Should Amazon build a set-top box?

amazon prime logoToday, rumors are circulating around the web regarding Amazon. It is nothing new — the online retail giant has long been subject to such babble. Rumors of an Amazon phone still appear on a regular basis. Thanks to the success of the Kindle Fire, everyone seems to expect a handset to be the logical follow-up.

Today’s rumor is different though — there is no phone involved, but instead a set-top box. While I have no real interest in moving from a Nexus phone to a Kindle one, a living room device intrigues me.

I am a recent convert to Google TV and I love the platform. But I am also a Prime subscriber. I replaced Netflix with the Amazon service sometime back because it is not only a bit cheaper, but offers more upside with, not only the streaming video, but also free two-day shipping and a Kindle lending library.

Prime for Google TV has been greatly improved recently, with the app now being native, as opposed to opening a browser window. Thus I imagine an Amazon set-top box to bring Prime to the forefront and make it the focus of the device. And that does not feel like a bad thing.

If the device were Kindle Fire-like, in that it ran a version of Android customized for the big screen, then this could compete with the likes of Roku and Google TV in today’s growing environment of cord-cutters. Xbox may remain the front runner, but the power and financial backing of Amazon could present a real competitor in the market, and that would be good for all consumers.

Is HBO Go leaving its TV subscription confines?

hbo go logoHBO has remained a stumbling block for potential cord-cutters everywhere. While offering a wonderful app, the content producer has made it a requirement that users prove the existence of a cable or satellite TV subscription to use the app. Today the first chink in that firewall may have appeared.

Reuters is reporting that HBO CEO Richard Plepler, while talking at the premier event for Game of Thrones season three, stated that “maybe HBO GO, with our broadband partners, could evolve”.

HBO Go was launched back in 2010, but has been limited by the pay-TV shackles. This means customers not only need to pay the monthly TV bills, but also the subscription fee for broadband. HBO could partner with the broadband providers to eliminate the TV portion of the bill while simply adding a small fee for a monthly subscription to the app, potentially saving customers as much as $100 per month.

Plepler pointed out that company was still trying “to make the math work”. The company is faced with tough challenges from services like Netflix, Redbox Instant, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like.

Video Podcasts Behaving Like TV?

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Roku

One of the downsides to Internet-based video content is that generally each new program being played back must be initiated by the user. This isn’t much of a problem if one is watching a full-length movie or television show via Netflix or Amazon Streaming. However, if one is watching short-form content like video podcasts such as “Film Riot” then watching a bunch of episodes in a row tends to be a bit more of a pain since each one must be started playing depending on the playback platform.

I discovered an interesting trick that the Roku is capable of using the free iTunes podcast database app that can be added from the Roku store on your Roku. The app connects with the iTunes podcast database and will display both video and audio podcasts. Select an episode and it will begin to play. If you select an older episode, either video or audio, it will play that episode and then automatically play all episodess that follow it in the correct order.

This is a very useful feature say if you want to catch up with several weeks’ worth of video podcasts. Each podcast plays automatically in the proper order. It is almost like being able to turn video podcast streaming into more of a conventional television viewing experience.

Silicon Dust

silicon dust logoIf you are a home theater enthusiast or HTPC owner, as I am, then you have probably heard of Silicon Dust and the HD Home Run. The box has been out for some time and retails for $199, but can be found somewhat cheaper in many locations.

The box takes a cable card and then sends its data out via ethernet to the rest of your network and, as a bonus, it contains 3 tuners. The data is distributed to your network in both ATSC and MP2 format. It all works great with many of your screens, but now Silicon Dust wants to solve the problem with devices like smartphones and tablets.

The new box is a 4 tuner version that can handle hardware transcode that transfers that MP2 and changes it to H.264. Now customers can send 4 separate streams independent of each other and have access to the data on mobile devices as well. It is also smart enough to recognize the difference in screens and resolution and encode for the device. All of this is done behind the scenes.

This latest Home Run box will be available in late spring or early summer. While no price is yet available, the company hopes to keep it in the same area as the previous version.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net

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PhaseHD Runs HDMI for 100ft

PhaseHD Logo

HDMI is great interconnect technology but it’s really only designed for relatively short cable runs. What do you do if you want to send a 4K UltraHD picture 100ft? PhaseHD have the answer.

Canadian outfit phaseHD uses standard, albeit long, HDMI cables with smart adaptors on each end of the cable to transmit a clean signal at one end and boost the received signal at the other, while preserving the control signals needed for encrypted content. Obviously it’s more complicated than that and it’s definitely worth watching the video to understand how this technology differs from the video extenders that use cat 6 network cabling for long runs.

It’s not cheap either, with the expected price around $500-$600. Expect to see early adoption by event management companies and sports bars.

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

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Omnimount Ergonomic TV Mounts

Omnimount Omnimount the maker of ergonomic furniture is now making ergonomic TV mounts. The Omnimount mount for TVs allows a television to be moved easily up, down, forward and backward. If you are sitting on the floor you can lower the TV so that you are not craning your neck  to watch it. The mount is also extendable so you can bring the TV closer to you. The mount can be extended out up to 28 inches. These mounts would be perfect for people who want to mount their television sets over their fireplace. The problem with this idea is that it leads to the viewer having to look up to watch it which is uncomfortable and unhealthy. With the Omnimount mount you can still place the TV over the fire-place and then bring it down when you want to watch it.

The mounts can handle monitors up to seventy pounds and come in various sizes. Mounts that handle smaller TV monitors are available now and those that can handle bigger monitors should be available soon at an MSRP of $449.00.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine.

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LG’s $12,000 OLED TV

LG LogoLG bills its OLED screens as “The Ultimate Display” and Don Baine takes a look to see if the claim holds up.

LG’s OLED TVs are stunning on so many levels – the slimness of the screen, the thinness of the bezel, the curved screen with 3D, the blackness of the blacks, brightness of the colours and finally the price. At $12,000 for a 55″ screen, it’s not cheap, but it is the ultimate display.

If you’ve got the cash, you can pre-order now with availability expected in the US from mid-March.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

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Amazon Prime Video announces move to stay ahead of stiffer competition

amazon prime logoAmazon today announced a new partnership to bring even more content to its Prime video service. Prime is, of course, more than just video — it is also free second-day shipping on all orders (which often arrive next day) and a lending library for Kindle customers, allowing for one free book per month.

Now, in the face of growing competition from rivals, the retail giant has snagged a deal with TV network A&E, which will bring “popular series from A&E, bio, HISTORY and Lifetime to the Prime Instant Video service.”

Amazon announces these deals fairly regularly, but there are a couple of reasons why this particular one is a bit more important. First of all, it is a slap in the face of rival Netflix, who previously had, and lost, this deal. Second, there is a looming problem on the horizon and it is, potentially, a big one.

Redbox, the company who brought us those irresistible kiosks, has teamed with Verizon and plans to launch a competitor in early 2013. I have been among the early beta testers for the service and, I must admit, it is compelling.

So, is this enough to keep Amazon ahead of the market? Certainly Netflix still seems to be the dominant player, but Amazon is moving steadily up and now Redbox is coming. Competition, of course, is good for all of us.

ARCHOS TV Connect Controls Your TV Like a Tablet

ARCHOS has come up with another innovative device that you won’t want to miss! It will make your TV viewing experience into something much more interactive. It’s called ARCHOS TV Connect. It turns any HDTV into an Android powered smart TV that provides the full Android ecosystem. There is a specially designed TV Touch remote for you to use.

Instead of sitting in front of your TV, and perhaps clicking the buttons on your regular remote, you use the TV Touch remote. Suddenly, you are able to control your TV like you would a tablet. You can tap, swipe, zoom in or zoom out, select something or type. It even has a full keyboard with Android shortcuts, (including a key for voice controls and voice typing).

You can choose from over 700,000 apps and games on Google Play, and play them on your TV. The TV Connect has dual analog thumb sticks and a gaming mapping tool.

Use TV Connect to call a group of friends or family and have a video chat with them through your big screen TV. ARCHOS TV Connect has an HD webcam for high quality video calling. An LED light will notify you of an incoming call while you are watching TV. It is compatible with Skype or Google Talk.

TV Connect includes the ARCHOS Media Center applications. It will read your favorite video files with format and codec support including H.264 decoding in full 1080p HD. You can stream media content over your home network through WiFi or Ethernet. The TV Connect features HDMI (cable included), full USB host and micro SD slot.

The ARCHOS TV connect runs Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean”. It will be available beginning in February of 2013, and will cost $129.99. You can experience the ARCHOS TV Connect first hand at CES 2013. ARCHOS will be showing off its new line up of tablets, including the Game Pad and more. The ARCHOS booth is in the Central Hall (15322) of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Enforced Obsolescence

Casio TV-470As the last analogue TV signals are turned off tonight in the UK to make way for 4G and digital TV, thousands of TVs, videos and hard-disk recorders will become obsolete literally overnight. While an external decoder may prolong their life, the sheer inconvenience of multiple settings and synchronised recordings will consign many of these perfectly functional devices to the rubbish bin recycling centre. Reflecting, I suspect that this is probably the first time that enforced obsolescence has impacted on me personally.

Undoubtedly, I’ve had other gadgets that have become obsolete but they became out-of-date because I chose to make them so, usually by purchasing a newer devices. If I plugged in and turned on my first laptop, a Tandy 1400LT that ran MsDOS 3.2, I guarantee you that it would still work, albeit with somewhat crude CGA graphics accompanied by whirring floppy drives. The 1400LT became obsolete when I bought an 386SX desktop, but it still worked as designed.

But when I wake up tomorrow, my Casio TV-470 pocket TV and my Pioneer 530H hard disk recorder will be of almost no use as the analogue TV signals these devices need will no longer be broadcast. I find this enforced obsolescence somewhat disturbing as faceless government officials simply made a decision and that was that. Game over for the unfortunate gadgets.

To be fair, the analogue TV signal has had a good run for its money. The PAL system started in 1967 so it’s lasted over 40 years and my TV-470’s been around for about half of that (1991). I hope it’s happy in TV heaven.