Digital Thingamajigs
Get the scoop on the latest mobile and handheld devices, high-tech gadgets, phones, gaming devices and more as well as computer-related tips and tricks. Keep up with tech trends, gaming software and check out some of the newest innovations that are turning heads in the electronics industry.

Friday, December 17, 2010

OnLive: The future is here

Remember Pong?

Don't answer that. Unless you want everyone to know how ancient you are. OK, what were we talking about? Where's my dentures?

Anyway, if you don't know, Pong was the mother of all video games in the 70s. A small pixel moving across your picture tube at lightning speeds, Home Pong was played via a console with two paddles that connected to your television set and was one of the first-ever video games, laying the groundwork for games such as Pac Man, Super Mario Bros. and Grant Theft Auto. And while the graphics in video games may have changed over the past four decades, the way we play them hasn't: until now.

Enter OnLive. OnLive is different. While you still have a small console that connects to your TV, throw away everything you've ever known about video games. OnLive is the Hulu of video games. It is the first console to be played exclusively over the Internet. Here's how it works: As you press the buttons of the game controller, data is sent to a server somewhere in the continental U.S. in near real-time to tell the game what to do next. While that's happening, the video is streamed back to your TV over the Internet, allowing you to control a video game on a computer hundreds of miles away while watching it on your own TV. It's "cloud" gaming.

For $99, you can purchase the OnLive game system, which comes with the console, its own game controller, adapter, batteries, charger and all the necessary cables. Currently, it also comes with a free video game of your choosing and "PlayPack" — a selection of games available for free until Jan. 14, 2011. A subscription is available after that.

Video games can also be purchased through the sleek user interface for about the same price you'd pay for Xbox or PlayStation games, and they can be rented for 3- or 5-day intervals for a small fee. Plus, you can even try out many of the games for 30 minutes at a time completely free. One thing of note: OnLive is very bandwidth intensive, meaning it requires a fast Internet connection, between 3-5 Mbps depending on your TV size.

But if $99 is too steep, fear not. OnLive can also be played without the console for free. If you have a fairly new PC or Intel-based Mac with fast Internet, you can download the OnLive app and play games with your computer via the keyboard or a third-party game adapter sans console. It's the future of gaming, available now. For more information, visit OnLive's website at

—Fletcher Holbrook contributed to this report

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Part III: Media center hardware

OK, so now you've got TV and movie content streaming onto your home computer, and you've found a good application to keep all your content organized, but now — where to store all these gigabytes of glorious data? Or what to do if you don't have a computer? Ah, the solutions, they abound ...

One of the simplest devices and least expensive is the Roku. Starting at $59 with the basic 720p capability, the device comes with built-in WiFi, an Ethernet port and an HDMI connection that allows you to stream via online services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, NHL and others. Moving up the pay scale, the $79 Roku comes with full, 1080p high-definition viewing, an enhanced WiFi antenna and instant replay. The top-of-the line Roku comes in at $99 and offers a true way to organize your data by linking it to a storage device with the built-in USB port. This allows you to keep all your downloaded content in one place.

The peculiar-shaped Boxee is one of the more popular media boxes available now. As Boxee states on its website, it can play "almost anything that you can play on a computer," and is more versatile than the lower-priced Apple TV. Boxee can be plugged into your HDTV via an included HDMI cable and connected to the Web via WiFi or Ethernet. It comes with a very unique two-sided remote that includes a QWERTY keyboard on the back. The main advantage is that Boxee is very adept at working with the gazillion video file types out there; however, one big disadvantage of Boxee is that it will not work with older TVs. Also, some of the features are still rather new and need tweaking. If you're thinking of going the Boxee route, it'll set ya back $199.

Apple TV
One of the more affordable media boxes, and also one of the more popular, is Apple TV.  As with the other devices, Apple TV is a standalone unit, meaning no computer is necessary. Coming in at $99, Apple TV can be connected to newer HDTVs and stream rented TV shows or movies from Apple via WiFi or Ethernet or through Netflix. The main disadvantage of Apple TV right now is that it only streams at 720p and requires a newer TV. One of the main advantages, however, is simply the price. At $99, it's one of the most affordable on the market. Plus, you get the backing of a company like Apple.

Is that all there is?
Of course not. And I know I've left out many viable boxes, such as Google TV — via Logitech Revue or Sony Internet TV — but space limitations prevent me from listing them all. Stay tuned to my blog as I'm sure Google TV will be the topic of many a future blog.

And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the most expensive — but most appealing — media server hardware, which is simply a computer. For example, at home I built a media center simply using a Mac Mini (starting at $699) and loaded Boxee, Plex, XBMC and a few others onto it and attached a few My Book Studio (pictured at right) hard drives to store the content. While this route can get expensive, it's by far my favorite option and gives me the most control over my digital content. Check back soon when I will discuss how to set up your own media center with the computer you already have or buying a new one to serve as a dedicated media server.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Part II: Media center software

So, you've started streaming your favorite TV shows and movies from the Web and, if you're a big movie and TV buff like I am, you probably use several streaming sites, such as Hulu and Netflix along with music, TV shows and movie files strewn across your computer's hard drive. Now, you need a way to organize that mess. Here are just a few ways to keep your digital content neat and orderly with the latest software:

One of the most popular media managers available today, Boxee is a free program that allows you to access many of your favorite streaming sites — Netflix, Pandora, Major League Baseball, etc. — on a hard drive or server volume. You can navigate through Boxee's menus via your computer keyboard, mouse or even a media remote like the Apple Remote, and install apps that give quick access to Netflix, YouTube and some other up-and-coming sites such as Fail Blog. Boxee is free to download and comes in versions for Windows, Mac OS X, Ubuntu Linux (32 and 64 bit) and Apple TV. There's also a physical box that can be bought to accompany the software, which I will discuss in tomorrow's blog. So, please check back.

As stated on its website, Plex "bridges the gap between your Mac and your home theater, doing so with a visually appealing user interface that provides instant access to your media." Similar to Boxee, but currently only available for Mac OS X, Plex allows users to access their favorite online video through a graphical interface and organize their personal content on their hard drive or a network server. You can divide up your personal content into TV shows and movies, and Plex will scan the Web for the appropriate meta data, related photos, posters and even subtitles to give you a very appealing menu to keep your content organized. Plex also has apps that can be downloaded to give access to streaming sites, such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, The Colbert Report, FoxNews and many more too numerous to mention. And as with Boxee, Plex is free.

Is that all there is?
Not at all. There are many applications cropping up to allow users to organize their digital content. For example, XBMC (Xbox Media Center) is an application that shares much of the same source code as Plex and, therefore, has a very similar user interface. However, it is currently available for PCs as well as Macs. In addition to these applications, your current operating system more than likely comes with its own media center software. For example, if you use PCs, all major versions of Windows come with Windows Media Center, while Macs have Front Row. Finding the right one for you may take some time, as I currently use a Mac Mini and have tried Plex, Boxee and XBMC, until I finally settled on Plex as my current favorite. However, the thing to keep in mind is that all of this software is relatively new, is being updated constantly and still has many bugs to work out. So, there will be a few bumps along the road. But hopefully, you can settle on a favorite and start organizing that digital content ASAP.

Make sure you check back tomorrow for the final part of my home media center series when I will discuss some of the hardware that complements the software.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Part I: Streaming online
Getting movies and TV shows streamed into your living room has gotten a lot easier over the last few years. If you can live without a few basic conveniences that cable offers, and you have high-speed Internet service, you can easily drop the cable TV subscription and still watch most of your favorite TV shows and movies at a fraction of the cost.

First of all, there are a million sites on the Web that claim to offer online streaming. Most of those, however, only offer links to other sites, such as Hulu, and the legality of many of those is questionable. That's why I just want to focus on Hulu, Netflix and touch on today. These are the most popular legal online streaming sites available today. And until viable alternatives crop up, these are the most reliable and legit online streaming services.

Hands down, the absolute cheapest and easiest way to get streaming is with Hulu. Hulu can be accessed via most current Web browsers at and can be used for free indefinitely. Free Hulu is limited in that most TV series only have about 4 or 5 episodes available at any given time. It also mainly just has TV series from NBC, Fox and more recently, ABC networks. Alternatively, you can sign up for Hulu Plus for $7.99 a month and get access to thousands of TV episodes. For example, a popular show such as Family Guy currently has 154 episodes and the entire Lost series is also available to stream via Hulu Plus. Also, if you're not ready to pay for Hulu Plus, you can sign up for a one-week trial of the service for free.

After Hulu, the next easiest way to start streaming video content is with Netflix. Like Hulu, Netflix now has a stream-only subscription service available for $7.99 a month. The main difference is that Netflix is for the big-screen buff and is more focused on movies instead of TV shows, however that is starting to shift, and could soon change. But for now, Netflix does not have as many current TV episodes as Hulu. There are many classic TV shows and older episodes available for streaming, but the TV content is not nearly as fresh as with Hulu, and even some of the older series are only available on DVDs via the mailer service. Still, there are many movies available for instant viewing via Netflix that you simply can't get through Hulu. And choosing between the two simply comes down to whether you're a TV nut or a movie buff — or if you love 'em both.

Is that all there is?
As I stated earlier, there are many services cropping up daily trying to compete with Hulu and Netflix, and aside from CBS's online streaming service, most are questionable. currently allows streaming of entire episodes of many of CBS series as well as some of the series from CBS Corp.-owned Showtime, such as Dexter.

Keep in mind that this list is a basic online streaming starter and is in now way close to being a comprehensive list. There are many services to choose from to stream video content from the Web and there are also many different methods of getting them onto your TV. Come back Wednesday evening for the third part of my series on setting up a home media center when I will discuss the different types of software available to make streaming even easier, more organized and an overall more aesthetically pleasing experience.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Make your own home media center

With the widespread use of high-speed Internet, the Web is now flooded with online video streaming choices. And if you've been thinking about jumping into the video streaming revolution or setting up your own home theater PC (HTPC), but just aren't sure how to do it or which route to go, I'll try to break it down into the simplest of terms with my series this week on setting up your home media center.

Obviously, the first thing you'll need to stream online content is a computer. Most people know that you can stream content onto a PC or Mac, but did you also know you can stream content to video game consoles, such as the XBox 360, Playstation 3 or even a handheld mobile device, such as a smartphone?

There are many ways to go about setting up your media center, depending on what you want out of it. Here are some of the current choices available that I'll go over this week: 

Part I (Tuesday): Streaming online
This most basic way to stream is via your Web browser. The most common are Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer, and the most common streaming outlets are Hulu and Netflix.

The most basic way to stream online video content to your computer is via Hulu (pictured) or Netflix.

Part II (Wednesday): Media center software
There are a plethora of applications available to help organize your media and stream online content. Check back this week for a breakdown of those choices for both PC and Mac.

Part III (Thursday): Media center hardware
The most hardcore of streamers out there will probably want to buy a media center device to help keep their digital content organized. This can be a media box, such as Boxee, Apple TV, a game console or even using an actual PC as a media center computer.

Be sure to check back all this week for some tips on setting up the media center that's just right for you.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

iPhone music video

If you've been on the fence lately about buying an iPhone 4, this video may just convince you to whip out the ol' credit card.

A  band from Dayton, Ohio, called BJSR, has filmed a video for their song, "Play," entirely from the camera on an iPhone. While it may not be the quality of a Scorsese or Spielberg movie, it's definitely not your grandma's Handy Cam.

The video follows a man riding his bicycle through the streets of the Greater Miami Valley, stopping to play Scrabble with random citizens. The video camera built into the iPhone allows high definition recording at 720 pixels and up to 30 frames per second with audio. The tiny lens also serves as a 5 megapixel camera.

Of course, if you're not interested in buying a phone, the latest iPod Touch also includes an HD camera along with the high resolution "Retina" display. The iPhone 4, with an AT&T contract, will set you back $199, and the iPod Touch starts at $229. For more information, visit To see more videos filmed from an iPhone, check out Mashable.