Thursday, July 21, 2011

Connected Home Media Isn’t A Hobby-At Least Apple & Google Don’t Think So

I’ve been watching Apple, Google and a few other players very closely these past several months.  Late Thursday night I caught a Wall Street Journal report about Apple joining the fray of Google, Yahoo and others who are reportedly “going after” Hulu, the popular online TV streaming service.

This is only part of the picture, but it shows how serious the big players – especially Google and Apple – are about connected home media.  Home Theater PC’s are for all intents and purposes no more.  But connected home is just beginning to move to a bigger role.  Stay tuned for more because its about to get interesting.

Sonos Play:3-Smaller, Less Expensive, Still Awesome

A smaller, lighter Sonos arrived on the doorstep of the GeekTonic abode today.  Those paying attention know this home is the happy owners of two Sono’s S5’s along with a Sonos BR100.  As I mentioned yesterday when the new Play:3’s were announced, I had much lower expectations for these smaller guys since they lacked a subwoofer.  Given those lesser expectations, read on to hear how well this little guy performed.


Play 3 – New Family Member to the Sonos Lineup


Above you see the entire Sonos Player lineup.  Those who have followed Sonos will notice the naming has changed from S5 to Play:5:

  • Play 5 – $399 All-in-one player.  5-driver speaker system with 5 digital amps, 2 tweeters, 2 mid-range drivers and 1 bass driver
  • Play 3 – $299 All-in-one player.  3-driver speaker system with 3 digital amps, 1 tweeter, 2 mid-range drivers and 1 bass radiator
  • ZP 120 – $499 55 Watt per channel amplifier – Just attach speakers and go
  • ZP 90 – $349 Non-amplified – Attach to an amplified device like an AV receiver

All of these devices must be plugged in for power, but connect wirelessly to your home WiFi system (requires the Sonos ZB100).  You can then control these devices with a Sonos controller, your computer, an Android device, iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.  Then stream your home music or one of the many online streaming choices like Sirius, Pandora, Rhapsody, RDIO and even the new Spotify among others.

Sonos Play:3


The Play:3 sells the Sonos system to a slightly more-accessible position in the market.  $299 (plus the required $49 Bridge if you want it to work wirelessly) still isn’t in the impulse-buy arena, but it’s at least a bit more accessible.  So the question here is this:  Is are you giving up too much with the smaller, $100-cheaper Play:3 or should you save your pennies for the more expensive Play:5 to get the bigger sound?

Form Factor – Smaller and More Flexible

Before we get into the sound of this guy, lets discuss an advantage the Play:3 has over it’s Play:5 big-brother – size.  The Play:3 weighs in at 5.7 pounds and is about the size of your typical bookshelf speaker system.

The Play:3 is small enough to fit on your nightstand, on a bookshelf, kitchen, bathroom counter or practically anywhere really.  You can even sit it flat length-wise or upright as displayed below to fit it in the perfect place in your home:


Sonos has included what they are calling an “EQ (audio equalization)” that detects which way you place it (upright or lengthwise) and purportedly adjusts the output to take that orientation into provide the best possible sound when the orientation is changed.  I tried it both ways and didn’t notice much difference – sideways may have been slightly less optimal, but not by  much.

Dimensions (HxWxD)  5.2x10.6x6.3 in. (132x268x160 mm)

Something worth noting is that they included threaded mounting holes on the rear of the device if you plan to mount the Play:3 in a more permanent location this makes that much easier.

Smaller But Packs Surprisingly Big Sound

When I first heard the Sonos Play:3 announcement, I was expecting a pretty serious drop in sound quality compared to the awesome Play:5.  I expected a souped-up Hi-Fi radio kind of sound and I was wrong.  The Play:3 is very impressive in my opinion even given its smaller size.  It loses 2 drivers and has a smaller bass driver than it’s Play:5 big brother and yes, that means it won’t fill a larger room quite as well.  But it was very impressive for my families ears.  I compared it to my decent home office speaker system (with subwoofer) and to the Play:5.  In my office it performed admirably.  When I moved it to the much-larger living room (open to the kitchen and two stories high ceiling it still did very well, but I noticed a less “strong” sound.  This is very likely due to the smaller bass driver – in other words there isn’t a “true” subwoofer inside like there is on the Play:5.  That’s a shortcut worth taking for size, but know it has it’s limitations especially in a very large room with some music.

What Does the Play:3 give up Compared to the Play:5?

So now we know what the Play:3 can do, what do you really give up compared to a Sonos Play:5?

The Play:3 is obviously cheaper and smaller – great when you are buying two for a stereo pair or for a kitchen, bedroom or small apartment setting.  But you also give up a line-in jack.  This takes away some flexibility you have with the Play:5.  I use that line-in jack on my Play:5 when I have something on my iPhone I want to just play on the Play:5 conveniently – like an already downloaded podcast or audio recording.  Not a deal-breaker, but certainly something to consider.  You can still stream to it from your computer, a $120 Sonos iPhone/iPod dock or AirPlay.

You also do give up some of the deep bass of the Play:5.  I also felt the sound wasn’t quite as rich as with the larger Play:5.  It’s just very difficult to go this much smaller on an all-in-one speaker without giving up some sound quality.  Even taking that into account, I felt the sound on this thing was very, very good – especially given its smaller size.  Just know you can’t give up 2 drivers and the larger bass driver without sacrificing some.



Choosing between the Play:3 and the Play:5 is easier than it sounds.  It’s about the money, size and large-sound tradeoffs.  The Play:3 would fit right in my home on a bookshelf, in the bedroom or office for example.  And it would make a great way to start your Sonos system.  I’m completely sold on Sonos for a very easy-to-setup & use all-home, connected music system.  Starting off with the Play:3 is a great option – or using it to round out your Sonos system for the right apartment or room is a great choice as well.  Sonos has surprised me with the Play:3  a smaller, all-in-one wireless music player that has bigger-than-expected sound.

Compare the Sonos system to your own stereo setup, Logitech Squeezebox and a few other competitors and the clear winner is Sonos.  Your only decision is can you afford the super-easy, very-convenient music system that has become a centerpiece of the GeekTonic home.  Even with the cheaper Play:3 it’s not the cheapest solution, but it’s a luxury worth saving your money for in our opinion!

Sonos Play:3 Promo Demo Video

Read more at  Sonos sells directly on their website, at Amazon (sometimes slightly cheaper) and at select Best Buy stores.

The GeekTonic Review of the Sonos S5 (now Sonos Play:5) goes into additional detail on how music streaming services work, streaming of home music and controlling the system.

Sonos S5 – Brilliant Whole Home Music Server/Player
Sonos Setup – Brilliantly Simple

Plex 9 HPTC Software Gets Update


Plex, the popular Mac-fork of the XBMC project released an interim update to Plex V9 with V0.9.3.3.  Plex is HTPC software that allows you to use a Mac, Windows or Linux computer as a media server and a Mac or Roku, LG TV, Samsung Blu-ray Players and TVs, or mobile device as a client.  There is not TV/DVR functionality, but movies, music and other media are all part of the program – much like XBMC.

Updates in this release include:

  • Support for deleting files in the library.
  • Initial support for Photo library sections.
  • Support for DTS > AC3 transcoding in transcoder (useful for LG TV, ATV2 and others).
  • Plex should now be Lion-ready
  • Windows iTunes support
  • Windows/Linux Support for timed and automatic library refreshes.
  • Support for “Various Artists” (compilations) in music sections.
  • Initial support for multi-disc albums in music sections.
  • Much faster TV and music metadata loading.
  • Many bugs fixes
  • Many enhancements to the Plex Media Server API.

You can read the complete list of changes in this update and get the download at the Plex website.  The update will also be available as an auto-update in the next day or so.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Roku 2 Arrives-Smaller, Gaming Included

Roku today announced the Roku 2 lineup.  Dave Zatz has been machine gunning the web with info he’s pulled together before the announcement so we know quite a bit about it already.  This device has some unique features and seems to be a nice step up from the already popular Roku devices so lets review the details.


Roku became popular in the beginning because it was one of the first devices to allow official support of Netflix Movie Streaming.  Better yet, it continued to be one of the best if not THE best implementation of netflix streaming on a hardware device.  Over time they connected the Roku with additional online services and allowed you to stream media from a computer or NAS.

The Roku 2 is priced just like the earlier models

  • Roku 2 HD – $59.99 720p max, motion remote not included, Angry Birds not included, no ethernet port, no USB port
  • Roku 2 XD – $79.99 Same as Roku 2HD but plays HD video up to 1080p
  • Roku 2 XS – $99.99 Same as Roku 2XD but includes motion remote, Angry Birds, ethernet port, and USB port

Supported Media Formats

According to DaveZatz, the supported media formats are the same as the older models:

  • Video: MP4 (H.264), WMV/ASF (WMV9/VC-1) ASF/WMV files encoded in WMV9 can be displayed at a maximum resolution of 480p.  MP4 and ASF/WMV files encoded in VC-1 can be displayed at a aximum resolution of 1080p
  • Audio: AAC, MP3
  • Image: JPG, PNG

Many Online Options

  • Netflix (Including 1080p & subtitles)
  • Hulu Plus
  • Amazon Instant Video
  • FOXNews (New)
  • Major League Soccer (New)
  • NBA, NHL UFC and other live streaming sports (limited)
  • Crackle
  • Epix
  • Pandora
  • Flickr
  • MOG
  • Vimeo
  • Many more

Check here for a complete list of online content sources available for the Roku.  It’s a pretty impressive lineup.

Bluetooth Motion Controller!

New Bluetooth Remote with accelerometer and gyro (think Wii Controller) for gaming & control


This controller is included with the $99 Roku 2 XS or you will eventually be able to purchase it separately as an accessory for $29 if you go with one of the two lower-end Roku models.


Now if you have that newfangled remote your going to want to play games aren’t you?  While MrsGeekTonic, a serious “Angry Birds fan” isn’t sold on the idea of playing Angry Birds on a non-touch-screen device like your TV I still think there might be a place for some casual gaming with a Roku or other TV-connected device.  I see this being a selling point for the Roku during the holiday season just like the Nintendo Wii once was.  I think trivia and simple games might work in this arena but we’ll just have to see how well it is implemented.  If you don’t think it will work, just try telling that to Google who I think plans to make this an important part of GoogleTV going forward.

I should note that I have yet to see any games beyond Angry Birds mentioned on the Roku website.  I’ll be watching this closely.  Another thing to note is the limitation mentioned on ZatzNotFunny that to store more than 4 games on the Roku, you’ll need to use a MicroSD card.

I’m not 100% sure I really have a place for a Roku device, but I think many people will see value in it.  I’m seriously considering reviewing the Roku XS.

Read more about the Roku at their website

Sonos Gets New Play:3 Hardware

One of my favorite home media devices is the Sonos Music System.  Today Sonos announced a new addition to their music-streaming hardware lineup, the Sonos Play:3.


The Play:3 is a smaller, all-in-one streaming music player priced at $299.  Like the very popular larger Sonos S5, the Play:3 gives you access to your digital music collection served up from a PC or NAS as well as access to most online music services including Pandora, Sirius, Spotify and many more.  This new device includes three digital drivers, one tweeter and two mid-range amps.  This device does not include a subwoofer so I would assume it’s intended for somewhat smaller rooms.

Like all Sonos devices this system is controlled by Sonos’s own controller or an iOS or Android device.  I might add this device in a bedroom or small office where space (or cost) was a concern.  Early reports are that the sound quality is very good, but for larger rooms or if you’re only planning to have a single Sonos device, I’d still go with an S5 or one of the others where you use your own speaker.  It does fit in just below the S5 for their lineup and looks to be a solid addition to the Sonos Family.

Read more about the Sonos Play:3 at the Sonos Blog

For more on Sonos and a detailed review of the S5 read this review at GeekTonic

Monday, July 18, 2011

Google Music Beta Arrives

Today I received my Google Music beta.  I’ve been playing with new Spotify Music service for the last several days so this just multiplies my music testing to do.  My really-quick first impression is that this service has potential, but has a ways to go still.  But I’m paying attention to all of Google’s media offerings since I see a comprehensive, all home-all internet, Google Media solution evolving here.


Are you part of the Google Music Beta?  If so, what do you think so far?

Read more about Google Music & sign up for an invite here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

TV Premieres, Finales & Specials This Week 7/17/2011

We’re in the heat of the summer.  If you have a good air conditioner there’s actually a few good premieres coming this week and next.  Read on for the GeekTonic weekly TV update highlighting all the new premieres, finales and specials coming up.

Cast of Breaking Bad

        Breaking Bad Premieres Sunday, July 17 on AMC (AP Photo / January 20, 2011)

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

Sunday, July 17

Women’s Soccer FIFA World Cup Final (2pm on ESPN)  If you are a sports fan, watch this.  This is a great accomplishment by the U.S. women’s team!

Billionaire's Car Club (7pm on HD Theater) Auto series hosted by Andrew Firestone

Big Rich Texas (9pm on Style) New reality series centered at a posh Texas country club.

Breaking Bad (10pm on AMC) Season 4 premiere

Heat Seekers (10pm on Food) New food show with a focus on spicy food.

Amsale Girls (10pm on WE) Season 1 finale

Vegas Strip (10pm on Tru) New reality series centered around strange (and usually dumb crime) happenings at Vegas


Monday, July 18

Hell’s Kitchen (8pm on Fox) Season 9 premiere

Family BrainSurge (8pm on Nikelodeon) New family game show

Giuliana & Bill (8pm on Style) Season 4 premiere


Tuesday, July 19

It’s Worth What? (8pm on NBC) New game show with a very familiar theme

Ludo Bites America (9pm on Sundance) A reality/cooking show with a focus on spicy food.  Sounds really similar to the one premiering on Food network a few days earlier.  Hosted by Ludo & Krissy Lefebvre

I (Almost)) Got Away With It (9pm on ID) Season 2 finale

True Grime: Crime Scene Clean Up (10pm on ID) New series

Awkward (11pm on MTV) New comedy series

Web Therapy (11pm on Showtime) New comedy series with Lisa Kudrow  


Wednesday, July 20

Hollywood Hi-Tech (9:30pm on DIY) New home design series that does home tech makeovers for famous people.  First episode has HBO's "Entourage" star Kevin Connolly's little used bar room being transformed into a tricked-out screening room.

The World According to Paris (10pm on Oxygen) Season 2 finale

South Beach Tow (10pm on Tru) New reality series.  Interestingly the executive producer of this is Jennifer Lopez

Storage Wars (10pm on A&E) Season 2 premiere

Deadliest Warrior (10pm on A&E) Season 2 premiere

Thursday, July 21

Swamp People (9pm on History) Season 2 finale

NY Ink (10pm on TLC)

Friday, July 22

Saturday, July 23

Sunday, July 24

Same Name (8:59pm on CBS) New reality series where celebrities swap places with strangers who happen to have the same name.  First up… David Hasselhoff

Top Gear (10pm on History) Season 2 premiere

I Do Over (10pm on WE) New reality series

Entourage (10:30pm on HBO) Season 8 premiere


Monday, July 25

Unlocking the Universe (8pm on Science) New science show

Vanished with Beth Hollaway (10pm on Lifetime) Season 1 finale

Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition (10:10pm on ABC) Season 1 finale

Tuesday, July 26

101 Ways to Leave a Game Show (9pm on ABC) Season 1 finale

Deadliest Catch (9pm on Discovery) Season 7 finale

Gene Simmons Family Jewels (10pm on A&E) Season 7 finale

Toya: A Family Affair (10pm on BET) Season 1 finale

Wednesday, July 27

Wonders of the Universe with Brian Cox (9:00pm on Science) Season premiere


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