THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
I usually look forward to news of the latest tech gadgets from the annual CES in Las Vegas. This year, the news was punctuated with that short-term power blackout that really stalled the affair. But one of the bigger developments appeared to be the spread of Amazon’s Alexa, featured in Fire TV streaming boxes and the various Echo products.
This weekend, I caught ads for Dish Network that touted the arrival of Alexa, but it appears that you also need an Echo for it to work. It’s not evidently embedded in Dish’s set-top boxes, although I suppose that will come over time. I also wonder how soon this capability might come to DirecTV or other TV services. Or is Google Voice going to appear? What about Microsoft’s Cortana, which appears to be left way behind, particularly since the collapse of the company’s mobile platform?
More to the point, just how many Echos is Amazon selling these days? By extending compatibility, will customers rush out to buy them, or regard it all as just more features most of you will never use?
Would Apple ever consider licensing Siri to third parties in the same fashion, or will it be restricted to it own gear? Does it matter with hundreds of millions of devices already sporting Apple’s digital assistant?
In the meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured tech journalist Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. Josh talked at length about the notorious CPU bug and how it’s impacted the computing world. Gene brought up reports that older Windows PCs will evidently suffer from performance reductions, and Josh mentioned cloud services, such as gaming systems, which were heavily impacted. There was a brief discussion of 4K TVs which moved into the Apple TV 4K. Has Apple’s set-top streaming box realized its potential, or has it become less useful with the growth of smart TVs that offer their own streaming channels without needing outside gear? Josh mentioned the TCL televisions that come with Roku technology built in. There was also a CES 2018 update and some of the most interesting new gadgets.
I’ll mention Apple TV in more detail in the next article.
You also heard from prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who summarized his joint tests of an iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus. He carried around one of them in each pocket for weeks, and tested the cameras to see which he preferred and why. Which one did he decide to keep? What about the CPU bug and its impact, and about the misleading impression created by some members of the media that it was just an Apple problem and not one that affected billions of devices? Gene and Bob also talked about Apple’s iMac Pro workstation, which can cost over $13,000 when fully maxed out. Will Apple keep its promise to release a newly-designed Mac Pro that will be both modular and upgradeable? Or will the company just stick with the new iMac? Gene explained why he suspects one of Apples new display will offer 8K to better support movie editing.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and special guest cohost Alejandro Rojas of OpenMinds.tv present Walter Bosley. He’s an author, blogger, former AFOSI agent and a former FBI counterintelligence specialist. He has researched mass shootings, breakaway civilizations, lost civilizations and more. On this episode, Walter will discuss the recent revelations about an unannounced Pentagon UFO program and its implications. Is this story part of a program of perception management about UFOs and possible disclosure? Walter uses his intelligence background to provide unique insights into what might be going on. He’ll also join Alejandro in a discussion about the possibilities of a secret space program, and just how advanced it might be.
LIVING WITHOUT AN APPLE TV
In 2011, I received a third-generation Apple TV as a holiday present. I appreciated the gesture, since I was anxious to try Netflix streaming, and perhaps consider renting a movie from iTunes on occasion.
Unlike the original Apple TV, released in 2007, which provided a hard disk drive for storage of media content, the second and third generations had a mere 8GB flash storage, sufficient to manage streaming content. You couldn’t even store your purchased movies on them. For that, you had to rely on your Mac or iOS gadget.
The OS was essentially derived from iOS, as was the A-series CPU. The main difference between these two generations was improved HD support, from 720p to 1080p. Having used both, I can tell you that the difference in picture quality wasn’t all that significant.
Over the next few years, I became a fairly regular user, but mostly for Netflix. I had a very tight budget, and only rented movies when they had “closeout” prices, for $1.00 or so. But Netflix was a useful alternative for basic cable, and it was real nice to be able to watch some of my favorite TV shows without having to fast forward through the ads. The arrival of original content, such as “House of Cards,” only made it more useful.
Since you could watch a whole season’s episodes in one or more binge-watching sessions, I could even suspend Netflix for a few months at a time to save some cash. That option, however, no longer appears to be available, since it was mostly focused on DVD rentals. You actually have to cancel and rejoin at a later time.
When Apple got around to releasing a fourth generation Apple TV in 2015, I basically paid little attention beyond giving it some coverage on this site and the radio show. I wasn’t interested in playing games, and my watching habits were still focused mostly on Netflix and the rare movie rental. Paying $149 for the entry-level 32GB model seemed absolutely obscene. Even though I realized it cost money to add such features as Siri, it was also true that all the other streamers were cheaper, including market leader Roku.
And why didn’t it have 4K? Indeed, some speculated that the new Apple TV was originally meant to be the hub for Apple’s rumored TV streaming service, which never came to be due to alleged difficulties in making deals with the entertainment companies.
For a time, I wondered whether Apple should consider licensing the hardware to TV makers, such as Roku has done with TCL. At one time, it was rumored that Apple might even build its own TV set, but that market was saturated long ago, too commoditized. Was there even a place for Apple anymore?
What about third-party streamers that also include gear from Amazon and Google?
Certainly more and more TV sets have “smart” features in which Netflix and other services are embedded. I actually played briefly with them on the 2012 VIZIO E-Series set that I used to own, but I found them barely useful. So I stuck with Apple TV.
Beginning with its 2016 models, VIZIO opted to use Google Chromecast for its streaming capability. For that year, you even received a small Android tablet as part of your purchase on some models. For 2017, VIZIO returned to a traditional “wand” remote control which is, actually, a pretty decent unit except for the teeny tiny dedicated media buttons that I can barely see without my reading glasses.
The set still comes with Chromecast, but only a small number of channels are embedded, though I suppose more can be added with software updates. For more channels, thousands of them, you have to use a mobile gadget and “cast” them to your set, which is a process similar to Apple’s AirPlay. The process is eased with VIZIO’s SmartCast app for iOS and Android. Indeed, it can be used to set up the TV in place of the remote if you choose.
As soon as I installed the 2017 M-Series TV that VIZIO sent me to review, I set up Amazon Prime and Netflix on it. Since I could also rent movies from Walmart’s VUDU service, there was no reason to focus on iTunes. Besides, I only acquired a very small number of movies over the years, all of which can be combined with other services from something called Movies Anywhere.
I think you see where I’m going.
So I can now watch genuine 4K HDR content using the TV’s built-in apps. I still have the Apple TV connected to one of the HDMI ports. But when I want to watch something on Netflix, I simply push the appropriate button on the VIZIO’s remote. The interface is reasonably clean and user friendly, so I do not miss my Apple TV.
Last fall, Apple released the Apple TV 4K to address the most serious shortcoming of the previous model. The cheapest one is now $30 more, but I fail to see why since the 64GB model is still $199. This has to be an extremely lame pricing decision, especially since the best Roku, the Ultra, was reduced from $109 to $99 around the same time. What is there about the Apple TV 4K that is worth $80 to $100 extra? A slightly better picture, with superior HDR? A gaming feature that few use? All those extra apps that few use? Integration with Apple’s ecosystem?
All right, the latter is important, and if you have made a decent investment in movies and other content from iTunes, it makes sense. What’s more, Apple is upgrading most of your existing movie titles to 4K without extra charge, though it appears you can only stream them rather than download the files.
The last time I used my old Apple TV was just a few days before setting up the VIZIO. Since then, I haven’t given it a moment’s thought. While I may still use my Blu-ray player from time to time, I am tempted to unplug that Apple TV and stick it in the closet. Or maybe I’ll just sell it on eBay. I could use the extra money.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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