Sunday, February 27, 2011

How to cut the cord: Getting all of your tv shows online is easier than ever.

I have been toying with the idea of cancelling my cable/satellite service for a while now. Cutting the cord and streaming all or your shows over the Internet is easier than ever. It can save you money, and you don't even need a computer. Fantastic new set-top boxes from apple and roku connect directly to your tv and give you access to huge amounts of content at low prices. Best of all, these boxes cost less than $100.

Cutting the cord essentials:
Apple TV or Roku Box or Xbox 360
Netflix Subscription
Fast broadband Internet connection

The faster your internet connection, the better quality video you will get when streaming. In my area, Roadrunner has up to 15mbps for around $50 a month. This should get you HD video.

A netflix subscription is a must. Netflix offers a huge library of movies and television shows that you can stream for as low as $7.99 a month (way cheaper than cable). The selected is a little dated, but the quality and sheer size of the library is fantastic. Netflix can be streamed on apple tv, roku, and xbox.

If you want newer movies and TV shows, both apple tv and roku have you covered. Apple allows you to rent movies and tv shows directly from the box and pay via your apple account. The TV selection is limited compared to roku, but the price is nice at $.99. Furthermore, if you have a laptop, you can purchase or rent any movie in itunes and stream it to your apple tv. This allows you to have access to a much larger selection of content.

Roku has teamed with Amazon to offer purchase and rental of TV and Movies. The selection is good and HD is available as well. Furthermore, Amazon has recently released its instant watch for prime subscribers for $79 a year. Its a good deal compared to Netflix but the service is new and the selection is limited so far. Roku also gives you access to Hulu via subscription ($7.99 a month), which allows you to watch brand new tv shows.

Xbox 360 has the excellent Zune video service for TV show and movie rental and purchase. The selection is very good and HD movies begin streaming instantly with a good connection. Plus, xbox 360 also gives you the option of playing games, although the price is $100 higher than apple tv. Xbox 360 also has espn3 sports streaming for those of you who are eligible (eligibility is determined by your internet service provider and not everyone will have access to this service).

For myself, the biggest detriment to cutting the cord is live sports. If you are not a huge sports fan, you should be able to cut your cable tv and still have access to your favorite shows at a much lower cost.

For sports fans, I would recommend Roku because you will have access to sports channels to stream live sports from the NBA, NHL, MLB, and UFC. There are restrictions though. MLB blacks out all local games so you will only see road games for your favorite baseball team. Also, the services run around $100 each for the entire season. Its an enticing option but still not a complete sports package. Plus, the NFL currently doesn't have any Internet streaming options that work for these boxes.

For now, I am keeping Directv for the sports, but I will be closely watching as things continue to develop. For some, you can cancel your cable or satellite and have a great experience for a much lower price. For others, you may find that cutting the cord leaves you without access to some of your favorite sports programming.

Friday, February 25, 2011

SonicWall TZ 100 Network Security Appliance Overview

The Sonic Wall TZ 100 with wireless-n is a great product for those looking for a secure firewall/router with great protection and an excellent content filtering service. 

SonicWalls are easy to use and basically outsource the firewall, content filtering, and anti-virus functions to sonic wall. Your unit updates automatically with virtually no maintenance on your part. 

Basic set-up is easy. Sonic wall has an easy to use set-up wizard for setting up your wireless network as well as DHCP server settings. 

Advanced users will be able to take advantage of other features such as setting up a secure VPN. 

The TZ 100 also offers much greater speed than the previous generation TZ 180 and allows you to take full advantage of todays faster broadband speeds up to 25MBPS. Those needing faster connections still may want to jump up to the TZ 200. 

Logging into the sonicwalls default address of 192.168.168.168 begins the set-up process. You can either go through the wizard or skip directly to the main interface. I would recommend starting with the wizard then tweaking later from the main interface. 

Once you are logged in you will see a series of menu items on the left side of the page. Within each menu you will find submenus that allow you to change various settings. Get familiar with this because any time you need to make changes you will log-in here. 


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Amazon Instant Video First Impression

Amazon introduced its new Instant Video service this week which is free to all Amazon Prime members. Its a great added value if you already have Amazon Prime (which gives you free 2-day shipping on most items that Amazon sells). If you don't have prime, its another great reason to sign-up.

Amazon is competing directly with Netflix in the streaming video space. Netflix has become nearly ubiquitous with its streaming video service and has built up a huge libary. Amazon has launched with around 5,000 videos but still has a long way to go to catch up to Netflix in terms of the number of titles.

I've tried out the service on my laptop and it works really well. Quality is good and playback is quick. Amazon seems to have a lot of video from the PBS library which I look forward to exploring.

Clicker.com has a great chart comparing multiple online VOD services.

I'll follow up later with impressions of this service using my Roku box.

Time Warner Wideband Internet 50MB/Sec Set-up

I stream a lot of music and video over the web so I was excited when Time Warner recently announced its new wideband Internet service in the Cincinnati area. Its expensive ($99 a month), but it offers speeds up to 50GB per second, much faster than my Cincinnati Bell Zoomtown DSL. Other available locations around the country include Time Warner Wideband New York City and Time Warner Wideband Texas.

I decided to give it a try and I've been very pleased. Installation was professional, however, I did have to log-into the modem myself to make some changes in order to get the superfast download speeds. This is probably because the service was new and the techs weren't fully up to speed yet.  I consistently get download speeds between 35 and 45mbps and I have no problem downloading high definition video. I often use the excellent video on demand service on my xbox and it works almost flawlessly. HD videos begin streaming instantly and I only occasionally experience any slowdowns.

For $99, I'm not sure how long I will keep the service for, but I can say for sure that it performs as advertised.

Finally, My New Perfect Inexpensive Whole House Streaming Audio and Video System!

I recently completed a new whole house streaming music and audio system and I couldn't be happier. The best part....it wasn't that expensive. Let me show you how I did it.

Here is what you will need (some of this stuff you probably already have):

Apple TV ($99) - 1 for each room
Iphone or Ipod Touch - ($299)
Good wireless router - ($50 and up)
Networked PC or Mac with the ability to run Itunes
Speakers - Powered or Passive with AV Receiver
Television Set

The key to this whole solution is the Apple TV which allows you to stream audio and video from your PC to your TV/Speakers and control everything with an iphone or an ipod touch. Apple TV is inexpensive at $99 and very small, about the size of a hockey puck. You will need 1 in every room that you want to stream audio and/or video. With an ipod touch, you can control what songs or videos are playing in each room as well as the volume. You can even stream Pandora directly from your phone to one of your apple tv's.

Here is my living room setup.

1 Apple Mac Mini MC270LL/A Desktop acting as a server for all of my audio and video with Itunes running.
Pioneer VSX-820-K 5.1 Home Theater Receiver
2 Infinity Primus Two-way 6 1/2-Inch Bookshelf/Satellite Speaker (Black, Each)

1 Samsung LCD TV

I hooked my Apple TV into my receiver using and HDMI cable, then ran an HDMI directly to my LCD TV. Then, I fired up my Apple TV and connected to my local network. You will want to make sure that homesharing is set-up in itunes on your computer. On Apple TV, choose computers then turn on Home Sharing. Enter your apple ID and password. After that, Apple TV will automatically find your itunes library.

Guess what? Thats all there is to it. You now have access to all of the music, videos, and photos that are in your itunes library. There are multiple ways to control your system, but my favorite way is to use the remote app (free) on your iphone or ipod touch. Fire up the app and it will automatically discover your Apple TV. You can use a touchpad remote to navigate directly on your tv, or, you can click done, and navigate your itunes library right on your screen, which is my favorite approach. Just select a song or video and it will almost immediately begin playing on Apple TV. If you just want music, you don't even need to turn your TV on. To play pandora, just fire up the Pandora App and click the icon in the lower right of your screen to start sending the music immediately to your apple TV. Another great option is Netflix. If you are a netflix subscriber you can access the entire Netflix streaming library from your Apple TV.

Very cool, very easy. Add as many Apple TV's as you need and control them all from your iphone or ipod touch. Apple TV has a lot of other great features as well that we'll explore on future posts. Enjoy.