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Apple TV Moves to Rental Model, Drops Price to $99

Apple TV

DISCLAIMER: I thought the first Apple TV was relatively useless.

Today, Apple announced significant changes to Apple TV at the press event held in San Francisco (which, by the way, was streamed LIVE for the world to watch). The new Apple TV, available by the beginning of October, comes in at 1/4 the size of the original. It’s smaller than a sandwich. You can use a Tupperware container as your carrying case now – provided you’ve cleaned it first.

But there are tastier details to sink your teeth into!

There’s no media to keep track of anymore (through klutzy synching processes and whatnot) – everything will stream live into the tiny slice of digital heaven through either a network cable or WiFi (802.11n). As someone who hates storing media, this change is most welcomed. There’s a reason I use and love both Pandora and Rhapsody for my music, and why I’ve taken to Hulu for available TV show viewing. And on that note…

Once you’ve set up your new Apple TV, you’ll be able to “choose from the largest online selection of HD movies to rent, including first run movies for just $4.99, and the largest online selection of HD TV show episodes to rent from ABC, ABC Family, Fox, Disney Channel and BBC America for just 99 cents.” That’s quite a competitive price for legally-attainable media in conjunction with a convenient interface and service. Not sure I’ll take advantage of this part of the Apple TV, though; I’m not into à la carte media consumption.

Netflix subscribers (like myself) have access to the entire streaming library of Netflix videos. If the video is in your instant queue, you’re just a few clicks away from watching it with Apple TV. You can also view streaming media from YouTube and Flickr – plus watch your favorite podcasts (like a certain someone’s) and access streaming media and images on the computers in your home.

Job(s) well done.

Oh, did I remember to tell you that the price of this sophomore effort has also been cut by 66%! That brings the Apple TV price point to US$99 – a great impulse buy for gadget geeks and mediaphiles. I’ll buy one, pick up a few extra HDMI and power cables, then tote a single unit around the house with me.

While I never considered purchasing the original Apple TV (not once), I can’t wait for this to ship (available in about four weeks to consumers in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Germany and Australia).

Am I alone with being impressed?

Is a Hulu Plus Subscription Worth Paying For?


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Will you become a Hulu Plus subscriber, or will you stick to the Hulu experience you’ve known to this point? If not, why not – and if so, why so? Some people are upset over the way Hulu decided to support the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad – but the other alternative seems just as expensive (either with media ala-carte spending or time spent on converting illegally-attained videos). It certainly works – no doubt about that. If you don’t like what they’re doing, you can vote with your feet – but complaining about it in a YouTube comment probably won’t get you very far.

There are more than thirty currently popular television shows (from ABC, NBC and FOX) available to watch in their current season via Hulu Plus. In addition, you can catch up with hundreds of your favorite shows’ past seasons and episodes. There are more than 120 seasons and 2,000 episodes of rich library content—that’s thousands of hours of entertainment.

You can use your Hulu Plus subscription on several devices – not just your Apple ones. You can use certain Samsung televisions, your Xbox 360 and more. They’re accessible anywhere you can get to your account, so you can watch these easily on the road.

If you do plan on getting a subscription, know that you’re going to sit through commercials. Commercials on Hulu aren’t intrusive in my opinion. Only you can decide if paying for Hulu is worth it to you. It’s definitely worth my money – and time.

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Live Video iPhone


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I recently started broadcasting my live stream in SD widescreen (720×404). Once I made the switch via the Ustream Producer software, the live feed was no longer available in the current build of Ustream’s mobile applications. Moreover, I’ve been able to start pushing out a live video feed which doesn’t require Flash! This particular HTML5 version of my feed is truly of much higher quality than its Flash counterpart (and you can do a side-by-side comparison of the two in Safari on the Mac at the moment).

If you want to watch the stream in high quality on the iPhone or iPod Touch, head over to check out the new Pocket Pirillo application. You cannot watch it in high quality on Ustream, as I already explained above. Pocket Pirillo will allow you to keep up with the zany – or boring – moments in my life as they unfold in my home office.

You can also add Pocket Pirillo to your home screen if you wish. Thanks to Jared Pasanar for explaining it all to the community!

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High Quality Live Video Streaming Now Available


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I started streaming live nearly three years ago already. Can you believe how fast the time has gone by already? Up until today, though, I was broadcasting at a resolution of about 320×240 at about 17 frames per second. That wasn’t “bad”, but it wasn’t as good as it is now!

Using the new Ustream Producer, I am broadcasting at 720×404 at 30 fps, using the same video camera! Up until now, I didn’t ever think about upgrading my account to a higher-quality stream. It just never honestly crossed my mind. However, all of YOU, our community, spoke long and loud.

The reactions were kind of mixed, honestly. There was a lot of excellent feedback in the threads, and you gave some excellent criticism and made great points. I’m going to work hard to try and keep changing things up over the coming weeks, to attempt to incorporate more of your suggestions.

I don’t have the bandwidth to support an HD live stream. Sorry, but you won’t be seeing that at any time in the near future. Also, I don’t think my stream machine is powerful enough. However, do I really NEED them? The high quality live stream is here to stay, and I”m really happy with it.

Are YOU happy with it?

For disclosure purposes, I do sit on the Ustream Advisory Board. I’ve been with them since nearly the beginning, and continue to be happy with their service. I am not paid to use the services, but I AM a member of that board.

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SSD Video Camera


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Last week, I uploaded footage of Wicket as I was testing optical image stabilization. That is a feature that is available on most cameras these days. I used the Samsung HMX-H106 to record that video… and will definitely be using it to record others, as well! It’s not as small as some of the cameras that I have, but the superior quality definitely makes up for that!

This baby features a 64GB solid state drive. Of course, it has a slot for you to add your own storage device as well… but why would you need to?! The 1920 x 1080 Full HD video means much greater clarity, brightness and detail than ever before. It also means that your video will be an exact pixel-by-pixel match for today’s very best large screen HDTVs.

It has 10x optical zoom, and shoots some excellent still pictures. I’m happy with the low-light capabilities of this particular video recording device, as well. It’s not often I find a camera that can handle cruddy light conditions well.

You can turn the image stabilization off or on with just the touch of a button. The camera also works perfectly well in extreme temperatures, high or low. Yet another huge plus for the Samsung is that it uses approximately eight times less power than a normal hard drive camera when reading or writing data. This means much MUCH longer battery life.

What type of video camera do you use, and why are you happy with it? What about it makes it the reason for choosing that particular model?

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Video Camera Comparison Test: Mino, Zi6, Vado!

I kept the camera(s) as steady as possible as I panned across the landscape from the vantage point of my bedroom window this evening. Watch the full HD version on YouTube, or scroll down to watch the high-quality embedded version.

Each series of clips were taken back-to-back – the first series, earlier when the sunset was striking the clouds in a dramatic fashion; the second series, when it was a bit more overcast (and there were both pink and blue hues on the horizon).

In each set, the cameras were used in this order: Flip Mino HD, Kodak Zi6, Creative Vado HD. You’ll see annotations lead off each scene (then quickly disappear).

I removed the audio from this video to alleviate volume level discrepancies, as well as to provide further concentration on the video quality at hand. Obviously, viewing in HD is required for fairest judgment.

Processing was NOT done to any of these videos; these recordings were sewn together in a seamless fashion and uploaded to YouTube in their near-original condition.

  • The Flip Mino HD pretty much washed out the sky’s vibrant colors in the first set, and effectively made a drab mountain view appear even more drab in the second set.
  • The Kodak Zi6 did a good job with the colors, but couldn’t strike a good balance between the bright sky and the dark landscape in either set.
  • My verdict still favors the Creative Vado HD – not only with its wide-angle lens capability, but its truer-to-life colors and exposure balance (between dark and light in the same shot).

Best Video Camera: Creative Vado HD vs Flip Mino HD vs Kodak Zi6?

Creative Labs Deals:

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First, I got the Kodak Zi6. Then, I got the Flip Mino HD. A few hours ago, I received a recently-ordered Creative Vado HD and decided that instead of doing a full-on review of it, I’d compare it directly against the Mino HD and the Zi6 – in a short video shootout.

  • Flip Mino HD Likes: small and lightweight; has decent software that runs on both Mac OS X and Windows; decent “foreground subject focused” audio in noisy situations.
  • Flip Mino HD Dislikes: Touch controls are too sensitive; there’s a plastic protector that flips out along with the USB connector; colors are always washed out; flat video quality; white balance is impossible; tons of noise in low light; my skin tone never looks right indoors; built-in YouTube uploader decreases quality automatically; tiny LCD screen; cheap plastic wrist strap.
  • Kodak Zi6 Likes: decent saturation; decent audio; great LCD size; uses AA batteries; uses SDHC media; macro switch; great quality when not blurring.
  • Kodak Zi6 Dislikes: unpredictably blurred recordings in low light; no clear audio when noisy; no Mac software support; can be oversaturated in certain scene; heavy construction.
  • Creative Vado HD Likes: great balance of color and saturation in the average shot; tends to favor skin tones; wide angle lens; can record two hours; replaceable / rechargeable battery via USB; lightweight; sharp definition.
  • Creative Vado HD Dislikes: included skin doesn’t accommodate battery replacement / hard reset; audio is treble muted from behind (in narration); skews to light which isn’t always neutral; has a wrist strap slot but doesn’t come with a strap.

The Flip Mino HD is the worst of the bunch to my eyes and ears, and I’m looking to sell it (hardly used) at a good price. The Kodak is completely unusable in artificial light (due to uncontrollable blurring), which rules it out for where I’d need it most. I don’t think Flip is going to fix their problems with a software update, but I’m holding out hope for a Zi6 fix. Kodak has to get its act together – so does Pure Digital.

For my money right now, it’s the Creative Vado HD. The wide angle lens is absolutely essential when you’re trying to get closer to a subject – or if you want more in the scene. That’s all you need to know – and all the reason to go with a Vado HD over the others. Even if you think the Zi6 isn’t bad, the Vado’s wide angle lens trumps it. You have to be much further away from your subject to get the same shot as you can with a Vado (closer, and with MORE in the frame). Keep that in mind the next time you’re in tight quarters, or when you have to take three steps back just to get the shot you wanted.

Plus, the Vado does a much better job with skin tones and saturation (generally) compared to the other two in indoor situations. The HDMI cable may be another win for you and the Vado, but I seldom use video out in these cameras – so that’s just a value add. Hardware controls are comfortable on the Vado, and I like how its USB connector is flexible.

Now, you can watch the following videos inline – but I’d also recommend viewing them on YouTube (where you can watch the original 1280×720 as recorded and uploaded without editing). I’ve linked to the HD versions in the list above. Understand, too, that the Zi6 was at least six inches behind both the Flip Mino HD and Creative Vado HD in this test – even though it appears as though the Creative Vado HD was the furthest away. I’m telling you: that wide angle lens is AWESOME.

Flip Mino HD

Kodak Zi6

Creative Vado HD

How to Download 720p High Definition YouTube Videos

This tip was too good not to pass along: a way to download high quality videos from YouTube for free (the high definition ones that have been uploaded in 720p).

You’ve likely already noticed that YouTube has enabled high quality viewing for all users — and if your system’s fast enough, and you have a broadband connection, the first thing you should do is visit your Video Playback Quality page and enable the “I have a fast connection. Always play higher-quality video when it’s available” option. This is apparently a cookie-based setting, which is a bit disappointing (because you have to re-enable it on every computer rather than having it set as a static preference in your YouTube account). Do this, and you’ll always see the best version of a video available.

Now what if you want to save that high quality YouTube video to your computer?

Forget about using a third-party Web site or software to download 720p video from YouTube; there’s nothing for you to install other than this bookmarklet:

Go ahead and create that link into your browser’s Bookmarks (or Favorites) bar. If you’re not familiar with the concept of bookmarklets, they’ve been around forever.

Once this is in your browser’s bookmarks bar, you simply click it when you’re on a YouTube video page that has a 720p (high quality video) that you want to download. You only need click this bookmarklet once. The download doesn’t start – but after clicking this bookmarklet, you should see a new “Download as 720p HD MP4” link in the video information box in the right sidebar of the YouTube page. It’ll be automatically inserted directly beneath the Embed code for that particular video. NOTE: this bookmarklet only works for the 720p videos.

If you want to download any other YouTube video as an MP4, you’ll want to use this bookmarklet: Download YouTube MP4. It works similarly to the HD version of the bookmarklet, only it should work with any YouTube video — and starts downloading the page’s video as an MP4 file without further intervention.

I’m not here to support either bookmarklet, nor to help you figure out how to use either one (beyond the instructions I’ve provided above). If you want to thank anybody, thank Google Operating System and Mac OS X Hints for surfacing the bookmarklets. I’ve tested them on the latest nightly build of WebKit (as of today) and they both work extremely well. Don’t ask me how to get them to work in anything else. 😉

If you want to test it on a video, might I recommend trying it on either my computer giveaway video or the GoToMeeting demonstration?

Hope this helps you download these videos to your computer!

Flip Mino HD vs Kodak Zi6 vs Flip Ultra Video Cameras


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Flip Deals:

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A few weeks ago, I reviewed the Kodak Zi6. It is HD supported, but it has good quality. I also did a review of the Flip Ultra awhile back. I just finally got my hands on the Flip Mino HD. Now, I get to make some serious comparisons. Since the new Mino is HD as well, I decided to do a little playing around with some recording on each device prior to making this video.

First off, the Flip Mino is definitely much smaller and lighter than the Kodak Zi6. If you look at the differences between the two videos, you can see that the contrast is much better from the Zi6 than what the Flip Mino is. I’m not sure if there was a problem with the lighting, but there’s a definite difference. However, with the Zi6, I look more “yellow”, whereas with the Flip Mino my skin looks its normal color.

Both of them have a fair amount of noise in them, yes. However, the Kodak video is just a bit sharper than the Flip camera. On the other hand again, the Kodak camera always tends to drop frames, to an annoying degree. That needs to be fixed in the firmware ASAP, seriously. It happens constantly, and is a really huge drawback.

The image overall is shaper when using the Zi6 and the blacks are richer, but it does drop frames often. That makes it impossible to recommend over the Flip Mino. The Flip doesn’t have removable storage, but it is 4GB. The Flip software has been seriously upgraded, and it’s excellent software.

Overall, if you’re in the market for a new compact camcorder, I’d have to recommed the Flip Mino HD at this point. Even though the quality of the Kodak is better, the frame dropping is just something that is hard to live with for many people. You need to weigh the pros and cons against each other, and choose what works best for you.

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High Definition DVD Wars

I’m trying to stay out of this argument. I’ve only seen a few HD-DVDs in person, and… the differences between a high definition DVD and a “regular” DVD are largely imperceptible. At least, according to my eyes. Well, until a single playback option is ubiquitous, it simply doesn’t matter. Consider these two recent news articles from PC World. One is a hardware-centric solution:

LG stated it was considering a dual-format player at the CeBIT show last March, but the company has been quiet about its progress until now. The company is the first to formally announce a dual-format player; prior to this, Ricoh and NEC had both announced they had developed components that could read both Blu-ray and HD DVD media, but neither had announced actual products. Samsung had also made rumblings about coming out with a dual-format player, but the company backtracked on those reports early last year.

The second is a media-centric solution called Total HD:

The disc includes the same specs offered by each format separately–for example, either a 25GB or 50GB Blu-ray movie on one side, and a 15GB or 30GB HD DVD movie on the other. The intention, according to Warner, is to keep the feature sets of both versions intact so that the viewer will get the same experience whether they watch the Blu-ray version or the HD DVD version. But this means that content creators must design content that doesn’t exceed the capabilities of either format.

Both of these options sound great to me – and I applaud both LG and Warner for respectively stepping up to the plate.