The 4K Revolution is Big…Literally

Last year, after what felt like an eternity of waiting, Roku released an updated streaming media player: the Roku 4. I’d become a huge fan of Roku players, having owned three of them over the years. It was a big product for them – and for the consumer – look at the sheers size of it above compared to the Roku 3! The flagship feature it brought to the table was 4K playback, which made it one of the few mainstream streaming media boxes to offer it at the time.

What I wasn’t prepared for though was the sheer size, the fact that it had a fan (a mostly quiet one, thankfully), and the heat output. What’s surprising: I never used it to play any 4K content, yet it still seemed like the Roku 4 was being pushed hard. You’d think that the chips capable of playing 4K wouldn’t bat an eye at playing 1080p, right? The Roku 4, despite it’s amped-up hardware for 4K playback, didn’t have a much faster overall UI or channel launching speed. To be fair, I pre-ordered it and I’m sure Roku has optimized it with further updates.

I ended up returning the Roku 4, and until I get a 4K TV I’ll stick with my current combination of three Roku 3s, Fire TV, and an Apple TV. There’s no such thing as too many streaming devices, right? 😉

The Best Show No Longer on TV: The Newsroom

When we moved to the USA four years ago we didn’t get cable, and instead have relied upon a combination of Netflix, Amazon Video, iTunes, and for a short while Hulu, for our media consumption. Being cord-cutting video streamers means we don’t often watch shows until they’re off the air and we’re usually behind the mainstream in terms of watching hit shows. We’re OK with that. Every so often though, we run across a show we wish we’d watched sooner because it’s just so damn great. The Newsroom is one of those shows. I came across this clip on Facebook and marveled at the lines written for Jeff Daniels (as well as his delivery).

(apologies that you have to click through to watch that video, the “owner” disabled remote embedding for some reason)

Leaving the politics out of it – to call it  a left-leaning show would be an understatement – the writing of Aaron Sorkin on this show was just so intelligent, witty, and…sharp. Every line is clever and cut like a razor blade. I wish I could live in a world where people were that consistently witty! The other aspect I really enjoyed was the way the show talked about real events – it brought a sharp reality to the otherwise normally fictitious world of TV.

Sadly, The Newsroom was cancelled after only three seasons. The reasons why vary, but I’ll forever wish we could have seen more seasons. Imagine what Sorkin would have written for Will McAvoy to say about Trump!

Three Reasons Why My iPad Can’t (Yet) Replace My Laptop

It’s become a common refrain for Apple to position iPads as being laptop replacements. It reached a fever pitch with the introduction of the really damn big iPad Pro last year. As much as I love my iPad – it’s my most-used personal computing device, more than my phone most days – and as impressive as my new 128 GB iPad Pro Jr. is (that’s what my friend Todd Ogasawara calls this model, Apple’s naming is silly), Apple is simply not allowing the iPad hardware, and iOS, to evolve to the point where it would seriously cannibalize sales of their laptops. Now I admit for some people who use their laptops for pure consumption, an iPad may in fact replace their laptop 80% of the time. I know my sister hardly touches her laptop any more once she bought an iPhone + iPad.

For me, there are three reasons why my iPad still can’t replace my laptop – and they aren’t what you might expect (such as not having an always-attached keyboard). Continue reading Three Reasons Why My iPad Can’t (Yet) Replace My Laptop

Amazon Gets Video Rental Time Right

My wife and I love watching, and collecting, movies. We both have a passion for great stories and big action movies, so we’re not one of those couples where one person likes the romantic comedies and the other only watches horror movies. I feel very grateful that I have a wife who is excited when I say I want to watch Braveheart or Black Hawk Down for the seventh time. 😉

One of the realities we faced though when we had our first child almost seven years ago was suddenly watching a movie would take two, three, even four nights (depending on the length of the movie – I’m looking at you Lord of the Rings Extended Edition) because you always don’t have those 2-3 hours uninterrupted stretches any more as a parent. That’s fine if you own the movie, but digital rentals have traditionally been 24 hours. You click play at 7pm on a Monday night, you’d better be finished by 7pm the following night. There have been two instances in the past where we’ve had to re-rent a movie a second time in order to finish watching it.

Clearly, the people making this change to the rental window timeframe know what it’s like. Thank you Amazon for understanding what it’s like!

And for the record, John Carter was quite entertaining – nowhere near as bad as it was said to be. 🙂

Einstein Had This Right

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein

A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Two

I kind of fell off the posting wagon with this series of Mac updates, so this one has notes that date back to January/February. Still, I wanted to share them. 🙂

  • I had a two week break from using my iMac over the Christmas holidays, and I honestly missed it. Not in a “throw my Windows laptop against the wall because I want to be using OS X” kind of way, but using the actual hardware – the amazing screen, the huge trackpad, the fast performance – the reasons why I still very much enjoy using desktop computers and could never be 100% laptop-only.
  • I ran into a strange issue: I’d installed a trial version of an app called LilyView – it’s a stripped down, fast photo viewer that allows me to use the keyboard arrow keys to move through images in a folder. Something, inexplicably, the OS X Preview tool does not do. I liked the tool, so I bought it from the Apple App store. I ended up with two copies installed – neither one indicated it was the trial version. So I deleted both, re-installed the commercial one from the App store. It would be nice if there was some sort of app intelligence here.
  • Setting global preferences inside an app is kind of crazy, but apparently that’s what you need to do to change email clients. I found the setting in Mail where you specify which email client to use for mailto links, I changed it to Outlook 2016, I verify the change, I exit Mail, I click on a mailto link in Chrome, and Mail opens up instead of Outlook! I’m baffled. So I did some more research, and when I tried it again maybe 30 minutes later, it all worked. WHAT? It’s worked fine since making this change.
  • OS X is really inferior with what details it offers on Get Info. From Windows, I’m used to seeing pertinent information about media files. Resolution, audio bit rate, video bit rate, EXIF data for images, meta tags for music, etc. In Finder, I have the Preview pane turned on, and I see duration, sample rate, and bits per sample (weird terms Apple is using), but they’re all blank. Maybe it’s a network share limitation? Not sure why; data is data. In order to examine the metadata on my MP3 files I had to use my Windows 10 laptop to access it, then MediaMonkey to change it.
  • And speaking of Get Info, I selected a bunch of files, then Get Info, and was immediately assaulted by the Get Info window for each and every file. Yikes! How do you select a group of files and get info about them, say the total size?
  • I connected my HTC One to the USB hub and it wouldn’t show up as a device. The phone knew it was connected to a computer – I had various options for file transfer, charge-only, etc. – but despite various modes I put the phone in I never saw it in Finder. Not sure what magic pixie dust I need here to have it show up as a storage device…hmm. Looks like I needed to install Android File Transfer. I’m genuinely surprised by that!

Continue reading A Mac User and His New iMac – Month Two

DVDs: Resolution of the Past

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The native resolution of a DVD (720×480) on the screen of a 5K iMac (5120×2880) is just plain funny. Even Blu-rays seem a bit puny in comparison to the insane number of pixels on this display. I was working with some photos recently and images from a smartphone, or cropped, look equally tiny. Especially from a lower-resolution front-facing camera. Viewing the world though a display this high-resolution distorts my perception of what “sufficient solution” even means…Apple really outdid themselves with this display, but sometimes I’ll check what something looks like on my “low res” 1080p laptop screen to get reality check. And to think that as of January 2016, 51% of users are viewing the web through 1366 x 768 or lower resolution screens. Whoa.

MobileViews Podcast: A Trip Down Mobile-Memory Lane

In early February, I was a guest on the MobileViews podcast with my old friends Todd Ogasawara and Jon Westfall. The photo above is of the first time I met Todd, back in September 1999 (he’s the one in the back peeking out). From left to right, we have Chris De Herrera, Craig Peacock, myself, Todd, and Frank McPherson. This photo was taken 17 years ago – that makes me feel pretty old!

At any rate, listen to the podcast to hear us talk about the history of Microsoft’s efforts in the mobile space (Windows CE, Pocket PC, Windows Phone, etc.), my tech blogging experience running Thoughts Media (and the site that started it all, Pocket PC Thoughts), a bit about my OS X experiences, my long and tormented journey with Apple products, and other assorted tech topics. Oh, and I also talk about the future of HTC, the stock market, and…drunk three year old children!?! 😉

“Too Many Minds”: How Consumer Electronics Companies Create Consumer Confusion

This is a re-publishing (with very slight updates) of an article I wrote for Digital Home Thoughts back in 2008. It’s just as true today as it was eight years ago.

There’s a scene in The Last Samurai where Tom Cruise’s character is learning the art of Japanese sword-fighting, and after getting soundly smacked around by his opponent for several minutes, one of the samurai says to him “Too many minds”. The idea is that he’s focusing on his opponent, his own stance, his sword, and the people watching – and that many “minds” is making him a less effective warrior. When I look at the digital camera industry (and many other consumer electronics categories, such as Synology’s insane product chaos) and the proliferation of same-brand point and shoot cameras, it’s hard not to see the similarities. Rapid release cycles – usually unwarranted in terms of actual improvement in features – coupled with out-of-control model proliferation and confusing model names leads to a “too many minds” scenario – and it’s usually the consumer the ends up losing out. Continue reading “Too Many Minds”: How Consumer Electronics Companies Create Consumer Confusion

Embracing Digital Storytelling: The Season Recap

We’re in the midst of a massive shift in the way entertainment is consumed; more “cord cutters” are making the switch every day, and the future of TV is changing. What still baffles me though is how so many content producers still confine their thinking to the way things used to be instead of the way they can be.

Case in point: last night season two of Daredevil was launched, and in typical disruptive fashion Netflix released all the episodes at once for binge watching. What was more interesting to me though was the four minute season one recap they started automatically playing when I hit play on episode one of season two. In four minutes I was reminded of all the major plot points of season one, and I can go into season two enjoying that context. It was wonderful! Continue reading Embracing Digital Storytelling: The Season Recap