Tag Archives: entertainment

Is Chromecast the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?

chromecastBack in July, Google announced the release of Chromecast — its latest pride and joy to come from the billion-dollar idea factory. The device, which is only about two inches long, works to stream video (or simply screens) from a computer, tablet, or phone, onto one’s TV. Basically, any television with an HDMI port can magically be turned into a smart TV of sorts. Easy, right? And unlike some of Google’s other releases, this one is surprisingly affordable. No subscription or ongoing fees — just a flat $35 to enjoy Chromecast for as many hours as the device will last.

The Setup

Chromcast can be purchased at any local electronics store or even Amazon. Then all that’s required is to plug in the device, and set up the streaming medium from a website Google automatically displays on the TV. Once in place, users click a box in the top right-hand corner of the screen (the “cast” button), and can start viewing. Remember that YouTube video you wanted to show to an entire room of people? Size is no longer a limitation. Or when ready to view Hulu Plus’s “computer only” content, you now have the upper hand.

Other Perks

  • Users can give their Chromecast a customized name.
  • Though Chromecast is optimized for specific websites (like YouTube), any content can still be shown through tab mirroring.
  • Content is streamed via the cloud, not from the device itself, so users are free to use the computer, tablet, or phone, for other tasks without interrupting their program.
  • Chromecast can be setup for multiple devices at once — use whichever one’s the closest.

This brings us to the next question: How did we ever live without it? Seriously, think of all the online TV, movies, and clips we could have been watching. If Google has anything to say about it, we’ll no longer need cable subscriptions, and rather just a strong Internet connection and a fully charged computer.

Of course, there are a few flaws with the device. For instance, software developments are still being updated, and Chromecast isn’t compatible with older iOS or Windows versions. Plus, videos stream as they appear on the computer. On HDTVs, that means less than crisp quality, but considering all the perks, a slightly grainy picture seems like a small price to pay.

How to rip DVDs to your iPad

Watching movies or TV episodes is probably one of the top things most people do with the iPad. You can rent or purchase movies through iTunes, but what if you want to watch a DVD on your iPad that you already own? You can convert your existing movies into a file format that is iPad friendly.There are plenty of sites offering free DVD converter software, a good number of which attempt to up sell you into a paid product.

The program I chose for importing DVDs is Handbrake. This software works the same way on both the Mac and the PC, however, for this how-to, I used a Mac.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to rip movies from DVD.

Step 1: Download and install required software

First you’ll want to download Handbrake. This software is free for both Mac and PC. You’ll also need to install the equally free VLC media player.

Step 2: Insert the DVD

You will need to insert your DVD into the computer that you are using.  This may cause your computer’s DVD player to launch and begin to play your DVD.  If that occurs, press stop on the DVD player and be sure to completely exit the program.

Step 3: Open Handbrake

Upon opening Handbrake, it will bring up a window that looks like the one below.  Handbrake is asking you what source that you would like it to scan for files that it can convert.  In this case, you will direct Handbrake to the DVD that you have inserted into your computer.  In the example above, the DVD is entitled, “PS_I_LOVE_YOU”. Select the contents and click Open.

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Step 4: Allow Handbrake to scan the DVD

Handbrake will scan the DVD for the movie file to convert. It will automatically select the file with the longest time duration to convert, which is almost always the movie that you want on your iPad. As you can see in the picture below, while there are many other files on the DVD, the longest file is selected is the movie.

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Step 5: Choose a location on your computer to save the movie

Click on the “Browse” button in the Destination section of the window.  This will allow you to choose the destination where Handbrake will save the file. You may want to save the file to your desktop so that it will be easy to find later.

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Step 6: Rip the movie to your computer

Click on the “Start” button at the top of the window and allow Handbrake to do its magic!  Your movie is now being saved to the location you selected in a file format that the iPad can use.  This process can take a while, depending on the speed of your computer.

Tip: Do not let your computer go into sleep mode during this process, the movie will stop ripping and you will not get a complete file.

Step 7: Move the converted movie into iTunes

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Now it is time to move the movie file (that you decided where to save in Step 5) into iTunes.  In order for this to happen, simply select the movie file and drag it into the movie section of the library on the left-hand side of the iTunes window and drop it there.  iTunes will begin to import the movie into its files at this point.  The movie will show up in the “Movies” section of your library with the original title of the file.

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Step 8: Sync the movie to your iPad

Select your iPad from the menu on the left-hand column of iTunes and select “Movies” at the top of the iTunes window.  Be sure that the box next to “Sync Movies” is checked and the box next to “Automatically sync all” (in the drop-down menu) movies is NOT checked.  Browse to the movie that you just imported into iTunes and check the box next to it.  Select the “Apply” button in the lower right-hand corner of the iTunes window and your movie is happily being synced to your iPad.

Step 9: Open the movie on your iPad

Open up the Videos app on your iPad and verify your movie is there.  Select it and you can now watch your movie without needing Wi-Fi.

This may take you longer the first few times you do it, but before you know it you will be a pro.

Holiday Gift Guide 2012: Home Theater Edition

Every household needs decent home theater accessories to go with their TV. This holiday season, get your loved ones the right gifts with these bestselling home theater items. We’ve made it easy for you to find out this year’s must-haves in consumer electronics so you’ll know you’re giving the best.

Apple TV

Average Price: $99

Category: Streaming media player

Apple TV lets you stream all of the movies and TV shows available in the iTunes Store to your HDTV on a rental or purchase basis, with purchases stored in the cloud. Netflix, MLB.TV, Hulu Plus, and a handful of other online media services are available, plus music, videos, and photos can be streamed from iPads, iPods and iPhones using AirPlay. AirPlay Mirroring lets you stream any Web video to the Apple TV, if you have a newer Mac running Mountain Lion.

Those who’ve already invested in iTunes content and Apple hardware will love Apple TV.

Roku 2 XD

Average Price: $65-$79

Category: Streaming media player

This digital media player supports signals up to 1080p and features built-in wireless networking that allows you to stream media to your TV, so you can enjoy your favorite TV shows, movies and more in stunning high-definition. Roku 2 XD offers hundreds of streaming-video and -audio services, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, Vudu, Pandora, Mog, Rdio, and MLB.TV. Roku also offers cross-platform search, capable of finding content across major streaming services.

For people who are not Apple fans and want to access Amazon Instant Video this device will suit your needs.

LG BP620 Blu-Ray Player

Average Price: $99

Category: Blu-Ray Player

If you want the best movie content and picture quality on your HDTV, you need a Blu-ray player. LG’s new Blu-ray player, the BP620, is an impressive device for its price. It features built-in Wi-Fi, plenty of online options, and 3D support.The BP620 offers a wide selection of streaming media services and both free and pay apps, accessible through the player’s built-in Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection. The Premium services are the most useful, and include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and several other streamed offerings. The LG apps are much less worthwhile, and include a middling selection of downloadable games and e-books.

The LG BP620 is an excellent budget Blu-ray player. It supports 3D, has built-in Wi-Fi, and its price makes it very friendly to budget-minded home theater owners. There are certainly more expensive options out there such as Sony Playstation 3 and Oppo BDP-93.

Logitech Harmony 650

Average Price: $59-79

Category: Universal Remote

The Harmony 650 is a powerful universal remote with easy set up, color LCD screen, surrounded by five contextual buttons; Web programmable via Windows or Mac PCs; excellent button layout and overall design; supports custom sequences/macros. It does only control 5 devices, so if you have more than that you may want to consider a different remote. Eliminate multiple remotes and get this very reasonable universal remote.

Sony HT-CT150 Soundbar

Average Price: $188-200

Category: Home Theater / Soundbar

The sound bar has become an extremely popular add-on purchase when shopping for a TV, especially if you don’t want a space-hogging multi-channel surround system. You shouldn’t have to deal with sound so bad it sours your experience with your gorgeous new display.

This 3D sound bar delivers immersive audio without running wires across the room or setting up extra speakers, so you can complete your 3D home entertainment experience with simple, yet powerful surround sound. The  32″ 3D sound bar home theater system features 3D compatibility and can also be turned into your entertainment hub by utilizing its 3 HDMI video outputs. The downfall is the wired subwoofer limits how far you can place it from the sound bar.

With easy setup and great sound, this is an excellent gift for under $200.

Energy Take Classic 5.1

Average Price: $299

Category: Home Theater / Surround Sound

If you are looking for home theater speakers, the Energy Take Classic 5.1 will leave you pleased with your listening experience.  The collection of high-tech components: satellites, subwoofer, and a center channel. Displayed in high-gloss black cabinets, this system looks as good as it sounds. The 200-watt, 8″ subwoofer provides pounding bass while four satellites and a center channel bring an expansive sound stage to the comfort of your home.

Altogether, the system is one of the best home theater values available.

Sony STR-DN1030 Receiver

Average Price: $449-498

Category: Home Theater / AV Receiver

Sony may not be the first brand you think of in connection with audio/video receivers, but that may be about to change with the STR-DN1030. This receiver is a wireless triple threat with Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity. And all of that is dongle-free.

Wired connectivity includes five HDMI inputs and one output, all on the back panel. There’s also an HD-capable component video output along with two component ins. Composite video switching is limited to two ins and two outs, and there are no S-video jacks. This should be enough to support an average system unless you’re loaded with legacy components. There is a wired Ethernet connection in addition to the built-in Wi-Fi antenna. And if you prefer to connect your iPhone or iPod to the front-panel USB jack.

The STR-DN1030 shows that the company can still make a great AV receiver. It may be slightly behind the Onkyo TX-NR616 in overall value, but it’s a better choice if you want more features built-in.

Watching the Oscars Tonight? Google Docs Has a Simple Voting Template

The 82nd Academy Awards ceremony will be taking place tonight and many movie enthusiasts like myself are making predictions for the recipients of this years’ awards.  If you want to make your own predictions or set up a wager with your friends, Google has created a special Google Docs template just for the Oscars.

To use the voting template, just head over to the Oscars template page and click Use this template at the top.  You will then be taken to Google Docs where you can customize the title of the form and add a message.

The voting sheet has already been populated with nominees in each category, so when you’re finished customizing just click Save.  You can view the form by clicking the link at the bottom of the Docs page.

If you want to share the voting form with your friends, simply click the Email this form button from the Docs page and enter as many email addresses as you like.  The form will be sent right to their inbox so they can easily fill it out.

After your friends have submitted the form, you can click the See Responses button from the Doc page.  Here you can view a summary of results (with graphs) as well as a complete spreadsheet of all data.

It's going to be a close competition...

The 82nd Academy Awards ceremony airs tonight at 5 pm pacific/7 pm central/8 pm eastern time.

Image credit: Dave_B_