Archives For HDTV

Alticast HDMI Media Express Stick with Cox guide and apps

HDMI streaming sticks are everywhere now, but a new one powered by Alticast, and shown for the first time at CES, comes with an interesting twist. The HDMI Media Express Stick includes both the Reference Design Kit (RDK) software bundle developed by Comcast (and now jointly managed with Time Warner), and Android support. That means it can be used as a set-top alternative by cable companies while also including access to Android apps.

Alticast CTO John Carlucci ran through a demo that showed multiple cable UIs running on the streaming stick. One was Korean (Alticast is headquartered in Korea), but one was the Cox Trio guide. Continue Reading…

mywaytv-closeup

First announced at CES 2013 as a sleek looking Terk antenna paired with a Roku Streaming Stick, the now named MyWayTV has been reintroduced in a more frumpy form with an anticipated Spring 2014 ship date. And at $170, I’m having a hard time finding value in this solution.

mywaytv-remote

While it’s pitched as single device to competently handle both over-the-top Internet apps along with high definition over-the-air broadcasts, MyWayTV doesn’t provide the clean integration we’d hope for… as it lacks a tuner, requiring two television output cables: HDMI for Roku content and coaxial to feed the television an over-the-air signal. So you’ll be flipping inputs. Ideally, this sort of device would include its own tuner, along with a Roku Live TV app (which we’ve seen in relation to the new Roku Smart TV) for a true all-in-one experience (better yet, a USB storage option for DVR capabilities). Terk/Voxx tells me they’re evaluating such scenarios, but if/when they bake that all in, perhaps it becomes cost prohibitive? In their defense, MyWayTV does ship with a universal remote and a stand, should you be better served by vertical antenna placement. But, for $170, I’d say buy a decent antenna, buy a decent Roku, and save yourself 50 bucks.

webos-mcdonalds

LG’s re-ignition of webOS as a fresh, fun, and spry smart television platform has been generating a lot of buzz here at CES. Indeed, in my limited exposure, it looks quite nice. But it’s not all about us… as a major component of LG’s webOS strategy revolves around interactive advertising.

webos-iads

The strength of webOS is also its weakness in regards to ads. While most smart TVs bury their apps in submenus, with these sets, the UI is front and center and every activity is an “app” – including accessing live TV, settings, etc. Meaning, advertising may permeate the webOS and television viewing experience. Am I being overly sensitive (to Truvia and McDonalds) or is this a deal breaker?

vizio-internet-apps

Vizio was one of the first and perhaps largest manufacturer to take on the Yahoo Internet TV platform. And early iterations could be a bit painful. Fast forward a few years, never minding that brief flirtation with Google TV, and we find ourselves a visually rich, customizable, and robust “VIA+” experience based on Yahoo Connected TV 6.5 and bolstered by the Opera SDK for HTML 5 apps, like Netflix.

All television sizes and lines (E, M, P) in Vizio’s 2014 lineup will have an app-enabled SKU. Beyond the set, remaining Google TV-powered Costar inventory is working its way through the sales channel, with the newer, sleeker Costar LT ($80) acting as its Yahoo-powered replacement. HDMI pass-thru is usually associated with Google TV, but Vizio carries over this clever Input 1 approach to the LT. Also new for 2014 is a redesigned QWERTY remote — it’s still not the most svelte we’ve seen but a dramatic improvement over the prior model.

Like the Rokus of the world, there is indeed a screen of app icons. However, favorites can be pinned to a scrollable dock overlayed over video content, providing a less disruptive experience, and not dissimilar to the new LG webOS smart TV interface. Of course all the usual Internet apps are present. However, of note, Vizio is the exclusive TV launch platform for the new Lyve photo & video service.

tablo

The cord cutting options are heating up, with Tablo poised to ship in February. I spent some quality time at the Digital Experience with CEO Grant Hall going over their offering… that consists of both two- and four-tuner configurations to pull in luscious broadcast video via antenna, without going through a cable company. Like Simple TV, the headless Tablo box sits on your home network to stream live and DVR-ed content to various local and remote endpoints. However, unlike Simple, Tablo integrates dual band 802.11n wireless capabilities for more flexible placement – your network cable location may not always be the best position for an antenna.

Tablo will ship with 1GB of local storage, which is used for caching guide and meta data, including box art and the like. By keeping this content local, Tablo’s iOS, Android, and Mac HTML5 apps are far more sprightly than you’d imagine. Also, in terms of DVR storage, Tablo is another BYO solution. There are pros and cons to this approach. While it’s far more flexible in terms of choosing your own capacity (at a variety of price points), it also results in more clutter and perhaps requires a more educated consumer to get going. However, the tech savvy folks I imagine will gravitate to Tablo won’t be faced with the same conceptual challenges Channel Master might with the DVR+ audience.

tablo-ipad

Tablo’s two-tuner model is now available for pre-order at $220, with a four-tuner model expected at $270. Like Simple TV and TiVo, but unlike DVR+, Tablo requires a service fee for guide data (14 days of Tribune). While you could operate Tablo as a very basic time-based recording device, most will prefer the richer and more full featured capabilities one gets for $50/yr. We’re quite looking forward to checking this one out in the coming weeks.

vizio-sounbars

Those following closely know the original Vizio 5.1 “soundbar” was one of the best tech purchases I made in 2013. Unlike traditional soundbars, in addition to being paired to a subwoofer, the Vizio also includes a pair of rear channel speakers (that connect to the subwoofer, which communicates wireless to the soundbar) to provide a true surround experience. Taking into account I’m no audiophile, I’ve been very pleased with the sound quality. Further, I appreciate the lack of clutter with this solution in conjunction with its understated style. Oh yeah – it also quite capably streams Bluetooth audio. Retail was somewhere in the neighborhood of $330, but I picked mine up for a mere $230. Of course, with any amazing value like this there must be some catch. Indeed, the Vizio shipped with a limited number of inputs. Enter 2014…

S5451

It seems Vizio has had great success in the audio category, and they’re showing off several new products this year including a smaller 5.1 system and a rather rich sounding pedestal speaker stand. But, of course, I’m most interested in the successor to my unit. The new S5451 soundbar spans 54″, versus the 42″ of 2013, providing a wider soundstage with better separation of the front channel speakers. Additionally, the subwoofer is larger with a broader range. Again, to my untrained ears, the demo sounded fantastic. Yet, practically speaking, I was far more concerned with the rear inputs. And Vizio delivered. Sort of.

The new 5.1 unit includes both a HDMI input and HDMI output jack, along with the requisite ARC for two-way TV<>Soundbar communication. This will be a more versatile solution for many, including me. But what I was really hoping for were multiple HDMI inputs, turning the soundbar into a switch. At the very least the new solution provides a second usable input, beyond the optical — and if your TV cooperates by sending third party 5.1 out via HDMI you’re golden either way.

Pricing and timing haven’t been announced yet, but we anticipate the incoming S5451 will clock in slightly more than last year’s model and perhaps midyear. I’ll of course be watching closely as a potential upgrade.

ActiveVideo AmEx ad

TV service providers have had a monopoly on the consumer television experience for years, but the CE guys finally have a chance to get in on the game. From LG’s launch of WebOS TVs to the incorporation of the Roku platform in TCL and Hisense sets, CES is full of news about how the TV companies are banking on delivering better software to differentiate themselves.

As Dave alluded to, however, it’s hard to imagine that consumers are going to pay too much attention to software when they buy a TV. Worse, the messy ecosystem means it will take longer for any useful new applications and features to gain traction. How are content companies and developers going to deal with creating TV apps for a thousand different connected TVs, set-tops, and streaming sticks?

The one interesting solution out there right now is ActiveVideo’s CloudTV distribution platform. Continue Reading…