Showing posts with label Tv. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tv. Show all posts

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Samsung to launch Netflix rival?



Samsung is reportedly preparing to launch a movie and TV streaming service.
According to reports, Samsung is about to launch a streaming service with a heavy focus on original content. That will put it into direct competition with the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Sky.
The service won’t be aimed at stealing market share from Google Play, according to The Information. Instead, it will be focused on winning over customers of Netflix and Amazon.
Dubbed project Volt internally, Samsung is said to have invested millions of dollars so far. It also has some talent behind it, with former Disney executive John Pleasants heading up development of the service.

A few dollars a month

According to an insider, while Samsung is putting a focus on original content, it doesn’t currently have plans to launch a high budget project like Netflix’s House of Cards.
The insider added that Samsung is currently floating around the idea of pricing the service at just a few dollars a month.

Mobile first

It’s likely that Samsung will restrict the service to its mobile devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 10.1. It’s unclear whether or not it will come to Samsung TVs – at least at first

Saturday, 30 August 2014

'Party Down' comes to Hulu Plus, first five eps are on free Hulu

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Amazon is loading up a new pilot season of original TV shows, and while Netflix's content juggernaut was shut out at the Emmys, at least it was nominated. So what can Hulu do? In addition to its own list of original shows, exclusively licensed content from UK channels and Criterion, it's added the Starz hit series Party Down, just in time for your Labor Day weekend viewing binge. The show only ran for two seasons, but all 20 episodes are ready to watch for Hulu Plus subscribers, featuring Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch, Ken Marino, Martin Starr and Megan Mulally as employees of a Hollywood catering service. If you've somehow missed it until now, this is the perfect time to watch -- we teared up when the show disappeared from Netflix along with all of the other Starz Play content a couple of years ago. Now Hulu has picked up the license, and even if you're not a subscriber you can watch the first five episodes for free on the show page right here.

Twitch's peak viewing numbers rival CNN and MTV's prime-time audience

So we know that Twitch's online broadcasts trump those of WWE and traditional sports, but how does it stack up against cable networks like CNN? According to the New York Times, the game-streaming giant's peak viewership numbers have surpassed the average prime-time viewers for Headline News, CNN, E!, MSNBC and TruTV since this January. At its best, Twitch had over 720,000 viewers in July alone, but as the NYT points out, it's still pretty far behind the likes of Netflix and YouTube when it comes to total hours-viewed per month. It's all pretty fascinating stuff, and there are even breakdowns for what competitive gaming tournament broadcasts are getting the most eyes, too. Spoiler: for this month it's Riot Games' League of Legends. Considering that we've seen Twitch expanding into more than just gaming broadcasts recently (hosting concerts and even entire conventions) it's pretty likely that the outfit's numbers will only continue to climb. Surely Jeff Bezos wouldn't mind.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Sony reveals PlayStation TV

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Sony has confirmed to T3 that the UK price of the PlayStation TV micro-console will be £84.99 when it is released here in the autumn.
T3 got some time with the new console, which is now available in black and was previously titled Vita TV, over in Los Angeles for the E3 convention.
According to Sony, the device will retail for €99 in Europe and is fuelled by Sony's PlayStation Now streaming service which launches in the States on July 31.
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As well as offering a budget doorway into Sony's impressive gaming catalogue and the ability to stream PS4 games, the device will also function as a set top box or media streamer to equal the likes of Google's Chromecast.
Unfortunately, in the UK, the device won't come bundled with a DualShock 3 controller - unlike Japan. It is, however, compatible with the PS4's DualShock 4 controller.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

If this is Android TV, color me unimpressed

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: It’s a little box you plug into your TV, and runs onmobile technology. It has a simple big-screen TV interface that’s meant to be operated with a simplified remote with just a few navigation buttons. It has Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Vevo and Pandora, and of course you can rent or buy video and music through its own marketplace. It even plays some mobile games, re-jiggered for your TV.
This weekend, The Verge published details of Android TV, based on information in leaked internal documents. And if what that article divulged is what Android TV is all about, I’m totally disappointed. One of the largest and richest software companies in the world managed to build another Apple TV. Or Roku. Or Fire TV. Take your pick.

Look, guys, it’s another streaming media box!

According to the leak, the new Android TV would feature exactly the same stuff the other guys offer. Sure, the search bar is there (it is Google after all), but for the most part it looks like you scroll through categorized lists of movies, music, and TV shows available from the major services, including of course, Google Play. It’s a drastic improvement over the “search the Internet and your local guide for stuff” experience of Google TV, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear.
Android TV will allegedly serve up custom recommendations, and that’s hardly an earth-shaking innovation. Netflix, for one, takes great pride it its recommendation system. No doubt, Google will employ the same technology it uses to recommend shows to watch in its Google Now cards. But I hope it makes serious improvements to the algorithm, because I keep getting recommendations for movies that I’ve already watched. And Jeopardy! Always Jeopardy!
android tv movies
Image: The Verge
Oh good. They have that awful Superman movie. 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. Thanks for the recommendation.
Google’s descriptions of its product read like a carbon-copy of the talking points for literally every streaming media product ever. It will have an interface that is “cinematic, fun, fluid, and fast”? Get outta town! 
“Access to content should be simple and magical,” Google says? I think we may need to reset our expectations for what qualifies as “magical.” The Verge article doesn’t mention it, but I would be gobsmacked if Android TV doesn’t also allow you to push all Chromecast-enabled content from your phone or browser to it.
These are table stakes, folks. This is the bare minimum a streaming media box needs in 2014. Google isn’t supposed to be a “bare minimum” company, is it?

Solving exactly zero streaming TV problems

It doesn’t sound like Google is interested in solving any oflike Google is interested in solving any of the real drawbacks of streaming media boxes. There isn’t the faintest mention of live TV, or local news and weather, or local sports. I’m sure it will have apps like MLB.tv, which let you watch every team but your home team. These problems aren’t technological, as rights holders refuse to make their content available at a price that would allow a streaming box to challenge cable. And because the content rights guys are also the cable guys (see: Comcast/NBCUniversal, Time Warner), that’s not likely to change.
But there are no other “wow” features. Maybe Google could make a play for video quality, promising broad support for HEVC to deliver better visuals with less bandwidth. Perhaps it could promise the largest selection of 4K content, making it the go-to streaming box for the coming wave of 4K TVs. The company pushing gigabit fiber-to-the-home Internet access should probably be the one driving toward substantially improved video and audio quality, right?
How about dealing with the rip-off that is streaming rentals and purchases? Renting a streaming flick for $4 or $5 is the same price we used to pay the video store, where there was physical inventory and discs and loss prevention to deal with. And $15 to $20 to “own” a movie? For the same price as a Blu-ray, you get to stream the exact same low-bitrate data they send you for the $5 rental. Android TV, according to the leak, doesn’t seem to take aim at solving the “streaming rentals and purchases are priced poorly” problem.
Does it integrate with your cable or satellite box, puling together all your live and DVR content with streaming stuff? If it does, there’s no mention of it. 

Good enough isn’t good enough

To be fair, Android TV as described in The Verge piece is competitive. It’s fine. But I can’t help but be disappointed that it is only competitive. It’s just fine.
Everyone with a video content ecosystem, from Microsoft and Apple to Amazon and Google, is desperate to make sure their potential customers don’t get locked into their competitor’s stores. Google needs to push Android TV to market because they don’t want you to build a library of stuff from iTunes or Amazon Instant Video. But what is good for Google is not necessarily good for us.
Frankly, I expected more from a company with the resources of Google. In addition to the aping the offerings of the other major streaming TV boxes, I expected at least one big idea, one “aha!” feature or function that would make Android TV clearly more desirable than its counterparts. Instead, it appears to be a box that will compete on the merits of its refined interface and recommendation engine, neither of which have been Google’s strong suits in the past.
Of course, nobody has used Android TV yet, or even seen it in action. This is all based off an initial report from leaked internal documents and images. But if Android TV will indeed promise impressive features you won't find in other streaming boxes, wouldn't those documents have mentioned it? I want to be excited about Google taking yet another stab at the living room (what is this, the fourth, if you count Nexus Q?). But I just don't see a lot to be thrilled about.
bored rimshot

Friday, 11 April 2014

Amazon Fire TV review: the set-top that tries to do everything


Here's the thing about Amazon: We can't figure the company out half the time. Few things embody that quite as well as the Fire TV. The company is adamant that the set-top box is not a gaming console, but it's invested heavily in original game development for it and even produced a shockingly good gamepad accessory. Still, video games are just a "bonus." One of the pillars of the streaming-media box is supposed to be openness, but there's no denying that other services like Netflix are treated like second-class citizens here. They're invited to the party; they just better not outshine the host.
The Fire TV may be the next step for Amazon as it tries to build its own ecosystem, but it's also yet another entry in the crowded streaming-media market. And the big question is: Do we need another? We've got TV set-tops for cable, satellite and fiber (at one time joined by a disc player for movies and maybe a game system or two). The next-gen game consoles do double duty as entertainment hubs, and there's no shortage of cheap boxes designed specifically to stream Netflix, HBO Go and Pandora. Add in smart TVs and the rise of pint-sized dongles, and the question of what to watch becomes how to watch. The Fire TV is trying to muscle out competitors with its $99 price and a strong focus on performance, search and openness. Now that we've spent a few days living with one, we can judge whether it's just another option among many, or truly a standout that finally fixes problems the others have so far ignored.

Amazon Fire TV hardware

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Amazon Fire TV UI

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Hardware

The Fire TV is the very definition of understated design. It's a simple matte black box with a small Amazon logo etched in the top and single white LED on the front to tell you when it's powered on. There are no purple cloth tags (like on the Roku) and the company didn't bother with embellishments like rounded corners. Even around back, there's a minimal selection of ports; just HDMI, Ethernet and optical audio jacks, plus a currently useless USB socket. The result is perhaps the most attractive and unobtrusive streaming set-top box we've seen yet. While its overall footprint is larger than the Apple TV's, it's still only 0.7 inches tall, which means it's nearly invisible from 10 feet away. Besides, the remote uses Bluetooth instead of IR, so you can hide it anywhere you want.

Not that you're going to be picking it up terribly often, but Amazon's box is actually quite heavy -- a dense block made from plastic, aluminum and silicon. Most of the internal space is taken up by a giant heatsink, an essential concession given the rather high-powered internals. The 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor, along with the Adreno 320 GPU, is far more powerful than anything found in other streaming devices and it shows. Searches and even browsing the UI are noticeably faster on the Fire TV than on a Roku or Apple TV. And we haven't even mentioned what it's capable of on the gaming front, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Amazon also more or less nailed the remote's design. It's just the right size with a shallow, but comfortable groove for your finger underside. The buttons have little travel, but do produce a satisfying click when pressed. The remote does still bear the marks of Fire TV's Android roots. Below the thin ring that serves as a directional pad are six buttons aligned in rows of three -- the top row features your old-school Android back, home and menu keys. There are two minor, but irksome, issues here. For one, the menu key is largely useless except from within certain apps (more on that later) and it would feel more natural if the media controls were directly below the directional pad and select button. This not only led to occasionally hitting the menu button when I was looking for fast-forward, but it also sends a subtle message to the user about the priority of the controls. If Amazon was indeed building a media-first device, then the media controls should have taken precedence -- and thus had better placement -- on the remote.
The most important key on the remote, though, is the search button. Amazon wants this to be the primary way you interact with the UI and indeed, the voice search here is both easy to use and insanely fast. Simply press and hold the microphone key, which is separated from the rest of the buttons, and speak into the mic built into the Bluetooth controller. More often than not within a second or two you've got your results, and there's no need to breakout a special remote app on your phone.

Software

The Fire TV is, as you'd expect, running a heavily tweaked version of Fire OS, which is itself a heavily tweaked version of Android. It's not surprising then that there are some seams showing around the edges of this young platform. Still, Amazon does deserve credit for stitching together a UI that's smooth, polished and (mostly) intuitive. The layout should be immediately familiar to anyone who has used a Kindle Fire before -- the home screen is populated with movies, TV shows and apps arranged in the form of large, easy-to-read icons and there's a heavy dose of side-scrolling carousels. On the left are the various top-level distinctions (games, search, movies, et cetera), while the right is reserved for various sublists, such as "recently used" and "featured." It's not the cleanest or simplest design we've ever seen, (Apple or Roku definitely hold that title), but even your Luddite parents should be able to find their way around.

Amazon Fire TV UI

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Once it's plugged in and connected, the Fire TV presents a short (and apparently unskippable) demo video to make sure you're familiar with its features. A number of other help videos are also located under the settings menus, and if there's still a problem, requesting a support phone call from an Amazon rep is just a button press away. It's not quite as easy as the Kindle Fire HDX's Mayday button, but it should mean you could gift one of these to a relative without worrying if they'd actually be able to use it. The focus here is on making sure anyone can get it running, and if they get addicted to Amazon's growing suite of services, then all the better.

The problems start, though, once you start to dig a little deeper into the interface. Fire TV sticks with the carousel layout found on Amazon's tablets. That's fine for perusing short lists, like the top 10 movies on Prime, but when you're looking at broader categories it can become quite cumbersome. Scrolling through the entire list of available action movies on Amazon can take a couple of minutes, even if you're just holding down the right button and not bothering to read. To make matters worse, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the order of these lists. And when you reach the end, it doesn't automatically cycle back to the beginning.
The best way to track down the content you want is search. First the good: Amazon has created a voice search that's both fast and accurate. Now for the bad: You can't use your voice to search other content sources besides Amazon. It does offer "quick" links to videos on Hulu, but by default, it tries to push you to purchase or rent titles through Instant Video. To find out if you can watch it for free through your Hulu Plus subscription, you'll have to click through the "more ways to watch" option. If you try to press the voice search button from within the Netflix app, you're kicked back out to the home screen, where can only search through Amazon's library.
Things get even worse if you decide not to use voice search. For instance, if you navigate to the search tab on the left, you'll still have to click up to access text search since it defaults to voice. And, while Amazon was quick to mock others for their archaic text-entry methods, the Fire TV's keyboard is even more offensive. You're offered a string of letters from A to Z in that all-too-familiar carousel view, which you'll have to scroll through and punch letters in one at a time. And, again, you can't scroll past the end to return to "A." That means when searching for something like La Dolce Vita or La Jetée, you have to scroll from the first letter of the alphabet to the last option on the keyboard, which is a space. And you'll have to do that since voice search has a tendency to trip over foreign language titles, and especially the word "la."
The killer feature, though, is supposed to be ASAP, short for Advanced Stream And Prediction. The idea is that it's designed to predict what you're going to watch and start preloading it in the background (so long as the source is Amazon itself). If you hover over a title while browsing for a period of time or click through to the information page for a movie, ASAP is supposed to start downloading the content in the background. In demos, that meant when you pressed play, your video started playing instantly -- no buffering or loading screen. It's even supposed to preload the next episode of TV shows you're working through. In real use, however, the feature never quite lived up to its promise. It should get better with time, but we still saw loading screens more often than not. And the wait was noticeably longer over WiFi than it was using a wired Ethernet connection.

Apps and content

Right out of the gate, Amazon is offering support for most of the major video streaming services. We're talking Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Showtime Anytime, Watch ESPN and Crackle -- all the biggies are there. And when it comes to music, you've got access to Pandora and iHeartRadio. Of course, while Fire TV is technically an open platform, Amazon really wants you to use its library. And, so long as you're comfortable paying Amazon's prices, that's not a big deal. There are countless movies and TV shows available through Instant Videos. Stumping Amazon isn't impossible, but it's definitely tougher than finding holes in the Netflix, Hulu or Google Play collections. Of course, not all of the movies and TV shows on Amazon are available for free through a Prime subscription. In fact, the vast majority aren't, and there's no way to filter out the things you need to pay for. While Amazon is preloading the Fire TV with content you've purchased and photos you've uploaded to Cloud Drive, there is one glaring omission -- there's currently no support for music or Cloud Player.
It's definitely a good thing for Amazon and its customers that players like Hulu and Netflix are on board, but there are certainly some issues on the app front. For one, most of the offerings are badly done ports of Google TV apps. They're not well-maintained and still retain elements of their respective UIs that were designed for devices with keyboards. YouTube in particular still displays prompts for keyboard shortcuts on the screen. Pandora has a nice feature in that it pops up notifications, but it has a strange tendency to start playing even after being stopped. For instance, after listening to a Black Sabbath station during a session of the game Sev Zero, we decided to back out and watch an episode of Invader Zim. When the show was over, we spent a few minutes poking around the menus and then walked away. The Fire TV eventually went to sleep. But when we woke it up the next morning, it instantly picked back up in the middle of "The Wind Cries Mary." This weird behavior extends beyond the questionably built apps. More than once, the Fire TV froze up, displaying a blank screen before eventually crashing and kicking us back out to the home screen after backing out of a movie.

Gaming

Fire TV's major one-up over the competition isn't power, voice search or the platform's openness: It's games. Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast don't offer much in the way of gaming functionality. Meanwhile, the Fire TV even has its own (separately sold, $40) gamepad. No, this isn't an Amazon game console, but it's damn close. Before addressing Fire TV's limitations when it comes to gaming -- of which there are many -- allow us to be up-front here: It's a net positive that Amazon's jumping into gaming. Not only is the company's latest major hardware launch capable of playing games, but also Amazon's got its own game-development department. Hell, Amazon even outright bought the studio that made the new Killer Instinct game. The first game from Amazon Game Studios, Sev Zero, was available at Fire TV's launch last week. It's fun, pretty and embodies "leading by example." Sev Zero is a medium-sized game that's enjoyed as both a casual dalliance and a serious affair. It's the kind of title that Fire TV's game store should be filled with. What we've found thus far is something else entirely.

General experience

That Fire TV runs a fork of Android is most apparent while browsing the selection of games currently available. Regardless of Amazon's categorical breakdown, the selection is easily described as, "an abridged version of Android gaming's greatest hits." A smattering of Sonic the Hedgehog titles, Minecraft: Pocket Edition and -- of course -- Canabalt are all there, as well as newer hits like Dead Trigger 2 and Asphalt 8: Airborne. Of course, it's not just the selection that reeks of Android.
The other unifying theme is, ironically, inconsistency. Some games look great and fit on TV without a hitch, while others cut off some UI elements (and, ultimately, pieces of the game being played). It's clear that many titles are rushed conversions from other platforms, something that's evident whether it's the gamepad not doing anything beyond standing in for a touchscreen or the game not displaying correctly.
There are only so many games to choose from at launch, but Amazon Game Studios lead Mike Frazzini told us that "thousands" are expected by next month. With just 8GB of storage, though, don't expect to amass a huge library of digital games on Fire TV. With a handful of streaming apps installed (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc.), we hit a limit of eight to 15 of Amazon's smallest and simplest games at any one time on our box. Stuff like Asphalt 8 and Dead Trigger 2 come with prettier graphics, but they also come with hefty storage requirements (over 1GB for the former). Installing Deus Ex: The Fall, Sev Zero and The Cave was easily enough to eat up the available 5.5GB for apps and games.
Smaller, fixable issues are also in ready supply. Browsing for games to buy is a mess (and only stands to get messier as the library grows); it's easy to accidentally quit out of a game with voice search; and there's no way to leave a game running should you take a break and watch a few episodes of Inside Amy Schumer.

Playing games

Structure and ecosystem aside, the good news is that playing games on Fire TV can be pretty fantastic. Not every game has a demo, but many are free (at least for a limited trial). And, of course, there's always the standard paid option. If you're looking for exclusives, there's only one so far (Sev Zero), but many more are slated to arrive in the coming months.
So, which games should you buy? We suggest the following, and in this order:
  • Sev Zero: Part third-person shooter, part tower-defense game (yes, seriously), Sev Zero is a terrible sell on paper. Give this one a chance: It's a great demonstration of Amazon Game Studios' talent and is a refreshing, Iron Brigade-esque hybrid of two totally different genres. And hey, it's really fun! You can switch between tower defense and third-person mode on the fly, which makes Sev Zero a delightful balancing act as the difficulty ramps up.
  • Asphalt 8: Airborne: This is the closest you'll get to Ridge Racer/Need for Speed on Fire TV, and it comes shockingly close. Asphalt 8's first few levels cost nothing, and we doubt you'll blink an eye when asked to pay $1 for more races. It's not our favorite way of buying a game, but Asphalt 8 is too good to skip just on principle.
  • Outland: There's no reason not to at least try Outland, as it's another one that starts free and asks for money only when you've already been hooked. This is one of the many one-button games, and it's a gorgeously drawn version of the ubiquitous mobile genre that is endless runners. It controls beautifully, which is important because Outland requires reactionary puzzle solving (often under strict time constraints). This one is perfect for both casual and hardcore alike, as well as everyone in between.
  • Rayman Fiesta Run: If you've never encountered Ubisoft's surreal platforming standard before, Rayman Fiesta Run is an endless-runner take on Rayman's long-running formula. This game is another no-brainer, as it's quirky, smart, hilarious and a joy to play. The level art is consistently beautiful, and the music is always a pleasure.
  • Minecraft: Pocket Edition: What can we say about Minecraft that hasn't already been said? There's nothing quite like it (at least on Fire TV, outside of maybe Terraria). The only real downside is its price (just under $10), but we'll forgive that -- just for being an excellent game.
There are lots of other great games available on Fire TV, but we've only played so many thus far. Beware: There are also tons of not-so-great games available. Should you be unsure, we'd suggest sites like Pocket Gamer and Touch Arcade, as many of Fire TV's titles were previously mobile games.

Gamepad

Have you used an Xbox 360 gamepad? Good news: Fire TV's gamepad is very, very similar. With the exception of a trio of Android-specific controls and media-playback buttons (as well as a GameCircle button), its composition is identical: offset analog sticks, two triggers, two shoulder pads, a d-pad and four face buttons. The fit and feel aren't quite as nice as Microsoft's forebear; Fire TV's gamepad feels like a good third-party Xbox 360 controller, in so many words.
The battery life, courtesy of two AAs, has so far been good. After several days of regular use, our first controller is still running its first pair of batteries. At $40, though... maybe you have a spare Bluetooth gamepad sitting around? We're told that "most" work, and you could always plug in a wired Xbox 360 gamepad if you're sitting nearby.

The competition


Curiously, though it's one of the Fire TV's most direct competitors, Google TV is missing from Amazon's official comparison list (scroll a little past the halfway mark). While there are some good reasons for that (there's no single product line or spec, and the Google TV branding has been mostly abolished), Fire TV's Android underpinnings are nonetheless quite obvious. One of the easiest comparisons is to the Hisense Pulse/Pulse Pro family of devices. The Pulse Pro unveiled at CES has similar, if slightly lesser specs than Fire TV, with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of ROM storage tied to a dual-core CPU. Like other Android-based TV products we've seen, it also has voice search and a number of the same apps. The existing Google TV environment has tried to toss in so many options and integration with live TV that it's more complicated than the Fire TV, and so far, it doesn't have a similar focus on performance. According to rumors, though, Google TV's next iteration could feature similarly streamlined menus and a focus on gaming -- plus a box from big G itself, so watch out.

The Apple TV also costs $99, but comes tied to an entirely different ecosystem. Infuriatingly, too, it doesn't come with an HDMI cable in the box. The difference here mostly depends on which platform you prefer. Recent software updates have made frustrations like setting up a WiFi connection as simple as touching an iPhone or iPad to the box -- no cheesy onscreen menus needed. You can also stream over AirPlay, but you'll of course need an iDevice to make that happen. Amazon's set-top box also lets users "fling" content from a phone or tablet to the TV, but right now, its ambitions go a bit further. As with Google, rumor has it that Apple will focus more on gaming with its next hardware or software update, so for now, the choice between these boxes is more a decision between iTunes and Amazon Prime than anything else.

Meanwhile, one of our favorite media streamers, the $99 Roku 3, is facing a heartier challenge than ever thanks to the Fire TV. In its favor, the Roku is still dead-simple to use, and offers a content selection that its rivals can't match. Even so, being caught on the outside without its own content store and mobile hardware ecosystem for support, it loses some of the media-sync features that Amazon, Google and Apple can provide. It also doesn't have a gaming experience to match the Fire TV, although how much that means depends on your personal taste. Today, the improved performance of its latest generation and generous suite of available services mean it's still generally the best option, but there are caveats, and with another six to 12 months on shelves, it will be interesting to see if the competition catches up. Plus, if you don't want to spend $99, then the cheaper Roku options provide an experience comparable to the others listed here and let you leave a few Jacksons in your pocket.

Finally, Google's wonderful $35 Chromecast dongle is by far the most accessible of the bunch. It's cheap, and the list of media services it ties into -- Netflix, YouTube, Pandora and Plex -- is growing longer by the day. Aside from that, an often overlooked, feature is the Chromecast's inclusion of HDMI-CEC, which means it can change the TV to its own input as soon as it's activated, something Apple, Roku and Amazon don't do. Of course, being cheap does have its downsides: there's no remote control, which could be a dealbreaker for people who aren't already used to navigating their media on a phone or tablet. It also doesn't have as many services available right away, and the only gaming experiences we've seen so far have been quite casual indeed. For $35, it does a ton, and doesn't need your cable provider's permission to stream HBO Go. And for some people, that will be more than enough.

Wrap-up

The Fire TV is a compelling proposition, so long as you're already locked into the Amazon ecosystem. It's fast, powerful and priced in line with its higher-end competition. The addition of a single game controller for $40 gives access to gaming that doesn't take the place of a console, but suits the need of generation raised on tablets and smartphones. The relatively high controller price (compared to the box itself) makes multiplayer a bit dodgy, so if you're looking for couch co-op, that's something to think about. The preferential inclusion of Amazon services is a bit of a hurdle too, but if you already have a Kindle Fire and Prime subscription, it makes more sense.
As a general-purpose photo, video and music streamer, though, even features like ASAP and its high-powered processor aren't quite enough to separate Fire TV from the pack. It's a worthy option, but far from the best, and we'll need some time to see how well it's supported by games, apps and services to see if Amazon can become a serious hardware player in the living room. Version 2.0 will probably be where all our questions are answered.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Amazon's Fire TV promises a premium set-top experience (update: hands-on video)


The first thing you notice when you pick up the Fire TV is how incredibly dense it is. It's tiny and encased in black matte plastic, but it feels like a solid brick of aluminum. That's not terribly surprising when you consider all of the power Amazon has crammed inside this thing. Though we're not sure about the speeds on its quad-core CPU and dedicated GPU, the company claims it has three times the processing power of its rivals like Roku andApple TV. In any case, it's clear the silicon inside is pretty beefy, and it's likely that the chassis is a giant heatsink.
During our brief time with the device, it was every bit as quick and impressive as it was during the on-stage demo. Voice searches were quick, if not exactly flawless thanks to the rather noisy demo area. It was less than a second from when I finished speaking to when the results popped up on screen (though, it seemed odd that Amazon assumed I meant "Klint Eastwood"). Despite its insistence that it handled search better than platforms like Roku, we'd have to say things aren't so cut and dry. Sure, you can voice search using the microphone on the remote, but searching with text requires the same cumbersome reliance on the remote's directional pad and an onscreen keyboard. Not to mention that Roku and Chromecast are also able to deliver voice search through their respective mobile apps.

Amazon Fire TV hands-on

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Browsing through content, launching apps -- all of it was impressively quick. Obviously, how a device behaves when it's fresh and being demoed for the press isn't a perfect indication of how it will behave a year from now in the living room of a demanding user, but our initial impressions were definitely positive. The most exciting thing was watching it play a video. And that's not because it spit out beautiful 1080p content (which it did). It's because the device didn't even take a breath before launching into our selection.
When Peter Larsen showed off how quickly the company's ASAP technology allowed the Fire TV to start playing a video on stage, we were impressed but skeptical. After spending some time with the Fire TV, we feel obligated to apologize for our skepticism. Basically ASAP preloads certain videos based on where you are in the UI. When you click through to the page for a movie, it automatically starts downloading it in the background. If you hover over a selection for a period of time while browsing, it'll do the same. And if you've been watching Alpha House, it will automatically cache a portion of the next episode.
Even if we resumed Wolverine from the middle of the movie, we were able to quickly hop back to the beginning and it started playing immediately. Unfortunately there's no quick option for starting a movie or show over. You have to resume the video first, then rewind to the beginning -- though, at full speed, getting back to the start of a movie was relatively fast. Reps did confirm that a quick shortcut to start over would be coming to Fire TV soon, after listening to feedback from testers during the beta period.
Gaming was also pretty smooth, though it's not exactly perfect. Frame rates were steady and titles loaded quickly enough, but there was still some noticeable lag when it came to input. We noticed similar lag when trying to navigate the main UI with the game controller. We'll avoid being too harsh though, seeing as how there were roughly 10 Fire TVs all in the same room connected to Bluetooth gamepads. A major concern is going to be apps. While Amazon has control over the content it provides directly, it can't guarantee the same quality from other services. That's immediately apparent when launching the Hulu app. While we wouldn't call the experience painful, there was a very noticeable delay between making selections and the next page loading.
The big question mark here is price. Sure, Amazon is delivering a premium experience and more power than the Roku, Google or Apple. But is the promise of compelling gaming and instantly loading videos enough to make consumers choose the $99 Fire TV over the $35 Chromecast? We'll just have to wait for sales figures to know for sure.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Forget 3D. Your dream TV should be 4K

The 3D-TV fad seems to be fading -- and giant, cinema-style 4K sets are the newest cutting-edge tech marvels destined for your living room.
A truckload of new TVs, with screen resolutions four times greater than so-called full HD screens, are being unveiled at this week's IFA technology show in Berlin. The screens -- referred to as 4K or ultradefinition -- were among dozens of new gadgets on display for the 250,000 people who descended on Berlin's conference halls.
The show features gear ranging from big-screen smartphones to self-stirring cookware, but the big buzz this year is about 4K. The first sets should be available for preorder this fall. There were still plenty of 3D screens, including a 103-inch Panasonic set that doesn't require viewers to wear 3D glasses. The excitement over them, however, seems to be dying down.
The new 4K sets from LG, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, and Toshiba show a level of detail you'd expect on a movie screen; their resolution equals that of professional cinema cameras, like the Red One. The detail is stunning, and viewers can comfortably sit close to the screen. Even from only a few inches away, it's impossible to discern a single pixel.
Sony claims that chips in its flagship set can scour normal Blu-ray films and display extra details, producing pictures far sharper than what normal sets can offer. In demonstrations, films looked stunning on the new screens.
Not to be outdone, Panasonic teamed up with Japanese broadcaster NHK to create an 8K set -- with resolution four times greater than its rivals' and 16 times greater than Full HD

Friday, 24 January 2014

IBM leaves the x86 market at long last, signalling the end of x86′s profitability

IBM Research data center, croppedServer market shareOur glorious leader, Sebastian Anthony, violating Watson at IBM ResearchIBM has announced the sale of Big Blue’s x86 server division to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo, thus terminating IBM’s long-running relationship (and one-time rivalry) with Intel and freeing the company to further focus on it softwares divisions. The deal only covers IBM’s x86 server business; the company will retain control of its own Power-based servers and hardware (which still make a boat load of cash). Its research and development arm should be unaffected.
It’s only been a year since IBM was posting record gains in sever market share, but those gains have been obliterated by significant drop-offs in x86 server revenue. According to IBM’s Q4 transcript, revenue fell $750M in Q4 from hardware sales, and $1.7B year on year. Not all that decline is attributed to x86 — System z sales were hit as well — but it’s a hard hit for the company.
Thus, IBM is doing in servers what it did years ago in desktops and laptops — getting out, rather than attempting to compete on margins. This chart is from last September, but it shows the stark contrast between the non-x86 server market (where IBM dominates) and the x86 market, where it’s a niche player.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Download New Apple TV Software Beta For Better iPad Mirroring

Apple has released a new software beta for Apple TV. This new beta comes with the launch of iOS 7.1 beta that was released to developers today as part of Apple’s continuing effort to improve iOS ecosystem. You can download Apple TV software beta for Apple TV 2 and 3 from the dev center.
Apple today released iOS 7.1 beta. This beta is only available to developers who have enrolled in Apple’s developer program, so those of you who are not a developer will not be able todownload iOS 7.1 beta and as well as the new Apple TV  software update.
The software update which has been rolled out to developers brings bug fixes and other improvements. But the most important is the improved iPad mirroring. Although we have yet to test it out ourselves.
Apple TV

You can download the new Apple TV software beta update for the following devices:
  • Apple TV 3rd-gen Rev A.
  • Apple TV 3rd-gen.
  • Apple TV 2nd-gen.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

PS4 vs. Xbox One

PS4 system board, and other hardware bits


For the first time in the history of video game consoles, it’s actually possible to do an almost direct comparison of the hardware inside the PS4 and Xbox One. In almost every one of the seven preceding generations, game consoles were outfitted with highly customized chips and CPUs featuring niche, specialized architectures that could only really be compared very generally (bits, flops) or in the very specific (number of on-screen sprites, MIDI instruments, etc.) The PS4 and Xbox One, however, are very similar consoles. With an x86 AMD APU at the heart of each, the Sony and Microsoft consoles are essentially PCs — and their hardware specs, and thus relative performance, can be compared in the same way that you would compare two x86 laptops or ARM Android tablets.

PS4 innards

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