Tag Archives: movies

My favorite gadget of 2013: Roku 3

R3 frontAs a Netflix streaming video fan, I’ve picked up every version of the Roku (streaming video / audio) box that’s been released. I upgraded to the Roku 3 this year and consider it one of the best consumer tech buys out there.

Why do I love the Roku 3? Read on…

  • Inexpensive: The Roku 3 is normally priced at $99.99 — today it’s even cheaper at $10 off (89.99)
  • Fast: When I sit down to watch streaming video, I don’t want to watch the buffering symbol… I want to watch the movie! Roku 3 is fast, fast, fast. Very little buffering and steaming video / audio loads quickly.
  • Great video quality: Roku 3 is designed for use only with HDTVs and the video quality is gorgeous. Of course, the video source needs to be good quality, too.
  • Roku offers numerous streaming video sources (most are free): I love Amazon Prime Instant Video and have found Roku to be the easiest way to watch these movies and TV shows on my TV. Best of all? Roku is constantly adding new channels. Here are my Roku 3 channels:
    • Netflix (subscription)
    • hulu plus (subscription — sign up for free trial)
    • Amazon instant video (subscription / paid)
    • Crackle
    • Roku Newscaster (news from several different sources)
    • cnet
    • soma fm (internet radio)
    • tuneine (radio)
    • classical tv
    • livestation
    • CNN
    • WSJ live
    • Ted
    • TWIT
    • MIT unofficial OpenCourseware
    • NASA (which I used to watch the recent spacewalks)
    • Amazon cloud player (for my Amazon tunes)
    • iHeartradio
    • Smithsonian channel
    • CNN International
    • Nowhere TV
    • vevo
    • Rutgers
    • Frightpix
    • indieflix (Indie films)
    • Radio Paradise
    • Congressional video stream (by Sunlight Foundation)
    • Supreme Court audio stream (by Sunlight Foundation)
    • University of California’s uctv.tv
    • Pandora
    • Slacker
    • PBS
    • Russia Today Europe (news)
    • CNBC RT (real-time)
    • MHz networks
    • livestream
    • AOL On
    • Film Movement (award winning Indie films)
    • Youtube (currently only available on Roku 3)

Frankly, Roku offers so many channels that I use Roku Guide to keep up with new additions.

Aside from my smartphone and TiVo Roamio Pro, the Roku 3 is the gadget I use most often. At less than $100, it’s a steal. If you’ve never bought a Roku box and have an HDTV, I’d say go for it! If you have an earlier Roku box, I still say go for it… the speed improvements are significant enough to make it worthwhile. 

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Logitech Revue (Google TV): Initial impressions

logitech-revue

I picked up a Logitech Revue today out of desire for a better interactive TV experience. I currently have a circa 2004 Comcast DVR (due to older infrastructure in my area) and it provides limited interactive options. I’d had TiVo in the past but didn’t want to go that route because past experience had been that any time my Comcast service went out, Comcast CSRs always blamed the TiVo’s cable cards.

I’ve been curious about Google TV and decided to learn more. Google TV was recently released in the form of the $299 Logitech Revue and $399 Sony Internet TV Blu-Ray Player. Because I already have a PS3 for playing blu-ray discs and had heard that Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Player offered better integration with one of the satellite providers (while I have Comcast Cable Internet), the Logitech Revue seemed a better fit for me.

The Logitech Revue video review by www.booredatwork.com gave me an opportunity to view interactions with the Google TV interface. I found the review extremely informative and recommend it if you’re interested in Google TV. Gizmodo and Engadget have also published interesting reviews.

Buying experience:

I went to a local Best Buy store – sales personnel were generally knowledgeable and helpful. The only negative aspects were:

  • The demo Logitech Revue keyboard didn’t have batteries, so I wasn’t able to interact with the product in-store before buying.
  • The salesman suggested I buy the overpriced Monster brand if I needed an extra HDMI cable. Since there is an HDMI cable already provided in the Logitech Revue box (and I have my existing equipment at home connected to my TV via HDMI), I didn’t need to buy any. (I’ve previously bought HDMI cables for under $20 at the Apple store.)

Set-up:

I had read some horror stories online about initial set-up, so wasn’t sure what to expect. It was amazingly simple. I plugged my Comcast box into the Logitech Revue box, attached an Ethernet cable from my router, plugged the power cord into an outlet, and voila… the Revue automatically kicked off the set-up sequence.

The only glitch I experienced was following the firmware update — the box froze and I needed to reboot to continue set-up. After that, all was well (no freezes or other unexpected behavior).

Pros:

  • I love the interface and how I can now view “what’s on” (via my Comcast DVR signal pass-through to the Logitech Revue) sorted by movies, news, etc. That kind of functionality should be inherent in cable TV DVRs (and perhaps it is, in newer boxes). I haven’t noticed any signal deterioration due to the pass-through, and HD picture quality is good.
  • The Twitter app is well-done, making it easy to click through interesting links, as well as initiate and respond to tweets.
  • The Netflix app works well, but provides an older interface that requires users to update queue via netflix.com (similar to the UI that Roku recently replaced in their streaming boxes). I’ve read that a new Netflix app for Google TV is currently in beta testing, so hopefully it will be pushed to users soon. (EDITED 12/19/2010: The rumored Netflix app update was released last week — the Netflix app now has a beautiful user interface that is as nice, if not nicer, than competing devices.)
  • Youtube’s “Lean Back” mode provides a nice full-screen viewing mode. Incidentally, this UI is available via your PC browser as well via http://www.youtube.com/leanback
  • There are some interesting channels / apps available, including USA Today, Crackle, Youtube, CNN, KQED (among others).
  • The Universal Search feature works very well at finding content.
  • Android phone users can install the Logitech Harmony app which acts as a remote control once connected to Google TV via WIFI.

Cons:

  • Spendy at $299
  • Some channels work awkwardly (Amazon Video on Demand app) or are blocked by the content provider (Hulu, NBC, others).
  • I am embarrassed to admit it took me 15 minutes to realize the Universal Search command had to be invoked from the keyboard, and then another 5 minutes to locate the key (lower left corner of keyboard, next to the Control key).
  • If Universal Search finds future showings of TV / movies available via my Comcast subscription, I still have to go into the Comcast DVR interface to set up the recording.
  • UI is intuitive for Android users, but less technical folks may find it challenging.

There you have it, my initial impressions. I’ll post another review after I’ve had a chance to kick the tires a bit.

Bonus: If you haven’t seen the Logitech Revue commercial featuring Kevin Bacon, it’s worth a watch. And don’t miss the Entertainment Weekly interview with Kevin Bacon on playing his own biggest fan (in the Revue ad).

Jaws… still compelling 30 years later

When Jaws was first released in 1975, I heard about it but it didn’t resonate for me (after all, I lived in land-locked Fairbanks, Alaska). Seeing it now for the first time, I’m realizing what a great movie it is. Roy Scheider’s performance is understated, which ironically only adds to the suspense. Richard Dreyfuss is his circa-1970s self: Unruly hair, big beard, nonconformist attitude. Bystanders react as you’d expect, either oblivious (before they sense the shark’s proximity) or horrified (after they realize a shark is near).

With CGI seeming to impact every movie special effect in recent years, I’m especially impressed by the special effects. By showing the fin or just an outline of the shark’s body underwater, we never really see the enemy but its presence is just as ominous. Great movie, highly recommended!