October 18, 2006

Take Viiv!


Earlier this year Intel launched their Viiv (rhymes with “five”) technology platform to much fanfare. The Viiv technology platform is squarely aimed at getting a computer into your living room. A Viiv enabled PC combined with Windows XP Media Center Edition and one of the latest Pentium D, Pentium Extreme and Core Duo should replace everything you currently have under your TV including your DVD player, CD Player and HD Set Top Box. It can even replace your home computer if you are prepared to use the coffee table as your desk, and your plasma or LCD as your primary monitor.

Viiv however isn’t a specific piece of technology (like a processor or graphics card) as such but rather a brand and a platform – or a way of defining what your PC needs to ensure it is compliant as a multimedia enabled computer. Intel are marketing Viiv PC’s as the next step in personal entertainment, a coming together of all the units of technology available now, packaged together in one box. You’ll pay more for a PC with the Viiv brand however you can be confident that it will come complete with all the components you need to truly turn your living room in to multimedia central.

Consumer Electronics manufacturers while expert in designing aesthetically pleasing devices aren’t much good at creating at designing interfaces, but software designers like Microsoft and Apple are.

Using a poorly designed interface on your TV or DVD player is about as fun as having your wisdom teeth removed by an apprentice dentist. In my opinion, as your house fills up with lots of remote controls your actual use of each component diminishes. Ever tried to watch a slideshow that you burnt on to CD with your computer using your DVD player that has built in ‘Slideshow’ functionality?

That’s where Viiv PC’s and Microsoft XP Media Centre edition come into the picture. I’ve been testing various Viiv PC’s for the last month and have been truly impressed with their performance. The last time I was as impressed with a new technology platform was when I saw my first Pioneer DVR (Digital Video Recorder) about 3 years ago.

Most Viiv PC’s should come configured with a TV Tuner and network card. The TV Tuner lets you watch and record TV while the network card lets you access Internet content and programming information. A properly configured Viiv PC should let you replace Digital Set top box, DVD Player, DVR (or HD Recorder), MP3 player and VCR with one box and more importantly one remote control.

iTV
At a recent press conference Apple confirmed what most analysts had suspected for over a year – they are going to release a set top box that enables streaming of iTunes content (music, photos and movies) from any PC in the house to your TV. iTV, due to ship in Q1 2007 comes with all the necessary ports, including HDMI and component output to ‘free’ your content from the PC. Apple have indicated that initially iTV will not include a TV tuner however third party solutions like Elgato EyeTV already make hardware that could be easily integrated in to iTV and give it true TV functionality. iTV will be agressivly priced under $500 – a deep discount to the current offering from the likes of HP and NEC.


Maestro Ultima V
Processor 3.00Ghz Intel Pentium D Dual-Core 930
Memory 1Gb DDR2
Storage 250Gb, DL 16 x DVD-RW
Audio 7.1 Channel Surround Audio
TV Tuner Dual HDTV Digital TV Tuner
Input Devices Microsoft IR Mouse and Keyboard
Network Gigabit LAN (optional Wireless LAN)
Form Factor Hi-Fi styled case
Price $2399

Pros: Great form factor, looks like a big amplifier but provides all the functionality of bigger and uglier Viiv PC’s. Built in Dual HDTV digital tuner for watching and recording different programs simultaneously.

Cons: Too much fan noise. System was unstable and crashed often requiring hard restart. Wireless not standard

NEC PowerMate DL H7204

Processor 3.2Ghz Intel Pentium D Dual-Core 930
Memory 1Gb DDR2
Storage 250Gb, DL 16 x DVD-RW
Audio 7.1 Channel Surround Audio
TV Tuner Analogue TV Tuner
Input Devices Wired USB Keyboard and Mouse
Network 10/100 Lan, Wireless LAN
Form Factor Desktop Tower
Price $2849

Pros: Easy to setup, build in Wireless LAN makes downloading EPG content easy. Lots of room for additional expansion.

Cons: Belongs on a desk not in a living room. Ships with wired keyboard and mouse, TV tuner only supports analogue input.

HP Pavilion Media Centre m7595a
Processor Intel Core 2 Duo
Memory 2Gb DDR2
Storage 200Gb, DL 16 x DVD-RW
Audio 7.1 Channel Surround Audio
TV Tuner Analogue / Digital TV Tuner
Input Devices Wired USB Keyboard and Mouse, HP Media Centre IR Remote and reciever
Network 10/100 Lan, Wireless LAN
Form Factor Desktop Tower
Price $2900

Pros: Powerful and fast, very stable. HP designed Remote easier to use then standard Microsoft remote, great in the living room or in the study due to external and extendable IR receiver.

Cons: Too noisy, expensive

Technorati Profile

Future Me!

Have you ever wished you could send yourself an email at some point in the future? Maybe a reminder to call your mother next week or a message to yourself not to forget to bring something home from work? Perhaps you just want to write yourself an email as a reminder of what you were doing and who you were today - to be delivered in 5 years from now. Well, now you can with a website called Future Me.

Setup by Matt Sly and Jay Patrikios as an experiment, FutureMe has quickly grown into a popular address and now has a cult following. According to the site 316,341 letters have been written so far with thousands more every day. The site is funded by its two creators and relies on advertising revenue and donations.

Sending yourself an email to be delivered in the future is easy. From the FutureMe homepage simply enter your email address, the subject and body of the email and then choose when you'd like to receive your message. You can choose a date between tomorrow and 31 December 2036. Once you're ready to send your message click 'Send this to the future!' The next page presents you with two choices; you can either just send the message as an anonymous user without registering or you can choose to sign up.

If you choose to sign up you can make adjustments to your email if it hasn't already been sent. For instance, if you change your email address before the due date you'll need to fix your email otherwise you won't receive your message. Members also benefit by being able to change the status of their messages between public and private. A public message is posted on the website (anonymously of course) and can be viewed by anyone. Private messages get delivered only to you.

October 9, 2006

Freenigma

Freenigma is a service that allows you to send secure, encrypted web based email using popular webmail services like Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail without the need for any specialised software. All you need is Firefox and a webmail email address.

Most common email is sent in plain text format. This means that if somebody intercepts your email they can easily read the message. Enter Freenigma – a service that allows you to encrypt your email messages so that only the person you intended to get the message can read it.

Freenigma is simple to use; go to www.freenigma.com and sign up for a free account. Once you are set up you’ll need to install the special extension for Firefox, restart and you’re ready to send encrypted emails.

Once installed you’ll notice a new toolbar appear when you have logged in to your webmail account. You’ll only be able to send encrypted emails to friends who have signed up to Freenigma. After you’ve finished writing your message press the ‘encrypt’ button and Freenigma encrypts your email and it is send to your friend. When they receive the email they click the ‘decrypt’ button, enter their password and the email appears, formatting and all.

Freenigma works on any computer that supports Firefox, including Mac OS X, Windows and GNU/Linux. It uses one of the most popular ‘open source’ cryptographic software packages called GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG). Freenigma’s development was partly funded by the German governmental agency for IT security so you can bet it’s secure.

If you do start using Freenigma remember you’ll need to use Firefox with the installed extension. Without Firefox your emails will remain encrypted and therefore unreadable – it’s probably not the best thing to use if you rely on reading your emails in Internet cafes in Siam Reap.

Watching TV on your Mac


Watching TV on your computer has been possible for many years but recently the landscape in Australia has changed with the introduction of Digital TV. Digital TV offers superb picture clarity and better sound. Along with the change to Digital manufacturers have been shrinking the size of the TV tuners to a point where today, you can get a Digital TV tuner the size of a small USB memory stick.

I’ve been testing Elgato’s Eye TV Hybrid ($279) – a tiny USB stick that at one end plugs in to any free USB port and the other end to an antenna. Once plugged in you load a piece of software called EyeTV 2 (Mac OS X). EyeTV 2 (www.elgato.com) is the engine that drives the EyeTV Hybrid stick and lets you rewind, fast-forward and pause digital TV. Additionally you can schedule a recording and EyeTV 2 will record the program to your hard drive for viewing later.

The EyeTV Hybrid is unique is a unique product in the market as it allows you to watch and record Analogue TV and Digital TV plus comes with a break-out cable for composite video and S-Video, enabling you to connect a set-top box for premium channels, digital cable or satellite.

Once you’ve recorded your program EyeTV 2 also lets you export clips or entire programs to other devices like your video enabled iPod. If you’d like to back up your content you can also export to an external storage device or burn to DVD.

In Europe EyeTV 2 comes bundled with a subscription to use an EPG (Electronic Program Guide). In Australia you’ll need to sign up to IceTV. IceTV are working on complete integration with EyeTV but at the moment you’ll have to settle for a Mac OS X widget that lets you few the TV guide and schedule recordings at the press of a button. The IceTV widget is easy to use but full integration with EyeTV 2 would be better. According to IceTV tight integration with EyeTV 2 is coming soon and should be available by December. Additionally IceTV are launching a package called PIMP that lets you schedule recordings remotely via your mobile phone.

I’m addicted to EyeTV, it’s a great piece of software that will be very familiar to any Mac user. It is reliable and stable. The convenience of being able to watch TV on my computer is great given amount of time I spend in front of my computer. Also, the DTT stick is so small that I can travel with it when I am away from home. An IceTV subscription rounds the package out nicely as scheduling recordings is only a couple of clicks away.

Singshot


Have you ever wanted to be a famous singer but are still looking for your big break? Well, it’s time to check out the latest web 2.0 site called Singshot. Started by the same group of founders responsible for Listen.com, Singshot is more fun then YouTube, and much more addictive.

Singshot is an website that lets you choose and record your own versions of thousands of songs and then share them with anyone. A Singshot account is free so join up now!

To record your own songs you’ll need either a Mac or PC with a broadband connection and a microphone (Most laptops have built in microphones, and most desktops have microphone input jacks). Singshot provides special web based software that manages the rest.

I set-up my own Singshot account and was recording my own tracks within in minutes. The flash based wizard runs through set-up and allows you to adjust sounds levels for your microphone. Once you’ve completed the wizard you are ready to begin recording. Simply press the ‘Record’ button and start singing.

Recording your own track is as simple as singing into your computer while following the karaoke screen prompts. After you’ve finished recording you’ll be prompted to save your recording or scrap it and try again.

Singshot has thousands of members whose profile you can browse and rate. I found a great singer called Jay from the UK who should probably have a recording contract. If you like a users performance you can even ‘rate’ it by clicking on the stars directly under the player. You can also leave feedback, and send favourite recordings to friends by clicking on the ‘Share Recording’ link in the right hand navigation. It’s only a matter of time before the next big artist is discovered using a service like Singshot.

18/10/06 - Angela from Singshot just let me know that Singshot is now free to use!