Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Gifts Fit for a Geek – Online Content Media Streamers

Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and other online sites have continued to improve their catalogue of movies and TV shows available online.  And every day I hear of more people using those sites as an alternative means to watch video content.  So which set top box should you get if you’re looking for something to push that content to your TV set and not just your computer?

I’ve read so many “cutting the cord” articles over the past twelve months it’s not even funny.  And I mostly think those articles are hyperbole as the vast majority of consumers won’t really be cutting to cord from their cable or satellite providers just yet.  Still, there has definitely been some movement towards good video content being pushed to the web with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others making strides in this category. 

Below are my choices for getting online video content to your TV in order of preference – although each buyers situation might be a little different (might want bundled with game machine or other device) so read all the way through:

The WDTV Live Plus HD is a great option and supports Netflix, YouTube, Pandora and more.  It doesn’t include Hulu Plus however so keep that in mind.

WDTV Live Plus HD


  • Roku XD is selling for $69.99 ($10 off through today, 12/8)

This is the mid-level device that includes nearly everything you need and streams Netflix, Amazon VOD, Hulu Plus, Pandora and Flickr.  Roku was the first Netflix “box” and continues to be one of the best options.

Roku XD Streaming Player

  • The Boxee Box  is selling for $199 with free shipping at Amazon at the moment.  For I count this one as an early adopter purchase.  It had some issues at launch which the Boxee team has mostly addressed.  But it’s really a non-DVR HTPC setup that gives you some added flexibility over the simpler WDTV and Roku boxes above.

 Boxee Box

  • AppleTV – I’m not sold on this one really but those that LOVE Apple might consider it.
  • GoogleTV – I’ve played around with the GoogleTV a bit and was underwhelmed at their first many boxes that came to market.  Add to that the fact many content providers are blocking online streaming to GoogleTV and I’m going to stick with my “stay away for now” mantra.


  • Game Machines:
    • XBox 360 – Support for Netflix, ZuneHD video rentals, and ESPN3 are there as long as you pay the extra fee, annual fee (Netflix).  Oh and it acts as a Media Center extender and game machine also ;)
    • Sony PS3 – Hulu Plus, Netflix and Vudu VOD are included.  And like the XBox 360 it is a solid game machine as well.
  • Blu-ray Players & TVs – there are many TVs and Blu-ray players that include some form of online streaming.  My Panasonic VT25 3D Plasma has added Pandora and Netflix content for instance and my Panasonic Blu-ray player does as well.  So this is another alternative you might want to consider.

If you’re still not decided I recommend you check out Dave Zatz take on the Boxes of the Year (we’re mostly in agreement) and a great roundup of media players at MissingRemote

I’m leaving off other devices like the SageTV HD300.  The HD300 makes a great HTPC extender and even includes some media streaming for video podcasts and youtube.  But to get Netflix support you currently have to couple it with PlayOn which is lesser quality and more cost.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Gifts Fit for a Geek – Magic Wand Remote Control

I’m on the search for the perfect gifts for the media-tech geeks in the family and came across this unique find.  It’s an Infrared remote control that looks like and kind of works like a magic wand!

Magic Wand Remote Control

Those of you in the UK might find this familiar since it was highlighted in a realityTV program.  But for many of us in the U.S. it’s kinda crazy.  It caught my eye since I just finished listening to the last two Harry Potter AudioBooks this week.


I know a few geeks who have about everything who might just find this item a must-have :)

The wand is Infrared based, but includes a motion-sensing accelerometer that detects your hand movements.

There’s a simple manual on how to operate the thing along with embedded videos along the way.

You can purchase that very Magic Wand remote control for the low price of $80!

Gifts Fit for a Geek – eReaders

Barnes & Noble NookAmazon Kindle

One of the hottest gifts this year is the eReader.  Prices continue to drop while usability and features have steadily improved.  If you or a loved one reads many books, the eReader should be on your list of gift ideas.  So for those of you shopping for an eReader, which one should you get?  What things should you consider with an eReader?  Read on for advice on purchasing an eReader for yourself or as a gift.

eReader or Paper Book?

This question is becoming less asked, but I still hear it on occasion.  Lets say the person you’re considering an eReader for reads many books each year.  Will they like an eReader?  Most of the time the answer is yes, someone who reads many books will LOVE an eReader.  There are still those people who would rather have the “look and feel” of the paper book.  But most of those people change their mind after using an eReader for a short while – not all, but most.

Can I Borrow Library eBooks?

If the person you’re considering an eReader for gets their books exclusively from the library, it gets a bit tougher.  eBooks can be checked out for many libraries, but the selection is smaller and the supported devices are limited.  Many libraries use Overdrive which has a pretty good list of supported devices.  But the Kindle isn’t included.  If this person is really focused on the library model of borrowing books instead of purchasing, go with the Nook over the Kindle.

E-Ink or LCD/Tablet?

When someone asks me whether they should get an e-ink device like the Kindle or Nook or a tablet with an LCD screen like the Nook Color or iPad, I always ask this:  Does this person read many books?  If they do then the e-ink is really the better option.  Much better readability (easy on eyes like paper compared to the glare and eye strain from LCD screen), much better battery life (read for weeks with e-ink device as opposed to hours/day on LCD device), and mostly lighter with e-ink over LCD. 

The con with e-ink is that it does books great, but isn’t good for magazines or newspapers or web because of the lack of color and poorer navigation.  It should be noted that the e-ink devices are usually less expensive than the full-blown tablets as well.  If this person you’re buying for reads more magazines, newspapers and web browsing and little books – the Tablet is probably a better option.  Read the GeekTonic gift guide on tablets here.

Which One?  Kindle, Nook or other?

There are currently three major players in the e-ink eBook world:  Amazon has the Kindle, Barnes & Noble has the Nook and Sony has their family of eReaders.  I’m not a fan of the Sony because I see them as slow to adapt to the ever-changing eBook world and while their devices are decent, their store and competiveness just doesn’t seem to be up to par with the other two.  I recommend either the newest Kindle or the e-ink version of the Nook.

The latest Kindle is the perfect smallish size with a very crisp screen, it’s super light and has the best UI of all eReaders in my opinion.  I own the graphite-colored version of the latest Kindle and am very pleased with my choice.  MrsGeekTonic owns the slightly older international version of the Kindle and our daughter owns the hand-me-down non-intl version of the Kindle.  You won’t go wrong with the Kindle UNLESS you’re a serious library book borrower.

The Nook (not the Nook Color with LCD) with the latest firmware is nearly as good as the Kindle – even better in some regards.  It is supported by most eReader library collections and has a Barnes & Noble focus.  The original Nook before some firmware updating had some issues that kept me from recommending it equally to the Kindle, but they’ve worked out those kinks and I recommend the Nook to those that don’t want to be locked down by the Amazon’s Kindle store and those who want access to your local library eBook collection.

The Sony will be fine for some, but personally I recommend the Kindle or Nook over all else.  And please stay away from most other eReaders you find in stores these days.  For instance, you’ll find the Pandigital Novell at good prices and other wanna-be eReaders but you’ll be disappointed.  If you’re getting an eReader get the best, not a device the owner will be dissatisfied with.

Wi-Fi only or 3G+Wi-Fi?

I used to think 3G was a must-have.  3G gives you instant access to the online bookstore (Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook) wherever you get a mobile signal.  This is  a great advantage if you live a long way from a bookstore or travel outside of Wi-Fi locations often.  But most of us (me included) will be fine with Wi-Fi only which is a little cheaper.  These devices hold a LOT of books so why not load it up with several before travelling and then you don’t really need the 3G.  Then again, if you have the extra cash I guess the 3G is a good idea.

MrsGeekTonic reads several books a month.  I go through spurts where I read several and other times when I just read occasionally.  For both of us, the eReader is a great device.  Economically it makes more sense for MrsGeekTonic, but for me its a convenience thing as well as the fact that reading from a super-light/small Kindle is just more enjoyable compared to a thick hardcover or paperback book.  And not needing to pack multiple books on trips is an added bonus.

Where to Purchase

The best place to pick up the Kindle is online at Amazon with free shipping and no sales tax for most states:

The Kindle is also available in Best Buy, Target and Staples stores.

The Nook is available at the Barnes & Noble Online Site and in their stores:

The Nook is also located in Best Buy and many other retail stores.


Read More:

Kindle Coverage:

The Non-GeekTonic Review of the Kindle 2 - From the Recreational Readers Perspective
The GeekTonic Ultimate Kindle 2 Review
Give the Gift of an eBook with Kindle
Battery Life of Kindle Wi-Fi – Awesome
To the Point: Kindle 3 Hands On Reviews Trickle In
New Amazon Kindle Cover – LED Built In


Nook Coverage:

The Non-GeekTonic Review of the Nook – From the Recreational Readers Perspective
A Look at the Nook – GeekTonic Reviews the Barnes & Noble e-Reader

Monday, December 06, 2010

Google Opens eBook store and eReader apps

Google unveiled their Google eBook Store and eReader apps this morning.  Actually the announcement was more about the fact that Google is bringing together their eBook properties all under a single roof since their eBook marketplace was already there before today.

The new eBook store has been named the “Google eBookstore” and is basically Google’s take on a unified eBook platform across multiple devices.  You can now read Google eBooks with the following devices:

  • JavaScript-enabled browsers
  • iOS devices
  • Android devices
  • eReaders that support Adobe’s eBook DRM (Nook, Sony Reader and many others)

Those not on the supported eReader list include the Amazon Kindle family, the Kobo, Blackberry and Windows Mobile 7.  Google has the official supported device list here.

To browse and download books in the Google eBookstore you simply go to their web-based store.  To purchase a Google eBooks from the store you’ll need a Google Checkout account or if it happens to be a book from one of their partner resellers (Powell’s Books, Alibris and others) you can pay with credit card or PayPal without a google account.


via Google Blog


For a good review of Google Books for Android had over to GigaOM

Gifts Fit for a Geek – Tablets

 Apple iPad

The iPad is probably one of the more hyped devices we’ve seen in the past many years but it’s also a pretty useful device.  It’s only real competition right now is the Galaxy Tab.  If you’re shopping for a tablet device and not sure what to get, here’s some advice:

  1. Look at the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  Don’t even look at the others as they aren’t in the same league.
  2. Expect to pay a lot.  Prices are still at early adopter rates:
    • Galaxy Tab is $399 with a Mobile Contract or $599 without
    • iPad is $499 for the 16GB WiFi-only or $629 for the 16GB Wi-Fi + 3G.  More for those with more memory
  3. If you’re buying for an avid novel reader who is looking for a device primarily for reading books, don’t buy a tablet.  Instead get a Kindle or Nook with e-Ink technology as they are superior for that function.  If you’re buying for someone who reads books some, but wants something for browsing the web, reading magazines and newspapers and for games & other apps, the tablet is your thing.
  4. If you’re buying for someone who already has an iPhone and likes it, pick the iPad.  Alternatively if you’re buying for someone with an Android-based phone go with the Galaxy Tab.
  5. The iPad has a bigger screen but because of its larger size is less mobile than the Galaxy Tab
  6. Know you’re buying an early adopter device.  Expect to see the next new thing in tablets sometime in the first four months of 2011.  If that bothers you, wait.
  7. The tablet isn’t good enough to act as a complete laptop replacement.  It’s not as easy to print (sometimes you can’t print at all iPad), touch-screen keyboards aren’t great for lots of typing.  Blogging with one is painful at best.  But as a consumption device it’s pretty awesome.  And they turn on almost instantly.

Galaxy Tab

If you’re still not sure, check out the Engadget review of the Galaxy Tab and their review of the iPad (Original iPad Review and Updated Software Review)

Bottom line, if you’re looking for a “wow!” gift for someone this season, check out the iPad and Galaxy Tab.  It’s very likely to be the best gift they’ll get this season.  I was skeptical of my iPad when I first picked it up, but I honestly use it daily.

Apple iPad

Samsung Galaxy Tab (Verizon)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Media Gadget Lovers Clock Radio – Review of the Sony IFC-CL75IP iPod Clock Radio

A year ago I was on the hunt for a new clock radio with an iPhone/iPod dock built-in.  One would think finding such a device would make for a pretty simple shopping trip right?  Well there are now several options out there to choose from and while I started with pretty simple needs here, my inner-geek pushed me to find a clock radio that handled more than just the typical tasks.  Enter the Sony Dream Machine IFC-CL75IP.


I just needed a simple clock radio right?  Yes this is true, but as I often do I added a few extra requirements to my clock radio want list:

  • Dual Alarm
  • Dimming Display
  • Large time display
  • iPod/iPhone dock – for charging and possibly playing back music…

That list actually fits several available clock radio options.  But I chose the one that had the cool factor going for it.  An Engadget story about one particular Sony clock radio caught my eye in a big way and I couldn’t resist.

Sony Dream Machine IFC-CL75IP doesn’t have a catchy name.  Matter of fact it has a terrible model name that only an engineer could love.  But its feature list makes it the “swiss army knife” of clock radios:

  • iPod Dock that slides out on the side & retracts out of sight when not in use
Sony Clock Radio
  • Dual Alarm – wake up to nature sounds, iPod/iPhone music, radio, personal message (recorded by you) or built-in buzzer
  • 2-5-7 Day Alarms – Alarms are customizable to do 2-day, 5-day or all 7-days.  A must-have feature for me.
  • Built-in memory – 1GB
  • Memory Stick port, SD memory card port and USB port
  • Built-in Lithium battery – maintains time during power interuption
  • Built-in stereo speakers for sound – not great speakers honestly.  But usable for the role it plays
  • Automatic time adjustment – built-in calndar recognizes dates and makes proper time adjustments – NOTE:  The time is factory set which honestly is a bad thing…  More on that later
  • LCD Screen – 7” diagonal LCD WVGA (800 x 480) screen isn’t the best of picture quality for video, but just fine for photo slideshows which is what you’ll use it for more anyway
  • Customizable display – Set background photo, photo slideshow, change the way the time and photos show on the LCD screen
  • iPod/iPhone compatibility:  Compatible with iPhone®, iPhone 3G, iPod® touch, iPod Nano 3rd generation, iPod classic, iPod Nano 2nd generation, iPod 5th generation, iPod Nano 1st generation and 5th generation, iPod 4th generation, iPod mini
  • Format Support: P4, Motion JPEG and AVI
  • AM/FM Memory Presets : 20 FM/10 AM
  • Snooze w/Extendable Snooze : Snooze: 10 minute intervals up to 1 hour
  • Sleep timer: 10 min./20 min./30 min./60 min./90 min./120 min.
  • 4 Step brightness control (Hi, Mid, Lo, Night Mode)
  • Voice Recorder : Record up to 10 seconds


Not Your Average Clock Radio

The first thing you’ll notice about this clock radio is the 7-inch (800 x 480) LCD screen.  This gives it a couple of advantages over other similar clock radios.  First, It can optionally display the time and date in very large fonts for those with bad eyesight.  The LCD screen also means this device makes a decent digital photo frame as well.  You can also watch videos (MP4, AVI) from the memory card reader, USB port and your iPhone.  I actually streamed movies from my Home Theater PC server to this thing using the SageTV Mobile Web app.  Now don’t get too excited here as the video quality on this screen is not great.  I’d much prefer to watch videos on my iPad or better yet TV, but it CAN do it if you so choose.  Below is a screen-shot of the clock radio displaying “The Office” streamed from my SageTV HTPC to my iPhone and displaying on the clock radio’s LCD screen.  Bet you can’t do that with your clock radio…

TV streaming to Sony Clock Radio

The photo slideshow and background image capability of this device is where it really shines.  You can choose a photo to display as the background of your clock radio or have it show a photo slideshow like a digital photo frame.  The time will still display while doing this, but you can change how it displays: either in large font that centers on the LCD or smaller on the lower-right corner.

The back of the clock radio has a memory stick port, SD memory card port and USB port all of which can be used for the slideshow or video content.  Of course it also includes a 1GB internal storage and can display from your iPod or iPhone.

Memory Card and USB ports on back

The Dream Machine in Action:

The iPod/iPhone dock is hidden away on the side of the clock radio.  It has a tension release tray that you press to open and push back in to hide it back away.  It’s functional, but seems a bit flimsy to me.  While I get the feeling it could break if not careful I haven’t broken it in the year I’ve owned it – even though I admit my clock radio gets some abuse when I awake abruptly at times.


The most important function of this thing is honestly the alarm.  Fortunately the alarm works great and has all of the features I need.  It’s a dual alarm (it takes two to get my rear up some mornings) and each of the two alarms can be programmed to wake on weekdays (5-days) only, 2-days only (weekends) or every day (7-days).   The alarm noise itself can be set to wake you with built-in nature sounds, iPod/iPhone music, radio, a personal message (recorded by you) or built-in buzzer.  It also has a snooze function that shuts up the alarm in 10 minute intervals up to 1 hour when you hit the snooze button on top of clock radio.

Another feature that is essential with a clock radio that displays so much light due to it’s larger-than-normal LCD screen is the dimmer.  When you hit the large, top- snooze button it rotates between four brightness settings.  High, Mid, Low and an almost black-dark night mode.

The radio works well and has a very good signal for both AM and FM.  With your iPhone plugged into the dock you can add Pandora and other streaming like Sirius radio to the mix as functionality which is pretty nice.

Menu Screen

The menu on the screen will be familiar to Playstation 3 users as it shares some similarities.  It’s pretty easy to figure out regardless, but expect lots of settings since it has so many features.The radio is pretty sweet an gets a better signal than the old clock radio I had in exactly the same position.


  • Sometimes when you put the iPhone (I have an iPhone 4) in the dock you get “this device is not supported” on your iPhone.  This hasn’t happened much, but requires that I re-fit the iPhone in the dock or hit dismiss when it does to get rid of the message.  This seems to happen when you don’t fit the phone in the dock just right so the pins don’t line up.  Annoying, but since it’s rare I haven’t let it bother me too much


  • While the track & playback information does display on the LCD during music playback from your iPod, no album artwork displays
  • No Remote Control.  Yes, this is intended to be used as a nightstand clock radio, but with it’s digital photo frame and video playback capabilities, a remote would be a handy addition.
  • Audio quality from the clock radio is passable, but very little bass sound.  Music quality is simply not great.
  • iPod/iPhone Dock Quality – that “not optimized” message I get on occasion is a bummer.  And the dock itself seems a bit flimsy
  • Internal “demo” photos can’t be deleted without some work so they get mixed into your slideshow.  A few months ago Sony FINALLY came out with a firmware update to fix this, but it’s simply mindboggling that they took so many months to do this – and it takes a little work to do the firmware update via USB thumbdrive.  Once I installed the firmware update from the Sony support page I was able to delete those stupid demo photos.  This is the very reason I didn’t review this device before the firmware update.
  • No headphone jack and no audio-in port

Final Verdict:

I recommend this clock radio with some qualification:  If you’re a geek who likes the functionality this thing brings, by all means check it out.  If the sound of “firmware update” gives you chills or worse – doesn’t make sense to you…. stay away.  I am extremely happy with my choice of this clock radio with it’s nice LCD screen, great alarm clock functions, photo album display and decent iPod/iPhone dock.  But it isn’t for everyone – especially those that like simplicity.



Amazon sells the Sony ICFCL75iP iPod Docking Clock Radio for $129.99

MWave sells it for $130

Sony sells it for $159

You can also find it at retailers like Best Buy and Target

Sony Product Page

TV Premieres, Finales & Specials This Week 12/05/2010

December arrives with more TV to watch.  This week we have a bunch of finales and a couple of premieres.  Like every week, GeekTonic covers the TV scene with a complete listing of premieres, finales and specials for the week.

Boardwalk Empire

HBO’s Boardwalk Empire has it’s season 1 finale tonight, but will be back for a second season

Check out the complete list of finales, premieres & specials below.

The GeekTonic Guide to TV Premieres, Finales and Specials this Week – 12/05/2010

NOTE: All Times are Listed for EST – TV schedules subject to change


Sunday, December 5

IRT Deadliest Roads (9pm on History – HD) Season 1 finale

Boardwalk Empire (9pm on HBO – HD) Season 1 finale

Sturgis (9pm on Travel – HD) A new travel series based on the famous Sturgis bike gathering

Gene Simmons Family Jewels (9pm on A&E – HD) Season 5 premiere

I Survived (9pm on Biography - HD) Season premiere

The Hasselhofs (10pm on A&E – HD) New reality series with you guessed it, David Hasselhof and family

I Survived…Beyond & Back (10pm on Biography) New documentary series on dying and coming back to life

Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business (11pm on VH1) Season premiere


Monday, December 6

The Sing Off (8pm on NBC) Season 2 premiere

American Country Awards (8pm on Fox – HD) Another awards show hosted by Trace Adkins with performances by Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, Reba, Blake Shelton, Josh Turner, Easton Corbin, Steel Magnolia and Uncle Kracker.

Cake Boss: Next Great Baker (9pm on TLC – HD) New reality/food contest series

Men of a Certain Age (10pm on TNT – HD) Season 2 premiere

Tabatha's Salon Takeover (10pm on Bravo – HD) Season premiere


Tuesday, December 7

In Treatment (9:30pm on HBO – HD) Season 3 finale

Running Russell Simmons (10pm on Oxygen) Season finale

Strange Days with Bob Saget (11:30pm on A&E – HD) Season 1 finale

Thursday, December 9

Rocky Mountain Gators (8pm on Animal Planet – HD) New series where Jay Young raises alligators in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

The Apprentice (10pm on NBC) Season finale

Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files (10pm on SyFy – HD) Season finale

The League (11:02 on FX – HD) Season finale

Friday, December 10

The Good Guys (9pm on Fox – HD) Season 1 finale


Saturday, December 11

An Old-Fashioned Christmas (8pm on Hallmark) A made-for-TV holiday movie

Pets 101 (8pm on Animal Planet – HD) New series focused on pets.  This first episode is about Peculiar Pets such as: Pet Pig, Hedgehog, Pygmy Goat, Capybara, Mini Donkey, Skunk.

VH1 Divas: Salute the Troops (9pm on VH1 – HD) Musical performances include Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Keri Hilson, Sugarland, Paramore and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals


Sunday, December 12

Basketball Wives (8pm on VH1) Season 2 premiere

Amazing Race (8pm on CBS ) Season 17 finale

Dexter (9pm on Showtime – HD) Season 5 finale

Ax Men (9pm on History – HD) Season 3 premiere

When Rome Ruled (9pm on National Geographic – HD) New history series all about the Roman empire


Monday, December 13

Phowned! (7pm on Spike) New reality series

Intervention (9pm on A&E – HD) Season 10 premiere

If you follow GeekTonic for the TV Premieres and news, you’ll want to click here if you would like to get a regular e-mail for GeekTonic TV Premieres & News.