Archives For Audio

You know what probably would have been a no-brainer for Microsoft? Building a Windows Media Center remote control app into Windows Phone 7, allowing you to use your phone to control audio and video playback on your PC. But Microsoft doesn’t really seem to be paying much attention to Windows Media Center these days, so I’m not really surprised the company didn’t bother baking it into the new mobile OS. Fortunately third party developers are there to pick up the torch.

Remotive is one of the first remote control apps I’ve seen for Windows Phone 7, and it’s designed to let you control Windows Media Center on a PC running Windows 7 or Vista. Just download and install the Remotive Server on your PC, pay $1.99 to grab the Remotive App for Windows Phone 7 from the Marketplace, and you should be good to go.

Right now it looks like the app simply controls playback of your music library. You can browse the library by album or artist and play or pause media. Future updates should ad search and volume control functions. There’s no word at the moment on whether the developer plans to add video support.

If you don’t feel like spending $1.99, there is a free trial available, but it will only list the first 50 albums or artists in your collection.

This post republished from Mobiputing.

A year ago I was on the hunt for a new clock radio with an iPhone/iPod dock built-in. One would think finding such a device would make for a pretty simple shopping trip right? Well there are now several options out there to choose from and while I started with pretty simple needs here, my inner-geek pushed me to find a clock radio that handled more than just the typical tasks. Enter the Sony Dream Machine IFC-CL75IP.

I just needed a simple clock radio right?  Yes this is true. But, as I often do, I added a few extra requirements to my clock radio want list:

  • Dual Alarm
  • Dimming Display
  • Large time display
  • iPod/iPhone dock – for charging and possibly playing back music…

That list actually fits several available clock radio options. But I chose the one that had the cool factor going for it. Read the rest of this entry »

Test Driving MyFord Touch

Mari Silbey —  December 6, 2010 — 8 Comments

Let me preface this post by saying I’ve never been big into cars. Give me something that’s reliable, preferably with a stick shift, and I’m good to go. However, the advent of GPS, mobile broadband, and digital radio systems have had an effect. I may never care a great deal about horsepower, but I am now paying closer attention to add-on car tech features.

Last month, I indulged in a demo “ride” with the MyFord Touch system at a New York Pepcom event. The system was introduced at CES last January, but Ford only started shipping product with the 2011 models of the Ford Edge, and the Ford Lincoln MKX. The demo is stunning. Three beautiful displays grace the dashboard, two on each side of the speedometer in front of the steering wheel, and one larger one in between the driver and passenger seats. There are four main functions supported: entertainment, navigation, phone, and climate. The functions are color-coded for easy identification, and accessible via the touch screens or by voice command.

In case you’re wondering, yes, the screens look like they could be quite distracting while driving, but as Consumer Reports pointed out, the ability to control functions just by talking to your car could mitigate the problem. In the test I saw, a voice command to find nearby shoe stores did bring up a good list of options, though the response time was a little slow. I have to admit I’m also not convinced that voice control solves everything given how temptingly attractive the screens are, but since most people are already playing with smartphones and GPS units, I supposed this isn’t any different.

The big plus in my mind with the MyFord Touch is the ability to plug in a USB mobile broadband stick and create a traveling Wi-Fi hotspot. If you’re already paying for mobile broadband, why not give the wireless benefit to everyone in the car? Not to mention all your own connected devices? Sure, you could buy your own mobile hotspot device, but MyFord Touch bundles it in, and it’s a great option for anyone who spends a lot of time in the car with Wi-Fi-hungry family, friends, or colleagues.

I’m not buying a new car any time soon, but when I do get around to it again, I hope there are more connected cars available. The number of gadgets piling up in my front seat – music player, GPS, smartphone – is starting to get a little unwieldy.

vizio-yahoo-widgets2

Our big move begins today, although the movers don’t actually arrive until next Saturday, and I’ve been debating how to best handle our television situation. At the time of purchase our bedroom and living room HDTVs were top notch and reasonably sized for their respective placements (and eras). But bigger is better… Except when it’s a large tube TV I no longer want to mess with. So the current plan is to hand down the 30″ Panasonic HDTV CRT tomorrow to the in-laws for basement usage, leaving a void in our new master bedroom. Ultimately, the 42″ Panasonic plasma will move up there. But I’m not ready to research and purchase our next living room television (~55″).

So I swung by Costco yesterday looking for a smaller and economical “temporary” bedroom television. And, as you can see from the pics, I landed on a Vizio — the 22″ M221NV, for $230. It’s probably not the best display, it’s definitely not even close to good sound, but it’s Yahoo widgetized! There was a nice looking 23″ Samsung at the same price point, but I figured the integrated apps might be fun to have around. Although Sony and Google would have us think different, Internet-connected televisions aren’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the folks behind the Popcorn Hour used to build HP’s retired solution and Yahoo TV has been around a few years.

By default, a number of widgets are pre-loaded and viewable in the collapsable ticker. Not only can you add and remove apps, but I discovered you can even load custom content for a quick look – like the local weather or stock prices (see bottom right pic). I couldn’t remember my Pandora credentials and gave up on the tedious text entry, but had better luck efficiently linking Netflix. Over the integrated 802.11n connection, a few minutes of playback was super smooth and looked good. I had wanted to link my Vudu account, but it seems like I may only be able to create a new one. Will need to examine that further.

vizio-yahoo-widgets3

As far as what I don’t like, the remote is perhaps the worst fingerprint magnet ever. Also, it relies on the Yahoo Widget blue button to cycle through screen resolutions and viewing options – something that wasn’t apparent (as I skipped the quick start guide). Lastly, it’s not clear which apps can expand beyond a sidebar display into fullscreen or how I’d toggle it.

In the end, I assume this TV will be perfectly suitable for a few months of bedroom CNN and HGTV… and suspect we’ll also get in a decent amount of box-less video streaming. Although, we’ll save the big event content for our living room. At the end of its service period, I imagine the Vizio will become a kitchen TV or maybe an external 1080p computer display that could serve double duty for various blog projects. I continue to be amazed at how far flat panel display prices have fallen. Beyond that, it’s also pretty surprising that one can get a display with Internet-connected content for $70 less than the cheapest Google TV product.

Click to enlarge:

The Boxes of the Year

Dave Zatz —  December 3, 2010 — 21 Comments

All Around
Our second annual ‘boxes of the year’ column doesn’t dramatically differ from the 2009 edition. Which is somewhat surprising given how quickly the tech sector iterates and innovates. And my favorite all around box is still the Xbox 360 ($199). It’s been redesigned for 2010 with a sleeker, home theater-friendly form and color (black) that hopefully contains more reliable and intelligently designed hardware. ESPN3 is also new for ’10, rounding out a nice selection of content offerings including Netflix and Zune HD video rentals. Additionally, the 360 is quite capable in handling local media playback – via USB, LAN, and as a Media Center extender. Last, but not least, Xbox Live is the best online gaming solution. As long as you’re prepared to fork over $50-$60 a year for access (also required for Netflix, etc).

Having said all that, Sony’s seriously closed the gap in recent months and I can also recommend the PS3 ($299). New this year are native Netflix access, Hulu Plus, and Vudu HD video on demand. The PS3 also has decent local media playback capabilities (USB, DLNA) but, of course, what sets it apart from the Xbox is its built-in Blu-ray drive – and Sony’s done a good job keeping that functionality current and competitive through software updates.

Online Video Streamer
In the more traditional (if we can call it that) digital media device category, top honors once again go to Roku. It’s the little box that could. Featuring perhaps the broadest array of online streaming options. Although you may only care about the biggies like Netflix, Pandora, Amazon VOD, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and NHL. If local media playback is your priority, Roku is the wrong solution. But for everyone else the inexpensive Roku seems like a no brainer for at least one room/television. Roku refreshed their lineup in 2010 and most folks would be best served by the middle unit ($80), which includes the new, more fully functional remote and 802.11n over the lower end unit ($60). Given the current state of USB video playback, you can probably skip the $100 model… unless you intend to share your Flip video on the HDTV. (Roku’s offering free shipping through the 5th if you’re ready to join in or pick up a second.)

Local Media Playback
For a budget device with solid local playback capabilities, I’m still fond of the WDTV Live Plus ($130). And, not only will it play your rips, it pipes in the likes of Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. But, if you’ve got a little more money to spend and are willing to take a flyer, the D-Link Boxee Box ($200) is worth a look. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Avner and the rest of the Boxee team to carefully walk that line to meet our needs while appeasing the studios. Of course, at Boxee’s price point, you’re getting close to a more flexible and powerful small form factor computer. But along with those additional capabilities comes additional complexity. Continue Reading…