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Those who follow me on Twitter know how much I dig my Arlo webcams. In fact, the 4-pack was one of my top 2015 gadget purchases. Beyond the original, compelling selling points of being entirely wireless (from both network and power) and providing a generous free tier of network capabilities (vs Nestcam), the service has seen quite a few updates that further improve and refine the experience. However, none are bigger than the two features introduced last month. Continue Reading…

While it still may be some time before we see an Amazon Video app on Apple TV, the retailer’s streaming service continues to see improvements. And one of the more interesting developments has been the aggregation of third party video services — including on-demand and soon, in some cases, “live” content. Presumably, like Roku, Amazon is compensated for new subscriber referrals. So we get a large catalog of providers and a (somewhat) unified Prime Video entry point, as Amazon generates additional revue. Win, win. (Well, other than the fact our à la carte “channels” will likely end up costing us more than cable.)

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Also, like Roku, Amazon is tempting us with a number of free trials worth checking out:

Kevin Tofel just cut the cord. While he’s a good pal (having live-Tweeted each other’s weddings), what makes his “cable” television exodus a bit more fascinating is his technological background — including years of contributions to the TV-centric HDBeat and PVRWire (RIP) blogs. Heck, we even collaborated on a piece for PC Magazine (back in 2006, when it was paper) documenting how to cut the cord… possibly before that term even existed.

So what’s different in 2016? The content Kevin and his family appreciate, including premium channels and futbol, is now available “over-the-top” … on the hardware of his choosing … and without waiting around for the FCC to unlock the box.

I’m convinced we’ve reached a bit of a turning point in the industry that makes “cord cutting” more feasible for a wider range of people. […] We’re not completely “cutting the cord” but are instead using a different “cord” for television content. […] Frankly, I don’t see why I need to pay Verizon — or any other company — $600 a year to rent set-top boxes or have the ability to DVR content.

Continue Reading…

We generally think of Roku in terms of streaming boxes and sticks. Yet, the company pitches themselves as a software platform and the reason hardware remains so affordable, for both consumers and television licensees, is because the company makes the bulk of its revenue elsewhere.

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From a Business Insider interview of Roku CEO Anthony Wood:

I don’t think people understand how we make money, that it’s a platform we distribute, we license, and then we monetize our installed base. […] When you sign up for Hulu on Roku, through Roku billing, we get a revenue share for the life of that customer. When you watch an ad-supported channel on Roku, some of that ad inventory is controlled by Roku. […] Advertising is our biggest business.

By comparison, it seems reasonable that Amazon’s intent with the Fire TV is to support their ecosystem of paid services, including Prime and video rentals. However, Roku doesn’t see their one-time suitor as much of a threat when it comes to television-based app delivery.

In the licensing business, we’re by far ahead, and there’s a couple of reasons. One is our neutral positioning. 30% of all TVs sold in the US are sold through Walmart. […] they hate Amazon. Walmart is never going to carry an Amazon TV, ever. […] In licensing, really the only competitor is Google. Apple doesn’t license […] So they’re our biggest competitor for TVs.

(via Cord Cutter News)

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As I continue to dig further into preview builds of Windows 10, ahead of the Summer Anniversary Update, there’s a lot to like from this stable and sensible operating system. Indeed, the integrated “Edge” browser has received plugin support and most notable extension is Adblock Plus. Yet the bandwidth savings and privacy ABD offers is somewhat incongruous to Microsoft’s native and ever-present telemetry. It looks like WiFi Sense is done. But, upon first boot of the latest Insider Build, messaging (skypehost.exe), calendar (hxcalendarappimm.exe), and cloud storage (onedrive.exe) apps all reached out to Microsoft without having been summoned, by me, the operator.

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As with streamers and home automation gadgetry, I’m a frequent flipper when it comes to activity trackers – often vacillating in the features I want and motivation or actionable intelligence I find from such things. And, having recently checked out the Garmin Vivofit 3 ($100), I decided to go with the Fitbit Alta ($130) for my next wearable.

On paper, Garmin’s offering is superior given its waterproofing and months-long battery life. I also liked the idea of having a single app to track my weekly swimming along with the more passive daily step count. Not to mention Garmin’s app is more visually rich. But, after seeing the tracker person, I wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable wearing it in all settings and many Amazon reviews have surfaced some performance issues. Whereas, Alta feedback has generally been more positive and is Fitbit’s most refined band to date. The online imagery doesn’t do it justice — it’s significantly better looking and feeling than, say, the Fitbit Charge (that I previously owned). So, yes, I’m willing to pay a premium for good looks (assuming the requisite functionality is also present, which it is). My only minor complaint after a few days of usage is that the Alta screen can be hard to read in bright sunlight.

Now about the app. The same week my Alta arrived, Fitbit released their new graphically rich iOS Dashboard in “preview” form. It’s headlined by a “Daily Stats Tile” with smaller tiles below, such as water consumption and sleep tracking, that can be added, removed, or re-ordered to your liking. While the routine stats and circular meters are reliable, the updated interface is definitely still in beta as my hourly step goal and weight haven’t successfully migrated. (Given the new baby and unpredictable routine, I’m OK not looking at my Aria-recorded weight.) If you’d also like to give it go, head to the Advanced Settings to enable the Dashboard Preview.

Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  May 26, 2016

A periodic roundup of relevant news…

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As Netflix is wont to do, they’ve rolled out a new interface to select users on select platforms. So, while I’ve received this update on my Roku 3, you may not see it on the exact same hardware and it hasn’t been pushed to my Apple TV, Fire TV, or TiVo.

Upon initial launch, I’m presented with five “Now Playing” vertical tiles, comprised of both in-progress television series and two Netflix Originals I’ve never touched – plus some visual indication there may be additional options below. With this revision, Netflix seems to have merged the traditional “Continue Watching” row with my former content discovery pane up top.

However, the results are mixed. As, without interaction after 2-3 seconds, the first vertical tile expands horizontally and automatically begins playing background video at full volume — either introductory material, as seen in Louie above, or, for an episode in progress like Archer, the show itself. Further, a superimposed 20-second timer counts down to full playback of the given episode which ultimately expands to fill the screen as the GUI chrome fades away. Scrolling right or left cycles thru these tiles, resulting in similar auto-play behavior. I don’t mind the opening jingles so much, but playback of existing content is potentially disruptive and that countdown clock is anxiety-provoking. Navigating up and down reveals mostly familiar Netflix interface elements. Continue Reading…