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  • Should I Buy a Smart TV?

    Posted on July 17th, 2013 Lee Devlin 3 comments
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    image of an LG Smart TV

    Smart TVs can stream video directly from the Internet

    Should I buy a Smart TV? That’s a question that I got recently from a reader of one of my articles about fixing a Sony Wega TV. I think that even though she had gotten her HD TV back up and running, the thought of replacing it when it wasn’t working was overwhelming since there are so many TV choices available these days. You can choose from Plasma, LCD, and LED display technology and features like SmartTV, 3D, etc. And now it seems every company is offering flat screen so-called “Smart” TVs. But there is no real standard definition of what a ‘Smart TV’ is. My understanding is that it’s a TV that has a networking connection that can stream content from computers in the home or from Internet services. Streaming content from home computers is not that new, and it is still problematic since the standards don’t seem to be working all that well together, but services that stream video over the Internet like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and other sources are starting to catch on in a big way.


    I have been experimenting with devices that connect to the TV that do some of the same things as Smart TVs for many years. These devices can all play content directly from services on the Internet or from PCs on the home network. Some even have USB ports where you can insert a thumb drive and play the music, pictures, or videos from the thumb drive. I have 5 devices under my TV that fit into this category: An Xbox 360, a Wii, a D-link DSM 520, a Sony Blu-Ray player, a Roku, and an Apple TV box.

    I used to work in this area at HP, having helped to introduce one of the company’s first digital entertainment products back in 2001, and that’s one of the reasons I have so many of these ‘smart’ devices. At the time, I recognized that they would eventually find their way into every living room, it’s just taking much longer than I expected. I am not a gamer, so I rarely use the Wii or Xbox for games, but I do use them for their media streaming capabilities. These game consoles have their firmware updated automatically on a regular basis and thus they were able to add this functionality after I had purchased them. When I first got them, many of the Internet streaming services didn’t exist but they have been added with new firmware updates. There are a number of Internet video streaming services, the most well-known being Netflix. But Netflix doesn’t carry all of their available content in streaming mode. Most of the really good movies on Netflix are on their DVD rental side, which costs extra. It approximately doubles the $8 monthly cost of the Internet-only fee. But I figure it is just a matter of time before they move all of their content to the Internet streaming side, possibly charging extra for movies you’d actually want to watch like Amazon Prime does with Amazon Instant Video.

    A smart device can access Internet content from a number of content providers but be aware most of these have monthly subscription fees. Some of the smart devices can access content on your PC, such as your music and photos and videos stored there. But it requires some effort to get that set up and working properly. It’s not always as easy as it sounds due to incompatible streaming protocols, digital rights issues, and media formats.

    But do you really need smart capability built directly into a TV? It depends on your situation, because you can get this capability in any of a number of $100 devices such as most BluRay players. This capability is also available in the $99 AppleTV box which can stream from local and internet sources. Roku boxes cost less than $99 but are limited to internet sources, no local content can be streamed. And if you have a gaming console like a Wii or Xbox 360, you’re already likely to have the capability, even if you didn’t know it. So I wouldn’t pay more than $100 extra for a TV that has ‘smart’ capability. Granted, it may make managing the remote controls easier if the menu for accessing Internet content is built into the TV but dealing with multiple remotes is pretty typical these days. We have so many remotes on our coffee table that it takes a lot of effort to keep them all straight. :-)

    There is often a strong desire for products in this category to be WiFi enabled. However, I’ve found that having these devices connected to a wired Ethernet cable to be essential unless your Router/WiFi access point is in the same room. Streaming video requires a lot of bandwidth and is not tolerant of any delays or interference. Having a few devices in close proximity accessing a WiFi connection can be problematic because they can interfere with each other. And the last thing you want while watching a video is to see some interruption telling you it’s downloading more of the show or that you need to start over. A wired Ethernet connection can help prevent that from happening. You will need to run a cable, but once that is done, it’s a simple matter to add an Ethernet switch that can serve up to 8 devices. In addition to the 5 boxes under my TV, I also have a Comcast HD DVR which also requires an Internet connection. That’s 6 Internet connections in a very small space, so wired Ethernet connection and switch is essential to prevent interference and maximize networking performance. I do like the convenience of WiFi, but it’s really only a necessity for mobile battery-powered devices. Anything that sits stationary and is plugged into an outlet should have an Ethernet cable if it needs permanent Internet connectivity.

    Another good reason to use wired Ethernet is due to the encryption key needed for wireless networks. I just had to replace my router and had to reprogram every device with a new wireless password. That’s not easy to do on devices that have no keyboard and very limited display capabilities. So far, no one has figured out a foolproof way to input WiFi passwords without a keyboard and display.

    I noticed that the ‘Smart TV’ capability is often used as a way to help segregate a brand’s high end TVs and charge more for them. I am more than a bit reluctant to depend on a TV manufacturer to keep the firmware up-to-date to add new services as they come along. Game console manufacturers and companies that are making TV-streaming devices like Roku and AppleTV know that they need to keep those devices up-to-date to be competitive, but I would think that TV manufacturers may ignore that duty, just using that Internet connection as a way to reel in customers who are afraid they might miss out on something if they don’t get the most expensive TV model. Once they have you, they have little incentive to keep the Smart TV functionality up-to-date. That’s another reason I’d be concerned with having that function built into the TV. If some cool new ‘must have’ service comes along and you’re at the mercy of waiting for the TV’s manufacturer to update the TV’s firmware, you may be out of luck.

    So I’m holding out on paying extra for a SmartTV. The numerous devices that I already have work fine, even though some are missing services that the others have. I have the same feelings about paying extra for a 3D TV, but that’s best left to another article.

  • Preserving Your Old Photos

    Posted on May 9th, 2012 Lee Devlin No comments
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    As you may have noticed by reading this blog and checking out my other web pages, I am the VP of Engineering at Simplified IT Products, LLC the company that makes the Picture Keeper. It’s the easiest way I know of to protect your digital pictures. The people at AM Northwest recently ran a segment with organizing expert Krista Colvin that talks about the Picture Keeper along with several other tips for managing your digital photo collection. If you are concerned with the security of your digital photo collection, the video linked above is well worth watching.

    To summarize it, Krista recommends getting all of your photos stored in one place. The Picture Keeper is excellent for pulling all your photos from multiple computers and putting them in one location. Then make a backup of that collection. But even befor you do that that she recommends sorting your old printed photos into 3 categories, A-List, B-List, and C-List which would work like this:

    A-List: I love this photo and really want to keep it.

    B-List: This is a nice photo that I want to keep, or it may be an A-List photo for someone else. If so, give it to them.

    C-List: The photo is flawed, for example has a finger blocking the shutter or is otherwise unimportant, you should throw those away.

    She then talks about scanning all of your photos with a product called Flip-Pal, which I have reviewed here. The flip pal is an excellent way to digitize old photos, particularly if you don’t already have a scanner or if you need the convenience of a scanner that you can take to the photos, instead of bringing the photos to the scanner. And there’s also the option of taking the photos to a scanning service.

    Getting all of your old photos scanned an stored on your computer and backed up gives you a lot more options on what you can do with them. The most popular reason for having a digital copy, other than preservation, is to share with others who might be interested in them. People love looking at old pictures and if you really want to brighten someone’s day, send them a copy of a photo that is bound to bring back some fond memories.

  • Commuting Like George Jetson

    Posted on June 22nd, 2011 Lee Devlin 7 comments
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    Jetsons flying car

    I knew from watching the cartoon, The Jetsons that when I grew up, commuting would be fun. Surely, by that time all the technology showcased on that cartoon would have arrived. But sadly, much of the Jetsons technology is still missing, especially the flying cars. But lately, I’ve been using George Jetson’s approach to commuting that has made a 108 mile round-trip commute that I do several times a week not just tolerable, but enjoyable.

    Here are a few rules I follow to make my commute more enjoyable:

    • Ignore roads, travel in a straight line.
    • Don’t take a route that has traffic lights, stop signs, or other commuters.
    • Travel at twice the maximum speed limit, say, 150 mph or so.
    • Stay 2000′ above other commuters.

    APRS Google Earth of k0lee

    APRS track of my commute from Greeley to Rocky Mountain Metro Airport


    APRS of K0LEE-7 beacon

    Note speed - 158 MPH

    I guess you can tell by the images that I’m talking about commuting using my airplane. This works for me because one of my consulting clients is based at an airport so I don’t need ground transportation after I arrive. One of my colleagues actually lives on an airport, so he has the benefit of commuting door-to-door using his airplane alone. I have to drive 10 miles to the local airport first before I can hop in the plane…. but if I could only figure out how to take off from my back yard….:-)

  • Printable Drill Chart Decimal Equivalent

    Posted on December 31st, 2010 Lee Devlin No comments
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    If you have a 115 piece drill set and have lost the chart that translates the diameter of the drills to a decimal equivalent based on the drill number, letter, or fractional size I have scanned mine, stitched it together and have it available as a jpg or pdf file. When I lost mine, I spent an inordinate amount of time with calipers searching for the right drill diameter. Now that I found it again, I keep it near the drill index and if I ever lose it again, I’ll know where to go to make a new copy of it.

    The chart is a real time saver. If you click on the image below, you’ll get the full scale jpg image of it. From there you can right click and ‘Save As’ to have your own copy of the jpg file so that you can print it.

    Drill Chart Decimal Equivalent Printable in jpg or pdf

    I generally print it to fit to a single page, which shrinks it a little. If you prefer, you can print it full size from the pdf file and then cut and tape it together.

    UPDATE: After looking at that image for a while, I decided the chart needed a ‘do over’ and so I put it in a spreadsheet and printed it as a PDF which makes it much more readable. Click on the image below for a PDF file suitable for printing on a single page.

    Drill Chart Decimal Equivalent Printable in pdf