Tuesday, October 30, 2012

They Shoot Old Software, Don't They?

Don't you wax occasionally nostalgic for those old games you used to play when you (and the game industry) were younger and full of wonder? Ever wonder where those old classics go when time (and technology) has passed them by? Why, they're right on your shelf, ready to play! Let's see if we can resurrect some of these classics.

What prevents you from running older games on newer systems? A lot, actually. There is the CPU it was intended to run on, the operating system version, the video cards and their drivers as well as any input devices supported like mice, keyboards, gamepads, wheels and joysticks. And it's a credit to the developer if they had enough foresight to consider the longevity of their creation to make their application as non-reliant on the hardware and operating system as possible.

For example, people are still playing a title called Ghost Recon (the original version) even though it was released in 2002. In computer years, that's like 100 years ago. The specs on the box say it will run on Windows 98/2000/XP. But it's one of the few games of that era that was written to adapt to changes in the hardware, like display size. There were no wide-screen displays back then, yet not only does it support the newer wide-screen resolutions but with a little patch can also support tiled displays. Imagine playing on 3 screens wrapped around you. RedStorm did one heck of a programming job on this title, kudos to them. The graphics may be a little dated, but it runs beautifully, even in Windows 7.

And for those games that did not have that programming edge, there are other solutions.
  1. Obtain the actual hardware. Check your junk room or with friends, local computer swaps, yard sales and the like for older hardware. The easiest solution is the best solution and that is running on the system it was intended to run on. That makes it doubly nostalgic for you too! If you're worried about space, maybe look for an old laptop. And you should try to pick one from a time that gives you the ability to play the largest number of older games.
  2. Check for alternate platforms. For example, one of the greatest, non-violent adventure games, MYST from Cyan Worlds, first came out on the Mac. Then it was released for the PC. Now it's also on iOS. So check with the developer or search online for information. And don't forget, Linux is also an option for operating system platforms. Some online buddies and I play Call of Duty 2 on a Linux port of the server software that we manage ourselves and both PC and Mac users of the game can play on it. Cool.
  3. Check gaming websites. There are places online where you can purchase these old games that have been tweaked to run on current systems or have passed inspection on current systems. The advantage here is that the hard work has been done for you already and you can, with some certainty, play these games without issue. And now these sites are serving up both PC and Mac classics, so you don't always have to move to another computer to play an old favorite. And they are usually inexpensive to own. (See the list at the bottom.)
  4. Game emulation software. This is software that simulates older hardware to trick games into working. There are emulators for arcade games to handhelds and even DOS-based games. Some of these require special items, like the ROM images from stand alone arcade games, not all of which are legal to obtain. But aside from the arcade games, if you own the software, these applications allow you play them on your system. (See the list at the bottom.)
  5. Virtual Machines. This is software that allows you to run various operating systems as virtual machines on your one computer. There are the popular commercial Parallels and Fusion as well as the free VirtualBox. You install this software and then create an instance of a particular operating system like Windows XP or Ubuntu Linux and then install your game into that, as though it was the machine it was designed to run on. Your mileage will vary both by game and which VM product you choose to use.
  6. OS Wrappers. Instead of using the shotgun approach of installing an entire operating system into a virtual machine, you could opt to "wrap" your old app in just the core files it needs to run and then use it like a standard app right from your desktop. Some companies are already doing that and re-releasing games on different platforms using this method rather than having to re-develop their games for other environments. But end users also have this option using the free Wine software for PC applications or the commercial version called CrossOver. CodeWeavers has done a great job in collecting data from end users regarding how well games run under CrossOver so you can see which games run the best.
So, can you run those older games? Sure! It really depends on how deep your nostalgia lies. Because let me tell you, some of these older games look... well... old. And it maybe that your memories (the misty water colored ones) of playing the game has anti-aliased the reality of resurrecting the game and playing it now.

Places to buy older or pre-wrapped games
GoodOldGames Mac & PC
Steam Mac & PC
GameTreeMac Mac only
GameTap PC only

Wrappers for PC games that allow play on newer or alternate platforms
Cider - wrapper for developer/enthusiast use (Mac ports of PC games)
Virtualbox - Windows emulation
Wine - open source Windows wrapper
CrossOver - commercial Windows wrapper for games and other apps

Arcade Game Emulator
MAME - Arcade games (some free game are available)

Old School Adventure Game Emulation
ScummVM - LucasArts Games and more

Old Old School Game Emulation
DOSBox - DOS emulator for old PC games

*** OFFER *** CodeWeavers is offering a free copy of CrossOver for the whole of Halloween, October 31, 2012, from 00:00 until 23:59 CDT. To sign up for your free copy or free 12 month extension, simply visit this web page: http://flock.codeweavers.com

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Technical Evolution Revolution

New MacBooks! New iMacs! New iPads! New mini! (what's a mini? lol) Never let it be said that I am not excited about new product releases from Apple. But new for Apple over the past few years has also meant the loss of something, too, in the interest of "the future." Unfortunately, that always hasn't been a plus for us. Here's a brief history.

ADB to USB Sure, makes sense. The PC world is a glut of USB devices such as keyboards, mice, external drives, printers and more which would be simple to use on the Mac – and cheaper. Plug and Play has never been this easy on the PC.

Floppy drive for SuperDrive Great! Well, kind of great. Yes, CDs can store about 72 floppies' worth of data, but for the longest time, I would still come across the odd floppy disk that needed the data taken off of it. I still have my USB floppy drive just in case.

SCSI to Firewire You bet. Get rid of those monster cables, SCSI ID numbers and termination woes that would help coin the term "SCSI voodoo," add simple connections and speed. Sure, I had to replace a couple of devices, but in the end, it was well worth it.

USB2 to USB3 Awesome! It's really about time. Now we can have even faster data transfer for our backups and data streaming. And, it's backward compatible. A win-win in my book.

Firewire to Thunderbolt What? Apple is trying to repeat the SCSI to Firewire scenario, but this time, I think people are more invested in Firewire, with hard drives, scanners, video cameras and the like to make the switch without a lot of clawing and scratching. Plus, there aren't a whole lot of devices that support it just yet.

SuperDrive to... nothing? Ack! Hello? What do you do with an edited iMovie or Final Cut project? Install software much? Listen to or rip CDs? Watch DVDs? I mean, not every app is available in the App Store or is available for download and not every movie or TV show is available in iTunes. But that is what the new generation of iMacs and MacBooks are doing. Yes, I can get an external optical drive. Ohhh, that's what I want, right alongside my Magic Trackpad, external hard drives, USB hub, printer, scanner, etc. Not.

The App Store, iTunes and the web are great resources for software, music and books. But not the only source. And Apple shouldn't be forcing us to limit our ability to choose. Yes, a 5mm edge on an iMac is sexy (though it's only the edge, it suffers from a bulge around its middle), and the new MacBook is only .75" high, but those features are not deal-makers for me. I would rather have an optical drive. In the meantime, I will keep my previous generation iMac and MacBook, if it's all the same to you.

One thing that really interests me in the new lineup of iMacs and Mac mini is the option of getting a Fusion drive, a hybrid of solid-state and traditional mechanical hard drive technology. It comes as single unit, 128GB SSD and either 1- or 3-TB hard drive. Mountain Lion determines your application and data usage and automatically places the more frequently used data on the SSD portion, increasing the relative speed of data access to almost as fast as a SSD drive by itself, only less expensive than buying one of the equivalent capacity. If this works as claimed, this might be the best thing to come out of the new announcements.

As for the iPad, Apple has introduced the iPad 4, which sports a new chip with 2x the CPU speed of the previous model and they re-engineered the iPad 3 into what is now the iPad mini, a 7.9" display device. As a recent purchaser of an iPad 3, I am only a little perturbed. I really like the full-size iPad and if I want something smaller in the future, I might go for an iPhone or iPod Touch. For web browsing, productivity apps, reading books and especially comics, you can't beat the iPad with the Retina display. It's lovely.

I love Apple for its commitment to evolving the platforms they have come to dominate. My hope for them is that they eventually understand their customers can't upgrade as fast, especially in this economy. Introduce the new, but leave room for the current.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Define... "upgrade"

Mountain Lionn. 1. a predatory cat that inhabits higher elevations. 2. Apple's new operating system.

Um. Yeah. About that. Sure, it's $20, inexpensive for an Apple OS upgrade (half the price of Windows 8, hahahaha, another idea stolen poorly by MS). And yes, it adds some more features (Apple claims over 200) especially from its younger sibling, iOS. But really? AirPlay? Notifications? Messages? Hello? Am I just an old fuddy duddy, or am I missing something here? Operating System, people! So Apple, tell me, how is OS X 10.8 going to help me be more productive? For heaven's sake, my computer is a computer, not a telephone!

So I went onto Apple's website and found the page where is explains all the changes. Let me pull out a few for you and you can decide if it's worth the upgrade. I will scale them on the basis of productivity usefulness from 1-5, 1 being "useless" and 5 being "can't live without."

Auto-save 
Sure, this is a good thing for people who are unaware of the Save menu or CMD-S keystroke or who are just plain lazy. And Apple has bundled a few more goodies into this category like Rename from the title bar, Revert to last saved, Prompt to save when closing, and keyboard shortcuts for Duplicate and Save As* (which no longer means what you think it means...).
Score – 3

Finder
Inline progress indicator for server and connected drive copies, easy encryption of drives, Share button (whoo-hoo... sarcasm), Sidebar customization, 3-finger tap for Quick Look (if you are using a laptop or have a track pad, it may be useful).
Score – 2

iCloud
There are some improvements in the setup and adding of accounts as well as sharing, viewing and sorting, but really, all I use iCloud for is syncing my contacts, calendars and bookmarks. Dropbox, Google Drive and Skydrive are all alternate and possibly better options for storing your files in the cloud.
Score – 2

Mail
VIPs, notifications, inline find, that dreaded "s" word again (sharing) and interface enhancements, but, in my opinion, really nothing of significance to aid in productivity.
Score – 2

Preview
Ack! If they mention sharing again, I might loose it right here. However, filling out PDF forms and inline notes, as well as insert from scanner are actually useful. Not "can't do without" material since Acrobat can also perform these functions, but for a free app, very nice.
Score – 4

Quicktime
The addition of AVCHD video previewing and editing are definitely useful, especially if you have a camera or video camera that uses that format, but they don't mention iMovie support directly, though I would assume that's a given.
Score – 3

Safari
No, I will NOT mention sharing here. Let's just say that like the cartoon character Savoir Faire, it is everywhere. They have finally caught up with all the other browsers and combined the URL and Search fields, better working with Passwords (but you should be using 1Password instead), Do Not Track plugin, Rename bookmarks in the bar, and overall speed and rendering improvements.
Score – 4

System
Full screen on any display (I couldn't do that before?), and drag and drop in screen sharing is nice. Xsan is a very specific feature which most people won't use. X11 on demand is like a one trick pony, when you do it the first time, that's it (like Rosetta was). Expanding scrollbars, and the rest of the features are all eye candy, nice but not a great aid to your productivity.
Score – 3

Time Machine
Two items here, encrypted backup and backup to multiple locations. For the paranoid (uh, I mean, secure-conscious) user, these will be very useful. I myself have never made use of encryption for my files, but I can see certain situations where it would be handy and the multi-location backup also nice to safeguard your data.
Score – 4

I really came across no "can't live without" features going over the entire list, but some goodies here and there that would be nice to have. Based on a total possible "usefulness" score of 40 of just the features I mentioned, the update weighed in at 27 – so it achieved about a 67.5% useful score. And you could make slight adjustments based on whether your primary machine is a desktop or laptop (the laptop being a more appropriate target for the iOS features), and if you have a track pad.

*Apparently, Save As now saves a copy of the currently saved file, not if you, for example, make some edits and want to save a copy of those in a new document. Solution? Perform the Save As before playing around with changes, or use the Versions option to see prior saved versions.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Tasty Side Dishes

No, we're not talking about my wife's famous German potato salad (you wish). Rather than my usual, sometimes excessive entries (I am writing one now.) I thought a nice, short blog post for this holiday weekend would be in order. So read it fast and get back to your vacation!

1. Save a tree. Instead of wasting paper and toner (or ink) when presented with a receipt for any online transaction, simply use the Print command and then click the PDF button in the lower left corner and choose Save PDF to Web Receipts Folder. You'll have a single location for all of your receipts when tax time comes around.

2. Tweak a kitty. Despite all the wonders of OS X Lion, there are some things that just should have stayed. Like permanent scrollbars. Or being able to view the /user/Library folder. Or perhaps you can't stand the faux leather look of the Address Book or iCal. Changes that up to now could only be performed through Terminal commands can be accessed with a single click via Lion Tweaks.


















3. It's 5:00 somewhere. And when tweaking the kitty time is over, it's time to settle in with a nice Cocktail to run some much needed system maintenance. And with the current version, you can check for malware and allows you to enable the ability to copy text while in QuickLook mode. Sweet! Make sure to get the version for your system.
























4. Measure up! Who would have thought an on-screen ruler could be so useful? Once I downloaded the free Free Ruler, I was able to quickly and accurately measure height and width, change the unit of measure, independently resize and control the visibility of the horizontal and vertical rulers. This apps rules!
















5. Disc-o-tron. Need to install Lion and don't want to have to wait for the painfully large download from the App Store? Then try using Lion Discmaker. Burn an installer to DVD or even a thumb drive. Have a copy ready when you need it.

Hope you all have a happy and safe (after the 4th of July) weekend.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Make Like a Tree and Leaf...

So if you've been keeping up with your reading, you know I have given up cable television access and opted for HDTV over the air. And while I have been generally happy, I have found that a couple of channels have played back with an occasional stutter or pixellation. That is due to the signal strength/quality. Actually, the EyeTV software I use to record my shows offers both a Signal Quality and a Signal Strength value. Nearly all the channels I receive have 100% signal quality, but all of them have a lesser signal strength. I have found the channels that dip under 20% signal strength suffer poor playback (that's a full-house of alliteration, like that?). The cure for that other than moving closer to the signal is to get a good antenna.

I have been using Mohu's Leaf Antenna since my switch over and have been very happy with it. It's small, unobtrusive and easy to use. There was only one channel I used that had any playback issues. Recently, Mohu released the Leaf Plus. It's identical to the Leaf in almost all respects except the Plus has a USB-powered amplifier to boost incoming signals. The kind people at Mohu sent me a Leaf Plus to review and here are my findings.

Physically the Leaf Plus is the same. The circuitry is contained in a small rectangle, roughly the size of a pack of gum, mounted on the coaxial cable that connects to the antenna port of your tuner. There is a mini-USB port that, with the supplied cable, connects either to your powered USB port on your TV or computer or to the supplied AC adaptor. A small light where the coax cable connects to the antenna base displays the power status (only on the black side) as well as a light on the AC adaptor, if in use. What's nice about the USB power option is that the antenna will automatically be on when the recording/viewing device is on. If there is no power going to the Leaf Plus, the antenna seems to function as well as the basic Leaf.

But the proof is in the power. When plugged in, the Plus enhanced the signal by an average of 42%, the actual range ran from 28% to 58%, most of the numbers falling in the 30s. When it comes to those lower strength signals, the improvement was a significant enough boost to eliminate the problematic playback. Of course this is a big case of YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), depending on your relative location to the signals, your geography and where the Leaf Plus is placed in your home. But a 30-40% improvement makes it worth the additional $39.00 ($74.99 vs. $35.99 for the original Leaf), since it's only a one-time investment. Plus, they seem to offer routine discounts, so I am sure you can get it for less if you bide your time.

ChannelLeaf (%)Leaf Plus (%)
2-12132
4-12533
5-12539
7-11825
25-12635
27-12231
38-11823
48-13*7*
50-11219
56-19*12*
58-11523
62-13143
62-23043
62-2 DT1215
* Fluctuating signal quality, probably due to distance.

In the interest of full disclosure, the first model I received from the company appeared to be a prototype (or at least a non-production model), and was DOA. There seemed to be a rattle in the circuitry package that might of indicated that something had broken. Alec Senese from Mohu was quick to send a replacement, which not only arrived the next day, but seemed to be more of the production model, with new packaging, a slightly new design, and a different power supply. This worked as reported above but only for a couple of days, when it, too, went kaput. Another email to Alec brought yet another replacement to my door the next day, which appears to be working just fine after several recordings. These things happen sometimes, but if Alec is any indication of the level of customer service and of the company as a whole, then I would not be concerned about the quality of their products.

Another friend sent me a link to a company called Antennas Direct which offers products similar to a Leaf. If I can get my hands on a couple, I will post the results along with these.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cutting the (Cable) Cord – The Final Chapter

There. I did it. I made the call to Verizon. Traded my Phone-Internet (25/25)-Television bundle to just Phone-Internet (15/5). Pulled out the cable box and digital converter. Flying solo now (eek! I feel a breeze). So my bill for the bundled services had been $30-$35-$60 plus boxes, fees and taxes. Now it'll just be $30-$50 plus fees and taxes. The lady explained that there was a $40 discount on the internet service with the original bundle (!) but I figure I can still live with $540 more in my pocket every year.

One of my biking buddies lent me his Roku XDS and I had it hooked up and running off my WiFi in about 2 minutes (thanks, Steve!).

*** Father, it has been at least a month since my last posting ***

I wanted to make you aware of the passage of time because it has given me the opportunity to fully vet my experience. Overall, it has been great. I receive about 20 HD stations in the range of very good to great signal quality. ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, and local stations. I record the shows in my kids 2nd floor study, edit them and either copy them directly to my laptop to play on my TV or copy to an external hard drive to attach to the laptop later. The files are big, about 5GB for a 43-minute show, so they won't copy onto my thumb drive. But boy, are they purty.

The Roku has also provided a third and a forth method but with caveats. They use what's called a private channel that you can subscribe to through the Roku. A programmer called NoWhereMan has created a channel that accesses the content from the EyeTV application (Nowhere DVR). It's a great idea. You can watch live HD TV through it or view your recorded shows. Only problem is that it requires re-encoding for the iPhone. What I mean is the channel uses the iPhone encoded version for streaming — you don't get the full HD version. Also, I found that even with this low-resolution version, playback stutters. This is odd since I get better streaming quality with the live TV option and it doesn't stutter.

Nowhereman also sports a USB channel (USB Media Browser). You simply plug in a USB thumb drive or external hard drive and it reads the files off and allows access — but only for files it supports. This would have been the solution for me, but it doesn't understand the .eyetv package format. So sad. Maybe a future update will take care of that. (On the newer Roku models, this is a built-in feature).

Lastly, content. I somewhat bemoan the loss of the SyFy and USA channels, where several of the shows I had been watching will now be harder to access legally, but Hulu may be able to fill the gap somewhat there and we also picked up Netflix streaming only option. With Netflix, $7.99/month buys all the video goodness you could want, as long as what you want is on there (I'm not knocking it, that's the way it is with all the services). If you are a season or more behind shows you like, this is a great way to catch up, watch other shows that you've never seen, or relax with an old favorite. And playback options? TV, iPad, Wii, PS3, XBox, Blu-ray player, computer, wow. Video looks great on the New iPad (dumbest name in the world). More on that later. My only complaint really is that if they re going to make a show available for streaming, make every episode available. Don't leave out a show here or there (only available on disc) and certainly don't leave out the pilot. Who ever heard of wanting to watch a show for the first time and skipping the pilot?

A note on internet service speed. Don't let Comcast and Verizon sucker you in to getting higher speed internet access. Speed is determined less by the provider than it is by the server on the other end that you are accessing. The fastest download speed I have ever encountered was through Steam, the online game store. And that was a little over 3MB/sec. So if you have even just a 5MB/sec. download speed, you're covered. The only reason you might want a little more than that would be if you had a lot of users in your family or wanted to have faster upload speeds.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Cutting the (Cable) Cord, Part Two

Breathe. Breathe in the air. Don't be afraid to care... about saving money! This week in part two  of my Cutting the Cable Cord series, we're talking about over the air HD broadcasts, typically referred to as ATSC. For this I needed a few items, two of which I owned already:
  • An antenna
  • A tuner
  • A means to record/view the signal
Luckily, I already have in my possession Elgato's EyeTV 250 Plus, which I have been using as a second TV in my office for a couple of years. I also have been using it to record SD (standard definition 4:3) broadcasts through the use of a box rented from my provider. As mentioned in the previous article, I am looking to reduce my payments to said provider. Elgato has several products that may interest you. After reading this is you wish to know more you may check out their website.

First off, the antenna. You actually should be able to use almost any indoor/outdoor antenna you wish, either directional or omnidirectional. Signals are transmitted mainly via UHF though there are also some VHF channels too. You can opt for a powered or passive antenna, it really depends on how far away the signals are and how strong. So how do you find that out?

Start by going to DTV.gov and entering your address (more accurate) or zip code into the search box. You'll see a list of local stations, their proximity and their potential signal strength. Be aware that they assume that you are using an outdoor antenna at least 30-feet off the ground. If your signal strength is real good, you might be able to just use a passive antenna. Otherwise you might need an amplified outdoor antenna to pull enough signal in. Click this image to the left to see how the reception is in my area.

So knowing that I can receive most of the available channels in my area pretty well, I opted for the passive, omnidirectional antenna. I found a Terk antenna on Newegg.com that I almost bought, but then my friend told me about the Mohu Leaf, and when I checked it out, the specs looked good, the cost was reasonable and it was on sale for 20% off with free shipping. Yahoo! I like a good deal, don't you?

So yeah, I bought it. Next. As they say in real estate, "Location, location, location." Placement for the antenna is critical for good reception. So the first place I tried was my office, where my current tuner setup is. We live in a split and my office is in the basement, wanna guess how good the reception was? Zilch. I panicked for a minute there, wondering if I had just dropped $40 for nothing. Then I went to stage two — investigation. I connected the antenna and tuner to my laptop and took it signal hunting. The minute I went upstairs, I began receiving a signal. The best option turned out to be the kids' study where there happened to be, ta-da! an Core 2 Duo iMac just waiting for me. Plugged the EyeTV 250 Plus into the USB port, connected the antenna, installed the EyeTV software and voila! instant HDTV.

Well, not that easily of course. First, I had to use the signal strength indicator in the software to determine the best placement of the antenna. Then I had run through the setup wizard to find the channels and then lastly download the channel guide for my area from TVGuide (luckily, all doable through EyeTV software).

Can I say "wow"? WOW! What a great picture. I had gotten used to the SD recordings but when I saw this displayed on my computer screen, it was amazing. The clarity, even when enlarged to the whole 21" screen was fabulous. Can't wait to see it on the television. So last night I taped two of the shows I like to watch, Castle and Alcatraz. The results have been very positive so far. I hope to watch them on the television tonight.

After editing out the commercials, two-hour season finale of Alcatraz came to a whopping 10.1GB in size and Castle came in at 4.5GB. So right away I saw the first down side of HDTV — data size. In standard definition a 1-hour show (edited down to 43 min.) comes to about 1.4GB in size. The HD version is about 4x larger. Yikes! Which means I can store about a quarter of the shows I can in the same amount of space. But with the cost savings of not having to pay for cable, I can get a new large hard drive easy. The second downside is again — data size. But this time from a transport perspective. Before, I could slap a couple of shows onto a thumb drive and plug it into my laptop which I then connect to the TV to watch. Easy. But I can't copy 4GB+ files onto the thumb drive in its standard format (FAT32). The solution to that? Maybe get a new external USB powered drive that I can attach to the desktop for recording and the laptop to playback through the computer (or the Roku, possibly my next article). Lastly the third consideration — again, data size. While it took only a couple of minutes for the ETVComskip to search and mark the commercials, it took 10-20 min. to do it to the HD ones. Luckily that process can be done unattended (but may need to be initiated manually at times).

Here is the projected cost of my setup, if you already own or do not need any of the items, all the more moola for you!
  1. Mohu Leaf Antenna - $36
  2. Crucial.com Desktop Memory  - $60 (maxed it at 4GB, it needed it anyway)
  3. Elgato EyeTV 250 Tuner - $90+ (own one already)
  4. TVGuide subscription - $20/yr. (have it already)
  5. Roku XS - $89 (haven't bought it yet...)
  6. External 1TB USB powered drive - ~$99.00 (haven't bought it yet...)
Total could be as high as $360.00 and I would still save $340+ the first year! The next and final installment of this series — Bringing it All Together...


Monday, March 19, 2012

Cutting the (Cable) Cord

*Updated post and info graphic 12/24/15

Ohhh yes, they do pinch quite a bit, don't they? Those pricey bills from Comcast, Dish, RCN and Verizon. Internet, phone, and television – especially television. This series of posts will chronicle my attempt to cut the cable cord – and finally find freedom of television – without those awful commercials! And how many times will you find two instances of alliteration in one sentence? Huh? Tell me. Anyway, thanks to my wife for instilling in me a sense of being “thorough” and researching something until it kills me, I will present an info graphic designed to show the current options available. But first, on to the bill...

My lovely Verizon FiOS bill comes to me every month, thoughtfully detailed:

Fios Local TV Service and Internet 50/50 Bundle $72.99
HD Set-top Box $11.99
-----------------------------
Total/Month: $91.02 (with taxes and fees)
Total/Year: $1,092.24 ($948.36 without STB)

Ok, so is anyone else gasping for breath right now? Honey, where are my pills, I need them! Here’s the kicker – I still need to pay almost $1,000/year for this service regardless of my alternative video sourcing, because I need to be able to connect to the internet. And since the cost for the internet alone is more than the bundle cost which includes local TV, I am stuck with getting TV as well. So what am I really saving at this point? The cost of the STB rental and the Preferrred HD channel package (which would cover the channels I would want), which would be an additional $52/mo. along with the STB at $11.99/mo., so $767.88/year.

Take a look at this chart and all will become clear. Don’t forget we are using my current costs as a guideline, you may be actually paying less (or maybe you’re paying more). Your mileage as I am known to say, will vary.

Start from the top and review your current hardware. Have a HDTV, Blu-Ray player, digital stereo? Are any of the devices internet-ready? Read the manual to see if you can’t tell right off. Most recent purchases will probably be internet-ready already.

If they are, review what options they provide for streaming services. For example, my Blu-ray player can link to Pandora, Netflix and YouTube. If I stay within those options, I am all set and just need to sign up for the services I prefer, most of the popular ones are listed on the left, but you can only access the ones your hardware links to. If your hardware isn’t internet ready or you are looking for other/additional services, you need a hardware “bridge” like the items on the right. These are internet devices that bring services to your TV and Blu-ray player they doesn't have. Most are in the $100-$150 range, a pittance considering what you’ll end up saving in the first year.

Looking at my situation, I have two services my Blu-ray player can access, Netflix and YouTube. Netflix provides HD streaming content for $9.99 a month. If I wanted a larger range of service options, including free ones, I would look perhaps to the $99 Roku 3 or the new $149 Roku 4 to provide additional support for Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, your own video files, and many television sources. Some of these services do have advertising, so you’ll still need to weigh the benefits. You could even use a Roku or the other device to access your Netflix content as well. There’s a one-stop solution for you. And these devices are software-upgradeable as well, so they can keep up with changes to the services available online. Nice.

More people are also watching TV on their phones and tablets. And while I prefer the benefits of the big screen, if you are television sharing at home or want to sneak a quick episode in during lunch, work, or while cooking, there are advantages to accessing it on the device you’re on. In fact, with the use of an ad blocker, watching video on your laptop or desktop often allows you to bypass the commercials you would be forced to watch on other devices.

Have you cut the cord? What was your solution? How is it working for you? Do you feel you’re missing anything? Let me and the readers know. The next post deals with over-the-air HDTV known as ATSC.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Untraceable You

After the recent Google debacle over acquiring tracking info from the Safari web browser without the knowledge of the end user, I heard a radio interview on The Diane Rehm Show. Very interesting. Listen if you will, but it comes down to what steps the end user can take to protect themselves from unwanted incursions into their browsing habits. An enterprising company with a CEO late from McAfee have designed a web plugin that shuts the door on tracking companies linked to websites. It works cross-platform on Safari, Chrome, FireFox and some versions of IE, I believe (Of course, you shouldn't be using IE if you can avoid it, anyhow, right?). It's not a magic bullet, but it's nice to know there's an additional layer of protection between you and the internet hooligans wanting to spy on you. And it's free. Yup. Visit http://donottrackplus.com for the plugin. Find a short video explaining how it works below.


If you're like me (aren't you lucky), then you might not have considered this topic of tracking too much. I mean, that's the price we pay for being on the internet, right? Well advertising, maybe, just like television but behind-the-scenes snooping? No sir, not what I signed up for. Have you noticed a trend in the advertising you've been seeing? Recent visit to a airline to buy a ticket? Now you have discounted ticket ads popping up. Cooking sites? See ads for weight loss and cooking magazines. And so on. If you notice that the advertising is hitting too close to home, that may be a sign that some companies already know the places you've been. Kind of creepy, huh?

If you install this little deterrent, you will notice a green badge on the icon with the number of trackers it has blocked during the current browsing session. You can click on the icon to learn what types of companies they are and optionally allow them to track you if choose to. And isn't that what it's all about? Choice? What do you think? Do you see the dark shadow of big-brother looming in front of you?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Postman Always Rings, and Rings, and Rings

Happy New Year, Crimestoppers! It is my sincere wish that 2012 is a great one for you both personally and professionally (that way you can hire me for your projects, hehe). But seriously, let's pray that 2012 is a better year for all of us.

Remember all those New Years resolutions you make and then break over and over (I know I do). Let's start with an easy one this year that will have a world changing (yes, world changing) impact. Help reduce the amount of useless bandwidth being slung about the internet by refusing to re-post or forward email by anyone for anything. Billions and billions (thanks, Carl Sagan) of bits are being wasted on pleas for help for non-existant or misrepresented causes.

Take, for example, a recent post by my unsuspecting nephew, whose heart is in the right place (his chest). He reposted a link regarding a baby that supposedly had cancer, complete with photo. My first reaction was of course, one of sadness, but also sadly, one of suspicion. So I looked to Snopes.com for a review.

And there you go – hoax.

In addition to the tens of spam messages we receive in our inboxes everyday, somehow evading both mail server's spam blockers as well as our own email clients, I urge you to consider to do one minute of research or less by just Googling or simply checking out these messages on Snopes.com. It'll give us more bandwidth to stream our Netflix selections.

Be compassion-smart.