|Posted on March 26, 2013 at 8:10 PM||comments (0)|
If you aren't an industry expert, the term "over-the-top" streaming might be a new one for you. Over-the-top, or OTT, refers to any content that can be delivered through an internet connection by a third party that has rights to the content. OTT streaming can be offered through cable or IPTV operators, or can be purchased directly from a streaming provider in the form of a monthly subscription for unlimited access to their entire library, or rental of a single title, or purchase of a single title. OTT content can be streamed through any internet-enabled device, including PC's, laptops, internet-enabled television sets, set-top boxes like Roku, Apple TV or Boxee, tablets, gaming consoles and smartphones.
In the strictest sense, the term over-the-top is referring to video being viewed on your tv set that is connected to the internet. Before televisions could be purchased internet-enabled, a set-top box that connected to your router or wifi connection (think Roku) was required. But the term has morphed into a catch-all phrase for the distribution of video through various 3rd parties, even if it is accessed on something other than your television.
The digital media is processed as a continuous stream of data that utilizes video and audio technology.
Other terms related to streaming (in layman's terms) include:
Check out our article on streaming vs. downloading for a great read that incorporates many of the terms above.
|Posted on March 9, 2013 at 6:10 PM||comments (0)|
Wondering why so many people are gung ho for Redbox? It's very simple - it's the lowest cost alternative to rent a movie or game in the industry.
The Redbox site allows you to either browse their library in a number of ways, including by genre, popular titles or new release. Once you find a movie or game that strikes your fancy, you reserve it for rental. Next - you need to select a Redbox kiosk that is near you by entering your zip code. In most cases a sizable list of options will pop up providing you with various venues from which you can reserve your DVD. You'll want to note whether the kiosk is indoors or outdoors if you are planning on picking it up when the business is closed.
Redbox also works with event owners to provide tickets (and the ability to receive email updates) to events. You'll pay a $1 fee + the ticket price and tax for the convenience of doing business through Redbox Tickets.
Redbox is venturing out into streaming at $8 per month, but it is still in private Beta version. Your subscription will score you unlimited streaming from the titles available in their library, plus four DVD rentals through their kiosk program per month. If you already rent 4 videos per month through Redbox, it makes absolute sense to pay the $8 per month while they continue to build their streaming library. While current device options are limited, there are apps for iOS, Android and XBox 360.
|Posted on February 20, 2013 at 7:10 PM||comments (0)|
If you are a sitcom fanatic or a sports officiando who lives for your daily dose of entertainment, you might not want to cut the cord just yet. But living cable subscription free can be an alternative for many of us who are willing to find those free (and legitimate) sources online. Why legitimate? Make sure you check out our article on piracy to find out why free isn't always the best choice.
However, there are a plethora of free streaming options if you don't want to pay upwards of $60 per month for television. In fact, with a Netflix or Hulu subscription coupled with these great free sources listed below can provide a decent selection of small screen entertainment for anyone looking to trim their cable budget.
Hulu.com is still a great free option to catch new releases of your favorite TV shows. Missed the last episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live? You can access the last four episodes for free before they move the content over to Hulu Plus. Below are just a handful of dozens of networks available to access the latest content. Click on the image below to see all of your free network choices. Of course, if you want to watch older episodes, or even an entire library, then a Netflix or Hulu subscription is a nice complement.
Hulu.com is also a great resource for nationwide network news like ABC's Nightline or Good Morning America, but it is definitely not your only option. The major networks all offer free news streaming, including:
You may even be able to find some local news. For example, I live in Chicago, and was able to stream my local news via ABC 7 News for free as long as you tune in during the news cast. They do not provide previously-recorded footage, however. . So you are bound by their schedule, and you don't have the convenience of recording the newscast on your DVR and watching it later.
Free Sports - Well, You Can't Beat 'Em All
This genre is quite a bit more difficult to get for free. You can get an occasional freebie like the Superbowl or on Thanksgiving Day, but in general, you're going to have to ante up by purchasing premium cable or satellite television plans. You can watch live sports via ESPN, BUT you can only get access IF you can prove you are a cable or satellite television subscriber already. So no freebies there. But if you need your sports fix and don't want to pay upwards of $60 a month, all of the major sports leagues offer subscription options to stream live games through your computer, mobile devices, or even Roku or Apple TV. Monthly and annual subscription options include:
A combination of the free and subscription options above will give a decent selection of entertainment options that can facilitate would-be cord cutters into making it a reality. But there are some important cord-cutting considerations that may need to be addressed first:
So there you have it. If you guys have any great suggestions, please drop them into the comments below!
|Posted on February 7, 2013 at 9:00 PM||comments (0)|
When I am feeling angry, or overwhelmed, or just wanting to get a nice dose of feel-good, an intense body pump workout, a sweaty hour of step aerobics, or a soothing bout of yoga have been my go-to activities for several decades. Having been an exercise enthusiast for many years, I have collected a nice library of aerobic, weight training, and yoga workouts that enable me to scratch the itch in any way that appeals to me that moment.
I recently purchased a couple of yoga tapes to help target some specific ailments I had. Specifically, I threw out my back doing deadlifts with poor form, and I have suffered for years with stiff and sore shoulders from being hunched over my beloved computer for hours a day. I hopped on Amazon.com to purchase the tapes, and a moment later I received word through email that I could instantly stream these workouts, rather than wait for the DVD's to arrive in the mail!
There are a number of videos that you can purchase (and for a discount if you are a Prime member) and stream instantly, and even a few titles that you can rent for 24 hours, including:
The website Yoga Today has several ways to get your yoga fix. A no-obligation monthly subscription of $9.99 a month gets you full access to their entire library, unlimited class streaming, and $2.99 downloads. If you prepay a one year membership for $89.95 you save $25%. They even offer a free weekly yoga class with downloads for $3.99.
Gaiam TV offers a free 10-day trial, and a monthly subscription of $9.95 a month, where you can stream their entire library. They are famous for The FIRM videos and also carry names like Jillian Michaels and Leslie Sansone.
Streamfit targets men with unlimited streaming for $4.99 the first month, and $19.95 a month thereafter. Purchase an entire year for $120 and save over $100. Popular videos on their site include:
Looking for more free options? You can stream 2 to 10 minute "clips" of Exercise TV instantly, targeting abs, legs, arms, or shoulders on Hulu.com to cobble together your own fitness routine for the cost of an internet subscription and screen to play the workout on.
If you opt to subscribe to Hulu Plus, you have access to shows like Yoga Zone, Yoga for Everyone, Yoga with a View, and Maya Fiennes Kundalini Yoga. If you want something a bit more strenuous, check out Get Fit, Stay Fit, Celebrity Fitness, or The Firm.
Other great online gems: Workoutz.com, Physical Fitnet, and even YouTube. If you have a nice, wide computer screen (or you have pc to TV streaming) these free fitness websites can be a great resource.
Check out our streaming services comparison for a snapshot of available options.
|Posted on January 13, 2013 at 6:00 PM||comments (0)|
When you begin to investigate the various options available for media streaming, it can get overwhelming. For starters, there are both paid and free services, and there are live feeds and on-demand offerings which can be viewed anytime. Either paid or free services can include online live radio and news events, movies, television shows, documentaries,video-sharing, music downloads and news replays from all over the world. To complicate matters more, paid services can be monthly subscriptions, rentals or purchases a la carte.
The purpose of this article is to specifically address the differences between live streaming and on-demand. Understanding on-demand first will give you abetter appreciation for live stream technology.
Think of a video stream file as just like a film strip,except it is a digital file rather than a physical strip imprinted with pictures and sound. The images and sound are placed in a specific order within the digital file, and then saved in a compressed form. When the end user downloads the compressed file, they can immediately play the movie or TV show on whatever supported device you have. This cuts down on a lot of cost, as you don't need a physical film strip(or CD or VHS tape) that needs packaging and shipping. Rather, the packaging is in a cost-effective compressed file, and the shipping method is instantaneous over the internet. You will need some type of streaming player, whether it is a media player you downloaded, a supported device like a game console, specialized streaming player or a blu-ray player, or mobile device.
On-demand is as the name implies. Once you download the file, you can watch it whenever you want. Live stream technology, then, is streamable live, or as it is happening. In other words, you do not have to wait for a compressed file to download. You simply need to find the website where the event is being streamed (whether a free site or a pay-per-view event), and watch the event through your media player as itis actually happening. Think of major sporting events, televised trials, televised government events, or the royal wedding as opportunities for live streaming. Other examples of live (audio) streaming include radio stations.
The trouble with some live streaming or video sharing is you can experience buffering issues, where the stream hangs up, and you can have trouble listening to or watching your content because of jerky stops and starts. Buffering is actually a good thing in some cases, as it takes into consideration the various internet download speeds we all experience at various times, whether peak usage times or not. Buffering helps compensate for these variations. To avoid buffering, a minimum download speed of 3.0 Mbps is encouraged.
Read more about streaming vs. downloading and other great articles on our site.
|Posted on July 22, 2012 at 2:40 PM||comments (0)|
While many of us depend on streaming media players like Roku, or our gaming console, blu-ray player or internet-connected TV set to stream content, there are a large number of us who love to watch TV right on our computer screen. When troubleshooting streaming issues on your PC, one thing that many people don't take into consideration is the media player software that the streaming services uses. While this article is not meant to be all-inclusive in terms of troubleshooting, it is meant to help you gain ideas for how to search further for solving problems in streaming. We will also mention the amount of data that these streaming services eat up in case you are concerned about data caps.
For instance, as many Linux users will attest to, in order to watch Netflix (which runs on Silverlight), you must reboot because Netflix has not yet addressed the glitches that Silverlight encounters with Linux. However, Silverlight successfully streams on the largest number of devices, and you can expect to use between 0.3 to 2.3 GB per hour when you stream via Netflix. Fortunately, Netflix allows you to manage your data caps through your account settings.
Most people find that streaming Netflix is a snap . . . but if you have long-term streaming problems, read this article:
Since we made mention of Netflix bandwidth usage, and how to adjust it, we'd like to mention Hulu's usage is estimated to be about 0.7 GB per hour.
To watch on your computer, Hulu Plus videos currently require Adobe Flash Player 10.1.53.64 or above. If you have problems with audio and tweaking the settings doesn't help, you may need to uninstall Flash, regart your computer, and then reinstall the latest version of Flash. Below is a great chart from Hulu's website:
Amazon Instant Video
You will need the current version of Adobe Flashplayer in order to view video on your PC. This particular piece of software is very widespread and well-known; chances are you already have the most current version. It's not perfect - occasionally you will need to revert to an older version because certain videos (e.g. YouTube) won't be accessed by buggy software.
Amazon provides a sample HD button that allows you to check out HD playback on your computer. According to the frequently asked questions on Amazon's website, the video quality will depend on your internet connection. They say "We'll automatically detect your connection speed and send you the highest quality stream your connection can support." Watching HD requires an HD capable setup and a very fast internet connection. Make sure you are aware that HD can consume up to 2 GB per hour, if you are worried about data caps. Netflix gets a big thumbs up for allowing consumers to manage their data caps the most efficiently. With Amazon, I have to be careful. I have adequate speed (6 Mbps), but I don't have a huge data cap (only 150 GB per month, which over the summer I have now exceeded twice by streaming).
I had a tough time verifying Vudu's media player technology. However, they are very clear when it comes to the quality of streaming - standard definition (480p), high definition (720p) or, super high definition (1080p) were available for either rental or ownership of several different titles. Keep in mind that the higher the definition, the more the data will be munched through. Check out our article on broadband speed requirements to determine how much data 2 hours of streaming consumes.
Some streaming services, like Skitter TV, have their own proprietary hybrid over-the-top / IPTV platform that actually have enhanced functionality, but that may not yet work on a wide number of devices. Skitter currently runs only on Roku and WD TV Live; as well as their own set top box called The Skitter Box. The functionality is quite impressive. Their interface enables you to access a variety of entertainment options from one integrated screen, including local television, YouTube videos, movies on demand, local or internet radio. Local programming is currently limited because Skitter must forge relationships with local telecom companies in order to rebroadcast content. But watch out for this service in the future to be very flexible and family friendly, with all members of your household being able to set their own personal list of favorite channels in a unique viewing queue, with full-feature parental controls.
One thing that consumers need to understand about Skitter, however, is that their media player is higher end - which is great news if you value sharp, crystal clear picture quality. But - if you have a lower broadband cap, you'll want to be aware that Skitter uses about 2 gigabytes of bandwidth per hour. The broadband industry is currently in a state of flux surrounding this issue right now, including being scrutinized by the Department of Justice for unfair practices. In the meantime, going over your bandwidth cap could end up costing you dearly.
|Posted on June 16, 2012 at 10:45 AM||comments (0)|
Whether you are new to streaming, or have been streaming for awhile without any issues and all of a sudden are developing buffering problems, there are a few things to check initially that may be an easy fix. While dealing with technical issues can be very frustrating, often times with a little insight even the non-technical person can trouble shoot and navigating a fix.
It is helpful before we go any further to define what buffering is. The term has a negative connotation, but in reality buffering takes place all the time. When you are experiencing no problems with your video playback, it is an indicator that the streaming server that is delivering the video is properly interacting with the streaming media software on your device.
The software analyzes the formats available for playing the video, determines the bandwidth that the connection currently has, and the streaming media player being used to view the file, and makes adjustments based upon all of the variables these three factors may impose on the experience. These adjustments are made to maximize the end user experience, including reacting to any messages it receives from the media player (e.g. if the viewer decides to pause, play, rewind or fast forward, for example).
So - if any of these components are not optimal for streaming, you may experience stalled or dropped video. It should be noted that the problem could lie with the hosting site, or there could be issues with extremely high traffic or technical problems with your internet provider that may be causing problems as well. But there are some steps you can take to make sure the problem is not on your end.
If you have been streaming just fine up until a certain point, then the issue may be with the host server on the file or even the server level. Netflix allows you to report problems on video you've recently watched by logging into your account & help screen:
For more information, check out our articles and pages on Streaming 411 to help you troubleshoot your streaming problems.
For more detailed instructions, check out this great article.
|Posted on June 6, 2012 at 10:55 AM||comments (0)|
A few days ago we published an article about Apple being a contender for being a "personal cloud" service to replace our home computers as the hub of our digital lives. Most of us can't imagine that, so this article will focus on the possibilities of cloud storage and how it can enhance our personal and business endeavors. There is no one service that exists today that combines the majority of the tasks described below; however, the marketplace is poised to embrace the company that emerges with the most functionality and convenience for the right price.
Today, the big names in cloud storage are Amazon Cloud Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, DropBox, Google Drive, iCloud and SugarSync. Each one of them shines in some of the tasks listed below, but none of them are yet all-encompassing. Since the ultimate personal cloud is a functional storage unit for our documents, photographs, music and video files, let's take a look at why such a service is useful. This article is not intended to analyze these specific services for functionality in these areas, but to help you understand the types of things you can achieve with cloud storage. Check out Top Ten Reviews for detailed information about these services.
Syncing Your Music Across Multiple Devices
iCloud already excels at this through it's Home Sharing feature, as does Google Music. But - if you opted for a different cloud service that focuses on other aspects of cloud functionality, you could still store your digital music collection through the service and rely on a desktop media player, such as Windows Media Player, pointing to your cloud folder with your music collection. The music could be accessed through multiple devices by installing the cloud service desktop client on each device.
Sharing Folders Across a Number of Devices
Documents and other files can be stored in folders on your cloud service by creating a storage folder and naming it appropriately and moving your "My Documents" folders to the new cloud folder location.
Syncing Your To Do List
By saving your to-do list in a plain text file that can be accessed anywhere, you can store it in your cloud service folder and access it from any of your devices, or utilize an interactive app to enhance features.
Backing up and Sharing Photographs
For many of us, our smartphone doubles as a digital camera, and if we lose that phone we will lose a lot of important family memories. Some cloud storage services can facilitate photo uploads for simple backup, and even seamless sharing though out your social networks, or through a public link.
Download all Email Attachments to a Designated Cloud Folder
Rather than sifting through years worth of emails to find that attachment you are looking for, you can have all email attachments stored in designated folders in your cloud service where they can be accessed anywhere.
Remote Access of Your PC
Some services can be configured to authorize remote access of one computer from another device via a single account.
Syncing Website Documents to Your Cloud Service
When you run across web pages that allow you to download documents like PDF files or spreadsheets, you can send those documents directly to your service without having to manually download the files and then upload them to the cloud service.
Customizable Email Storage
Send items via special email address that mails things to your cloud storage and files them in specific, customized folders.
Since security is always a huge concern, consider cloud backup services that encrypt your files and sync across a number of devices.
Currently cloud storage and video streaming might not be a match made in heaven unless you pay for some serious bandwidth, and streaming may not work on all mobile devices. This is one area that is dogging cloud services from enjoying widespread adoption.
For many of us, having our computer get wiped out would be a personal or business disaster. Cloud storage is a great way to back up everything in a safe place.
|Posted on June 5, 2012 at 10:55 AM||comments (0)|
Many people ask why there are so few movies and shows available on Netflix Instant because they are unaware of the power they have in personalizing their queue. There are around 25,000 titles available on the service, so getting familiar with the genres and titles would be a good place to start in maximizing your experience. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the various areas of your account to make the most of your Instant Queue. We will discuss below parental controls and more.
When you log in to your account, the first screen you will see is called "Watch Instantly" (you'll see it listed in the top navigation), and it is arranged in several categories. Titles recently watched will be listed, along with Top 10 recommended titles based upon your viewing habits.
"Popular on Netflix" lists what titles are on demand from other subscribers.
The next couple of rows are based also on your viewing habits. For instance, in my account it seems I have an interest in Dora the Explorer and Glee. So based upon those taste preferences I have listed Feel-good TV shows, including Monk, America's Funniest Home Videos, Cake Boss, and The Andy Griffith Show.
For dramas, I can select categories like "Dark", "Griffy", "Critically-acclaimed", "Understated", "Crime", and "Independent" and then browse through the various selections listed.
The top navigation in your Netflix account has a tab titled "Just For Kids". If you have children, this is a great section to browse and add to your instant queue so that your kids can browse and select their own TV shows to watch. As you can guess, this page is of interest to me based upon the Dora the Explorer connection
The next page in the top navigation is your instant queue. This is where you can update the titles that you see when you turn your television on. I'm an avid exercise enthusiast, so part of the allure of Netflix for me is to check out workouts that I might not currently own. So after looking through the sports & fitness genre, I selected Crunch: Total Resculpt to add to my Instant Queue. Now when I fire up Netflix, it is one of the titles listed for quick selection. I could have also typed in the title in the search feature, but it was much easier for me to check the genre ahead of time to see what was available.
When you click on the "Personalize" tab, a screen will pop up that says "Finding suggestions for you just got easier . . . ". By rating shows you have seen, you will be providing valuable information to Netflix that will enable personalized suggestions available that you might not have easily found by browsing through their entire library. You will see genres listed such as documentaries, children & family movies, tv shows, dramas, etc. The more you rate what you've seen, the more Netflix gets smarter about shows that would appeal to you and your family.
After you complete this exercise, you'll notice that the top navigation changes from "Personalize" to "Taste Profile". You'll be able to go back in this area whenever you wish to rate shows an movies, update your "taste preferences", and view the titles you've rated.
The taste preferences page let's you see examples of various "moods". It seems in my queue we watch "family-friendly" titles a lot, romantic titles sometimes, and violent movies never. If I wanted to expand the titles I want to watch, I might venture into the "visionary" or "quirky" category and get some examples of titles from Netflix, which I can add to my instant queue to watch.
Your Account - Update Your Parental Controls and More
One thing I also did on my Netflix account was to update the parental control settings. I don't want my kids to have access to R rated content. The beauty of this is that you have to enter your password before you can change parental control settings. So - I can log into my Netflix account and let my kids browse the titles and add to the Instant Queue, but they will not be able to change the parental control settings. This feature gives Netflix the lead in the Netflix vs. Hulu debate, because Hulu currently has no parental control filters.
In the account area, you are also able to manage the settings for video quality, add other streaming devices, and manage devices that have access to your account. If you have any issues with how certain films stream (e.g. if they disconnect or buffer, but you don't have that problem with other titles), you can report problems with recently watched titles.
It really is a worthwhile exercise to spend some time personalizing your preferences and the instant queue, as well as exploring the hidden gems that Netflix has available that you might not have ever watched without having this service available.
|Posted on May 29, 2012 at 10:50 AM||comments (0)|
Are you paying for ultra high speed broadband (20 - 50+ Mbps) and are still having problems with a high definition 720 - 1080p stream? The issue might be your WiFi. If you don't want to deal with an Ethernet connection, there are a few things you can address to eliminate any potential bottlenecks within your home system.
The current standard protocol of wireless local area networks is 802.11n, which promises the necessary throughput for ultra high speed internet, but often ends up causing bottlenecks in your WiFi system. 20 Mbps or higher broadband speed is highly recommended for high definition streaming, because your router needs to compensate for dropouts and other issues that might affect the stream experience.
Below are some useful tips from PC World to help you boost weak signals and eliminate bottlenecks: