Subject: General Tech | October 4, 2016 - 04:28 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: google, chromecast, media streaming, 4k, hdr, google home
During Google's #madebygoogle event (embedded below), the company introduced a number of new pieces of hardware including a new Chromecast. The Chromecast Ultra is aimed at owners of 4K televisions and supports both 4K Ultra HD and HDR content from the likes of Netflix, YouTube, and other apps. Like previous models, the Chromecast takes input from Android, iOS, Mac OSX, and Windows devices that "cast" media to the TV. Additionally, it can be paired with Google Home where users can use voice commands such as "Ok, Google. Play the sneezing panda video on my TV."
The Chromecast Ultra is a small circular puck with a Micro USB port and a short flexible flat HDMI cable that is permanently attached to the device. The Micro USB port is used for both power and data. One neat feature about the new Chromecast Ultra is that the power adpater has an Ethernet port on it so that users can hook the streaming device up to their wired network for better performance (important for streaming 4K content). Not to worry if you rely on WiFi though because it does support dual band 802.11ac.
Google has not yet revealed what hardware is under the hood of its new 4k capable Chromecast, unfortunately. They did release pricing information though: the Chromecast Ultra will be $69 and is "coming soon". If you are interested you can sign up to be notified when it becomes available.
Subject: General Tech | October 4, 2016 - 04:09 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: media streaming, fire tv, amazon
Later this month Amazon will be releasing a new Fire TV Stick with upgraded internals and Alexa Voice controls. The refreshed media streamer features a 1.3 GHz MediaTek MT8127 SoC with four ARM Cortex A7 cores and a Mali 450 GPU, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage (for apps mainly, and not expandable), and support for newer 802.11ac (dual band, dual antenna) Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.1 wireless technologies.
While that particular SoC is ancient by smartphone standards, it is a decent step up from its predecessor's dual 1GHz ARM A9 cores and VideoCore 4 GPU. It supports h.265 and HEVC decode along with 1080p60 output. The inclusion of 802.11ac WiFi should help the streaming device do its job effectively even in areas littered with WiFi networks (like apartment buildings or townhomes).
The big change from the old Fire TV Stick is the integration of Alexa Voice control and a new remote control with microphone input. Using voice input, users can control media playback, open apps, search for content, and even order pizza. There is no 4K support or expandable storage here (for that you would have to move to the $99 Fire TV) but it is less than half the price.
The refreshed Fire TV Stick will be available on Amazon for $39.99 on October 20th. Pricing along with the additional voice input makes it a competitive option versus Roku's streaming stick and Google's Chromecast.
- Amazon Takes On Apple TV, Roku, and Ouya With $99 Fire TV Streaming Box
- Amazon Echo Overview (video) @ PC Perspective
Subject: Storage | March 31, 2016 - 02:03 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: synology, SOHO, network storage, NAS, media streaming, DSM, ds416slim
Synology recently revealed a new small and lightweight NAS for home and small business users. The DS416slim is a small networked attached storage device that uses up to four 2.5" SATA drives to offer up to 8TB of storage that can be used for backups, media streaming, file synchronization, and offsite storage thanks to its dual core ARM processor and DiskStation Manager 6.0 operating system.
This new NAS is fairly compact at 7.24" x 6.61" x 9.05" (18.4cm x 16.8cm x 23cm) and weighing just over one and a half pounds (700 grams). It is roughly rectangular with the front decked out in status LEDs and a single USB 3.0 port. The laptop-sized hard drives (up to 12.5mm so basically any 2.5" SATA drive will work) are loaded vertically into the unit using snap-in drive trays that slide into the back. The back panel also holds dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and a second USB 3.0 port.
Interestingly, the DS416slim supports link aggregation as well as failover and load balance modes depending on your settings. Using link aggregation to connect to a Windows PC, Synology rates transfer speeds at up to 177 MB/s reads and 77 MB/s writes. Using a single Gigabit link the NAS can hit read speeds up to 112.77 MB/s.
With all four drives installed, users can choose from all the usual RAID suspects including RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10. Of course, single volumes and JBOD are also options with the total raw storage capacity being 8TB (4 x 2TB hard drives or solid state drives). A bottom-mounted removable 60mm fan module keeps the drives running cool and reportedly the Synology NAS has noise levels of 20.3 dBA.
Internally, the NAS is powered by a dual core Armada 385 processor clocked at 1.0 GHz with dedicated hardware encryption engine and 512 MB of DDR3 memory. The also recently released DSM 6.0 OS allows the NAS to be a backup destination for multiple PCs, a media server, file synchronization hub, and a source to sync files to all the various cloud storage providers for offsite backup. Synology's browser-accessed OS GUI also lets you add various services and features using downloadable applications to expand its out-of-the-box functionality (e.g. torrent box).
The front and rear USB 3.0 ports can be used to easily transfer data to or from external hard drives to make offsite backups easy. The DS416slim is interesting in that its small size makes it a nice portable option for video editors, photographers, or other small business users that need on site access to lots of fast file storage at various job sites. The use of laptop hard drives means that storage is going to be a bit more expensive per GB and not quite as fast, but the drives are built a bit more robustly when it comes to moving them around versus your standard desktop drive. I do wonder about the reliability versus 3.5-inch drives over time, but the difference is likely marginal today and the lower power usage is much more suited to SOHO NAS duties. I would like to see this decked out with RAIDed SSDs though!
Synology rates the laptop-drive inspired NAS at 17.17W during disk access and 11.63W power usage while the drives are hibernating.
The Synology DS416slim comes with a 2 year warranty and with be avaialable early next month and retail (without drives) for around $290 (Amazon lists it at $289+shipping though once more units are available I would expect it to drop a smidge in price).
Subject: General Tech | May 27, 2015 - 10:00 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: miracast, media streaming, Lenovo Cast, Lenovo, DLNA
Lenovo has announced their first media-streaming device, and the pocket-sized streamer works with both DLNA and Miracast enabled mobile devices.
Lenovo describes the process of connecting the new Cast device, which should be familiar to those already using devices such as the Google Chromecast:
Lenovo Cast works in three simple steps: plug, link and play. First, plug Lenovo Cast into any large screen device’s HDMI port. Then link Lenovo Cast to the device’s signal. Then play and enjoy media from a DLNA or Miracast-enabled tablet or smartphone.
The pocket-sized Lenovo Cast resembles a hockey puck
The Lenovo Cast boasts dual-frequency Wi-Fi and ransfers content up to 20 meters. Pricing is in line with other streaming options as well, as it will be available in August for $49.
Subject: General Tech | April 8, 2014 - 01:01 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: streaming box, Netflix, media streaming, html, fire tv, Android, amazon
Amazon is making a play for the living room with its new Fire TV. The tiny box offers up mobile gaming along with movie and music streaming. Users will be able to tap into Amazon’s own Prime Instant Video collection in addition to various streaming video and music services from partners (see below). The box runs an operating system based on Android and HTML and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC which makes it about as powerful as today’s mid-range smartphones. At $99, the Fire TV is, ahem, a shot across the bow of devices from Apple, Roku, and Ouya.
The box measures 4.5" x 4.5" x 0.7" and comes bundled with a remote small remote control. Amazon provides hardware ports for HDMI, optical audio output, Ethernet, and USB. The remote has basic playback controls along with a microphone used for the voice search functionality. The Fire TV is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC with four Krait 300 CPU cores clocked at 1.7 GHz and an Adreno 320 GPU, 2GB of DDR2 memory at 533 MHz, and 8GB of internal flash memory. Networking includes wired Ethernet and a 802.11n + Bluetooth 4.0 radio. A large heatsink is used to passively cool all of the components.
The Fire TV is launching with a number of applications from partners. Users can stream video from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vimeo, Vudu, Flixter, NBA, and YouTube among others. Music apps include Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Vevo. Finally, users can play back music and photos from their Amazon Cloud Drive storage. Amazon further offers up an app store for free and paid games. For example, users will be able to play Minecraft Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead, or Sev Zero using the included remote or optional $39.99 game pad.
For media junkies with children Amazon has added the FreeTime functionality from its Kindle tablets to the Fire TV. FreeTime restricts the device to kid-friendly programming and a new optional $2.99 per month FreeTime Unlimited subscription offers up a catalog of kid-friendly media for streaming. Other software features include X-Ray (in-media information, such as identifying an actor) and ASAP which attempts to determine what programs you are likely to stream next and begin caching it in the background. For example, it will begin to cache the next episode of a TV series so that when you go to watch the next episode you will not see any loading screens.
The FireTV is a compelling alternative to the Roku (latest being the $50 Streaming Stick) and Apple TV (so long as you are not already invested in the Apple / iTunes ecosystem) while also offering up mobile gaming on the living room TV in a more-polished way that the Ouya ever did. The $99 Fire TV is available from Amazon immediately.
I think the Fire TV has real potential to catch on with most consumers, though the real test for enthusiasts and readers of PC Per will be to see if the extra features and Amazon polish will be worth the price premium over cheaper options like the Chromecast and Raspberry Pi setups.
Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information and hands-on experience with Amazon's latest bit of hardware.
Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2014 - 02:13 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: streaming stick, roku, Netflix, media streaming, chromecast
Roku has launched a new Streaming Stick for HD TVs with HDMI inputs. The small USB flash drive-sized device is powered by USB and plugs into the HDMI input of your television. From there, users can access the Roku app store to get thousands of streaming media channels including television, movies, sports, and music. For example, users can access media from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, VUDU, Pandora, and Spotify.
The Roku Streaming Stick can pass up to 1080p video and 7.1 channel digital audio to the TV. It can be controlled via a physical remote or an Android or iOS smartphone application. Roku is using RF for the hardware remote and Wi-Fi direct for the smartphone-to-Streaming Stick connection, which means that line of sight is not necessary (which is important since most TV HDMI ports are recessed on the back panel). Speaking of wireless, the Streaming Stick pulls its media from a Wi-Fi network connection, with support for dual band 802.11 a/b/g/n networks (2.4GHz or 5GHz).
Using the smartphone application, users can browse for and queue content. In general, the Roku stick can go out and fetch media on its own without a smartphone or computer intermediary passing the content. However, it does support limited “casting” functionality similar to Google’s Chromecast. In this mode, users, can pass YouTube, Netflix, and personal (on device) media over to the TV from the smartphone. Roku has stated that casting support for other media streams and casting from a PC is coming in the future.
Roku’s new Chromecast competitor is available for pre-order now for $49.99 with availability expected in April. The price is on the high side, but it does offer access to all of Roku’s channels, a physical remote for basic playback and navigation controls, is able to stream media on its own, and is also able to do media push functionality similar to the Chromecast (but in a more limited fashion at the moment). More devices and competition in this space is a good thing though!
Will you be picking up a Roku Streaming Stick or holding out for something else?
Subject: General Tech | August 5, 2013 - 09:00 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: media streaming, hulu, hbo, google, chromecast
Google released its Chromecast streaming stick last month, and the device launched with support for YouTube, Google Play, and Netflix streaming. For the remaining content sources, users need to resort to "casting" an entire Chrome web browser tab from a smartphone, tablet, or computer connected to the same network over Wi-Fi. At launch, Google stated that additional apps are coming, including Pandora (and later Vimeo). Now, stories are appearing online reporting that Hulu Plus and HBO Go support may be coming to the $35 streaming device in the near future.
Variety reports that HBO is "actively exploring" the Google Chromecast as another method for subscribers to access content. As usual, users will need to be subscribers of traditional cable or satellite services along with paying a monthly subscription to HBO itself in order to access HBO Go on the Chromecast. For now, users are able to stream to their televisions by using the tab casting feature, but an app would be ideal. The company has not announced any specific timelines for an app release, however.
Additionally, Hulu has said that it is working on adding its own streaming app to the Chromecast for Plus subscribers. Specifically, Hulu representative Meredith Kendall was quoted by Variety in stating that "We are actively working with Google to bring Hulu Plus to the platform." Hulu seems to be more certain on delivering a Chromecast app for its users, so it is likely that Hulu Plus will come out before HBO Go, though free Hulu users will have to resort to casting the entire Chrome tab.
Have you received your Google Chromecast yet? Are you excited for new apps, or is the tab casting "good enough"?
Read more about Google's Chromecast media streaming dongle at PC Perspective.
Subject: General Tech | July 6, 2013 - 03:01 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: smart tv, Samsung, media streaming, live tv, htpc, cloud dvr, boxee
Earlier this week, set top box maker Boxee was acquired by Samsung in a deal worth approximately $30 million. The Korean company will retain all 45 Boxee employees as well as hold the rights to Boxee assets. Samsung plans to put the Boxee team to work on improving the user experience of its own Smart TVs. Unfortunately for Boxee users, the company announced on its website yesterday that it will be discontinuing its Cloud DVR service on July 10th.
Samsung's new "key talent and assets" from Boxee will work on improving the software used in Samsung's internet-connected Smart TVs. Smart TVs have become rather common, but much like the built-in 3D features, consumers may have a TV with Internet connected functionality but many do not utilize these features. The Boxee team will work on improving the interface, and hopefully with Sasmsung's muscle behind the team it will be able to offer enticing media functionality without running into rights issues with the big media companies, which Boxee has run into in the past.
Other than the brief announcement from Boxee and a couple of short quotes from Samsung to the BBC, details on the deal, the Boxee team's future involvement and road map on Boxee-inspired software are scarce. On one hand it is sad to see a small startup being bought out. On the other hand, it seems like it really takes a big company with lots of resources to make inroads into the living room, especially where TV and video is concerned due to media companies and cable companies (and in Comcast's case, both) fighting vigorously against these Internet streaming boxes. Hopefully Samsung realizes what it has and takes advantage of its new talent to make its Smart TVs better! In the meantime, there is always Roku to look to for alternative streaming boxes or XBMC and WMC for fully-fledged home theater PCs.
What do you think about the Boxee acquisition and the future of so-called "Smart TVs?"
Subject: General Tech | June 28, 2013 - 02:39 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: video streaming, tv, midwest, media streaming, Lawsuit, Internet, aereo
Aereo, the popular streaming service that delivers broadcast television channels via the Internet, has announced its plans to expand into the Midwest US despite the numerous lawsuits facing its future from big broadcast companies trying to shut it down. Fortunately, Aereo is forging ahead and will be coming to several counties within Illinois and Indiana later this year.
When it expands into this new region, it will pick up several local channels and make them (along with a bit of DVR space) available to subscribers over an internet connection to computers and mobile devices. Channels will include ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and FOX.
On September 13, Aereo will be available to residents of the following Illinois counties:
- La Salle
Additionally, the service will be available to these counties in Indiana:
- La Porte
Conveniently (though mere coincidence), I recently moved from the middle of the state to one of the upcoming counties, and I’m looking forward to finally be able to test the service out.
Have you tried Aereo yet? Is it helping with your cord cutting endeavors or merely a supplement to an existing cable subscription?
Subject: General Tech | January 7, 2013 - 09:21 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: remote access, NAS, media streaming, DLNA, central shared storage, backup, ces 2013, CES, Seagate
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Seagate announced a new home backup and media streaming box that it is calling the Seagate Central Shared Storage. Featuring a form factor well suited to your AV rack in the living room or next to the PC, the Central Shared Storage box will act as a NAS and DLNA server with additional software that enables automatic backup of multiple PCs throughout the home and Facebook photos. The Seagate software will run on computers running either Windows or OSX and will organize audio, video, images, and documents for viewing and streaming on a variety of devices.
In addition, the Central Shared Storage box will also back up your photos stored on Facebook. You can stream or access multimedia on mobile devices (using the Seagate Media App), PCs, or Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players. ON the mobile side, Samsung supports IOS, Amazon (Kindle HD), and Android devices. You can also access your stored content from afar with the remote access feature. social network accounts. Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players will further offer up a customized interface for the viewing your music, movies, and photos on the big screen TV.
It will be interesting to see what the performance is like over the network, and whether the software required for auto-backup is worth using. Unfortunately, there is no word on Linux support, but it may still be possible to get Linux computers backed up to the NAS using something like Wine.
The Seagate Central Shared Storage will be available in March 2013 and will come in three capacities. The MSRPs are as follows:
- 2TB is $189.99
- 3TB is $219.99
- 4TB is $259.99
You can find the full press release here.
PC Perspective's CES 2013 coverage is sponsored by AMD.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!