to the bright WiFi Lifx Wi-Fi bulbs that periodically call my name). As to timing, I’d guess these Hue White Ambience will hit retail in the next month or three and I imagine they’ll go for $30-40/pop. In which case, I may still come out OK given the 50% off outlet sale I recently availed myself of.