amazon-fire-tv-deal

While it’s maybe not quite the deal one can find with Roku or Chromecast, the up-and-coming Amazon Fire TV is momentarily discounted by 15 bucks to an all-time low $84. Featuring well designed hardware and regular updates thus far, Fire TV has replaced my Apple TV in the family room and is now our go-to box for Amazon Instant streaming. Having said that, there remain a number of app deficiencies, despite recent additions and promises of HBO GO this year.

4SeTV

Because one video stream is never enough, a start-up company called 4SeTV is planning to introduce a $99 retail box that lets users display up to four TV channels at once on one screen. The company is launching a Kickstarter campaign for the device on August 19th, but it’s also making the rounds with cable operators to see if there’s any interest in tying the hardware to a subscription service. Calling its product “the industry’s first personalized mosaic mode device,” 4SeTV says its technology works with both cable stations and over-the-air broadcasts.

The hardware part of the 4SeTV product is a small box that connects to your home router and an HDTV antenna. (Presumably the box can also be connected to a cable set-top.) You control the video interface through a mobile app, and then have the option to cast it to a networked television set. The company says the software will work with Internet-connected TVs, but also with the Google Chromecast.

I can think of very few occasions where I’d want to watch four different channels at once. But pick your favorite sports season and maybe there are enough times when multiple games are on to make mosaic mode worthwhile. For more info, check out the 4SeTV demo video. Continue Reading…

xbox-one-tv-streaming

While Microsoft has seemingly abandoned Windows Media Center, they’re clearly not done with television.

First, the company has announced an Xbox One USB television tuner for European markets that will run about 30 bucks, when it launches this fall. Beyond basic OTA tuning and the requisite One Guide integration, Microsoft also kindly provides a 30 minute buffer to pause, rewind, and advance. Even better and just announced yesterday, the Xbox One will stream this television content to devices around the home:

  • Stream TV to SmartGlass – launching first in markets receiving the Xbox Digital TV Tuner, Xbox One owners will be able to stream their TV across their home network to their smartphones and tablets using the Xbox SmartGlass app. They can also pause, play and rewind as well as change channels, without interrupting gameplay on the Xbox One. This will work for SmartGlass apps on Windows, iOS, and Android.

So, no US support off the bat. However, Microsoft leaves the door open… Continue Reading…

2014-07-15 21.22.13

Intro

Home automation chatter has picked up over the past few months, especially now that Apple and Google are throwing their respective kits into the mix. There’s a plethora of approaches to introduce automation into our homes. Whether it’s Z-Wave to disengage your door lock or Zigbee to turn on your lights, the primary method to link up all the various protocols and centralize control is via a hub that rides your home network. And that’s what we’re looking at, three sub-$100 hubs - full of promise to tie together these protocols so that all our current and future home gadgetry play nicely together.

After spending a few weeks with the Staples Connect, SmartThings, and Wink hubs, I’ve come to realize that no one hub does it all… yet.  Depending on your app interface taste (UI), technical know-how, determination, and patience, you’ll experience a different reaction from each of these hubs. Like the story of the 3 bears and porridge - based on your breakfast preferences, there is one that may be just right.

To give you an idea of my “just right” hub, I prefer to have a straightforward and simple UI. It shouldn’t be flashy and confusing, but basically do three things well: easily add your connected devices, show the status of those connected devices, and have the ability to automate those device functions via rules. Seems simple enough, right? So, as you read the following sections, keep in mind my preferences. Continue Reading…

How To Update Toyota Entune

Dave Zatz —  August 7, 2014 — 8 Comments

entune-update4

Coming upon the two-year mark of Prius ownership, I began searching for updates to Toyota Entune – the automaker’s app platform. Originally designed to be a revenue generating service, Toyota took it fee-free in 2013. It seems a number of usability quirks and connectivity issues have been improved since taking possession of my Prius. Unfortunately, my local dealer is either uninformed or doesn’t take action unless prompted, as our Entune system was never updated during numerous routine servicings. And, it turns out, my car may have been three revs behind.

Fortunately, the community has stepped up and documented a DIY manual upgrade. Of course, your mileage may vary and you risk breaking something by going down this path. But I was willing to roll the dice with the procedure, versus visiting my local Toyota service center given their apparent unfamiliarity with Entune and now that my two years are up as I’d be paying out-of-pocket for maintenance. Also, keep in mind, this platform update won’t refresh your maps. Lastly, you don’t have to be on 3.1 or even 2.1 to upgrade to the current 3.2 (which is several months old), as the updates are cumulative.

  1. Format a USB thumb drive using FAT32 and label it 14A
  2. Download and copy these files to the USB drive
  3. Insert the drive into your car’s USB port and turn the engine on
  4. Follow on-screen prompts to install update

The process is super simple and relatively quick. Sadly, my wife still can’t browse our uploaded contacts from the passenger seat while I’m driving and Android devices provided greater Entune capabilities than iPhone – primarily related to Apple restrictions, versus Toyota shortcomings.

Some items corrected via the ~300MB 3.1/3.2 updates:

  • Call volume through speakers is very loud upon first-time phone pairing
  • iPod® and iPhone® autoplays when connected via USB
  • Bluetooth® (BT) devices (in Bluetooth audio mode) autoplays when connected to the system
  • Roads flash on and off in certain zoom levels (when Entune is in use)
  • Discolored bands appear across the screen (when Entune is in use)
  • Map area on the screen is black and only buttons are visible (when Entune is in use)
  • Navigation freezes (when Entune is in use)
  • When Bluetooth is the last audio mode selected in previous ignition cycle, audio source switches back to Bluetooth when another source is selected immediately after the engine starts

The HDHomeRun Prime Giveaway

Dave Zatz —  August 6, 2014

hdhomerun-prime

Hot on the heels of our DLNA streaming piece, and amidst CableCARD uncertainty, we’re offering up our Silicon Dust HDHomeRun Prime review unit.

While humble in appearance, this little box is capable of tuning three simultaneous streams of digital cable, via a single CableCARD, and beaming the content across your home network. Those running Windows Media Center are best positioned to benefit from the Prime, with competent DVR capabilities. Yet, via that aforementioned DLNA support, all manner of devices are capable of receiving a subset of live cable programming – including PS3, Android, and Samsung smart TVs.

Entering is as easy as it gets — simply leave a comment if you want in. We’ll choose one winner at random in a few days.

DirecTV Extends TiVo Agreement Into 2018

Sadly, the initial fruits of their renewed labor haven’t been very compelling, leading some to wonder if DirecTV is doing the bare minimum to avoid costly licensing. And is it coincidental that TiVo’s Time Warp patent protection expires in 2018? Regardless, hope these guys have a higher def whole-home TiVo solution in the works for DirecTV subscribers. Given THR22 scarcity, there may indeed be something new in the pipeline…