Chromecast First Impressions

Posted in Entertainment, Life, Technology on August 11th, 2013 by AlwaysBreaking – Be the first to comment

After a few weeks of anticipation, my Chromecast arrived yesterday. It was an impulse buy, but for $35 (plus shipping and tax, so around $40), minus the $23 of Netflix credit, it was worth a few bucks just to try out.  I already have a Roku, which takes care of most of my needs (Netflix, Amazon, and Plex pretty much have me covered) but I figured if nothing else, Chromecast would be an easy way to show photos from my computer on my TV.

A small project for today.

The Good

  • Price.
  • Setup is easy and fast.
  • Casting from a Chromebook is easy, it even worked on my older Chromebook which is not officially supported. We had lots of fun exploring Google Maps with street view on the TV via the Chromebook.
  • Casting YouTube videos works great – the quality was fine and controlling the video from my iPhone or Chromebook was easy.
  • Casting from the iPhone YouTube app is easy.
  • Casting from the Netflix app is easy, and the quality is acceptable (mostly)

The Bad

  • Complete lack of support for wired devices (I still can’t believe this, if someone has a work around, please tell me)
  • Can’t cast from Google apps on iPhone – To cast from YouTube, you have to go the YouTube app. From my iPhone,  I tried to cast a YouTube video that was posted in Google+, but couldn’t. The only way I can cast YouTube from my iPhone is via the YouTube app. Casting from Google+ should be a no-brainer, but isn’t currently supported.
  • Video quality is limited to 720p.
  • Netflix is slow – videos take a long time to start playing, a surprisingly long time.
  • Some issues when switching from Netflix to other apps on the iPhone. I started a Netflix video on my phone and sent it Chromecast. I then switched my iPhone to another app. The Netflix app locked up and lost all control of the video. The video continued to play, but I couldn’t control it. I shutdown my phone, and the video continued to play. I had to go to the Chromebook and start casting from it to get Netflix to stop.

Setup

The setup instructions tell you to plug the Chromecast into your TV, but I plugged it into an HDMI port on my Yamaha receiver. It works fine in my receiver. Connecting the AC adapter was easier for me than using a USB port, mainly because the receiver doesn’t have a rear USB port. The instructions actually recommend using AC power. Physical install was quick, and easy.

The setup was also extremely simple. I opted to use a Chromebook. I had to install the Chromecast extension, which took maybe a minute, after that it was only a few clicks and I was set. The most time consuming part was entering my WiFi password. After the physical install, it took maybe three minutes before I was casting from my Chromebook to my TV.

Desktop Setup Failed

Once I was up and running with the Chromebook, I went to my Windows 7 desktop to set it up. As it turns out, that went really quickly, but not for good reasons. Chromecast requires a WiFi connection. I downloaded the software, but setup failed because my desktop uses a wired connection. It’s on the same network as the Chromecast, but the Chromecast software tries to find a WiFi connection and completely ignores wired connections. That’s absurd. There is no reason any device on my network with a Chrome browser shouldn’t be able use Chromecast. In my opinion, this is a serious limitation. A lot of people have home theater PCs or Mac Minis, but if they are using a wired connection (which I assume a lot of people do) then you’re out of luck with Chromecast.

Bottom Line

It’s worth the $35. No question. There are some serious issues, in my opinion, but it’s worth the money. I won’t use it to watch Netflix because the Roku offers a much better experience, including video quality and speed. The ability to display YouTube is worth the $17 (net cost) I spent on the device. If you already have a Roku or AppleTV, you probably don’t need a Chromecast. Chromecast would be great for second or third TVs, but lack of 1080p support means you won’t want to use it for your main streaming device.

I do like having the ability to cast from the Chromebook. That is a feature we will use, as is the ability to show YouTube videos on our TV. I just wish I could cast any YouTube video posted on any site.

I am seriously disappointed by the lack of support for wired devices. One of the reasons I got the Chromecast was to show pictures that reside on my desktop. I can still use Plex for this, but would have preferred using the Chrome browser.

Why I Should Dump DirecTV

Posted in Entertainment, Uncategorized on February 22nd, 2012 by AlwaysBreaking – Be the first to comment

In the latest episode of HDTV and Home Theater Podcast, Ara and Braden discuss how much money could be saved by dropping satellite or cable TV and using only over the air broadcast and online delivery. I decided to take a look at my family’s situation to see if we could drop our DirecTV subscription.  I did my research with one question in mind: Can I save money and still enjoy the same programs?

The point is to see if I can save money, so I wanted to use what I already had without having to buy any additional hardware. We live in an area where over the air broadcast would require a large and expensive antenna, so over the air broadcasts don’t work for me. I also don’t want to pay for a new Tivo or build a home theater PC to record and playback shows. That leaves me with only using online delivery providers like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, or iTunes. I currently have a Roku but no AppleTV, so iTunes is out of the equation. Netflix doesn’t offer current programming, but we do watch a lot of  shows from their instant catalog. I’ve never looked into Hulu, but I don’t think I need to.

I found that I can get almost all of the shows I watch on Amazon. Here’s the breakdown:

Amazing Race $ 28.99 iTunes price, but probably the same on Amazon
Survivor $ 28.99 iTunes price, but probably the same on Amazon
Alcatraz $ 17.94 Amazon Prime
Justified $ 19.99 Amazon Prime
Glee $ 59.64 Based on per episode price, but season pass is probably less
Modern Family $ 59.64 Based on per episode price, but season pass is probably less
Desparate Housewives $ 59.64 Based on per episode price, but season pass is probably less
Person of Interest $       - Not available
Dexter $       - Not available
Total $  274.83

The only current shows I can’t get are Person of Interest and Dexter. We already don’t get Dexter and wait for Netflix to have it, so nothing really changes there. Person of Interest I enjoy, but since I have more shows to watch than time to watch them I wouldn’t feel bad about waiting until that was available on Netflix or via Amazon (which I assume will happen at some point). All the others add up to a pretty good chunk of cash to lay out at one time, so I would probably not buy them all at once.

I currently pay just under $58 per month for DirectTV, or just under $700 a year. My savings would be substantial, well over $400 a year,  if I only purchased the shows I want instead of paying for a bunch of channels we never watch, but we would be making some sacrifices.

First, I wouldn’t get any live sports – no NFL, no SF Giants, nothing. I’m not a huge sports fan and honestly am disgusted by the egos of most players. If people put as much effort and energy into schools as they do into fantasy leagues, our kids would be doing amazing things. So I wouldn’t miss sports that much.

The other thing we would miss is the award shows. The only one I watch is the Oscars, but others in my house occasionally watch other award shows. I’m not all that impressed with Hollywood these days either. They put out crap and complain that no one goes to movies. I’d rather spend $30 on a season of the Amazing Race than $9 on some recycled story with overblown special effects, so my interest in the Oscars grows weaker every year. Besides, I have a lot of friends who have Oscar parties that I could attend.

So the bottom line is that I would be better off dropping DirectTV and just using Amazon and Netflix to provide my shows. I’ve been wanting à la carte programming for a while, turns out I can have it now and didn’t know it.

The Blues

Posted in Landscapes, Photo Challenge on January 21st, 2012 by AlwaysBreaking – Be the first to comment

 

For the month of January (which is rapidly flying by) I’m shooting the color blue as part of the 2012 Photo Challenge. These are my first two shots.

From The World Outside
From Numbers

Ancestor

Posted in Uncategorized on March 5th, 2011 by AlwaysBreaking – Be the first to comment

Ancestor

Taken with my Holga 120N, Kodak 120 TMAX 400 film, scanned on my HP C3150, film processed and printed by Marin Film Works

I can’t even remember what kind of camera I started taking pictures with, but it was a film camera. My first memories of photography are with a Polaroid and I owned a Kodak disc camera at around the age of 8 or 9. There’s something about the quality of film that digital cameras just can’t replicate. And then there’s the Holga, offering a unique qualities even beyond what traditional film cameras offer.

I got a Holga 120N mostly to experiment and see what I could come up with. I’ve actually had the camera for a long time, but have only developed two rolls of film. Developing costs almost as much as the camera. The first roll was a learning experience and the photos are nothing I care to share with the world. This shot is from the second roll which had a few good shots. I had the film developed last week and found shots from six months ago on the roll. The surprise of remembering what you shot is part of the appeal of film, you forget what shot until it’s developed and are pleasantly surprised when you see the prints.

I plan to get the next roll shot and processed in a much shorter time span, maybe a couple of months. I’m still learning and haven’t perfected the focusing technique (if it even exists). I do like the quality of the lens, I just need to work on the shot selection and composition. Exposure is what is, you don’t get a lot choice. I’ll probably try a couple of flash shots as well just to see what happens.

The prints are much better than the scans, probably because my scanner isn’t that great. I’m not sure paying the extra money for scanning during development is worth since I only had two or three “keepers” in this roll, but I do like the prints. There’s something magical about holding the image in your hand, even if the photo isn’t great.

Numbers Project

Posted in Black and White on February 27th, 2011 by AlwaysBreaking – 2 Comments

13

Over the past year I pretty much abandon blogging, and to a large extent photography. I still took pictures of the family and while on vacation, but I didn’t spend much time just taking pictures. I tried to get into the August 2010 Photo Challenge, but only managed 19 shots. 2010 was an off year all around for me. This year I’m trying to get back into shooting more photos for myself. I was hoping www.photochallenge.org would have some good themes to keep me motivated, but it looks like the site is on hiatus. (I sincerely hope new challenges come up soon.)

I decided I needed to come up with my on themes and Numbers is one I’ll be working on all year. Numbers are all around us and define much of our lives. We see them in everywhere we go and in almost everything we do. I’ve decided to try to take photos of as many numbers as possible this year, focusing on numbers below 1000.  I came up with a few guidelines for myself:

  • No addresses unless it’s a really compelling shot. It’s just too easy to get numbers from homes or businesses, and I want this to be a little challenging.
  • No repeating the same subject. I could take a lot of number shots of speed limit signs, but that will get boring fast. Part of the challenge is to find different subjects as well as numbers.
  • Don’t use the same number twice. So far this hasn’t been a problem, but I did add two shots of the number 4 to the set. One was taken long before I started this project, but was the kind of shot I want to do.
  • Try to get just a number by itself, without other words or other numbers. For example, a keyboard has numbers, but it’s hard to get each number by itself, although it could make an interesting macro. I’m not to let this limit my shots, but the point is to focus on numbers.

So far I’ve taken nine shots for this project this year and have started a set on Flickr. I’ll add to it as much as possible throughout the year.

Yosemite in Winter

Posted in Uncategorized on January 1st, 2010 by AlwaysBreaking – Be the first to comment

Aspirations

There’s something magical about Yosemite in the winter. It’s always awe inspiring, but a fresh dusting of snow adds another level of amazing to the valley. We spent a few days up there between Christmas and New Year’s just to relax and enjoy some time away. As usual, I left longing for more.

Yosemite is a photographers paradise. Everywhere you turn there is something to shoot, and usually a crowd of people taking the same picture. The challenge is avoiding crowds and finding an original shot (if that is even possible). I go into Yosemite knowing the best shots have already been taken and I won’t create a new masterpiece, but I might create my own masterpiece. I go there to take pictures that are mine. Even though a millions of people take the same picture of Half Dome, I still want to take my own. If I’m happy with the shots I take, then it was a good trip. I’ve put all the shots I thought were good enough to share in a set on Flickr.

My favorite places to shoot on this trip were:

  • The meadow along Northside Drive, between Yosemite Village and the Ahwahnee Hotel. It has one of the best views of Half Dome.
  • Tunnel View on Hwy 41, right before the Wawona Tunnel
  • El Capitan meadow
  • Along the Merced River between Swinging Bridge and Sentinel Bridge. (I don’t think you can walk in this area off trail except when there is snow on the ground. Stay on trails and help protect the grasses.)

My favorite places change with the seasons. My next trip later this year will include a hike to the top of Half Dome, so I expect that will be my favorite spot. If you’re planning a trip I highly recommend the Lonely Planet Yosemite National Park guide. It is a invaluable resource.

One bummer about the trip, I realized my Sigma 17-70mm lens is not auto focusing properly, especially for wide shots. It’s not off on every shoot, but enough that I don’t trust it. I’ll probably have it repaired at some point, but for now I’ll switch back to the Canon 17-55mm kit lens or go manual. It sucks to have a lens that’s only 18 months old break. I noticed the shots I took with my Canon 70-300mm were much sharper.

The best camera

Posted in Uncategorized on October 14th, 2009 by AlwaysBreaking – Be the first to comment

IMG_0086_800
The best camera is definitely the one you have with you, especially if you have an iPhone and the Best Camera app by Chase Jarvis. I recently got an iPhone and have been incredibly impressed with the camera, especially touching the screen to choose the focus point. There are plenty of cameras out there with higher resolution and better low light performance, no doubt about that. I won’t be giving up my DSLR anytime soon. But having the power of  the iPhone with dozens (hundreds?) of photo apps and the ability to upload to the web bundled with the camera is pretty amazing and liberating.

I’ve been so fascinated with my iPhone camera that I haven’t been using the DSLR nearly as much as I should. I’ve never had my own point and shot, so this filled a need for me. And the Best Camera app with built-in uploading to the Best Camera site makes sharing easy. You can also  send Twitter and Facebook updates when you upload to let your friends an followers know about your photos. My Best Camera photos are at http://bestc.am/photographers/4453.

The beauty of the Best Camera app is in its simplicity. It’s easy to apply and stack filters to images, then save and upload them. The one tool I would like is a crop tool, but the  Photoshop app has that so I can crop there and process and upload in Best Camera. Best Camera also tends to blow out the highlights, but again Photoshop can help with that. And it’s a cool effect sometimes. The app is well worth the $2.99. If you need convincing, just check out the winners feed of the best shots from Best Camera users.

At this point my iPhone has as much value to me as a photographer as my DSLR. I can’t imagine not having a camera that uploads directly to the web.
After the rain Confernce Call

$1Million doesn’t go far in this economy

Posted in Uncategorized on June 8th, 2009 by AlwaysBreaking – Be the first to comment

One Million Dollars
I have a bunch of old Hi8 and 8mm tapes that I want to transfer to my computer, so I searched Amazon for “Hi8 player” and the results came up with a $1,000,000 VHS-C adapter. And to think I gave one of them away about 10 years ago. I could have retired if I would have just held onto it for a few more years… Oh, well, now I have to keep my day job. I’m pretty sure this is a mistake that will be corrected, so I took a screen shot.

The truly funny thing is that 75% of the people that view this page end up buying the item for $1Million. I wish I could afford a VHS-C adapter. Not that I have a VCR anymore, but wouldn’t it be cool to show your friends at the next kegger. Those poor suckers that opted for the adapters under $20 just don’t understand the true value of this adapter. And there’s only one left, so you’d better buy it right away. Shipping is only $99, so it’s steal.

You might also consider the bundle that comes with a Super High-grade VHS-c Videocassette 4 pack and a Nickel Cadmium Camcorder Battery For Panasonic PV-BP18 for only $1,000,023.60.

Tribute to American Graffiti

Posted in Cars & Transportation, Other Photos, Outdoor on May 18th, 2009 by AlwaysBreaking – Be the first to comment

Flames

This past weekend was the annual Tribute to American Graffiti car show in Petaluma. I’m not much of a car aficionado, but I love seeing all the old cars. I don’t get into the engines and mechanics of the cars, I just like the aesthetics of the old cars.  There’s something about the designs that car makers just can’t replicate in cars today. The car show takes over downtown with more cars than I could count, a couple hundred easily.

This year I went with my father-in-law who grew up in Detroit. He likes the classics to be original and stock. I tend to agree with him, but I appreciate the craftsmanship and originality that goes into some of the hot rods. As we walked by the cars he would say things like “My brother had this exact car” or “My uncle had this car”, and so on. His knowledge of the American cars pre-1970 is astonishing. It really added a lot to car show to hear stories of people who drove the same cars in everyday life.

I took a couple of hundred photos with over 60 that I liked. I’m still processing and uploading them to Flickr and Zooomr. I have a set on Flickr with shots from this year. There’s also shots from the 2008 car show in a separate set.

Chevrolet Bel Air

Netflix Blu-Ray Price Increase = FAIL

Posted in Uncategorized on March 30th, 2009 by AlwaysBreaking – 1 Comment

Like every other Netflix subscriber that opted to get Blu-Ray disks, I got the email today from Netflix detailing the price increase. And like every other subscriber I am most unhappy. For me it’s going up from the $1 per month Blu-Ray surcharge to $4 per month. That’s an extra $36 per year.

Netflix’s stated reason: “Blu-ray discs are substantially more expensive than standard definition DVDs” That is BS. I just checked the prices on Quantum of Solace at Amazon. The two-disc collector’s edition on Blu-Ray is $19.99 while the two-disc collector’s edition on DVD is $20.99. The Blu-Ray is actually cheaper! Maybe those are sale prices, but it shows the downward trend in Blu-Ray pricing. Then consider the fact that Netflix is buying in bulk and not paying anything near retail on a per disk basis. I’d like to know how much more Blu-Ray disks actually cost Netflix.

My Netflix account is $16.99 per month, with the new Blu-Ray charge it will be $20.99, about the cost of a Blu-Ray movie. The major difference is that I can go buy the Quantum of Solace Blu-Ray today, but I can’t get it from Netflix for a “very long” time.  Wait times for new release Blu-Ray titles are always “Very Long Wait”. So I get to pay more money for what is already an inferior service offering. Couple that with the fact that I rarely get  Blu-Ray movies from Netflix and this looks likes extortion. In the last year I’ve averaged about one Blu-Ray per month from Netflix, but now I’ll be paying a price that assumes all three of the rentals I have out are Blu-Ray. Even if I paid $1 per Blu-Ray, I’d still be paying less per year than the new price increase.

So what will I do? Vote with my wallet. Like many other Netflix customers, I’m dropping the Blu-Ray option. I’ve been keeping an eye on Twitter today, and from what I see people are pissed and aren’t going to pay the extra money. It’s not a lot of money, but money isn’t the point. It’s the idea that Netflix needs to charge extra for something that really doesn’t cost them that much, and the charge is not equitable based on usage. If every title I wanted to watch was available on Blu-Ray and I didn’t have to wait for them, I’d consider the extra charge. But that is not reality and the bulk of what I watch is not on Blu-Ray.

I’m joining the hordes of other Netflix subscribers and dropping the Blu-Ray option, and I’m reducing my DVD plan from 3 to 2 to save even more money. I think I’ll donate that $40+ year to a charity that could really use the money. Netflix seriously needs to reconsider this massive blunder.