Jan 21
Remembering Robin Williams
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life, TV | icon4 January 21, 2015| icon3No Comments »

Fry and Williams on Parkinson 2002

I guess if I were to be asked the question, ‘If you had the choice, which two celebrities would you like to have dinner with?,’ Stephen Fry and the late Robin Williams would have been right up there.

I remember watching a Friday night TV episode of Parkinson (a UK TV chat show) years ago where the guests were Robin Williams and Stephen Fry. Over the intervening years, my recollections were that this was an absolutely hilarious encounter with Williams’ improvised comedy at its very best. At the time, I felt a little sorry for Stephen that he wasn’t able to discuss his newly released book in earnest thanks to the brilliance of William’s interjections.

Anyway those were my recollections. The year was 2002, before the internet had become the pervasive force it is today. I didn’t video tape the programme at the time but I hoped that someone had and that it would eventually appear on YouTube so I could enjoy it once again. Down the years, I’ve scoured YouTube and search the net but no trace was to be found. In fact I’d given up finding it. But, by chance, I tried YouTube again last weekend with the search Parkinson Stephen Fry Robin Williams and low and behold, it was there at the top of the search with almost a million views. It’s been up for about a year, perhaps as a reaction to Williams’ untimely death. And below it in the search results Parky’s interview with Robin Williams before Stephen Fry joined them in front of the cameras. Over a million views on that one. My sincere thanks to palimpsest2011 and pixelfandango for putting these on YouTube.

I rewatched the Stephen Fry – Robin Williams interview first and the first thing that struck me was that it wasn’t quite as I remembered it from (only) 13 years ago. Robin wasn’t quite as overpowering (in a good way) as I had remembered, but actually let Stephen say his pieces and it was only when Stephen occasionally turned to Robin that the brilliant comedic outbursts were unleashed with Fry playing his part. Funny how the brain plays tricks on you, but that’s probably the subject of a post for another day. Both clips are well worth a watch and further fitting tributes to a great, great comedian.

Sep 27

Boxee Box and remote

 I bought a Boxee Box back in August to stream online content to my digital TV. I was fed up watching stuff on my computer monitor and this seemed to fit the bill. The price was £181 on Amazon UK and so far I’m pretty pleased with it with some reservations which I’ll go into later.

Why I went for the Boxee Box

In deciding how to get content to my TV, the first choice I had to make was between a full home theatre PC (HTPC) set-up dedicated to streaming content, or a set-top box. I dropped the HTPC option as it just wouldn’t be the simplest solution for other members of my family who are not tech minded. Besides I don’t really want a desktop PC in my living room. After I listened to a great podcast by Knightwise in which he discussed Boxee software to stream content I knew I was getting close. But I wanted a solution to get stuff to my TV rather than my monitor so I took the plunge and went for the set-top box option – the Boxee Box. I don’t want to go into a full review here – there are plenty on the net. Let’s just say with the Boxee Box you can stream online TV shows and movies and also content from your own network to your TV. There are also currently over 200 apps to let you stream all kinds of content from, for example, tech podcasts to BBC iPlayer to the weather. So far I’ve spent pretty much all my time in the Apps. I guess I’ll get to the TV shows later. You can also add third party repositories to your Apps to stream additional content. I read about the Navi-X repository on MakeUseOf and that’s a great resource for streaming movies – well worth adding to your repositories if you already have Boxee. Here’s another link on adding the Navi-X repository.

Streaming content

The downside of steaming is that you obviously must have pretty good download speeds so as to avoid buffering issues and multiple interruptions as you watch. Living in the country as I do, about 3 km from the nearest telephone exchange, presents some problems for me. Okay during the day, I get download speeds of 5-6Mbps but in the evening that goes down to 1-2Mbps at best and often less than 1Mbps as all my neighbours come home and go online. So streaming movies from Boxee in the evening can be a problem at 1-2Mbps down. No problems during the day at 5-6Mbps down. And some movies seem to stream better than others, presumably to do with the encoding and quality of the streaming file. However, I also watch the BBC’s iPlayer app to catch up on shows and it seems to stream okay in the evening. I’m still learning here and will post again on this later, but just a word of warning to anyone wanting to stream content, use a wired rather than wireless connection from your router to your Boxee Box and preferably have at least 5 Mbps download speed. You can check your download speeds at Speedtest.net. I’ve added Speedtest to my browser favourites on Boxee so I can check download speeds before I try to stream anything.

Any other downside to Boxee Box?

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with Boxee Box. Streaming problems aren’t its fault really and set-up was a breeze. But these points may or may not bother you:

Boxee remote - frontBoxee remote - back

1. The Boxee remote takes a little getting used to, particularly if you’re not tech minded. It’s definitely a step up from a TV remote as there’s a keypad on the back as shown above. The Boxee menu system takes some mastering.  And forwarding through content playing in an app can vary – sometimes you scroll the cursor to the timeline and click on the line and other times you can just use your arrow keys to move a slider on the timeline. Also there are too many clicks to get places. For example, to launch an app, you have to select the app then click a second time to launch it and that’s not necessary. One click is enough. The key pad on the back of the remote is a little fiddly. If you wear reading glasses, it can be difficult to type on the remote and see what’s happening on your TV screen at the same time – unless your sitting about 2 feet away from it! And the idea of using arrow keys to move the cursor around on your TV screen isn’t great – a touchpad on the remote would have been nice to navigate more naturally – doubtless this will come in later Boxee releases.

But in the meantime, if you have an Android smartphone or iPhone/iPod you can now download apps to get your phones to double as Boxee remotes.

2. In the Boxee browser, management of favourites isn’t great. You can’t create folders for these or reorder favourites but I’ve discovered a great workaround at BoxeeBoxTips which allows you to make custom folders of your favourites and access the file through one of Boxee Box’s local media slots.

Anyway, overall I’m pretty happy with my Boxee Box. There’s always plenty of great content to watch and I can really recommend it, particularly if you have good download speeds. Do you stream online content to your TV yet? What do you use? Any comments about using the Boxee Box? I’d love to hear what you think.

Aug 4

Logitech Z523

So you’ve recently bought an HD TV and you’re really pleased with its performance – but something is missing. Had you noticed? Great picture, great looks …but what about the sound? Not surprisingly, flat panel TVs just can’t give you rich sound quality to match the visual experience.  I recently bought a new Toshiba 32” HD TV and the sound from the built-in speakers is absolutely abysmal. We spend so much time in the store comparing the picture quality, the TV’s connectivity and price but we can forget to check out the sound – and it’s quite important.

No matter, I thought. I’ve got my Logitech X230 2:1 speaker system which I bought about 5 years ago to connect up to my mp3 player and the sound quality is brilliant from these budget priced speakers. Two satellite speakers and a subwoofer for around £25 ($40) I think. One of the best purchases I’ve made.

So I plugged in the Logitech system to the headphone socket on the TV and fired it up. Wow! Just couldn’t believe the difference when I plugged and unplugged these speakers. And the volume is controlled from the TV remote just as with the built-in speakers although the Logitechs do have an additional volume control on the satellite and a bass control on the subwoofer.

So if you have a new flat screen TV, you really should consider investing in external speakers. You won’t regret it. What’s the point in having a great picture and below-par sound. Unfortunately, the Logitech X230 speakers have been discontinued, but I’m sure the equivalent Logitech Z323 or slightly more expensive Z523 speakers will be fine. The subwoofer will happily sit on the floor behind your TV with the satellite speakers on either side. My Logitechs connect by the headphone socket but you may find yours will connect to the audio out jacks on your TV.

Don’t get me wrong. This upgrade isn’t about blasting out deafening, heavy sounds, just getting to the full range of sound which those internal TV speakers aren’t capable of reproducing. If you haven’t experienced a subwoofer in action, you really must. Okay it isn’t a home theater surround sound system, but you’ll be amazed at the sound quality for a budget priced outlay.

By the way, I’m not getting a cut from referrals here, just giving a shout-out to great products at a great price.

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