Thursday, December 6, 2012

When to use the iPad Mini instead of the iPad Retina

Ever since the iPad mini was released, I have struggled to decide whether it was a better product than the iPad retina. I visited the Apple store to get my hands on the iPad mini and I was immediately taken with the form factor. Its a beautiful device and feels extremely light compared to the larger iPad. In fact, its nearly perfect, except for the non-retina display. Although it seems slightly better than the iPad 2 because of the smaller size, it is a big step down from the retina display, particularly when reading text. 

I now own both devices, and I've decided to list when to use the iPad mini over the iPad retina, based on my experiences over the last few weeks. 

When to use the iPad mini: 
  1. Laying in bed - the mini is the perfect device to use in bed because of its lightness. You can easily hold it in one hand when laying on your side or back. 
  2. When mobile - The ipad mini is fun to walk around with. I see at as an ideal tablet in a work environment for professions such as healthcare workers. 
  3. Gaming -  The ipad mini may be the perfect tablet gaming device. 
  4. As a remote for your entertainment system. - I particularly like the apple remote app. 
  5. As a portable music player - its larger than an iphone, but its still light enough for portable listening. 
  6. Reading in any position that requires you to hold the device. It feels more like using a kindle, however, a retina display on the mini would make this experience even better. 
  7. Star gazing apps - easier to hold above your head. 
  8. Taking photos and videos - An iphone is better at this, but the mini is a much more acceptable camera than the ipad retina. 
  9. Facetime - I enjoy facetime on the ipad mini because I can hold the device in one hand and walk around the house. 
  10. While traveling - its thinner, lighter, and sort-of fits in a pocket. A perfect travel device. 

When to use the iPad retina: 

  1. Sitting upright in a chair - reading a book. The iPad retina excels when you are sitting upright with the device in your lap. 
  2. Sitting at the kitchen counter - I like to sit at the kitchen counter and read news in the morning. The larger retina display is perfect for this, along with the smart cover propping the ipad up a bit.
  3. Almost any situation where you are not holding the ipad with your hands - your desk at work.
  4. Watching movies - the big retina display excels at showing movies and can make for a cinema like experience when paired with quality headphones. 
  5. Shopping - for some reason I like the larger screen for shopping experiences. 
  6. Typing - space is better. 
  7. Productivity apps such as pages and numbers. 
  8. Viewing photos - The large retina screen is the perfect device for viewing your high res photos. 
  9. Music and video productions - If you are doing any music or video editing, you will appreciate the extra screen space. 
  10. Trade show display - the retina iPad is a great device for presentations and slideshows at a trade booth. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Finally, a Safari browser that I can use as my everyday browser

OSX Mountain Lion was released by Apple today, and one of the new features is an updated Safari browser. 

I have been a Chrome user for a couple of  years now and I enjoy its quick minimal interface and "everything bar," as well as the advanced syncing features. 

But as a Mac user, I've always wanted to take advantage of using Safari as my go-to browser. However, I have always felt that overall it was less productive than Chrome. 

That has all changed with the release of Safari for Mountain Lion. The major feature that I have enjoyed so far is the additional of the "everything" bar that allows you to type searches or url's into the same bar. It also will instantly recognize text that matches past entries. Its a huge time saver and has really made Safari usable for the first time in years. 

It also feels quite fast, includes icloud syncing with tabs opened on your other IOS devices, and features built in sharing to twitter, iMessage, and Facebook (coming soon).  The other nice feature of safari is the offline reading list, which gives you a text-only, book like approach to reading articles from various sites around the web. Simply send an article that you want to read later to your reader and enjoy it at a later time. 

Great update overall and I highly recommend that all Chrome users give it a spin. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How to Ceiling Mount a Home Theater Projector

I recently decided to mount my home theater projector on the ceiling. The process was fairly straightforward and I'll detail it below.


Home theater projector mount (I used this one from
HDMI Streamer - Belkin ScreenCast AV4, 4 Port Wireless HDMI for AV/HDTV
Electrical outlet
Flat head extension cable
Short HDMI cables
Cable Management - concealer

I have a Panasonic PT-AE900U projector that is about 5 years old. Most projector mounts are universal and fit a variety of different projectors. I found that I had to play around with the monoprice projector mount to get it working properly but I eventually got it to fit. The mount came in three separate pieces. One piece attached to the ceiling, one to the projector, and a bar connecting both pieces together.

I started by mounting the ceiling piece. I was able to find one stud to drill into for the first screw. I used drywall screws for the other 3 mounting points. Once I had that mounted, it was very easy to connect the 3 pieces together.

Step 2 was to install an electrical outlet for power. I already had wires ready to go in the ceiling about 3 feet from the projector. Ideally, I would have placed the outlet closer, but since my ceiling has drywall there was no easy way to install a new outlet. I would definitely recommend using a professional to install an outlet for you unless you already have experience and knowledge in electrical work.

I used a flat extension cable and ran it from the outlet to the projector for a cleaner look. I also used plastic cable concealer from monoprice to cover the cord. The plastic sticks right to the ceiling and you can thread you cable right inside. The extension plug sits on back of the projector behind the projector mount to conceal the plugs.

Finally, I used the belkin screencast hdmi streamer to beam the hdmi signal from my AV receiver to my projector. I tested this product out for a couple of weeks before mounting the projector to make sure that the quality was acceptable. It worked flawlessly, providing a high quality image with no interruptions. One end plugs directly into your AV receiver. The other end plugs into the HDMI in port on your projector. The receiver box was small enough to set right on top of my projector.

I also purchased a very small 1.5ft HDMI cable and a shorter power cable for my projector to minimize cable mess and provide a clean look.

After plugging everything in, I fired up the projector and my receiver and immediately was able to watch a Hi-Def blu-ray on my newly mounted projector.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Amazon Releases Cloud Player for iPhone and iPod Touch

Amazon Cloud Player

Amazon's cloud mp3 player just got a lot more useful. Amazon released its cloud player app for the iPhone and iPod touch today allowing you to stream your uploaded music library to your mobile iDevice.

I've had a chance to play around with it a bit and its a well done interface overall. You have the option of streaming music from the cloud as well as downloading music to your device for offline play. There are tabs that organize your music by playlist, artist, album, songs, and genre. You also have the ability to create new playlists. The app has settings that allow you to auto-download amazon mp3 purchases and stream only on wifi to save on data usage. Songs started playing very quickly, avoiding the hanging issue that I often find with iTunes match.

Looks like another great option for cloud music streaming, especially for those of you that have your own large music collections.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Ultimate Guide to Streaming Audio and Video Media

(This post is a work in progress and will be updated regularly)

Streaming media has been around for many years now, but this niche market is just beginning to catch fire with average consumers. I expect demand to for streaming media to explode over the next few years. The battle is on for control of your living room and some of the worlds largest companies are gearing up for the fight.

This article will take inventory of the major streaming video content providers, look at the top streaming media devices, examine the strengths and weaknesses of both, and speculate on what the future holds for streaming media. None of these systems will fulfill a "cord cutter's" ultimate fantasy, however these devices do some things very well and are a welcome addition anyone's entertainment center.

Basic requirements for streaming media:

  • Broadband internet connection - the faster the better. Try to get at least 15mbps for an optimal experience. A 15mbps connection should allow you to stream an HD movie within seconds. 
  • Wireless router - Most of these systems contain built in WIFI connections. You can also run a cable but the wifi connection is ideal and much cleaner. 
  • Streaming media device listed below.
  • Subscription media service or an account with an a-la-carte service provider such as iTunes.

Streaming media content providers:

#1 Netflix - When it comes to streaming media, Netflix is top-dog. They offer the largest collection of movie and television content for a very reasonable subscription price of $7.99 a month. Their back catalog of television shows is especially impressive, but if you want new movies or Tv shows, look elsewhere. Netflix consistently improves its content discovery capabilities and recommends new content based upon your viewing habits. Offers the largest selection of compatible streaming devices. Upcoming: Netflix is beginning to produce its own original television shows. 

Compatible devices - Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Wii, Apple TV, Roku, Smart TV's (LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, etc.), Select blu-ray players, Android smart phones and tablets, PC's and Macs, Kindle Fire, Nook, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad.

#2 Itunes - Rent or buy the newest music, movies and TV shows as well as an impressive back catalog of content. iCloud allows you to stream your content to any apple i-device or mac computer at no extra charge. The downside is that all of this content comes at a cost.  Everything is purchased a-la-carte with no subscription option. Upcoming: iCloud service still has kinks to work out, but Apple has its eye on reinventing yet another industry with its Apple TV device.

Compatible devices - Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Macs, PC's, Sonos (audio only)

#3 Pandora - Popular music streaming service creates radio stations based on your favorite artists or songs. Free with ads or $35 for a year of ad-free service.

Compatible devices - Mac's, PC's, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV (via airplay), Android devices, Blackberry, Roku, select blu-rays, sonos (audio only), select smart TV's, Directv

#4 Amazon Prime Video - Included with a $79 annual Amazon Prime membership. A growing selection of movies and television shows that is trying to catch up with Netflix. Older content is included with unlimited streaming, but newer content must be purchased a-la-carte If you already have Amazon prime for the free shipping then its a great added benefit. Upcoming: Continues to add new content to differentiate itself from Netflix, now offers a netflix style watchlist.

Compatible devices - Xbox, Playstation 3, Roku, Smart TV's (LG, Samsung, Sony, etc.), Select blu-ray players, Android smart phones and tablets, PC's and Macs, Kindle Fire, Nook, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad.

#5 Hulu - $7.99 a month membership gives you unlimited access to the latest television shows. Includes most major networks but not CBS.

Compatible devices:   Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo Wii,  Roku, Smart TV's (LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, etc.), Select blu-ray players, Android smart phones and tablets, PC's and Macs, Kindle Fire, Nook, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Nintendo 3DS

#6 Spotify - Playlist based music streaming service with tiered subscription levels. For $9.99 stream unlimited to any PC or mobile device. Save playlists and easily share with friends over Facebook. Upcoming: New app service continues to add value to the platform by offerring additional ways to discover and share music.

Compatible devices - Mac's, PC's, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV (via airplay), Android devices, Blackberry, sonos.

#7 Watch ESPN - Live sports streamed to media devices and mobile devices. The downside is that it requires a separate cable or internet subscription to work. Not offerred as a standalone service. Upcoming: New partnership with xbox to stream live sports.

Compatible Devices - Mac's, PC's, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch,  Android devices, Xbox 360.

#8 YouTube - Millions of user uploaded videos. Now offers movie rentals as well as unique live event broadcasts.

Compatible devices - Mac's, PC's, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, Android devices, Xbox 360, playstation 3, Nintendo, Wii, Smart TV's (LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, etc.), select blu-ray players.

#9 MLB TV - Watch every out-of-market MLB game starting at $19.99 a month. However, don't count on watching your hometown team play. Local events are blacked out, reducing the potential value of this service. Streaming now available on xbox 360 and apple TV.

Compatible devices - Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Roku, Smart TV's (LG, Samsung, Panasonic, etc.), Apple TV, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android devices.

#10 NBA League Pass- Offers a similar streaming service as MLB with the same local blackout restrictions.

Compatible devices - Xbox 360, Roku, Apple TV, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android devices, Mac's, PC's

#11 NHL Game Center - Ditto

Compatible devices - Xbox 360, Roku, Apple TV, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android devices, Mac's, PC's

#12 NFL Sunday Ticket (via directv) NFL sunday ticket is only available via directv and contains the same local blackout restrictions as MLB, NBA, and NHL. Streaming is only available via Playstation 3 for non-directv customers.

Compatible devices - Playstation 3, Directv subscribers only - Macs, PC's, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android devices

#13 Google Play - Googles answer to itunes for PC's or mobile android devices. Offers a-la-carte purchasing or rental of movies, tv, and music content.

Compatible devices - PC's, Mac's, Android devices

#14 Zune (Xbox Music) - Offers a subscription music service for unlimited streaming or a-la-carte purchase or rental of television shows and movies for the Xbox 360 and windows mobile devices.

Compatible devices - PC's, Xbox 360, Windows phones

Streaming media devices:

#1 Xbox - I've listed xbox as #1 because it already resides in millions and millions of living rooms. Many of you may have a state of the art media streaming device and not even know it. Yes, the xbox started primarily as a game system, but it continues to evolve into a full-blown streaming media center. With the latest fall update, Xbox launched its app store that includes streaming video apps such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Go, ESPN, and MLB. They recently announced live streaming ESPN content as well as partnerships with the NBA and NHL. The Xbox, Zune video store also allows you to rent or buy the latest movies and tv shows and stream them in HD.

Requires Xbox live gold membership of $59.99 a year.

Upcoming: Xbox continues to push its streaming content services and recently announced new partnerships including 24/7 live ESPN, the NBA, NHL, Amazon Prime Video, Nickelodeon, Paramount and Univision. The ability to stream live tv is the holy grail of online streaming. Xbox seems to be heading in the right direction with the new ESPN partnership.

#2 Apple TV - This "hobby device" for Apple is rumored to be involved in Apple's strategy to reinvent the TV industry. Apple Tv is now integrated with iCloud so that you can easily stream all of your purchased iTunes music, movies and tv shows. You can also stream purchased content directly from your computer running iTunes. You can also purchase or rent movies and tv shows directly from the Apple Tv interface. With a good internet connection, content begins streaming in 1080p within seconds. Apple TV also features a selection of integrated apps including netflix, mlb, nba, nhl, and youtube.

Airplay is a somewhat unknown but powerful feature that allows you to beam content from your iphone, ipod touch, ipad or itunes directly to the apple TV, eliminating the need for video cables. It works for many apps but not all apps allow you to stream video. The iPad has a unique screen mirroring feature that allows you to project your entire iPad screen through your Apple TV. This screen mirroring also has additional functionality when used with certain games, allowing you to see one image on a screen and a different image on your iPad. Airplay is also an inexpensive way to create a whole house music streaming system, giving you the ability to send music to multiple Apple Tv's throughout your house simultaneously using iTunes. You can also easily stream music from an app such as spotify directly to Apple TV, giving you the ability to easily move music from your iPhone to a larger stereo sound system.

Apple Tv currently retails for $99.

Upcoming: Apple is expected to unveil a new app store for the Apple Tv in the next week, adding even more available content for the little black hockey puck streamer.

#3 Roku - Roku is another little black box streamer retailing for under $100....the basic player starts at $49. Roku offers a wide range on content including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Pandora, Crackle, NHL, NBA, MLB, UFC, Disney, CNBC, and Fox News. Roku probably offers the most choice out of any of the streaming media boxes, however, Xbox 360 is closing in fast.

The interface is not as elegant as Apple TV, but it gets the job done. Roku also has quite a few music streaming options including Pandora, MOG, Rdio, Mp3 tunes, and tune-in radio.

Apple and Google Play smartphone apps give you an additional way to control the roku remotely. And at 3" square, its easy to tuck this device away for a clean looking system.

#4 Playstation 3 - Playstation 3 is the other major game console that has made the leap to become a streaming media console. The PS3 offers a wide range of content including Netflix, Amazon Video, Sony's music and video unlimited service, MLB Tv, NHL,  and Hulu plus.

The main differentiator for the PS3 right now is access to directv's NFL Sunday ticket, which no other media streaming box currently offers.

#5 PC and Mac - Yes, its still possible to hook up a PC or Mac to a TV. But with all of the inexpensive and powerful options available, why would you still want to? Perhaps to play protected flash content that is not available on the above devices? Beyond that, its getting harder and harder to find a reason to hook up a powerful pc to an HDTV. Overall, this is becoming an increasingly less attractive option and an inelegant solution to streaming media.

#6 Samsung and LG  Samsung and LG have streaming content available in both of their smart tv sets. These Tv's are more expensive than your basic entry level TV, however they do often have built in wifi along with the smart Tv features. The advantage to these is that their is no extra box that needs to be added to access content such as Netflix. However, so far the app stores for these sets tend to be somewhat limited in available content. But, for netflix lovers, this can be a perfectly acceptable option.

#7 Sonos (Music only) Sonos is a fantastic music-only streaming system that allows you to create a whole-house streaming music system and control it using a sonos controller or a free smartphone app.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The new apple tv

Apple released a new software update to the apple tv, giving the interface a more similar look to the iPad with a scrollable page full of apps to choose from. I didn't notice any new apps, but they are displayed in a way that says more are on the way. Currently you can choose from apps such as Netflix, YouTube, mlb tv, nba tv and more. The new software update allows you to sing up for Netflix or MLB subscription right from your apple tv using your apple account.

Other improvements include:

1080p support with the new apple tv hardware
ICloud access to most movies that you have purchased via iTunes.
A new national geographic screensaver
An updated remote app with direct access to iTunes match

Apple tv is a great platform that continues to grow. I expect more exciting developments during the year. The new box is onsale now for $99.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Spotify Apps: My New Favorite way of Finding Music

I had lukewarm feelings towards Spotify when it launched in the US last year. The service worked well but I thought that it was weak in the content discovery department. Compared to Rhapsody, I didn't see any advantage with Spotify as a streaming service.

That all changed when spotify made 2 major changes recently:

  • Facebook connectivity is now a requirement
  • Spotify now has its own app market. 
These 2 changes completely changed how I use spotify. I can now easily see what my facebook friends are listening too and discover new music that they have found. 

I can also use a number of different apps to find great content, including pitchfork and rolling stone. Pitchfork has a tab that lists all of the best new albums by review rating. You can scroll through and instantly listen to the album. If you like it, just add it to your playlist. 

The Rolling Stone recommends app has great playlists based on editorial content from their magazine, including the Rolling Stone's 100 greatest guitarists playlist. They also highlight some of the best new songs and albums. 

I've already found quite a few great new albums via spotify. I enjoy the service so much now that I subscribe as a premium member for $10 a month, which gives me unlimited streaming without adds and the ability to stream using the spotify iphone app. 

I'm sure more new apps will be added in the future and I'm looking forward to watching this ecosystem continue to grow.