The Apple TV is great; I am a big fan and a happy owner, but until recently, I used to just buy a show or movie on my computer and then watch it on my Apple TV. However, when you buy or rent content on the second or third generation Apple TV, the device automatically assumes you want your video in HD. Not only does it assume you want HD, it doesn’t give you the option to purchase the SD version, which is considerably cheaper.
When you purchase content on your computer, you get the choice of buying/renting either the HD or SD option. Personally, I could care less about HD and would rather buy the SD version to save some money. It might only be a few dollars difference, but it all adds up in the end.
I always thought the only way to get the SD version of a TV show or movie was to go through iTunes on my computer, but I recently discovered a setting on the Apple TV that allows you to purchase SD versions, and it’s quite a simple trick.
First, go into “Settings” on your Apple TV, and then go down to the “iTunes Store”:
Within that menu is a setting for “Video Resolution”, with three options. If you choose the “Standard Definition” option, every video you purchase through the Apple TV will now be in SD and at SD pricing. If ever want something in HD, though, you can always go back and change the setting to “High Definition”, or buy the HD version through iTunes on your computer first.
This not only saves you some extra cash, but it also saves you inconvenient trips to your computer everytime you want to purchase a TV show or movie from iTunes. Happy watching!
For those missing out on getting free stuff for watching TV, welcome to the world of Viggle. Open to all iOS and Android users, this app allows us to “check in” to live TV shows or movies, which earn points toward gifts and discounts. Free to download and working with our current tube-watching schedules, it’s an app that might change the way we indulge in entertainment.
How Viggle works
The next time you sit down to watch Bones or Who’s the Boss reruns, just click “check in” and point your mic toward the TV. Viggle then identifies the program (it’s usually right, but sometimes takes a few tries, or if the show can’t be located you can type it in) and rewards you that show’s respective points. The earlier you check in to the show, the more point will be rewarded. Ad points are also offered, and there’s a sign-up wall where points can be earned for signing up for credit cards, etc.
Of course this sounds too good to be true, but it works, I swear. In about 10 months, I earned $90 worth of gift cards to various stores. I checked in only when it was convenient and made no extra efforts to find a TV when I wasn’t already watching. BUT this was also during the glory days of Viggle. Shows were often rewarded at 300-400 points a pop, 75 and 100-point ads were given freely, and only 14,000 points were needed to earn a $10 iTunes card.
Living high and loose caught up with the brand, and now primetime shows are 50 points, most with trivia, and ads are few and far between. Earning $10 will now cost 20k points, or the equivalent in iTunes dollars (when available) costs a whopping 25k points.
Making it worthwhile
With these rapid inflation of points (and subsequent loss in what shows are worth), Viggle took a quick turn toward not being worth the effort. But, it’s still free money for watching TV, right? To earn the same amount of points, we simply have to get creative when using the app.
To earn more points:
Check in at the beginnings of shows. If you wait until the last half (even if you watched the whole show), points or prorated for the amount of minutes documented.
Watch sports. Sporting events offer more bang for your time. Check out local showtimes and cash in.
Play the games. Whether it be MyGuy, which allows players to earn based off players’ performances, or trivia, which gives points for right (and even wrong) answers, play along. These may drain your phone battery, but offer a significant swing in point totals. (Between check ins, ads, and trivia, I earned nearly 2k points during the Grammys.)
Watch the ads. Even if you don’t watch them, “watch” them (we can only stand the same commercial so many times). These can be anywhere from 5 to 150 points.
Check in at prime time. While these shows are listed at 50, Viggle is notorious for giving out check-in bonuses that often double or triple your points. We may never know what they’re going to be, but the surprise is definitely worth it.
For bulk points, check out Viggle’s wall. Many require shopping or company sign ups, but you can also find videos; the offers are always changing.
Who says you can’t get something for nothing? With Viggle, earn gift cards and merchandise just for watching TV. And with the tips above, you’re sure to earn as many points as possible.
You may soon be able to watch cable television on Microsoft’s Xbox Live gaming service. Microsoft is rumored to be joining Comcast and Verizon to provide a cable-esque service on Xbox Live. No details are out as of yet, so allow me to speculate and dream like a wee lad looking at the wrapped boxes under a pine tree in December.
A cable service on Xbox Live would be incredibly convenient to people who hate having 16 set-top boxes and remotes hanging out all over the living room. It also would allow you to have cable television service without a physical cable line. At this very minute I’m watching non-cable TV only because the TV I have does not fit well on the wall where the cable outlet is. I don’t want to run cords all over the place, so cable isn’t hooked up. I do however, have an Xbox with a wireless adapter – that means I could watch ESPN3 on my TV through my Xbox. This could prove to be incredibly convenient, and would make having to route cable through walls and ceilings a thing of the past.
Something else I would love to see would be a little more customization on what you can choose to watch/pay for. I would love to be able to pay for a few different groups of channels. If I could grab just some ESPN channels and a few premium channels (I’m hoping those come to Xbox as well), I would be set. I have always wanted to be able to just watch HBO or Showtime without purchasing a full cable subscription.
Overall, Microsoft’s decision to join Comcast in the cable biz was a pretty smart one. Gaming consoles have become significantly more that just video-game-playing machines. I would say I use my Xbox for non-game uses more frequently than for playing games. Allowing the ability to watch cable television will only add to the uses of the console. All of a sudden it might not be such a waste to own more than one Xbox! The new feature could definitely help sell some more consoles for Microsoft as well as keep them relevant after a new console comes out in the future.
It’s a fact: Gone are the days that homes are built with computer rooms and family/living rooms in their floor plans. The future of sit-down family entertainment is here, and dear lord its about time. This month, my family decided to purchase a nice, new Samsung Series 6 6300 LED TV and a brand new Samsung Blu-Ray player. Now this purchase is not something new to the modern home, but in this case something new was hiding behind that TV that made the situation different. Something exciting. It was…a LAN connection.
Yes, you heard me right. A LAN connection on a HDTV. And let’s be honest, it made perfect sense. As the realm of internet connectivity and availability expands in our lives, the lines between specific devices doing specific things are getting blurred. If phones can tweet, web surf, and even become a router via tethering, why can’t televisions connect to your home internet network? A web-enabled TV in the living room is just plain, simple natural evolution.
Okay so maybe all this is old news to most techies out there. But regardless, if Microsoft has been advertising this innovation for years or not, I just had to try it out for myself.
For my computing test bed, I used an Asus 1005HA netbook running Windows 7 Home Premium and connected to the local family network. On the TV end, Samsung has a built-in program called AllShare that lets the TV connect and play media from the local area network. This type of TV connectivity is in part thanks to the Digital Living Network Alliance (hence the acronym DLNA), a coordinated effort of major companies to allow inter-accessibility between devices and products. Since the main point of DLNA (and Samsung’s AllShare) is to connect media, of course Windows 7 and Windows Media Player fits the bill quite well.
Setting Up Windows Media Player
Using homegroups and Windows Media Player in Windows 7 is easy. First, make sure all your photos, videos, and music are in the right libraries and that you are allowing them to be shared in your homegroup. Then, load Windows Media Player and hit the nice big “Stream” button in the middle to begin the TV/computer sharing fun.
Windows Media Player allows two methods of sharing your files with your home network: allowing devices to play your media, and allowing full remote access to your media. But before these can be explored, let’s set up Windows Media Player by allowing internet access to your home media. To ensure that your media is not being accessed by hooligans and ruffians on the internet, Windows 7 does this by linking your media access to your Windows Live account. Sounds safe enough, right?
Once this is done, Windows Media Player is ready to allow media to be allowed on DLNA TV.
Sending Media to Your TV
Like I mentioned before, there are two ways to show your media on your TV through Windows Media Player (weren’t you listening?). Here is method one: pushing media to the TV while using your computer. First, we need to allow devices to play any media.
As you can see by the nice screenshot above, the Samsung TV is not only on the network but has been allowed to see my shared media. Next, let’s find a file to push to the TV. This is done by right clicking on the file and picking the “Play To” option in Windows Media Player.
If all goes well, your TV should ask if you want to play the video (just in case you changed your mind). After a tough choice of clicking either “Allow” or “Deny,” your video should start streaming to your TV.
Now that is all fine and dandy, but what if you want your TV to find the files AND play media?
Getting Your TV to Find and Play Media
Now this is where DLNA gets cool. Not only can you stream files from your computer to your TV, but you can also access them from the comfort of your couch via the TV’s remote. This process, called remote access, is done by clicking the “Allow Remote Control of My Player” option under the “Stream” menu in Windows Media Player.
The specific TV you purchased will determine how it accesses files. For the Samsung Series 6, one must first hit the “Media P” button on the remote and enter the Media Play program to start playing files.
If all goes well, your computer should show up as the default device to connect to. Otherwise, it should not be too hard to make it the selected device. From here, it is just as simple as flicking those fingers on that remote to begin browsing media files!
So there you have it. Thanks to the cooperation of companies, computers, HDTV’s, and a local area network, one can turn their living room into a connected media/living/computer room. Gone are the days of gathering the media around the TV. It’s time to gather the TV around the media.
Do you have an older computer sitting around and don’t know what to do with it? An old computer can be repurposed to serve as a TV, print server, file server, music server, kitchen recipe computer, and much more. I’ll take you through a few of the ideas, including the things you’ll need and give you a general push in the right direction to help you get started.
The TV Computer
What you’ll need:
TV with VGA, DVI, HDMI or, as a last ditch effort, S-Video input (an LCD will make this way more awesome)
Video card that supports one of the above outputs
Wireless card if your router isn’t close enough to run a cable
Wireless keyboard and mouse
A spare computer monitor for setup (if you have a tube TV with S-Video)
I’ll mostly cover the setup for a tube TV with S-video. The concept is the exact same for a flat panel, you just don’t need a second monitor.
After getting that all set up nicely, plug in the S-Video cable to the TV set. A small issue with a tube TV and S-video is that the resolution is not very high, and Windows 7 does not like to go below 800×600, so consider using newer LCD or plasma TV. Just plug in a DVI or VGA cable for video and a 3.5mm cable for sound.
This setup works great if you do not have cable TV as you can stream plenty of content through Netflix, Hulu and other web based entertainment sites. The PC has become my DVD player as well, and if you have a Slingbox this will also do a great job.
If you invest some money into a capture card on a higher-end PC, you can have your own DVR and not pay the cable company for their DVR service. The capture card will require a computer with hardware like a dual core processor and 2 GB of ram, depending on the card.
What you’ll need:
Computer running XP or better (or OSX/Linux if you’re familiar with them)
Printer with USB or LPT port
Monitor for setup
Mouse and keyboard
If you are not fortunate enough to have a wireless printer, or have to share your printer with other people, don’t go buy a fancy new printer; you can just follow these steps and put that old computer to use. This can be particularly useful in a college house with several roommates who need to print PowerPoint slides and lecture notes.
After the initial setup, this computer won’t require a permanent monitor, mouse, or keyboard. Set the power settings to save power, and make sure you have “wake on LAN” enabled so when it gets a signal from someone to print it will come out of standby mode. Make sure you don’t set a password on the user account, so the computer is ready to go right when it starts up.
Manually assigning an IP address would also be a good idea so you can always find the printer computer on the network. The computer should finally be configured to share a printer over the network.
On the computers that will print to the print server, you need to add a network printer at the IP address assigned before. You should now be able to share the printer with anybody who needs it, driver free.
Side note: Installing some sort of VNC software so you can administer the server from a different computer without needing to hook up a monitor will save you headaches later.
Setting up a file server is very similar to the print server setup, except that you enable a folder to be shared instead of a printer.
What you’ll need:
Computer running XP, Vista, Windows 7, OSX, or Linux
Network connection (Gigabit LAN will make it much faster if you have the proper equipment)
250 + gigabytes of storage space, or what ever you see fit
Much like the printer setup, you first need to get a fresh copy of your OS of choice installed. Once that’s done, create some folders to put your shared data in. Windows makes user control pretty easy, letting you set permissions on each folder on a user-to-user basis.
Linux can offer a more secure way for this if you know what you are doing, but Samba isn’t as fast as Windows-to-Windows transfers. Most importantly, you needs to consider the operating systems of the people who will use the server. If everybody uses Windows, then a Windows server is best. If you have some Apple computers mixed in with the PCs, Linux may be your best choice. Also, if you have OSX running and you’re sharing from an NTFS drive, you WILL have slower read/write speeds. You’re better off formatting the drive as FAT32 or JFS.
Side note: Just like the print server, you’ll probably want to install remote access software so you can access the computer later.
The Music Server
What you’ll need:
Computer with iTunes installed
Network connection (doesn’t have to be very fast)
Receiver or good speakers
iPod Touch or iPhone with remote installed, a PowerPoint remote control, or some other way to change the song wirelessly
Depending on your sound system. you may need a better sound card in the PC
The first step is to open iTunes and allow the device to change songs on that computer. Installing a Pandora or Last.FM client may also be a good idea if this computer has a permanent monitor. Next, hook the computer up to some speakers or a receiver and control the music via the device you set up earlier. As before, installing VNC software for remote administration is a good idea.
Side note: iPod Touches have a fun DJ request function with iTunes.
Other uses for old laptops
Car computer (requires a power inverter)
Digital picture frame
User account management server
What uses have you found for old computers? Let us know in the comments section below!
Netflix Instant Watch, a popular movie and TV streaming service, has just become available for Windows 7 users in Windows Media Center. This feature was added for Windows Vista users earlier this year, and the Windows 7 update comes just before the official launch of Microsoft’s newest operating system this Thursday.
If you haven’t received the update yet, you can manually update Windows Media Center by going to Tasks –> Settings–> General–> Automatic Download Options and click the manual update button.
Netflix Instant Watch in Windows Media Center offers you an incredibly streamlined experience if you are using your computer as a home theater PC. In the Instant Watch application you can view your instant queue, DVD queue, and browse dozens of recommended offerings from Netflix’s library of 12,000+ titles.
Want to see more? Check out the image gallery below.
Hulu – the mega-popular TV and movie streaming site backed by NBC, Fox, and others – has just launched a desktop application for both Windows and Mac that allows you to stream all Hulu content on your PC.
Hulu Desktop adds support for Windows Media Center and Apple remotes, which will allow you to treat your PC as an entertainment center. Like the Hulu website, Hulu Desktop requires Adobe Flash to be installed – however, the application is written natively for Windows and Apple so no other software is required.
One of the biggest benefits Hulu Desktop provides is the ability to turn your TV-connected computer into a replacement for cable TV. Hulu broadcasts many mainstream TV shows about a day after they air, and by hooking your computer to a TV you’ll be able to watch them just like you would if you were paying for cable.
Hulu Desktop is currently in beta and is a part of Hulu’s newly-launched Labs site. Even if you don’t have your computer connected to a TV, Hulu Desktop still provides an improved viewing experience without having to rely on your web browser. For an overview of the software, check out the video below:
Hulu Desktop is a free download for Windows and Mac. [Download: Windows or Mac]