Category Archives: Set Top Box

Diamond Wireless Range Extender and Set-Top Box Preview



Diamond Wireless Range Extender WR300NI remember building a PC many years ago and at that time, Diamond Multimedia was one of *the* graphics card companies. I even seem to remember that it was VL-bus card, so that dates it to a pre-Pentium era. Anyway, it’s great to see that Diamond is still around when so many others have fallen by the wayside. Todd interviews Louis Kokenis from Diamond Multimedia on the latest products.

The Diamond Wireless Range Extender has three functions in one. First, it’s a wireless repeater that eliminates deadspots in wireless coverage. Second, it’s a wireless bridge that will connect a wired network device to the wireless network and third, it’s a standalone wireless access point, creating wireless hotspot from a single network point. With regard to the last mode, the WR300N’s small size means that it’s great for travelling and creating a wireless network in a hotel room. On-sale now for around $60.

Diamond will be introducing an Android-based TV set-top box that combines web browser, media player, ebook reader, game console, anything that can be downloaded from the Android Market. It won’t be tied to any particular media provider as it will either be able to download an app, e.g. Netflix, or else it will be able to browse to any website and play media directly. Sounds cool, especially if it runs ICS.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Steve Lee of NetCast Studio for the TechPodcast Network.

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UPnP Forum and How Your Gadgets Stream Music



UPnP Forum LogoIf you’ve ever wondered how your gadgets talk amongst themselves to successfully play music from your PC through a media streamer, you’ll be interested in this interview with Dr Alan Messer, President of the UPnP Forum.

Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is the standard by which IP networked gadgets advertise their services and intercommunicate. Formed in 1999, nearly all the big vendors are signed up with over 1000 members, the notable exception being Apple who tend to do their own thing. Think Intel, Samsung, Nokia, Philips.

The most common example of UPnP (AV spec) is DLNA-certification which governs media management, discovery and control and this effectively determines how music is streamed from one device to another. Set-top boxes know how to use different router ports based on UPnP techniques. Almost any consumer device attached to the network in the home will have some element of UPnP built-in.

(No, Andy, it’s not the ISA PnP but thanks for the trip down memory lane.)

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Videophone with the Biscotti TV Phone



CES HonoreeThe sci-fi vision of the videophone being as commonplace as the telephone hasn’t materialised but Skype and Google+ Hangouts have made videocalls with webcams popular, especially with families who are a spread across the world. Having said that, it’s still not as convenient as picking up your phone and dialling a number.

Biscotti hopes to change that will their TV Phone, which has just been announced as a 2012 CES Innovations Honoree. It’s a small camera unit that sits on top of your TV, connecting to the TV via HDMI and to the network via WiFi, allowing owners to make high-definition video calls to other Biscotti owners and Google video chat users. After an initial setup which only takes minutes, the Biscotti TV Phone is ready to make or take calls.

Biscotti TV PhoneThe TV Phone uses a pass-through technology, meaning that there’s no need to change channels to receive a call. The TV Phone notifies users of incoming calls while they are watching TV via a pop-up message on screen. By using Google video chat, the Biscotti TV Phone can connect to any device that has a Google chat client, whether it’s Android, iPhone or a PC.

Biscotti is designed for people who value real-life, personal interaction. It’s a single-purpose, dedicated TV Phone that’s always ready to connect, so you can make and receive calls without interrupting your lifestyle,” said Dr. Matthew B. Shoemake, Biscotti’s CEO and Founder. “HDTVs are selling faster than any other consumer electronics product on the market, fueling the demand for high definition video calling. By 2015, we’re predicting 25% of homes will be making high-definition video calls daily.”

If it’s as simple to use as they claim (and there are some videos here), it could be a little winner. The Biscotti TV Phone is now available for $199 and no monthly fees. There’s no word on a twin pack, which is what I’d be interested in to link granddaughter with grandparents.

If you want to catch up with the Biscotti TV Phone, they’re on display at CES in South Hall 1, Booth #21442.


Xbox Boosts On-Demand in the UK



Earlier in the week, Microsoft gave the Xbox a big push in the race for HDMI 1 with Steve Ballmer announcing Xbox TV and partnerships with over 40 content providers. Jeffrey Powers has already covered the main announcement on GNC but I wanted to add a little bit of UK spin.

In the UK, additional programming boxes such as the Roku, Boxee or Apple TV are very rare. Most of my friends would enjoy their gadgets and technology but I don’t know a single one of them who has an extra box. However, many of them would have a games console and there’s a fairly even spread of Xboxes, Playstations and Wiis. Consequently it’s no surprise that the race to provide on-demand content is taking place on the consoles.

Most people in the UK are using the availability of on-line TV to catch up with programmes they missed when they were originally broadcast. What typically happens is that you go into work and some says, “Did you see…..last night? It was brilliant” and you watch the programme through the various free on-line services. The BBC’s iPlayer is very popular.

Reviewing Microsoft’s press release, here are the organisations that will provide on-demand content available in the UK on the Xbox. I’ve ignored the standard social networking sites, such as Facebook and YouTube, but have added the organisation’s background so that non-UK residents can get a feel for what’s happening.

  • BBC – Terrestrial broadcaster
  • Channel 4 – Terrestrial broadcaster
  • Channel 5 – Terrestrial broadcaster
  • BSkyB – Satellite broadcaster (requires monthly subscription)
  • LOVEFiLM – On-line film rental
  • blinkbox – On-line film rental
  • Crackle – Free on-line films
  • Screenrush – Film trailers
  • Muzu.TV – Music videos
  • VEVO – Music videos
In terms of the numbers, the traditional terrestrial and satellite broadcasters have the greatest presence and there’s only one major UK broadcaster missing from the list, ITV, which is a conglomeration of regional broadcast companies.
LOVEFiLM is owned by Amazon, Crackle is a Sony property and blinkbox is 80% owned by Tesco, one of the UK’s leading supermarkets.
The challenge will be to get consumers to pay for the on-line film rentals. Here in the UK, there is lots of good free programming which was originally broadcast but is now on-line through the broadcaster’s portals via tools similar to iPlayer. It will be interesting to see how the paid-for market develops and if the games consoles are key to the transition. It’s certainly where the media companies need to be for the UK market.

NetGear Set to Release a New NeoTV



A while back I had the opportunity to review the Netgear NeoTV.  This week the have announced an updated and much-improved version that is designed to compete directly with Apple TV and Roku.

The new version is smaller, comes in a beautiful shiny black case and packs a whole lot of extras that were lacking in the previous release.  New apps include Pandora, Netflix, Vudu, Napster, Twitter, Pandora and a bunch more.  The remote control also has been simplified over the previous version.

The complete product hardware specs, as published by Netgear, are a s follows:

Package Contents

  • NeoTV™ Streaming Player (NTV200)
  • Remote control
  • Two (2) CR2032 coin batteries
  • Power adapter
  • Quick start guide
  • Note: HDMI cable not included

Features

  • Easy setup
  • Up to 1080p HD streaming
  • Built-in Wireless-N for extended-range (b/g/n compatible)
  • Ethernet port
  • HDMI video output
  • 5.1 surround sound

System Requirements

  • Broadband Internet connection
  • PC/tablet with Internet browser for service activation
  • TV with HDMI input and cable

Networking

  • Built-in Wi-Fi 300 Mbps (802.11 b/g/n)
  • 10/100 Ethernet (RJ-45)

While it contains “N” WiFi, I was a bit disappointed that Netgear chose to go with 10/100 ethernet, as opposed to 10/10/1000.  Honestly, I doubt it will make a any difference with this type of product, but it’s always nice to have the latest version of all of the internals when you buy new hardware.

The new box is technically known as the NeoTV 200 (the previous was the NeoTV 550).  It is available for pre-order now, and retails for $79.99.  You can get full details, picture and a video demo over at the NetGear website.


Sony Announces Network Media Player at IFA



While it was announced several days ago at IFA, the new Sony SMP-N200 Network Media Player has gone largely unnoticed.  The new version, which replaces the SMP-N100, brings support for HD and even 3D.  The player integrates seamlessly into your home network via 802.11 b/g/n WiFi (it is unclear if ethernet, which is the fastest most reliable connection, is included).

Of course, it integrates with the Sony Entertainment Network to get much of it’s content, but it can also stream from any compatible DLNA device on the network, including the also just announced Sony Tablet S, as well as USB drives.

There is a remote control included, but users with Android and iOS devices can get a slick remote control app, which will be available for free download from the respective mobile markets.

There is a built-in web browser, and they boast Twitter and Facebook, although it isn’t clear if these are apps or simply through the browser.  Finally, they claim a lightning-fast 3 second start-up time.

The device will be available in October 2011, but pricing has not been announced.  However, the SMP-N100 can be had for about $69.99 at many US retailers.  For more information, you can read the Sony Press Release.

 


SEC College Sports Come to Boxee



Yesterday Boxee announced that SEC Digital Network has launched their college sports app for the Boxee platform.  For those who don’t, SEC is the Southeaster Conference.  They cover all areas of college sports for the member schools.    You can visit their website for more information.  The app features news, specials, highlight, full games, and a lot more.

The feature set, as announced by Boxee, will include:

SEC Today
News and highlights, these daily updates keep you up to date on any major developments from around the conference. SEC Today also offers team previews for all of SEC football.

Specials
Watch classic documentaries focused on SEC Sports, profiles of great SEC players who’ve gone pro, or interviews of current SEC coaches.

Full Games
Rewatch some of the greatest SEC games of the past 20 years. Plus watch many of the best football games from last season. All of the games are totally free to watch, so stop worrying about wearing out those VHS tapes of last season’s football games and stream some of the best games whenever you want.

My Library
Shop the SEC OnDemand streaming VOD store for a library of over 700+ full-length historic and current SEC games. This season’s games are available as soon as midnight the following Saturday. All videos you buy there are automatically accessible on Boxee through the SEC Digital Network app’s My Library section.

According to claims, the app wil include exclusive content that won’t be available anywhere else.  If you own the Boxee Box, or use their software on a PC or Mac, and are a college sports fan, then this will be the best $0 you ever spent.  To find out more about Boxee, you can visit Boxee.tv.


Boxee Opening European Office in London



Following on from the previous post, Boxee have announced that they’re opening a European office in London. In an email to Boxee users, they said that Wil Stephens will be setting up shop to bring more content to the UK audience and will be working with D-Link to get more boxes into more stores. They’ll also be hiring staff so watch their Twitter feeds and Facebook pages if you are interested.

And to celebrate, Boxee is having a meet-up on 7th June in East London at an undisclosed bar. It’s an RSVP affair (and £5 in) but they’ll be showing off some new content partners and giving away some Boxees. And if you can’t make it in person, it’ll be streamed live on the Boxee as well.


Freeview HD Coverage Checker



As the UK slowly moves towards turning off the analogue terrestrial TV signal and switching to digital transmissions, it’s been overtaken by consumer demand for high definition (HD) broadcasting. The satellite and cable providers, namely Sky and Virgin Media, have been quick to offer HD on their subscription services, but the terrestrial digital broadcast system, Freeview, has been somewhat slower to offer HD. Some regions of the UK, e.g. Northern Ireland, will not have HD terrestrial broadcasts until 2012. Consequently, there’s been a great deal of uncertainty and misinformation.

So it’s fortunate that ConsumerChoices has added Freeview HD coverage to its HD Coverage Checker. By putting in your postcode and your house number, you’ll be presented with all the HD options available to you, including satellite, cable and terrestrial. In addition, for Freeview (terrestrial), the website will tell you which transmitter to use, how far away it is and the likely signal strength. If Freeview HD is not yet available in the area, it will give the expected date for it to be turned on.

With Freeview decoders now available in a range of products including set-top boxes and HD TVs, there’s often a small price premium to pay for the HD decoder over the standard definition. By using the HD Coverage Checker, you can make informed decision whether to go HD and pay more, or stick with the standard definition decoder.


Netgear NeoTV 550 Review



About a month ago I received a Netgear NeoTV 550 for review.  I am an avid Media Center PC user, which meant I was immediately skeptical of any replacement for my beloved HTPC.  Initially I found my skepticism warranted, but over the past month that changed.  It changed for two reasons – one was my own network setup problem and the other was a Netgear update.

First Impressions

A few weeks ago I posted a brief unboxing tour of the device.  As with any new electronics that show up on my doorstep, I was excited and intrigued by it.  I hurriedly set it up in test mode – which means I didn’t take the time to pull out the media cabinet, take the back off, and hook it up properly.  This setup was quick and dirty – plug in  the device, composite cables to the TV for sound and video, and an ethernet cable (Cat 5E) for access to the home network.

The NeoTV 550 will not do WiFi, in case you’re wondering, but since I have wired access to my home theater, that wasn’t an issue.  This may be a deal-breaker for some users though.

As for the 2 issues I mentioned earlier – the first was on my end.  The NeoTV found my Music folder, but always said it was empty.  I thought it was the box, because both my desktop and laptop found it fine (it’s stored on the Media Center PC in the living room).  But, when I started using another Windows 7 device and it gave the same message, I looked closer and discovered a network sharing issue.  Once I corrected that the NeoTV found the music just fine.

The second issue was in Videos.  We have a lot of TV shows stored on our HTPC and they are all in folders by show name, then further divided into folders by season number.  In short, it’s easy to access any show from Media Center.  The NeoTV took all of these videos and put them in one folder – hundreds of shows that had to be scrolled through to find what we wanted to watch.  This was solved by a software update and now all of our folders are intact and easily accessible.

The Interface

The interface for the NeoTV is clean and simple.  The menu is very succinct – you have Video, Music, Photos, Browse Folders, Internet Media, Streaming TV and Movies, and Settings.  There’s a remote included that makes accessing all of these menu items simple and fast.

Internet Media contains such favorites as YouTube, RadioTime, Shoutcast, Flickr, News, and Weather.  In News you have many favorites like ESPN, Wired Science, and CNN.  You can also add your own RSS feed.

Streaming TV and Movies, when clicked on, gives the message “This feature will be coming in a future firmware release”.

The Video option allows you to drill down through the menus on your source PC – we can choose from TV show, movies, home video, and everything else that’s in the video section of our HTPC.  File names are on the left and cover art is displayed to the right.  Again, it’s a clean, simple interface.  You can change the look to get more of a Media Center My Movies look with cover art only across the screen, allowing you scroll from one movie to the next.  For more on what you can do with your movies see the Tech Specs below.

Music and Pictures work the same as video – folders and titles to the left and artwork to the right.  Or, you can choose an alternative look.

The only thing I found lacking here was the absense of a Search option.

Settings

Under the Settings option in the main menu you will find Setup Wizard, Audio / Video, Media locations, Parental Controls and security, User interface, Network, and System.

Options inside of these include:

Audio / Video – Display, Audio, Playback options, and Blu-ray options

Parental Controls – This allows you set set a password, lock the system, enable or disable HTML access, and a few other things.

User interface – Change language, skins, and set a screen saver.

System – Set your time and location and enable weather, check for updates, manage files, and much more.

The Remote


The remote control, which is included, measures 8.5″ x 2″.  It includes the standard Play, Pause, Stop, FF, and RW buttons along with others that include Home, Menu, Subtitle, Repeat, and Popup Menu, to name a few.  Featured at the top are 4 colored buttons that allow easy access to Video, Music, Phot, and Web.

Tech Specs

As for tech specs, the NeoTV 550 comes with an infrared remote, ethernet cable, and a composite a/v cable.  It has 2 USB ports, an SD card slot, eSATA port, 10/100 ethernet port, and an HDMI 1.3a.

It supports AVI, Xvid, MOV, MP4, MPEG2 PS, MPEG2-TS, DVD ISO/VOB/IFO, MKV, ASF, AVCHD, DivX, WMV, M4A, M2TS, MTS, MP1, MP2, MPG, DVR-MS, and Blu-ray.  Personally I was surprised by the .iso support.  A lot of our DVD’s are stored as .iso files to preserve all of the menus, extras, etc., so that was unexpected.  Incidentally, playing the .iso movies on the Netgear box allows the same options you have when playing an .iso on a PC.  YOu can click the Menu button on the remote and jump straight to the DVD main menu.  That is killer for me.

Conclusion

Can the Netgear NeoTV 550 replace a Media Center?  Well, no, but it does make a good extender for someplace like the bedroom.  It won’t pull MC extras like Netflix, but it can play pretty much every media format stored on your Media Center – or home server or any normal PC.  The interface is clean and simple and remote works great.  The setup is simple – anyone who can click My Computer and navigate to a file can easily tell the NeoTV where to look for music, pictures, and video.

Playback of all media is very fast and I encountered no problems with video stutter, macro-blocking, or any other common problems that are associated with video.  If you plug into your receiver then music playback will sound every bit as good as any other component (plug audio into your TV and you get what you get – with any device).

The big question is do I recommend it?  Yes, but with a couple of caveats.  For a complete technophobe it may be too difficult, but for the average to advanced user it should be no problem.  If you currently use an HTPC I wouldn’t replace it with this, but I would use this with a second TV.  Finally, if you’re not an HTPC user, but have a bunch of media stored on your everyday PC or server then definitely yes.  The OS is solid, the setup is pretty easy, and playback is smooth.  And they will updating the software so it will only get better.