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Fellow tech enthusiast and DC neighbor Joel Ward joins ZNF as a Features contributor. Beyond ZNF, Joel can be found at Joel Explains It All and @joelsef on Twitter.

We at the Ward household like trying new things—or at least my wife and kids tolerate me periodically tinkering with our home computing, entertainment, and networking configurations. Entertainment-wise, we’ve been using Roku for years and enjoy the Verizon FiOS TV DVR system quite a bit. Back in the day, before Verizon and HDTV, we enjoyed our networked ReplayTV DVRs and Netflix DVD subscription. So we’ve appreciated time-shifted TV and renting/streaming video for a long time.

Recently we got the opportunity to test out the Boxee Cloud DVR thanks to Zatz Not Funny’s very own Dave Zatz. I ended up replacing our living room Roku with the Boxee so we could get some real-life experience, including input from the kids who are the primary users of the now-removed Roku. We didn’t replace the FiOS cable box, mainly because we rely on a myriad of cable channels that the Boxee can’t yet support. But that’s a discussion for a little later.

Boxee Cloud DVR hardware

The Boxee Cloud DVR ($99) is a standalone device that has the following features: ATSC over-the-air (OTA) and Clear QAM cable tuner, the “cloud” digital video recorder (DVR) for OTA channels, and a small selection of network and online services.

After using the Boxee for a few weeks, Continue Reading…

The TiVo Mini Review

Dave Zatz —  March 10, 2013

tivo-mini

TiVo’s been talking up their DVR extender over a year, since it was first introduced last February as the IP-STB. And, while we didn’t get the 2012 retail launch we were hoping for, the TiVo Mini ($100, plus service) has finally arrived. But is it everything we’d hoped for?

Instead of sprinkling a number of DVRs around the home, the TiVo Mini essentially leverages a 4-tuner TiVo Premiere as a central media hub – relaying both live and recorded content. This thin client approach features a variety of practical advantages including a lower total cost of ownership, via waived CableCARD and Additional Outlet fees, energy efficiency, and the simplicity of managing a single drive of scheduled recordings. Of course, TiVo isn’t first to this space,  joining very fine satellite offerings from DISH and DirecTV on one side… with years of Windows Media Center extenders at the other end of the spectrum.

TiVo Mini Unboxing & Setup

The TiVo Mini ships with a standard Peanut remote, including batteries, and TiVo has kindly included a HDMI cable. However, in order to keep the Mini’s size under control, TiVo passed on standard component jacks and folks reliant on them may have a difficult time connecting their TVs. So, perhaps, they should have provided that rather rare breakout cable instead. Monoprice to the rescue? Speaking of connectivity, Continue Reading…

Roku-3-with-Headphones

As we’d previously reported, the new Roku 3 has indeed launched with a refreshed UI and audio-capable remote control. The 3 takes over the Roku 2 XS‘s top slot in their lineup, running a competitive $100. In fact, the Roku 2 XS is no longer present in the company’s model comparison chart. Like its predecessor, the Roku 3 remote incorporates Hillcrest Labs Wii-esque motion control capabilities for gaming purposes – such as Angry Birds Space. But, the ways in which the remote communicate are new to Roku’s set-top box line. In place of Bluetooth, Roku is now using WiFi Direct – a similar and possibly ascendent technology that we’ve been tracking and potentially one piece of the Roku Miracast puzzle. Another remote innovation is the inclusion of an audio jacks (and pair of bundled Roku-purple earbuds) for “private listening.” The way I understand it, inserting a headset (theirs or yours) into the remote will redirect audio output from television to the handheld, with volume controlled via rocker buttons. It’s an innovative feature, but probably not one that would be appreciated in our household – especially given the duplicity of Roku and tablet apps/channels.

On the hardware front, as Roku’s high-end model, they’ve decided to do away with analog and standard def connectivity options… leaving a sole HDMI jack to handle both video and audio transmission duties. And, speaking of transmission, both Ethernet and dual-band 802.11n are provided for connectivity. We’re told this is the most powerful Roku ever… although the company didn’t get into component details, so we’ll circle back once someone cracks one open. Aesthetically, the Roku 3 is certainly the most beautiful one yet and they’ve come such a long way from the original single-channel Netflix box sourced from off-the-shelf parts. While we can’t say for certain, we suspect that Bould Design was once again tapped to move the product forward. But, beyond visual design, this Roku model is also somewhat heavier to prevent HDMI cables from pulling it across the television stand. And, perhaps, to inspire a higher quality feel.  Continue Reading…

WD TV Play Review

Dave Zatz —  February 22, 2013 — 22 Comments

There’s something of a glut in the media streamer space, with most new entrants falling into the “unmemorable” category – and we regularly pass on covering the parade of derivative boxes. However, Western Digital’s no stranger to this market and we’ve often recommended their solutions over the years. And, with WDTV Play, they bring a compelling new approach… along with competitive pricing ($70).

wdtv-play

Whereas prior WD TV revs seem to emphasize personal media, the new WD TV Play prioritizes streaming media services. And, with the notable exceptions of Amazon Instant, Western Digital pretty much has most of the tent pole apps covered: Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, Vudu. While no one can really touch Roku in “channel” count, there’s a lot of crap niche programming. WDTV Play may have fewer channels, but the signal to noise ratio is much more favorable.

What really sets this device apart Continue Reading…

lg-optimus-g

After evaluating LG’s flagship Optimus G Android handset these last few weeks, we’re convinced the quad core, high res powerhouse should be on every smartphone shopper’s short list. Beyond the impressive specs, the Optimus G is a handsome device to behold that challenges the iPhone in build quality and design symmetry. And, unlike some of its Android counterparts, the LG is not saddled with a shiny, creaky plastic covering (à la the Samsung Galaxy S line). My only real complaint is that it’s still running Ice Cream Sandwich, as opposed to the Jelly Bean build found on its white-labeled Nexus 4 brethren. However, LG does a very nice job augmenting Android with their Optimus UI 3.0 — enhancing functionality without getting in the way (not counting the carrier-loaded third party apps that require rooting for removal). Continue Reading…