Archives For Video

simpletv-drilled

Remember that buzz saw of a fan that the second gen Simple.TV shipped with? Well Simple, and their hardware partner Silicon Dust, have resorted to a variety of software updates and a drill to rectify the issue. And, as you can see above, they’ve begun shipping devices with a newly perforated chassis. But the good news doesn’t end there…

Built into Simple.TV’s Android and iOS apps for phones and tablets, support for Chromecast enables users to easily ‘cast’ their favorite live or recorded over-the-air TV shows onto any HDTV powered by Google’s device.  With Simple.TV’s ability to stream live and recorded TV anywhere, users can watch their favorite shows on the big screen at home and anywhere a Chromecast is connected. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Simple also has flipped the switch on video downloads for offline viewing. While this is (currently) accomplished via PC/Mac desktop, we imagine the MP4s can simply be relocated to the mobile device of one’s choosing – until such a time that the apps themselves are updated with this functionality. Speaking of updates, Chromecast and content downloads are only available to Gen 2 hardware at this time, but Simple indicates future support for early adopters running first generation hardware.

Given the enhancements, and new press representation that we hope keeps it real, we’ll probably give Simple.TV another look (in relation to Tablo, which we’ve been quite impressed with). Stay tuned.

youtube-rating

Following in the footsteps of Netflix, YouTube has just launched their Video Quality Report to rate, and possibly shame, broadband providers as the net neutrality and peering debate boils over. In my ‘hood, Verizon performs admirably, with its worst showing 8PM – 11PM with 93% of streams coming thru in high def, whereas the Comcast Xfinity service performs slightly worse across the board, bottoming out at 89% HD 8PM – 10PM. Granted, Comcast offers lower tiers of service than Verizon (as I discovered from my mother’s originally, painfully slow broadband connection… that we upgraded.) Historically, I’ve had YouTube buffering annoyances on FiOS at both my former and current locations, but that seems to have been sorted at some point – and I doubt it was ever about bandwidth, rather it was most likely in how the traffic was being handled. Google must agree as they currently rate Verizon’s regional fiber performance as YouTube HD Verified:

Users on YouTube HD Verified networks should expect smooth playback on YouTube most of the time, even when watching videos in high definition (720p).

hbo-amazon-instant

As announced a few weeks back, Amazon has begun streaming HBO content… without requiring an HBO subscription. The exclusive, multi-year deal has a few caveats, tho. First, we’re mostly talking back catalog content here, with a three year dark period after broadcast. So you’re still going to have to borrow that HBO GO password for Game of Thrones. But what a back catalog it is, with series like The Wire, Deadwood, and the Sopranos to keep you entertained for weeks, if not more. Second, you’ll need an Amazon Prime account — which currently runs $99/year. In addition to two day shipping, it features a variety of multimedia benefits including the Kindle “Lending Library” and all-you-can-eat video streaming… that has largely replaced Netflix in my household  this year given a decent and comparable library, along with the option to fill in the gaps with current season purchases. If only I could get my Fire TV to stop dropping the network connection mid-show.

Share Your Vudu Movies

Dave Zatz —  May 14, 2014

vudu-dave

We’ve long pined for the day we could legitimately share our legally acquired digital content, similar to how we often recycle physical media, without piracy or loaning out HBO credentials as so many do. Well, the UltraViolet consortium, consisting of a large number of movie studios, obviously sees some value in keeping their customers happy — perhaps as a way to cut down on theft and grow their digital ecosystem. And Walmart’s Vudu is the first provider to implement their new licensing.

Share My Movies by Vudu allows us to grant access to our cloud-based video library to five others. And, instead of messing with passwords and the like, invites are handed out via email address – as similarly implemented on Slingbox. This makes me a whole heck of a lot more more likely to purchase Blu-rays (with digital copies), knowing I can have my mom tune into any worthy flicks via her Roku. As we saw with UltraViolet’s disc-to-digital initiative, I anticipate other UltraViolet services like Flixster and Target Ticket will eventually offer similar sharing capabilities.

amazon-fire-tv-update

Just a few short weeks after launch, Amazon has rolled out their first Fire TV update. Sadly it doesn’t include expanded voice search functionality, an updated Netflix app, or Prime browsing (as promised). In fact, Amazon has yet to even update their support page with new 51.1.0.2 software versioning. So we’re left to assume this is merely a minor maintenance release… but pleased to see the new platform is worthy of Amazon’s ongoing development.

Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  April 24, 2014

A periodic roundup of relevant news… that we may have missed due to database issues

A Tale Of Three Remotes

Dave Zatz —  April 12, 2014

remotes

While we rarely have the inclination to tackle a full-on review (like Adam), the $99 Amazon Fire TV streamer that we tracked so closely ahead of launch is worthy of a few posts. Overall, it’s a solid debut… but not quite ready to displace the similarly priced Roku 3 or Apple TV, for those that have already outfitted their televisions.

I’m always fascinated by the decisions companies make in regards to the remote control, which is the primary interface to their TV-based experience. Take the now defunct Sezmi for example – they originally promoted a unique and beautiful remote… only to launch with an off-the-shelf skinned variant to save a few bucks. While that alone didn’t sink the product, a clunky clicker earns no fans. By comparison, TiVo is quite well known for their iconic and practical peanut… still going strong well over a decade now.

In the small streamer category, and without the need for channel number buttons, all entrants have gone for similarly small remotes. None more minimalistic than Apple’s metal sliver of a thing.

remote-profiles

While it’s beautiful to look at, it’s not at all ergonomic, prone to misplacement, and knee-capped by such a tiny IR emitter window – requiring pretty darn good line-of-site for remote control. Further, the “back” function isn’t entirely intuitive and there’s probably not enough buttons in general. By comparison, the Fire TV remote falls somewhere between the Roku 3 and aTV in sleekness and thickness, relying on AAA batteries versus Apple’s CR2032, and is more comfortable hold. Amazon reproduces Apple’s 4-way disc, which is useful and more attractive than Roku’s cross – although Amazon’s build quality isn’t equivalent to Apple as mine is a bit jiggly.

Unlike Apple, Fire TV and Roku do not require remote line-of-site: Fire TV is Bluetooth only, while Roku is more flexible in communicating via WiFi Direct and IR — meaning all your universal remotes are supported. And, along with that RF communication, comes additional features. Fire TV provides a mic to feed Amazon’s (incomplete) voice search functionality, whereas the Roku 3 ships with a headphone jack (and volume rocker) allowing you to stream content without disturbing a sleeping partner. The more bulbous AA-powered Roku 3 remote also integrates Hillcrest’s Wii-esque motion control, along with A/B buttons, to power a very limited number of gaming apps.

Of the three, Amazon strikes the best balance of form, function, and iconography although it could benefit from a bit more heft and girth. And while it doesn’t include Roku’s instant replay button, Amazon has competently addressed this feature via the transport controls interaction.