TWIG: Brasso Gadgetcare, Twonky Beam and Savoo Answers

The Week in Gadgets.

As someone who is surrounded by glossy screens I’ve grown to accept that there will be a certain, unavoidable number of smudges on all my devices. Brasso have decided that this is not the case, and rose from their 110 year slumber to bring Brasso Gadgetcare to the market.

Brasso

Whilst I had simply been using my tie to clean my iPad, Brasso have instead provided a silicone gel and micro-fiber cloth solution that is vastly superior to my 100% silk endeavors. Brasso uses anti-static technology to repel dust from the surface of your devices. I used a little on my iMac screen – which when switched off is simply a big dusty mirror and the results were encouraging. I then applied a few drops to my iPad and iPhone to see how they would fare on a smudge level over a couple of days.

Whilst not exactly perfect – there were a few marks on the screen after a day or two’s normal use, it was definitely better that it would have been and my tie was definitely better as a result. Brasso is available from selected stores for about £5.

As you would probably expect, I buy a lot of gadgets and am infuriated when I overpay or miss out on a great deal. Savoo – a voucher code website that published live deals – has launched Savoo Answers – a new Internet shopping service. Crowd sourced information on online bargains is collated and emailed in response to any questions you might have. These answers are also shared with the general public. So if you have a question about LED TVs, they will let you know which manufactures have deals – and where. Whilst not life changing, it certainly can’t hurt. Give it a whirl.

It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t squeeze in some mention of an app – and the Android Marketplace has been a little neglected in these pages, so I thought it would be good to draw your attention to a new Android app from PacketVideo called TwonkyBeam Mobile Android. Despite the ridiculous name, the app actually has a fair amount of promise – beaming media content (music, videos or photos) to your internet connected devices – TVs, HiFis or some of the better digital photoframes. You will need more up-to-date hardware , such as a DLNA enabled TVs, streaming iPod docks or Sonos type systems. You can connect to sites such as Last FM, Flickr or Facebook.
Check out a video here.

Twonky Mobile for Android is available today in the Android Store and will be free for a limited time only. Starting in January 2011, the app will be $2.99.

Revolutions in radio technology: PURE Flowsongs and Logitech Squeezebox

Since its beginnings in the early 1800s, radio has been one of the more important technological devices. From helping keep soldiers’ morale up in World War Two, to keeping emergency services in contact with one another, radio, for decades, has provided societies with simple yet accurate communication and entertainment.

In recent years, radio has made prolific advancements, so much so that there is no way of telling where radio technology will lead to next. Latestgadgets looks at the best in contemporary radio technology.

pure-radio

FlowSongs, a unique cloud-based music service, by PURE
When it comes to innovation in the world of music and radio, the world-leading radio makers PURE, may well have embarked on something major, with the creation of FlowSongs. The first of a range of new services that will be available to Pure’s internet-connected digital radios, FlowSongs enables users to tag tracks playing on any music station and purchase them directly from any PURE radio with Flow technology built in. How? We ask. Users have to register their Flow radio on The Lounge and open an account. They can then purchase tracks, which are individually priced, usually between 79p and 1.49, which are then stored in their Lounge account and can be streamed from any PURE radio with Flow technology.

With this ground-breaking technology the days of listening to a song on the radio and wishing you owned it may be over. As Will Page, chief economist at PRS for Music commented about FlowSongs, “You hear it, like it, and now you can buy it.”

Logitech Squeezebox Radio
With 802.11g of wireless tech squeezed into its compact body, the Logitech Squeezebox Radio is surely worthy of being mentioned on a best of radio feature. Providing an infinite musical playlist, the Logitech Squeezebox is completely indiscriminating of musical styles and tastes.

Whether your penchant is ripping tracks from your own CDs, or buying music from online services, this dandy device allows you to browse, organise and play an unbounded digital music collection.

And that’s just for starters. From talk radio, mainstream pop to the unconventional and underground, you can literally listen to thousands of free internet radio stations with the Squeezebox. You can also hook the Squeezebox up to an MP3 player and will support just about any format available, including AAC, FLAC, WAV and Lossless – quite a performance for something so compact.

PURE Sensia Radio – Putting radio in touch with social media
You either love it or hate, but you’ve got to admit, one of the biggest technological advances of the 21st century is the rise of social media. You’ve also got to hand it to PURE – as once again the British company is holding the fort in pioneering radio technology – with the launching of the Sensia.

The Sensia not only brings social media to radio but also touchscreen, boasting a 5.7 inch colour touchscreen interface that enables users to access social networking sites. Sensia, which has an distinctive egg-shape resemblance, has two 30 watts speakers, connects to thousands of internet radio stations, runs PURE’s Lounge internet radio, enables users to view photos on Gogle’s picture sharing service Picassa and sports a Facebook and Twitter app.

On top of FM, DAB and internet radio and media streaming, users can connect the Sensia into an iPod, MP3, CD, or MiniDisk player – radio surely at its most revolutionary.

Cisco Linksys WAG320N review

Linksys-WAG320

We thought we take a look at the new Linksys WAG320N ADSL2+ modem, which provides easy access to Gigabit Ethernet and functions as a Dual band wireless router. Out of the box, the smooth black pebble that is the WAG320N immediately makes an impression, looking slighty futuristic, in a retro way, but better looking than the vast majority of ugly boxes that tend to define the router market. As you’d expect, all the cables, leads and micro filters you need are included.

Swapping out my default router from my ISP was relatively straightforward, and anyone who has ever set up a network should be right at home. Configuring the modem is done via an installation CD and if you are with a major Internet Service Provider you will have no issues. Simply select your provider and your Internet will be configured automagically. Otherwise you will have to manually configure your router. After 30 mins faffing about with my ISP on the phone for settings, I was good to go.

The router comes with lots of neat little features that required minimum knowledge to set up and basically allows you to play Network Admin (a fun pastime and I’m sure a board game is in the works). You can monitor usage of devices on your network, blocks certain websites or time restrict web access and there is simple yet powerful keyword and URL filtering. Of course technocrati reading this will know how to do all these things and more on a regular router but the WAGE320 puts power into the hands of regular folk. Also with the controversial Digital Economy Bill it’s a little bit more important to be responsible for your network traffic (whether you like it or not). A handy feature was the ability to view everyone on the network and identify free loaders on your network.

The routers performance is solid with no drop-outs on ADSL2+ performance and the MIMO technology reduces dead spots. I ran multiple devices across the network with no problems. There is a USB storage port at the back so it’s pretty easy to share stuff over a network. You can also set up a DLNA server, which is excellent if you have a modern TV or set-top box and want to stream pictures, music or video. 1080p mkv’s stutter a little wirelessly and I’d recommend a wired connection if you are planning on streaming heavily, but 720p content played back over-the-air fine. You can also set up an FTP server so you can remotely access content online or share it.

On the downside you can’t run mixed 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks but it is quite fast if you want one or the other and is cheaper most routers that can support mixed networks.

The WAG320N is about £100. If you move fast you might be able to catch the end of LinkSys’s cash back promotion with PC World, where you if buy any Linksys by Cisco Wireless-N router you can trade in your old one and receive a £20 reward. The promotion lasts until 27 August 2010.

Blink and you won’t miss it – TV anywhere, anytime with Blinkbox

As broadband speeds increase, more and more consumers are using the internet as a way to digitally replace physical goods. It happened with CDs, when Apple’s iTunes and Spotify started supplying buy-to-own and advert-supported models respectively, and now blinkbox aims to do the same with video.

The blinkbox service combines both Apple and Spotify’s selling strategies, offering paid-for feature titles, alongside free ad-supported TV and film content. And with over one million unique visitors a month, a selection of over 6,000 Hollywood movies and a wide array of both UK and US TV series, the technique is clearly doing quite well.

BlinkBox-Screenshot

Both purchased and rented content from blinkbox is stored online on the company’s servers, and while rented films can be watched an unlimited number of times within 24 hours from the moment the film starts playing, purchased films are saved onto your account permanently (or, as is the problem with all streaming services, at least until the service goes out of business).

By allowing users to stream movies directly from their servers allows, blinkbox has managed to make the service compatible with almost any computer with a Flash player, so Windows, Macs and Linux users should be content, although iPad and iPhone purchasers are out of luck.

blinkbox also allows an additional option for PC users only, to download and store content to their computer, which means the risk of an interrupted stream is minimised – although the use of DRM does mean that playback options are severely limited. However, with prices starting as low as 39p for a TV episode and 99p for a movie, and buy-to-keep prices starting at 89p (TV) and £2.99 (film), these limitations can probably be overlooked if you have a decent internet connection and a big monitor.

The website itself is easy to navigate, cleanly designed and even if you are feeling lost, the search box will point you to the right place. Sadly, despite content deals with Warner Bros., Universal, Paramount, Sony Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox and more than 15 leading independent producers such as Fremantle Media, All3Media, Revolver, Zig Zag, and Aardman Animations, there is still a lot more content that needs to be uploaded to convince people to cancel their lovefilm accounts.

The Road Test

We tried blinkbox this weekend with some interesting results. First, and most importantly, when watching a movie the server supplied content without stuttering once (on my 6mb/s home connection). However, compression issues left a few noticeable artefacts during dark, high-octane scenes. Although these moments were rare, they did remind you that you’re watching a compressed file rather than a DVD.

Watching a film for free is also great, however the adverts break up the action more often than you would like – however, no more so than Film Four or a regular TV movie, and at least you can see how long they’ll last.

Finding a movie to watch was easy – a simple user interface, complete with the search box made picking a film fine. However, as mentioned before, in the grand scheme of things, 6,000 movies just isn’t enough if you’re looking specifics, or if you have a penchant for French art movies circa 1920.

Other things to note were a few HTML issues, and the downloaded (not streamed) video file’s DRM prohibiting playback in some media players.

While the idea that film-rental giant Blockbuster Video could soon go out of business is pretty sad, the ability to choose from over 6,000 leading blockbuster films without ever having to leave the house means that at least I won’t have to be reminded of Blockbuster’s failure by walking passed their abandoned stores.

However, when the 6,000 films include pictures like “Oasis of the Zombies”, its obvious that to really thrive, the service will need more films – I’m sure that as blinkbox grows and adds more films, the small video artefacts can easily be overlooked.

3view set top box: The answer to multimedia player prayers?

Set-top boxes have been around for a while now, offering a subscription-free alternative to the Sky Plus system. They’re great little gadgets and the ability to seamlessly record your favourite shows, fast forward through ad breaks, or pause live TV whenever you want to, means that the novelty still hasn’t worn off.

The problem is that the technology is moving so fast that it doesn’t seem quite enough any more. We’re becoming increasingly voracious as far as our media consumption is concerned and this means that we’re changing the way that we access video content. So alongside Freeview, we now demand HD programming, we want access to online catch-up services like BBC’s iPlayer and we crave the ability to stream our own media as and when we please.

3view-settop-box

It seems like an impossible task but British-based company 3view could have answered our multi-media prayers with what they claim is the world’s first true next generation set-top box.

So what’s so good about this magic little box? Well, it takes all of the technologies that we use to watch media and packs them together in one handy device, giving you unparalleled access to entertainment whether it’s through free to air channels (including HD), seamless connection to the Internet, or via access to files on other devices in your home network.

3view is one of the first set-top boxes to use the new DVB-T2 terrestrial receivers, which let people receive both High and Standard Definition free-to-air channels using a typical domestic digital aerial. In addition to free HD TV the 3view box also allows people to access the most popular video content on the Internet through their television. Full-screen Sky Player, iPlayer and Youtube are just a number of online TV and video services which can be searched and watched using the new 3view device.

The device comes complete with half a terabyte of storage, enough for even the most hardened of sofa surfers; and with built in widgets to access social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook you can even stay connected to your friends even when you’ve got your feet up. So it looks like the 3view seems to have all bases covered and speaking as someone who regularly uses a set-top box, laptop and an Xbox 360 to juggle various media; I can certainly see the appeal of a device that puts you in control of your video and TV content, no matter where it comes from.

Priced at £299 it’s not going to cost you the earth either, and whilst there are undoubtedly cheaper models on the market, few can offer the level of interconnectivity that sets the 3view head and shoulders apart from other set top boxes.

3view is available for pre-order from April 7th at www.3view.com.

OnLive “Console Killer” gaming platform

Dubbed a “console-killer” by the media, OnLive, a new on-demand gaming platform launching June 17th, looks sets to slay the need for gaming-specific hardware and knock the wind out of Sony and Microsoft’s sales.

Modestly refereed to as “the future of video games” by its founder, Steve Perlman, OnLive works in a completely different way to any gaming service gone before – one in which you don’t have to own any major hardware to play computer games – or rather, you don’t have to pay for computer/console upgrades every few years.
OnLive-gaming

OnLive-gaming

OnLive makes this possible by outsourcing all of the computer-intensive aspects of the video games from the home computer (or console) to OnLive’s servers, while the user sits at home streaming a video of the action, interacting with the game using their normal keyboard or a special OnLive controlpad.

Essentially, the service is like owning an extremely powerful computer outside of the house with a really long cable into your home. Unfortunately, if you are more than 1,000 miles away from the data server, the communications delay between your home and OnLive will be too long for you to play successfully – not really a problem in the UK, unless the data server is located in Aberdeen and you are playing in Cornwall.

Two of the major benefits over traditional computing, aside from the low start-up cost, will be the ability to instantly play a demo of a high-end computer game as easily as clicking a link (rather than the current policy of downloading a large file first). The other major benefit is that the service encourages games rental, hopefully preventing the hordes of ill-thought-out game purchases that plague any users collection. The service will also offer the users other unique experiences, such as the ability to record video clips of your achievements to share with other users.

Any added benefits are important, as the service’s monthly fee is $14.95. Reasonable enough, but when compared with the average lifespan of a next-gen console (six years), OnLive works out at a cost of $1076.40, whereas a launch-day PS3 would have set you back a meagre $599. It is definitely bad PR when anything makes a just-released PS3 look like a bargain.

The service will come in two varieties, either as an application for your home computer (PC or Mac) or as a “MicroConsole”, which connects directly to your television and makes it possible to use the service without owning a computer at all. OnLive has also suggested that the MicroConsole technology is simple enough to be built in to set-top boxes and other consumer electronics suggesting future applications, should the service take off.

However, many industry insides are questioning whether such a service is possible at all. While Perlman states that a 1.5Mbps broadband connection will be needed for standard-definition, and 4-5 Mbps for HDTV, Eurogamer has correctly questioned just how much computing power, and bandwidth, the OnLive data centres will require:

Not only will these datacenters be handling the gameplay, they will also be encoding the video output of the machines in real time and piping it down over IP to you at 1.5MBps (for SD) and 5MBps (for HD). OnLive says you will be getting 60fps gameplay. First of all, bear in mind that YouTube’s encoding farms take a long, long time to produce their current, offline 2MBps 30fps HD video. OnLive is going to be doing it all in real-time via a PC plug-in card, at 5MBps, and with surround sound too.

It sounds brilliant, but there’s one rather annoying fact to consider: the nature of video compression is such that the longer the CPU has to encode the video, the better the job it will do. Conversely, it’s a matter of fact that the lower the latency, the less efficient it can be.

Although the service may not boast Eurogamer’s support, some arguably more important names have rallied behind the service: Electronic Arts, Take-Two, Ubisoft, Epic Games, Atari, Codemassters, THQ, Warner Bros., 2D Boy and Eidos Interactive have all signed their games up for the service.