Sky Now TV: A threat to Netflix and Lovefilm?

Sky has entered the internet TV arena with the launch of a new service called Now TV. With streaming services available on PC, Mac and selected Android handsets, the service puts Sky, and owners BSkyB, in direct competition with streaming giants Netflix and Lovefilm.

NowTV

Now TV subscribers will gain access to a range of Sky Movies content, including the service’s 11 channels and 600 movies. If movies alone aren’t enough to sway you, The Guardian reports that Now TV users will also be able to access other BSkyB content later in the year. This includes Sky Sports content, such as Premier League football, rugby, cricket and golfing tournaments, in addition to Sky1 and Sky Atlantic.

Stephen van Rooyen, BSkyB managing director of sales and marketing, said: “We are targeting the 13m non-pay TV households out there with a no commitment, no contract way of delivering Sky content they want in a dip in and dip out way. The whole idea is to have something ‘not Sky’, it is purposely designed to attract new customers.”

NowTV is available as a subscription or pay-as-you-view service. Subscribers can watch unlimited content for £15 a month, while less prolific viewers can expect to pay between 99p and £3.49 per film using the “pay and play” option.

With the new service, BSkyB are targeting consumers who avoid subscribing to costly cable packages, and offering them a more flexible option. Despite this, Now TV’s monthly fee is still three times higher than Netflix and LoveFilm’s cheapest packages.

Van Rooyen defended the company’s pricing, saying “The most important thing to look at is what the service is, the quality of what we are delivering, we don’t want to replicate what LoveFilm and Netflix have done. We offer around 75% of the top 100 box office movies, and have rights to offer films a year before rivals – the value is in the premium quality we have.”

Although the service is only currently available on a limited number of gadgets, BSkyB have announced plans to roll out further versions for iPhone, iPad, Xbox and even PlayStation 3. It will also be available via YouView, a new service that combines Freeview with online content.

Cisco Cloud Connect and Smart WiFi: Routing for the little guy

I’m a self-confessed tech nerd (a real built-my-own-computer nerd not just a guy in thick glasses) but not even I can get excited about routers. I love everything to do with Internet but the mechanics of how it gets into my house don’t generally excite me. So when Cisco invited me to spend half an afternoon being wowed by the latest and greatest in routing technology I was worried that I might fall into an involuntary nap, never to recover.

How wrong I was. Cisco pooled their engineering might and did the unthinkable – made routers exciting.

 

Cisco-Universal-Media-Connector

Wifi is everywhere. Cisco expects that in 2016 there will be 19 billion connected devices globally and that 1.2 million minutes of video will be viewed online every second. I’ve spent the past few days setting up wifi scales, wireless speakers, TVs and more. Now granted I’m a tech journalist but these things will be worming their way into your living rooms soon. I’ve seen a wifi fridge with a touchscreen panel attached. The future is clearly on its way. But setting up wifi devices is a pain. It’s easy to get a laptop online but a speaker with zero buttons is much more fiddly. And with more and more strain being put on your one wifi you don’t want your bathroom scales slowing down your Netflix streaming.

Cisco have made all of this easier. The new Linksys Universal Media Connector makes it a doddle to connect wired devices such as Smart TVs and game consoles to Wi-Fi networks to enjoy the magic of streaming. The connector operates in the 5Ghz band and has four gigabit ports.

Cisco-Smart-Router

The new Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router EA6500 has blazing fast AC technology but is backwards compatible with prior wireless networks and devices using 802.11a/b/g/n. The router contains six internal 3D antennae that are designed to insure the same performance whether placed on a desktop or mounted against the wall (apparently this was a popular configuration for people). And it still looks pretty slick.

Cisco showed off a SimpleTap function, enabling you to connect devices by swiping an NFC-enabled smart phone over an NFC tag to connect to the network (great if you want to hook people up to a guest network), and they are working to jam this into as much consumer tech as possible.

Cisco-Connect-Cloud-Cafe
This man is such a dull conversationalist, she’d rather tweak her home network settings.
Thanks to Cisco Connect Cloud … she can!

Even better was Cisco Connect Cloud, a cloud platform that has been designed to provide convenient anytime, anywhere access to the home network and its connected devices – from a web browser or mobile device. This means it’s easier than ever before for normal people to control their Internet service. Most routers have powerful QoS etc technology built in that are never used as it’s way too complicated. Cisco have “changed the game” in terms of opening up functionality to “civilians”. It’s easier for parents to hop in from their smartphone (Android or IOS) and block certain websites. You can also see various Internet services and throttle them or block them at certain times (“No Facebook till you finish your homework”) or make sure that your downloads in one room don’t get in the way if you suddenly want to stream a movie on Netflix.

The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router EA6500 is targeted for availability in September at major retailers, as well as the Linksys online store. The Linksys Universal Media Connector is expected in October at the same outlets.

NetGear NeoTV ProHD: Instant wireless HDTV streaming

Those looking for a TV streaming player would do well to consider the latest offering from networking specialists NetGear. Their recently launched NeoTV ProHD streaming player promises top-notch performance and seamless picture quality, all in glorious 1080p HD. It’s enough to make your eyes water.

Netgear-Neo-Tv

The device allows you to wirelessly stream practically any online TV, movie or video service you can imagine. Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, Vudu, you name it, as long as it is a streaming channel it is supported by the NeoTV ProHD.

For those who wish to view the world wide web on their television set, you can also set it up to display any online content you can imagine. Websites, photos, music and even games can all be broadcast on to the big screen.
To accompany the launch of the streaming player, NetGear have set up a number of streaming channels to be made available to all NeoTV devices, including on-demand content from the extensive catalogue of Hallmark Hall of Fame movies.

Viewers will also be able to enjoy all 32 events of the Summer Olympics in full HD, meaning you won’t miss a second of the action.
Connecting to the internet at a rate of 300Mbps, the NeoTV ProHD can stream ultra smooth 1080p HD content. Operated with a remote control that comes with the device, you can also control the action from your Smartphone, iPod or iPad by downloading a remote control app available free from Apple or Google’s online stores.

Life After DVD: As the death knell sounds for the disk, what are our alternatives?

Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, admitted in January that the company expects DVD subscribers to decline every quarter, “forever”. When the head of America’s biggest DVD rental company  – the US equivalent of LoveFilm – makes this kind of statement, that says a lot about the state of the DVD market.

Experts have forecast the fall of the DVD for the past few years and, as digital options increase, we take a look at a few of the alternatives.

Apple-TV

Apple TV

Billed as “A lot of entertainment. In a very little box”, Apple TV offers movies, news, music and the ability to share photos and documents on your computer through your TV. Netflix subscribers can access the company’s online movie streaming service and you can use an iPhone or iPod as a remote control. The box costs £99 upfront and movie rentals start at £2.49. The newly updated version now streams in 1080p.

iTunes Rentals

iTunes rentals provide a digital alternative to traditional video rental shops – without the late fees. Rented movies stay in your iTunes library for 30 days and, once you start watching, you have 48 hours to finish the film before it expires. Download rented movies onto an Apple device to watch away from home and, if 30 days isn’t enough, you can also purchase most movies to keep within your iTunes account indefinitely.

Lovefilm and Netflix

Lovefilm has been established for a few years as the UK’s leading online entertainment rental company. As well as sending DVDs by post, Lovefilm users can stream movies online. Netflix also recently launched their streaming service in the UK, providing some healthy competition in the paid streaming market. For a monthly fee, both services allow you to stream films for free, or pay a small amount to watch new releases.

New Kids on the Block

This year’s CES revealed a few new players that are enhancing the digital movie market. Syncbak, currently on limited release, is a system that enables you to stream content from the internet to smart TVs, mobiles, tablets and more. Meanwhile, the Roku streaming stick plugs in to your television, transforming your set into a smart TV and enabling you to stream content from your computer to the big screen.

With the offerings at this year’s CES, it looks like the DVD’s demise might not be long coming. Trends suggest our TV and movie watching is going mobile. With newer technology and formats undercutting DVDs in price and surpassing them in convenience, we can only hope it will be a quick and painless end, rather than a protracted and drawn-out struggle.

Make Mum’s day with a gadget gift

Okay people, here’s the deal when it comes to Mothers’ Day. Little kids can get away with a hand drawn card and a clay candle holder made at school, but bigger people need to put some effort in.

So, if you’re a husband or partner, or a son or daughter who’s earning their own way in the world, get your mum something decent this Mother’s Day.

Here’s a few ideas for mums who like to get a bit technical…

Concrete-Hook-Case

Concrete Hook Case

Only just launched are these stylish Concrete Hook cases, to protect her laptop. Made from finest Italian leather with a padded suede lining, there are are four colourways to choose from. Forest Green Grey with purple blue lining; Antelope Brown with Cobalt blue lining; Red Brown with black lining, and Charcoal black with orange lining. They feature chrome and aluminium fasteners and offer a choice of three types of handles in various lengths. The handles are attached to the chrome corners using specially manufactured carbine hooks.

Price: £149

Stockists: www.concretecases.com

Opus

Opus Luxury Aroma Diffusing Clock

Mum’s bedroom fills with calming soft light, and the sounds of nature soothe her as she inhales the aroma of fresh coffee. Now that makes a change from the alarm clock clanging, the dogs barking to be fed and the whiff of sports socks from the laundry basket. Home fragrance brand MadeByZen has come up with the Opus, a diffuser and alarm clock, which uses light, sound and fragrance for a really different wake-up experience. According to sleep specialists, being woken by a loud alarm clock can cause undue stress on the body. The best way to wake up is to be gently roused using natural light and sounds. The Opus combines the ancient practice of aromatherapy with modern technology, mimicking a natural wake-up pattern incorporating ‘sunrise’ and natural sounds, as well as subtle fragrance options. It also acts as a mini humidifier, ioniser and air purifier, enhancing the air quality of your home.

The Opus comes in black or white with a large choice fragrance oils at £3.99 each.

Price: £79.99

Stockists: www.madebyzen.com

Folding-Plug

Mu Folding Plug connector

Mums may seem like Mary Poppins sometimes, with bags that just keep on giving – ask a mum for biscuits, drinks, tissues, plasters – you name it, it’s probably in her handbag somewhere. But there comes a point when those bags can just not stretch any more. So if mum needs to plug in her phone when she’s at work, or on holiday, there’s a rather clever folding plug that has just come onto the market. The MU Folding Plug takes up 70% less space than your average plug and the recent launch is a USB adaptor for smartphones. The other clever thing is that the plug pins are folded away so are less likely to scratch your phone’s screen or anything else you have in your bag.

We’ve tried one out and it’s a terribly clever design, plus it comes in a very attractive box that will look good for a gift – our only gripe is that it comes in the now ubiquitous white, which we find shows up the dirt.

A tablet optimized plug and a power cord are to launch later this year.

Price: £25

Stockist: www.themu.co.uk

RoboD

RoboStir

Does your mum always complain she needs more hands? Then give her some for Mothers Day! The RoboStir is a nifty gizmo that can stir stews, soups and sauces for you, while you’re chopping, kneading, or sitting down with the paper.

I am notorious for burning pans, because I put the dinner on and then wander off and carry on working (the pitfalls of working at home), so this little gadget seemed to be just what I needed to save myself yet more burned pans.

Tripod

Just a point – you’re not to leave it unattended, so you should stay in the kitchen while it’s stirring – it’s simple to use, and fits over most average-size pans. It will cope with reasonably light sauces, such as baked beans and a light cheese sauce, but don’t expect to use it on anything too heavy.

If your mum cooks a lot and seems to do a lot of juggling, it might be worth the £14-odd quid for a novelty present.

Price: £14.95

Stockist: www.gizoo.co.uk

Roku

Roku XS streaming platform

If your mum doesn’t have a PC (or more likely can never get near one) how about treating her to the Roku, a streaming platform that provides 80 channels of online entertainment content including on-demand films from Netflix and BBC iPlayer to almost any TV without the need for a PC. A Netflix subscription will give access to unlimited films. If she’s feeling generous, she might even use it to keep the kids entertained over the holidays (while she gets a bit of ‘me’ time!).

Price: £99.99

Stockist: www.amazon.co.uk

Archos

Archos 70d eReader

I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to eReaders and books. I like a nice book, with proper paper pages and printed with ink. BUT after a particularly dull journey on the District Line last week, I was wishing I had one, as I’d finished my book on the way into London. With an eReader, you’ve always got another book at your fingertips, so I decided to put the latest Archos 70d eReader to the test to see if busy mums might fancy one for Mother’s Day.

It’s really light, at 280g, which is good in some ways, but it does feel a tad flimsy – and you’ll need to buy a cover for it if it’s going to get flung in a bag (which is pretty likely). You should get around eight hours out of a full charge, which is not bad either.

At a tad under 60 quid, it’s pretty cheap – 30 pounds less than a Kindle, so if you can’t afford one of those, and your mum isn’t too demanding about her gadgets this could be a good choice. It’s simple to use, has a 7in TFT colour screen, and can also be used for playing video, music and viewing photos players and the 4GB of onboard memory is expandable by up to 16GB thanks to the microSD slots.

Price: £59.99

Stockist: http://www.archos.com/

myTV 2GO: Hauppauge’s iOS TV streaming gadget

Ever held your sleek futuristic tablet and had a sudden longing to watch the Tv the old-fashioned way? If you’ve ever wanted to unwind with a little bit of Freeview but haven’t been anywhere near a traditional TV then you need a clever little gadget called the myTV 2go from Hauppauge.

myTV-2go

The my TV 2GO is a portable, removable-battery powered DVB-T, that brings a world of Freeview and Freeview recording to your iPad. Magic no?

We were sent a test unit to play with for a couple of days. Out of the box the MyTv 2go is remarkable simple to set up. Simply download the free app and follow the onscreen set-up guide. You basically connect to the MyTv 2go as a wireless network, and the app does the rest. All the regular Freeview channels are there, so if you’ve been missing your fill of bid-drop TV then you can fill your boots. It also works as a DVR so you can record as much TV as your iPad will hold.

The unit charges over micro USB and has a run time of about 3.5 hours. You can also use it to add the wonder of broadcast to your iPhone, iPod touch, laptop or PC. There’s a CD included if you’ve not yet joined the post-PC era.

I’ve used other, remarkably similar DVB-T units before but none have had quite as good an interface as the myTV go. It’s like they’ve put a decent amount of thought into how touchscreen devices are used proceeded accordingly. You can swipe in either direction to change channel, swipe up for a list of all the channels and swipe down to see a program guide. It’s really slick and a joy to use.

It’s a shame there’s nothing on.

PURE music’s Spotify rivial

PURE has launched an online music service to rival the likes of Spotify.The cloud-based on-demand service will let users browse and listen to millions of tracks. They’ll be able to organise and play as many tracks and albums as they want on multiple devices, including PURE’s range of eight internet-connected digital radios PCs and Macs via the PURE Lounge internet radio and media portal (www.thelounge.com) and on smartphones running the PURE Lounge app.

Pure-Music

Another feature of the service is PURE Tag, which lets you bookmark tracks you hear on the radio, and find out more about the track and artist using the search and recommendation facilities of the PURE Lounge, to discover more about the artists and their back catalogue, podcasts, or even discover similar and related artists. This is an updated version of PURE’s FlowSongs music tagging service, which was launched in 2010.

Your choice of albums and tracks can be dragged and dropped into playlists, which will automatically be kept synchronised across all of your PURE Music listening devices. Playlists can be shared with social networking contacts on Facebook and Twitter.

There will be one price to start with – £4.99 – but be aware that there is no caching offered as yet, so you won’t be able to experience offline play. As more functionality is introduced, PURE will introduce a tiered pricing structure.

PURE Music went live in December and you can register your interest at www.thelounge.com/puremusic

Review: OnLive, the on-demand video gaming service

OnLive-Controller

OnLive, the Spotify of gaming, has been around for a while with its quiet promises of revolutionising home entertainment. If you’ve not yet read the pamphlet (or Jack’s in-depth article on the service here), OnLive are hoping to move the gaming industry into the future, enabling users to stream the latest games into their houses via relatively small and inexpensive software. The OnLive Micro-Console isn’t much larger than a portable USB hard drive and in theory could easily be built into the next generation of Smart TVs.

But what’s it like to use?

Well BT is offering its broadband subscribers an exclusive opportunity to get the OnLive PlayPack Bundle free for three months when they sign-up before January 31 2012. As part of this promotion they sent me an OnLive Micro-Console to test.

As far as setting up goes, it’s a relatively simple beast, with ports for power and ethernet on the back and USB ports to charge the controllers on the front. You can buy a wireless adaptor but unless you have a rock solid connection that you trust whole heartedly I wouldn’t recommend it. It merely took minutes to get going and creating an account is also child’s play. I have a modest 8 Mbps connection at home with Be Broadband (a far cry from the “up to 24 Mbps” advertised but that’s a grumble for a different day) so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first plugged the Micro-Console in.

Actual use was an interesting experience. The quality of graphics is surprisingly high but you can definitely tell you are streaming. The occasional artefacts will appear on-screen in a cut sequence. I popped on Arkham City as a free trial and was able to be up and running in mere minutes – far superior to the current “download and wait for endless updates” system on conventional consoles. Street Fighter IV played back flawlessly, with no discernible albeit with image quality not quite up to playback from a physical disk. Batman Arkham City suffered from a tiny bit of lag on some of the fight sequences, but not enough to be off-putting.

If you are an avid gamer and rip through the latest titles (and then sell them) week after week, it’s pretty easy to recommend giving the OnLive system a go – provided you have the bandwidth to handle it.

As I mentioned at the start of the article, BT is offering its broadband subscribers an exclusive opportunity to get the OnLive PlayPack Bundle free for three months when they sign-up before January 31 2012. This means people will be able to play over 100 top video games on their TV, laptop or tablet, such as Fear 3 and Batman: Arkham Asylum, at any time without the need for software. Plus you get access to the latest games such as Saints Row: The Third and Batman Arkham City for an additional fee.

For more information head to BT