Remember 2005? In 2005, Panasonic introduced the TH-65PX500. It was the world's first 65" 1080p Plasma (the press for the display actually defined the HDMI acronym). It was a cool $9k. In 2005 I was using a Nokia N-Gage as my phone - it didn't have a camera, but it did allow me to install "apps." Yes, I had a web browser on my phone back then, too. Twitter wouldn't be born for another year, and you still had to be a college student to join Facebook. The iPhone wasn't really even a rumor, and Apple was still 100% PowerPC (ok that, that last one was geeky).
The other day I posted a pic to Twitter. This was a snapshot pic of my son, sitting in front of our 65" plasma screen (no, it wasn't even close to $9k) playing a computer game. My son will never know that playing computer games on that screen just isn't "normal." We don't watch traditional "TV," instead everything we watch is delivered through the internet, on DVD/Blu-ray, or on our AppleTV. Back to the picture... close to 1,000 people were able to see the pic, a pic I took with my phone - instantly. Remember having to download images to your computer before using them? Or, if you're old enough, dropping off film rolls to be developed? Yikes.
There are things in our lives, things we use every day that just a few short years ago didn't exist. We didn't perceive a need for them, or they just simply weren't possible. These are the same things that many people relentlessly complain about of course - forgetting how amazing the technology really is. Here's a quick example: "the iPad doesn't have a camera, or USB ports." Really?
As you move though your day, give each piece of technology in your lives a few seconds of respect. No, technology isn't perfect, and no it's not always obvious. But the stuff we have today is amazing, and it's just going to get better.
What do you see that is just amazing?
One evening, while on the topic of high speed internet, a friend of mine told me that he'd just upgraded his cable modem and was now getting even faster internet. Comcast, our local cable internet provider had recently upgraded the network in Colorado to DOCSIS 3.0. Among other things, DOCSIS 3.0 in Colorado means internet speeds - from the usual 4Mbps service, to insane 100Mbps+ speeds. If faster internet is available, you can bet I'm going to want it. (Note, I said want, not need).
I dropped by Best Buy and bought the same Motorola SURFboard SB6120 Rich had. It was $85 before tax, but frees me from the $5/mo cable modem rental fee. Over time, I expect this modem to pay for itself (and eventually save us a little cash).
Installation couldn't have been easier. Unplug the old modem, plug the new one in, and call Comcast (1-800-COMCAST) to activate it. All I had to do was tell them that I bought my own modem and they did the rest. At one point I joked with the agent (as the firmware was being updated) that "this is where you install that secret back door for the NSA, right?" and guess what she said? She said "Yes" then snickered a few seconds later. I wish I'd recorded that.
After that call (and agreeing to pay more per month of course), my speed tests went to a consistent 35Mbps down. I was able to achieve that consistently as well (I'll share how further down). A few days later, friends on the Boulder Comcast DOCSIS 3.0 network mentioned that their upgrades were achieving 50Mbps speeds. Again, if there's faster, I want it.
So again I called Comcast, and asked if the 50Mbps speeds were available in my area. The short answer was yes, but there was a problem: my modem. The current firmware for theMotorola SURFboard SB6120 has issues going over 35Mbps with Comcast. The support rep says, as he hears the deflation of my spirits, "Will you hold for a second? I need to make a call." I was in luck - the call he made was to a team that specializes in baking firmware - and the answer he got was "We can build something for the SB6120 that will work until it's released publicly."
Now I'm at an official 50Mbps. While connected directly to the modem in the basement, I tested out at a whopping 63Mbps. The extra 13Mbps is attributed to what's called "burst mode" on Comcast. It allows you to get incredibly fast (more than you pay for) speed for a short period of time, then as usage progresses you're dropped back to the speed you've paid for.
A series of tests later, I determined that my wireless router was now a speed trap. I wasn't getting anywhere near the speeds on the wired (or wireless) network that I was able to achieve while plugged directly in to the modem. After reading reviews, I decided to upgrade my wireless router to an Apple AirPort Extreme (Gigabit). That did the trick, and now everywhere in the house (wired or not) we get 50Mbps+ internet (all of our "phone jacks" are actually RJ45, and plugged in to a gigabit switch).
Here's where this post relates to it's title. I was able to achieve greater than 50Mbps in testing by doing things that would never happen in the real world. For example, downloading 15 HD trailers simultaneously from Yahoo! HD Trailers, downloading three 500MB software updates from Apple, and streaming a Netflix movie.
But who does that?
My question to you, dear reader, is what kinds of things are out there that can actually utilize a low latency 50Mbps internet connection at home? Have you encountered, or do you know of real world services (legal only please) that are capable of stressing this connection?
Motorola SURFboard eXtreme Broadband Cable Modem
Apple AirPort Extreme Wireless-N Wireless Base Station
Yahoo! HD Trailers
Unless you're a live sports fan, Cable and satellite subscriptions are no longer required. Internet sources in the living room are becoming a common means of video entertainment - most TV shows, from today's popular hits to classic TV shows are available for viewing online. Movies of all kinds are available for rent (or purchase), without the hassle of the local video store. A few clicks with the right setup will put you square into video heaven - legally too!
I'd like to help you with the process, if even just to experiment. My bet is that you're going to love it. We made the switch and have never looked back.
You'll need a display with an input that your computer can use. I use the term "display" because it helps to think of your TV (plasma, LCD, etc.) simply as a monitor for the computer in the living room. Once you get accustomed to this setup, referring to it as "television" just won't make sense. There is no broadcasting going on here, or airwaves for that matter.
So how do you connect the display to the computer in the living room? Our display has HDMI and Component video inputs. Many late model displays also have a "PC" input - a standard VGA connection. You'll need a cable that connects your computer to the the input on your TV. We use an HDMI to DVI cable to make our connection. Leave a comment if you need help figuring out exactly what you need, though HDMI to DVI is pretty common.
Our Panasonic VIERA S1 Series 65" Plasma, with a homemade PC running Windows 7 ultimate.
Choosing a computer for the living room will likely be the hardest part of the process. I've seen everything from an Apple Mac mini, to a dedicated MacBook. Some people just connect a laptop to the display when they want to watch internet based content. The computer we use is a custom built PC running Windows 7 Ultimate. This choice usually comes down to what you're willing to spend though. What's your budget? Do you have a PC sitting in the closet collecting dust because you switched to a Mac? Use that, it will likely do the trick.
Once you get everything connected, you'll want some great content to explore. Here are a few of our favorites. Don't forget to click the "full screen" icon available in most players.
Boxee: Boxee is an application that provides access to a variety of video (and audio) source on the internet. It's objective is to create a common interface to the sources, allowing people of all skill levels to enjoy it. There's also a social aspect with friends, sharing, and more (my screen name is msitarzewski. Price: FREE.
Hulu: Current TV shows from the major networks (CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox) as well as a library of full length movies, and a really nice selection of older TV shows. Hulu also has a desktop application with a nice interface for exploring their content. Price: FREE.
Netflix: Netflix has a really nice library of "Watch Instantly" movies, from recent releases to a huge archive of older classics. We subscribe to the smallest package that has unlimited streaming ($9/mo). That price point also entitles you to one DVD through the mail at a time. The DVD by mail option is fantastic for current releases. Price: $9/mo and up.
Amazon VOD: Amazon VOD (Video On Demand) has a great selection of movies to rent (from $2.99 in most cases). You can watch them in the browser, or download them to your computer to watch later. Many newer Blu-ray players and TVs also have access to Amazon VOD rentals (and purchases). Price: $2.99 to $3.99 to rent standard definition movies. Purchase prices start at $5.
1. HDMI. 2. Component Video. 3. VGA. 4. HDMI to DVI
What's with all of the hype around the iPhone? Haven't we had phones that have all of these features for years? In 2003 (6 years ago!) I had the Nokia N-Gage. I was able to install apps, play games, browse the web, and text like crazy. Ok, so it didn't have a camera, but I had plenty of friends with cameras in their phones, and some of them even did video.
In 2006 I had the Cingular 8125, a Windows Mobile based phone that had a completely customizable interface. It took pictures and video, it could do email, SMS, and had a neat slide out keyboard. Let's not forget the swanky stylus! It had Bluetooth, and WIFI too, and that was three years ago. I loaded all kinds of custom ROMs on it, and installed apps like crazy.
So why is the iPhone so great? It's just now getting features that have been in other phones for years, right? Let's take a look.
It was June 29th, 2007, I had been in line for about 15 hours, we camped out of course. I ended up being second in Boulder to get my hands on an iPhone - the line was around the corner and then some. We all had certain expectations of course - it was called the "Jesus Phone" after all. It had it's short comings, no Flash, no GPS, no 3G, the keyboard was weird, and the pricing? Yikes.
Then came July 11, 2008. We got started a little earlier in the evening this time, but I still ended up third line line. Not too bad for a line of hundreds. Again, the iPhone was the next best thing to water, though it still had it's shortcomings. The camera hadn't changed at all, and there was still no video. Turn by turn directions were nowhere to be found, voice dialing, and a decent Bluetooth implementation were missing. Don't forget Copy and Paste. And again I bought it, the white 16GB to be exact.
Then came June 18th, 2009. This time there were two lines: those that had reserved their phones ahead of time, and those that hadn't. I fell in the second line, in third place. I ended up being about 15thish into the store. Sure there are things missing from the iPhone 3Gs, like... SMS groups, Flash, and a "complete" Bluetooth A2DP profile, but you know what I've determined? It doesn't matter. It really doesn't.
I've been asked by many - what is all the hype about? Why are people so passionate about the iPhone. The Blackberry does all of this stuff, and has forever. There's the Palm Pre, and the newer Andriod phones are full of features too.
Let me tell you why I think the iPhone is a popular as it is. It's because all of it's features, the things that make the iPhone what it is, are right beneath the your fingers. Nothing makes this more clear than having my three year old (at the time) pick up my iPhone 2G and scroll through the photos, pinching and zooming away. A day later, he was taking pictures, and playing accelerometer based games. I would have never given him my 8125 (well, I did later as a toy without service).
The iPhone is so great because everything you want to do is right at your finger tips. It's not buried under levels of menus or mouse (nub) clicks away. There is no "start menu" and there's no need for a stylus. Want to take a picture? Touch the Camera. Want to send an SMS? Touch the chat bubble.
But you get far more with the iPhone than a simple phone. You get the internet to your pocket. It gives everyone the ability to keep in touch, have fun, and learn. Anywhere with a wireless signal.
Note: Apple is on the third version of the iPhone software. The software is freely available to all iPhone owners, including those of the original iPhone. This brings lots of features to a three year old phone, including copy and paste, and better performance. Think about it. Apple still releases software for it's first phone giving it new features.
This is a story that cable and satellite TV providers will find increasingly familiar. It's possible and even easy to ditch your cable/satellite box for good. We've done it - I'll show you what we use, and if you have questions ask away - I'd love the answer them. First up? AppleTV.
AppleTV is hands down the easiest way to get internet based video to your HDTV. It has outputs for any HDTV, and makes online viewing of TV shows and movies an absolute breeze. You don't need a computer to use it, but if you have one it also acts a lot like an iPod. You can sync your music and movies from your computer to the AppleTV giving you access to tens of thousands of songs with the click of a little white remote. CD changers are so ancient in comparison.
The AppleTV gives you a couple of options for watching movies. First, you can rent movies for between $.99 on sale and $3.99 (for an HD version of a new release). Once you start watching a rented movie, you'll have 24 hours to finish it, or it simply evaporates. If you don't start watching it right away, you'll have 30 days to start, then the same rules apply. The other option is to buy the movie outright, allowing you to watch it entirely on your own schedule. Purchasing movies costs between $4.99 (on sale) and $14.99, depending on the movie. Either way, the movie will sync to your computer giving you the option of watching it there or to move it to an iPod or an iPhone.
Television shows from many major networks are available for purchase through the AppleTV. They're $1.99 per episode, and aren't available for rent. You can buy entire seasons of shows through the iTunes store, just as you can on DVD. Many shows are also available as a subscription - they'll be downloaded automatically as soon as they're available - usually the day after they air on TV.
If that wasn't enough, Apple gives you access to the entire iTunes music store as well. You can buy songs and albums right from your TV - no more trips to the CD store or even to your computer. You can literally click and buy music. Since every song in the iTunes store is now DRM free (you can play it anywhere) there's no reason not to buy from Apple.
All in all, the AppleTV is an amazing device, whether or not you have a computer. If you're going to use it to watch movies and TV shows from the iTunes store, you'll want to have reasonably fast broadband internet access. AppleTV is $224 at Amazon.
Most popular shows on television are also available through the network's website. It's been a slow transition - just a couple of years ago, very few shows were available online legally making it pretty much impossible to enjoy. A few startups have popped up that make this process ever easier: Hulu for TV shows and a small library of movies, Boxee for movies and other internet based content, and Netflix for thousands of "watch it now" online movies. Other options include Amazon Video On Demand, Crackle, and of course the iTunes store.
There are really two options for getting these kinds of sources to your TV. The first is to simply connect a computer to your TV. Many HDTVs have the most basic connector - the VGA connector - and almost all newer HDTVs have Component and HDMI. Your video card will always support VGA, but may need an adaptor to connect to the other types. Once you've made this connection, watching TV from from website is as simple as going to the site, finding the show, and clicking the "full screen" button.
Finding a PC to connect to your TV can be a challenge. I built my own, but there are many options available to you if you'd prefer to just buy one. There's the Apple Mac Mini for starters, and there are a slew of Home Theater PCs too running Windows of some kind. If you'd like me to help you build one, let me know below and we can work on details and pricing.
Another way to get these shows to your computer is to buy a set top box that was developed for just this purpose. One such box is the Roku Digital Video Player - for just $99, this box connects to your broadband internet and your TV giving you access to Amazon On Demand and Netflix instantly. I've never used a Roku Digital Video Player, but I've never heard anything bad about it by those that have.
Every Thursday for the past 5 years, my wife Heather and I have hosted a dinner party we've come to call Survivorhetti (thanks to David Cohen for the name). A group of friends come over for dinner, wine, and dessert. As a part of the evening we watch several TV programs depending on what's in season. Survivor is the focus, but other shows enter and leave the evening. Dollhouse, Eureka, Lost!, and Smallville have all been staples - lately we're trying out Big Bang Theory, and Castle.
Survivor is now the only show where we need some form of "live" TV capability – it airs on Thursdays at 7:00 PM, so we need to be able to record and watch it that night. The DVR (Digital Video Recorder) has made this a non-issue over the past 5 years, but without a cable or satellite DVR recording, live TV takes a little more effort. The solution I implemented turns a computer in to a TV, literally, allowing you to watch broadcast TV in a window.
Set up was simple. I bought the Elgato Systems EyeTV Hybrid TV Tuner Stick from ElGato - an HD TV tuner with great Mac based software for tuning and recording shows. There's a simple hack that allows it to run on a Windows based computer, but if you're only going to run on Windows, get a Windows specific device like the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-950Q TV Tuner Stick. I bought a really nice antenna as well, the Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified High-Definition Antenna that lets me tune in to the local HD TV signals.
As you can see, there are lots of options for watching video on your HDTV without having cable or satellite. There are literally tens of thousands of shows and movies out there. If you can let go of the perceived need for live TV, you can also let go of the $50 to $150 per month fee you're paying for TV. Really, save the money, get Netflix, and start enjoying TV the modern on demand way.
As always, if you have questions or thoughts, comment away. Let's talk.
The day Windows 7 RC was released, I wanted to get it installed on my MacBook Pro. My MacBook has the power, and I already have a 40 gigabyte partition dedicated to Windows Vista Home. I rarely boot directly in to Vista using Boot Camp, but I do use Parallels to run that copy of Vista in a virtual machine (Parallels lets you use a Boot Camp partition as a disk in a virtual machine).
Having Vista available in both environments has been very handy, it's saved gigabytes of hard drive space by not having to dedicate 40GB in disk space to Boot Camp, and another 20GB to a disk image. In order to get Windows 7 installed, I wanted to make the existing Vista partition in to a Parallels virtual hard disk.
It took a while, but I found the perfect solution. Parallels has an application called Parallels Transporter for Windows that helps you move a real Windows PC to a Parallels virtual hard disk. It's perfect for people that want to move to the Mac, but that aren't yet ready to let their Windows applications go completely.
But for us, this means we can trick Parallels in to moving a Boot Camp based hard drive partition to a Parallels virtual disk. Simply install and run Parallels Transporter for Windows in the running Boot Camp based virtual machine. Run the Mac version of Parallels Transporter - the windows virtual machine looks exactly like a Windows based computer, and does it's job just as well.
The result is a virtual hard disk with an exact copy of your Boot Camp disk.
Great news for those of you that want to start building web apps that utilize the new client-side database storage system in HTML5... Webkit supports an initial implementation now. Check it out.
Webkit is the open-source foundation of the Safari web browser. It is cross platform on the desktop (Mac and Windows), and has two mobile cousins, Mobile Safari, and Webkit Series 60
Back in June of 2007 I wrote a post that asked a simple question: "Does your email inbox reflect your productivity level?". I mentioned that I had just successfully cleaned out my inbox, and that I was going to keep it that way.
Today, three months later, I still have zero (0) emails in my inbox. Sure there are times when I'm out and about and it gets up to 10 or so, but they're quickly dealt with, and I go back to zero. See the screenshot below.
David Cohen just put up a post about his success with the Inbox Zero system and how he feels about his productivity.
I can't stress enough how right he is. Having an out of control inbox was like having a constant reminder that my life wasn't was well organized (chaotic?) as it could be. Now, I know without a doubt in the world that no one is waiting on a reply to an email from me. I know that support email for HyperSites is answered in minutes. It just feels great.
Head over to David's Colorado Startups blog and read Inbox Zero Is For Me yourself.
For the past three years, my wife and I have had a group of friends over for dinner on Thursday evening. The intent is to relax with friends, have dinner (spaghetti, bread, dessert, beverages) and watch several time-shifted TV shows (Survivor, Hereos, Eureka, Smallville, Lost!, and Grey's Anatomy) and any other video content that the group deems pertinent.
Last night, however, was special.
Last night there were a total of 10 people. One totally new person, and one relatively new person were on hand. But the one that held my attention throughout the evening as a friend that brought his unopened iPhone... to unlock and move to T-Mobile. By 12:30 AM, we had finally succeeded... everything worked.
If you're interested in the gory details, ping me, and I'll do a post on it. But those details are not the subject of this post. Instead, I wanted to share with you the fact that yes, you can unlock it, and yes it does indeed work.
It is not a second rate experience. As a matter of fact, the only difference I could see was that the voicemail button directly dials the T-Mobile voicemail system instead of providing the elegant visual voicemail interface.
The world has been abuzz about the iPhone, since even before Apple acknowledged its existence. Why? Who cares? My mom does... and so will you.
First, let's take a look at the state of mobile phones. For better or worse, mobile phones have become far more than simple phones. Text messaging, email, browsers, and custom apps have infiltrated them. A decade ago, a phone was a phone. Today, a phone is the micro computer.
As mobile carriers have rushed to add features, they have forced the desktop computer's generic UI (menuing , windows, etc.) into their tiny screens.
So what makes the iPhone any different? Apple started from scratch, ignoring everything that is commonplace in today's smart phones. Ok, so they didn't start from scratch, they started with the iPod interface, and appropriately appropriated some fantastic desktop features. Add to that the touch screen, iPod features, and Mac OS X.
What does this mean to you? It means that when you pick up an iPhone, you'll know how to use it, instead of spending days learning how to use it. How many of you have encountered people, not computer people, that are waiting for their iPhones?
This is a great start, though I feel that the impact of this phone has yet to be felt. Sure they'll sell million and millions of them. But far more important to the consumer mobile phone market is that this phone will be the one by which all that follow it are judged. Put another way, the features that make the iPhone will trickle in to other phones across all budgets.
Obviously many of the features in the iPhone are not unique. But the way they're implemented and the thought that went in to them is unmistakable.
On top of the great UI, Apple and AT&T have changed the mobile phone landscape in another way. The plans. Today I pay $40/mo for unlimited data on my Cingular 8125. That is $40/mo just for the data service. In addition to that, I pay another $60 for voice and messaging. As of Friday, the cheap plan with unlimited data is $59/mo, and that includes rollover minutes.
Two things change on Friday that are being heavily overlooked.
1. All mobile phones will become easier to use because they'll all use the iPhone as a base line.
2. All mobile phone plans will be less expensive ... they have to be to keep the world from switching to AT&T.
Photo courtesy of Apple, Inc.
iPhone Guided Tour
iPhone Data plans
What do you think? How will this phone impact the industry as a whole?