Lessons Learned by a Would be Cord Cutter

Ya know… Getting rid of your cable or satellite subscriptions ain’t as easy as you might think. This is what I’ve learned so far…

 

Introduction

I recently got a new job in a different state. While we wait for the housing market to improve a bit before we sell the house, I’ve got long term, temporary housing set up. In an attempt to manage costs, I’ve decided to forgo with a local cable TV subscription and have decided to become a cord cutter. Internet TV or even getting TV on your computer isn’t as easy as you thought it might be; and I’ve learned some interesting lessons over the past few weeks. I’m going to do my best to cover as many of them as I can.

apple-itv

 

You Still Need a TV

I’ve got a 27″ Thunderbolt Display; and as a computer monitor it’s totally awesome. As a TV, however, it leaves something to be desired. It would be great if the right services were in place to be able to use it as a TV.

iTunes can be controlled with an Apple Remote on every Mac. I’ve also found that my Thunderbolt Display works well from across a small room; and an Apple Remote can perform basic VCR functions as well as control volume levels on my MacBook Pro. This however, is only part of the equation.

However, you can’t “change a channel,” and Apple TV functionality isn’t present on a Mac. Channel surfing really doesn’t exist in this situation. Things like Netflix or Hulu Plus are run in a browser and you need a full blown mouse or some kind of motion control device (like Microsoft Connect) to control your Mac from your couch.

If you have a TV and other accessories (see below) you can still cut the cable, but get the best of both worlds. If the Apple iTV was really a Thunderbolt Display with a built in Apple TV, or if there was a real world way to marry the two together, this would eliminate the need for a TV from the cord cutting equation. Unfortunately, I’m finding that a TV is still a required component.

 

Get a Set Top Box

As I mentioned above, if you REALLY want to have the best “cord free” experience, you’re not only going to need a TV, but you’re going to need a set top box. I’m really talking about an Apple TV, Roku Box, Chromecast dongle or other device that helps you find some traditional network (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) content, cable network (HBO, ShowTime, Cinemax, etc.) content, some specialty content (NFL Network, ESPN, etc.) as well as some streaming services like Netflix and/or Hulu Plus.

While streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus are available via a browser, as I pointed out above, getting a full blown TV experience is difficult without a set top box. It is possible to find traditional network, cable network or specialty content on the web with a web browser; but that often involves a separate fee. The set top box is often licensed by the content owner to play or stream the content without paying an additional licensing fee. It also makes using your streaming service subscription a lot easier, as it consolidates all of your options – including those available on your PC – into a single interface and place. Again, if I could use my Apple TV with my Thunderbolt display, this would solve a big problem for me.

 

Invest in a Really Good Digital Antenna

Services like Aero are really kinda cool. However, Aero isn’t available in all markets, and there really isn’t anything else like it that would allow streaming of local channels over the internet or other network connection. This is a huge problem if you’re a cord cutter and are trying to obtain digital TV services without any kind of cable or satellite TV package.

The obvious thing to do here is to purchase a really strong, really good digital antenna for your TV. While this will insure that you can get local TV programming, the most important thing you have to remember is that even though this is the Digital Age, you’re going to take yourself back to the Golden Age of Television when you do this. In other words, it’s going to be a challenge.

Local TV stations are required by Federal mandate to broadcast their programming over the air so that you can pick them up with a digital antenna. You don’t HAVE to have a cable or satellite TV subscription in order to get these channels, though in many ways, this is the easiest way to insure that

  1. You get the local programming
  2. You’re able to view it all clearly, without reception issues

I’ve used digital antennas before with other digital TV products and I’ve noticed that, like the SD TV’s from the ’50’s to the ’80’s (i.e.: before cable really took hold), a lot of antenna adjusting may be required based on your geographical and topographical location (where you are and the shape of the geography around you). The best thing you can do is to insure that the antenna you have is the best you can afford. The stronger that receiver is, the better the quality of the picture you will receive. (You’ll also cut down on the amount of tin foil and forks you’ll need to use to insure that the picture comes in clearly.)

 

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Thunderbolt vs. the Standard 30 Pin iOS Connector

There’s a lot of speculation that a change in the iPad 3 and iPhone 5 connector may change.

The 30 pin iDevice connector has been around for a long time. Back in the day, when the iPod was originally released, Apple introduced it with the original 30 pin connector. Apple has on occasion since the original introduction of the connector and cable made tweaks to it. The connector has spawned the introduction and revision of many different accessories. Its created an industry all of its own.

With the introduction of Thunderbolt, a PCI Express related connector, there’s been a great deal of speculation that Apple would move all iDevices to it, beginning with iPad 3 and iPhone 5. There are some pluses and minuses to this, speculative change. Let’s take a quick look and see what they may be.

10 Plus Years at 30 Pins Can’t be Wrong
Apple’s love affair with their 30 pin connector goes back to the original release of their iPod music player. Back in the day, Apple’s 30 pin connector was Firewire only. It wasn’t until the 3rd generation iPod that USB support was built in, and then it was sync only support. It wasn’t until the 4th generation iPod that the 30 pin USB connector did sync and charge. The long and short of it, however is that Apple has had a love affair with their 30 pin connector since October of 2001.

The last 10 years has seen a great many iPod, iPod Touch and iPhone accessories evolve around the iDevice’s 30 pin connector. When Apple introduced the iPhone 3G, they changed the connector. When they introduced the iPhone 3GS, they changed the connector. When they introduced the iPhone 4 and then the iPhone 4S, they changed the connector. With each connector change, accessories were obsoleted – meaning, they would no longer function as designed and intended. Users were forced to look for updated versions or replacements entirely.

This was both good and bad, as aside from the economic stimulation which was good for retailers and accessory manufacturers, some users resented the fact that they had to spend money to repurchase an accessory that wasn’t broken. Users are now someone resigned to this continual need to “fix what wasn’t broken,” and make budgetary allowances for some key accessory repurchases at the time of device purchase. In some cases, accessories were unaffected by the pin changes. In those cases where functionality was affected, some users are willing to forego full functionality (usually charging), provided that some functionality remained. In the case of speakers or boom boxes, you have to watch to insure that you don’t completely run out of power, but in some cases, that may be acceptable considering the price of the accessory in question.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, given the accessory investment you made and the usability status of those accessories as they relate to the “new” device, do I have to modify how I use the device and if not; can I afford to repurchase said accessories if they don’t work the way I am used or need them to work?

Less of a Need for a Physical Connection
With the introduction of iOS 5, the need for a physical connector has really changed. It’s now possible to sync your iDevice to a given PC via Wi-Fi. With Airplay, the need for a physical speaker or TV connection is greatly reduced. Without needing to be physically connected to a speaker in order to hear playing music or a TV in order to view video and hear its audio, the need for a wired connection to that centralized or playing endpoint, is greatly reduced if not eliminated. In this scenario, the only reason to have a wired connection to anything is for charging purposes.

From a technology advancement perspective, 4G and LTE radios are a bit bigger in size. Apple’s 30 pin connector takes up a great deal of space – space that might be better utilized by a larger battery. Given that battery life is a huge issue for devices with advanced cellular radios, it really begs the question…What is Apple going to do with its connector?

Bus Compatibility
Obviously, the first thought is Thunderbolt. It’s much smaller, provides a huge speed boost, and would allow for either a larger radio or larger battery, or both. The problem here is that Thunderbolt uses PCI Express, and Apple’s iDevices do not. This would require a total internal redesign of the device’s communications bus, and may present other challenges that would negate the benefit the connector’s smaller form factor. While some of this may be required related to the implementation of LTE, that reengineering may not be as drastic or demanding as the implementation of both LTE and Thunderbolt in Apple’s handheld devices.

The other obvious alternative is microUSB. However, while this may solve the space problem, microUSB doesn’t offer much of an improvement other than size. From a performance perspective, Apple would likely see the same level of performance from a microUSB connector as it would from its current 30 pin connector. If space is the only consideration, this may be the move to look for. If Apple is looking for space and performance bumps, this likely wouldn’t be the solution that Apple would pursue.

Will Apple make a change here? Trying to figure out what they will do seems to be one of the most pursued netizen pastimes of the past few months. If they were to want or need to make a change, now, with pending releases of both iPad 3 and iPhone 5 on the horizon, would obviously be the best time to chase it down.

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iPad 3 Rumors & Thoughts – Part 1: Hardware

With Steve Jobs gone and his legacy not completely publically known or understood, the iPad 3 is almost a complete unknown as well, though the rumor mill has been churning lately. Let’s take a look at some of the rumors and see what’s what.

I’ve been reading the authorized Steve Jobs biography, and quite honestly, I’ve been learning a great deal. Apple very much *IS* Steve Jobs, and vice-versa. It’s been an interesting read. Much of the design and thoughts for the iPad itself came before the iPhone. It was put on hold to address and release the need for the iPhone. However, the magic that is the iPhone will forever be beholden to the iPad. This was probably one of the most interesting revelations I’ve encountered in the book so far. But the iPad… that was Steve’s baby. He really wanted to do a tablet to counter the netbook surge and push, which is pretty much OVER at this point.

Apple has the tablet market pretty much sewn up. At this point, Android can try all it wants, but without the walled garden that Apple has cultivated and nurtured, it’s going to be hard for Google, any of their hardware partners, or ANYONE really, to catch up to them any time soon.

That being the case, rumors of an updated iPad have been circulating for quite some time. Many sites have been saying that the next generation iPad is already in production, and is readying for a March or April release. While I won’t say too much about that just yet, I do want to touch on some of the other rumors related to specific hardware feature sets that many are speculating will differentiate it from the iPad 2.

Better Screen – HD Resolution?
There’s been a great deal of speculation about this particular, potential feature upgrade. A Retina Display from Samsung, a Sharp IGZO display… No one really knows for certain what is going to happen here. However, I think it’s safe to say that Apple’s next generation iPad will have a much better screen than both the iPad 1 and iPad 2. Regardless of what type or which manufacturer really got the contract, Digitimes is reporting some (also unconfirmed) specifics on the screen:

  • A QXGA (1,536×2,048 pixels) display
  • Longer battery life
  • Although its other hardware specs may not be as exciting

The A6 Processor
Apple’s next system on a chip should have nearly twice as much punch as its previous iOS devices. The A5 chip is dual core. The A6 is rumored to be a quad core powerhouse. The tablet should be able to crunch through some major data at that point. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard how fast the chip is rumored to be, though I would assume 1.2-1.5gHz would not be unreasonable.

The Graphics Processor
Given that mobile gaming is on an uptick, and that iOS gaming is in no small part responsible for most of that uptick, it’s almost a certainty that an enhanced graphics processor will be part of Apple’s new iPad. There’s been very little about which processor…but with gaming becoming more important, and iLife apps like GarageBand and iMovie likely to be improved as well, the next edition iPad will need the additional punch of an improved graphics processor. This is probably more important than the implementation of the A6 processor.

HD Camera
The implementation of an HD quality screen begs the implementation of an HD camera. The implementation of a front and rear facing camera in the iPad 2, and the introduction of iMovie for the iPad really kicked this off. I would say that a 720p/8MP rear and 2-3MP front cameras are a safe bet as well.

4G-LTE
Apple clearly stated that it wouldn’t support LTE in the iPhone 4S. While speculation is ripe, no one is willing to make a FIRM say-so on the implementation of LTE. However, it is widely anticipated that Apple will support LTE in both the iPad 3 as well as iPhone 5. So as long as you’re in an LTE equipped market, you should be good to go.

Thunderbolt
This is probably my most favorite and most underused feature in my Early 2011 MacBook Pro. With the implementation of this high speed connectivity solution in its desktops, it seems logical that Apple will move to Thunderbolt and improve the throughput of local synchronization for all its iDevices. However, that would retether the devices it unleashed with the implementation of iCloud in iOS 5.

It would also totally hose about a gazillion iDevice accessories currently on the market today. Apple has been using their 30 pin dock connector forever, and while there have been a few changes to it, generally speaking they’ve stuck with it since the iPod was introduced many years ago.

This would be an interesting development; and one that I actually hope doesn’t come about. However, we’ll have to wait and see.

Come back next time, and I’ll dive into this a bit more with some speculation about iOS 6 and what it’s going to bring to the table.

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The new iMac goes all out

The new iMac from Apple has arrived in a new form and hardware configuration. Based on a new quad-core processor, a new AMD HD graphics card, Thunderbolt technology, FaceTime HD webcam, the new iMac is a desktop workhorse disguised as an all-in-one wonder.

Powered by quad-core processors, the new iMac is the fastest yet with up to 70 percent faster than the previous generation. Every model in the lineup comes standard with the latest Intel Core i5 quad-core processor. You even have the option to configure the 21.5- or 27-inch iMac with the Intel Core i7, the fastest quad-core processor available.

Besides the powerful processor, you can add up to 16GB of DDR3 memory and an ultrafast 256GB solid-state drive, and you’ve got a modern rig that can handle just about anything.

With the AMD Radeon HD 6750M or the AMD Radeon HD 6970M for the top of the line, iMac performs even better than before. So you see more frames per second in 3D games, and you can edit HD home videos with more speed and responsiveness than you ever thought possible.

Ultrafast and ultraflexible, the Thunderbolt port features two 10-Gbps data channels for data transfer that’s up to 12 times faster than FireWire 800 and up to 20 times faster than USB 2.0. And it offers unprecedented expansion capabilities for a new generation of high-performance peripherals. The new 27-inch iMac gives you not just one but two Thunderbolt ports.

Get more of your friends in the picture with crisp, widescreen HD video. The new FaceTime HD camera lets you make FaceTime video calls in 720p resolution. Make HD calls from one new iMac to another or to a new MacBook Pro. You can also make video calls to other Intel-based Mac computers, iPad 2, iPhone 4, or the latest iPod touch.

An interesting fact is that when you buy your new iMac from the Apple Online Store, you have the option to swap Magic Mouse for Magic Trackpad at no extra cost. With Magic Mouse, you can perform simple gestures across its smooth, seamless top shell. Scroll in any direction with one finger, swipe through web pages and photos with two, and click and double-click anywhere. For full gesture support, opt for Magic Trackpad. Made with a touch-friendly all-glass surface, Magic Trackpad is the largest Multi-Touch trackpad made by Apple. So there’s plenty of room for scrolling, swiping, pinching, or rotating.

The price for the 21.5-inch iMac starts at $1199 while the price for the 27-inch iMac can come up to $1999 (with full specs). Not cheap I might say.

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