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Tag Archives: Entertainment

Do you want more TV advertising, even if it's Google?

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Mid-May, Google announced a whole bunch of new products and services at its Google I/O event in San Francisco. The biggest surprise of the bunch was Google TV, a platform that Google’s developing to bring the richness of the Web to your TV.

This has of course been tried before for a vast number of years, but when Google talks, people tend to listen. The company is packed with clever and committed developers, and more than a small quantity of spare change to throw at its projects. It also doesn’t hurt that Google has a lot of goodwill amongst all of its clients. For the average consumer, Google’s products work well and are mostly free.

Free’s a nice price to pay, but it ignored a key element of how Google makes money and pays for that “free”, and that’s through targeted advertising. Every Google search is logged and analysed, and if you’re a user of Google’s excellent mail client, gmail, you’ll notice more specific ads turning up next to your mail as well. This does worry some privacy advocates, but it’s clearly the price one pays for free services. If you want it free, you pay with ads. It’s the model (more or less) that television (with the exception of state-run services such as the ABC) has worked on for more than half a century.

Bringing more ads to TV, though? That’s an interesting prospect, given one of the first things that most buyers of personal video recorders do is work out the best way to enable ad-skipping, whether that’s just fast-forwarding through the ads (a limitation of any “Freeview” branded PVR) or skipping them entirely. GoogleTV will be a combination of a hardware product and a software platform. At first in the US this year Google will launch a set top box built by Logitech, and Blu-Ray player and TV built by Sony with inbuilt Google TV. As yet, international plans (including Australia) point to 2011 as the earliest we might see GoogleTV here.

Google’s main product is still of course search, and the ability to search for TV-specific content easily from your sofa is pretty compelling. I put the question around ad-skipping and how to sell consumers on getting yet another box to chuck under the TV that’ll serve ads to them to Google’s product manager for Google TV, Rishi Chandra at a recent Google event. His response was rather telling about where Google’s priorities actually are.

Chandra’s take on advertising for end users (that’s you and me and everyone else presumably watching a Google TV) is that we’d prefer targeted advertising specific to our searches and our profiles. They’re more useful, he told me, and if the economics are right and they’re particularly targeted we may end up with less of them.

On the other side of the coin, while it’s possible to strip ads out of Web pages if you’re so inclined or fast forward the ads on the TV if you’ve pre-recorded it, don’t look for that kind of feature in Google TV. One of the benefits (to the advertisers) that Chandra highlighted was that users couldn’t skip the ads. They could ensure that the ads were played and were trackable. Google can help the advertising community with lots more specific data via Google TV. At the end of the day, Google’s actual clients are the advertisers that give the company cash by the barrowload.

It’s a difficult line that Google has to tread. Its money comes from advertising, and even online there’s no such thing as a free lunch. It still leaves me wondering if it’s going to be worth investing in a TV with inbuilt Google (or a set top box, Blu-Ray player or whatever) in order to be served even more advertising that I can’t easily ignore.


iPad vs Kindle

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On the surface, Apple’s soon to be released iPad and Amazon’s already available Kindle appear to service the same market: eBook readers.

Amazon’s Kindle is available in two varieties. There’s the smaller screen US$259 6″ (15cm) Kindle, and the larger US$489 9.7″ (25cm) Kindle DX. Both have the same feature set, so the US$230 price difference just buys you more screen real estate. I’ve listed the prices there in US dollars because that’s what Amazon will charge you for them even though you’re shipping them to Australia. As such, depending on how the currency conversion goes, the price of the Kindle may fluctuate on a daily basis.

The local iPad prices have finally been set in stone. Pricing for the WiFi-only models starts at $629 (16GB), $759 (32GB) or $879 (64GB), while the 3G and GPS equipped version costs $799 (16GB), $928 (32GB) or $1,049 (64GB). As yet, unlike the iPhone, no carrier has said they’ll sell the iPad on a phone-style contract basis, but data plans have popped up starting at $20 for a 30 day expiry period. That’ll get you 1GB of usage from Telstra and 2GB from Optus. At the time of writing, Vodafone had yet to commit pricing, but it’s not a great stretch to suggest they’ll fall somewhere in line with Telstra and Optus anyway.

In the Kindle’s favour, the cost of the device includes lifetime wireless data access for browsing and buying books from Amazon’s Kindle bookstore. Pick a title, and pretty much anywhere in Australia it’ll be sent to your Kindle for quick and easy reading. In the US, the Kindle also offers limited web browsing, and will shortly offer Twitter and Facebook compatibility, but the “International” model doesn’t offer web browsing, so it seems unlikely we’ll get Twitter or Facebook either. The Kindle uses an e-ink solution that mimics the look of real paper — to a certain extent — and uses very little power. Charge your Kindle up, and it’ll last a number of weeks.

The iPad, on the other hand, uses a more traditional LCD display, as you’d find in a notebook or netbook. This has the downside that power consumption is much higher, but it’s readable by itself without any external light source. It’s also a much more capable device, somewhat akin to — but not quite like — a notebook or netbook. It doesn’t come with free lifetime data, but then what you can do with that data is far more wide reaching.

The iPad is somewhat akin to an iPod Touch with a touch of Frankenstein to it, and as such most iPod Touch/iPhone Apps will run on it, save those that need phone or camera functionality. It’s a more complete device in that it’ll handle a lot of simple computing tasks, but only one at a time. Like the iPod Touch/iPhone, there’s no multi-tasking capability out of the box, although the promised 4.0 iPhone software update due later this year may deal with some of those woes.

The iPad’s likely to be more expensive than the Kindle for the foreseeable future, although the difference between the Kindle DX and iPad 16GB isn’t that great after currency conversion and GST are taken into consideration. The Kindle hits the eBook market quite hard and with focus, and if all you’re after is an eBook reader, it’s the one to beat in single use terms. There are plenty of competitors in the wings. The iPad’s an eBook reader, but also quite a bit more, and it’s priced somewhat accordingly.


The future of TV is nearly here, but it won't be "free"

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Chances are reasonably good that you’re a pay TV subscriber, or know someone who is. If you’re not, the odds are pretty high you’ve invested in a digital set top box (or digital ready TV). The bad old days of 1-5 channels (depending on where you live) are truly behind us. Meanwhile, both free to air and pay TV are gearing up for the next “big thing”. It’s not digital TV as the Freeview ads would have you believe it, but instead direct TV delivery over the Internet, sometimes referred to as IPTV.

You can already get a taste of how IPTV could work through services like Channel 7’s Plus7, Channel 9’s Fixplay, Foxtel’s Downloads and ABC TV’s iView platforms. They’re not even limited to your internet-connected computer, with several TV makers offering Channel 7 options, and ABC’s iView available through the Playstation 3 console. Fire up a web browser and go to the relevant site and a wealth of Internet-delivered TV goodies are yours for the viewing.

There’s a couple of minor catches with these approaches. First of all, they play pretty much exclusively in the “catch up” space. Most of them work off time limited availability of recently run programs. Great if you’ve missed the last episode of 24, but only within a week or two. Some older programs are available on a consistent basis, but the quality varies. Not so much the quality of the programs, as tastes may vary, but the quality of the encoding used to convert them. Sitting down with Channel 7’s Plus7 to enjoy an episode or two of the genuinely classic Father Ted, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of blockiness and digital artefacts making the experience a lot less compelling than it should be.

There are solutions on the horizon that may fix the “Catch Up” nature of these services. A company called FetchTV is promising up to 20 channels and a video on demand service over the Internet to be launching this year. iiNet’s already signed up to deliver the service, which is expected to cost “under $30” per month. $30 per month might sound like a lot for Internet-delivered TV, and they’ll certainly have to iron out quality and speed of delivery issues, especially with the woeful speeds that many Australians have to suffer through.

The big issue with IPTV is that you’re likely to be paying for it either way. iiNet’s said that they won’t count FetchTV content against a user’s data cap, but then they’ll be getting $30 (or more) of your hard earned cash upfront.  A handful of ISPs (including Internode, iPrimus, Adam and iiNet) offer iView unmetered, but it’s really the exception rather than the rule. For everyone else’s services, you’ll pay in the form of your data allowance. A typical program may chew up hundreds of megabytes of download allowance, but as they’re really streaming rather than downloading, you’ll be using up that data without being able to easily re-watch downloads at a later date. If you’re on a plan that charges for excess data, that could get expensive fast, and even those on capped plans that drop speed may find a large part of their month’s service at crawling rates if they get too keen on Desperate Housewives.


What will your next digital camera be?

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Digital cameras have rendered the humble old box brownie all but obsolete. You probably own multiple digital cameras, especially once your mobile phone is taken into consideration. Beyond the race to cram more and more megapixels into compact cameras — a fairly useless activity once you get beyond around 8 megapixels unless you need to shoot outdoor advertising posters — there are limits to what a compact camera can do.  The compact digital you most likely own is fine for taking happy snap style shots, and if you’re lucky, you may end up with some really nice photos. But what do you do if you want a little bit more control over your images?

The traditional answer would have been to step up from the box brownie style of a compact digital to a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. These allow for discrete image processing steps, multiple lenses — both for zoom/macro/fixed focus work and for specific effects such as fisheye or tilt shift lens photography — but have always had a few particular problems for novices wanting a little more power. For a start, DSLRs are pretty expensive. This has changed in recent years; you can typically pick up a DSLR body from companies such as Nikon or Canon for under a thousand dollars, but lenses can often cost a great deal more. The learning curve on a DSLR is pretty sharp, and most DSLRs are solidly built and therefore heavy, which limits their portability. You’re much less likely to take a DSLR out for a quick shot of your nephews on a swing if it takes five minutes to set up and take the shot.

There is a middle way emerging that promises some of the fine control and lens swapping ability of DSLRs without all of the challenging complexity or higher price of a DSLR. These mini DSLRs — often referred to as micro 4/3rds cameras (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_Four_Thirds_system) are cheaper and smaller than a DSLR with a reasonable amount of the power that DSLRs offer. Not all of these compact DSLRs are actually Micro 4/3rds cameras, though. I recently had a chance to have a field test at Taronga Zoo with Samsung’s recently released $899 NX10 camera, which uses a full APS-C sensor, such as you’d find on a “full” DSLR, but with a mirror-less design that makes the camera body a lot smaller, and therefore a lot more portable. I do know my way around a DSLR to a fair extent, but even I came away impressed with the quick and easy shots I could take.

So they’re typically cheaper than DSLRs and more powerful than compact digital models. What’s the downside of opting for a Micro 4/3rds style camera? Well, you do get the flexibility of being able to change lenses that are typically going to be a lot cheaper than their DSLR equivalents, but in most cases you’re limited to the lenses produced for that camera series. Some Micro 4/3rds cameras do allow for additional lens types to be fitted via adaptors, but often with some specific features such as auto focusing removed. By contrast, if you buy a “Full” DSLR, you’ll be able to change out the main camera “body” but keep using the same lenses year in and year out, taking advantage of the new body features each time. As a stepping stone up in your photographic knowledge, or a gift for somebody wanting a little more than a compact can offer, they’re a good alternative.


Remember when tech did one thing well?

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Well, forget about it. It’s abundantly clear that, for better or worse, tech gear is going to be loaded with as many features as possible, whether or not they serve a useful purpose. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t, but there’s no shortage of multi-purpose devices.

The most obvious upcoming example of this would have to be Apple’s iPad, but here in Australia we’ll have to wait a while to properly assess how well or poorly it handles the multi-function job of ebook reader, music player, web browser and portable Street Fighter IV machine. Apple announced mid-April that the originally touted “late April” release date was going to slip to late May, because it had sold so well in the US. We’re even meant to be happy about this. The official statement from Apple reads:

“We know that many international customers waiting to buy an iPad will be disappointed by this news, but we hope they will be pleased to learn the reason – the iPad is a runaway success in the US thus far.”

Yeah, whatever. Some companies are just plain weird.

The iPad isn’t the only converged device on the block, however. The most obvious tech area where converged devices play is in home modems and routers. The combination of router and modem’s something that most vendors have offered for some time, and there’s an emerging trend to add even more functionality to the router, including USB ports for sharing printers or files, VoIP compatibility and even inbuilt displays to give to an instant health check of your network and Internet connection.

Telstra’s also just taken the wraps off its latest converged device, the T-Hub. Looking rather like an iPad on steroids, it combines a DECT wireless phone and base station with a Tablet-style device that can be used for making calls, keeping up with social media contacts, texting and photo display.

It’s a neat idea, and it’s certainly capable of a lot more than a standard phone handset is, but at the same time, it encapsulates the dangers of converged devices. Yes, it’ll do a lot. But it’s limited only to Telstra customers who also have BigPond accounts. It’s limited to the applications that Telstra’s got pre-loaded onto it, and naturally Telstra applications predominate. Quite how well it’ll handle complex Web pages, such as those with forms or Flash is entirely unclear.

Finally — and this is the real catch of a converged tech device — it’s a putting all your eggs in one basket style device. If it goes awry, as tech is wont to do, then there goes your phone line. Your photo frame. Your easy Net tablet.

That’s not to say it’s a bad buy per se. It’s worth balancing the convenience of a converged device — fewer boxes to manage, a single interface to deal with — against the issues that it may introduce if things go wrong, or if you work out that there’s a feature that it doesn’t do as well as a dedicated device may have.


Sound Editing Software

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In the world of audio, things began to switch to digital quite a long time ago. The ability to record sound digitally gives people the ability to manipulate that sound and edit it in other ways using a computer. Huge conveniences come from being able to edit sound using this type of audio technology and it also gives more people (that otherwise might never venture into audio editing) access to this type of tool. The digital format is a much more lasting format than analog (cassettes and vinyl) and a lot of people want to buy sound editing software just to transfer old albums into digital.

These days, sound editing software can be purchased online in a single transaction, downloaded right away onto a computer and used instantly to edit sound. There is a host of sound editing software on the market; more than you could probably imagine so sorting through it can be quite a task. Below, I have looked at some of the popular sound editing software applications and performed a few comparisons for you:

NCH Golden Records
NCH Golden Records is sound editing software designed specifically for transferring analog recordings into MP3 files or into CD format through your computer. Users can record music onto their computer and then onto CD. Clicks, pops and hisses can all be removed using an auto restoration feature of the software. The software is easy to use and it works with a record player or cassette recorder being plugged directly into the computer. NCH is a reputable company that has all types of audio applications on offer.

AVS Audio Editor
AVS Audio Editor is sound editing software that is currently available for the Windows platform only. It is quality software that allows users to enhance digital audio, extract and edit audio from video files, save audio in a variety of formats, remove excess noise from audio and more. It allows you to visually analyze files to help with the task of editing them. AVS is a reputable UK-based software development company that has already created many good commercial applications.

Audacity
Audacity is a free open source sound editor. It is available for all platforms so Windows, Mac and Linux users will all be happy with this product. This software can be used to do all types of audio editing tasks: record live audio, convert analog recordings to digital, edit sound files, splice and mix sounds and more. This is a very reliable piece of software that is very effective, especially due to the live recording feature.

With all of the benefits of digital music, it is definitely time to archive all of those old vinyl recordings in a digital format that will not wear out. Any of the sound editing programs featured above will make this task quick and easy for you. In most cases, all that is needed is a record player or cassette player and a computer with a USB port and wire to plug the record player into.


The Next Big Internet Trend – IPTV!

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The Internet is an extremely fast evolving medium. It is a place where an amazing number of trends are launched every year. Some trends go unnoticed, some achieve huge levels of publicity, while others completely revolutionize the way that things are done. Looking back over the past few years there have been many web trends that have literally changed the lives of millions of people. Web sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter have each provided us with new ways of being connected to friends. They allow us to socialize and network in ways that were unthought of just 10 short years ago.

Since new ideas arise all of the time online, knowing the next big trend in the Internet world can be extremely hard to predict. This is because in all corners of the globe there are handfuls of young people working away, night and day at computers hoping to be the one that wows the world with the next thing. Whether or not they succeed is dependent upon a host of variables. It is hard to predict. Of those things that are up and coming and that are publicly known Internet Protocol Television or IPTV looks to make a huge impact over the next year on the Internet world and the traditional broadcasting world. IPTV is gearing up to take the world by storm.

In many ways, the birth of IPTV is an obvious and natural transition for television. We have YouTube which invites the world to broadcast itself. It is hugely popular and many will tell you, including myself, they prefer to sit and watch YouTube videos online than regular TV. There is something fresh and enjoyably raw about the videos on YouTube that are good. Most importantly, these videos are broadcast exactly where I am at. Online! It is ideal, since I am already online networking, chatting with friends through messenger, even working! So, this is the most convenient place for me to be entertained.

When IPTV becomes available it will provide users with traditional television programming delivered through their computer and over Internet protocol (IP). In many ways, it is the next step in digital television. With IPTV, programs will be sent through the Internet to computers using packet-switched network infrastructure. This is the exact same technology that is used to send and receive emails and all other content found on the Internet.

The business mind always considers the question of what is the next big thing. Knowing the correct answer to that question could be hugely profitable for anyone that chooses to benefit from it. They could choose to develop that particular business idea themselves or they could choose to align themselves in such a way that they profit from the popularity of that industry when it takes off. IPTV has a lot of financial and moral backing so I am confident that it is a service that all of us will very soon be contemplating.


2010 Technology Trends

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2010 is upon us and unfortunately, the decade of the “noughties” has passed quicker than any of us could have anticipated. I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that we were scuttling around trying to protect ourselves and our computer systems from the Y2K Bug? Amazingly a complete decade has passed since the now laughable problems of Y2K. In that time, huge strides have been made in the area of electronic gadgets and technology, especially when it relates to the Internet. I have compiled a short list of technology trends that are expected to hit us in 2010. This is by no means an exhaustive list but a “things to look out for in 2010” kind of list so read on:

Increased Use of Cloud Computing Technologies

Cloud computing is most likely a term that you have heard bandied about in magazines and technology programs. The average computer user will not know what it is, but basically it is a term that is used to describe a cloud of services that any business, person or entity might use to share information between people and computers. These services include things like data storage, computer power, file back ups, telephony, messaging and more.

In 2010, major tech companies plan to move forward with cloud computing initiatives and so it is very likely that businesses will also latch onto and make the most of what cloud computing can provide them. IBM, Cisco and EMC have all spoken publicly about boosting what they offer in the way of cloud computing.

A Switch from Netbooks to Smaller Mobile Devices

Netbooks skyrocketed in popularity over the past 3 or so years. Netbooks are said to be popular because of their mobility (they are extremely lightweight), their simplicity and the speed within which they can connect to the Internet. The downside to Netbooks, is that although quite small, they are not as portable as a PDA or mobile phone. 2010 is expected to introduce devices that will overtake Netbooks in popularity. These devices will be smaller than Netbooks yet slightly larger than PDAs. The Apple Tablet is one product that will be launched and various manufacturers are planning PC versions of the Apple Tablet.

The Availability of 3D Technology in the Home

Home entertainment manufacturers are planning to make 3D technology increasingly available in the home. An increasing number of 3D movies were released in 2009. These 3D movies will soon be offered on DVD and Blu-Ray for home audiences. Enjoying this technology and making the most of it will most likely require consumers to purchase 3D capable TV screens, along with the 3D versions of DVDs. Keeping up with this trend will require a considerable financial investment, so only you and your family can decide whether it’s worth it.


What Kind of Computer is Good for Gaming?

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I am not sure whether you have any gamers in your family or among your close group of friends. Gamers are unique. They spend huge amounts of time trying to reach the highest levels of the games they play. Their free-time is booked up and spent on gaming. Those that don’t play computer games can only look and wonder why? What is the fascination?

Gamers love what they do and they really put their computers through a pounding. They run their computers to the max because the games they play usually use high resolution graphics, sound effects and lots of memory. When it comes to buying a computer for gaming, a lot of gamers prefer to either build their own computer or have one built specifically for them. Building your own computer is the least expensive way of doing things and it is the most customisable because you can make your computer into whatever you want it to be.

Your average computer is not made with gaming in mind but rather for the average, every day computer user. You can use a regular computer for gaming however you probably would not be satisfied for long because your games would most likely max out your computer system resources. To use a computer for gaming you may need some enhanced components. Definitely you will need to invest in an above average graphics card. Your graphics card will affect the way that images, colours and the scenes in your game will display on the monitor.

The main components that your computer will need for gaming are: an excellent graphics card, a good sound card, speakers (preferably with a sub woofer) and also a good monitor. If you want to upgrade a computer that you currently own, you will at least want to turn things up a notch with an upgraded sound card and graphics card. You can easily buy and add a new graphics and sound card to the computer set up that you already have.

If you are one of those people that doesn’t like to get into the nitty-gritty technical stuff, you probably prefer to be pointed to a particular computer brand rather than have to understand computer specifications and memory requirements. If this is you, then be on the lookout for Alienware computers. Alienware is one of the most popular brands for gaming. They do great desktops and laptop computers. Gaming computers cost considerably more than your every day computer. Still, if you are heavily into gaming, the cost will be well worth the hours of entertainment you will get from gaming on a computer you love.

Geeks2U can always help with your PC upgrades and our excellent technicians are always ready to help. You can contact us on 1300 443 572 to book a technician in your home or office.


What is World of Warcraft and Why is it so Popular?

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World of War Craft (WoW) is an online role-playing game. Everything that happens there is virtual and takes place in a virtual world. Players subscribe to WoW in order to participate in the game. They do this through the World of War Craft web site (www.worldofwarcraft.com). Once signed up, players create a profile for themselves. From that moment on, they begin their existence in the War Craft Universe.

World of War Craft falls under a gaming category called, “massively multi player online role-playing game” (MMORPG). In this particular game, players take on a character that represents them though the use of an avatar; a small cartoon-like image that represents the person playing. Thousands of people, in all areas of the world, play this game at the same time, each person’s character interacting with the characters of the other players. World of War Craft is extremely popular and said to be highly addictive!

Those that play World of War Craft say that it is very easy to be drawn into this alternate universe. Those that are close to those that play World of War Craft cannot understand how even adults can become so completely obsessed with a computer game. Still I don’t want to give the impression that obsession is all that WoW is about. The game provides challenges for players as they calculate moves, figure out how to survive in the WoW universe and work their way to the highest levels of the game. World of War Craft has a big social element to it. Players are in conversation with each other constantly through chat messengers, as they work their way through the game. They become familiar with each other’s characters through playing the game together on a daily basis.

Up to twelve thousand people have been known to play World of War Craft all at the same time. The game is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records for this feat. Games like this do provide people with a form of escape. After a hard day at work, some people want to play a video game and de-stress. The fact is, many people find it easier to socialise in the virtual world where their physical flaws, real or imagined, are not on display.

Few players make their way to the highest levels of the game and when they do, it is often with the help of others pointing out hidden ways to prolong their virtual life or cheat articles that lay out the game and all of its secrets.


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