Archives For mari

ESPN for $7

I love ESPN. I am entirely willing to spend gobs of money on my cable bill just to get it. Even so, my jaw dropped when I read that the licensing fee for ESPN programming is set to go above $7 per month in 2017. That’s the amount pay-TV operators have to spend per subscriber to get ESPN programming, and the amount that gets factored into our monthly cable bills for including the sports juggernaut. For $7 a month, I get ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, the WatchESPN app, and… wait a minute. I get all that for $7?

Yes, I was all set to write a snarky post about retransmission fees and the high cost of programming these days, and then I thought about all that I get from ESPN. Pretty much any sporting event I want to watch that’s not being broadcast on the free networks is available somewhere on ESPN. And that WatchESPN app? Man that’s come in handy when I’ve been away from the living room TV and wanted to catch a college basketball game or two. And it works on both my iPad and my Android phone. Inside and outside my house.

The big catch of course is that not everyone is a sports fan, and most cable subscribers have to pay for ESPN programming whether they watch it or not. On the other hand, I don’t watch a lot of the junk on the “free” networks (morning news programs, terrible reality TV shows, etc.), and I still have to pay for their skyrocketing licensing fees. So maybe all’s fair in love and TV programming. Regardless, there’s no cord-cutting in my future. Cable is expensive, but at least I enjoy what I get for my money.

Clearwire Voyager hotspot

Years ago I was one of the early Clearwire customers with a Motorola WiMAX USB stick and a month-to-month service contract. But despite decent network coverage in both Philadelphia (where I lived) and Las Vegas (where CES proved to be the perfect venue for testing WiMAX performance), I couldn’t justify the ongoing expense of an extra data plan. Broadband at home, plus data on my phone, plus free Wi-Fi at local coffee shops was enough to keep me going.

And that was before Clearwire virtually imploded.

Many people, however, aren’t making the same broadband calculations that I am. And I discovered last week, that the Clearwire WiMAX network is now being used in some interesting ways. The Freedom Rings Partnership and regional ISP Wilco Electronic Systems have started a program under the Keyspot brand in Philly to bring more people online who wouldn’t otherwise have access. If you haven’t had Internet service in the last 90 days and visit a Keyspot location for online access, or to take a class, you can qualify for a free Clear Voyager modem (see above), and a monthly, no-contract WiMAX service plan for $14.95. (One-time install fee of $14.95) That’s more than Comcast Internet Essentials service, which slides in at $9.95 per month, but, as I heard last week at the FCC’s Broadband Summit, it can be difficult to register for the baseline Comcast program. (More on that over at DSLReports).

Perhaps even more interesting, outside the Keyspot program, you can still get a 2 GB/month, no-contract WiMAX plan for $19.99If you have coverage in your area, and if you can swallow the initial hardware cost ($40 or $50 depending on USB stick or hotspot), that’s a pretty sweet deal. I wouldn’t sign away a year or two for that service given the state of Clearwire as a business. But for certain people (or maybe a small office?), the price point is compelling.  Continue Reading…

Cox Cisco 2013 iPad app

While CES now feels like forever ago, we’re still catching up on some of our notes and leftover photos. Among them are scrawled observations and camera shots covering the “magical” new TV interface introduced by Cisco and Cox. (Yes, someone actually used that word.) I was struck by two things during the presentation that Dave and I attended. First, the Cox Trio TV user interface and accompanying iOS app are beautiful. But second, they don’t do anything that I don’t already expect the next-generation of electronic program guides to do.

The updated Trio HD guide (built by NDS, now Cisco) rolled out to Cox customers in December, but the latest iOS app was unveiled for the first time at CES. (An Android version is reportedly scheduled for Q1.) In addition to cosmetic touch-ups, the Trio HD update includes the ability to establish profiles for individual users, and provides new personalized content recommendations that cut across live TV, future broadcast listings, and video on demand.

cox-cisco3

The new iOS app, meanwhile, works with iPads, iPhones and iPods, streams 90 Cox television channels, and provides access to the full Cox VOD library. It doesn’t use the same UI as Trio, but because the underlying information is delivered from the cloud (that magical place in the sky), it does support the same user profiles. It also relies on the same ThinkAnalytics content recommendation engine accessed by the Trio EPG.

In the future, Cox plans to offer new features that allow subscribers to stream content from a second-screen device to the TV, and to move recorded content in the other direction from a DVR to a tablet or smartphone. Exactly how it plans to enable those features, however, is still in question. Continue Reading…

StickNFind bluetooth stickers

All this talk about an Internet of Things and I still can’t find my keys in the morning. This is the problem I hoped to solve when I visited the StickNFind booth at CES last week. (An eon ago, but we’re still catching up on coverage) Funded by an IndieGoGo campaign (like Kickstarter), the StickNFind product is a small Bluetooth sticker combined with a mobile app for homing in on objects wherever they go. It’s due to ship commercially in March, and it comes with a reasonable price tag of $50 for two stickers.

There are a lot of things to like about StickNFind. The sticker format makes these tracking devices very flexible. They stick on almost anything, and you can track up to 20 objects (or pets, or kids…) at once. There’s also a nifty “virtual leash” feature that lets you know when a sticker is moving out of range. Unfortunately, StickNFind is also at the mercy of Bluetooth’s limitations. The tracking function only works up to 100 feet, and it requires line of sight. Continue Reading…

Lenovo Horizon Table PC 3

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about the Microsoft Surface table. And while the Redmond giant is no longer shipping product, Lenovo is stepping up to the plate with the new IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC. It’s a 27″ Windows 8 tablet, and it is by far the coolest thing I’ve seen at CES this year.

At last night’s CES Showstoppers event, Lenovo execs demoed two of the Horizon products by setting them up as gaming surfaces. With a multi-user interface, these giant tablets work for everything from air hockey to dice games to shoot-em-ups. Use your fingers, or grab a joystick, puck or die to get started. The accessories pair with the Horizon surface and bring back that retro feel of playing Pac Man at the Pizza Hut on one of their 1980s game tables. Continue Reading…

SmartStream Ultra-D 2160p 1

Because 1080 isn’t a big enough number, Stream TV Networks wants to go 2160. Ultra-D 2160p, that is. The proposed new format is higher resolution than HD, but also provides a 3D video effect sans the glasses. According to Stream TV, the technology uses a multi-layer optical system (Um?), and is based on proprietary hardware, software and middleware. Up close, the effect is a bit like staring at one of those Magic Eye pictures from the 1990s, but get about six feet back from the flat-screen display, and the images are gorgeous.

Stream TV says this is the first 3D technology you can watch from any angle,and it’s partnering with several manufacturers (including Pegatron and HiSense) to bring new Ultra-D chips to TVs, laptops and mobile devices. The technology reportedly requires about the same bandwidth as a 1080p video stream, and Stream TV can convert 2D feeds to this new type of 3D video using either a client device in the home – the SeeCube 4K converter box – or a network device called the SeeCube server, which is due out shortly.

In a CES demo this morning, Stream TV showed canned footage with video of Olympic athletes, a city skyline, a tiger in the wild, and more. With the Ultra-D tech, you can control the level of 3D effect you want, causing images to pop more or less depending on your preference. And while still images don’t do justice to any 3D display, I took several photos that at least give a sense of the crispness of the video, and how primary objects are better articulated against their backgrounds.

Oddly, although this morning’s demo was run on a Continue Reading…

Sharp Ultra HD 4K 3D-like display

Sharp is coming out with a long line of products in 2013, but perhaps most interesting in the group is a new series of 4K, Ultra HD TVs set to launch this summer. Using what Sharp calls a “Cognitive Creation Image Processor”, the new TVs will trick your eyes into thinking objects are three-dimensional. As one of the execs on stage at the CES Sharp press conference put it, “it’s like looking out a window.”

I got a brief glimpse of one of the new 3D-like displays this morning, and from my vantage point at the back of a large ballroom, it did indeed appear as if a pot of flowers was popping out of the TV screen. Given the lack of glasses, I’ll take this 3D over the kind hailed at CES events of years past. And from a programmer standpoint, I’m betting there’s a serious bandwidth advantage to fake 3D over the real thing.

Meanwhile, Sharp will also launch an Aquos brand of 4K HD TVs in late 2013. And it’s upgrading the Sharp SmartCentral smart TVs for the year too. SmartCentral is adding full HTML5 and Flash support, and a Super Beam app for sharing content from mobile devices to the Sharp display. More on that trend later. Personally I’d prefer to move TV from my TV to my tablet, but apparently the reverse trend is also taking hold.