Archives For HDTV

simpletv2

Right on schedule, second generation Simple.TV network tuner pre-orders have begun shipping.

To improve upon the first gen, Simple.TV partnered with Silicon Dust to produce a smaller, yet more more powerful dual tuning unit to better leverage those high definition over-the-air broadcasts. For maximum flexibity, but a possibly higher geek quotient, SimpleTV remains hard driveless and headless – bring your own external storage and display technology. And speaking of those endpoints, live or recorded content can be viewed via refreshed web, iOS, and Android experiences. Further, at CES next month, we expect to see SimpleTV’s incoming Roku channel updates and a new Ouya client. While you can run the new SimpleTV ($250) without “Premiere” service, we expect most would pull the trigger to enable its full capabilities, including season pass recording and remote access. And the plot thickens in 2014 as we anticipate a new tier of service to include cloud storage, à la Boxee.

We’ve been cranking away on a SimpleTV review the last couple months and expect to share our (positive) experiences soon, once we’ve had some quality time with the new Android app… as the software updates equally improve the first gen hardware experience. And if Aereo ever launches in DC, we’ll run a comparison.

Update: It appears there’s been some last minute delay. While the Simple.TV site began accepting orders December 26th, product won’t actually ship until January and NewEgg pre-orders have been pushed from December to January 17th (but units are $50 off). Simple TV’s PR firm hasn’t yet responded to our inquiry.

20 TVs tested: Which sets can pass surround sound to a sound bar?

We’ve been tracking Channel Master‘s moves since new digital video recorder hardware first surfaced in FCC documents last summer. They’ve clearly used the intervening months wisely to fine tune both the product experience and marketing strategy as the originally documented pair of K77 set-tops has been whittled down to the single and more memorable DVR+ ($250). And, as you probably guessed from the video above, I do indeed have product on hand… and my initial impressions are quite positive.

The first thing you notice about the dual-tuner, over-the-air DVR+, developed by EchoStar to Channel Master’s specifications, is its amazingly slim form factor. Weeks in, I’m still in awe of the hardware that has similar dimensions to a legal pad or slim notebook. It’s both physically solid and quite handsome… as is the matching remote.

CM7500-Angle

Of course, to hit such slim proportions, compromises had to be made. And we assume the absence of analog inputs is the result. Related, the Channel Master DVR+ ships with a mere 16GB of flash storage, good for 2 hours of HD recording and the ability to pause live television for up to 15 minutes. Having said that, I appreciate Channel Master’s modular approach with DVR+ — buy what you need, when you need it (or as funds permit). For example, without an Internet connection, the DVR+ is capable of receiving a modest amount of guide data over the air and software updates can be performed manually via USB. But add Internet, via integrated Ethernet jack or $40 WiFi adapter, and more comprehensive guide data (powered by Rovi) extends to 14 days with software updates coming over the ‘net. Add USB storage to increase your recording capacity, and also receive a larger 1 hour buffer to pause and rewind live television. As a dual tuner DVR, the hardware is capable of recording up to two high definition, over-the-air broadcasts via antenna with the ability to simultaneously watch previously recorded programming. And all of that sips a miserly 9.7 watts. In fact, Channel Master intends to apply for Energy Star 3 or 4 certification.

On the software front, Channel Master has seemed to strike the right balance between form and function – the guide looks sharp, with well implemented transparency. And, functionaly, novices can get up and running with minimal fuss while there are more advanced features (like padding) for those willing to dig deeper. If I had to ding any aspect of the presentation, I’d say the networking settings and configuration could be tightened up. The plus sign in DVR+ refers to its online capabilities and those who run it connected to the Internet will have access to over-the-top app content. At launch, we’re looking solely at Vudu video on demand. But Channel Master tells me they have additional deals in place and development work will commence shortly… and I sure hope YouTube and Netflix are on the 2014 roadmap. Interestingly, Channel Master has decided to implement online content within the guide versus a dedicated app area. For example, Vudu resides at “channel” 200 and others will come in above it, with plans to map a remote button to the 200s for efficient access.

While we frequently discuss “cord cutters”, the fact is that there are something around 15 million antenna-only households… many of whom are price sensitive and still fumble around with VCRs. This is the market Channel Master is prioritizing with DVR+ and the company’s first goal is a rock solid over-the-air digital recorder, with additional online content to follow – to expand its utility and potential audience. Further, unlike a TiVo, the DVR+ does not require a service fee (or Internet connection) and that aforementioned modular approach makes for a flexible solution. Pre-orders begin today, for January shipment, and I’ll be taking questions below.

Next Gen: Xbox One vs PS4

Dave Zatz —  November 20, 2013

xboxone-vs-ps4

The next generation gaming consoles have arrived. And, while the enclosures are more subtle this time around, it certainly appears that Sony engineers have schooled Microsoft on hardware design with the PS4 featuring a substantially more compact and elegant form… that doesn’t, yet again, require a massive power brick as the Xbox One does. However, initial skin-deep impressions may be irrelevant, given these devices ultimate home within a TV stand (assuming the Xbone will fit — in mine, it certainly will not.) Of course, both units feature beefed up hardware and a focus on gaming. Yet also offer so much more – particularly the Xbox One that comes bundled with Kinect 2.0 and an intent to own “Input One” of our living room televisions with HDMI pass-thru, including a TV guide overlay (of questionable value to TiVo owners). Also, this time around, both consoles require an annual fee for online, multiplayer access ($50-$60). Which is probably why I picked up a fee-free PS3 Super Slim two weeks ago for my modest gaming and Blu-ray playback needs…

I imagine I’ll be more interested down the line, after the requisite bug-squashing updates and price drops hit. But what about you – is 2013 the year, which platform and why?

mohu-curve

As you may recall, we had great luck pulling in over-the-air high-definition broadcasts via the flat Mohu Leaf antenna. And, while it works rather well, it’s somewhat lacking in the style department as a single, flexible sheet.. that I thumbtacked to the wall. Enter the new Mohu Curve ($55). The Curve’s unamplified reception range (30 miles) is similar to what Mohu markets for the Leaf (35 miles), and I’ve requested more detail on its design and capabilities. But the primary differentiator is a sleeker, sturdier design with integrated stand. Assuming you have the shelf space and you’re OK with white (versus the black/white reversible Leaf).

simpletv2

Simple.TV and Silicon Dust are joining forces for the second iteration of Simple.TV, due later this year, by leveraging their respective software/services and hardware skills. In speaking with Simple CEO Mark Ely last week, the companies appear to be addressing most of my gen 1 concerns.

First, the updated hardware will feature a new Zenverge transcoder with ultimately twice the horsepower of the original model and jumps from a single ATSC tuner to way-more-practical dual tuning capabilities… all in a more compact package (with more accessible coax connector). Unfortunately, it’s still a bring-your-own-harddrive sort of DVR – for those that choose to leverage that feature. Perhaps it ultimately works out OK as customers can choose the appropriate amount of storage for their particular situation? But it does add a certain amount of complexity to the solution and my distaste of clutter is well known ’round these parts.

On the software front, v2 of Simple.TV looks to provide a tighter experience, with a cleaned up and more efficient UI. Along with v2, Simple intends to expand video playback this fall beyond the web browser, iOS, and Roku to Android and Chromecast, with DLNA, NAS, and cloud storage all possibilities on the the roadmap — their long term intent is to become something of a Swiss Army knife of HD OTA, streaming television content to and via the devices of your choosing, including gaming consoles. (I’m also told original Simple.TV owners will receive the new, improved software.)

We expect to learn more regarding hardware and service pricing in the next month or so ahead of launch and I’m looking forward to checking out Simple.TV v2. Cord cutting is a reality and I believe there’s a market for advanced over-the-air, antenna-based television solutions such as these with the pool of contenders expanding nicely – including the new 4-tuner TiVo Roamio and cloud-based OTA DVR Aereo, with Echostar/ChannelMaster in the pipeline.

Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  August 29, 2013

A periodic roundup of relevant news… via our other outlets:

image

Comcast Debuts Family Messaging App
Comcast Corp. has quietly launched a new family text messaging and calendaring app for iOS and Android mobile phones. Dubbed Family Point, the app offers private text and voice messaging in a timeline format, similar to a Twitter or Facebook stream.

Betting on Smart Homes
Cable operators have to compete, not only against the well-known ADT Corp. brand in the managed security space, but also against every company that pops up at retail selling smart thermostats and lighting control solutions. With the Internet as a foundation, any hardware company can build its own home automation solution out of a series of IP-connected devices.

Free TV Antennas, Anyone?
Time Warner Cable Inc. subscribers have been without cable access to CBS Corp. channels since early August. And since the battle shows no sign of winding down, TWC is now offering customers a very retro alternative — namely, free over-the-air TV antennas.

Can medical tricorders disrupt global healthcare?
The Scanadu Scout is a small sensor-loaded device designed to measure everything from body temperature to heart rate variability to blood oxygenation. It’s scheduled to ship in March 2014, and the price for early investors ranges from $149 to $199 for the Scout hardware plus Scanadu’s mobile app.