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Apple Watch Series 2

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Oct 5, 2016 in Apple, Fitness, Tech

Apple Watch Series 2

It seems like only yesterday I walked out of the Apple Store with my gen 1 Apple Watch, and since that day, it’s become a integral part of my daily life. Currently, I use it for nothing more than a second screen for apps and a notification system, but it’s just become the norm.

Back in September, Apple announced the Apple Watch Series 1 and 2 (doing away with the 1st generation all together). The main differences being, it’s waterproof up to 50 metres (instead of the 1 metre of the gen 1), it now has built in GPS (although doesn’t track elevation), the ability to track swimming, a faster processor, and a larger battery.

On paper, there’s wasn’t enough to make me want to upgrade, as there are still a lot of limitations. Although WatchOS3 has attempted to make the watch ‘less tethered’, the majority of the apps still require you to have your phone with you. You are able to sync podcasts and audiobooks to the watch, and then listen through bluetooth headphones, however these still require a little fannying around with playlists. Hopefully by the time WatchOS4 is released, I’ll be able to run the podcast and audible apps on my wrist, negating the need to take my phone with me.

So Darren, why did you buy the new watch if there’s no benefit to you? Simple, it seems the Apple Watch is on a 2 year cycle, and I’m pretty sure app developers and Apple will start to work together and enable apps to be more independent. As a simple example, the running app I use (Strava) doesn’t currently use the inbuilt GPS, and still requires the phone to sync/upload the data. I’m sure in the coming days/weeks/months, they’ll use the built in GPS, store the data locally, and then sync with the phone when back in range. In the meantime, I can use Apples built in Activity app to track my runs.

Secondly, the swimming. Currently I don’t swim much, in fact it’s probably been a couple of years since I’ve been swimming, however it’s something I’ve been looking at getting back into. Having tech on my wrist that tracks, monitors and encourages you to go swimming will give me the kick up the arse I need to get back into the pool.

So, does it feel any different? Yes, a little. Feels a little heavier, and a little bulkier to wear, however the speed boost is very noticeable. WatchOS3 did make a huge difference to the speed of the watch, however the dual core processor gives it the extra kick it really needs.

Basically, I didn’t ‘need’ to buy a new watch now, I could have just waited until it was more independent, however,  I thought I’d get in at the beginning, instead of half way through as I did last time.

Unboxing and comparison pics below.

Apple Watch Series 2

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New Home = New Home Cinema System

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Nov 9, 2015 in Apple, Films, Tech

As some of you may be aware, I finally got my butt into gear and bought my first house back in June. When C and I were looking for a new house, once of the criteria was my very own ManCave, containing all the previous home cinema and gaming equipment that previously lived in the front room at the old house. These consisted of previous speaker system, Pioneer VSX922 amp, and all my games consoles.

Below is a pic of my current ManCave, Although it needs a lick of paint, all the tech is in place and fully functional in its new home.

ManCave

I got the thumbs up from C that we could get some state of the art tech for the front room, as I didn’t really want to be forking out again for a wee while.

First tech added was a new shiny 4K TV (LG 60UF770V). Although there’s not a whole lot of content out at the moment, the 4K up scaling works well, the TV is now smart (compared to the previous Samsung Series 5 dumb TV). Although the TV does widen the sound with its build in 4 speakers, it wasn’t a patch on a proper home cinema system.

The next piece of tech was the new AppleTV, with Apple Music now being a part of the new TV, I decided it was time to finally drop on the remainder of the home entertainment system so I could hear the music through a decent system. I did a reasonable amount of research, and with wanting to stay cutting edge, I had my eye on amps with either Dolby Atmos or DTS:X technology. Now if you’re unsure what these are, these works similar to 7.1, however instead of just sending any non-directional sound to the front high/rear speaker, they have their own dedicated front high track. This means that any scenes that have the likes of helicopters flying over, or rain, will sound amazing.

My first, TrueHD amp was the Onkyo TX-SR606, it was good, but had a known issue that meant it didn’t live too long. I then upgraded to the Pioneer VSX922 which was a great improvement as had network capabilities added Airplay support, a companion app and internet radio. Being happy with the Pioneer amp, I started looking around for one of these but with the new tech, however after a bit of searching around, I couldn’t find anything in my price range. Then a little Denon AVR-X2200W receiver caught my eye, not only was it Denon, but it came with but Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, so I decided to drop on it.

As all the speakers were being used in the ManCave, I took the opportunity to spend a little more of the new speakers to compliment the Denon amp. I went with the Mission MX3 floor standing speakers, Mission MXC1 Centre Speaker, Pioneer SHS100 5.1 Speaker Package for the surround, front high and subwoofer, (as I’ve previously bought this package, and the sub is good, and the rest of the speakers are good for surround speakers).

After a day of wiring and mounting speakers, it was time to give it a test run, however, I had no Atmos or DTS:X content. I did a little googling and found an every growing list of Atmos encoded blurays. Being a fan of the Transformers films, I decided to get Transformers: Age of Extinction on next day delivery. Wanting to also test DTS:X I did a similar search, to find there was currently only one bluray encoded in DTS:X, and that’s Ex Machina, again eager to test the system, I ordered it on next day delivery.

While I waited for the blurays, I decided to simply play with the new audio options. As long as you had at least a Dolby Digital track (which most of the HD channels on my Virgin box seemed to have), you can enable Dolby Digital + Dolby Surround. This works similar to Dolby ProLogic IIz which works out which tracks should go to the high speakers. Initially, it took a little getting used to, as what was previously quite a focused sounds, now felt the sound was coming from the entire wall. This is however now my default settings, as it really does add a lot of height and width to the audio, whilst maintaining a clean centre focus.

The following day both blurays arrived, so it was time for the final test. Now I had somehow managed to convince C that with the price of the Xbox One dropping like a stone, maybe we should get another for the front room to use as a media player/bluray player, so decided this would be the player of choice to test the new system. I dragged mine down from the ManCave and plugged it in. Unfortunately after about an hour worth of playing around in the settings on the amp and Xbox, I resorted to google, only to find the Xbox will never be able to pass the additional tracks to the amp. Without going into too much detail, for an amp to even receive the additional tracks, you have to pass uncompressed bitstream audio to it. The bitstream options on the Xbox One are currently DTS bitstream or Dolby Digital bitstream, neither of these contain the additional tracks. The default audio setting for the Xbox is 7.1 PCM which is good, but again, not compatible with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. So I went to plan B, go grab the PS4. This worked a treat, switched the output to uncompressed bitstream and I got the lovely Atmos symbol appear on the amp. I flicked through Transformers and some of the scenes definitely had a lot more height to them. As a sanity test, I took the PS4 and bluray back up to the ManCave to listen through the 7.2 set up there. Although the same helicopter tracks did sound high, they weren’t a patch on the downstairs Atmos setup.

Happy with the Atmos test, I took everything back downstairs to test DTS:X. I popped in Ex Machina, played a couple of chapters for it only to show True-HD. I check the back of the bluray, only to find no DTS:X track listed!…..after a little googling, it seems only the US version of the bluray had the DTS:X track, and the one I have only has 5.1 TrueHD…bummer. Although I quite enjoyed the film, I’m not sure it’s a good test the technology, so await American Ultra being released so I can hear how good it sounds.

Once I’d finished testing, I took my PS4 back to the ManCave and decided to buy a standalone bluray player, as I didn’t really fancy lugging my PS4 up and downstairs every time I wanted to watch a bluray, so popped out to the local Currys store and picked up a Samsung BD-J5500. For £50, it’s not bad at all, not only is it network enabled, it had Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and a DLNA player built it, and also had the option to output audio in uncompressed bitstream.

Below are a few unboxing pictures of the amp, some work in progress setup picture. Please note, no cows were harmed during the installation.

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AppleTV 4th Generation

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Oct 30, 2015 in Apple, Tech

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Since the AppleTV 2 was released in way back in 2010, I’ve always hoped that Apple would enable functionality for apps on the TV as this is always something I’ve found lacking. Granted I could have always accomplished this by jailbreaking it, however I’ve always found tinkering with custom firmwares to be a double edged sword, so I always left my Apple kit vanilla.

Then in 2012, Apple released the AppleTV 3, with an improved processor (same processor as the iPad 2/iPad Mini), improved bluetooth and I though, “finally…here we go”, but it unfortunately it never happened.

The following year iOS7 was released including the MFi SDK allowing you to sync a bluetooth controller to your iDevice to play games. At this time, micro consoles were all the rage, with the rise of the OUYA and various other Android based consoles appearing on the market, I though…”here we go”….only to be disapointed again.

With the announcement of the AppleTV 4, It seemed my dream has finally come true, and the little black box that lives under my TV, would finally be getting an upgraded to allow apps and games.

Now before I pop on a party hat and start rejoicing, I’m going into this a very cautiously, as I don’t think it’s going all singing, all dancing experience I’ve been waiting all these years for. As you may be aware, I’m heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, and have spent literally thousands on media over the years. What I was hoping for was the same as I got with the Vita TV is, the ability to download any big name games I’d previously bought and play them on the big screen. However restrictions like the inital 200MB download limit per game/application (although potentially up to 2GB additional resources can be then downloaded), the fact that every game has to be playable on the new touch remote, makes me fear we’re never going to see any of the big name games I want to play on the big screen, and it’s simply going a store full of AppleTV specific flappy bird and angry bird clones.

Now I decided to go for the 64GB version, in the hope that one day in the not too distant future, Apple will create a MFi specific section on the store, and increase the file size limit to allow developers to create some truely awesome games to take full advantage of the new hardware, or at least port them to the AppleTV with ease.

So how is it? It’s pretty good. The initial setup was extremely easy, I was given the option to setup with phone. Simply enabling bluetooth and move my phone close to the device. It then used the setting on my phone to populate the main information, wifi, appleID etc. As part of the setup you can also enable location services, which seemed a little odd at the time, but made sense later when I saw the Weather Channel app auto populate my location.

Overall the UI feels very clean, snappy and has a nice little 3D effect when you’re selecting an app. I was glad to see initially there were no 3rd party apps installed, as I’ve found over the years my other AppleTV’s have become over bloated with apps I’ll never use, so it was good to be able to select the apps I actually wanted.

Although most of the default apps are familiar, iTunes Movies, iTunes TV etc, you now have access to Apple Music, and as I’m one of those that stuck with it after the 3 month free trial, it’s good to see it enabled on the box. To the left of this is the ever familiar App Store icon. Once in, you’re met with the familiar app screen layout you get on other app devices. Currently there’s not really any type of filtering or sorting, so you just have the recommended and purchased tabs. I guess when they’re more content available, I hope to see the usual category system we get on other apps stores . Within the purchased tab,  there were a handful of apps, likes of Speediest.net, Asphalt 8, Jetpack Joyride and the likes. Obviously I clicked on them all and set them downloading, to see how they look on the big screen. I guess one huge (for me) omission from the store was Apples own Podcast app. As most of you are aware, I listen to, and even record a podcast or two, so the lack of podcasting capability was rather strange.

The first app I tried was Speediest.net, although it felt like a very cut down version of the version I use on my phone, it was functional. Next on the list was Asphalt 8. As I started up, I got a message saying ‘Downloading Bundle’, and the proceeded to download the rest of the files it needed. Once loaded, I got the message of ‘Controller Optional’, so I dropped out of the game, synced my Mad Catz MFi controller to the TV and reloaded the game. Sure enough, I was able to fully control the game, and the entire AppleTV with my MFi controller. The experience was ok, the game ran a little jerky at times, however assume it was only a first run problem. Interestingly, the game seemed to download the track that it needed to play, I guess this was Apples App Thinning at work.

Moving away from the apps, I decided to have a look at the bread and butter stuff, and have to say, everything is a lot snappier than it previously was. I currently own 227 iTunes movies, and on my AppleTV 3, these would take a good few seconds to load, on this..instant. Same with the TV and music, everything was snappy.

So I guess the final thing is the controller, well it’s the same…but different. Instead of the previous navigation circle, you’ve now got a touchpad, that does the same thing, however a lot my touchpady. You now have the addition of a home button, and volume controls. Now I have to admit I was impressed when I pressed the volume button, only to see the volume go up and down on my TV without me having to punch in any settings…..ah, technology. Finally there’s the Siri button, press once, then press and hold to talk to Siri….she still doesn’t understand me.

All in a nice little upgrade, it’s still early days, but I’ll be interested to see how the app store evolves in the coming months.

As always, unboxing photos below.

 

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