Tag Archives: Streaming

Sony Unveils A PlayStation-Powered Streaming TV Gadget

The PS Vita TV is a tiny media player for playing games and using apps through your TV

Earlier today, Sony announced a new gadget: the PS Vita TV, a cheap set-top box that’ll let users play some (only some!) games and stream video through their televisions.

The Vita TV can use video streaming apps like Hulu, which play video without saving the full file, but more importantly, the box can download and play games. Users download the games through Sony’s online store, then with a standard PlayStation control, play them. The Vita TV also comes with a slot that can play physical copies of games for the PS Vita, Sony’s latest handheld gaming machine.

So: Which games can you play with this? Right now, the box can’t handle the high-end stuff the PlayStation 3 plays. Instead, it plays games with less demanding graphics: there are digital versions of PlayStation 1 games, PSPS games (Sony’s previous-generation hand-held console), and PS Vita games (although Sony says not all of the latter will be supported). The box will also be able to hook up to another TV and remotely stream PlayStation 4 games, provided your PS4 is connected to another TV on the same network.

You’re out of luck right now if this sounds up your alley and you’re not in Japan: the PS Vita TV is being released there first, for about 10,000 yen, or about $100, on November 14. There’s also a 15,000-yen version (about $150) with a controller being released. No word on when the box is coming to other countries.


Google Announces New Tablet And Streaming TV Stick Thing

This might be the cheapest internet-streaming TV device we’ve ever seen!

Today in San Francisco, Google announced a few intriguing new products–two hardware, one software. One is an updated version of our favorite Android tablet, one is the newest version of Android, and one is something that’s not quite like anything else. Let’s get into it!

By far the most interesting thing announced at today’s event was the Chromecast, a very small stick that reminds us a little bit of the Roku Streaming Stick. It’s a two-inch-long dongle that looks more like a USB flash drive than anything else, but in fact it plugs into the HDMI port on your TV. It’s not really like a Roku or an Apple TV, though; there’s not actually an interface, and there’s no remote.

Instead, you find the content on your phone or tablet and beam it to the Chromecast, just like beaming something from a phone to an Apple TV via AirPlay. In the Youtube, Netflix, music, or video app on your phone, there’ll be a little icon on the “now playing” screen. Tap it and a list of places to send the song or video will pop up; hit “living room” (or whatever you’ve named your Chromecast) and bam, it’ll start playing on your TV.

Currently, the Chromecast only supports Netflix and Youtube on iOS, and adds in the native music and video player if you’re using an Android phone or tablet. Google says they’ll try to add more (perhaps Hulu Plus, Amazon, Crackle, or HBO Go?) but given Google’s history with video streamers, who knows. One odd thing: it’s not powered by the HDMI port, like the Roku Streaming Stick (which requires a fancy, semi-rare sort of HDMI port, but still). That means it has to get power from somewhere, and that somewhere looks to be USB. If your TV has a USB port on it, cool, plug ‘er right into that as well. If not, well, you’ll have to run a cord down to your trusty power strip, which is a bummer.

The key thing about the Chromecast? It only costs $35. Yow! And then there’s this: “Once your Chromecast ships, you will recieve an email with a promotional code for 3 months of Netflix. Offer valid for previous, new and existing Netflix members, one per Netflix account.” That means if you’re currently paying the $8 minimum for streaming Netflix, or if you decide to sign up, you can subtract $24 from that price, bringing the cost down to about the price of a decent sandwich and a bag of chips. You can buy it here.

Nexus 7, Part 2
The Nexus 7 is our favorite Android tablet, and Google just announced a new version that looks like it’ll build on everything we liked about it before. The new one has the same sized screen, but trims down the bezel and the body so it’s smaller and lighter than before. The screen, by the way, is a huge upgrade, with a 1920×1200 resolution and a 323 pixels-per-inch density. That’s super high; Apple would call it a “Retina” screen, but we’ll just call it super crisp and clear.

It’s also got a faster processor than before (a quad-core Snapdragon, if that’s the kind of thing that interests you), double the memory (up to 2GB of RAM), dual stereo speakers, both a front and rear camera (the previous version only had a front-facing camera, which we kind of liked), and an array of new sensors and options (Bluetooth 4.0, near-field communication, wireless charging). The battery life has been extended by an hour or so; Google says you’ll get 9 hours of “HD” video watching out of it.

The Nexus 7 also comes with the newest version of Android, another update to “Jelly Bean” with a new version number (4.3) but still keeping the name. Doesn’t seem like a whole lot has changed on the user front; there are new parental controls for multiple profiles, so you can make sure your kid doesn’t use your awesome porn apps, but that’s about all that was announced.

The new Nexus 7 will be available in three models: a 16GB and 32GB model with only Wi-Fi, for $229 and $269, respectively, and a 32GB model with 4G LTE for $349. The LTE model works with any of America’s LTE networks (that’d be Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile), and all the models are significantly cheaper than the equivalent iPad Mini model–with much more powerful specs, to boot.

Read more about the Nexus 7 here.


The One True Streaming TV Device

The way to success is not to eliminate 90 percent of features and cut the price by 60 percent. Why not make the One True Streaming TV Thing?

Google just announced their new Chromecast device, a very small stick thing that plugs into your TV and allows you to play videos or music on your TV. It costs $35, and if you’re a Netflix subscriber you’ll get credited three months free, bringing the price essentially down to $11, so people are very excited about it.

So here’s how Chromecast works: you start streaming a video on your phone, tablet or computer’s browser. If it is a particular kind of video–for example a Netflix video–there will be a little button you can press. Hit that button and you’ll get a little popup saying “would you like to play this on your TV?” (I’m paraphrasing here). Say yes and your TV will start playing that video instead of your phone/tablet/browser. Your TV is blank throughout this whole process, until you say “yes”–you do all your searching and browsing and selecting on some other gadget. This process doesn’t really have a name, as far as I know, so I’m going to call it “slinging.” It’s different than streaming; the Netflix app on your phone streams Netflix videos, but Chromecast lets you sling those videos to your TV. You can sling the stream, see? For example, AirPlay, which you can use on the Apple TV, is a slinging feature.

In our haste to crown a gadget the king of its category simply because it’s the newest member of that category, we sometimes forget about the humble, older gadgets that might still be the better fit for most customers.

The interesting thing about the Chromecast is that it isolates a single feature found in some other streaming TV products, eliminates everything else, and cuts the price and size down. Apple TV has a Chromecast in it, essentially, but the Chromecast eliminates 90 percent of what the Apple TV can do and cuts the price by two-thirds. Google thinks that one feature, the slinging feature, is enough to carry its product.

Google isn’t necessarily wrong; the idea is that you can offload lots of the stuff you’d normally do with a remote while looking at the TV to your phone. Instead of click-click browsing on your TV, you just browse on your phone. Instead of having to support yet another version of apps like Netflix and Youtube for the TV, Google can just say screw it, use the ones on your phone. This makes sense!

But there are lots of obstacles to adoption. The first and maybe most important is that this is very simply not how most people are used to watching things on their TVs. Apple TV and Roku and Xbox are familiar because they’re not really that far removed from the way we’ve been watching TV for decades before the internet came along. Apps are really just channels; in fact, Roku calls its apps “channels.” Pick up the remote, click over to the channel you want, click over to the show or movie you want, play. It takes very little learning.

The concept of slinging, in which you play content on your phone before magically beaming it via Wi-Fi to a stick plugged into your TV–that’s at least one alien new step that most people haven’t messed around with, and alien new steps are always major barriers to mainstream adoption.

Another major problem is that I simply do not trust Google to develop the Chromecast in the way it needs to be developed for its vision to succeed. It’s confusing at the moment! You can sling content to the Chromecast with any of several devices–iPhone, Android phone, laptop running the Chrome browser–but they can’t all play all types of videos. Right now, the Chromecast only supports Netflix and Youtube through all of those. If you sling content to the Chromecast with an Android phone or tablet, you can use the music and video app that plays stuff you’ve got on your phone (for example, a TV show you’ve bought and downloaded from the Google Play store, or an album you’ve synced onto your phone from your computer). With a computer using the Chrome browser, Google says you can sling “any video content,” be it Hulu, HBO Go, or something else entirely. Assuming that’s true–which is a big assumption, given the wildly divergent types of video players and security for those video players on the web–it requires that people control their TVs with their computers. People generally do not like doing this, otherwise we’d all just plug our computers directly into our TVs.

If that sounds confusing, I’ve sort of proved my point. This is confusing!

Google also has a spectacularly lousy history of supporting its TV products; if you can actually remember what the Google TV and Nexus Q even were, I’d be surprised, and if you own either, I’d assume you’re also a professional gadget reviewer who received a free one from Google. Google says they’re releasing an SDK (software developer’s kit) so that the developers who make video apps like Hulu and HBO Go can make their iPhone and Android apps work with the Chromecast–but will they? I wouldn’t put my money on it, even if it’s a pretty small amount of money.

And that also completely ignores the pleasure of navigating a pretty interface on a TV. Apple TV and even Roku, lately, have turned their interfaces into something pretty special. Browsing through one of these devices shows huge movie posters and album art; metadata like directors, actors, and plot synopses; and beautiful animations. Compare that to the Chromecast experience: pick up your phone and scroll through a tiny app. Why use your giant TV if you’re not going to use it to its fullest? And imagine the awkwardness of browsing and selecting a title if you’re not alone. What do you do, read out the titles to your guests as you scroll through on your phone? Does everyone crowd around you? Do you just take control like a living-room despot?

The main draw of the Chromecast is its price, which is admittedly absurdly cheap. But, um, the Roku HD, which has a lovely interface, universal search, and support for hundreds of apps, costs $50 on Amazon. It doesn’t have a slinging feature like Chromecast or Apple TV’s Airplay, that’s true, but it does have Plex, which sucks up all of the videos on any computer in your house and organizes them by category and title, pulling in all that delicious metadata from online databases so you can browse by cover art.

The Apple TV costs $95 on Amazon–a lot more money, sure. But you get a lot more for your money (great interface, stellar hardware, support for the enormously popular Apple store, the combination of apps and a slinging feature), and it’s also important to remember that these gadgets can help you get rid of cable entirely. An Apple TV costs about as much as one month’s worth of cable. Suck it up, guys. It’s not that expensive.

This isn’t to say that I’m not excited by Chromecast; I think slinging is exceptionally cool, and I think it’s great that this hardware so cheap and small. But I don’t necessarily think that a device that does exclusively slinging, no matter how cheap it is, is a viable option for most people. It’s best as part of a larger whole.

That larger whole will come, soon enough. It’s a fun thought experiment to make a sort of frankengadget out of all of the devices; I want the Roku’s ease of use and depth of content, the Apple TV’s speed and beautiful interface, the Chromecast’s device-agnostic beaming capabilities, the Boxee’s live TV addition, and, hell, while I’m at it, I want the sports content from good old cable TV. And I want it for $100. Soon enough someone’ll do this. But if you’re going to cut the cord, you need more features to make up, not fewer.