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    March 18, 2015
    PS Vue Versus Sling TV

    The future is streaming, not cable.  That’s just how things are looking, despite the best efforts of both cable companies and broadcasting networks.  That’s just how it’s going to work, and the sooner people get on board, the better off they’re going to be when the sea change completes.  Sony is jumping into the streaming service, announcing the PlayStation Vue streaming TV service for PS3 and PS4 owners.  It squares off against another service, Sling.  The Vue is $50 per month, while Sling is $20 a month.  Aside from the cost, what’s the difference in the two?  Here’s an in-depth comparison between Sling and PlayStation Vue.

    I have to admit, the fact that you have to buy a PS3 or PS4 to make the Vue work isn’t a big downfall.  Neither is the required purchase of a Roku or Amazon Fire TV or whatever.  That’s just par for the course.  The problem is the Vue is $50 a month; the cheaper Sling is still $20 a month, too.  For that price, you can get both Netflix and Amazon Prime, or a lower-level cable subscription.  Plus, there’s always the over-the-air option.  I’m in a pretty good location for that sort of thing, and I can get probably 20 channels, including all major broadcast networks (many of them aren’t cooperating with Sony and Sling).

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    February 11, 2015
    Pop-Up Ads On Your New Smart TV

    Just when you thought it was safe to buy a new television, along comes Samsung.  It’s not that the company’s televisions are bad; I have a Samsung TV and it’s got a great picture and decent sound for a flat panel.  It’s the advanced features that are giving some people trouble.  It’s not just your television listening in on your conversations, either.  Some Samsung Smart TVs have been displaying pop-up ads for Pepsi.  The trouble is when users use their smart televisions to stream video.  That’s when the Pepsi ads pop up.

    “I have recently upgraded my Plex Media Server to version 0.9.1101 and every 10-15 minutes whilst watching content on my Samsung TV I get a Pepsi advertisement showing!” user Mike wrote on the Samsung support forums.  ”At first I thought I was seeing things but no it repeats. Sometimes I can get out of it and go back to my media, others it hangs the app and the TV restarts.”

    Well, unwanted pop-up ads are bad, but when they interfere with the act of watching television–the sole purpose for that big flat thing in the living room that makes the noises and shows the pictures–that’s crossing a line.  I’m glad I have a dumb TV, and I don’t think I want a TV where I’d have to install pop-up blockers just to enjoy my Netflix.

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    January 30, 2015
    Dish Network: Skip The Game, Watch The Commercials

    The Super Bowl is one of the few events that still brings people together in huge numbers.  Whether at parties, at bars and restaurants, or at home, people watch the Super Bowl to the hundreds of millions.  It’s not just a football game, it’s an event, and with that crowd comes very expensive advertising rates.  Indeed, it seems like as many people turn in just for the commercials as they do for the game.  Hence, a special surprise for people who don’t like football but love commercials:  Dish Network is rolling out a reverse Autohop function on The Hopper to skip the game and fast forward to the commercials.

    “This day is about two things:  football and commercials,” said a press release from Dish senior VP Vivek Khemka, “and for good reason—both are entertaining and our customers love them.”

    Of course, I imagine if you’re skipping the game, you’ll make some enemies at your party.  Still, it’s always more fun to watch these sorts of things live, rather than on the Internet, so you can participate along with the social media conversation.  If only they had a Hopper function to skip over the halftime show (or at least change the channel to the Puppy Bowl).

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    November 21, 2014
    Amazon Preparing Free Ad-Supported Video Service

    I willingly pay the $99 a year to subscribe to Amazon Prime.  Since I have a Kindle Fire, it’s a great deal for me.  Free streaming movies, television episodes, a free book a month, free music, and the wonderful two-day shipping that comes along with the subscription.  I can do all of this stuff from the great Kindle interface, on that great screen, and anywhere I have access to wireless Internet.  Given the growing popularity of Amazon as video retailer, it’s only natural to expand that offering.  Amazon may be offering free streaming video.

    The key is advertisements.  Amazon Prime members won’t have them; the free streaming video service will.  Amazon already has a pretty big business in ad sales, pushing ads onto Kindles, their subsidiary websites (like the IMDb), and other services.  Amazon’s advertising business is already pretty close to $1 billion dollars, and giving their rising share of the video market, the natural cross-sales ability of advertising stuff for sale at Amazon in Amazon’s videos, and the potential to sell more people on Prime memberships, it’s a no-brainer to give it a shot.

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    November 15, 2014
    Sony Launches Internet TV Service

    The PlayStation 4 is a pretty expensive piece of entertainment, but it’s also a very versatile creation.  Not only does it play games and movies and music, it looks like Sony is also turning your PS4 into a cable box.  Granted, it’s a product test right now, but it looks like the Japanese conglomerate is opening up a new front in the war for control of your entertainment dollar.  Sony has announced the Playstation Vue, a TV alternative streaming video package.  It offers a range of channels, plus on-demand content.  All told, Vue is expected to have 75 channels, which is a pretty great deal for cord-cutters.

    Of course, there’s a little catch to a service that sounds so good.  It’s pretty expensive.  Not by cable television standards, but definitely in comparison to other things like Netflix.  However, like Netflix, it’s also free from contracts, so when you’re done with it, you can just cut the service.  It even comes with cloud storage (though it only stores stuff for 28 days before deleting it).

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    October 27, 2014
    Amazon’s $39 Streaming Media Stick

    With HD TVs, the best feature is probably the HDMI ports that come with them.  All you have to do to get high definition picture and sound is just to hook up something like a Blu Ray player or, increasingly, a streaming media device.  Some of these are set-top boxes, but the real fun is in the tiny media stick category.  Amazon has quietly released a $39 streaming media stick called the Amazon Fire TV Stick.  It’s the price of its competitors, the Roku and the Google Chromecast, but it packs a lot of power in a chewing gum-sized frame.

    Says Amazon, ”Fire TV Stick has 50% more processing power and two times the memory of Chromecast; it has six times the processing power, two times the memory and 32 times the storage of Roku Streaming Stick.  This results in faster and more fluid navigation, plus more storage for apps and games.”

    The Fire TV Stick features most of the streaming features you’d expect, like Netflix and Hulu and (of course) Amazon Prime, but here’s the tipping point.  If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, and why aren’t you, then the Fire TV Stick is going to be an extra good bargain.  For the next two days, you can get Amazon’s Fire TV Stick for $19, half the price of the normal $39 pricepoint.  I’ve gone ahead and picked one up, if only because I couldn’t pass up something that cheap.

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    October 14, 2014
    Netflix Offering 4K TV For A Price

    If high definition just isn’t good enough for you, then there’s a solution.  That solution, of course, is 4K television.  If you have one, I’m sure it’s great.  If you don’t have one, then you’ll be on the non-cutting edge of the wave.  If you do have one and you need a new way to show it off, then perhaps consider turning to streaming video.  Just be prepared to pay a little more.

     

    Netflix is adding a surcharge for 4K content.  Instead of getting 4K streaming for your standard $8.99 package, it will now run you $11.99.  Still, if you have a 4K TV, you may as well pay extra to get the most out of your 4K experience, and another $3 a month isn’t that big of a deal.  Granted, most of what’s on there now is documentaries and Netflix’s own series House Of Cards, but maybe you want that extra definition as you watch Kevin Spacey do nefarious things in Washington, D.C.

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    September 3, 2014
    Wordless Wednesday: Grandma’s Remote

    Image: Renzo Soprano’s Twitter

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    August 25, 2014
    TiVo’s Cable-Free DVR

    With every signal-disrupting thunderstorm, I consider even stronger the possibility of cutting out television entirely.  I like DirecTV quite a bit (definitely much more than my current cable option), but that’s both irritating and a disruption to my freelance writing career.  After all, you can’t write about TV if you can’t watch TV.  However, my satellite comes with a DVR, which is a really handy tool to have when you’ve got lots of programs and lots of options all on at the same time.  Those who have cut the cable don’t have that luxury, particularly if they lean on satellite television for their local programming.

    Enter TiVo, the original DVR company, who have a solution.  The TiVo Roamio OTA DVR is a $50 DVR with four tuners designed to record antenna television.  The Roamio packs in four tuners and a 500GB hard drive, meaning you can record about 75 hours of HD television.  As if that wasn’t enough, it also retains TiVo’s streaming media interfaces for Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video, to further make life easier for the cord-cutters.  It still has a $15-per-month TiVo subscription fee, but that’s a small price to pay for a high-tech VCR replacement capable of recording four programs at once.

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    August 20, 2014
    Roku’s Streaming-Media TV

    Roku was one of the first companies to tap the power of the Internet to make the home television experience more pleasant.  Everyone wants to watch YouTube videos, but why watch them on a phone screen when you can watch them on a full-sized television like an adult?  Since then, Roku has only expanded their offerings while improving their services, and this latest announcement from the company may be the biggest, and best, news of all.  Roku is launching their first line of streaming-video televisions dedicated to streaming video.

    If you want to stream it,  you can.  Cable or antenna service is only added after you request it during television set-up, but streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Walmart’s VUDU, Rdio, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and more are all included from the jump, with the bigger services (Hulu, Amazon, VUDU, and Rdio) having one-touch launch buttons on the remote.  The televisions range in size from a 32-inch model for $229 to a 55-inch model for $649 and feature three HDMI inputs, just in case you didn’t have enough with 1500 available streaming channels.  The televisions are all 1080p full HD and are compatible with the Roku app for control via tablets and smartphones.

    The sets themselves will be manufactured by Hisense and TCL, both Chinese companies, and will feature the same features with the same remotes; the Hisense models don’t have an MSRP, with sellers able to set prices.  The TCL sets will be for sale beginning in late August, while the Hisense sets will be available by September.

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