As you may or may not know, Mojo HD was shut down today due most likely to the owner (iNDEMAND) deciding it was no longer profitable (quick question: outside of the top 20 or so cable channels, do any of them make money? I doubt it). But Three Sheets, the best show by far on the network, has yet to be picked up. The host, Zane Lamprey, has posted on his web site ways to help save it, and I recommend taking a look.
Long live Three Sheets!
Before I introduce my next topic, I’m going to pose a few questions:
- Did you love Firefly and the follow up movie Serenity?
- Did you love Arrested Development?
- Were you a fan of The O.C. before it went really far south?
- Have you ever shopped in, worked at, or even seen a Best Buy/Circuit City/Future Shop?
- Did you watch Sneakers and think, “Hmm, these geeks are the bee’s knees”?
If you can answer yes to any (or all) of those questions, and you haven’t been watching Chuck, you don’t know what you’re missing. Now in its second season, Chuck stars Zachary Levi as Charles Bartowski (a.k.a. Chuck), a run of the mill Nerd Herd member at the local Buy More. To make a long story short, an old friend in trouble at the C.I.A. hacks into his brain and inputs all of the government’s secrets, then blows up the mainframe they were originally stored in. This leaves Chuck as the most valuable asset the C.I.A. has, and turns his life upside down.
He is given the wonderful Adam Baldwin and the stunning Yvonne Strahovski as protectors, and hilarity insues as the lovable and bumbling Chuck helps outwit a wide range of super-duper bad guys the world has to offer.
Chuck also stars a great ensemble around the main three, including Joshua Gomez as Chuck’s best friend Morgan, Sarah Lancaster as his older sister Ellie, Ryan McPartlin as Ellie’s fiance Devon (a.k.a. Captain Awesome), and more recently Tony Hale as Emmett, the new Buy More assistant manager.
As you may have heard, the 2.0 update for the AppleTV came out today, and I couldn’t get wait to get home and give it a test run. Chris Breen over at MacWorld has already written a great walkthrough, so I’ll spare the minute details and give you more of my opinion of things.
The update itself takes about 10 minutes. I didn’t bother to pay attention, as I’d read about this, so I watched some college basketball on ESPN while I waited for the blinking yellow light to turn back to white.
Once it was fully updated, I switched over to start playing. I love the new interface, as it is much easier to navigate and a hell of a lot faster. The update also ties in to the latest version of iTunes, giving it some new features. The first that I noticed (and also immediately turned on) was the ability for iTunes/AppleTV to auto-sync the device. No user input needed, and the most relevant items are synced to the AppleTV (I have to assume this means the newest and/or least played items). I have yet to test it without having iTunes open, so I can’t determine what is actually being synced (another new feature of AppleTV 2.0 is that all of your media from the synced library, whether synced or streamed, is in one list, so you don’t have to switch between the two options to play items).
As I looked at the new options in iTunes, I noticed that my computer was now seeing an AirTunes device. That’s right, this update also turns the AppleTV into an AirTunes, letting your $229 device do the same thing as a $129 device! I’ve been wanting this control ever since I first used my AppleTV, and it works as expected. I can control playback from iTunes on my computer, making it a much nicer experience when I’m working at my computer (as opposed to reading on my couch). You can’t skip songs using the remote (I have a PowerBook G4, so I’m referring to the remote connected to the AppleTV…not the remote that comes with those newfangeled Intel Macs), but you can still navigate through your AppleTV and look at all of the other categories. If you don’t mess with the AppleTV and just go about your business on the computer, the standard screensaver comes up with the music information in the lower left like before. The AirTunes mode is also instant, unlike the actual AirTunes. No waiting for a half second before seeing/hearing changes you’ve just made to your playback.
Another thing that’s nice is the ability to look at Flickr accounts on the AppleTV. It operates very similarly to the regular photography slideshows. You click to display a username’s account, and voila, you have access to everything. The one giant problem is the user input…the keyboard that pops up takes forever to enter in usernames (for instance, I Am Paul’s Typing Fingers took me about three minutes). They need to either make the keyboard speedier (the real problem is how long it takes to move between letters, even when holding down the forward button), or allow you to login to the URL’s (my URL is Belmore, which would have taken me a fraction of the time.
Okay, now to the bread and butter: HD rentals. I was really anxious to check this out, so I logged in and rented Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (as Paul Thurrott notes, the selection is very odd…the other Star Trek movies are only available in standard definition). I had read online (sorry, can’t find the source) that audio was a tad bit problematic on the HD movies if you tried to play the file before it was done downloading, so I allowed it to finish (which took over two hours) before I started. The AppleTV popped up a message after 3% was done that I could begin watching it, but I decided against that due to the aforementioned information. Also, I should mention that the HD rental was only $3.99, unlike what Chris Breen said. It appears that new releases are $4.99, but older movies are a buck cheaper (similarly, standard definition movies are $3.99 for new releases and $2.99 for older movies).
The good? The movie looks great. Even for a 25 year old film, the quality is pretty damn good. It’s not perfect, but for an old film scan you can’t complain about it. The encoding looks beautiful, I have not noticed any artifacts. There are some gradient problems, but nothing to complain about. Bit rates have to far exceed the capabilities of the AppleTV before known digital problems like gradients go away. Playback is also much improved. Even on this much higher bit rate file, it stops and starts without pause, unlike before where there was always a few second delay.
This brings us to the bad. Why am I starting and stopping it? Well, this may just be a bad encode (although I highly doubt it), but the audio becomes unsynced after about 10 minutes. Stopping and starting the movie fixes the problem, but this is a problem we should not be having in the 21st century. I’m going to avoid stopping and starting for the rest of the movie (I have over an hour left) and see if it gets progressively better, or if it’s just a small delay due to the hardware (for those that don’t know, the AppleTV was hacked as soon as it came out and was found to have a 1 GHz generic Intel processor with 256 MB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce Go 7300 with 64 MB of VRAM, so it’s amazing it can do HD video at all). I’ll keep you posted if I can find out for sure. UPDATE: It appears to have either been a temporary problem, or just a problem related to the dated quality of the movie. I never noticed the movie getting progressively less synced the longer I left it on without pausing it, and it never seemed to be more than 1/10th of a second off. I’ll chalk it up to my eyes and ears playing tricks on me and leave it at that.
Long story short (and I mean damn, that was a long “opinion”!), the AppleTV 2.0 upgrade makes the AppleTV do what it should have been able to do the first time around. Rent movies from your couch. Use it as an AirTunes. And be much more dynamic with web-based applications. Not to mention the things that don’t appeal to me, such as buying music from the iTunes store with your remote (which it can also now do). And with the recent price drop, this is a great addition to your home entertainment center. If you have an HDTV and are fed up with your cable company (as I am), go the AppleTV route. Heck, if you have more than a few GBs of video in your iTunes library, you’re crazy for not having this easy method of watching them on your TV.
Yes, you read that right, I’ve tied it up with good ol’ Comcast. How, you might ask? Well, simple.
Comcast makes you think that for every TV you have hooked up to cable, you need some sort of digital box to decode the signal and output it to your TV. This isn’t entirely true. Yes, you need the box should you want to use HD, DVR, and/or On Demand. However, if you simply want to watch basic cable, you can scratch the box and just hook the cable up to your TV. I was tipped off to this last week when I called in to report an outage to technical support, and they asked if I was getting a signal by hooking up the cable straight to the TV instead of through the cable box. Little did they know this tipped me off to the fact that a cable box isn’t always necessary.
What do you get with this method? Approximately the first 60-70 channels (up through Bravo in the Seattle area), all in as clear of a picture as you would be getting with the cable box (one caveat: if you have an HDTV you should not do this; however, if you’re like me and just have an extra standard definition TV in your bedroom, this works to perfection). It may not be every channel, but you also save the few bucks per month they charge to rent the cable box.
Now I can watch TV while I’m falling asleep and not have to mess with an antenna, nor am I paying Comcast any more money. Sure, I had to shell out $15 for the splitters and extra cables (from the ever-fabulous MonoPrice.com), but in the end I think I deserve the point to even up the score.
Until next time, Comcast.
Chuck, America’s favorite Buy-Mart-employee-turned-supercomputer-being-protected-by-government-spies, is coming back tonight for two action-packed episodes. If you haven’t ever seen it, don’t worry; it’s pretty easy to catch on.
So don’t miss it tonight at 8 and again at 10, on NBC!
Well played, Comcast, well played.
As some of you may know, I had a fabulous plan to cancel my cable when my discounts ran out and move to an over the air HD antenna and various content from my AppleTV and Netflix. I thought it was foolproof. For sports, I could just head to Ryan’s and watch the game with him. I’m a genius, I thought. I’ll save $40 a month!
Then, it happened. The original plan was for Mr. Cable Man to come out Friday and change my service to basic cable (it was only $8 per month and would be cheaper in the end because I’d get a discount for having two services instead of just the Internet). So last night I’m flipping through, and what happens to be on? A great college basketball game on ESPN. And I watched it. And immediately I thought, what happens when Ryan’s not home and a game is on and I have nothing better to do?
ESPN HD. ESPN2 HD. TNT HD. NBA TV on Mojo HD. I flip through these channels religiously, especially now that basketball season is in full swing. How would I live without them?
So I deliberated. I talked to Kate. I talked to myself (actually, I do that a lot, but that’s another story). I finally decided to take the offer they had put on the table that only increased my bill by $8 from what I had been paying the first six months.
Here I am, hat in hand, saying well played, Comcast. Well played, indeed.
Alright, faithful readers (all 5 of you), I’ve decided to narrow down the scope of this blog and have each day represent a specific topic to talk about. I’m open to any and all suggestions (although, keep them broad; as in “Books” rather than “The Collected Works of Charles Dickens”). This is to not only make it easier to blog (as I’ll have a more defined path for each day), it will also make it more interesting for the reader (so you know that at least once a week I’m blogging about Topic X that you are a fan of). So here are the few ideas I’ve thought of; please leave any others you may have in the comments!
- Movies/Television (this could be two separate days as well)
- Tech Topics
- Books (this might be more of a monthly topic, as I don’t read as much as my high school English teacher probably wishes I did)
One of the greatest shows ever to be filmed in HD is now available for your DVD enjoyment! I know I’m not the only one of my friends who absolutely loved watching Zane Lamprey drink his away through a different city each week, learning and loving the drinking culture that surrounded him. If you have never heard of this show and enjoy drinking of any sort, this is an absolute must!
I was watching a rerun of The Tonight Show tonight and Jerry Seinfeld was the guest and he mentioned this commercial, take a look:
This one’s pretty funny too:
I just finished watching the pilot of Bionic Woman (NBC, Wednesdays at 9), and I’ll go ahead and say it; I was impressed. Now, maybe my bar was set pretty low (I mean, Bionic Woman? A remake of the show from the 70’s? How good could I expect it to be?), but I still think it’s a worthwhile show. Long story short, I’ll be adding it to my TV viewing this season.
I do, however, have a few problems. Some of these may be cleared up as the show goes on, but some will not. So without further ado, here is what I disliked about the otherwise well-executed show (some of these might contain spoilers, so read at your own risk):
- Bourne Supremacy-style fight scenes: When will this end? There’s no point showing the fight if I have no idea what is actually going on. A wild camera-shaking event with arms and legs connecting with stomachs and faces with no context only hinders the experience. They may as well just show the first punch, then go to commercial, then come back with one person standing over the other. The viewer wouldn’t be left with any less information from the fight.
- Subpar logical connections: Suspension of disbelief is obviously required for this show. But even so, there are some things that make absolutely no sense. Jaime gets in a huge fight with the “original” bionic woman, then hangs out in the pouring rain to have a disjointed conversation with Jonas (the head of the program)? Not to mention that she takes off without even finding out if Will is okay, which was the point of the conversation.
- Crappy family situations: Look, I’m not saying life is perfect. I’m not even asking for a perfect family. But when will the “my parents took off so I’m taking care of my little sister and we don’t get along because neither one of us knows how to communicate” background stop being so prevalent? I’m pretty sure we’ve seen it enough. At the very least quit making the younger sibling so rebellious and resentful that the older sibling is the “parent”. I know just as many siblings who get along as those that don’t. Can’t we have some balance?
- Stupid uses of makeup: Come on. Jaime wakes up on a hospital bed with lipstick, blush, and eyeliner all perfectly applied? We’re not morons. Make her look like she just woke up in a hospital bed. Is that too much to ask?
Aside from those, the show does very well with what it gives the viewer. You can watch old episodes on NBC.com (but not on the iTunes Store because Universal/NBC has a stick up their collective asses) to catch up, which I highly suggest.