Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Media Portal 1.9.0 pre-release now available

Posted by Alan at 7:40 PM on August 13, 2014

media-portal-logo

There is little question that Microsoft is allowing Media Center to languish — an anguishing proposition for HTPC users, many of homes utilize the software to power the home theater. There are alternatives, of course. XBMC is a popular option, as are a couple of various Linux distros. But if you’re plan is to stick with the Windows OS, and XBMC just isn’t for you, then Media Portal may be the way to go.

The open source software has just hit version 1.9, at least in pre-release form. In other words, it’s passed beta status, but the organization doesn’t quite think it’s ready for prime-time. There isn’t a lot that is new, but things have been fixed up, and a couple of features were added.

For this Pre Release we’ve put our focus once more on Bug fixing and improved stability. However, there are a couple of new features. Skin designers will like the new <oninfo> and <onESC> functions. There are enhancements to the video resolution logos that will give you more information about the video you are watching. There is a new sort method in My Videos called Name with Duration. There are several improvements to logging, and a significant number of bug fixes”, the announcement reads.

A full list of the changes can be found on the Media Portal Blog.

ITV Player Comes To Roku

Posted by Andrew at 1:43 AM on June 11, 2014

Roku LogoUntil today, the big absentee from Roku‘s line-up of catch-up services in the UK was ITV and its regional partners STV and UTV in Scotland and Northern Ireland. At #2 in terrestrial broadcasting behind the BBC, it was a fairly glaring omission, especially as Channel 4 and Five have been on-board for ages. Now UK Roku viewers can use ITV Player to catch-up with the last 30 days of ITV’s content across ITV, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV with programmes such as Britain’s Got TalentCoronation Street and The Americans in addition to coverage of this summer’s World Cup and Tour de France sporting events. Hurrah!

Kingston Wi-Drive Review

Posted by Andrew at 1:20 AM on April 8, 2014

Kingston Technology LogoIn the final review of this series on Kingston storage solutions for smartphones and tablets, I’ll be putting the Wi-Drive portable wireless storage through its paces. We’ve already seen the DataTraveler microDuo and the MobileLite Wireless so what’s the Wi-Drive’s niche? It’s definitely the most stylish; let’s take a look.

Wi-Drive in Box

The Wi-Drive is a slim shiny unit that’s very similar to some of the 2.5″ external hard drives that are on the market. It’s very pocketable at around 12 x 6 x 1 cm and it feels just right in the hand – not too heavy, not too light. At the bottom centre, there’s a miniUSB (not microUSB) port for connecting the Wi-Drive to a PC and for charging. On the side, there’s an on/off button that lights up green when on, turns to orange when the battery is getting low, before going red when it’s just about to die. Finally, on the top surface are two blue LEDs that display WiFi and Internet connectivity status. It’s all very sleek.

WiDrive

Connecting the Wi-Drive to a PC is the easiest way to load the drive with media and as usual, it’s simple drag’n’drop once attached with the supplied USB2 to miniUSB cable. It’s only USB2, which probably isn’t a serious handicap – I think most people will upload movies and music occasionally for more frequent wireless use.

The Wi-Drive works very similarly to the MobileLite Wireless. Turn it on, and the Wi-Drive becomes a wireless access point. Connect to the wireless network with your tablet or smartphone and then use the Wi-Drive app to access files and media on the Wi-Drive.  As with the MobileLite Wireless, the Wi-Drive can itself then connect to another wireless network so that connectivity to the Internet is maintained. However, unlike the MobileLite Wireless, I did have a problems connecting to other wireless networks – I couldn’t get a successful bridge connection to either a Sagemcom F@ST2504n or a Netgear WNR2200 router. I did successfully connect through to a Huawei E586.

The Wi-Drive app is available for Apple, Amazon and Android devices and I tested it on a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ tablet, a Nexus 10 tablet and a Nexus 4 smartphone. Frankly, the Wi-Drive app is disappointing – it’s like an early beta of the version that was finally deployed with the MobileLite Wireless. While app broadly works and is stable, the user interface is dated, the photo thumbnails are miniscule, the music player is clunky and there’s no use of a tablet’s larger screen. Here are a few screenshots to illustrate my point.

Wi-Drive browser Thumbnails

Music Player Wi-Drive Web Interface

Handily, there is also a web interface for both configuration and for accessing the media, which is great for PCs and Chromebooks; you can see this in the bottom right screenshot. The IP address is always 192.168.200.254 so it’s easily bookmarked.

On the positive side, video playback is smooth and glitch-free, and looked great on the tablets and as with the MobileLite Wireless  you can stream to three devices simultaneously. In terms of video playback, I felt that the Wi-Drive had the edge over the MobileLite Wireless as the latter occasionally stuttered. Battery life was also good: Kingston’s specs for the Wi-Drive say four hours but I was able to get about 10 minutes more with continuous video playback before the Wi-Drive died.

That covers the main areas of the Wi-Drive and to summarise, the Wi-Drive is good-looking and convenient device which is let down in a couple of areas, particularly by the Wi-Drive app. To me, it’s still a beta product that needs the last few bugs ironed out. The 32GB version is available for a little over GB £40 and expect to pay around £70 for the 64GB one.

Looking at all three Kingston storage devices, what are the pros and cons? For a single user with an Android smartphone or tablet that supports OTG, the microDuo is hard to beat as you get lots of storage for not very much money, though it’s going to stick out the side. The MobileLite Wireless will suit those who use SD cards or USB memory sticks as it’s a useful all-round tool for removable storage and although I wasn’t able to test with Apple devices I imagine this might be particularly handy for those owners. Finally, the Wi-Drive is the most stylish and a better choice where children are involved as there’s nothing small to lose or forget. Just get it fixed, Kingston, as it could be great.

Thanks to Kingston for all the review units.

Deal of the day — Roku 3 hits Woot at $64.99

Posted by Alan at 8:13 AM on March 30, 2014

roku-3Recently Roku released its Chromecast-like steaming stick. This comes on the heels of a version 3 release last year of the set-top box, an update that came with a remote that has a headphone jack built-in, allowing private watching for those times when the house needs to be quiet. The box retails for $99.99, but if you act today, you can get a deal.

Today only, Woot, the daily deal site now owned by Amazon, is offering the little set-top box for the price of $64.99 — a savings of $35 over the regular price.

“Faster and more powerful than ever. Enjoy 1,000+ channels of movies, TV shows, sports, and more. Plug headphones into the motion-control remote to play games or watch late-night flicks without disturbing the household. Fully loaded with one-stop search, 1080p, dual-band wireless, Ethernet, USB, plus a free Roku app. The Roku 3—the new streaming standard”, Woot describes it.

Roku is perhaps the prime player in an increasingly competitive market that includes Google and Apple as the other big players, though Microsoft’s new Xbox One is also a part of this, though it does more than just video. And remember, you can watch the Geek News Central podcast on it as well!

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Review

Posted by Andrew at 8:24 AM on March 26, 2014

Kingston Technology LogoLast week I reviewed Kingston’s microDuo which is a great solution if your smartphone or tablet supports OTG. Unfortunately, many devices don’t and if yours falls into this category, Kingston can still help you with both the MobileLite Wireless and the Wi-Drive. In this review, I’ll be checking out the MobileLite Wireless and will follow up with the Wi-Drive later in the week.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Box

The Kingston MobileLite Wireless  is described as “Reader – Media Streamer – Charger” and combines a USB reader, SD card reader, media streamer and USB charger all in one. Sounds impressive, so let’s take a look.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Left Side

As you’ll see from the picture, the MobileLite is a small rectangular unit, around 12.5 x 6 x 1.6 cm. It weighs 98g and it feels a little lighter than it should. On one end is the SD card slot and on the other two USB sockets; one USB2 and the other microUSB. There’s a power button on the side and couple of indicator LEDs on the top. As well as the instructions, a USB-to-microUSB cable and a microSD-to-SD card adaptor is included in the box.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Right Side

Taking each of the MobileLite Wireless features in turn and starting with “Reader”, the MobileLite can act as an SD card and USB reader. Simply connect the supplied cable from your PC’s USB port to the microUSB port on the device and two new drive letters or storage locations will appear on the desktop. Drag’n’drop, view photos, play movies, all the usual activities, no problem. Obviously it’s only USB2 but right now, that’s no big deal.

Moving to the “Charger” feature, swap over the cable so that the USB connector is plugged into the MobileLite Wireless and the other end into your smartphone or other power-sapping device. The battery is only 1800 mAh, so there’s really only one full charge of a smartphone in there.

Finally, it’s time for the “Media Streamer” feature, which lets up to three devices stream movies and other content from the MobileLite Wireless over WiFi. Which it does. Here’s Todd and the GNC show on three devices, all streaming from the one MobileLite Wireless.

Streaming To Three Devices

The tablets and smartphones have to load a Kingston app to access the media, but the app is available from Apple’s App Store, Google Play and Amazon’s Appstore.  The inclusion of Amazon is great as it means I can use the MobileLite Wireless with the Kindle Fire HDX – it’s the middle tablet in the shot above. However, the app is fairly basic and largely limited to navigating the folder hierarchy, selecting different content types, viewing and playing content plus operations such as email, copy and delete. It’s designed for smartphones rather than tablets so doesn’t take advantage of the larger screen real estate. Definitely room for improvement here. The app does have a couple of introductory pages to operative the MobileLite Wireless which have a cool hand-drawn feel to them.

App FIle Manager

The MobileLite Wireless also presents a web interface which can be used by PCs and Chromebooks to access the same files, though I didn’t seem to be able to upload content. The web interface has additional tools to adjust the wireless settings for greater security. One cool feature is that you can add the MobileLite Wireless to your main WiFi network and once connected up will pass on any requests onto the Internet, so you can browse the internet at the same time as listening to music coming from the MobileLite Wireless.

Wireless Settings

Battery life is “up to 5 hours of continuous use” and I managed a little under four hours playing a film continuously. Your mileage may vary but it’s enough to watch a couple of films.

In summing up, the MobileLite Wireless is a handy little device that I feel will appeal to those who frequently use SD cards and other removable storage. Obviously it would be great for photographers who want to review material on a larger screen but it’s also handy if you need to transfer material to a smartphone or tablet from a USB memory stick as outside of the Windows ecosystem, few tablets have full size USB ports. It certainly works well for streaming video and music too, but Kingston’s Wi-Drive might be a better solution for those who simply don’t have much space on their smartphone or tablet. The negatives are that the app could do with a refresh and a bigger battery would make the charger more effective, but other than that, there’s little to complain about.

The MobileLite Wireless is available on-line for around £35.

Thanks to Kingston for the review unit.

 

XBMC moves to Gotham beta 1

Posted by Alan at 9:58 AM on March 5, 2014

xbmc 11 beta home screenXBMC began life as Xbox Media Center, but the platform has come a long way since those early days. It’s become one of the hottest platform for HTPC enthusiasts, though it is far from the only one. Now XBMC is moving towards its latest release, announcing beta one of the new Gotham release.

“After a year of hard work, improvements and testing since the release of version 12.0, we are delighted to announce the Beta release of the upcoming XBMC 13.0, codenamed Gotham”, the company states.

New features include Android hardware decoding, Raspberry Pi  and Android speed improvements, stereoscopic 3D rendering, improved touchscreen support, improved UPnP capabilities, dramatic audio engine improvements, settings improvements, better subtitles and more capability for developers.

“If installing XBMC for friends or family, it is highly encouraged that you move the settings down to Beginner level”, the company warns.

It’s available now, but you don’t have to install it and, as it is a beta, you may not want it powering your home theater.

Tablo Takes TPN Award at CES

Posted by Andrew at 5:49 PM on February 15, 2014

Tablo LogoDigital video recorders (DVRs) are commonplace but usually they’re integrated with a cable decoder. Tablo’s offering records OTA (over the air) HD broadcasts that are transmitted from local TV stations, free of charge. Still not excited? The Tablo can stream both live and record programs to any connected device including Android and Apple devices, and set-top boxes like the Roku or AppleTV. Now that’s cool.

The Tablo contains two tuners (with a four tuner option), so can record two broadcasts at once. There’s no built-in storage but there are 2 USB ports for external HDD units to provide whatever space is needed. It’s perfect for cord-cutters. I’d love to see this come to the UK too.

The Tablo is on pre-order for US$219 and will be available in February 2014.

Interview by Daniel J Lewis of The Audacity To Podcast and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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PlayPlay

Get your home media to Chromecast

Posted by Alan at 11:02 AM on August 18, 2013

 

ChromeCast

If you like to follow the ever-growing integration between computers and home theater, then the recent innovations have been a welcome, and quickly, growing surprise. Boxes like Roku, Apple TV, Google TV and others have made life much easier than the days when I built my first HTPC and looked for the best ways to stream my home media to it.

Then Google unveiled Chromecast, a surprise, as it came at an event where everyone expected only the new Nexus 7 to be unveiled. The tiny stick plugs into a spare HDMI port and allows customers to “cast” media to their TV from compatible web sites, as well as Android tablets and phones.

But what about your home media — all of those ripped DVD’s and music that you have stored on your home network. That too is easy enough, though you need to be using the Chrome web browser.

  1. Open a new tab
  2. Press Ctrl + O
  3. Open a file (video or audio) that Chrome can play
  4. Click the cast button

That is all there is to it to get your own media up and playing on your big screen.

Lollapalooza comes to YouTube live this weekend

Posted by Alan at 10:20 AM on August 2, 2013

The Lollapalooza music festival has been around for quite some time, originating with Perry Ferrell and Jane’s Addiction. The concert series persists, and will take place this weekend in Chicago — in fact, starting today at 2:30pm CST, taking place from Grant Park and featuring more than 20 artists.

The entire festival will be broadcast live on YouTube. The Google-owned video site announces “From Friday’s kickoff with Icona Pop (we love it), to Nine Inch Nails’ first U.S. performance since 2009, to Steve Aoki and The Cure closing out the weekend on Sunday, it’s all on YouTube”.

Best of all, those who didn’t, or couldn’t get tickets or travel to the Windy City need not worry. because sitting on the sofa will yield the same live action as the expensive tickets and trip to the city. Now the difficult part is up to you — spending your weekend being lazy! Personally, I plan to utilize my Google TV for the big screen experience.

Hulu Plus doubles subscriptions

Posted by Alan at 8:49 AM on April 30, 2013

Hulu continues to surprise me — the service never seems quite mainstream, but continues to thrive. This time the TV service is announcing record gains in subscriptions to its Plus service, the paid subscription plan that it introduced back in 2010.

“Overall, Hulu continues to grow very quickly. In Q1 of this year, we set new records for revenue, and for the first time ever, Hulu viewers streamed more than 1 billion content videos in a single quarter” states Hulu’s acting CEO Andy Forssell. In fact, the company has seen continued growth every year that it has existed – in Q1 2013, Hulu Plus surpassed 4 million subscribers—setting new records for subscriber additions.

hulu usage graph

Mobile viewing is also growing, now accounting for 15 percent of Hulu’s consumed videos in 2013-2014. Living room viewing now makes up 29 percent of the viewing audience.

Forssell also points out advertising revenue — “Hulu is also #1 in market share of all premium online video providers, delivering 1 in 3 of all premium video ads in the U.S. Our reasonable ad load drives the highest recall and awareness for brands, which results in higher effectiveness for the video ads”.

Hulu has recently jumped in the game of original content with Quick Draw and East Los High. This brings the service into direct competition with Netflix and Amazon Prime.