Friday, October 21, 2011

How Do Latest Nexus and DROID RAZR Stack Up in Pixel Density?


Wow! The Samsung Galaxy Nexus has a beautiful screen. The Motorola DROID RAZR also sports a pretty looking display. I'm impressed, but there's one thing missing from their silly acronym: "+." Yes the Galaxy Nexus has a 720p (1280x720) "HD" screen...marketing people go nuts. But it's a Super AMOLED, no plus. The Samsung Galaxy SII may have a "measly" WVGA 800x480 resolution screen, but it has the plus. What's the dif? The 720p sounds fabulous on paper, but the perceived resolution will not quite match the pixel density they are hoping for, as it uses a Pentile Matrix arrangement of subpixels (RG-BG). Super AMOLED+ displays use a RGB-RGB arrangement typically seen in plasmas and LCDs. The RG-BG results in a resolution 2/3 of what is advertised.

Breakdown
Advertised resolution is 1280x720 with a pixel density of 316 ppi, but it will appear closer to 1280x480...at 4.65" this is 258 ppi. It will most likely appear sharper than the AT&T Galaxy SII's (217 ppi), but not as much as hoped.

Below is a chart showing recent Smart Phone's ranked by their Pixel Density, their display tech, resolution, and screen size. Apple's iPhone 4 and 4S take the crown with 330 ppi on their small in comparison 3.5" display. Notice how much the perceived resolution drops the Nexus and DROID RAZR compared to their marketed resolution.


Phone
Screen Tech
Resolution Name
Resolution
Screen Size
Pixel Density
Apple iPhone 4/4S
LCD
Retina
960x640
3.5"
330 ppi
Galaxy Nexus
Super AMOLED (Pentile Matrix)
720p
1280x720 (marketed)
4.65”
316 ppi (marketed)
Galaxy Nexus
Super AMOLED (Pentile Matrix)
720p
1280x480
(perceived)
4.65”
258 ppi (perceived)
Motorola DROID RAZR
Super AMOLED (Pentile Matrix)
qHD
960x540 (marketed)
4.3”
256 ppi (marketed)
HTC Sensation/EVO 3D/Atrix 2
LCD
qHD
960x540
4.3"
256 ppi
Samsung Galaxy SII (AT&T)
Super AMOLED+
WVGA
800x480
4.3"
217 ppi
Motorola DROID RAZR
Super AMOLED (Pentile Matrix)
qHD
960x360 (perceived)
4.3”
209 ppi (perceived)
Samsung Galaxy SII (Sprint, T-Mobile)
Super AMOLED+
WVGA
800x480
4.5"
207 ppi

Why Pixel Density Matters
Ever had to zoom in on a web page because the text wasn't clear? Pixel Density increases sharpness when viewing text, photos, video...really anything on the screen. It makes text pop, your album art sizzle, and home-screen beautiful. This is why I love and hate tech advertising! It's a magical art to show off that a "new" tech is just so beautiful and shiny (heck Apple is a master at showing how awesome a shiny rock can be). The average consumer won't ever find out or care, but it's nerds like me that just gotta know why a screen has bad viewing angles or just doesn't quite have the great clarity as advertised.

If it's a Super Phone, why did Samsung go with a Pentile display?
Two words: Cost and Marketing. It's cheaper to go with the Pentile Matrix AMOLED display for this screen size and density. At that lower cost, they can market the display as being "720p HD." That's huge in marketing! The first 720p HD display on a smart phone!? Wow! While it is a pretty sneaky advertising move, the screen will still be gorgeous, and you will love this phone, regardless.

Will you be rushing out to get the Galaxy Nexus?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apple Ecosystem Analogy

One of my readers said, "Why would you stick with Apple? Motorola and Samsung have recently released some great devices."

Well, dear reader, besides the reasons listed under Why I Stay an Apple fan, I answer with an insightful analogy:

Recently, I was going to switch checking accounts from bank A to bank B with a higher interest rate. I found out I had to pay a monthly fee for online billpay, so the extra interest earned was negligible. Coupled with having to move over all my "payees" and re-setup autopay and direct deposit, I wasn't convinced to switch. Now, had I been a member of bank B all along, I would probably be perfectly happy, but bank B didn't give me reason enough to leave bank A.

For me, bank A is Apple, bank B is Android/WP7/etc.

(   By the way, just kidding...........I don't have any readers.  :-P   )

Galaxy Nexus and Android Ice Cream Sandwich Unveiling

Powerful, sleek, and the first Android device to run Ice Cream Sandwich.
The video plugin in Firefox crashed on my laptop, so I didn't get to view some of the last features. I rebooted the browser and reloaded the video to catch the middle of the Android "Beam" demo. Hey it actually worked!

For the most part, it was an interesting presentation...in content. Some Vice President gets on the stage and brought his D game at best in presenting the device's makeup. Speed, Screen, Design, and OS. I fell asleep in the middle of Speed, and woke up to some words about the screen.

Speed
Yawn...We get it, it's fast...Just like every other device that has come out in the last 6 months. Is this one faster? Probably not anything noticeable. Let's just say it'll at least keep up, if not surpass by a smidge the leading Galaxy SII. It's nothing leaps and bounds advanced, though. And another thing...................Wha? Oh sorry...just woke up.

Screen
I'm impressed with the screen, but there's one thing it was missing in its absurd acronym: "+." Yes it's a 720p (1280x720) "HD" screen...marketing people go nuts. But it's a Super AMOLED, no plus. The Samsung Galaxy SII may have a "measly" WVGA 800x480 resolution screen, but it has the plus. What's the dif? The 720p sounds fabulous on paper, but the perceived resolution will not quite match the pixel density they are hoping for, as it uses a pentile arrangement of subpixels (RGBG) resulting in a resolution 3/4 of what is advertised. So, where they advertise a pixel density of 316 ppi, it may appear closer to 960x720...at 4.65" this is 273.5 ppi. It will most likely appear a little sharper than the GSII's, but not much. We shall see.

Design
It looks great. The phone has a barometer. The phone has a nice, curved design.........Hey sleepy guy! Did you just say Barometer? That's cool, what's it do? Oh, you skipped right over that one huh. Well I shall enlighten. This is actually a pretty sweet feature, potentially. It tells you the barometric pressure where you are....right now. Not using GPS and the internet....just the barometer! Don't you see? Picture every person with a smartphone with a barometer. This could potentially take pressure readings at precise locations and predict weather that much more accurately. Some serious stuff.

OS
The meat of the presentation. The UI looks pretty. I gotta say I love the social network integration that exists throughout Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) (ridiculous name). The lock screen has some interesting features, including "revolutionary" facial recognition to unlock. Demo time..."You'll see that Billy Bob can't unlock my phone because his mug is not mine. Now if I smile for 10 minutes at the camera it will...it will...un....lock. Aw...you really gonna do this to me?" It didn't unlock. Hopefully Google figures that one out before launch.

Google has taken strides in making the entire OS cohesive with similar gestures found throughout. Nothing too new in the browser. Mail shows more "people" apps integration. Their "Beam" function with NFC is pretty neat, if not a little gimmicky...A buddy is playing Minecraft, you say, "I wanna get that game!"...Your buddy butts up his phone against yours, beams it to you...now you're in the Market place ready to download the app. Cool. However, I think NFC will bring about a lot of new and interesting functions that no one has even thought of yet.

Verdict?
Overall, the presentation lacked that flair that the late great Steve Jobs possessed during grand unveilings such as this. It needed that, actually. This phone and OS are supposed to be a big deal. At least, Google wants it to be a big deal.

These questions remain:
  • How much for the device?
  • How much flash storage on the device?
  • Available in November.....well when exactly? November is 2 weeks away.
  • Which carriers will house this Galaxy Nexus?
    • They mentioned LTE and HSPA+ connectivity, so Verizon and AT&T?
  • Perhaps on the minds of 1,000's of Android users...When will my device (if ever) get ICS?
 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Increase Story Readability in your Web Browser

Safari Reader in iOS 5
The new Safari Reader feature for iOS5 inspired me to get the Readability and Blank your Monitor and Easy Reading add-ons for Firefox. You'll never read stories the same on the web.


What Readability add-on does
Example of a story before formatting:

Unformatted story

Story after hitting Ctrl+Alt+R to format it:

Formatted story
What Blank Your Monitor add-on does
Formatted story after hitting Ctrl+Alt+B:

Formatted story with colors inverted

As you can see, these add-ons make it easy to read your story, removing ads and other content from the screen. Simply hit Ctrl+Alt+B to toggle invert colors, and Ctrl+R to reload the unformatted story. Though inverting the colors may not be for everyone, it is interesting to try. Try them out today!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How do you make iTunes Match even better? iTunes Unlimited


iTunes Match is pretty cool: $25/yr allows you to match your songs to iTunes library and keep them in iCloud at 256kbps AAC DRM-free quality. Any song that doesn't match gets uploaded to iCloud. You can then stream (yes, stream) or download your songs to sync any iDevice or PC/Mac. Translation? I can upgrade all my crappy 10-year-old CD rips and albums from "friends" into high-quality 256kbps AAC songs! That is huge, and to have easy access to all 9,000 of them anywhere I go is icing on the cake.

That's great, but how do you make the world's largest library of songs even better?

First, a little perspective
Services like Spotify and Rdio are great models...charge $10/mo to share music "likes" with your friends, discover new music, listen to new albums, save playlists, and download to your phone to listen offline. There's 1 major thing they don't have...the massive library of iTunes.

iTunes is massive. Huge. How big? Over 20million songs exist in their library. Sure it's nice to download an album for $9.99. How often do you do this? Once a month? Twice a month? A couple times a year? My guess is on average once or twice every two months.


A Better Way: iTunes Unlimited (not real, just my idea)
How about another option: iTunes Unlimited. Rather than $25/yr for Match, how about $99/yr for the services of Match plus the ability to stream as many songs/albums/playlists as you like? Now, I don't think Apple would just let you download any song in iTunes to keep forever, but do you really need to for your 24/7 internet-connected PC and AppleTV? You just need the ability to stream to your PC or AppleTV. But our iDevices aren't always connected to a network. How about another option. We all like tiers...how about:
  • $99/yr tier ($8.25/mo) - 30 offline song downloads to iDevices per month
  • $119/yr tier ($9.92/mo) - 50 songs/mo
  • $149/yr tier ($12.42/mo) - unlimited
Of course these tiers would each include unlimited streaming to your devices. You could share your favorite songs with your friends in iTunes, and maybe Apple can actually make their Ping service usable. All while keeping playlists synced across devices.

Apple...make this happen!
If Apple implemented this, they would have a killer service that would be far superior to any cloud storage service (e.g., Amazon Cloud Player, Music Beta by Google) and social music discovery service (e.g., Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, Slacker) combined.

All these tiers/prices/limits variables are off the top of my head, but it sure seems logical for Apple to pull something like this off. $10/mo seems reasonable and competitive for Apple to charge for such a killer service. They could even split the services if you don't want both: $25/yr for iTunes Match, $85/yr for iTunes Unlimited. Then provide a discount of $99/yr for both.

Would you buy into such a service? Please share this blog with your friends!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

iPhone 4S Announcement Reaction


The latest iPhone 4S announcement leaves me feeling funny inside...not haha funny, but weird funny. Here's why:

iPhone 4S highlights
  • A5 dual-core processor - Faster app loading, web page rendering, handles higher graphic requirements in apps, allows 1080p video capture
  • 8MP still/1080p video camera - Will take amazing shots and video I'm sure, as the iPhone 4 already takes great pics/video (albeit 5MP/720p).
  • World phone - Has both GSM/CDMA radios built in. It will be released 10/14 on AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. Capable of double the download speed of iPhone 4.
  • 16GB, 32GB, 64GB - $199, $299, $399 respectively
  • AirPlay mirroring - Mirror anything on your screen to your AppleTV. You can mirror web pages, home screen, games, anything...not just videos and music anymore.
  • Assistant - The iPhone 4S killer feature. Ask it to "Reply to John, I'll be late," "Find Italian restaurants," or "How many steps does the Empire State Building have?" Uses your natural language to answer appropriately, and learns over time. It will also support dictation as an option to keyboard input (as Android users have gotten accustomed to for some time).

Victim of Hype
Part of me just wanted something crazy to happen today...an announcement of an iPhone 5, a rabbit to pop out of the phone...anything. I really wanted Apple to increase the display to the edge. They didn't even have to change the rest of the design, but make the display 3.7" to 4". Maybe throw in a touch sensitive button for some silly swipe gestures. SOMETHING! I like that this is still a nice upgrade, but part of me feels cheated. Google is coming out with their next Nexus phone in the coming months to go toe-to-toe with this iPhone. It's rumored to have a 720x1280 resolution display (iPhone 4/4S = 640x960).


Why I Stay an Apple fan:
  • Build quality - Apple makes some of the prettiest, solid phones. One year later, my phone still looks brand new.
  • Apple's ecosystem - The iPhone 4S works flawlessly streaming through AirPlay to AppleTV and iTunes. My entire music collection is on my home server, syncing every night to my phone updating playlists/counts/ratings and is playable throughout the house and wherever I go. If you don't like using iTunes, you can still drag/drop music/videos to the device with SharePod. I hate to say it, but everything in this environment "just works."
  • Backwards compatibility - The new phone is still compatible with my excellent Bose stereo dock and any iPhone accessories (e.g., workout armband, external backup battery, car charger).
  • Battery life - The battery management of iOS has been brain-off awesome. I don't have to mess with task killers or worry if my battery is going to last the whole day.
  • Apple customer service - Have an issue with your phone or accessories? Come in to the Apple Store, and leave in minutes with your problems solved quickly. The AppleCare+ is a great warranty; $99 one-time fee covers your phone's manufacturing and accessories for 2yrs. It also adds 2 occurrences of accidental damage coverage...drop your phone in the toilet, crack it by throwing it off a building, and you get it repaired/replaced for max $49. So, you would pay $197 total to replace your phone twice, plus still have your battery, screen, and accessories covered for 2yrs.
  • Resale value - Selling your old iDevice still gets you a pretty penny, and should at least net you enough coin to upgrade to the newest phone.
  • High App Quality - With over 40,000 apps in the App Store, you're bound to find something you like. And with Apple vetting each one before it's available for download, you know that it's malware free. I'm partial to Remote (control iTunes library and AppleTV from iPhone), Early Bird (game), ShopShop (grocery list), Evernote (notes), and Nike+ GPS (run mapper).
  • iCloud services - The brain-off simplicity (and free-ness) of Over-the-Air updates and daily syncing photos/music/documents with iCloud is huge. I'm going to specifically love iTunes Match; Having many 10yr old crummy CD rips, I can now get these in 256kbps AAC quality and access all 9,000 of them anywhere I go for just $25/yr.
  • Jailbreak - Freeing iOS gives me the ability to advance to my next song by holding my volume button (great when driving), theme my phone, double-tap the time on the lockscreen to go directly to the phone app, send a text by tapping the volume button, and many more customizations. Jailbreaking is the icing on the cake to the rest of the above.

All the above are things I really value about the iPhone experience. I think part of me writing the above is to remind me why I am happy with Apple's iPhone. They are things I would miss if I left to get an Android or Windows Phone. The iPhone is not just about software, display size, or hardware in general, it's about the services and ecosystem that really keep me an Apple fan. Is the 4S enough to make me upgrade? How much will you pay for my iPhone 4?



- If you don't own a smart phone, is the 4S your next phone?
- If you own an iPhone, is the 4S enough to make you upgrade?
- If you have an Android/Windows Phone, is the 4S enough to make you switch?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Adventures in TV Antennas: Kill Cable Part 2

RCA ANT751 Outdoor TV Antenna
Well cable/satellite, we've had some good times. We knew this day would come. I'll miss your inflated prices and 100's of channels of content I never watched. Maybe when you come up with a cheap a-la-carte channel-adding scheme, we'll see each other again some day. Until then, good riddance! Part 1 of my blog entry is not literally labeled "Part 1" (the good ones never are), but here it is: Kill the Cable Bill, 7/25/11. Oh the fun I've had with TV Antennas. I tell you of my adventure for entertainment and education. First, a fun fact, a note and then a little justification of doing this project.

Note about Tuners
Your local TV stations broadcast ATSC signals. If you want these digital channels, you'll need an ATSC tuner.

  • HDTV 5yrs old or newer? You're good - If you bought your HDTV in the last 5yrs, chances are good it has a built-in ATSC tuner.
  • Digital Converter Box - Old CRT (tube) TVs and some older HDTVs do not have an ATSC tuner. Therefore, you'll need a Digital Converter Box for these TVs. Be careful of older HDTVs that claim "HD-ready." These display HD, but they don't have a built-in tuner. 
  • QAM tuner - If you have a Quadrature Amplitude Modulator tuner (QAM or Clear QAM [pronounced kwomm]), you have an ATSC tuner. QAM tuners allow you to tune any "free" stations provided by cable. However, don't count on too many of these stations being available. (The cable company doesn't really enjoy giving handouts.)

Fun fact: Plural of Antenna is "Antennae" if you are referring to an insect, but it is "Antennas" for RF/Radio/TV. Isn't learning fun?


Justification
Is it worth all this trouble? In 1 word, YES! In many words:
  • Savings: I was paying $85/mo for satellite (HD, DVR). Now I will be paying $16/mo ($7.99 for Netflix and $7.99 for Hulu+) and $0/mo for over-the-air locals. Even with the up-front costs of the antenna, splitters, digital converter box for SD TV ($40 on Amazon.com), and Roku 2 streaming boxes, I will save $450 in the first year. Those gadgets are just 1-time fees. In the second year and beyond I will save over $800/yr ($69/mo) in cable/satellite bills. I think I'll treat myself to a Dairy Queen. Maybe two.
  • Install once, enjoy forever: Keeping with the "one-time" theme, you only have to install the equipment once. Like remodeling your kitchen, you put in the work once, and then you enjoy your work for years after. Except this is way cheaper than remodeling your kitchen and takes less time, and it will save you lots of money!
  • Crystal Clear Picture: Did you know?: Cable and Satellite only have so much bandwidth for their hundreds of HD channels, so they compress them like crazy. Ever notice digital artifacts with motion on the screen, especially during sports? Well with over-the-air picture quality, I 100% guarantee it looks clearer than your cable/satellite HD picture. Local stations broadcast their signals in much less-compressed beautiful HD glory. Watch football at my house on Sunday if you don't believe me.

Indoor vs Outdoor TV Antennas
Indoor TV Antenna
  • Pros:
    • Usually omnidirectional. Great for Urban areas where stations are within 20mi and in many directions.
    • No need to hassle with install of outdoor antenna.
  • Cons:
    • Usually omnidirectional. Bad for more rural areas where stations are >20mi away.
    • Need an Antenna for each TV in the house. Could get expensive.
    • Need to find an aesthetic spot to place the antenna near each TV (the wife factor).
    • May get more/less channels in different rooms depending on room location and distance from stations. This is due to interference of things like metal, ducts, buildings, hills, mountains. (e.g., antenna in the basement may not pick up channels your 2nd floor antenna does)

Outdoor TV Antenna
  • Pros:
    • Highly directional. Great for more rural areas where stations are >20mi away and in 1 general direction.
    • Picks up VHF channels without a hiccup. (These channels' frequencies have longer wavelengths and are easier for longer antennas to pick up from far away)
    • One antenna for the entire house. Same channels on every TV.
  • Cons:
    • Highly directional. Bad for more urban areas where stations are in many directions.
    • Installation is a little cumbersome (see Outdoor TV Antenna Installation Fun below).


Determine your Antenna need
Antennaweb.org Street Level Map
On Antennaweb.org or TVFool.com, enter your address, and a report will tell you TV stations you can pick up, what direction they are in, and how far away they are. I prefer Antennaweb: It gives you a simple list of stations, their compass heading, and their distance. Clicking "View Street Level Map" shows your home on a Google Maps overlay with a visual representation of the direction of the stations. As a general rule, if you have many stations within 20mi, you will probably just need omnidirectional Indoor TV Antennas. If you have many stations >20mi away, you will probably need a directional outdoor antenna. You may have stations in many different directions, but pay attention to the ones you care about. For example, if there is a Spanish channel in the opposite direction of the others, maybe it's not a big deal (you can learn Spanish from Rosetta Stone instead).


My Story
Antennaweb.org tells me I am ~30mi away from local stations. They are all in the same general direction. Above info says I should get an outdoor antenna. But I don't listen to myself, I want an indoor antenna to work. I don't want to install an outdoor antenna, I refuse!
Mohu Leaf Indoor TV Antenna

First Attempt: Indoor Antenna - Mohu Leaf
With good reviews from killthecablebill.com, I was excited to get this $44 beast from Amazon.com. It is tiny! About the size of a sheet of printer paper and as thin as one, I was amazed. It can be mounted in an out-of-view location, but that's where the amazement stops. Mounted in the location where it received the best signal (by the window), I only picked up a few channels, and they were spotty. Forget about the VHF channels (FOX and NBC). Spotty at best. I didn't even attempt it in the basement, I would maybe get 1 channel at best. However, if you are within 15mi of the stations, this antenna may work pretty well.

RCA ANT1251 Indoor TV Antenna

Second Attempt: Indoor Antenna - RCA ANT1251
I helped my father-in-law kill cable by using this antenna. It works pretty well at ~12mi from the stations. Since it is amplified (plugs into AC power), I thought it would perform better than the Mohu Leaf. I attempted it at my lovely abode for $7 from Amazon.com. Adjusting the dipoles (rabbit-ear VHF receivers) out in front of the TV gave me NBC and FOX pretty well, until I walked in front of it. Also, I had to turn the antenna to make CBS and ABC come in free of digital garbage. Regardless of the need to turn it, this is where the wife factor comes in to play. It's atrocious seeing the dipoles dangling anywhere in the room, very distracting. Once again, I didn't even try this in the basement. Let's not even think about the horrendous results we would get down there, this article isn't about depression.


RCA ANT751 Outdoor TV Antenna
Third and Final Attempt: Outdoor Antenna - RCA ANT751
Alright! I've had it with indoor antennas! Why didn't I just get an outdoor antenna at the beginning and be done with it! AAAAgghhh! Ok, I feel better now. Living 30mi from local stations, I needed an outdoor antenna to save me from the evil cable/satellite monster. For that, I turned to customer reviews and the great review site: TopTenReviews.com. Their Top 10 HDTV Antenna list gave #1 to the RCA ANT751. The 36inch long "compact" RCA ANT751 (Amazon.com for $44 shipped) is awesome! It picks up 19 digital channels. List of what I get: PBS, CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC, MNT (29.1), IND (45.1), and a few local weather, music, and movie channels. Basically it picks up everything Antennaweb.org says I can for my area, and a couple more. It is rated for 40mi, but reviewers say it can reach a little further than that. I am very impressed with this antenna's performance and price. Can't say enough amazement it gave me!


Outdoor TV Antenna Installation Fun
Tools needed: compass, level, wrench, wood screws
The RCA ANT751 came with a mast for easy installation on the side of my deck. Had all necessary bolts/nuts, but no wood screws to mount the mast. Pick up 4ea at the hardware store for a buck. I installed it at about 6ft in height pointing ~10deg North. Obviously, the higher the better with as few obstructions as possible (on a roof would probably be best). Just make sure the mast is plumb and the antenna points in the correct direction. I used the cabling existing from my current (for now) satellite dish. The fun happens inside the outdoor cable box. I had to individually figure out what coax line was the antenna, and the rooms. I then needed a $10 3-way coax splitter from Best Buy to provide the antenna signal to each TV in the house simultaneously. (If you can wait a few days for shipping, get a 2-way, 3-way, 4-way, or 8-way coax splitter for less than $6 from MonoPrice.com. Get the smallest one you need, and get a F-Type 75 Ohm terminator [$0.45 on Amazon.com] for each unused port. Terminators eliminate reflections that reduce signal quality caused by unused ports.) The splitter introduced some signal-strength loss (as evidenced by my digital converter box's meter), but my picture and sound remained crisp. If you currently have cable (e.g., Comcast, Charter), you probably already have splitters installed in your outdoor cable box, so just replace where your Cable's coax from the ground is connected with your antenna's coax cable. Remember to run a ground wire from the antenna's body. Lightning strikes would be a terrible way to get a fire.


A Word about Cable Internet
I still have cable internet. You canNOT have antenna signal and cable internet signal on the same coax line. Well almost cannot. Two options here:
  1. Easy and Cheap - Choose 1 coax port in the house to be dedicated to cable internet. This is what I did. Connect your Cable's coax cable from the ground near your outdoor cable box to the room of choice's coax cable. Get an F-Type Coupler ($0.49 on MonoPrice.com) to couple the two coax cables together. You cannot use this coax line for antenna signals.
  2. More flexible, but more money and see Warning below!! - Allow both antenna and cable internet on any line in the house. Buy a bi-directional combiner (to join antenna and cable internet coax lines) and bi-directional splitter (to amplify and allow 2-way communication) like the $37.50 8-Port Bi-Directional Cable TV HDTV Amplifier Splitter Signal Booster with Passive Return Path on Amazon.com. Remember to terminate unused ports. Then at the TV, you will need a 2-way coax splitter to split to your TV and cable modem. Make sure to call your cable internet provider and have them filter out any TV frequencies, so they don't interfere with your antenna signal. Good explanation at BigPictureBigSound.com. Warning!! Joining antenna and cable internet signals may cause interference that cable companies can sniff. We don't want any Comcast/Charter reps or FCC peeps knocking on our door, so proceed with caution with this one. Better explanation from user "Darkk" in this forum on dslreports.com.
In Part 3, I will setup my Roku 2 boxes and give feedback of my cable/satellite free life. Good luck and enjoy Killing Cable!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Droid Bionic Hulking Extra Battery

Soapbox on Batteries
I'm sorry, this is just a step in the wrong direction. I'm all for a feature-packed device lasting all day, but those features should not come at the cost of needing this hulking attachment of a battery. I have a bulge in my pocket already (from a phone). I don't need it any more clumsy or anchor-like than the Bionic already is. These are supposed to be mobile phones after all...not brick replacements. More innovation should be put into battery management (software efficiencies), not giant battery attachments. It's kinda like a slap in the face. It's Motorola saying, "Hey, we know our huge device has features that suck battery faster than a thirsty voltage-seeking vampire. We're not going to do anything about it except offer you this giant wart that makes it last longer. Oh, you want it for free? Sorry, it will cost you your third born child (they get left out so often)."

Costly Endeavor
Not only the bulge issue, but how much is this battery? Check reviews of the Bionic, it received great reviews, but the cost? Let's not talk about that...........ok let's. It costs $300 on contract through Verizon. Yes, more than you would ever hope to pay for a smart phone. Oh, but it has "awesome" add-on accessories:
  • "Laptop" dock - Can use real keyboard, trackpad, and good size screen to toodle around your phone. However, it does not support real PC applications at $300 more. I don't think you heard me, $300 more!  Do people realize they can spend less than $400 to get a good laptop from Newegg.com that does infinitely more and has better battery life?
  • HD Station dock - Hook it up to a TV and charge the phone for $100...OR how about buying a $5 micro-HDMI cable from Monoprice.com?
  • Webtop adapter - For $30, hook your phone up to an external monitor. Once again, why not just get a $5 micro-HDMI cable?
Every once in awhile I need to get something off my chest...in this case it's an entire battery brick.  
What gripes do you have with today's tech?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

JoliOS: The Webapp-centric OS

What do you do 90% of the time on your PC?
Let me predict: check social networks, check and send email, and surf the web. Light-weight internet based JoliOS accomplishes all this and more via its hundreds of webapps (I created this blog post in the Blogger app).

I followed this easier than pie guide to install and configure JoliOS as a second bootable OS along  Windows 7 on my HP dv6 laptop.

http://www.maximumpc.com/article/how-tos/how_dual-boot_speedy_joli_os


Amazingly Simple
All drivers loaded with ease (using dv7 drivers), and it just works! It's a great concept of having apps that are simple to find and have your account signed into with a simple click, and did I mention that it's ridiculously fast?! 


From power on, it takes 10-15 seconds to boot into this homescreen. Closing the laptop lid promptly puts the laptop to sleep. Re-opening the lid awakens the laptop back into JoliOS in literally 2 seconds!


Mine is a fairly modern laptop, but JoliOS can be installed on any PC that is 10 years old or less. It is extremely light-weight. 


Perhaps the best feature of JoliOS is that you can view your desktop in any modern browser from any internet connected PC. Simply login to www.jolicloud.com.


To complete the install, I installed EasyBCD on Windows 7. Within EasyBCD, it was a snap to set my default bootable OS to Windows 7 with a 3 second delay. This allows me 3 seconds upon pressing power to select the second bootable option, JoliOS.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Kill the Cable Bill

If there's one thing I hate, it's paying for cable. Is $95 a month worth it to see a show live or flip through 100's of channels I never watch? I found this great site killthecablebill.com to help me through the process, and I pass the love on to you.

Cable's Evil Cons
  • Expensive:  $95 a month? Ouch. Oh yes, you can go to your local cable company and get a 6 month deal for $30. Seriously, only 6 months?! Then after the 6 months the bill skyrockets to $95 anyway, and you're getting less service than you had before.
  • Bad Weather:  Having Dish Network satellite service, service is disrupted when it rains or a tiny cloud fills the sky. That's when I need TV the most! What's the weather? Ok, I'll break out the laptop or smart phone instead. When weather is crummy, it's great to curl up on the couch and watch ye olde telly. Satellite wants those wishes to be gone with a cloud.

Cable Alternatives
In my research, the following services connect a 1-2-3 punch in eliminating cable forever:
  • Netflix:  With thousands of commercial-free movies and TV shows available to stream over your high-speed internet for $7.99/month, a great interface, and tons of Netflix-capable devices, Netflix rocks.
  • Hulu-Plus:  Another stream-over-high-speed internet service, Hulu-Plus takes care of newer TV shows that Netflix doesn't offer (often next day after original air) for $7.99/month.
  • Over-the-air broadcast:  Get a decent antenna and mash it into the RF port on your TV for your local channels. This depends on how close you are to local stations' antennae. Unfortunately, I would need a large directional rooftop antenna with pre-amp to get local channels. However, it seems many have found luck with the $44 Leaf Indoor Antenna, so I may try that.   UPDATE 9/12/11: Living 30mi from local stations, the 36" long RCA ANT751 (Amazon.com for $44 shipped) picks up 19 digital channels. List of what I get: PBS, CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC, MNT (29.1), IND (45.1), and a few local weather, music, and movie channels. Big advantages of an outdoor antenna: A) Uses your existing cable line in the house, B) Only need 1 antenna for all TVs in the house (just connect TV to wall coax jack).
RCA ANT751 Digital TV Antenna

The Streamers
These internet-streaming devices will deliver Netflix and Hulu-Plus to your TV, and then some:

  • Roku 2:  Just released, this impressive ($59, $79 or $99) tiny box (3"x3") has many apps to cover all your movie/TV show/music/news/weather needs. Has a large array of support for 100's of apps including: Netflix, Hulu-Plus, Amazon Instant Video, CNET, Pandora, MLB.TV, Crackle, and FOXNews.com. Also has the unique ability to play simple games like Angry Birds.
  • Apple TV:  Rent movies and TV shows through iTunes and Netflix. A killer feature of the $98 shipped Apple TV is using AirPlay to stream photos/video/music from your iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad to your HDTV. It also sports the ability to use your iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad) as a remote for your iTunes videos/music/photos on your PC. You can Jailbreak the Apple TV to allow playback of non-supported audio/video formats and install XBMC. XBMC supports more internet radio channels, Hulu-Plus, and other apps in a nice interface.
  • Google TVThe $199 (UPDATE: now $99Logitech Revue is among the geekier boxes. It's loftier goal is to integrate the web with cable. With Dish Network, you can search shows and web content alike, including YouTube videos and searching Google.com. Not sure this is exactly our best alternative. I like the integration, but the goal is to have no cable! The Revue has apps like the above boxes, but it has been described as much more complicated to use. We want our brains off when using TV.
  • Boxee Box:  Purchase a Boxee Box for $199 or install the app on your Home Theater PC (HTPC). Boxee has a great remote smart phone app. I may try to install Boxee on my laptop just to try it as an alternative. Not sure I want to spend $199 for a new box, especially when I have 2-3 TVs in the home to consider.
  • PlayStation 3:   Besides being an excellent HD video game system and the best Blu-Ray/DVD player, the PS3 offers Hulu-Plus, MLB.TV, and Netflix support. You can also stream most formats of video from your PC's local library. PlayTV is available to turn your PS3 into an over-the-air DVR (limited to the size of the hard drive in your PS3). Not sure on the price of this, but seems useful. PS3 has many bundles available at $299. 
  • XBOX 360:  Another great HD video game system with good stream-from-your-PC abilities for around $199. XBOX also offers Netflix and Hulu-Plus support, although not as polished as the PS3 versions. Also, you must be an XBOX Live Gold member for $60/year to use them. This usually isn't an issue, as most XBOX360 owners are XBOX Live members already.



Why keep cable?
  • The hassle:  You don't want to deal with buying a separate little box for every room and set each one up. However, I can guarantee after setting one up, the others will be much simpler and quicker to setup.
  • You are comfortable:  Paying for cable each month is easier than setting up all those silly boxes and antenna(s).
  • DVR:  It is so convenient to have a DVR organize all of your recorded shows and keep/delete them as desired. However, at my home this is limited to only two TVs (only one of which is HD). Really, who actually re-watches their shows? Similar to purchasing a DVD/Blu-Ray disc, how many times do you re-watch a movie?
  • Flipping channels:  If you love to surf channels to find something live that piques your interest, you may want to keep the cable. Internet streaming is much more of a "let's search for a show and start playing it now" service. On the other hand, instead of channel flipping, maybe this will simply force you to find something else to do.
  • I need to see it now!:  If you simply can't wait to see your show and need to see it the second it airs, then internet streaming TV is not for you.
  • Could get expensive:  Depending on the amount of channels you watch, all those sports, movie, and TV show packages could end up costing more than your current bill. Also, depending on how many rooms have a TV, you need to get a box and antenna for each one. However, getting the boxes is only a one-time purchase.

My Take
Since I have iPhones already in the household, the $98 shipped Apple TV seems like a no-brainer. Sharing music, photos, and videos via Air Play is such a great feature. Along with using the iPhone as a remote for music and video playing on the home's main stereo makes it hard to pass up. Jailbreaking the Apple TV to get XBMC is the icing on the cake. iTunes also offers many show rentals.


If you don't have iOS devices, I think the clear winner of the above is the Roku 2 XS. At $99, it has the best interface and most diversity in apps.

What's Next?
Of the above, I currently own a PS3. Netflix is running flawlessly on it. I may attempt a 1-week Hulu-Plus trial on it and install Boxee on my laptop to attempt the down-with-cable way of life. Seeing how that goes, I may purchase an Apple TV and/or Roku 2 XS to complement each other and kill the cable bill forever.

UPDATE:  Use your student .edu email address and get a 1-month trial of Hulu-Plus free!

What are your "kill the cable bill" secrets?

Link to Kill Cable Part 2: Adventures in TV Antennas 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hand-held 3D - 2011's Fad or Here to stay?

3D is here...in all its gimmicky glory. Here are a few new 3D devices that have a parallax barrier screen to display 2 separate images (1 to each eye) to generate a stereoscopic 3D image:

Nintendo 3DS
The first hand-held console to support 3D sans glasses. I must admit that I would want this system just to replay my all-time favorite game in stereoscopic 3D (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time), but I'm just not sure the system is worth $250.

Sharp Aquos Phone SHI12
Just announced on Engadget.com, this phone will feature dual cameras for stereoscopic 3D picture taking and presumably 3D HD video capture. Also presumably, you will be able to play these back in 3D sans glasses right on the phone.







HTC EVO 3D Phone
This phone is 2011's version of the 2010 EVO 4G. It has an upgraded display, dual core processor, and the ability to shoot and playback 3D pics and video sans glasses.







LG Optimus 3D Phone
LG aims to capture and playback 3D photos and videos, as well with their Optimus 3D phone.


I originally heard of these 3D devices and thought, "Cool!" Now I'm not so sure, wondering if it has the same lasting appeal as that lighter or brostache app you showed to your buddies when you got your first "smart" phone (see video below). 3D is a neat trick, but part of me wonders about the headaches induced, and some people have troubles seeing 3D. Regardless, 3D is here now, and it's up to consumers and their wallets to decide how long it stays.



What do you think, is 3D here to stay?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Misleading Tech Advertising

Picture it... 
You've unearthed the best new tech in the world...but no one knows about it. So naturally you turn to creative advertising to promote your product. Once promoted, you think, "Wow that's my product!?" Of course it is, but smart advertising has disguised it. A big pet peeve of mine is inflation of the truth in tech advertising. It's also genius! To stretch the truth of the product's specifications/capabilities is masquerading, but it's not necessarily lying. Let me shed some light on 2 of the biggest advertising facades.







Hard Disk Drive/Solid State Drive/Flash Memory
Why when you look at the 100GB drive under "My Computer -> {drive} -> Properties" it shows as only 93.13GB? Where did my 6.87GB go!!!??? It is a 100*10^9 byte drive, but the secret is that storage is advertised in decimal format (base 10), while the computer displays it in binary (base 2). A little math to explain:
  • Decimal (Base 10): 10^3 = kilo, 10^6 = mega, 10^9 = giga
  • Binary (Base 2):     2^10 = kilo, 2^20 = mega, 2^30 = giga
  • Math gives us: 100*(10^9)/(2^30) = 93.13 GB (base 2)
Naturally, marketers wish to promote the larger number.
Just know this: Marketers speak in decimal, Computers speak in binary.

600Hz Plasma vs 120Hz LCD
Flat screen TV ads are the worst. Plasma and LCD are way different techs. The advertising of Hz in TVs is due to how humans perceive motion on screen. LCDs have an inherent blur effect with motion (e.g., camera pans, fast motion scenes). The higher frame refresh rate (Hz) aims to switch fast enough to eliminate motion blur. (I may post a separate article on LCD 120Hz explained.)

Plasma
On a 1080p TV, think of plasma pixels as 6 million tiny light bulbs, 1 for each sub pixel (red, green, blue). These bulbs constantly flash to display their photons. For a 600Hz sub-field drive, each bulb flashes 10 times per frame. Since the screen refreshes at 60Hz (frames per second), each bulb flashes for 60 * 10 = 600Hz (flashes per second). Old plasma bulbs flashed only 8 times per frame, with a 480Hz sub-field drive.

LCD
Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) panels have a back light that is constantly on. Basically, the Liquid Crystals allow light to pass (more white) or block it (more black). Just know that 120Hz really is the screen refreshing at 120 frames per second. Old LCDs refresh at only 60Hz. See this awesome video for a better explanation of how LCD works.


The Skinny
  • Plasmas' Hz rating - how many times per second plasma bulbs flash. 
  • LCD's Hz rating - how many times per second the frame refreshes. 
So, which is better? Both are better than their older versions, but it's like comparing a Volkswagen's miles per gallon to a Ferrari's turn radius. It just doesn't make sense. Plasmas are inherently better at handling motion, but don't use the 600Hz > 120Hz comparison to determine that. Some prefer LCD's version of motion handling. Let's face it, either tech is a good choice, as long as the TV is huge. Go to Best Buy and determine it for yourself.

What are some misleading advertisements you have come across?