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Apple TV 3rd Generation

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Mar 21, 2012 in Apple, Tech

Like many I sat and watched live streams of the iPad 3 media event on the 7th March 2012, and sat at drooled at the new shiny. In addition to the iPad 3 being launched there was the announcement of the 3rd generation Apple TV.

It’s selling features at the event was a new shiny UI and the ability to output 1080 video (instead of the 720 from the 2nd generation)

Although the 1080 did sound appealing, I spend the best part of a month encoding all my media to 720, and didn’t plan on re-encoding all the blurays to 1080.

Again the new UI looked new and shiny, granted there were no new features added, it just gave it more of a iOS feel, which was available for the 2nd generation within hours of the media event….so unfortunately I wasn’t sold and thought I’d pass on this model.

Then an opportunity arose, that meant I could potentially move one of the existing Apple TV’s into the kitchen, and replace this with a new model…so I did.

Last night it turned up, and to be honest, if it didn’t say 1080 on the side of the box, it would have been hard to tell if it was the new model of not. The same applies for the device itself, I held the 2nd and 3rd generation side by side, and honestly couldn’t tell the difference.

Plugged in the device, saw the familiar apple symbol then ran through the setup as with the other models. Once set up, I flicked through the menus, to find only one change, the vide output had the 1080 option, and that’s it. This actually made me happy, as I realised I wasn’t losing any functionality from the previous boxes.

Now I’ve seen a number of tear downs, and people are suggesting the 3rd generation has got the A5 processor, and the upgrade to 512Mb of system memory making this device as snappy as the iPad 2. There is also the suggestion that this has the same internal 8Gb storage, and the bluetooth has been upgraded to bluetooth 4.0

Being a long time user of the 2nd generation model, the upgrade to the processor and memory are noticeable, this device is a lot snappier. I’ve not given it enough to see if the hardware upgrade fixes some glitches that were present in the 2nd generation, eg the random restarts, and the occasional buffering issues, however I’m sure time will tell.

I did attempt to give the 1080 a good test, however the UK version of the store and netflix seems to be a little sparse when it comes to 1080 content. It seems a lot of the items are tagged as HD, with the occasional tagged as 1080. Based on this assumption there doesn’t seem to be any 1080 trailers and all the Netflix content I tried had only the HD tag. Now I have read that Netflix has upgraded the Apple TV steaming to support 1080, but not sure if this is in the states only. Currently the UK Netflix library is but a small subset of what’s available overseas.

I did however download a 1080 trailer from Apples site, drop it in iTunes and streamed it to the Apple TV and this did look a lot sharper.

I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens with future content, and hope that when the iCloud movie steaming comes to the UK, I’ll get a 1080 version of all the films I got on triple play (Digital, DVD and Bluray), but I guess only time will tell.

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Xbox Live “Metro” Dashboard

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Nov 19, 2011 in Brain Dump

Being a Software Tester and a Gamer, I obviously jumped at the chance to become a beta tester for the new Xbox Dashboard. Earlier this week I got the “Time for an update” message, and knew it was time to play.

As always with the Xbox updates, it just worked, took very little time and before I knew it, I was presented with the new dash, and I have to say, Microsoft have really impressed me.

So, what to expect when this goes live to the public ?

First screen you get is, Download a profile, Create a profile, or log in using your profile on a memory stick or hard drive. I have multiple Xboxs in the house, so tend to carry my profile and saves on a memory stick. However what I did was hit the download profile button. Within about 30 seconds it downloaded my profile from the server and plonked this on the hard drive, you are then given the option to save password….this essentially automatically logs you in when you switch on the Xbox.

Once your logged in, your presented by the new dashboard. This seems a lot cleaner than the previous version as it groups the content together with a title bar above.

The landing screen (at least for me) is Home, which gives you a Play <Current game in your DVD Drive>, Quickplay (the previous couple of games you’ve played), a rolling advert in the middle, and a couple of adverts down the right hand side.

The left tab to this in the bing search, which I’ve tried on the the Kinect and this seems to work fine. I shouted at it “Xbox Bing Search Batman” and was presented by all the batman films, games, and any music that was available on Zune Music. I could then just say “Lego Batman”, then screens, and I could quite easily navigate through the screens with the power of my voice.

The tab to the right of Home is social. Now this is where I think the major difference is. No longer do you have a massive list of friends that you have to scroll through, you only get the friends that are online and what they are playing. You can if you wish click on the friends tab and see everyone.

Underneath your friends button you also have a Social Apps section, this is where you will find the likes of twitter, facebook and video kinect. Finally on the screen you have the option to Sign In or Out.

Now one of the major additions is you can now see friends of friends. Clicking on any of your friends will give you the option to Send Message, Join Game, Invite to Party, Compare Games or Friends. The Friends button will show you a list of your friends friends, what they are playing and essentially everything you would expect to see if these people where in your friends list.

Another feature under the Friends tab are Parties, Beacons & Activity and Add friend. Add friend and Parties explain themselves, however the Beacons & Activity is quite interesting. The centre tab is “My Activity” which give you your top 5 activities, currently at the top of mine is Skyrim, which says 2 online, and 13 recently played. Clicking on this drills you down another level and takes you to a “Your friends’ activity in this game”. Currently this lists 13 of my friends, which you can then click through to their profile.

The next tab is Friends’ Activity, which gives “The games and apps your friends have been playing” and essentially a personalised top 10, with the top seeming to be Modern Warfare 3, on the Xbox, with 19 recently played. This screen is quite interesting, if I wanted to play online with my xbox friends, I know what games are hot within my gaming community. Currently the top 5 are Modern Warefare 3, Gear of War 3, Battlefield 3, Skyrim and Call of Duty Elite.

The final tab in here is the My Beacons. Here you can tag a game, and highlight to your friends that you want to hook up and play online. From my understanding, if one of your friends starts playing a tagged game, they will be notified that you want to play. Beacons are also something you can set on the Xbox.com website, as this has just had a major overall to bring in line with the Metro dashboard.

What they have added, and I think is an excellent feature is a more verbose notification system. Previously if I fired up a game that others were playing, it would say “Friends playing this game”, now it tells you how many friends are playing this game. Also, if friends start playing a game you are playing, you will get a notification saying <friends names> has started playing <your game>, which I think will be brilliant for people wanting to hook up and play multiplayer games.

The next 3 screen Video, Games, Music all work similar to the current dashboard, but redesigned to the new format.

The next screen, Apps, intrigues me, and not sure where they’re going to go with it. Currently in the beta this had Sky, ZuneVideo, ZuneMusic, Last.fm, Facebook and Halo Waypoint (as I have these all installed. There is a My Apps “folder” that contains Media Center, Picture Viewer, View Player, Music Player and Sky. The next “folder” is the one that intrigues me.. “Apps Marketplace”. Currently all this has in it is “Social”, and takes you to the Social tab, however this could get interesting if they start to add more apps.

The next tab is Pre-release, which currently has Green Preview, Latest Info, New Features, Help and Tips, which essentially give you a text dump to the screen. The Green Preview however doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

The final screen is settings, and here you can find all the normal, System, Preferences, Profile, Kinect, Account, Privacy, Family and Turn Off.

Now one of the major features you’ll find here is the Cloud Saves. Microsoft are kindly giving 512Mb of cloud storage to gold members. This isn’t enabled by default, you need to go into System >> Storage >> Cloud Saved Games >> Enable. Once this is done, you can select this as a storage device as you would if you were saving to a memory stick. What is seems to do is use a local cache, and then upload to the cloud in the background, I assume this as I’ve recently been playing skyrim, and after turning off the xbox, the light blinks on the front as it does when you have background downloads enabled.

All in all I’m very impressed with this update, and only hope Sony copy what they’ve done with the cloud storage, instead of this ‘backup your saves at some point during the night rubbish’ that they have, this doesn’t help me having multiple consoles and wanting to move between room.

One thing I will say, is I hope they give the option to buy more storage, as Skyrim and my 48 saves take up most of the 512Mb, and there is no way I can get my 2Gb of Dragon Age saves up there.

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Apple TV 2nd Generation

Posted by Ub3rG33k on Oct 4, 2010 in Apple, Films, Tech

So today my Apple TV (2nd Generation) turned up, and I have to say I’m pretty impressed.

Anybody who knows me or has been reading these my post, will know that over the last couple of years, I’ve become an Apple fan boy I’ve gradually replaced my MP3 player, my phone, my PCs and even my entire network with Apple products, and as time has gone by, I’ve organised my entire music collection to be “iTunes friendly”.

I’ve been toying with the idea of an Apple TV for a while now, and very nearly bought one of the 1 generation ones about 2 months ago.

I’ve been using a piece of software on my MacMini called MediaLink, to stream my iTunes content to my PS3, which to be honest has been working pretty well, apart from the fact that it won’t play DRM media.

So the announcement was made early in September that a new Apple TV would be out shortly, so me being me ordered one.

So what’s it like ?

Now this is the first time I’ve used an Apple TV, so some of the features I’m raving about, might have been in the first generation.

First of all, it’s size, this thing is tiny, it literally fits in the palm of my hand.

The device has a very small white light on the front, the flashes with the remote press. The rear has a USB port, a HDMI port, power port and an optical output.

Setup, as with any Apple product was painless, plugged it in, selected my language, added my apple ID and that was it, good to go.

So what is an Apple TV ?

Basically, it’s a device which allows you to stream content from the web, and a PC or Mac which is running iTunes home sharing (please note, you have to have iTunes 10 installed for it to be picked up)

The main menu gives you a few options.

Movies, and then the sub menu of Top Movies, Genres, Search and in Theaters.

The movie collection is huge, and everything I searched for came back with a result (kinda like the movie selection in iTunes)

The “in Theaters” option was essentially what you get on Apples trailer site, all the trailers for whats in the cinema right now.

The next tab is Internet, with the option of YouTube, Podcasts, MobileMe, Flickr and Radio.

The Youtube option will allow you to sign in and see your subscriptions.

The podcast option does what it says on the tin, it opens up the content as found in the iTunes store and splits them into Audio, Video or all. You can then “add to favourites”, which will let you know how many unwatched episodes you have, it also remembers your position which I thought was a good feature.

I don’t have a MobileMe account, but assume if I had, I would be able to stream from this.

The Flickr allows you to subscribe to public users and view their content. I can’t see a way of signing in, as this would be perfect as I’m a Flickr pro subscriber and have my entire photo collection hidden online, it would be nice to be able to access these.

Finally there’s the radio, which is the same content as the Radio tab in iTunes.

The next tab is Computers. Basically any machine that you have iTunes on (version 10 or above) with Home Sharing enabled, you can stream all you content from them.

Finally you have the settings tab, which you can…..well change the settings 🙂

2 interesting features in the settings are the AirPlay, and Remotes.

The Airplay allows you to use the Apple TV as an Airport Express, and the Remote option allows you to use you iPhone as a remote control. As your probably aware, the iPhone remote app has recently been upgraded to support the Apple TV. The app works with gesture controls, swipe left and right for fast forward and backward, tap to pause and play, and the godsend was being able to type in when searching. There is also flick up to get to chapter, and 2 finger left swipe to roll back 10 seconds, you can even move the onscreen content using this !

The AirPlay is pretty cool too, now granted, to play media from my Mac by selecting Computers > Mac Mini > Music > Album > Play or I also have the option to connect to my MacMini via the Apple Remote app, select the Album > Play > select the Apple TV as the speakers. This will not only output the audio to the Apple TV, but it will also display the album art and ID tag of the track being played.

Now I subscribe to a lot of podcasts, and it’s nice to see that if I’m looking at my Computers library, I then watch or listen to a podcast, this syncs back to the library. There was nothing more annoying than watching something using MediaLink, then having to Screenshare onto my MacMini to mark them as watched. This seems to be the same for Movies and TV too.

So far I’ve very happy with this device, and I guess I’ll be spending the next couple of months converting all my DVD’s to mp4 format and adding these to my iTunes library.

For anyone who uses iTunes for their media content, and if you have a spare £99, I suggest getting one of these.

As always, unboxing photos are below.

Apple TV Unboxing

Apple TV Unboxing

Apple TV Unboxing

Apple TV Unboxing

Apple TV Unboxing

Apple TV Unboxing

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