Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TVAfter weeks of speculation, Amazon has finally shown its hand in the set-top box game with the Fire TV. It’s a $99 box with a Bluetooth remote control that connects to your HD TV and shows Amazon content plus media from partners, including Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and Pandora.

Amazon Fire TV

Initially, this doesn’t sound terribly different from the Roku and Apple TV units, but when you get into the feature set, it’s pretty impressive. There’s voice search which helps you find the shows without the laborious letter selection that bedevils remote controls. ASAP is a predictive feature that pre-loads content so that shows start instantly without the buffering delay. WhisperSync synchronises watching and listening across multiple devices so you never lose a second, and X-Ray takes the movie experience further, showing film and character information on your second screen Kindle Fire HDX.

As you’d expect, the Fire TV is seamlessly integrated with Prime Instant Video, Amazon’s subscription streaming service, giving access to tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes. With Dolby Digital Plus, films and music will sound amazing and any media stored in Amazon’s Cloud Drive from photos to personal videos can be played through the Fire TV.

Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.

Amazon are definitely taking the fight to the competition as the Fire TV is a mini powerhouse, with a quad-core processor and 2 GB RAM, which lets the unit double as a gaming unit with over 100 games available at launch. Already available are Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush and Amazon has signed up EA, Disney, Gameloft, Ubisoft, Telltale, Mojang, 2K, and Sega to bring their games to Fire TV.  To complement the gaming, there’s an additional game controller that will set you back a penny shy of $40. The controller connects via Bluetooth too and will run for up to 55 hours on AA batteries.

Simplistically, it’s a desktop version of the Kindle Fire tablets and sure enough, Fire TV runs the latest version of Fire OS “Mojito,” which is based on Android. This means that apps should be easily ported over to the Fire TV (and Kindle Fires).

The Kindle Fire TV is available now in the US. No news on international availability yet.

XBMC moves to Gotham beta 1

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.

Get your home media to Chromecast

 

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.

DirecTV Nomad becomes GenieGo, Adds an Android App

geniegoNomad, DirecTV’s answer to the popular Sling Hopper from competitor Dish Network, has been updated and renamed. The newly christened GenieGo, named after the latest DVR (the Genie), has received a new, cheaper price and also some updates.

The big news is the price drop, which brings the GenieGo down from $150 to a more palatable $99. The device initially only transcoded and transferred DVR recordings, but has since expanded its capabilities by also providing (almost) live television in-home streaming. The device also has a history of supporting iPhone with a solid app, but now adds Android into the mix.

“GenieGO™ works with your Genie or HD DVR to let you sync your recorded shows to your laptop, tablet, or phone, and take them to go. No Internet connection needed when you want to watch, so you can enjoy your shows truly anywhere. When you’re within your home Wi-Fi network, you can even stream your recorded shows instantly without having to sync them to your device first”

You can learn more about the GenieGo here and check out the new Android app on the Google Play store. There are also apps for both Windows and Mac computers.

Hulu Plus doubles subscriptions

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.

Xbox gets new entertainment options

xbox live logoMicrosoft may be planning to unveil its next Xbox console in the near future, but that has not stopped the company from continuing to update its current 360 version of the device.

The Xbox 360 may sometimes be thought of as a gaming box, but it has long since exited that pigeon hole. Microsoft wants to use the console to take over your living room and it has been moving steadily in that direction for some time. The company has been adding more and more entertainment content and now it has announced the next wave.

Larry Hryb, better known as Major Nelson, announced the next set of updates, which are rolling out right now and include a load of new entertainment options for customers.

Updates:

  • Xbox SmartGlass for Game of Thrones Season 3
  • MLB.TV Refresh
  • IndieFlix
  • Revision 3
  • PopcornFlix
  • Toys “R” Us Movies

If you have an Xbox 360 then you should be receiving these updates at any moment. If you do not yet have one of the consoles then you may just want to wait and find out what gets announced at the upcoming E3 show.

Roku unveils new box and interface

roku 3This morning Roku unveiled its brand new Roku 3 box. This is the first update to the Roku lineup in some time and there are quite a few changes with the Roku 3. The announcement calls it the “fastest, most powerful streaming player to-date”.

The new box, according to Roku’s Jim Funk, is five times faster than previous versions. The new Roku 3 also comes with an all new user interface, as Funk explains — “In the spirit of simplicity, the new Roku interface features a streamlined layout to provide quicker access and greater visibility – especially if you have many channels installed. The Roku Channel Store and Search are now fully integrated into the home screen, and both have been redesigned with our new on-screen experience”.

The new device also comes with a slightly revamped remote control. The remote has a headphone jack and includes a set of earbuds. When these are plugged in, the box automatically switches the audio to the headphones and mutes your speakers, allowing you to move around while listening to your music and also do so without disturbing other household members.

The box also comes with Angry Birds installed and the new remote control is motion sensitive to make for better gaming. There are also dual-band ethernet and USB ports as well.

The Roku 3 is available for $99 starting today. The new interface will begin rolling out to Roku boxes in April.

Tiffen shows off home and pro media devices

tiffen logoIf you are looking to produce media at any level then you will likely want to check out some of the products from Tiffen. The company has solutions for both amateur and pro.

The first thing the company showed off was a very small teleprompter that can be used by a home broadcaster. Tiffen also produces the Steadicam — however, the company now has a consumer branded Steadicam Smoothee which retails for $149 and can even work with a smartphone. Different mounts will cost extra, but are affordable. You will also learn a bit about the mobile photo apps in the video.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine and Scott Ertz of F5 Live

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Skifta talks whole-home audio

skifta logoQualcomm’s Skifta rep stopped by TPN  during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to talk a bit about its whole-home audio systems and its iOS launch.

The new iOS app allows users to stream media to AirPlay devices. This includes images, music and video regardless of where it is stored — phone, tablet, computer or NAS drive. You can even grab media from the cloud using something like Dropbox or SkyDrive. The app grabs the photos and then looks for a DLNA device to play the media to.

The Android app, which has been around for sometime now, functions in the same way. Both versions of the app are free to download and install.

The company is also creating an entire DLNA system for whole-home audio distribution. You can learn more about that, and the mobile apps, by watching the video below.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network and Don Baine, the Gadget Professor

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Vivitek front projectors for your home theater

vivitek logoVivitek is likely a tech name you are familiar with. James Hsu stopped by the TPN table to show off some of the company’s latest technology to Todd and Don.

If you are thinking of upgrading your home theater to a front projector setup then this is something you will want to pay close attention to. Of course, these will also work just fine in a business environment, as they have more than enough power to handle bright environments and larger screens, though it is more geared towards a home.

The projectors come with two HDMI in outlets, USB, Composite and audio. MSRP will be $999 and should become available this summer. Head over to Vivitek to learn more.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network and Don Baine, the Gadget Professor

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