It's Thanksgiving day here in the states and, with the turkey not yet in the oven and football having not kicked off, I thought it appropriate to take a moment to give thanks. No, not for my family or for the chance to live my life the way I do, though all of those are on my list, but for tech products -- this is a technology news site, after all.
I've given careful consideration to this and looked at what I used most over the past year -- the products that got the most hands-on, that provided the best experience. I've whittled that list down to just five, and now its time to share, to give each a hearty thank-you. I'd offer them a bit of pumpkin pie if I could.
HBO original programming has become some of the most popular content on the small screen these days, including Game of Thrones, which holds the distinction of being the most downloaded show in BitTorrent history. Fortunately for the premium network, there are legal and profitable ways for viewers to obtain its shows.
Today, there is one more outlet being added to the mix -- Google Play. The search giant tweets that HBO is now a part of its app store, bringing along a number of its popular TV Series' to Android and Google TV customers.
Google TV started slowly, with a less than stellar launch thanks to the overpriced and barely functional Logitech Revue. Since then, the platform has managed to slowly get off the ground, though still not living up to its full potential. Better pricing and improved functionality has raised expectations, however, giving cause for hope among the faithful.
The platform is already solid enough to power a living room's entertainment with no problem, as I have been doing since earlier this year when my HTPC simply became too old and slow to handle the task any longer. But questions lingered when I made this shift -- how would I access my stored media? What about the web?
When I spent $35 on the new Chromecast, I expected that it would eventually be hacked. Truth be told, the possibility of tinkering with the device was a big factor in my purchase. However, I never expected it to be exploited so quickly. Today, GTVHacker announces that they have successfully hacked and rooted the media device.
According to the exploit authors, "...Google was kind enough to GPL the bootloader source code for the device. So we can identify the exact flaw that allows us to boot the unsigned kernel. By holding down the single button, while powering the device, the Chromecast boots into USB boot mode. USB boot mode looks for a signed image at 0×1000 on the USB drive. When found, the image is passed to the internal crypto hardware to be verified, but after this process the return code is never checked! Therefore, we can execute any code at will".
I purchased a Google TV back in February and hoped for the best. My bet paid off as the tiny box became the hub of my living room, though not without complications -- it does require the occasional reboot. Still, for $99 I can not complain, and will sing its praises, as I filter all of our TV watching enjoyment through it.
Now the Plex server-app has rolled out new updates that bring even more functionality to the little service. Today the company announces a slew of updates that bring better compatibility with large screens, as well as new layout settings.
Redbox Instant by Verizon debuted back in March of this year, after extensive private beta testing. The video service, even before that, announced it would be coming to Xbox, but now wishes to push the envelope just a bit further. That envelope today involves a foray into the set-top box market, utilizing Google TV.
Brad Bowers, Sr. Product Manager of TV Applications for Redbox Instant by Verizon, announces, in conjunction with Google, that "the app delivers the full Redbox Instant by Verizon experience right to your living room. This includes access to your subscription disc and streaming package, and ability to purchase and rent the latest new releases from the Redbox Instant store".
Since purchasing the Vizio Co-Star several months ago, I have become a fan of Google TV. I even considered using online services to "cut the cord". With my Amazon Prime subscription and network TV sites I will miss little. What stops me? The NFL and those networks. The league stubbornly refuses to move into the future, where other professional sports already reside, while many network websites block the Google device.
Today, PlayOn makes the barrier in front me even smaller. This is a huge move for MediaMall software. The company announces it brings full service to Google TV free of charge. It does so because of the slight that Google's living room solution has been shown by networks. "We’ve decided to make PlayOn completely free on Google TV. Why? Well, Hulu and the Networks have been discriminating against Google TV owners by not creating apps that enable folks to watch their content on Google TV", the company tells us.
No, I am not talking of the nerdtastic movie from Joss Whedon, but of an app. I have written twice now of my move from an HTPC to Google TV in the living room, with my most recent post surrounding ways to get both live TV and home media to the tiny set top box. For serving up home media I opted for Plex, which seemed the best solution.
Plex is both a server and app and both are free. Simply install the server software on an always-on computer and control it from a web browser dashboard. From there you can direct it to all of your media -- movies, TV shows, music and photos. It is dead simple to set up and maintain.
A month ago I made a major change in my living room, moving from HTPC running Windows 7 to Vizio Co-Star Google TV box. While the move saved a lot of shelf space, that was not the goal. My living room computer was old and slow, Windows Media Center no longer received real investment from Microsoft and developers had largely come to ignore the platform -- I only got Hulu on it via a hack.
Your first question may be how I can watch and record TV now, but that is not an issue. I never used WMC for that because I have DirecTV, which does not support input to WMC, although the company had once planned to do so before scrapping the idea. So, my HTPC was simply used for viewing our collection of ripped DVDs and digital photos, as well as listening to our large music collection through the living room home theater speakers and those on the outdoor patio. In other words, I never used WMC to its full potential.
I love Amazon Prime. If I had a Kindle I would probably love it even more, if that were possible. Over the past two weeks I have also come to love my new Google TV, which has taken over our living room, with control of the DirecTV DVR and apps thrown in to boot. One of those apps is Amazon and I use it quite often, keeping a string of movies and TV shows in my watch list.
Now the Google PrimeTime app for Google TV has been updated to version 1.4.3-43-79424. This innocuous little name actually comes with a huge feature update. Not only has Amazon Prime content been rolled into the service, but you can control it and Netflix and HBO GO subscriptions from within the app as well.
Third in a series. Two weeks have passed since we last visited this topic, but I wanted to be fair with this next part before writing it. As you will recall from part one, I decided to replace my Windows Media Center HTPC and the NetGear NeoTV 550, because both are so old and slow. While I wanted to do so with one box, there was a major stumbling block -- most of our movies are ripped to ISO images. I would prefer a Google TV to replace both, but in the end got a Micca box to take the place of the HTPC and then still ordered a Vizio Co-Star because I simply could not resist.
Things have not gone entirely as I planned. In fact, as you may recall from part two of this series, nothing has really gone the way I had hoped.
Over the years the little network within my humble abode has grown. It started as a way to connect a laptop and a desktop, but has since become a conglomeration of multiple devices -- a desktop, three laptops, an HTPC, a home server and even three smartphones. Not to mention that the Blu-ray player, DirecTV DVR and Netgear NeoTV are networked. It all comes together in a combination of ethernet and WiFi connections that are controlled through a router in the home office on the third floor of our old restored Victorian, an extender which resides in the entertainment cabinet in the living room -- sorry, "parlor" since it is a Victorian -- on the first floor and a network switch in the basement.
Parts are getting old however -- in the past year I had to buy a new router and replace my daughter's laptop. Recently, more things have become unreliable. My home server, which ran FreeNAS died recently. It was housed in an old tower PC that had once been our desktop. Our HTPC has grown old, despite having been upgraded with new video and audio cards and additional RAM. The Netgear NeoTV is not as reliable as it once was.
Netgear read my mind. Hopefully not all of it, but the company is welcome to my tech thoughts at least. Just recently several of us here at BetaNews wrote about the tech we used most in 2012. In my column I mentioned that my trusty HTPC grows long in the tooth -- you think dog years are rough, try computer years. I started using a Netgear NeoTV instead. As I mentioned then, and will reiterate now, the interface is not flashy, but it works seamlessly. the hardware is robust as well.
In the end though, I admitted my plans in 2013 were to move to Google TV because of the added features -- web browser, apps, you know the routine.
You can be forgiven if you recently purchased a television and came home with what is now called a "smart TV." After all, that's the market trend, and you will be hard pressed to find a boob tube without Internet capability. Honestly, I, for one, am just happy that the industry seems to have stopped trying to force 3D on what looks to me like a most unwilling audience.
Now comes this report -- NPD claims "that nearly six out of ten consumers who own a connected HDTV are accessing Over-the-Top (OTT) video services through the device". OTT means an external device -- any external device, such as a Blu-ray player, DVR, game console or other device. Even those like Roku, Google TV and Boxee.
The year has almost passed and that makes it a great time for reflection. Of course, I have thought most about my family -- what we did in 2012 and our plans for 2013. I have thought of household repairs and projects planned for the coming year, goals I would like to attain, but I also considered what technology I used the most and the changes I made.
My colleagues and I plan personal tech retrospectives. I'm first up.