Apr 042011

Now that the baseball regular season is finally here, it’s time to take a look at all the ways you can consume as much MLB content as possible!

One great thing about the MLB is they make their content more accessible than any of the other professional sports in the US. Aside from watching directly on the MLB website, they have apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, PS3, Boxee, AppleTV, Roku, and probably your toaster oven. Only one other entertainment company comes to mind as being so widely available, and that’s Netflix. I find it refreshing that the MLB mostly gets it right, and I often find myself wishing the other pro sports would follow their lead. They don’t try to lock a customer into one source for watching or listening to games and reasonably price their content. This is in stark contrast to the NFL, which only provides access to all of their games through DirecTV at insanely high prices — not to mention having an exclusive video game deal which ensures that Madden will be the only NFL video game. Ever. Yes, I’m still bitter about the untimely death of the NFL 2k series.

MLB iPhone App

I have to admit, the MLB At Bat app for iPhone is one of my favorite apps. It was one the first apps I bought when I got my first iDevice, a second gen iPod Touch back in 2008. Through the years it has progressed and added more features. The app costs $15 and offers live game day audio for every game in every market, with both the home and away feeds. While it’s one of the more pricier apps I’ve bought, it’s great even for people who are only fans of one team, in that you can listen to the games anywhere, and provides a live game tracker that shows each pitch and the scoring. You’ll also get the latest news and highlight clips from every game, along with customized push notifications that can alert to game starts, end of game scores and highlights. As an added bonus, for the month of April, you get free access to MLB.TV in the app, which gives you live video of all games, however, the dreaded “blackout restrictions” apply, which means don’t expect to watch your local team on anything other than the actual TV channel that’s airing on. This year has a new feature, called “Live Look-ins” which provides a quick-look of a game where something interesting is going on like a late-inning rally. These live look-ins are blackout free, and are reminiscent of the NFL Red Zone channel. For full gameday video, anything outside your “market” is available. It’s worth noting that video quality is very good, even when viewing over a 3G connection. The app also has “check-in” abilities when you actually go to a game, which can sometimes offer special deals and other incentives.

MLB iPad AppTo go along with the iPhone app is a separate iPad app. When I say the MLB “mostly” gets it right, this is one area that is a bit disappointing. The iPad app is a separate app that also costs $15. It would have been nice to see it as universal app, even if they bumped the price to $20. The features are similar to that of the iPhone version, but with a different layout and accurate replicas of the real stadiums in their “Game Day” game trackers, using assets from Sony’s great MLB The Show game. If you’re a MLB.TV subscriber or a baseball junkie, you’re probably going to want both apps, but if you’re only interested in the game day audio, it’s probably best to stick with just the iPhone version.

I also had a chance to take a look at the free “apps” on Boxee, PS3 and AppleTV. These apps don’t do much aside from showing scores, unless you’re a MLB.TV subscriber. No gameday audio is available in a “lite” or free option. Being this is the first year I’ve subscribed to MLB.TV since I received it as gift subscription, I was excited to check out each option.

The PS3 version is definitely the most feature rich. Not only can you watch the games in HD, but you can rewind live games and zero in on highlights, as the video timeline is identified with markers and short descriptions of key plays like home runs, extra base hits, strikeouts, etc. While the interface is the nicest, I found the video and audio quality a bit problematic on the PS3. It frequently skips and stutters to the point where I didn’t want to use it, despite all the features it has that can’t be found elsewhere. It almost seemed as if the PS3 was struggling to keep up and acted like it was CPU stressed. Hopefully Sony and/or the MLB updates the app soon to fix those issues. Sony has a video tour of their MLB.TV app here — it’s very impressive.

MLB Apple TVIn checking out the AppleTV version, it’s not quite as robust as the PS3 version, but provided me with perfect HD quality, and timeline markers that indicate the start of each half inning, but no highlight markers. A very nice interface and a great way to watch the games, I can see this as my preferable way to watch MLB.TV on the big screen, at least until the PS3 version gets smoothed out. Lastly, I took a look at the Boxee app, which is probably the most stripped down, but provided perfect HD quality and worked well. After all, fancy features aside, watching the game in great quality is the most important aspect.

After opening weekend with an MLB.TV subscription, I’m enjoying it a lot. At a cost of $100 per year, it’s affordable when you compare it to other sport subscription and other entertainment options (i.e. Netflix is about $96 per year for a streaming-only sub). If you’re a fan of a team other than the local team or just enjoy watching games all over the country, then MLB.TV access is a must have. If all you enjoy is watching your local team and could care less about any other teams, consider the iPhone or equivalent smart phone app for the game day audio when you’re not at home and leave it at that. Being a bit of a baseball junkie and now having access to so many other games no matter where I am, I can definitely see myself being a regular MLB.TV subscriber.

Mar 312011

So with this week’s slightly unexpected launch of Amazon’s cloud storage and cloud music player, you’ve started to think about the possibilities and conveniences of a cloud stored music library.  It definitely has some worthwhile advantages:

  • Online/offsite backup of your music library
  • Easy access to your music anywhere
  • Save space on your phone by not storing a copy on device

It was probably less surprising that Amazon’s Cloud Player doesn’t really work with iOS devices.  There’s a workaround, described here, but it’s clunky at best.

Apple’s iTunes Locker / MobileMe revamp has been rumored to be coming for quite some time, but it’s yet to materialize.  Signs seem to point to it being caught in limbo as negotiations with the big music labels are holding it back, a step it seems Amazon chose to skip, much to the labels chagrin.  So while we wait for an Apple solution that may or may not come, what can an iPhone user turn to in the mean time?

It may surprise you that Apple already has rudimentary support for this type of cloud music storage.  Of course, this option requires a MobileMe subscription, which currently goes for $99 a year — there’s a 60 day free trial if you want to give it a test drive.  You get 20GB of storage, along with other features like email, calendar, contacts and a photo gallery.  The “iDisk” cloud storage works like many others and has the advantage of a universal iOS app.  An undocumented feature of the iDisk app is that it will stream music files from your iDisk, and even continues streaming music when in the background.  While it doesn’t load any meta data or album artwork and doesn’t seem to support playlists, it does actually work in a very basic way, today.  You can even share files using iDisk…but don’t tell the music labels that.

Dropbox works in a similar fashion to iDisk in the way it handles music, and offers 2GB for free, with a universal iOS app.

Of course, those are services that aren’t really optimized for streaming music.  That’s where long-time players mSpot and MP3Tunes come into play.  mSpot, in direct response to Amazon, recently announced they would be increasing their free account storage limit to 5GB.  This was a smart move by mSpot, since it has the advantage of being iOS compatible (through a universal app) right away.  With new found interest in cloud music storage being spurred on by Amazon, potential customers may look for more compatible options since being locked out by Amazon.  Also available is MP3tunes, which offers 2GB of storage for free and also has an iPhone app.  Each of these services has an application that you load on your PC or Mac, which monitors your music library and automatically uploads new tracks to your music locker, keeping your local and cloud libraries in sync.

All the services mentioned here have some sort of free or trial subscription so that you can test drive them to figure what best suits your needs. Who knows, they may even end up being better than an official Apple solution, whenever it arrives.

Mar 222011

Firefox 4, after what seems like an eternity has finally been released.  It has a cleaner look, tabs on top, and is packed with performance enhancements.  I’ve been using the last few betas and the RC releases, and have been satisfied with the updates.  It definitely feels more responsive than previous versions, although I’d say that Chrome and maybe even IE 9, covered here, are a bit faster in terms of load times.   If you’re a FF diehard, there’s no reason not to go upgrade right now, it’s a definite improvement.  If you’re entrenched as a Chrome or IE user, I don’t know if there is much to win you over.

Mar 202011

I was slightly shocked to see the news that AT&T is looking to acquire T-Mobile for $39 billion, but it does make sense.  T-Mobile lags behind all others in the US and has been looking for a buyer for years now.  AT&T has cash and wants to keep the pressure on Verizon.  Both AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, so it make sense from a tech standpoint too.  Of course it will need to be approved by various government regulators before anything can happen, but I don’t see that being a problem.  If AT&T acquires T-Mobile, where does that leave Sprint?  I think that’s the biggest question.  Does Verizon look to snatch them up?

At least we can look forward to months and months of jokes about how two bad cell companies don’t make a good one.

Mar 192011
Mar 192011

With my new iPad2, I decided to go all in and get the Apple Smart Cover with it — along with the HDMI adapter covered here. Is it worth the extra $39 or $69 if you go for the leather option? Let’s take a look.

Apple has a nifty video ad for the Smart Cover that makes it almost look fun. The video does show how it works and stays true to my experience with it, save one minor “action” they use when moving the iPad from the typing position to the upright position with one finger. See my video demonstrating that below.

It definitely is one of the more unique cover/case type products I’ve seen for consumer electronics, so I decided to add one to my iPad2 order. I went with the $39 polyurethane cover in gray. For the most part it works as advertised. It covers the iPad2 screen, and provides auto locking and unlocking when opening and closing the cover. It’s worth noting that the auto unlock feature with the Smart Cover does not override any security settings on your iPad, so if you force it to prompt for a passcode on each unlock (or after a specified interval) the Smart Cover does not override that. The magnets keep it in the exact place it needs to be, and it only goes on one way, so no need to worry if you put it on right or not.

The protection it offers the iPad2 is mostly minimal. I’d say the main feature of the cover is actually more of a stand than a cover or case. It’s about as close as you’d come to a built in stand for the iPad2, and feels almost like an extension of the iPad itself. It provides two standing positions, one in a table top, typing position, and the second in an upright, near 90° angle great for viewing and interacting with content where you’d do minimal typing. However, don’t expect this to be a sole form of protection for your iPad if you are notoriously rough with your devices. There is zero protection for the back, which the aluminum surface is much more scratch prone than the glass screen. Also, I’d expect drop protection to be near zero too, although I don’t want to test that first hand. When not in use, I stick my iPad2, with smart cover on, in a generic, padded, neoprene 10″ netbook sleeve, for added scratch and drop protection. The best thing about the smart cover is that it adds minimal weight and bulk to the sleek iPad2 design so  you almost forget it’s there and never gets in the way.

So is it worth $39? For the most part I’d say yes, although if you’re the paranoid type with your devices, you’ll probably be better off going with a third party solution with more complete coverage, which are already taking advantage of the iPad2’s built-in magnetic sensor for automatic locking and unlocking. That feature is not unique to the Smart Cover, and you can even test the iPad’s lock/unlock sensor with any common refrigerator magnet by placing it on the lower-right side of the iPad2. It would be hard to recommend the leather one at $69, unless you really want a more “sophisticated” leather look and are not concerned about additional protection. Early reports on the leather models state that they are showing signs of wear only after a weeks worth of use.

Here’s a quick video I put together demonstrating the Smart Cover:

Mar 172011

RSA just announced that they were cracked. It is unclear what exactly has been put at risk.

Our investigation also revealed that the attack resulted in certain information being extracted from RSA’s systems. Some of that information is specifically related to RSA’s SecurID two-factor authentication products. While at this time we are confident that the information extracted does not enable a successful direct attack on any of our RSA SecurID customers, this information could potentially be used to reduce the effectiveness of a current two-factor authentication implementation as part of a broader attack.

So, it looks like RSA’s SecurID is immediately at risk. Who knows what else the crackers got. This crack is more significant the crack against HBGary that happened several months ago. This shows how difficult information security is when even the experts are having trouble keeping their doors locked.

Mar 172011

I haven’t seen too much coverage on what you can do when outputting the iPad2 to a TV or monitor, so I decided to see how it all works. Using the “Digital AV Adapter”, it’s pretty simple to output the iPad to a HDTV. It mirrors the iPad screen as advertised, even the home screen. Rotating the iPad also is mirrored on the external screen, so it’s always replicating what you’re seeing on the actual iPad screen. It doesn’t up-scale the resolution, (unless your TV is set to do that, of course) so you’re basically seeing a 1:1 ratio (1024×786) on the external screen. Apps are all also mirrored completely on the external display. Additionally, with the HDMI adapter, it will send the sound output over HDMI as well, which is great.

Some apps are “external display aware”, so you may get different results, depending on the app. Netflix is one of these apps, and how it works is you can browse the library of titles on the iPad while the external display just shows a red Netflix screen. Once you start playing a video, it goes full screen on the external display at 720p, and the iPad just shows controls for pausing, fast forwarding, etc. Same is true of another favorite app of mine, the MLB app. Other apps that have embedded video like news apps or even Safari work fine, and when you tap the full screen icon, it will show in full screen on the TV as well with no letterboxing. No trickery needed…it just works. I even gave the Hulu Plus app a shot. I don’t have a Hulu Plus subscription, but the app is free and it will let you watch a few select things for free to “tour” the application. I was half expecting Hulu to have some clever block in their app preventing output, but that’s not the case (yet?) While the Hulu video didn’t go completely full screen on the external display, it was still completely mirrored on the TV.

Taking a look at the Keynote app, which is another “external display aware” app, it lets you output your slides to the TV, and gives you options of showing just the slides or slides with your own notes on the iPad screen only. Great for giving presentations so your not broadcasting your personal slide notes to everyone in the room.

Of course, being a gamer, I was thinking it’d be pretty neat to play some games on the big screen. It’s probably not the most ideal from a comfort standpoint, but I just wanted to see how it’d work. I’ve hoarded a few higher end games through various sales, so I had a few I wanted to test out.

First up, I gave Rage HD a test. The intro movie played only on the TV, while the iPad was blank. Then the game’s main menu showed only on the iPad. Once the game started, the TV remained blank, and all that I could see on the iPad was the HUD and no other graphics. Definitely weird. After playing around with it, I found if I pause the game, disconnected, then reconnected the connector, the full game showed on both the TV and iPad, and I could play the game. It’s probably not the most optimal way to play the game because I kept looking down to tap the controls, but it works.

Next I gave Infinity Blade a shot. It had no problem mirroring the full game on both displays. Graphics were crisp on both. Same goes for Dead Space and Madden, no issues with either. While I don’t see the iPad replacing the Xbox or PS3 in your entertainment center anytime soon, it’s not as far away as you’d think. Graphically, the iPad2 can rival and even beat those consoles, although touch controls will always be more limited than analog controls.

One thing I did find, that’s not widely reported, is that the original iPad/iPhone VGA adapter will also mirror the iPad2’s display to a VGA connection. It’s $10 cheaper than the HDMI one, and will work great in more business settings where low cost VGA projectors are everywhere. Chances are most small/medium business won’t have a high-def projector or display in their conference rooms yet, so the VGA adapter is a safe bet if you’re planning on doing presentations. The down side is that you’ll lose the sound output, so you’d have to use a stereo cable off of the headphone jack if you needed to output the sound elsewhere.

So overall, I’m impressed with the output functionality of the iPad2. It really makes it take a big step closer to replacing a computer with this functionality, and it can be useful in a lot of different scenarios. I don’t see it being a permanent item in an entertainment system, but it’s not really meant for that. More of a temporary hook up for presentations or other demos of a “hey let me show you this” type situation. I’ll have a video demonstrating all this in the near future, time permitting.

Mar 152011

I’m a sucker for old videos and articles which would predict what things would be like today, and AT&T used to do tons of promo materials like that back in the day.  Maybe it reminds me of dreams I had as a kid, wishing to have a device like a tablet, which could hold all of my school books, and could keep track of my place in each one. Also, it’s hard to deny that anything Shatner does, especially back in 1976, is pure awesome.  Thanks to AT&T for sharing this one from their archives:

AT&T Tech Channel

Mar 142011

Multiple sources are reporting that Microsoft is winding down the Zune physical media device. They are planning on continuing with the Zune software, presumably on Windows 7 phone.  This allows them to still sell music & subscriptions through their online store.

The Zune has never gotten a whole lot of love.  One of my favorite references was when it was mocked in the popular with geek television show, Chuck episode Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer.