Entries Tagged as 'Entertainment'

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/

AT&T U-Verse

I signed up for AT&T U-Verse service about two months ago — I’ve already made a post on that, but I decide to go ahead and do a series of posts on it.

This post will be an over view of what it is; then I’ll do a post on each of the services that are part of it.

The first thing to say about AT&T U-Verse is that it is offered by a company that I think very little of; a company that does not engender trust (in fact I’m suspicious of them at every turn — they seem to make mistake after mistake after mistake — and all their mistakes benefit them).  The sad thing is you might not have any substantially better company in your area to receive similar services from — so it’s not necessarily choosing the best, but often choosing the one that gives you that most without costing you the most.

U-Verse in short is AT&T’s name for an “advance” set of services — voice, television, and internet.

AT&T’s system generally provides these services to the home over copper (fibre is required in fairly close proximity as well).  The technology is called FTTN (fibre-to-the-node) and while they do have some FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) it’s only found in extremely dense areas.

With FTTN a VRAD (video-ready-access-device) is present between the Central Office and the end node consumer; in FTTP it isn’t.  VRADs are generally fairly large pieces of equipment similar to a cable company’s “head-end” (used for digital cable deployment) and much larger than a TELCO’s mini-DSLAMs (used for DSL deployment via copper from fibre from the Central Office DSLAM).

The services offered via U-Verse are: voice (“land line” telephone), television (“cable” tv as well as video on demand), and internet (“high speed” broadband).

When the service is installed it’s likely the installers will work in a team; the outside cable will be run by one person (generally the entry copper from the pole will be replaced) and new inside wiring is run.

It’s important to note that all services are digital.

Voice is provided by voice over IP (VoIP) technology; television is provided through ip video (including live and video on demand [VOD]); and of course the internet service is the core of everything (though an optional part).

The center of the system in the home is a residential gateway which handles all three of the services (along with a battery backup unit — mainly to insure that emergency services work in power outages).

Many people ask the question if they can use their own residential equipment rather than what AT&T provides.  The answer simply is NO.  Currently you must use the AT&T equipment — you may use your equipment in addition to the AT&T residential gateway, or remove your equipment and use exclusively the AT&T provided equipment.

I’ll cover the details of each service with respect to the gateway in the following posts — but your installer will work with you to provide a reasonable installation that should provide you with voice, television, and internet services much as you currently have.

The gateway itself has one WAN side connection, two telephone jacks  (it’s not clear to me whether it’s cable of three lines or four lines, but currently you can only subscribe for two lines of service), four 100-Base-T Ethernet (LAN) connections, one wireless (802.11-N) radio, one USB connection (for a PC), one “F” connector for video, and one Ethernet “broadband” connection (I’m not sure what this is for, it’s got a piece of transparent tape over it on my unit).

Initially the set-top boxes and DVR units must be cabled directly to the unit to insure proper discover; after they are configured you can use a switch if you want more ports; or you can connect your router to the gateway if you like (you will need to reconfigure the gateway if you do this to allow your gateway to work as before).

If everything goes well in the installation, once the wiring is in place the gateway, set-top boxes, and DVR units will register and come online within a few minutes — however, AT&T seems to have quite a few units that are defective, so don’t be surprised if there are some problems.

I had ordered one DVR and two set-top boxes (mainly because I wanted the maximum installation I could get for free).  One of the set-top boxes was DOA (dead-on-arrival), one of the set-top boxes worked (but I decided I didn’t really want to keep it so the install took it back), and the DVR unit wasn’t completely dead, but was defective.  Fortunately the installer had another unit he could replace it with — but since the unit had worked well enough to register itself it took quite sometime for the installer to find someone at AT&T support who was able to clear out the previous registration so my “new” DVR could register.

We also had some issues with the voice service; but by the time the DVR issues were resolved a reboot of the gateway seemed to download the proper service configuration and both inbound and outbound calling worked.

I will note that my install was originally scheduled for a Saturday (it was the first day I could select); and AT&T never informed me that they had moved my installation date to the following Monday.  I found out when I called them 15-minutes before the close of the installation window.  I was more than a little pissed since I had changed my plans Saturday to accommodate them, and now I had to change my plans for Monday as well!

Over all I give my installer fairly high marks for doing a good job (though he still owes me a jack — AT&T doesn’t give there installers a very good supply of equipment or parts); but like almost every AT&T system, it’s brittle and almost appears designed to fail.

The one short coming of my install is that he really didn’t know a great deal about configuring the gateway for a “complex” network; but since that isn’t something AT&T technically supports I can’t fault him on that, and I certainly knew enough to figure out what needed to be changed (the 2Wire device they use could be considered a “pro-sumer” grade device, so it capable of meeting most needs, but don’t expect it to have highly technical descriptions of the various settings).

I will say, that after the initial installation the system appeared to work… though before you place your order you’ll want to read my next three posts as well as do a price-feature comparison with what you have now.

Also, you may find that it turns out to be less expensive to order more services than you want.  For example, if you only want internet service — it’s cheaper to order enough service to get a free installation (well, it’s not free — I found no way to avoid the $29 activation fee — but it’s easy to see how to avoid the $149 installation fee).  If you order a bundle, the installation fee is waived; if you downgrade in the first thirty (30) days there’s a $5 fee — so as the installer is leaving, call and downgrade — save $144 of the installation fee… though taking advantage of some of the rewards and promotions may actually make it less expensive to have more services for longer.

Oh, and one last word — make sure you keep copies of everything you “read” online to do with any promotional credits, rewards, requirements.  As I’ve already said, AT&T does not engender trust.

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.

Paw Paw Patch Song

Where, oh where, oh where is Susie?
Where, oh where, oh where is Susie?
Where, oh where, of where is Susie?
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch

Come along, boys, and let’s go find her.
Come along, boys, and let’s go find her.
Come along, boys, and let’s go find her.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch

She’s a queen of old Hawaii.
She’s a queen of old Hawaii.
She’s a queen of old Hawaii.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch

She can teach you how to hula.
She can teach you how to hula.
She can teach you how to hula.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.

Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Pickin’ up paw-paws; put ’em in a basket.
Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch

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

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.

An Evil of Television

Last week was the National Spelling Bee and this year the finals were televised on ESPN  and the “championship” round was televised in prime time on ABC.

Now first of all let’s be adult.  The only reason that the National Spelling Bee was on TV was money – everyone involved wanted to make as much as they could… and that’s really the bottom line of what drives TV (within the framework of regulations set forth by the Federal Communications Commission).

The thing about this that caused quite a ruckus is that ESPS halted the sixth round in the middle; so what was televised during prime time was going to be the last part of the round currently in progress, and then any rounds that would follow.

Now this isn’t something they decided at the last minute; it was clearly stated in the terms of the contract — and the contract wasn’t so long that you could say no reasonable person would have read and been familiar with the terms.

If the ESPN broadcast concludes during a semifinal round, spellers who have not spelled in the round will advance to the championship finals for the conclusion of the last semifinals round.

There are many that will say that this simply wasn’t fair to the children involved — and I’ll say you’re damn right.  But what wasn’t fair was televising the competition the way it was — making the contestants part of a commercial endeavor for networks, sponsors, broadcasters, and advertising to maximize their profit was simply unthinkable…

Somewhere along the path to present day American’s have simply lost sight of simple core values… and now we live our lives focused on television and letting television dictate to us the terms of living our life.  Sure, many delude themselves into thinking that their DVR gives them the control, but in the end it is the commercialization of television that really has control… and it can be seen most clearly on networks like ESPN that focus on sports.

If you want to take control — take the remote control and turn off the television.

Lady Gaga

In case you’ve been living under a rock in a cave in a remote part of the world… meet Lady Gaga!

When Lady Gaga was a little girl, she would sing along on her mini plastic tape recorder to Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper hits and get twirled in the air in daddy’s arms to the sounds of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. The precocious child would dance around the table at fancy Upper West Side restaurants using the breadsticks as a baton. And, she would innocently greet a new babysitter in nothing but her birthday suit.

It’s no wonder that little girl from a good Italian New York family, turned into the exhibitionist, multi-talented singer-songwriter with a flair for theatrics that she is today: Lady Gaga.

“I was always an entertainer. I was a ham as a little girl and I’m a ham today,” says Lady Gaga, 23, who made a name for herself on the Lower East Side club scene with the infectious dance-pop party song “Beautiful Dirty Rich,” and wild, theatrical, and often tongue-in-cheek “shock art” performances where Gaga – who designs and makes many of her stage outfits — would strip down to her hand-crafted hot pants and bikini top, light cans of hairspray on fire, and strike a pose as a disco ball lowered from the ceiling to the orchestral sounds of A Clockwork Orange.

“I always loved rock and pop and theater. When I discovered Queen and David Bowie is when it really came together for me and I realized I could do all three,” says Gaga, who nicked her name from Queen’s song “Radio Gaga” and who cites rock star girlfriends, Peggy Bundy, and Donatella Versace as her fashion icons. “I look at those artists as icons in art. It’s not just about the music. It’s about the performance, the attitude, the look; it’s everything. And, that is where I live as an artist and that is what I want to accomplish.”

That goal might seem lofty, but consider the artist: Gaga is the girl who at age 4 learned piano by ear. By age 13, she had written her first piano ballad. At 14, she played open mike nights at clubs such as New York’s the Bitter End by night and was teased for her quirky, eccentric style by her Convent of the Sacred Heart School (the Manhattan private school Nicky and Paris Hilton attended) classmates by day. At age 17, she became was one of 20 kids in the world to get early admission to Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Signed by her 20th birthday and writing songs for other artists (such as the Pussycat Dolls, and has been asked to write for a series of Interscope artists) before her debut album was even released, Lady Gaga has earned the right to reach for the sky.

“My goal as an artist is to funnel a pop record to a world in a very interesting way,” says Gaga, who wrote all of her lyrics, all of her melodies, and played most of the synth work on her album, The Fame (Streamline/KonLive/Cherrytree/Interscope). “I almost want to trick people into hanging with something that is really cool with a pop song. It’s almost like the spoonful of sugar and I’m the medicine.”

On The Fame, it’s as if Gaga took two parts dance-pop, one part electro-pop, and one part rock with a splash of disco and burlesque and generously poured it into the figurative martini glasses of the world in an effort to get everyone drunk with her Fame. “The Fame is about how anyone can feel famous,” she explains. “Pop culture is art. It doesn’t make you cool to hate pop culture, so I embraced it and you hear it all over The Fame. But, it’s a sharable fame. I want to invite you all to the party. I want people to feel a part of this lifestyle.”

The CD’s opener and first single, “Just Dance,” gets the dance floor rocking with it’s “fun, L.A., celebratory vibe.” As for the equally catchy, “Boys Boys Boys,” Gaga doesn’t mind wearing her influences on her sleeve. “I wanted to write the female version of Motley Crue’s ‘Girls Girls Girls,’ but with my own twist. I wanted to write a pop song that rockers would like.”

“Beautiful Dirty Rich” sums up her time of self-discovery, living in the Lower East Side and dabbling in drugs and the party scene. “That time, and that song, was just me trying to figure things out,” says Gaga. “Once I grabbed the reigns of my artistry, I fell in love with that more than I did with the party life.” On first listen, “Paparazzi” might come off as a love song to cameras, and in all honestly, Gaga jokes “on one level it IS about wooing the paparazzi and wanting fame. But, it’s not to be taken completely seriously. It’s about everyone’s obsession with that idea. But, it’s also about wanting a guy to love you and the struggle of whether you can have success or love or both.”

Gaga shows her passion for love songs on such softer tracks as the Queen-influenced “Brown Eyes” and the sweet kiss-off break-up song “Nothing I can Say (eh eh).” “‘Brown Eyes’ is the most vulnerable song on the album,” she explains. “‘Eh Eh’ is my simple pop song about finding someone new and breaking up with the old boyfriend.”

For the new tour for this album, fans will be treated to a more polished version of what they saw (and loved) at her critically acclaimed Lollapalooza show in August 2007 and Winter Music Conference performance in March 2008. “This new show is the couture version of my handmade downtown performance of the past few years. It’s more fine-tuned, but some of my favorite elements to my past shows – the disco balls, hot pants, sequin, and stilettos – will still be there. Just more fierce and more of a conceptual show with a vision for pop performance art.”

It’s been a while since a new pop artist has made her way in the music industry the old-fashioned/grass roots way by paying her dues with seedy club gigs and self-promotion. This is one rising pop star who hasn’t been plucked from a model casting call, born into a famous family, won a reality TV singing contest, or emerged from a teen cable TV sitcom. “I did this the way you are supposed to. I played every club in New York City and I bombed in every club and then killed it in every club and I found myself as an artist. I learned how to survive as an artist, get real, and how to fail and then figure out who I was as singer and performer. And, I worked hard.”

Gaga adds with a wink in her eye, “And, now, I’m just trying to change the world one sequin at a time.”

sldn.org

Lady Gaga on Wikipedia

Lady Gaga: Official Site

Lady Gaga

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

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