State of AirPlay Speakers

AirPlay is Apple's wireless technology that let's you stream audio and/or video to AirPlay enabled devices. AirPlay (formally known as AirTunes) first appeared in the original AirPort Express Base Station. The AirPort Express has a standard digital audio out jack on the bottom of it that lets you plug in a set of speakers or jack into an existing stereo system. Once you have the speakers plugged in you can stream music to them from your computer using iTunes or from your iOS Devices. Apple TV is also an AirPlay enabled device. With the Apple TV 2 you can also stream video to your TV wirelessly from your computer or iDevice. 

 

Setting up a multi-room AirPlay System

When I moved into my new studio I knew that I'd want music throughout the space. This meant have speakers in at least 3 areas. I've been patiently waiting for more AirPlay enabled speakers to hit the market. While I love my Bowers & Wilkens Zeppelin Air at home, I didn't want to spend that kind of money in this situation for all three rooms! I did get one Zeppelin Air for the largest area, but still needed something for the other two.

 

The folks at iHome have been teasing us with their $299 iW1 for over a year. As of the writing of this it's still out of stock (did they ever ship any?).

 

I also tried the JBL On Air Speaker. I usually don't waste time here writing about how bad something is, but the JBL On Air was probably one of my worst out of box tech experiences of all time. It just flat out didn't work! I made sure it did in fact have the latest firmware update, but it couldn't get through a single song without crashing, rebooting or skipping. I boxed it right back up and sent it back. Although I really liked the design of it and the nice color display for album art, I couldn't deal with that many issues on playback. Now keep in mind I may have just gotten a bad one. It happens, but I wasn't willing to go through shipping back and getting a replacement at this point.

 

Tired of waiting

Since the iW1 wasn't shipping yet and the Zeppelin Air is out of my budget range for this multi-room setup, I went with something that has always worked well for me. I bought a couple more AirPort Express Base Stations and plugged regular powered speakers into them. I'm a fan of the Bose Sounddock II and went with a couple refurbs on those. The system works flawlessly! I can push music through to all three systems simultaneously and even control volume levels from my computer or the speakers themselves. Using the Sounddocks also means that in any room an iPod/iPhone can be plugged in on the spot to play something that someone brought with them and wants to hear.

 

What about streaming other source besides iTunes

While I have a rather large iTunes music collection, there are times that I want to stream other music sources such as Pandora Radio or Sirius XM. This is where the software AirFoil comes into play. AirFoil is a 3rd party utility for your Mac or PC that lets you stream just about any source from your computer to your AirPlay speakers. With AirFoil I can fire up Pandora Radio and have continuous music throughout the day from just about any artist for just about any model or client's music tastes. 

You can check out AirFoil here.

Another reason to go with a computer and AirFoil is that while iOS Devices can stream to AirPlay enabled systems, they can only stream to one at a time. AirFoil and iTunes allow you to stream simultaneously to multiple systems. 

 

The Bottom Line

Even at the relatively low price of $299 for an iHome iW1, it's still hard to beat the AirPort Express Base Station for an AirPlay setup. You can plug in any powered speakers you want or already own and will probably save money. I'll probably still get an iW1 to review and if it works out I'll use it in a 4th location up stairs or in my office. There are more AirPlay enabled speakers and receivers on the horizon. While it's nice to have this technology built-in, unless they become much more reliable, stable, easier to setup and lower the prices I'm going to stick with the AirPort Express/Regular Speakers Combo. It just works!

Turn your Mac into an HD DVR with EyeTV HD

As many of you already know I’m a fan of DVRs in particular TiVo HD and Premiere boxes. However, I recognize that many of you don’t want the costs associated with TiVo, but you do want to be able to record your shows in HD and transfer them to your iOS and other mobile devices. For this Elgato has got you covered with their EyeTV HD. I’ve used Elgato products in the past to simply bring in cable TV to an iMac and have “TV” playing in a window as I worked. However, since those days a lot has changed in the world of TV. For example, Comcast in my area no longer broadcasts “basic” cable without a box. This was one of the things they cut in the move to “Digital” TV. Although there was probably no technical reason to cut it, they cut it and now in order to get cable in my area you need a set-top box to decode the digital signals they send. This also means that in order to record those shows (especially in HD) that you either need to rent their DVR (not a fan of their boxes) or buy a TiVo. With the EyeTV HD you can use your Mac as the HD DVR. You still need a cable or satellite box to decode the signals from your provider. However, with a one time purchase of an EyeTV you can connect this small box to your cable/satellite receiver and then connect it to your Mac via USB (it’s bus powered, so no power brick). Once you load their software you’ll have access to your guide and even the ability to have your Mac remote control your set-top box via the IR emitter. It even comes with it’s own wireless remote control and all the cables you’ll need. Yes it pauses live TV too.

Recording a live show in HD

Record and Watch Anywhere

Besides being able to record to your Mac’s hard drive (internal or external) you can choose to record in two different modes simultaneously. For example, you can record the HD version to watch on your TV (or Mac) when you return home AND you can have it record an iPad/iPhone version at the same time. Of course this uses more disk space, but it definitely saves time for people that want to record and then take their shows with them. That’s one of my frustations with TiVo is that while it can transfer a show to my Mac, it takes a while to transfer it and then even longer to transcode it to a mobile compatible format. With EyeTV, the mobile versions would be sitting there waiting for you as soon as the show ends.

Playing back the recorded show on my MacBook Pro

There’s an App too

While it’s great to have the ability to do dual format recordings, it’s even cooler just to be able to stream your shows from your Mac to your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch via their App. It streams over WiFi or 3G and eliminates the need for a Slingbox.

You can get the EyeTV App for $4.99 (also a bargain when compared to the $30 Slingplayer App) here from the iTunes

What’s the downside?

While this solution solves a few problems, there are some things you have to take into consideration. First of all you’ll need a Mac that is relatively close to your cable/satellite box. Also that box will need to have a free Component Out port if you want HD recording. The EyeTV uses Component video instead of HDMI to avoid Copy Protection issues. You’ll also need ample amounts of hard drive space to be able to record shows in HD. If you plan to stream your Mac will need to be awake. While the solution works, it could be expensive to “dedicate” a Mac to it. However, if you’ve got a Mac server or other Mac that just sits there it might as well get some use doubling as a DVR too. The EyeTV requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later as well as an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better. Lastly you’ll need to connect you Mac to your TV if you want to watch the show you just recorded on the big screen as there is no direct connection from EyeTV HD back to the TV. If you have Apple TV you could stream the recordings that way.

You can buy it here for $169.89 (a bargain compared to long term DVR renting or TiVo/Slingbox buying).

Amazon MP3 Beats iTunes to the Cloud

One of the rumors that has been floating around for several months now is that Apple will take an upcoming version of iTunes to the cloud. Perhaps even ship new iPods (normally released in September) that have no storage or very little storage and simply stream YOUR music over the internet to these devices. Music and video streaming is not a new concept. Just look at apps like Netflix and Pandora Radio and you'll see these kinds of services in use everyday. What is a fairly new concept is streaming YOUR music collection over the internet. It seems that Amazon decided not to wait around for Apple and therefore they released their own version for the Amazon MP3 Store.

 

Introducing Cloud Drive

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkQ55Iij-1M

Amazon's Cloud Drive gives you 5GBs of FREE space for your music collection (or any other documents) to reside in the cloud. You can even get 20GBs for a year by simply buying one of their Albums. I bought a $9.99 MP3 album last night and my space was immediately increased to 20GBs with an expiration date of next year on this same day. At that time I can choose to go back down to the free 5GBs of space or pay $20/year to keep the 20GBs of space. When I bought the Album I was given the choice to either download the songs to my hard drive on my computer or just leave them on my Cloud Drive. Had I chose to just leave them there I could download them at any time in the future if I choose to do so. The purchased Album was available for immediate streaming via the Amazon Cloud Player in my browser and the sound quality was good. 

 

It works with your music too

Cloud Drive not only works with music you buy from Amazon's MP3 Store, but it also works with music in your existing iTunes library (yes including Non-DRM'd AAC files). As a matter of fact you can download the Amazon Uploader and it will automatically sniff out your music collection and offer to upload your music and playlists to your Cloud Drive. I did this with a subset of my collection. I uploaded 396 songs from my iTunes Library on my MacBook Air including all the playlists. The process took about 2 hours to complete, but once it was done it was all there and available for streaming. The 408 songs I have there now only take up 2.8GB of space. The 5GB of FREE space will probably be plenty for me at least for now.

 

The benefits

The benefits of this service are pretty clear. I've often complained that iTunes needs to be able to sync your library between computers. I have this solution, but this should be something that is built-in. By having my most played music in my Cloud Drive including playlists (a must have) I can now access my favorite tunes from any computer with a web browser. If you're an Android user you can grab the Amazon MP3 for Android App and have instant streaming access on your mobile device as well. It will be interesting to see if we see (and if Apple would even approve it) an iOS version of this App. The other benefit is that this serves as a offsite backup of your music. Granted my music collection is larger than 20GBs and Amazon will sell you more, but it's nice for people with smaller collections to know that their music is backed up offsite in case of a drive failure.

The only downside in streaming is you need to have an internet connection to do so. In the Android App there is the option to download any of your music/playlists to the device so that you can enjoy it offline. That is truly the best of both worlds. You can have all or most of your music in the cloud for streaming and perhaps a playlist or two on the device for those times when you don't have a connection.

Apple, your turn!

 

Check out the NEW Cloud Drive and Cloud Player here:

Review: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air with Built-In AirPlay Support

I've been a long time user of Apple's AirTunes (now called AirPlay) technology. As a matter of fact I bought the AirPort Express the day it was introduced, to be my travel WiFi hotspot, but then I quickly saw the benefits of wireless music streaming and set them up throughout my home. Each AirPort Express I have is either plugged into a powered speaker system like the Bose SoundDock or a surround sound system. Life has been good with this setup and it continues to get better now that Apple is putting AirPlay technology into more things. I also like steaming to audio to multiple rooms. I was really curious though what it would be like to have an AirPlay device that had this support built-in as opposed to having to tack on an AirPort Express to each speaker system. While the AirPort Express provides audio AirPlay support to any device with an audio-in jack, it is an extra expense and requires a cable to the audio device. 

 

Bowers & Wilkins shipped one of the 1st Speaker Systems with built-in AirPlay support

During last weekend's iPad 2 madness I noticed that my local Apple Store had the Zeppelin Air in stock. These speakers are sold out just about everywhere and even the Apple online store quotes a 3-5 week wait. It's not everyday that I plunk down $600 for a new sound system, but I was willing to give this one a shot. AirPlay is a great feature, but it has to sound amazing too. Bowers & Wilkins has a long standing history of making great sounding audio gear. I wasn't really worried about it not sounding great.

 

Setup could have been easier

The Zeppelin Air is beautifully packaged and unboxing it only takes a few moments. They supply a wireless remote, power cable and ethernet cable. The ethernet cable is really only needed for the initial configuration and this is what could be improved. In order to set it up (following the directions) you plug the ethernet cable into the speaker and into your Mac or PC. Then you fire up a browser and go to 169.254.1.1. However, you would have to know that the only way this will work is if you have disabled your Mac/PC's WiFi connection and the only connection you then have is via the Ethernet cable. Luckily I knew this going in. Also it takes a few moments for your computer to realize that this is the only connection you have before it brings up the page. This may cause some users to think that it's not working.

Once the built-in web page comes up you use it to select your WiFi network and enter the password for it. You can also use this opportunity to name the Zeppelin Air whatever you like. This name will show up whenever you go to choose it in iTunes or other AirPlay compatible Apps. While this seems straight forward you get a big warning message that unless you read it slowly, it will sound like the setting you just made didn't work. What the message is really warning you about is that "if" you entered the wrong information on the "previous" screen, it may not connect to your network. Duh! This warning should be on the screen where you're actually keying in the info. I did it 3 times before realizing that the message wasn't saying that it didn't work, it was saying that it may not work if I keyed it in wrong. After you click OK, you disconnect the ethernet cable. The flashing LED will turn a solid dark red if it worked and connected to your network. It also takes a few moments for it to connect, causing a bit of anxiety.

I also took this opportunity to download the latest firmware update from the B&W site and install it. This is when I knew that the process above could have gone better. The firmware update installs via a USB cable. Yep, there is also a USB port on the back of the speaker too. They don't supply the cable, but it made me think how much easier this whole setup could have been had they allowed it to happen over USB instead of Ethernet. There would have been no need to screw with your Mac/PC's network connection at all.  Oh well, it's up and running now!

 

The Zeppelin Air is Live on my Network

Once I got through the setup and Firmware update the next thing I obviously wanted to do was hear my new investment. While I could have simply docked an iPod or iPhone on the built-in dock, I wanted to hear it via AirPlay. So I fired up iTunes 10 and started streaming music to it over the air As I expected/hoped the sound was AWESOME. Nice bass response and just and overall great sound. I've often professed NOT to be an audiophile. I'm not one! However, I can definitely tell the difference between this speaker and other lesser speakers that I have around my home. It easily fills the room I have it and then some. No hiccups or other delays in streaming.

 

AirPlay from Devices

Since AirPlay is built-in to iOS 4 I can pickup  any of my iOS devices (iPad, iPhone 4 or iPod touch) and start streaming audio directly to this speaker. Besides having the ability to stream iPod content I can stream audio from Apps like Mobile Safari, Pandora Radio, YouTube, SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone, etc. See more AirPlay Enabled Apps Here.

 

 

The Bottom Line

There really isn't anything "special" about this speaker system. It has AirPlay built-in! However, and I stress this again that the same exact thing can be accomplished with an AirPort Express Base Station and ANY speaker system, including other Bowers & Wilkins Speakers via a line out of the AirPort Express and into the speaker's audio-in jack. If you are starting from scratch and looking for an all in one solution that only has a single power cable once it's setup and sounds great, this is it! Audio streaming has been flawless so far.

I expect a flood of these kind of devices in 2011. I'm also hoping to see some video displays with AirPlay built-in for wireless streaming of video and audio. This is just the beginning.

You can get the Bowers & Wilins Zeppelin Air here for $600 or less.

My Movie Rental Habits Have Changed to Mostly Streaming

Back in the day I would run over to my local Hollywood Video or Blockbuster video to grab a DVD rental for the evening. I got so tired of both company's insane late fee policies that I switched to Netflix and never looked back. Netflix mails the disc to my house and I can keep it as long as I want. Once they added Blu-ray discs I was totally sold. At one point I was on the 3-Discs-At-Home plan. Then I noticed that they would sit for days and weeks on end before I had a chance to view them. I went all the way down to 1-Disc-At Home. Over the holidays I started looking at all of my home entertainment gadgets and it seems that just about every device I own now (TiVo, Playstation 3, XBox 360, Wii, Apple TV, iPad, etc.) can stream movies from either Amazon, Netflix or iTunes. I also noticed that the one Netflix Blu-ray disc I had at home had been sitting there for weeks. I finally watched it. However, before I sent it back I adjusted my account once again, this time to eliminate the discs altogether.

 

Blu-ray discs are better, but…

There's no debate when it comes to the quality of Blu-ray movies over ANY of the popular streaming technologies. Blu-ray wins in the quality category hands down. However, I've decided that for my regular movie viewing that it's just not important enough to keep getting discs. Here's my rationale: 

  • If I'm really interested in the movie, chances are I'll see it on the big screen in the theaters.
  • If it's just a so so movie, streaming quality is just fine and I get to see it immediately on my schedule right when I'm ready to watch. I don't have to leave the house or wait for the disc to come.
  • If it's a movie that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE and one that I'll want to see more than 3 times then I'll buy the Blu-ray (This is VERY RARE). I think I own maybe 20 Blu-ray discs total.

 

Netflix and iTunes are my top two choices

If a movie is available on Netflix instant streaming, it's a win for me. I can watch it on just about any of my devices. The quality is decent for the most part and it's a part of a monthly fee I'm already paying. If it's not available on Netflix I'll price compare it on Amazon (via the TiVo HD or Premiere XL) or iTunes via the Apple TV.  

While the quality of Blu-ray is better, I just can't get past the convenience of streaming these days with my current schedule. My local Hollywood Video closed its doors two years ago and Blockbuster is barely hanging on. Times have definitely changed.

 

The Devices I prefer to stream on

For iTunes and Netflix I'm really liking the NEW 2nd generation Apple TV. Hands down the best Netflix UI I've seen to date.

For Amazon on Demand, it's definitely the TiVo Premiere XL

For watching on the road, it's the Slingbox Pro HD. It allows me to stream whatever is showing on my TiVo to my laptop, iPad or iPhone.

For some older movies I'll watch via HBO. The problem with HBO is, they are never playing the movie I want to watch when I want to watch it. Sometimes I wonder why I still have HBO as most of my favorite HBO series have all but died?

Lastly I still have one Comcast Cable DVR too. If all else fails I can do a Comcast On Demand viewing.

With the above choices I'm set!

Continue reading “My Movie Rental Habits Have Changed to Mostly Streaming”

Review: Upgrading to a TiVo Premiere XL

For years TiVo has been my favorite set-top box! There's no question about it I'm a TiVo fan. However, even as a TiVo fan that doesn't mean I like upgrading just for the sake of upgrading. When I upgrade ANYTHING I weigh the pros and cons and decide if the upgrade is necessary or will benefit me. I encourage EVERYONE to do that!  When TiVo introduced the TiVo Premiere I looked at it and decided that there wasn't really anything there to justify an upgrade for me. My TiVo HD's were (are) working just fine and although for anyone NEW to TiVo the Premiere is a great choice, it just didn't offer "enough" things for me to spend the money. As a matter of fact the only real advantage for me would be the larger hard drive (which I could do to my existing units). See TiVo's own comparison here. If you look at that comparison you'll see that most of the differences between the new Premiere boxes and the HD boxes revolve around the user interface and searching. The New TiVo Premiere definitely has better searching and suggestion features than the older model. However, I'm not usually trying to discover "new" shows.

 

So what changed my mind?

You're going to laugh! Actually I replaced one of my TiVo HD XLs with a TiVo Premiere XL because I was forced to! No I'm kidding. No one can "force" you to upgrade. However, there was something that TiVo announced that I've been wanting and waiting for for years and that's…here it comes…an iPad App!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6w3RUE8mhY

I was both excited and ticked off at the same time when I saw their announcement (and cool video by the way) of their upcoming TiVo iPad App. I've been beating up TiVo for a while now for not having an iOS App for scheduling, remote control, account management, etc. and when they finally announced it I cheered until I saw that it will only support the TiVo Premiere and Premiere XL. ARGGGHHHHHHHHH! While it's easy for me or anyone else to say c'mon! Really? You can't make that app work with the thousands of TiVo HD's out there? I know how these things go from a development standpoint. You want this really slick experience that takes complete advantage of your new UI on your new box, that will take twice as long and twice the development effort to make work with a box that you don't even sell anymore. Anyone who has been using a computer for more than a couple of years has faced this already. Some new OS or piece of software you want won't work on your older hardware. If you want those capabilities you "have to upgrade". So here we are! I want those capabilities and "I" decided to upgrade ONE TiVo HD to get them. 

 

 

Two Upgrades for the Price of One

After I got over the emotional part of upgrading something that was working fine, I decided to plan a box swap. I have an existing TiVo HD XL with a larger drive in my theater. The XL has the larger drive which means it can hold more shows without having to delete as often. I decided to move that one to the living room (which is always running out of storage space) and eBay the TiVo HD from the living room. The New TiVo Premiere XL would go in the theater. This plan made me feel a "little" better about it as I would be solving two problems with one purchase. I would also recoup some of my money on selling the perfectly working TiVo HD. That brings me to another point. TiVo.com offers UPGRADE pricing to existing customers. This means that you don't lose out on your Lifetime subscription and you get a bit of a price break. I'm feeling even better now. 

 

The Comcast CableCARD Factor

The other thing that always makes me think twice about a TiVo upgrade is the fact that I have to get Comcast involved. Since Comcast is my cable provider I have to get a CableCARD from them to go inside the TiVo. My experience with CableCARDs has been hit or miss. Sometimes everything works on the first try. Other times I've had to have the tech come back multiple times before it worked. The problem is that they don't deal with them often and not many reps know how to configure them on your account. I planned and scheduled my appointment for one day after the TiVo Premiere XL was to arrive and in typical (sorry but I have to say it) Comcast fashion they screwed up the appointment. Let's just say they went to the wrong house! As they called to apologize and reschedule it dawned on me that I had a CableCARD sitting in my hands. I had the one from the old (now factory reset) TiVo HD that I was going to turn in. I figured I could just swap them myself, but I've had bad experiences trying that in the past. The CableCARD must first be UNPAIRED before putting it into a different TiVo. I know that now after having to send two TiVos back in the past. Luckily since I went through the factory reset process I saw on screen where it said that it was going to unpair the cableCARD during the process. This made me feel a little safer in suggesting to the Comcast rep on the phone, "well I have a card from the old one can someone just configure this one over the phone and then you won't have to send anyone out?" She informed me that she could and away I went to the Premiere XL to plug the card in. The result: A happy ending! It WORKED! No problems whatsoever. She knew what she was doing (rare when dealing with Comcast and CableCARDs). I was up and running without having to have a tech/contractor come out . Rant alert: By the way (Comcast if you're reading this) I never understood and still don't understand why Comcast has to come out for this anyway. Why can't I pick up a CableCARD from the office? When you order a CableCARD the tech comes out and plugs it in! That's all he/she can do anyway. This brings up a dialog on screen with the necessary ID numbers. The rest has to be done over the phone anyway (by anyone that can read off numbers!) I can go to my local Comcast office and pick up a Cable Modem or Comcast DVR but not a CableCARD , which is the EASIEST thing to install. You just PLUG IT IN and READ OFF NUMBERS. End of Rant. 

 

Online Season Pass Manager: Gotcha!

One of the recent additions to TiVo.com is the new online Season Pass Manager. One of the things that TiVo brags about during the upgrade process. They say you'll be able to easily copy over all your Season Passes (show scheduling) from the old TiVo to the NEW one. Great! Except for one problem. When I ordered the new Premiere, it was done as an upgrade. Therefore replacing one on my account. TiVo in their infinite wisdom replaces the box on your account with the New one even before it arrives at your door. When I logged into my account the new one was there and the old one (along with its Season Passes) was GONE! When I called TiVo to complain about this to their credit the tech rep was able to temporarily put the old TiVo back on my account long enough for me to copy over the Season Passes. I will admit that this feature definitely makes it much easier to upgrade, but TiVo you should think about upgraders and the way your process works now. The old TiVo should go in an inactive state so that the user can grab the info they need for the new one!

 

Now that I have it and it works, how is it?

The TiVo Premiere XL has a much more modern looking interface! It's hands down easier on the eyes than the previous UI (user interface). Being a visual guy, I love the movie poster art all over the place. TiVo HD already had integration with Netflix, Amazon Ondemand, YouTube and Blockbuster, but the TiVo Premiere interface brings that content closer to the surface and makes it easier to get to. I still think that the new Apple TV has the best Netflix integration, but the TiVo Netflix integration works just fine.

The "old" TiVo HD interface

A couple less ports. The Premiere drops the S-video out port, which probably won't be a big loss to many. It still has Component, HDMI, Optical audio and Composite, which are all active at the same time. There is also only one cableCARD slot so you'll definitely have to get a Multistream CableCARD. Again not a problem as there probably aren't very many single stream cards being handed out these day by the cable companies. 

1080p is here! Another nice update is that the Premiere goes up from 1080i to 1080p. I'm happy to see this for sure, but not sure how often I'll see it in use. My cable service still maxes out currently at 1080i. Perhaps some of the online ondemand content will stream at 1080p at some point if not now. My old TiVo HD XL was THX certified and so is the NEW Premiere XL. This new one even comes with a set of glasses to allow you to tweak your TV for optimum THX performance during the setup process. I love the THX trailer that plays at the end! They even suggest that you "crank up your sound system" before it plays. Nice! Lastly I like the smaller physical footprint of the Premiere. The case is noticeably smaller than the HD and leaves me more room on the stand I have it on.

It is very smart! As you know famous actor/comedian Leslie Nielson recently passed away. One of the "finds" at the top of my TiVo Premiere Screen was the "The Best of Leslie Nielson". It's basically a list of every movie that he has been in. While you could go through and choose individual favorites to buy or search for recording, my favorite feature in this case was a ONE BUTTON add all to my To Do List. In other words if ANY of these movies come on TV in the future TiVo will now automatically record them. Now that is freakin' sweet!

 

 

Why not just get a DVR from your service provider?

Continue reading “Review: Upgrading to a TiVo Premiere XL”

Wireless Speakers: Bluetooth vs. AirPlay

We're on the verge of seeing several new wireless speakers enter the market place. The question though is which wireless technology is going to be right for you? The two formats that will likely be competing for our attention (and dollars) are Bluetooth and Apple's New AirPlay technology found in iDevices running iOS 4.2.

When AirPlay was first announced iHome teased us with a pre-announcement of an AirPlay speaker iW1 they were going to release. No real details were given at the time. So we continue to wait.

In the meantime Jawbone just announced their new Jambox Bluetooth wireless speaker. This one got my attention because in the iOS 4 Apple finally brought "full" Bluetooth Stereo support to iOS. You might remember my review of the Sony Bluetooth Stereo headset and using it with the iPhone. Back then I was able to use it to listen to music and make/receive calls, but the skip forward/back buttons on the headset were non-functional with the iPhone. Now they work fine with the latest iOS.
 

Advantages of Bluetooth Speakers

Bluetooth has been around a lot longer and is built-in to lots of devices. If you get a Bluetooth Speaker chances are you'll be able to use it with more than just your Apple gear. Bluetooth is also peer to peer which means you don't have to be on a network to use it. Once your device is paired to the speaker you can just use the speaker wirelessly anytime you're within 30 feet of it regardless of whether or not a Wi-Fi network is within range.
 

Advantages of AirPlay

AirPlay is new so the performance is yet to be seen. However, seeing how it's built on AirTunes that has been around for a while I'm not expecting any major issues. Video performance will be the only unknown factor at this point. AirPlay has the advantage of distance. While Bluetooth has a limited range of about 30 feet, AirPlay is based on Wi-Fi and therefore can go several hundred feet. You could fire up your iPad that is docked in the living room and pump music out to a speaker on the deck. AirPlay is also not limited to just audio. With AirPlay in theory someone could build a speaker with an LCD in it to be able to watch video content on, in addition to listening to audio content. I don't think we'll see a lot of devices in this category because in order to make sense the device would have to be the size of a TV. However, that does beg the question: will we see big screen TV's with AirPlay built-in? Now that would be cool! Lastly AirPlay has the advantage of being able to stream audio to more than one AirPlay speaker at a time. With AirTunes the current limitation is 3 devices. I use this ability now all the time by sending music from an iMac to the stereo in the living room and the Bose speaker in the Kitchen.

 

The Bottom Line

While I'm tempted to get the new Jawbone Jambox Speaker just to play, the $199 price tag is a bit of a show stopper for me. While I'm sure it sounds great, I just don't have enough of a need for a "Bluetooth" wireless speaker to drop $200 on it. However, if an AirPlay speaker hits the market soon I'd be more willing to spend the money on it to replace my current setup in the kitchen (a Bose SoundDock connected to an AirPort Express). While the Bose SoundDock has amazing sound, I'd replace it for something that was self contained. (Bose are you listening?) The only reason I have an AirPort Express in that room is to drive that speaker. We should also see some Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi devices in the coming months that will allow streaming without the need of a Wi-Fi hotspot. Ultimately this technology may surpass Bluetooth if it catches on because of the increased range. Things are going to heat up soon and you're going to have lots of choices. Stay tuned!

My New Google TV: A Work In Progress

A little bit about my habit

I admit it. I'm a TV junkie. Yes, I'm one of those guys that actually enjoys TV. Now while you may be picturing this guy laying on a couch with empty potato chip bags all around, I'm not quite that bad. I use TV as a form of turning my brain off. I work long hours every day. I travel for a living and that in and of itself adds layers of stress on my life. I'm constantly on my computer working or reading up on the latest things in tech. When I've had enough! It's time to veg in front of the TV. This means that I'm not looking for inspiration. I'm not looking for a message on life. I'm not looking for controversial issues. I'm looking for simple entertainment. That's it. 

With that said, I've got all the latest TV gear in my home. HDTVs, a theater room, TiVo HD, Apple TV, Comcast HD Cable Service, Slingbox, Playstation 3, Nintindo Wii, Xbox 360 and a Netflix account. At one point I even had both DirecTV AND Comcast until DirecTV all but accused me of lying about a pay per view that I didn't order (as a result I'm no longer a DirecTV customer, their loss!). There is no shortage in ways to watch TV in my life. 

 

When do I find the time to watch?

I almost NEVER watch a live broadcast. I just don't have the time to sit in front of a TV on someone else's schedule. That's why TiVo HD is my favorite piece of gear out of all of the above boxes. I set up the Season Passes and one time recordings for the shows I want to watch and when I'm home and done with work for the day, I can usually get 3-4 shows in (fast forwarding through commercials) in one sitting. My second favorite box is my Slingbox. This allows me to stream my own TiVo recordings anywhere I happen to be traveling on my computer or my iOS devices. Lastly I also like to watch on those long flights. Therefore I either bring Netflix DVDs or rip the TiVo'd shows to my laptop or my iPad. That pretty much covers that ways that I watch content. I'm not a regular Hulu user and I rarely if ever watch shows on the network websites. The biggest reason for this is that I'm either watching at home and using TiVo or I'm in the air and don't have an internet connection to stream content. So streaming shows to my computer is the least interesting option for me.

 

The road to Google TV

I was intrigued by Google's initial teaser video on the upcoming Google TV and put it on my list of gadgets to check out. At the same time I was looking to replace the HDTV in my bedroom. The one I had was a Sony 32" 720p lower end Bravia. While this TV worked fine, I wanted a few more HDMI ports, Full 1080p resolution and the power saving aspects and clarity of the new LED sets. I was in no hurry and was just waiting for the right deal to come along. Also I had no particular brand in mind. I have no love or hate for Sony. I have several Sony products, but if a better set came along by another manufacturer I'd consider it.

Then I got an email from Sony announcing "the world's first HDTV powered by Google TV". I thought "perfect timing"! I was in the market for a TV and I wanted to tryout Google TV and this would kill two birds with one stone. 

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Officially Launching My YouTube Channel

I've been using YouTube for a long time now as a way to provide video content on this blog. I remember the early days of YouTube being primarily for teenagers and vehicle for people to show off their babies and pets. 🙂 The quality, well, um, kinda sucked! I just didn't really find it remotely good enough to host the kind of content I wanted to share. Well all that has changed now. YouTube is GREAT for sharing videos in 720p HD quality, up to 10 minutes in length. It's easy to use and to embed the clips right on my site. Now don't get me wrong, I know that there are other GREAT video sharing sites out there too like Smugmug (which does all the way up to 1080p with a paid account), Vimeo, BlipTV, etc. However, I find that YouTube seems to be the most universal and has the largest audience. After all, if I go through the trouble to produce a video and make it available for free I wan to have the largest possible viewing audience I can get.  Also since YouTube is BUILT-IN to the iPhone and now the iPad, I can reach millions more people with this one service than I can with any of the others. Another nice surprise was that Apple gave the iPad's Safari the ability to view embedded YouTube clips right in the page without having to launch the App or go to another browser window. Sold!

 

A funny thing happened on the way to this post

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Best of 2009: Terry’s Top 10 Gadget Picks

Happy New Year! It's that time once again to take a quick look at my favorite gadgets of last year. The gadgets I've chosen were the ones that I used the most and that had the most positive impact on my day-to-day life. These gadgets were either introduced in 2009 or had significant updates in 2009. These are the gadgets that I would recommend to a friend without hesitation. So let's get to it…

 

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 3GS

Anyone that knows me knows that the iPhone 3GS is my communications device of choice. The 3GS made my life easier this year with more memory, a faster processor, and graphics to run apps that I never dreamed of right from the palm of my hand. I use my iPhone quite a bit in my day to day routine. I actually get a ton of work/communications done with this device.  I get both work and personal email, SMS and MMS messaging, productivity and business apps, and yes even the ability to make calls. This is the one gadget that I now couldn't imagine being without. See my original iPhone 3GS review here. Learn more about the iPhone 3GS here.

See my Must Have iPhone Apps here.

See my favorite iPhone and iPod touch accessories here.

 

Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote

When I am at home and not producing content, I enjoy my home entertainment systems and home theater. The one remote that has worked for me better than any other remote I've tried is the Logitech Harmony One. This remote is configured from your computer to do exactly what you want. Anyone with more than a couple of entertainment components should do themselves a favor and check out the Harmony One. See my original review here. Get the Harmony One Remote here.

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