Archives For Reviews

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.

Logitech-Ultrathin-Keyboard-Cover-iPad-Air

As a writer, I’ve never found a keyboardless tablet to be very useful as I have a hard time separating work and play. And the original Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover turned me into iPad owner (for a time). So it was with high expectations that I picked up the redesigned Ultrathin Keyboard Cover ($100) for the new iPad Air. With many past Apple product releases and revisions, accessory makers were in the dark. Yet these days, it appears product dimensions are getting fed to them in a timely fashion as we’ve seen quite a few covers, cases, and keyboards hit within just a week or so of the iPad Air’s launch (with many sporting “iPad 5″ branding). However, I wonder if Logitech would have been better served by having waited a bit for retail hardware to arrive, as I have a few concerns with their new keyboard. But let’s start on a positive note… Continue Reading…

tivo-roamio-box

So the plan had been wait until the new year, supposedly when Android streaming and Opera apps arrive, before considering a TiVo Roamio upgrade. Yet a highly compelling discount came my way via an industry pal and, as you can see above, I was motivated to take action.

My initial Roamio Pro experience is quite positive, starting with the lovely packaging which is in a very different league than my Premiere Elite’s nondescript cardboard marketing. Set-top box build quality feel goods and, while it won’t matter to most, the connections around back are better positioned for installation into my very tight, minimalist TV stand. Unfortunately, I’m not (yet?) digging the new RF/IR remote Continue Reading…

The Slingbox 500 Review

Joel Ward —  September 16, 2013

Fellow tech enthusiast and DC neighbor Joel Ward continues his role as a Features contributor here at Zatz Not Funny. Beyond ZNF, Joel can be found at Joel Explains It All and @joelsef on Twitter.

Slingbox 500 and Verizon FiOS DVR

Slingbox 500 and Verizon FiOS DVR

We’ve been evaluating the Slingbox 500 ($300) at the Ward household these last few months. And the timing was good: We went on a week-long vacation, giving us the perfect chance to try out the truly remote access features of the Slingbox. We also played with it while traveling around town, which was fun—including watching Bill Maher at the pool and catching a preseason Washington Capitals game while at a Nationals game.

However, the best use case is travel. This thing is made for travelers. I’d say we probably aren’t the key demographic for a Slingbox as we don’t travel too much. Yet it’s still very nice to have this option available when we are on the road, or even just traveling around town and finding ourselves—or our kids—bored out of our minds. Continue Reading…

TiVo Series 5 "Roamio"

Dave Zatz —  June 28, 2013

tivo-roamio-hero

Models
After nearly four years, TiVo has retired the tainted “Premiere” hardware and moniker in lieu of the new TiVo Series 5 platform that goes by Roamio – given the DVR’s current and expected mobile capabilities.The TiVo Roamio line consists of two hardware models, three configurations:

roamio-lineup

  • TiVo Roamio (TCD846500) $200
    4 Tuner, Digital Cable & OTA
    500GB HD, WiFi, IR/RF Remote
    Smaller Form Factor STB
    (Broadcom 7429)
  • TiVo Roamio Plus (TCD848000) $400
    6 Tuner, Digital Cable
    1TB HD, WiFi, IR/RF Remote w/ Audible Alert
    Traditional Size STB
    Stream capabilities
    (Broadcom 7425)
  • TiVo Roamio Pro (TCD840300) $600
    6 Tuner, Digital Cable
    3TB HD, WiFi, IR/RF Remote w/ Audible Alert
    Traditional Size STB
    Stream capabilities
    (Broadcom 7425)

backview-roamio

The 4-tuner model (picture up top and above) may feature a unique restriction in that it can be configured for digital cable, via CableCARD, OR for OTA, via antenna – but not both simultaneously.

Of course, all TiVo hardware requires a service fee — either $15 on a monthly basis or via a one time $500 lump sum payment. Although, there are discounts available to households with multiple units.

Software & Apps

tivo-roamio-ui

Somewhat unexpectedly, TiVo has undertaken a fairly significant overhaul of their software platform. Along with that, we’re treated to improved performance over the Premiere line given a hardware platform that finally exceeds Adobe Air’s minimum requirements. Beyond Adobe, TiVo is also implementing DIAL, HTML5 and ultimately Opera’s TV app store. We’re hopeful this will spur third party development, including a potential refresh of the dated Amazon Instant experience, and Roamio units launched with refreshed YouTube and Netflix apps – featuring more sophisticated screen elements and menuing than present on Premiere hardware. Further, the “What to Watch NowiPad recommendation engine makes its way to big screen via TiVo Central (as pictured above) and WishLists are finally rendered in HD. Sadly, the settings screens remain SD. Duke Nukem’ Forever!

Beyond launch capabilities, rumor has it TiVo’s Roamio roadmap suggests some sort of personal media cloud or wireless access and playback – possibly to include updated TiVo Desktop software.
Continue Reading…

vizio-soundbar-tivo

Since dismantling our projector-based home theater in 2005 and embracing something of a nomadic lifestyle, we’ve been sadly lacking in the surround sound department. But, having recently purchased a new home (and new television), we’re finally ready to get a bit more serious with our audio. Yet, I wasn’t motivated to recreate the elaborate config we once sported and have been fixated on soundbar-esque solutions — improved acoustics over the TV’s speakers, yet minimal clutter without fishing wires through the walls.

Of CNET’s top 2013 pics, I went with the (horribly named) Vizio S4251w-B4 for several reasons. Continue Reading…

Fellow tech enthusiast and DC neighbor Joel Ward joins ZNF as a Features contributor. Beyond ZNF, Joel can be found at Joel Explains It All and @joelsef on Twitter.

We at the Ward household like trying new things—or at least my wife and kids tolerate me periodically tinkering with our home computing, entertainment, and networking configurations. Entertainment-wise, we’ve been using Roku for years and enjoy the Verizon FiOS TV DVR system quite a bit. Back in the day, before Verizon and HDTV, we enjoyed our networked ReplayTV DVRs and Netflix DVD subscription. So we’ve appreciated time-shifted TV and renting/streaming video for a long time.

Recently we got the opportunity to test out the Boxee Cloud DVR thanks to Zatz Not Funny’s very own Dave Zatz. I ended up replacing our living room Roku with the Boxee so we could get some real-life experience, including input from the kids who are the primary users of the now-removed Roku. We didn’t replace the FiOS cable box, mainly because we rely on a myriad of cable channels that the Boxee can’t yet support. But that’s a discussion for a little later.

Boxee Cloud DVR hardware

The Boxee Cloud DVR ($99) is a standalone device that has the following features: ATSC over-the-air (OTA) and Clear QAM cable tuner, the “cloud” digital video recorder (DVR) for OTA channels, and a small selection of network and online services.

After using the Boxee for a few weeks, Continue Reading…