lg connected tvIt would appear Netflix is taking their video streaming service very seriously.

According to Video Business, Netflix has revealed they spent $75 million on their streaming service in 2008, and that the amount wil increase to $100 million this year.  These funds will be used to acquire more titles for the service, one of the areas that has kept many people from getting excited over the offerings from the streaming service.  (We here at StarterTech are thrilled with the selection, but we’re unclear what that says about us…)  They will also be looking into better technology to improve the user experience with the service.

It is also expected that some time before the end of the year the company will introduce a streaming only subscription plan.

With the expected addition of new titles to the service, and no requirement to also rent physical DVDs, it isn’t hard to anticipate a sharp increase in the number of subscribers to this program.  While they do have to pay for the bandwidth to deliver these titles to customers, it has to be a fraction of what they spend on their physical operations with mailing costs, price for the envolopes, replacing damaged discs and so on.

Expect to see a lot more emphasis put on this category of their business as it seems to only be going up and up for them.

Categories: Home Electronics, News, Video   
 

red2blu logoStill have a stack of HD-DVDs laying around the house? Want to switch to Blu-ray finally? Finally there is a solution for you!

Although the HD-DVD/Blu-ray war ended over a year ago, there are still a lot of people who didn’t make the switch in formats when Blu-ray won due to the cost involved with purchasing their movies again.  Well, Warner Brothers has come up with a solution to help you with finally making the change.  Just go to Red2Blu.com and you can arrange to send in the sleeve artwork from your HD-DVDs (original copies only, limit of 1 copy of each film) to them, and for $4.95 you can get the Blu-ray copy of the same film.  You pay $6.95 shipping for the entire order ($8.95 in Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico) and you should receive your movies in 4 to 5 weeks.

While this is currently limited to Warner Brothers movies only, it isn’t hard to imagine that the other studios will follow suit in the not to distant future.  As someone who did go with HD-DVD, I am thrilled with the offer and will be shipping my product sleeves off immediately.  I am a bit surprised they allow you to keep the physical movies, but at least I’ll still be able to enjoy them for a while longer.

red2blu

Categories: Home Electronics   
 

zilliontv logoIf ZillionTV has their way, paying a monthly bill to cable and satellite providers may become a thing of the past.

No one liks paying their cable company or satellite company those high monthly subscription fees, but what can you do if you want to watch current television shows?  What if there was a company that allowed you to pay them a one time fee for a device that could then stream free content to your TV via the Internet for life?

While this may sound like a radical idea, it is exactly what the folks at ZillionTV are going to try to do.

zbarAfter you purchase the “ZBar”, which will be priced somewhere under $100, you will have 24/7 access to on-demand programming that will be subscription free.  The programming will include a mixture of content from 20th Century Fox Television to new releases and a selection of library titles from The Walt Disney Studios, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. Digital Distribution.  The content will be free to watch in an ad-supported format, but there will also be a mixture of programming you can rent to watch without ads as well as some that you can purchase to own.

To make the advertising less obtrusive, you will have some say in what ads are streamed to you by choosing which categories of products and services interest you.  To further encourage you to interact with the ads, they will also be launching a loyalty program that will reward you for the content and ads that you choose to explore.

The only drawback to the service is that it will require some pretty substantial speeds from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to deliver the content to you.  Standard definition viewing will require speeds of 3 Mbps, while high definition content will require 7 Mbps.  So while you may escape paying for cable programming, you will have to continue to have high speed access, and you will also have to see how this may effect any bandwidth caps you have with your ISP.

Currently ZillionTV will only be available only by an invite-only Beta program, which you can apply to here.  The devices are expected to be available widely to the mass market by the end of the year.

Categories: Gadgets, Home Electronics   
 

lg connected tvReports indicate that Netflix may begin having a streaming only subscription within the next year. For those of you who have been enjoying the streaming video service of Netflix, but find the requirement of also having a subscription to their mail order DVDs unnecessary, there will be a gift coming your way soon in the form of new subscription programs.  Under the current plans you must also subscribe to at least their “one DVD at a time” plan to enjoy unlimited streaming.

According to FeedFlix, a site dedicated to everything related to the video rental service, video streaming is quickly surpassing the physical division of the company (see graph below)so a new subscription plan that caters to streaming customers only makes sense if this trend continues.  This also makes financial sense to the company as it will cut down on employment costs, mailers, and replacement DVDs as copies of films wear out.  While they have couse have costs associated with the bandwidth for feeding the streams to consumers, they can be considerably less than all of the physical goods they use, as well as be better for the environment.

Look for the new plan to premiere in 2010.

streaming chart

Categories: Home Electronics   
 

analog televisionIt seems the stories of analog TV’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

While we’ve all seen the endless number of ads on television about how analog TV signals were going away on February 17th, it seems that isn’t the case any more.  Due to the actions of the Senate of the United States, it seems the stay of execucution for the old style over the air television signal will be extended until June 12th, 2009.  This new date has also been supported by President Obama, and many others in the government.

The reason for the delay is that there have been many problems with the $40 vouchers to get the necessary converter boxes.  Extending the deadline will keep millions of people from losing their television signal come the day of the transition.  Although, we here at StarterTech are a little befuddled that there are still that many people receiving their television signals this way.

As always, please remember that if you receive your TV via a cable company or home dish system, you do not need a converter box, and this change over will have absolutely no effect on you.

Categories: Home Electronics, News   
 

lg connected tvThe annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has made it clear that the age of the Internet connected TV is definitely upon us.

It would seem that every HDTV manufacturer is coming out with a TV that interacts with the Internet in one way or another.  Whether it be streaming content from a site like Netflix, getting information from Yahoo Widgets, or even interacting with social networking sites like MySpace, there seems to be little bits of the Internet popping up all over the place.

LG

LG Electronics is going to be building the ability to stream the Netflix Watch Instantly service right into their units.  The only problem is that you are looking at a $300 boost to the price for the privilege.

Samsung

Samsung is going the extra step by allowing you to not only connect to your home network via an Ethernet cable, but they will support 802.11a/b/g/n wireless networking capabilities via a wireless USB dongle.  Depending on the placement and size of the dongle, this may cause a problem with TV placement, but we will have to see.

The new networking feature will be called Internet@TV and will allow you to use the Yahoo Widget Engine for all sorts of content like Flickr, news, weather, sports scores and so on. Also, with connection to your home network, you will be able to stream music, video and pictures from other computers in your home.

Sony

The Sony BRAVIA line doesn’t list all of the services it will be working with, but it does mention Amazon Video on Demand, Flickr, Slacker, Yahoo Widget Engine and YouTube.

Toshiba

Later this year, Toshiba will adding a lot of computer goodies to their REGZA line.  You will be able to add widgets to your TV for things like local weather, top news stories, favorite sports scores, stock quotes, pictures, videos and more.

They will also be adding support for Microsoft’s Extender for Windows Media Center.  This will allow you, via your TV remote, to control the video files on your connected computer, and play them directly to your television.  No more having to go through a third item like an XBox 360.

vizio remote

Vizio

Vizio seems to want to really leap out in front of the competition, and is cramming streaming compatibility for just about everything you can think of into their television sets this year.

Their sets this year will, besides putting in the Yahoo Widget Engine everyone seems to be adding, include Accedo Broadband gaming, Amazon Video on Demand, Blockbuster OnDemand, Flickr, Netfix Watch Instantly, Pandora and Rhapsody.  Controlling all of this should also be a breeze as you can see from the picture of their remote.  Who would have ever thought we would see a TV remote with a slide out QWERTY keyboard?

Conclusion

While all of this is very exciting, all of this technology is still in its infancy.  Prices this year will be inflated, and you are almost guaranteed that the 2010 models of these televisions will have major improvements over the ones released this year.  I personally would recommend not rushing out to purchase any of this technology quite yet.  Give it some time to mature, and for the prices of the included hardware to drop.

There is no doubt that this is an exciting time in the advancements of TV technology, and it almost makes you wonder why we will even need cable or satellite television providers some day.  The TV is moving in to a new age where it is not merely a way to display a signal you receive from an antenna, but in to a true, self-contained entertainment provider.  There is quite possibly a day coming where people will buy a TV and an Internet connection, and leave the programming providers completely out of the equation.

Cable companies and satellite providers need to start getting very, very nervous.

Categories: Home Electronics   
 

calibratedWhile we have already warned you about extended warranties, you also need to be warned about all of the little extra services companies will try to sell you.

The folks over at Dvice (which also take credit for the picture shown here) are warning their readers about an apparent scam being run by Best Buy.  They will show you two HD televisions shown the same image, and you can clearly see the “calibrated” unit has a much sharper image.  For $300 they will help you “calibrate” your set to get the best image you can.  The problem is that it appears the better image is being shown via an HDMI connection while the poorer picture is being transmitted by either composite cables or other standard definition means.

This is not adefinitive example of the problems with add-ons ervices, but it sure looks like it.  It is, however, another perfect example of how you should research things online.  Go on a search engine, search on “calibrating your HD TV” and you can probably find people telling you how to do it, or if you even need to bother.  And this goes for any and all services that stores might try to sell you.

Remember, stores want to sell you as much as possible, but you always need to ask yourself if you really need what it is their selling you.

Categories: Home Electronics   
 

With the latest update of the XBox 360, Microsoft enabled the ability to stream movies from Netflix to your gaming console, but is it worth it?

While people have been able to streammovies from the popular video rental service Netflix to their computers, they are trying hard now to get those streamed videos to yur TV.  When Microsoft updated their XBox 360 dashboard in November, they made it possible to stream the videos to your console, and then use that to show the videos on your full-sized TV.  Unable to resist such a convenient way to watch movies, and with a family member about to undergo surgery which will have him on the couch recovering for weeks, we signed up with Netflix to give it a try.

So, how is it?  Let’s break it down:

Pros

  • Easy to set up.
  • Videos look amazingly clear considering their source.

Cons

  • Have to use a computer to add things to your ue before trying to stream them.
  • Selection is mostly old or odd ball movies, but with over 12,000 titles there is sure to be something for every one.

We do recommend the service, and considering you can get unlimited streaming for as low as $8.99 a month, and the old television shows selection alone is worth it, we suggest you treat yourself if you don’t already belong!

Categories: Home Electronics, Video Games   
 

It appears that some of the big retailers in the United States are going to try to get an early jump on the holiday shopping season.

Traditionally one has to wait until the day after Thanksgiving, also known as “Black Friday”, to find really good deals on electronics, but it seems Kmart and Walmart have some different ideas this year.  Starting this weekend, November 8th and 9th, both retailers are going to be putting some items on special that are of particular interest to technology and gadget enthusiasts.

KMart

The big item of interest here is going to be a 32 inch Sylvania LCD HDTV LC320SS9 for $499, normally it is $550.  While this set is in the low end of HDTVs, it is certainly a great price to jump into having a nice flat screen TV in your home.

Other items of interest include:

  • Nextar Q4 GPS for $99.99
  • Kodak M763 camera for $129.99
  • Wii Fit for $89.99

Considering there have been shortages of the Wii Fit in some places, that will probably be the hottest item of this weekend.

Walmart

Walmart is coming out with their guns blazing by offering a Compaq CQ-139WM 15.4″ laptop with 2GB RAM and 160GB hard drive for $298.00.  Unfortunately there is no information about this laptop on their website, and we have no idea on its processor, operating system and so on, but at $298, we wouldn’t suggest you expect much out of it.  Compaq used to be a uality company until HP bought them up, so it will probably be pretty lackluster.  I would suggest you buy this as a backup or possibly using it to doing things like just streaming video to your TV.

Other items of interest include:

  • PlayStation 3 for $399 with a $100 Walmart gift card
  • PlayStation 2 for $129 with a $30 Walmart gift card
  • Selected PS3 games for $19.82 each
  • Magnavox Blu-ray player for $198, was $229

The PlayStation 3 might make a good way to get a decent Blu-ray player, but the actual player is also tempting.

Anything listed here would be a great way to get an early leap on your holiday gift shopping, and with these sales not being widely known, you won’t even have to fight crowds!

Categories: Home Electronics, News, Video Games   
 

Ever wanted to control your thermostat from any computer in the world? Well, now you can.

The popular site Ars Technica brought this to our attention a few days ago, and it was just too cool not to research more on our own.  The Ecobee thermostat features a nice touchscreen interface that is easy to read and use, but the true uniuqeness comes in the fact it can also talk to your Wi-Fi network.

Why in the world would you want your thermostat connected to the Internet?  Well, once you buy the Ecobee, you register it with the company and you get a personalized web portal to log into and you can change any of the settings just as if you were standing in front of the physical control.  You can set dates you’ll be on vacation, turned on preset “QuickSave” settings and more.  Imagine an iPhone app for this and it really would be like you were living in the future.

If you wonder why this is noteworthy, think about the implications for what else you could be controlling in the future if something like this takes off.  You could turn your lights on and off while on vacation.  Leave the house and forget to turn off the stove?  We are slowly creeping towards everything in the home using Wi-Fi to give you on the go control, and if you add in cell phone applications, you could be coming home to a house that has turned on the lights and drawn your bath for you.  Sure it may have taken longer than futurists envisioned, but the remote controlled house seems to be inching towards reality.

Categories: Green Living, Home Electronics   
 
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