Entries Tagged as 'Entertainment'

Warner Brothers

On 6 October 1927, just two years before the depression; Harry (Hirsz), Albert (Aaron), Sam (Szmul) and Jack (Itzhak) – the Warner (Eichelbaum) brothers – released The Jazz Singer in New York City, NY, US.

Sam Warner urged his brothers to invest in talking motion pictures (The Jazz Singer cost only $500,000 to produce and made over $3 million); and is regarded as the “father of talking pictures” but sadly was to pass away before his dream was realized.

Warner Brothers produced twelve “talkies” in 1928 and in 1928 the newly formed Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recognized them for “revolutionizing the industry with sound”.

The Warner principle was “to educate, entertain, and enlighten”.

Today Warner Brothers is part of Time-Warner, one of the largest media outlets in the world… but perhaps Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Road Runner, and the Tasmanian Devil are the images people of my generation hold closest to heart.

Originally posted 2010-10-06 02:00:59.

Google TV

Let me preface this post with the fact that I have not seen a Google TV device; I’ve only read about them and watched several video posts, so I’m not speaking from personal experience.

Google TV promises to be a “next generation” experience in media delivery to the home; and since based on Android and will leverage off of the Android Market Place it will have great potential to do virtually anything and everything.

Potential — that’s a good word for it; because it’s not quite here yet, and it’s very expensive to get in on the ground floor.

Consider that the price tag for a Google TV device is $299.00 (Logitech Revue)  when compared to the Western Digital Live TV Plus at $99.00.

Admittedly, they are radically different devices; but at the moment the WD TV probably provides most of the features you’re looking for today in home entertainment… and I’m sure one could argue that the Logitech Revue will grow and evolve with Google TV.  To that I’d say — are you crazy?  This is a hi-tech toy, you’ll be able to buy a device that does twice as much at half the price in a year… there is no “future” for consumer devices like this — you buy for today, and unfortunately end up discarding it tomorrow.

The really sad thing about Google TV is there’s really no technical reason that they don’t have a $99.00 device, or at least a $149.00 device on the market today… in my view this is a market that you don’t want to charge too much early on, you want to stimulate early adoption to make sure that you’re in total control of what might be an emerging market nitch today, but will eventually be the future of entertainment.

Personally I’ll hold off on Google TV for the time being… I’ll let the service mature, and the devices become affordable – for the moment I’m happy with the capabilities of my WD Live TV Plus and just keep an old laptop near my viewing area for the things it can’t do.

And, who knows, you might start seeing your cable and satellite providers offering Google TV enabled set top boxes in the very near future.

Google TV on Wikipedia

Google TV on Google

Google TV

Originally posted 2010-11-05 02:00:44.

Google Music – Beta

Google has launched their cloud based streaming music service as a beta; you can request an invitation (using a Gmail account) via the link below.

What does it get you?

Well, up to 20,000 songs in your cloud storage; play back support on most Android devices; play back support from a browser; and an upload program that will sync your library to the cloud.

Not bad for free.

Apple provides a similar service for $25 per year; there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store.  The main differences being that there’s no Android support (basically devices iTunes supports is supported), and Apple actually finger prints the files and serves their iTune version of the music rather than your copy (likely at a higher bit rate — they, of course, don’t incur the storage overhead).

Amazon provides a similar service for $20 per year (you also get some storage for other files); and there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store, but you might find their uploader is a little less friendly to use (OK — to be fair it’s been updated since I tested it — so maybe not).

You can play with the free 5GB version of the Amazon service and decide if you like it, and it’s worth the $20 (I was hoping they’d just bundle it into Prime — but if they’re serious about Hulu they really need to start Al-a-cart charges for services, or Prime is going to have to go up).

Anyway, if you have an Android device, I highly recommend you go ahead and request an invite to the Google Music Beta — you can try the Amazon out as well… if you have an iOS device, you’re probably stuck with the Apple solution (but you’re an Apple customer, so you’re used to having to shell out money for everything).

Also, the Amazon tablets will reportedly ship with a free Prime subscription, possibly a free year of cloud storage might be thrown in as well (that’s speculation on my part).

http://music.google.com/about/

Originally posted 2011-09-10 02:00:28.

Google TV — Post Notes

Just a follow up to my Google TV post… the Logitech Revue Google TV box’s price has been slashed to $99, and it will be updated to run Honeycomb and support a host of new apps.

While the current version isn’t compelling, the new price just might be — at least when Honeycomb actually ships on the Revue and you can do something useful (like run Google Music perhaps).

 

Google TV

Originally posted 2011-08-12 02:00:00.

AT&T U-Verse – Video

AT&T offers three separate services through their U-Verse branded advance communications offering.  This post will deal with video.

U-Verse video isn’t a traditional cable service; rather it’s a feature rich digital entertainment service.

When you have AT&T U-Verse video you can select standard set-top boxes for televisions or two different levels of digital video recorders [DVR] (I don’t see why you’d need more than a single DVR since you can watch the content of the DVR from any set-top box).  The televisions in your home can be connected via the existing coax plant or preferably through CAT5 cabling (which would also allow computers to be connected as well).

Your installer will present you will a plan for cabling all your televisions to the system.  And while you may incur additional installation charges if you decide you want it done differently, I found my installer more than willing to work with me to make me happy (I didn’t ask him for anything unreasonable or substantially more difficult than he suggested).

The DVRs and set-tops boxes require registration with the AT&T video servers, and there’s a great potential for things going wrong in that process — so you might find during installation a defective piece of equipment makes the install take much longer than it should — but if your installer is like mine, your service will work correctly before he leaves.

The number of channels you get depends on the service level plan you choose; and whether or not you get high definition depends on whether or not your pay for it (it’s not free, and I think it’s only included in the U450 plan).

Also, pay close attention to the terms and conditions of any promotion you plan on redeeming as to what plan you have to subscribe to and how long you have to keep it… again, AT&T doesn’t engender trust, and any mistake you make they will be sure to use it against you (in fact, from what I’ve found you’ll end up fighting for the rewards you’re clearly eligible for).

The DVR can record up to four different programs at once; and you can play back multiple programs while recording (there’s going to be a limit — it’s not really advertised, at least not clearly).

The DVR and set-top boxes are based on Microsoft Windows CE; whether or not that’s the source of some of the problems are not I can’t say — but there are problems… lots of problems.

I find one of the first things you’ll have to learn is how to reset/reboot the box… and it’s the only way to resolve things like:

  • All (or at least many) of your recorded programs disappear from the listing;
  • You can’t play a recorded program;
  • You can’t use any features when playing a recorded program (like fast forward, etc);

Remember, when you reset/reboot the box you’ll interrupt anything being recorded — and generally you’ll find you have the “same” program twice, actually the older listing is the first part, the newer listing is the second part — and there will be some missing content (re-record it if you want to watch it all).

I also find that video glitches fairly often, particularly when another program starts / finishes recording… often recording have glitches in them; of course you’ll see “line drops” just like with digital cable once in a while as well.

The DVR / set-top boxes are slow to respond, and freeze on occasion (sometimes they become responsive after a few moments, sometimes they don’t).

I don’t have HD service, but I can only imagine that the problems get worse with the higher data rates HD demands.

If you feel “antenna” quality video is good enough, you’ll be happy with AT&T U-Verse service — but keep in mind that I find satellite and digital cable equally horrible — and satellite boxes and advance cable boxes are just as buggy… which is probably one of the reasons I likely won’t keep the service.

AT&T U-Verse also offers video on demand (VOD) service — that means you can watch a number of programs any time you like; and they offer a number of “free” VOD selections as well as a large catalog of pay-per-view VOD programs (though I believe you can watch those several times within a window once you pay for them).

The DVR has the ability to record a single program or a series; however, since AT&T doesn’t seem to provide sufficient meta information in the program guide you might find that when you record a series you miss episodes (particularly when there’s a “marathon”) or you get double recording of the same series.  My feeling is that this SUCKS, it simply isn’t that hard to “remember” what I’ve already recorded in a series, and only record it a second time if there was a problem with the initial recording… and of course, how hard is it to figure out episodes of a series that haven’t been recorded (even if they’re shown at an alternate time).

Over all my feeling is that the AT&T U-Verse video offering is weak; very weak… buggy; very buggy… and expensive; very expensive.

I’m not much of a TV fan — I prefer to watch movies and programs commercial free, and I prefer not to deal with Mid evil video playback technology (particularly when I’m being charged premium prices).

Originally posted 2010-05-16 02:00:20.

NoFlix

Perhaps NetFlix should consider changing their name to NoFlix.

I can’t get over companies that charge for services, fail to deliver the services they promise, and then tell you that they’re not going to refund you a penny.

Yep — that appears to be NetFlix’s policy. I’m waiting on confirmation from Reed Hastings NetFlix CEO (I’ll follow up with anything I receive, if I receive anything) — but that’s what I was told by Sean Callaghan today after I called because NetFlix was down (unable to stream to any of my multitude of NetFlix enabled devices — or any of my friends either) for quite some time.

I was told it was due to a “service outage” beyond NetFlix’s control.

But let me provide a few more highlights of my call. When the agent I spoke with proved to be unable (or unwilling) to resolve any issue I was having — I requested a supervisor. Originally I was told that he was a supervisor and he did not have any manager there. That was then modified to be that he would not escalate the call (suggesting there were actually at least one manager there), and when that change was questioned he again modified the statement along the lines of there was no reason to escalate the call because he had answered my questions. Of course, he was apparently to say anything he wanted since he also told me that NetFlix does not record customer service calls when I ask him. That one statement really does say it all… I don’t think there’s much I can add.

Also, I pointed out — this evening was the only time this month I had cared to watch a movie (I think I had demonstrated NetFlix streaming on my Droid for maybe 3 minutes total — but I don’t really consider that using the service)… and I had no NetFlix DVD in the house, so I expected to be able to sit back and enjoy a movie via the “unlimited” streaming service I paid for each and every month from NetFlix (even though I rarely use it).

Well… not only do I have to say I find NetFlix’s service questionable, but when you consider how difficult they make it to contact them on an issue (NetFlix enabled devices aren’t even an option to report an issue to them) — how long they expect you to stay on hold, and how completely inept their customer service staff impressed me as being — I see no reason why I’d want to send them any of my money, much less putting up with them almost doubling the cost of what I have in a month (which I might add will be four times what I paid when I first signed up for NetFlix, not all that long ago).

I would say that the only thing the agent on the phone was able to do competently was cancel my account; but even that he proved to be inept at — and failed to tell me before doing so that NetFlix wasn’t going to refund anything for unused service.

It’s a joke — and the customer service agent couldn’t reference me to anything that provided information support his claim that NetFlix wasn’t going to refund any of my service fees (even though over one third of my bill cycle remains).

Then I tried to access both there “Terms of Use” and their “Privacy Policy” through both links in the emails they send and the footer on their web site as was presented with “The page isn’t redirecting properly” — I guess yet another “service outage” that was beyond their control.

I’ve closed the virtual card number I used to pay for NetFlix services; and I’ve filed a charge back dispute with Citibank… if they decide not to reverse the charges to my account; well, then I guess I can eliminate a credit card from my wallet as well.

Personally I’m tired of companies promising to provide services, then continually increasing the charges, decreasing the services, and feeling like they have no responsibility to actually fulfill their commitments to customers.

I can say this categorically — I will never use NetFlix again. Amazon provides similar services at better prices, and I have great faith that Amazon will work very hard to meet the expectations they set for their customers… and if they fail, I’m betting you won’t even have to ask for a refund, they’ll be one step ahead of you.

Most every one I know is canceling their NetFlix service before the rate increase in September, and that was my intent anyway — but as of today, I live in a NetFlix free zone, and encourage everyone to ban those red envelops from their mailbox and streaming services from their devices and computers — support a company that deserves your business and watch yet another failure shrivel away and die.

Originally posted 2011-07-22 02:00:36.

Chase Freedom Rewards Bonus

From July 1, 2008 until September 30, 2008 Chase is offering 5% cash back on eligible travel and entertainment purchases.

So beyond the 3% cash back on certain categories they always offer; and 1% on all other purchases you can now get 5% cash back for a limited time on airline, hotels, rental cars, and fine dining when you spend more than $300 per month (that should be easy to do with any of those in the mix, particularly if it’s business expenses).

You do need to opt into this program, and if you haven’t gotten a letter from Chase inviting you, I’d say just go ahead and call 800-603-2265.

If you don’t have a Chase Freedom MasterCard or VISA, then maybe you should consider taking advantage of their services and rewards.

NOTES:

  • If you want cash back, you maximize your reward by waiting until you have $200 because you get a check for $250! Other than that some of their travel and give cards are pretty good deals if they would save you money that you would have spent otherwise.
  • Discover is apparently running a promotion as well. I’m not a Discover card holder so I don’t know the specifics of it.
  • My picks for cards are: Citi Rewards Dividend (Citibank); Chase Freedom Rewards (Chase); and Citi Cash Returns (Citibank). There are also a few other cards that give good rewards provided you do a great deal of business with particular vendors.
  • I would stay away from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Capital One — their cards generally don’t pay bonuses or use some lame bonus programs.  And while you might want a credit card from your credit union, it’s unlikely they will have a decent reward program.
  • Beyond rewards, many credit cards also provide rental car insurance, warranty extensions, lost/damage protection on items you buy, etc.  It’s always advisable to read the benefits that come with your credit card; many financial institutions off great benefits just because very few people ever bother to read the literature that comes with their cards and take advantage of the programs, so it really just makes them look good in all the comparisons and doesn’t end up costing them much at all.

As always, remember you can use credit cards to your advantage as long as you use them wisely.

Originally posted 2008-07-18 21:14:23.

WD TV Live Plus – Network Media Player

I purchased the WD TV Live Plus about a month ago from Amazon (good price, free shipping, great return policy if you need it)… I looked at several other alternatives including the Seagate FreeAgent Theatre, Roku Digital Video Player, and Apple TV.

Rather than high light the weaknesses I perceived in the other devices, let me underscore the abilities that I felt were compelling in the WD TV Live Plus, but let me start by listing the minimum requirements.

  • support full HD (1080)
  • support component video (I have one older panel that doesn’t support HDCP)
  • support TOSLINK and/or SPDIF digital sound
  • support HDMI (video plus audio)
  • support Netflix streaming
  • support media from local sources

Additionally there were a few more items on my wish list

  • not require any proprietary software installation (ie iTunes)
  • support MPEG2, MPEG4, h.264 plus as many other CODECs as possible
  • support audio
  • support browsing SMB/CIFs shares
  • support media servers
  • straight forward user interface
  • reputable vendor with reasonable support and updates

The WD TV Live Plus (don’t be confused by the other models WD offers — only the high end one supports Netflix) did everything I required, and everything I wanted — plus it has features beyond what I care about.

Let me start by saying I unpacked the device, plugged it in, and it worked — I didn’t need to read the manual, I didn’t need to change any settings, I didn’t need to do anything to play local media off of file shares or media servers.  The only thing I had to do to play Netflix through the device was type in the device registration code on my account screen online and it was up and running.

I cannot say that the device is perfect; but I can say that it works as well as any set top box I’ve ever used (including cable boxes, satellite receivers, U-Verse IP-TV, and HPCs).

Like all those devices you’ll get sputters on occasion (though I’ve never seen any issues with playing local media that is properly encoded), but a quick power cycle (the power button on the device actually seems to do a reboot of the device — but unplugging the AC adapter is always a sure fire way of resetting the device).

My Netflix queue started with well over 100 items in it; I’m actually watching items in the queue faster than I’m adding new items to it… it’s just so easy to watch, and so comfortable.  You kick back on the sofa and watch a movie as you’re writing a BLOG post (like I’m doing now).

I really like this device, and I’ll buy a second one for the panel in the bedroom, but I’m hoping that WD will reduce the price to be a little more competitive, and I hope that they continue to update the firmware and improve the device.

For the moment, I recommend you read the information on Western Digital’s web site – that will help to answer questions you might have.  I found that downloading and reviewing the user manual was actually the fastest way to answer most of my questions.  You can also read many other articles about the various media players available — but always keep in mind when you read the opinions of others that they are looking at the device for their needs with their perspective… consider what they say more than their conclusions.

And keep in mind, buy it from Amazon and if it doesn’t meet your expectations the return is as easy a printing a return label with the click of a button and dropping it at the post office.

WD TV Live Plus

WD TV Live Plus

Originally posted 2010-10-16 02:00:43.

HDX Media Player

I ran across this site while reading on the web.  The HDX 1000 and HDX 900 look like they could be interesting devices to hookup to your high definition panel to give you options in how you acquire and manage your content.

I haven’t played with one, so all I have to go by is what’s on the web site.

http://www.hdx1080.com/

Originally posted 2008-11-13 12:00:36.

Google Music – Release

Back on the 17th of November Google announced the generally availability of Google Music…

We’re excited to announce that Music Beta by Google is officially graduating from beta today! Google Music will remain a free service, and you can continue to store up to 20,000 songs in your personal music library.

As well as an updated terms of service, and a music store (that works via Android Market).

The terms of service clarifies that each individual uploads and maintains his individual copy of a music file (unlike Apple’s service which may well substitute your copy with one from the iTunes store).

And while I think Google Music is a great value (it’s free), I think it might still be a little buggy…

My music library has in excess of 30,000 MP3 files, and while I understand that Google will not upload all of them, and that I might not be able to control exactly which 20,000 songs they upload without creating a copy of the songs I have in a separate directory structure, I’m at a loss as to why I only have 19,088 from my collection uploaded — and the error I see in the load is “too many files in account”…

While I wouldn’t have been shocked if I got 19,999 songs uploaded, it seem to me that there’s definitely a deficiency in Google’s uploader and it’s logic for determining when you’ve reached 20,000 songs in your library.

Like I said, I think the Google Music service is a good value; but it does lack the ability to use it as a “backup” of your music library (there’s really no facility to retrieve the music you upload, other than the very painful, manual effort you’d have to put into retrieving files from the cache it builds as you play them and renaming them).

An alternative is the Amazon Music service; they only provide 5GB free, but for a modest yearly payment they do allow unlimited (Google hasn’t even set pricing for raising the limit on their service); and with both the song you purchase don’t count toward your limit.  The upside of the Amazon service is that it does work nicely as a backup; you can retrieve the music you upload.

For the time being, I’ll use the Google Service; but my guess is that I’ll just migrate to Amazon if Google doesn’t really focus on making the service work correctly, and provide for additional storage.

Originally posted 2011-11-25 02:00:48.