Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How to watch streaming internet videos on any TV using just your computer.

There are a lot of great set top boxes out there that let you watch streaming TV and movies via the Internet, but maybe you’re not interested in spending the money or you’re just looking for a very simple way to hook your computer up to your TV and watch videos from popular websites like Hulu or different web sites. Here are five different ways you can connect your computer to your TV and watch streaming internet video….

The first thing you need to check is if you have a newer TV and computer which will let you use an HDMI cable to connect the two (don’t worry, there are still ways to do it if you don’t).

What is an HDMI cable? Basically, a HDMI cable is a special type of cable HDTV’s use for high quality video input. Just about all HD and flatscreen TVs have HDMI inputs. Here’s what they look like…

Most newer laptops have HDMI outputs or in the case of Apple products like the Macbook, have adapters you can use to connect an HDMI cable to.

Here are 2 examples. The first one is a picture of a standard HDMI output on a PC notebook, the second one is the MiniDisplayPort output on a MacBook which can be hooked up to an adapter to connect to a HDMI cable.

Once you get a HDMI cable, just connect your computer to your TV, use your remote to select ‘HDMI’ input and with any luck you should see a mirror image of your computer screen on your HD TV. Now you have a very simple inexpensive way of watching Internet content on your TV.

But what if you have an older TV or an older computer that doesn’t support HDMI?

If you have a standard definition TV, you won’t be able to use HDMI, but if your TV and computer have S video jacks and you have S video cable, you can follow the above steps to hook everything up.

But what if you have a real old TV or real old computer that doesn’t have any fancy inputs or outputs?

Just about all TVs made in the last 30 years have RCA inputs. These are the red, white and yellow jacks that you see on the back of your TV which were commonly used to hook up VCRs, DVD players and video games.

And just about all laptop computers ever made have what’s called an external VGA port that can be used to connect the laptop to a monitor.

Luckily, there are number of PC to TV converters which plug into the VGA port on your laptop and the RCA inputs on older TVs.

But what if you have a really, really, old TV?

And on the chance that you have an even older TV, maybe one made in the 50’s or sixties, you can use a RF modulator in conjunction with a converter and still watch streaming Internet television on your TV using the coaxial antenna connection.

The downsides of using your computer instead of a set-top box to watch videos on your TV

All of the above options help you connect the video output to your TV. This means you’ll either need to listen to the audio on your computer speakers or plug your computer into your stereo or entertainment system, or a simple set of amplified speakers. Also since you’re using your computer and not a specialized set top box, it’s possible that the video quality might not be as good or might not completely fill your TV screen, but this really depends largely on how fast your computer and graphic card is and the web site you are visiting.

Tip: when you’re watching Internet videos, be sure to look for the ‘full-screen’ icon on the video player which maximizes video to the largest possible size.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ConnecTV, is coming soon!

Something big is cooking in portable TV in the US. It's possibly the equivalent of a Hulu (in that it is owned by content owners), but from a group of broadcasters who have already identified themselves as being behind the ATSC M/H Mobile DTV services: but this time the subject is both social TV and over the top (OTT) content.

It looks as if this cluster of players got together and realised that there was strength in numbers, whether ATSC M/H takes off or not, and went around looking for projects to continue the collaboration.

The broadcast groups include Barrington Broadcasting, Belo Corp, Cox Media, EW Scripps, Gannett Broadcasting, Hearst TV, Media General, Meredith Corp, Post-Newsweek Stations and Raycom Media. When you combined all of these you get 201 TV stations which are mostly affiliates of ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CW and Warner Brothers, covering 45 of the US's top 50 markets for TV. Nine of these had already put their names down to be part of Pearl, a partnership behind the ATSC M/H-based Mobile DTV in the US.

The vehicle they have chosen to collaborate around is from ConnecTV, described as a social TV system designed entirely for watching TV, or at least for watching, voting, talking about and looking up stuff about TV. Think of it as a version of iMDB but about current TV programmes, put together with Facebook or Google+. ConnecTV has on-board executives who have worked at TiVo, MobiTV, Gemstar-TV Guide and TVN Entertainment, and until now has been operating for two years in stealth mode.
Social TV...for why?

One of the questions we have always had about social TV is why on earth anyone would want to engage in a dialog about TV, on a TV. Early IPTV system, to a certain extent later cable inventions, and now connected TV all seem to make that same mistake. Discussion needs to be private but viewing does not always need to be.

Social TV has to be able to cope with two or three things. The first thing is that little Johnny does not want his parents to know what he watches on TV, and when he makes a comment about how is Father is hogging the TV for Monday night football, he doesn't want to be overhead. So privacy is key, which is why it belongs on a tablets, not the TV screen.

Secondly how does a group of friends get to watch the same programming at the same time and deliberately log on to one another? In different parts of the US different shows are on at different times or at least on different channels. Whatever social network brings them together, also needs to point them in the right direction for their region and set up an open comment channel.

Thirdly, if you've gone to all that trouble of setting that up, then it might just as well be a viewing party over a VoD piece of content too – so that online rights need to be sorted out and a revenue share basis for the content owners for the social network viewing and any advertising that can be played on it.

In other words. it‘s tough to adapt existing social networks to social TV, and despite the fact that Google is working hard to incorporate this into Google+, the local stations do have an edge in bringing it all together. They also have a lot of weight with the stations they are affiliates to such as ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, as long as there is a potential revenue share for the national networks. In fact it is likely that the prime movers here are in fact the collective national networks, but they want to see what their affiliates can do with it before declaring their interest.

Our first thought when hearing about this move with the Pearl group is that this would be related directly to the ATSC M/H stations that these same organisations (with the exception of Barrington Broadcasting) have already launched. But we are told this is not the case. Their big problem remains (actually their only problem) is getting a major device maker to offer a way of viewing these networks on a tablet. ATSC M/H requires a specialist chip and although it is true that people want live TV on a handset (or tablet), they won't have it if comes with a monthly price tag or needs special unsubsidised devices.
How would it work?

Right now US citizens can buy a stand-alone device which will output the signal as local Wi-Fi video and that way TV can be viewed on all tablets, but it's still not as good as if it came as standard built into all Android and iOS devices – at that point mobile TV in the US would take off in a heartbeat.

We can‘t help thinking that however unrelated this ConnecTV service is to ATSC M/H, it has the potential to become related to it in the future, at the very least as two technologies this group is pushing. Perhaps the major broadcasters use one technology to push the other, for instance not giving permission to access Metadata from their TV programmes for use with ConnecTV, unless the broadcaster in question has already set up Mobile DTV broadcasting.

The broadcasters say their stations cover 76 million US households (out of roughly 111 million) and now have a long-term commercial partnership with ConnecTV, which lets viewers interact with other fans watching the same TV program and provides a broad range of related content and promotional opportunities which are synchronized with programmes being viewed.

There is obviously some work to integrate and synchronise the programming within ConnecTV, but then they plan to advertise it on air and online. As we suggested the advertising inventory inside ConnecTV will be synchronized and also used to promote key programs. Some of these broadcasters have made an undisclosed investment in ConnecTV.

In effect this is US broadcasters finding a way to create their own online service and social network, so they get internet revenues. Invariably the content services they have alluded to will be VoD services served through an application or portal, (the same content as is broadcast in ATSC M/H), we suspect.

"Our mission is for ConnecTV to be the social network that empowers entertainment, news and sports fans to share the greatest moments in television," said ConnecTV Co-Founder Ian Aaron. "The team at ConnecTV is thrilled to work with the leaders in local news and television across America as we bring to market an innovative and engaging second-screen experience for all TV viewers that works seamlessly across all programming genres and on all platforms. With over five billion TV viewers and the explosion of tablets and smart phones globally, we are truly at the beginning of a new way to watch TV."

ConnecTV is available currently in an "invitation only" sneak preview and will be launching to the public in early 2012. It was founded by Ian Aaron, former President of Gemstar-TV Guide and Alan Moskowitz, former senior engineer at MobiTV, with other team members from the engineering team at TiVo.

ConnecTV doesn‘t only have to be used with local entertainment and can equally be used with cable programming. It is available as a free application for tablets and for Macs and PCs. It‘s a bit unclear just how ConnecTV automatically identifies the show you are watching, but that‘s what the company boasts.

ConnecTV automatically logs in television viewers while they watch programmes and synchronises relevant content onto its screen, including latest news, celebrity information, trivia, polls and play-by-play sports stats. ConnecTV subscribers can see which TV shows their friends are watching, invite them to a "viewing party" and start a real-time conversation and they can also connect to share viewing moments using Facebook, Twitter and email and all this can work with up to 250 channels.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

PlayLater Offers an Online Answer to the DVR

An Online Answer to the DVR

SOME people who want to watch a movie at home wait for Netflix to mail it to them on a disc. Others click on a link at Netflix or other Web sites and immediately watch films, TV episodes or sports events streamed to them on the spot.

But streamed shows can be ephemeral — they depend on a good broadband connection, and they pass by as they are viewed, unlike downloaded videos that can be watched later offline. And some shows can’t be found again at a site that once provided them, because they are meant to have a limited run.

Now, for $5 a month, a new service called PlayLater lets subscribers copy streaming video as it shows up at 30 sites, including Netflix, Hulu, PBS, ESPN and CNN, so they can watch it later.

With PlayLater, viewers can stockpile episodes of their favorite television shows on their hard drives and thumb drives, just as they copy programs on a digital video recorder for later viewing.

PlayLater has many restrictions — it works only on PCs, and the videos made with the software may be watched only on the PC licensed by PlayLater to record the show, or on another PC that shares the license. And it doesn’t work with iPhones, iPads, or mobile Android devices, although Jeff Lawrence, the chief executive of PlayOn, the Seattle company that offers the subscription service, said these apps would be available soon.

The number of people who watch streaming video is climbing, said Radha Subramanyam, an executive at Nielsen, the ratings firm, “and so is the time they spend watching.” Netflix subscribers spent an average of nearly 8.5 hours doing so in June, she said.

“Everyone streams across all ages,” she said, “but some age groups stream more than others.” She said that there were strong numbers for both the 18-to-24 and 24-to-35 age groups.

PlayLater is among many new services that aim to take advantage of streaming’s popularity, said Dan Rayburn, a New York-based analyst at Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm, and an executive at, a Web site devoted to covering the streaming media field.

Mr. Rayburn called the subscription service “a great idea” but said it had many weaknesses. “Most important,” he said, “it doesn’t work on Macs.”

I signed up for a free trial offered by PlayLater and installed the software on my PC — a painless process that took about 10 minutes. There is no central schedule of streaming choices at the bare-bones PlayLater home page. Instead, I went to each participating site and shopped for shows I might want to copy. The software records in real time, so it takes 30 minutes to copy a 30-minute show — though you can skip the commercials when you watch the recordings later.

I listed in a queue all the programs I wanted, then PlayLater recorded them one after another. But I couldn’t program the software to record on future dates, as can be done with DVRs. (Mr. Lawrence of PlayLater says the company is working on creating this feature.)

Streaming quality, of course, will be affected by the Internet connection. PlayLater’s site recommends a broadband connection of at least 1.5 megabits a second, the same speed that Netflix recommends.

Even with a decent connection, you should be sure that other people on your home network aren’t downloading large files or playing an online game, taking away needed bandwidth.

The quality is also affected by computer hardware. You’ll need a laptop or desktop PC bought within the last five years to avoid problems, Mr. Lawrence said. Each hour of video being recorded requires about one gigabyte of storage space.

The picture quality of the shows I stored on the hard drive was similar to that of the movies I stream from Netflix or Amazon — sharp and clear when tiny, and grainier when I enlarged the image. That is how it should be, said Ara Derderian , co-host of the HDTV and Home Theater Podcast.

“Don’t expect high definition, or the quality of a Blu-ray player,” he said. “The copy of what’s streamed should look identical to what you’d get if you were streaming it.”

SUBSCRIBERS might also be worried about the legality of copying video content. Mr. Lawrence said PlayLater is following the path set earlier by VCRs and DVRs.

“PlayLater is legal for the same reason that using a VCR and a DVR is legal,” he said. “There is a well-established legal precedent that consumers are allowed to record videos for time-shifted viewing.” (In time-shifting, people make copies for their personal use that they can view later.)

Denise M. Howell , an appellate, intellectual property and technology lawyer in Newport Beach, Calif., says she isn’t so sure that software like PlayLater’s will succeed without a legal challenge. She pointed out that the terms-of-service agreements that users have with companies like Netflix and Amazon limit a video’s viewing.

“If the streaming sites let this go, ignoring it, they will irritate the people who provide the content,” she said. “They are not going to be able to sit back and look the other way.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

5 Free Ways to Encrypt Your Files on the Go

In our world, where information is constantly being plugged into one device after another and frequently changes hands, many people don’t realize how vital it can be to safeguard their digital information from sniffers and malware – destructive programs which can steal sensitive information. Here are 5 free software encryption tools for your on-the-go use.
1. How To Encrypt Your Files On The Cloud, e.g. Dropbox

clip image0041 5 Free Ways to Encrypt Your Files on the Go

It may be all smooth and easy going encrypting files on your own hard drives, but what about files on the cloud? As we become increasingly dependent on the cloud for storage, we also become more and more wary of the fact that all our personal, and potentially important files, are floating on some foreign server, exposed to the vulnerabilities of that server.

So if you have files on Dropbox, for instance, what’s a person to do? Thankfully, there’s BoxCryptor, a great free program which allows you to encrypt files even on cloud servers. The free version works great with the standard AES-256 encryption, but does not allow commercial usage and is only limited to encryption of files up to 2 GB. Still, that’s plenty enough for most of us, and is an excellent solution towards solving file encryption on the cloud.
2. What To Do If You Want to Encrypt Entire Hard Drives

clip image0021 5 Free Ways to Encrypt Your Files on the Go

The issue: Enabling encryption on one machine disables it from being read on another unless they both have the same encryption software installed; which is sometimes not practical when you have to constantly switch between PCs in an environment, such as a school setting.

Enter TruCrypt, a truly real-time encryption program which encrypts data as it is being written onto the file partition (e.g. folders), and decrypts it in real-time as it is being removed. Impressive feature aside, this gives you the peace of mind that you won’t ever find yourself stuck with an inaccessible file simply because you were trying to be careful.

TruCrypt also allows you to encrypt entire hard drives, which can be useful if you run your own company, and has a hundred and one other fancy uses such as enabling hardware acceleration during encrypting on modern processors. It is by far the most highly recommended free encryption software on the Internet, customizable for nearly all but the most specific uses.
3. How to Encrypt Your Entire USB Flash Drive Without Installing Anything

clip image0011 5 Free Ways to Encrypt Your Files on the Go

PenProtect doesn’t give you any excuse to not use file encryption while transferring files. There’s absolutely no hassle in using it – all you have to do is copy the downloaded file to the home folder of your USB drive – no installation required! It really doesn’t get any simpler than this, and it provides full 256-bit key AES encryption to your entire USB flash drive, hiding files from being interpreted by the host computer.
4. How To Plug In Your USB Drive With Peace Of Mind at Internet Cafés

clip image0031 5 Free Ways to Encrypt Your Files on the Go

By now, we should all already have recognized how dangerous it can be to plug in your flash drive into a port of a computer at a cyber café. Since you never know what the computer has been uploaded with, the potential for your information being compromised is mind boggling; there could be key-loggers to trace your passwords, malware to read your Word files, trojans to sneak onto your device… the list goes on and on…

Add to this the fact that most of the time, you don’t get administrator privileges in a computer at such places, disabling the option to install a “safe” encryption program on-the-spot. So what can you do? Well, there’s a solution with FreeOTFE Explorer, an encryption software which not only does not require installation, but works even on PCs where administrator privileges have been disabled! It works by creating a “virtual disk” on the computer in question, where everything that is written to that “disk” is encrypted securely before being stored.
5. How To Enable File Encryption using Tools Already Within Reach

clip image0051 5 Free Ways to Encrypt Your Files on the Go

Some people just don’t like having an extra program hanging around on their computer, especially something like encryption which isn’t visible enough to warrant having to stare at its icon every time you access My Computer. Well, did you know that you probably already have a fully sufficient encryption program sitting on your desktop?

7-Zip, the great file compressor, is also a decent file encryptor. Providing only AES-256, it’s really solid. Whether it’s sending work documents over email, or personal items to your loved ones, if you really don’t want to deal with the hassle of an extra program, 7-Zip may just be the perfect file encryptor for you.