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4K in 2014

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At CES this year, 4K video arrived.  All 3 pieces of the puzzle seem to be falling into the realm of possibility for most Americans: content creation, delivery, and consumption.  On the creation side, quality cameras should hit the sub-$2000 price range this year.  On delivery, Netflix is going to start streaming select content such as House of Cards Season 2 in 4K (if you have the bandwidth and capable decoding hardware.  And for consumption, Vizio will be selling a Netflix-streaming 4K TV for $999 , while 4K computer monitors are even cheaper.

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I recently purchased the Canon S95, a relatively high-end pocketable digital camera that was recently on sale for a price too good to pass up.  My experience with it so far has challenged my previous views on photography and led me to a better understanding of what makes a photo “good.”

I’ve had point-and-shoots before (a 3MP Creative that was actually pretty decent for the time and sub-$100 price, and a 5MP Canon A530 that despite positive reviews, I was never satisfied with), but until my digital SLR (Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D circa 2005), I didn’t really enjoy photography all that much.  With a cheap camera, you might get an ok “shot with friends” every now and then, but between blurry indoor pictures and over/underexposed scenery shots, the results were consistently disappointing.  I didn’t really find myself motivated to pull out my camera when out with friends or beholding a beautiful nature scene, because I knew the end result would likely be blurry or washed out.

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My week-long honeymoon in Vail ended up being a pretty good test of how much of a computer I really need to get by.  As it turns out, my year-old Toshiba T135-S1305 fits the bill admirably, and it cost me less than $500 new.

Besides my phone and Kindle, this laptop was all I brought to Vail to handle our infotainment needs, and as we ended up vegging in front of the TV a lot on this trip, we used it a lot.  I had loaded up several hours of television before we left as well as an assortment of cables to hook up to whatever TV would be in our condo, and with that minimal preparation, we ended up having all the entertainment we wanted.  This included locally-stored videos, videos we downloaded via bittorrent after we ran out of what I brought, episodes on Hulu, Netflix streams, Rhapsody music streams, and some Flash sermon video.  I also ended up blogging throughout the trip, which I hadn’t originally planned.

Although it’s got a low-power CPU (which lets it get around 8-hour battery life), it features two cores and proved capable of powering a 720p monitor just fine via its built-in HDMI port.  While streaming Sherlock in HD from Netflix it stuttered a bit at first, but eventually hit its stride and played smoothly.

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HTPC Build

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So this is an overdue post as I did this project back in the Fall, but I wanted to wait until it was in its final location before posting so I could show it “in action.”

I’ve long been a believer that a Home Theater PC (HTPC) is the best and most economical way to build a home theater.  It’s not for everyone as it takes some know-how and patience to set up, and lacks a simple, cohesive interface that anyone can get the hang of.  But for sheer capability, nothing else comes close, at least in the sub-$1000 range.  What else can play/record/pause/schedule live TV, drive a surround sound system, push 1080p video, play blu-ray video, networked and locally saved music and video, access any internet video (including Hulu without paying for Hulu Plus), and run a regular browser if you want?  Nothing, that’s what.

Now because I wanted to be able to support HD video, particularly blu-ray, the machine I used for an HTPC in college (which was my old PC that I replaced when I built my current quad-core desktop) wasn’t going to cut it.  So that left me with a dilemma.  Would I upgrade my existing desktop and use the old parts for the HTPC, or build the HTPC from scratch using cheaper parts?  The former would satisfy my nerdy desires for having another cutting-edge beast of a PC, but as I really thought about it, I just couldn’t justify it.  My current PC is still powerful enough to do everything I want to do, including edit HD video, and a quad core is really overkill for an HTPC.  So I did something I’ve never done before: I built a PC that wasn’t more powerful than any PC I’ve ever owned!  Not an easy decision, but in retrospect I think it was the wisest.

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I recently took the plunge and purchased my first ever Apple device. A long-time Windows user and general detractor of Apple and their expensive, controlled approach to computing, I couldn’t resist all those quality iOS apps any longer. I bought (well, technically, my wife bought as a wedding present…thanks honey!) an iPad 2 the day after it came out and I have had it now for a week.

History

When the first iPad originally came out, I was pretty skeptical. I was among those who scoffed at it being just a “big iPod Touch” and didn’t see a lot of value in it that my smartphone and laptop didn’t already provide. And initially, that was true, and for the first 6 months I didn’t really consider getting one.

It wasn’t long, though, before iPad-only and iPad-optimized apps came in droves and it became clear that the iPad really was a unique device with unique uses that went beyond what you could do with a smartphone-sized device. Although the games and iPad apps are definitely impressive, what converted me into actually deciding I wanted one was the music creation apps. And that’s what convinced me not to wait for a competing product to gain traction but instead take the Apple plunge. Tablet OSes from Google, HP and Blackberry are not only a year behind tablet iOS, but don’t show any promise of really competing in this particular music niche anytime soon. And since that’s the niche that most interested me in a tablet, the decision was really made for me. When Apple showed off Garageband for the iPad, any remaining reservations I may have had were completely removed.

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