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Digital HD Movies and Your Options

Digital HD banner with several digital movie service icons above it

I’ve been thinking a lot about digital movies recently, and what are truly the best options and ways to manage it all. Unlike buying digital music nowadays, digital movies are still controlled by digital rights management (DRM). While the iron-fisted approach to music DRM ultimately was its undoing, movie DRM seems to be much more liberal. However, it’s still very confusing. Doing research on this subject, I concluded that it would take a long boring article to fully explain the concepts. But I won’t. This is the quick introductory version with a concise bottom line to get you started.

Should You?

Should you abandon your physical media collection for digital copies? Lifehacker offers a great article on the subject. Read it and decide for yourself.

Sources

When I say “sources”, it’s a loosely defined term. The key concept is that these sources manage the digital rights over the movie titles. Sources include Apple’s iTunes, Amazon Video, Disney Movies Anywhere, and UltraViolet. Most of these sources also sell movies, but UltraViolet does not. UltraViolet exclusively manages DRM among several services.

Services

Services sell movies and allow you to stream and download them. You can buy digital movies from many sources like iTunes, Amazon Video, Disney Movies Anywhere, Flixster, FandangoNOW, Vudu, and several others. You can also redeem digital HD codes included with Blu-ray and DVD media which usually direct you to a single redemption source’s web site.

Sharing

Some sources allow sharing your digital collection. I was only able to find that Vudu offers the ability to share, but there might be others.

Playback

Services allow you to view your collection on a wide variety of devices like your desktop computer, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone. You can download the movies to the mobile devices for offline playback which is terrific for long plane flights or staying within mobile data caps.

Depending on your desktop computer, your streaming video quality might be limited. Without an HDCP connection to your monitor, you will not be allowed to stream high definition (HD) versions of the movie. You’ll be limited to standard definition (SD). Also, downloading to your desktop and laptop will likely require DRM software from the service.

Best Intersection of Services

Here’s where you’ll need to understand how services can and cannot work together. Amazon and Apple are pretty much isolated from what I can tell. If you buy a title from those sources, you can only watch them from those respective sources. Surprisingly, Disney plays well with several other services, including iTunes. But iTunes titles won’t show up in Disney Movies Anywhere. UltraViolet-managed titles work among affiliated services which exclude iTunes and Amazon.

Confused yet?

So here’s my bottom-line recommendation: Vudu.

Vudu works with Disney and UltraViolet. Vudu also shows both of those collections in its web site and mobile apps. Playback on your TV will require the Vudu app. That app can be found in Roku streaming devices as well as built into some smart TVs. The Vudu app is not included with Apple TV. At least not yet. You might have some success with iOS AirPlay, but AirPlay is not built into the Vudu iOS app’s video player.

Unfortunately trade-offs are unavoidable. But you can get a nice Roku streaming stick for $50. Sometimes less if you keep an eye out for deals.

I hope this helps get you started with digital movies in the smoothest possible way.

Post Script

I forgot to include Google Play in this article. Google’s service also seems to be isolated like Apple and Amazon.

Please comment if you have any information or experience to add.

Review: Anker ToughShell for iPhone 6s Plus

iPhone in ToughShell - Front and Back

Disclosure

Anker provided their ToughShell for iPhone 6s Plus without cost in return for an unbiased review, and I promise that is what follows here.

Packaging

Anker’s product packaging continues to be as thoughtful as anything Apple can design. Opening the ToughShell package was pleasant and looked classy.

Anker ToughShell Packaging - Closed and Open

Look

The case looks rich and professional. The design appeals to my own preference of solid, well-built understatement. Even the Anker emblem is embossed in a classy-yet-inconspicuous way.

Build quality

The materials used are of very good quality. It looks good and feels just as good. No mushy feeling air gaps under the shell. I don’t think this aspect of the case could be any better.

Feel

Lightweight and smooth, which is good for easily gliding in and out of pockets and purses. It’s easy enough to hold while using, but some might prefer a less slippery feel. This is a subjective preference, of course, but buyers might want to be aware of this.

Protection

The back and sides are well protected. The corners feature built-in shock absorbing bumpers that should offer adequate protection from a usual drop. The front offers a raised edge that will most likely protect your phone from a drop onto a flat surface. The barely there design for the front bezel helps the iPhone maintain its aesthetics. Some people (like me) might want that front protection to be a tad deeper, but it probably protects the phone just fine. This design makes it easier to swipe in from the edges to take advantage of iOS features. Deeper bezels can get in the way.

Fit

The ToughShell fits the iPhone 6s Plus like a glove, and installing it on the phone was a breeze. The case holds the phone just about perfectly and with confidence. A drop will not dislodge the phone from this case.

Use: Access to buttons

The volume and sleep/power buttons are covered by the case, but pressing any of them is simply effortless. The button covers are designed to be flush with the case. This is great for aesthetics, but it’s not so easy to locate the buttons by feel. I imagine this would become easier over time as you get used to the case.

Use: Access to ports/mute toggle

Accessing the mute toggle, headphones jack, and lightning port are very easy. While they are not covered by the case, they are recessed for protection.

Here is the only real criticism I can find for the ToughShell case: Anker’s own lightning cables will not fit into the opening for the lightning port. I tried Anker’s 3ft, 6ft, and 3ft braided lightning cables, and none will fit. If you pull firmly up on the front lower lip of the case, you can manage to connect Anker’s cable. But this is an awkward chore that requires one more hand than most people have. Meanwhile, Apple’s OEM lightning cables fit perfectly. Go figure.

Anker-brand Lightning Cables Do Not Fit in the Case, but Apple Cables Work Fine.

Conclusion

I can easily recommend this case to any iPhone 6s Plus owner. If you’re looking for this level of protection, Anker’s ToughShell appears to offer great protection and professional looks for a terrific price point for an excellent overall value.

Beware the Hidden Cost of Apple’s New MacBook

Hidden Cost of that new MacBook

The new MacBook was introduced at Apple’s March 2015 event (along with the much hyped Apple Watch), and it is undeniably beautiful. Cutting edge design and engineering make for an attractive new laptop. But cutting edge can go both ways, so be sure to consider the full impact of buying such a forward-thinking device.

Really, this warning only comes down to one issue, but it’s significant: The USB port.

Apple has implemented the new USB-C (or USB Type C) port on the new MacBook. Besides the headphone jack, there are no other ports on this laptop.

So what does this mean?

First, your full-size USB mouse, flash drive, and external hard drive will not directly connect to this laptop. You’re going to need an adapter. So the MacBook’s cost of ownership will go up just a bit.

Second, you will not be able to have any peripherals connected to the MacBook while it is charging. It’s a relatively small issue, but it will probably come up sooner or later for most owners.

So what’s the cost of those USB-C adapters?

Depending on that you need, the offerings from Apple start at $19 and go up to $79. The USB-C to USB adapter will probably be the most popular add-on item at $19. The USB-C audio visual multiport adapter is going to $79. But keep in mind that the MacBook can connect to an Apple TV via AirPlay. And at $69, the Apple TV is now less expensive than that AV adapter.

Go figure!

Office 365 Becomes Even No-Brainer-er

OneDrive Logo on Several Device TypesOn Monday, October 27, Microsoft announced that all Office 365 subscriber accounts would receive unlimited OneDrive storage.

A month ago, the software giant increased the maximum allowable files size from 2 GB  to 10 GB.This removed a major gripe many users had against the cloud storage service.

Meanwhile, this puts a lot of pressure on services like DropBox and BitCasa. It also further diminishes the value of Google Docs, which offers relatively lackluster productivity applications.

And while Microsoft officially charges $99 for Home (5 users) and $69 for Personal (1 user) subscriptions annually, you can easily find discounts in the form of Key Cards. Currently, I found them on Amazon for under $70 for Office 365 Home. The Key Cards are usually mailed to you as a credit card-sized card with a code printed on it. You enter the code in the Office 365 Web site to initiate your subscription. And you can renew the same way.

And this is legitimate. It’s how I got my family’s subscription.

 

Buy Smart: Certified Lightning Cables Can Be Affordable

Lightning CablesWhen Apple started its “Made for i” (MFi) certification for Lightning cables, many thought it was an insidious way to get more money and raise costs for USB charge/sync cables for their iDevices. While that might be true, there are benefits to having high-quality cables for your high-cost mobile devices.

I’ve seen more than one friend ruin their iPhone and iPad with knock-off, low-cost Lighting cables. These experiences finally convinced me to toss out my cheapie cables. And thus started my pursuit of maximizing value when purchasing authentic or certified Lightning cables. And here is my advice to you:

Authentic Lightning Cables: You can find authentic Apple OEM Lightning cables on eBay. These generally come in a bag and not a retail box, but the item will be the same quality as the cable that came in your iDevice’s box. Be sure to look for a clear statement that the item is manufactured by Apple. Also be sure to buy from either a Top-Rated Seller or a seller with 98% or higher positive feedback.

Lately, I’ve been finding these authentic Apple OEM cables for less than US$10. Some are closer to $8 with free shipping.

Certified Lightning Cable: My favorite certified Lightning cable from a third party is Anker’s Lightning cable. I’ll even argue that Anker builds a better cable than Apple. They’re really that good.

I’ve found that Anker cables [Associate Link] sell for a relatively fair price on Amazon between $10 and $14 with free Prime shipping. If you’re shopping at Amazon for these, be certain to check the “Special Offers and Product Promotions” section. You might be able to save 10% or more on Anker products using codes right on the product page.

Amazon (as AmazonBasics) and Monoprice both offer their own branded certified Lightning cables, and I have every confidence these are fine products. These also come in varying lengths from 4 inches to 10 feet. I haven’t found anything but 1 meter cables from Apple and Anker.

On a Side Note

Back to Anker products, I recently replaced a cheap car charger for my iPhone. I chose an Anker 24W 2-port car charger [Associate Link], and I absolutely love this product. It was $10 with free Prime shipping from Amazon. I travel using Waze to get around Atlanta’s traffic, and the Anker charger charges my iPhone quickly without overheating it. It’s truly a terrific gadget.

How To Buy: Gadget Storage Considerations

When you’re in the market for a new tablet or smartphone, an easily overlooked feature is the device’s storage.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Some entry-level gadgets offer 16 GB storage capacity. There are even a few that offer 8 GB. That used to be plenty of storage for apps, several music playlists, and a few movies.

However, there are new considerations for shoppers. Many models are rolling out with higher resolution displays. This makes the screens look terrific, especially for images and text. And don’t forget the nice camera that takes crisp images and HD video. But be midful that the graphics in the apps along with the pictures and videos you’re taking gobble up a lot of your device’s storage. So it might be worth considering the extra investment in additional storage.

Jumping up from 16 GB to 32 GB might be the difference in constantly deleting apps, rotating playlists, and minimizing the movies on your device. If you like to have your entire music collection in your device, then you’ll probably need to consider a 64 GB model if available.

Smartphone vs. Dedicated Media Player

You might be tempted to get a smartphone with a lot of storage, and that could make sense depending on your needs. But consider getting a dedicated media player for your music and movies.

Here’s why: You will likely upgrade your phone every couple of years or even more frequently. You’re likely to keep the media player longer, so the investment in the storage will benefit you longer than it would with a smartphone.

A Scenario

You might have an iPhone 5 with 16 GB of storage and an iPod touch with 64 GB of storage. This is probably sufficient for daily smartphone use, requiring minimal storage management because your iPod touch has all your music and several full-length movies.

So be sure to carefully consider your storage requirements and make the wisest investment in gadgetry possible.