At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: apple tv

How a Roku will Make Your Old TV Shine Again

If you need an inexpensive way to upgrade your HDTV to be able to stream YouTube TV, I’ve got just the thing. And it’s hiding in plain sight…

So, as you may have heard… I’ve cancelled my cable service from my longtime cable TV provider. Instead, I’m now streaming my cable channels via the YouTube TV app for $40/month using my Apple TV in the family room.

That’s right…
I’ve joined the Dark Side.
Or perhaps I’ve finally left the Dark Side.

Either way, I loved this disruptive tech moment in my life.

I told my story to a work colleague, and he congratulated me and then commented how ‘freeing’ it must feel.

It certainly does.

Next, it was time to bring the freedom back to my older HDTV in my home office….

My Bat TV will Rise Again
Once designed as a compact media screen on the left side of my Batcave-like IKEA desk console, this little Sony TV has sat mostly dark over the past couple of years. It lost its cable box companion in the Lester Cable-Plan Purge of ’16.
(Yes, I’ve been on this path for a while now.)

In an attempt to keep feeding my Bat-TV a signal, I attached a Roku streaming puck to bring in a few streaming cable channel apps that I could still access via the existing cable subscription.

But it was a limited solution…

Find the Right Streaming Solution for You
Now, with the glow of YouTube TV permeating the Lester household… I was eager to activate another streaming device with no additional Google charge and no extra cable box to rent.
(You can actually run three simultaneous YouTube TV streams!)

So, it was time to get my home-office TV back in the game!

Unfortunately, my old Roku wasn’t built to run the YouTube TV app… so I needed to buy a newer streaming box.

Another Apple TV would certainly fit the bill, but the price tag is close to two hundred bucks. What about a new Roku?

Excellent idea….!

Roku Ultra
You can debate the larger issue of the value of an Apple TV vs. a Roku.
But all of the Roku streaming players are so much cheaper than an Apple TV!

For this little secondary TV, a new Roku was the easy choice. The final question was which one…

I decided on the Roku Ultra and picked up one on Black Friday for 50% off at Amazon for $49.99. I saw on Facebook that my old school friend Matt also took advantage of the same offer for some holiday gifts!
(Well done, Matt!)

I connected my new Roku Ultra to my Sony TV using its HDMI cable. Then, I used the Roku remote to guide my Roku towards my home Wi-Fi network. Finally, I downloaded the YouTube TV app… signed in… and BAM!

All done.

Future-Proof Where Possible
No, I didn’t need the top-of-the-line Roku model for my barely-HD HDTV. But I figured it will help to future-proof my purchase if I want to attach this Roku to a 4K TV one day.

Even without a discount, you can still pick up one of the other Roku models for $50 or less.
(The base 1080 HD-only “Roku Express” is thirty bucks!)

The Cost to Stream
I know Roku isn’t the only low-cost streaming solution out there, but for me it’s that darn brand-loyalty thing again.
(My old Roku puck got me hooked.)

Whichever brand you choose, the fact remains that adding streaming capability to your TV costs almost nothing. And if you own a smart TV that can stream all by itself, then this conversation gets even easier!

Easy Access Matters
Now, I’ve got YouTube TV on my…

  • Apple TV in the family room
  • Roku Ultra in my home-office Batcave
  • and the iPhone in my pocket

Now, that feels like real freedom to me!

Don’t Forget These 5 Pieces of Tech on Your Vacation

If you’re staring at your suitcase, it’s probably time for your next vacation. Here are my packing tips to help maintain your tech Zen…

If your next vacation is coming up, you might be thinking about what to pack. Some would say that you should leave the shackles of your technology behind to truly liberate yourself. Only then can you truly recharge and ‘vacate’ from your day-to-day existence.

I say… “No way!”

Now’s the time to have some real fun with all of your home tech!
Here are my top five pieces of gear to bring along…

Portable Bluetooth Speaker
You can’t pack your entire home audio system, but you do have access to many of your tunes via your smartphone… So, taking a portable Bluetooth speaker that can pair with your smartphone will quickly enable you to generate your happy sound bubble wherever you are.

Apple TV
It’s super simple to pop your Apple TV in your bag and then activate it using the Wi-Fi of your vacation location.
(Don’t forget the remote… like I did last year.)

Who cares if your hotel room has ‘HBO?’ You’ve got instant access to all of the content that you’re used to at home. And now, you’ll have a little more time to enjoy it!

Some hotel rooms even have their own Apple TVs these days. All you have to do is log into your account.
(Just don’t forget to log out when you check out.)

HDMI iPhone Adapter
Your iPhone and iPad can actually do the same trick as your Apple TV as long as you bring along an Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter to connect your mobile device to your hotel room TV via the HDMI cable.

Beach-Proof Camera
Water can certainly damage a typical camera, but the hidden danger at the beach is all of the sand blowing about. Even if one grain gets stuck in your retractable lens on your point-and-shoot camera, your lens mechanism could jam.

A smartphone isn’t going to have that problem, but you still want to be careful.
(Dropping it on a rock is a great way to crack the screen.)

A GoPro is made for the kind of punishment beach time can serve up.

A less expensive, waterproof ‘family’ camera like a Nikon COOLPIX W100 ($156.95 on Amazon) is another worry-free solution to taking your action pics at the beach…

Portable Power Stick
Even if you’re not ‘roughing it,’ you might find your smartphone or camera low on power by the afternoon. It’s always smart to carry along a little power stick to help your gear make it through the day.

I’m partial to Anker power sticks.

3 Bonus Ideas
If you have extra packing space and if your vacation activity planning allows, you should consider taking…

Time to Party!
If using your tech on vacation is a stressor, leave it behind. For everyone else in the vacation party, let’s power up and bathe in pixels and bytes by the shore!

Why “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Orville” are Tearing a Hole in My Mind and Wallet

I’ve been a Trekkie all of my life. Here’s a photo of me as a teenager sitting in a replica U.S.S. Enterprise captain’s chair at the 1976 New York City Star Trek Convention. Does this demonstration of core-level nerdiness qualify me decades later to offer my first impressions of “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Orville?” You bet it does!

I feel like I’ve entered a sci-fi nexus. A place where I can clearly see a warped “Star Trek” from my past and a newly phased, slightly alternate-reality version for the future.

A little confused? So am I.
(Though not entirely displeased)

All right everyone… go find your Spock ears and put them on. This is going to get a little geeky…

Two New Versions of “Star Trek”
It may feel like blasphemy to tinker with the old “Star Trek” some of us grew up with. But as I’m sure you’re aware, two new “Star Trek” based sci-fi series have almost simultaneously arrived after twelve years without new Star Trek episodes on television.

After what seems like an eternity of preproduction, “Star Trek: Discovery” has finally premiered. But it doesn’t entirely own the new-Trek conversation, because Seth MacFarlane’s irreverent “The Orville,” actually beat “Discovery” to the premiere punch by a couple of weeks.

“The Orville” isn’t technically a “Star Trek” series, but it’s clearly paying homage to the original show and “The Next Generation” while also trying to have a lot of fun with the format.

“Star Trek: Discovery” has chosen a darker and grittier path than any of its predecessors, one seemingly inspired by the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot. Starring Sonequa Martin-Green, “Discovery” works hard to remind us it’s “Star Trek.” In the pilot episode, you’ll see a front-and-center shot of what looks like Kirk’s original phaser. Starship doors slide open with the familiar swish. And the gurgles and chirps on the U.S.S. Shenzhou’s bridge come from the same infrastructure as the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Yet, it’s clear that as a series, “Discovery” is a new version of “Star Trek.”

And while “The Orville” isn’t “Star Trek,” in so many ways… it is.
The ship. The bridge. The uniforms. Everything.
The special effects are even good.

Science Fiction for 2017
Both new series are intentionally being disruptive. One is dark.
The other is trying to be funny.

And it is that so bad?
Who said a “Star Trek” series had to be exactly like earlier versions? If you believe that, you can be sure you’d never see another “Star Trek” series ever again.

Hey, Trekkies… Grow up!
Life changes. Entertainment changes. “Star Trek” changes.

Unless you simultaneously resurrect and spoof the old format as Seth MacFarlane has done. As a life-long Trekkie, I’ve been wincing at some of the bits in the first two episodes of “The Orville.” Whether MacFarlane can successfully tap into “Star Trek” nostalgia and then skewer it in the same script will be determined as his series gets a few more episodes in under its belt.

One Trekkie’s Opinion
So, do I like “Star Trek: Discovery?”

It’s really too early to tell. It’s clearly got some big ambitions. The sets and special effects are beautiful, but I haven’t yet been drawn in emotionally, other than to mourn the loss of what I was hoping would be a long-time character.

Sure, I could quibble over how accurately the producers have inserted this series into the official Trek timeline. Should there be force fields that protect destroyed hull plating on a ship that predates the NCC-1701? That kind of tech didn’t start to show up until the Enterprise-D.
(The new “Star Trek” movies displayed advanced levels of tech… but that’s from an alternate timeline… so anything goes.)

But I know if I get stuck babbling like this, I’m missing the big picture.

Sticker Shock
The big question is whether I am going to start paying for my Trek moving forward.
(Except for the pilot, you can only watch the rest of the series by streaming it on CBS All Access for a monthly cost of $5.99. New episodes are available Sundays at 8:30pm)

As much as I hate the idea of it, yes… I’m in.
Of course, I am.

It’s worth mentioning that “The Orville” on Fox is free to watch with regular commercials. Or you can stream it on with only one commercial up front.
(As long as you ‘interact’ with the sponsor’s ad)

A Federation Universe without Commercials
So, I signed up to join the CBS Borg collective using the downloaded app on my Apple TV.
(Make it so!)

Now here comes the illogical part…
I’ve actually decided to pay CBS more than I have to for my “Star Trek: Discovery.”

There’s a second plan offered when you sign up online.
It’s the ‘commercial-free’ plan.

Yep, there’s a four-dollar monthly surcharge to lose the commercials.
So that gooses the price tag up to ten bucks a month.

And why exactly did I decide to throw away money every month?
Well, I figured I’m already paying for my “Star Trek.” I just know how I’d feel being forced to also watch commercials as well.
(There really shouldn’t be commercials in the $5.99 plan either, but I’m not ready to argue economics with CBS.)

So, all in… the price tag comes to $2.50 per “Discovery” episode.
(That’s assuming I don’t take advantage of any other programming on CBS All Access… which is substantial.)

Value Add
There’s actually one possible game changer available on CBS All Access that would help to soften the sticker shock for me.
You get your live, local CBS feed.
(In over 150 U.S. markets)

Now, that’s interesting…

Because as I continue to consider how to cut the cable cord without losing programming that I want, having access to live CBS news, sports and special events is a huge benefit.

Hmmm… Let me think a bit more about that.

Discovery Vs. Orville
If you’ve been expecting me to choose one of these series over the other, spoiler alert… I’m not. As much as they’re both based on the same origin material, they’re entirely different.

Yes, while it’s odd to see two “Star Trek” shows running simultaneously, that’s not unprecedented.
(“Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine”)

And while it’s early for both series, I do think “Discovery” has a better chance of ongoing success if it can convince enough viewers to pay for the privilege.

“The Orville” relies on a simplicity in television storytelling that’s rather retro these days. And I don’t know if the occasional humor shtick is going to work out.
(Though “Galaxy Quest” and “Spaceballs” did just fine going for the funny bone.)
But at the end of the day, the series will have to decide if it’s a sit-com, a dramedy or just more relaxed sci-fi.

But one thing’s for sure… “The Orville” has heart. Lots of heart.

It reminds me of that sense of optimism and awe that flooded me when I was a young boy watching my first “Star Trek” episodes. I clearly remember that feeling.

Even though I’m all grown up now, I yearn for a “Star Trek” to do that again for me, whether the branded name is in the title or not.

Because I’m still a kid at heart…

…I’ll be watching.

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