Tag Archives: featured

First Impressions: Amazon Fire TV

With the relocation of our older TV into the bedroom, we realized that it is currently nothing more than a receptacle for the XBox 360, sans XBox Live.  Our grand plan was to attach a Google Chromecast so we could access Netflix and Amazon Prime videos.  Alas, the two HDMI ports on the back of the TV are spaced in a way that makes it physically impossible for this arrangement to occur.  With the recent release of the Amazon Fire TV, we decided to attempt our first, and extremely delayed, foray into the set-top box market.

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Unboxing
The Amazon Fire TV comes in a simple and compact black box with logos of the various supported apps on the front.  Like most set-top devices (Apple TV, Roku), this list includes Netflix and Hulu Plus.  Inside, you’ll find the relatively small device that is a 4.5″ square and 0.7″ thick.  Also included is an elegant and streamlined remote, a power cord, 2 AA batteries, and a quick start guide.  Note, you will have to supply your own HDMI cable.

Setup
The quick start guide’s boast of a three step setup was no lie, but as with seemingly any device released nowadays, the first thing it did was to download the inevitable initial update.  It took a good 10 to 15 minutes for what I imagine is the latest firmware to be installed and running before I was greeted with the informative intro cartoon on key features.

Initial Impressions
I can say that even in the limited time I’ve had with the device, the voice search on the remote works as advertised.  I hate how inefficient and frustrating manually searching on smart TVs with the remote control is so I was really hoping this feature would be a worthy replacement.  And it truly is.  Time will tell if I maintain this stance, but for now, it understands what I say in no more than 2 tries (although for whatever reason it had a tough time comprehending the word “air” when my wife searched for “air disasters”).

The UI is clean with a focus on large tiles that can scrolled left and right, similar to Netflix.  That familiarity aided in how quick and easy it was to access all the Fire TV has to offer.  I wasn’t able to figure out how to “upvote” or indicate that a review was helpful, which has become a standard for all things Amazon.

Another positive is how speedy this device is whether it is during navigation of the menu system or loading up movies and shows.  Compared to Netflix on the living room TV or the Kindle Fire, there was hardly any loading or buffering after selecting something to watch.  Extended time with the Fire TV will show whether it is affected by the dreaded Netflix bottleneck by ISPs but the quad core processor definitely helps things zip along.

A gripe I do have so far is that when the results of a search are displayed, there is an option for playing the selected media on another app (such as Hulu Plus) instead of Amazon Video.  But I have not come across the option to launch the show/movie from Netflix even if it is available on Netflix.  It would save some steps rather than having to launch the Netflix app and then search from there for the same show.

Some features I haven’t gotten to try out yet include how gaming performs (which is a big part of their marketing push), the music apps, displaying photos and videos from the Amazon Cloud, and the FreeTime feature which is aimed at limiting screen time and content for kids while also letting them have a unique profile.  I look forward to exploring more of what this set-top is capable of so look for a review in the near future.

For now, I leave you with the immortal Gary Busey and his (paid)take on the Amazon Fire TV.

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Wake Up To The Smell of Bacon… From Your iPhone

Bacon.  Synonymous with mornings and hearty breakfasts, man’s desire for this delicious food to be integrated in our everyday life knows no bounds.  From bacon gumballs to talking bacon plushies, there is a bacon product out there for anybody.  Now comes the next evolution of bacon-ification: an alarm clock.  No, it’s not a clock made out of bacon (note to self: great idea), but instead it’s an alarm that not only wakes you up to the sizzling sound of frying bacon, but also the smell!  Life is complete.

Oscar Mayer has developed a new iPhone only alarm app that does just that.  The smell part of the equation comes from an attachable dongle that is not available in stores.  Instead, it has to be won through a random sweepstakes on the Oscar Mayer website.  The contest runs from March 3rd to April 4th and is limited to one entry per day, per email address.  4,700 lucky bacon aficionados will be waking up with bacon on their mind and in their nostrils.

TED Talk: Your Brain on Video Games

Dr. Daphne Bavelier is a cognitive researcher who gave an informative and surprising TED talk about how video games can positively affect the brain.  From sensational news stories equating video games to violent behavior, to parents chastising their kids for playing games, it is refreshing to know that this hobby I hold dear can produce cognitive benefits according to recent scientific studies.

The central type of game she focuses on during her talk are what she calls “action games” or FPS (first person shooter) games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield.  Highlights include debunking the myth that increased screen time makes your eyesight worse.  People that play action games actually scored better than non-gamers in two distinct categories: ability to resolve small detail in the context of clutter and ability to resolve different levels of gray.  Dr. Bavelier states that the former is utilized when reading fine print on a prescription bottle while the latter is helpful when driving in fog.

Another interesting finding is that gamers have a better ability to track things around the world.  A typical normal young adult can have up to three to four objects of attention while gamers double that to six or seven objects of attention.  This makes sense as fast paced games task the player with continuous monitoring of their surroundings, whether it is checking for nearby threats or keeping an eye on the mini-map and their health.

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Using brain imaging, it has been discovered that video games cause positive changes to areas of the brain that control attention such as the parietal cortex (orientation of attention), frontal lobe (sustaining attention), and anterior cingulate (allocation/regulation of attention and conflict resolution).  Imaging has shown that these areas are more efficient in gamers.

I highly recommend watching her entire 18 minute presentation at the top of this post.  Dr. Bavelier isn’t telling people to play 10 hours of ‘Call of Duty’ daily, as moderation is still a key component.  In addition, she advocates for the creation of games that are geared specifically towards training and rehabbing the brain while still being fun.  Until then, I’ll continue  to play Battlefield and call it my “brain workout”, knowing it might be slightly less of a waste of time!