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Digital HD Movies and Your Options

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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.

iPhone Tip: Unique Ring and Text Tones

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iOS Sounds Icon

While most of the ringtones and alert sounds in iOS are pleasant (Owl City is rumored to have developed several of them), you might find some utility by having specific sounds for specific contacts.

Thankfully, the process is pretty simple.

First, get to your contacts. There are two ways to do this. You can open the Phone app and then tap Contacts in the navigation bar at the bottom. Or you can just find and tap into your Contacts app.

You’re ready to customize the sounds.

  1. Find the contact to which you’d like to assign a specific ringtone or alert sound, then tap that entry in the list.
  2. In the upper left, tap Edit.
  3. Scroll to find the settings for Ringtone and Text Tone. Chances are it says “Default”.
  4. Tap “Default” for either Ringtone or Text Tone. This will open the tone selection screen. Note that the Default tone name appears followed by the other available tones.
  5. Choose the sound you wish to assign to the contact. Tapping individual tone names from the list will place the checkmark next to the name and play the tone. Tapping a bunch of these in succession will probably draw the attention and ire of those around you, so be considerate.
  6. Tap Done when you’re happy with your choice.

Does Apple Music Still Mess With Your Song Collection?

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Apple Music Plus Your Song Colleciion Equals Confusion

After almost a year, can Apple Music be trusted to work with your existing music collection? The heated debate continues. But my take on it is: NO! Apple Music should not be allowed to touch your music collection.

However, if you haven’t meticulously curated your collection, then perhaps you won’t care when Apple Music randomly changes your album art or mixes up your studio and live tracks among other odd behaviors.

Apple Music manages (or man-handles) your music when you turn on “iCloud Music Library” on the General tab of iTunes Preferences.

iTunes Preferences

In my own experience, having iCloud Music Library on changed album art for a significant number of my songs. It also mixed up some tracks in completely illogical ways. I would find one of my songs, tap it, and something else would play. Some of my more obscure tracks never appeared in Apple Music at all, but I could find them on my hard drive.

Thankfully, just turning off iCloud Music Library restored my collection without having to retrieve everything from a file backup. But I have had friends who were not so lucky.

While I loved having my playlists synchronized on my computer and my phone, I had to turn off iCloud Music Library. I could not find a way to only sync playlists. And if I could, I would.

Otherwise, I love Apple Music! I pay for it, because the music discovery is terrific. The handpicked playlists are fun to explore, and the radio serves up terrific tunes. And just about all the tracks I want are just a search away. And using Siri to cue up music is just wonderfully convenient.

There’s always hope that iOS 10 and MacOS 10.12 will resolve the iCloud Music Library problems, but I’m not holding my breath…

Sources:

Comcast Raises Its Data Caps

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You Got Comcasted

Comcast, who offers Internet services via its Xfinity brand, announced a significant increase in its data caps. Several markets were placed under a 300 GB per month data cap. With this limit, customers were allowed 3 no-cost overages in any 12-month period. After that, going over meant an extra $10 per 50 GB of data.

Starting June 2016, the cap jumps to a respectable 1 terabyte (1,000 GB) per month. Comcast claims its customers can stream 700 hours of HD video content without fear of exceeding the cap. For customers who do exceed the terabyte, the same $10 per 50 GB fee still applies. Comcast claims 99% of their customers don’t use 1 terabyte of data. They previously claimed this same statistic when they instituted the 300 GB cap. There is no word whether customers are allowed any complementary overages.

There has been a lot of negative attention on the Internet data cap, and it seems that entertainment giant actually listened.

I am a Comcast customer in Atlanta, and my family has been living with the data cap for a few years. The 300 GB cap just felt so restrictive. When we started to stream a Netflix show, I found myself doing quick mental check to get a feel for whether we were topping out our cap. One terabyte certainly lifts that constant feeling of dread.

Airtable for Lists and Reference

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AirtableApp: Airtable – Cost: Free

Sometimes you want to track a certain type of thing (perhaps ratings of your favorite coffees or brews). There are probably apps for that, but maybe they’re too socially connected or just downright confusing. Personally, I’ve been wanting to track favorite beers, but the apps I’ve found stink for one or more reasons. And using the iOS Reminders or Microsoft OneNote never really worked well. Then I heard of Airtable.

Airtable provides a fairly intuitive interface for creating simple or complex lists called Bases. It’s like creating a spreadsheet but Airtable makes it work like a charm in a tappable interface like your phone. For those who understand database concepts like tables and views, Airtable can become that much more powerful.

If you’re interested in this kind of app but databases sound intimidating, the folks at Airtable have you covered. The support section is thorough and surprisingly easy to grasp. The sample Bases have a refreshingly short learning curve, and once you take a close look, the concepts will just click for you.

Hey, I’m dense, and I figured it out.

Airtable Bases can be created and edited in app or online, and they’re always in sync. There’s collaboration tools and connectivity to online services like Dropbox, Evernote, and many more. If you keep your Bases under 1,200 rows (aka, records), then the service remains free. If you need more, then there are reasonable levels of service.

Airtable.com

Airtable App [iTunes] – Android coming soon

iPhone and a Changing Marketplace

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$ iPhone

Just the other day, Apple reported flat growth in iPhone sales for the first quarter of its fiscal year 2016. Keep in mind the number for sales (and revenue and profit) are phenomenal, but it’s still the first lack of significant growth in the product line’s history.

Here’s a quick thought about a market factor that I believe will be a challenge for iPhone going forward: Carriers are dropping the 2-year contracts. And because of that, customers are seeing the true cost of their iPhones.

I’ve done the math for my family, and dropping the 2-year commitment and paying for our phones resulted in reduced cost over the same time period. That is based on our usage, of course. Your mileage may vary.

But the on-contract price of $199 or even $299 is mentally more appealing than $750 or $850. These higher prices are now being explicitly exposed to buyers. And while consumers are still buying at those prices, I suspect that they will do it less often in the future.

Other factors certainly play into this consumer behavior. Economic conditions around the globe are relatively volatile. The smart phone market is clearly maturing with fewer distinct and meaningful new features being added to the annually updated devices.

So Apple will need to consider dropping the prices of their phones (gasp!).

Apple’s leaders are not stupid. They’ve certainly been aware of these trends and what the company will need to do to adjust.

Just my two cents for today…

Non-Obvious Features Hidden in Your iPhone

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Hidden FeaturesBack in 2007, Apple revolutionized the smart phone industry with the iPhone. And at that time, the phone’s operating system was refreshingly simple. Since that time, the operating system (now called iOS) has become much more complex with a simple-looking interface. Some of the best features are hidden in that simple-looking interface.

Here are a few tips to expose some non-obvious functionality that you might be able to adopt into your daily usage.

App Switcher

Double-press the Home button and then use two fingers on two apps (one finger each) and swipe upwards to close both with one gesture. This requires a bit of practice and dexterity, but it works.

Calculator

Turn the phone to landscape orientation (sideways) to expose the built-in scientific calculator.

To backspace (delete) a digit that you’ve entered, just swipe left or right across the number string.

The calculator in portrait mode limits numbers to 9 digits in length. Turn to the landscape, scientific mode to work with larger numbers.

Camera

When set for taking a photo, press and hold the shutter button for burst mode. This takes several photos per second. This is great for those action moments to get the perfect picture of the winning goal, touchdown, or slide into home plate.

While taking a video, notice the white circle within a circle. Tap that during the video recording session to take a still photo. While this isn’t hidden per se, it’s kinda hiding in plain sight.

You can activate the photo shutter with the volume keys on the side of the phone. You can also do this with the volume buttons on the EarPod headphones. This is good if you ever use the phone on a tripod and long shutter exposures (you’ll need a third-party app for long exposures, many of which are free).

Find the Owner

Press and hold the Home button and ask “Who owns this phone?” You’ll get contact information that should help you return the phone.

Flashlight

If you have the flashlight on and the phone auto locks, you can simply swipe up on the lock screen’s camera icon and the light will go off. This is probably more of a tip than a feature.

Mail

There are many hidden ways to view your email messages. Navigate to your list of Mailboxes, then tap Edit. You might find the ability to view only Flagged or Unread messages helpful. Also in this edit mode, you can reorder you mailboxes to have your primary service at the top of the list.

Messages

When you’re not in the Messages app and you receive a new message as a banner notification at the very top of your screen, you can swipe down while it’s visible to respond to the message without going into the Messages app.

Phone

On the Keypad screen, tap the green call button to display the last dialed number. Don’t worry, it won’t automatically call it.

Photos

In the Albums view, long press the plus sign to be offered to create a new folder or a new album.

Reachability

[For iPhone 6 and later] From anywhere except the lock screen, lightly double tap (not press) the Home button. The top half of the screen will drop to the lower half allowing your finger to reach the items. Double tap again for the screen to return to normal.

Safari

From the carousel view of open windows, tap and hold the plus sign to view a list of recently closed browser tabs.

Quickly request the desktop version of a website by pressing and holding the reload icon in the URL bar. If you have a content blocker enabled, you can also choose to reload a page without the blocker temporarily disabled.

Spotlight

Spotlight appears when you swipe downward on any home screen (but not swiping down from the screen edge which shows Notification Center). It’s also available when you swipe to the left from the first home screen. It shows a search box, app suggestions, and (sometimes) news.

Enter a simple math problem to get the solution.

Type in a measurement or currency to get a conversion.

System

Clear iOS cache by tapping any single tab icon 10 times in the following Apple apps: Apple Store, Podcasts, Music, Game Center, and Phone. For example, tap the For You icon in the music app 10 times. Don’t expect any confirmation for this action. I guess you just have to have faith.

To clear iOS RAM, press and hold the Power/Sleep button until the Slide to Power Off prompt appears. Then press and hold the Home button until you’re returned to your home screen.

Touch ID

[For iPhone 5s and later] In the Setting app, navigate to Touch ID & Passcode. Now place a registered finger on the Home button. The entry under which that finger is registered will highlight while the finger rests on the button.

Wallet

From the lockscreen, double press the Home button to open the Wallet app. THis gives you access to Apple Pay and supported payments and loyalty cards.

3D Touch

[For iPhone 6s and later] In Safari’s carousel view of open tabs, you can peek and pop any of the web pages. Press to peek. Press deeper to pop it fully open.

In Reminders, press a reminder to get a quick menu to add an alarm based on time or location.

Almost everything in the Music app supports peek and pop.

The drawing tools in Notes support 3D Touch. Deeper swipes make a darker, wider line.

Source: ArtKeele.com, BGR

Review: Mpow Seashell Bluetooth Sport Headphones

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Mpow Seashell Bluetooth HeadphonesDisclosure: An Mpow representative shared this product with me in return for an unbiased review, and I promise that is what follows.

Packaging

These headphones were packaged very well. The box has a magnetic closure allowing you to store your headphones in it again. In addition to the headphones, there are small, medium, and large ear cushions as well as ear stabilizers in the same sizes. And finally, a small user guide.

Build Quality

Build quality of the Mpow headphones appears to be of very good quality. They are very lightweight, but quite solid. The band that connects the headphones is very flexible and is ribbon-shaped so it won’t tangle or kink. The ear cushions and stabilizers are pliable but very durable. Overall, I am impressed with how well-made these headphones are.

Fitting & Comfort

The Mpow Seashell headphones fit great. At first, I thought I might be constantly refitting them during my activities, but then I adjusted the stabilizers in a non-obvious way (at least non-obvious to me). I rotated them toward the back for my ear instead of pointing upward. Once I did that, these headphones stayed in place no matter what. Awesome! So I encourage you to experiment with the cushions and stabilizers. For me, the results were remarkable. The Mpow Seashells are pretty darn comfortable, overall. They’re feather-light and a pleasure to wear during long activities.

Pairing

These headphones pair fast! When I turn them on, they immediately connect to my iPhone 6s. Initial pairing as a cinch. Have the headphones off, put them on, press the multifunction button for about 5 seconds, the audio prompt will indicate that it’s pairing. I tapped the Mpow entry in my phone’s Bluetooth settings, and it was paired in seconds. And when I turn them back on, they’re immediately connected to my phone. I do this several times per day, so it’s convenient to never need to troubleshoot the Bluetooth connection. This may be related to the new Bluetooth 4.1 spec that these headphones support (and thankfully so does my phone). Establishing the Bluetooth connections is always as smooth as silk. It’s just really nice to have such reliably quick connections.

Sound

Talking about sound is always the most controversial part of any product review. It’s such as subjective aspect, but let me try to be as objective as possible. The Mpow Seashell headphones sound just fine, and they’re great for workouts and activities. While I could not get them to reproduce low-end/bass (even by tweaking my phone’s equalizer settings), the high-end/treble sounds terrific. Bottom line: They’re not going to reproduce sound like expensive, high-end products, and that’s okay. I appreciate those products as well as anyone else, and these Mpow Seashell headphones sound great for its product segment. And they sound very good at low and high volumes.

Using Them

I’ve used these while at my desk job, working out, and doing yardwork. At my job, the Mpow Seashells were comfortable and provided the convenience of being cordlessly connected to my phone. During my workouts, they were just as comfortable and out of the way the whole time. And I don’t recall needing to adjust them. Very nice! While doing yardwork, I noticed the headphone’s band would become lopsided while I was raking leaves. This led to tugging when I would switch to rake the other direction. The solution: Let the band hang in front of your neck. They’re lightweight, and it allowed me to rake trouble-free after that.
When I take the headphones out of my ears and let them rest on my shoulders, I notice that the microphone side of the headphones tended to slide forward. This isn’t a big deal but something to be aware of so you don’t lose them on a run.

The Mpow’s volume and multifunction buttons control my iPhone’s playback just like the headphones that came with it. Volume, skip back, skip forward, and pause are all available.

Phone call performance was terrific. During one call I switched from the phone to the Mpow Seashells, and the caller didn’t notice (I mentioned it later in the call). And the headphone controls work as you’d expect during calls, too.

You can invoke your phone’s voice controls by pressing the multifunction button for about 2 seconds and then releasing. I do this, and Siri is waiting for my command.

Conclusion

It’s easy to recommend the Mpow Seashell headphones. They’re terrific for activities or just lounging around. They sound great especially for this price segment. And the Bluetooth performance is the best I have ever experienced. These headphones go with me everywhere.

Your Privacy Versus The Government

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Data SecurityWith the proliferation of mobile devices around the world, data security on these devices is getting truly serious attention. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others are automatically encrypting data on these devices. This encryption is getting so strong that it has intelligence and law enforcement agencies very concerned. They’re worried they won’t be able to get into these devices during investigations.

What Is Encryption?

I won’t be getting too technical, but here is the concept: The data on your mobile phone gets randomly scrambled based on a complex key. That key allows your phone’s operating system (Android, iOS, Windows Mobile) to descramble and use the data. If you legitimately access the phone with a passcode or biometric check (like fingerprint reader), then you can access data on the phone. If you don’t have the passcode, your truly locked out. Even if you disassemble the phone and remove the storage element, all you’ll be able to see is jumbled, meaningless numbers, letters, and symbols. Without the encryption key, it could take a supercomputer thousands of years to discover the key that decrypts the data.

Governments Want a Back Door

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies want a special key to a “back door” to access data on phones. Sounds reasonable, but there are ramifications. If there’s a known back door, then malicious hackers have a target. These people will find it. That’s what they do. Also there’s the obvious government intrusion potential.

It’s Not A Good Idea

For the greater good, a government back door just can’t be a good idea. While it would make investigations much easier, the potential for abuse and exploitation is just too great. It’s not whether abuse will occur but when. When pressed, I think most investigators will admit that other tactics will discover the evidence they need. And there’s always the possibility a suspect can be convinced to surrender a passcode to access a mobile device’s data.

If a universal back door exists and is exploited, it puts a huge number of people at extreme risk for identity theft and more. A virtual skeleton key to access any device is so profoundly dangerous to the well being of so many people, it’s ludicrous to even consider.

Anyone who argues otherwise is shortsighted or untrustworthy.

Learn more: Daily Dot9to5mac

Apple Music’s Biggest Problem

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iCloud Music Library Raining on Apple Music

Apple Music has emerged as my favorite music streaming service … but it ain’t perfect. And the Achilles heel is iCloud Music Library.

iCloud Music Library is Seriously Flawed

I use playlists, and I have several filled with tunes that are not in my personal music collection. To enjoy this feature, I must have iCloud Music Library enabled. And for the most part, that’s fine. Until I want to listen to one of my own more obscure tracks.

In theory, iCloud Music Library will scan my collection and make all the matching tunes in Apple’s library available to me. If it can’t find a match a tune, then it uploads my own tune to make it available to me.

Big surprise! It doesn’t usually work.

Example 1: I have a track of the Olympic fanfare followed by Summon the Heroes. So the matching song in Apple’s cloud doesn’t include the Olympic fanfare (selfish Olympic rights holders?). So that is less than optimal.

Example 2 (but related to 1): I cannot just drag and drop my Olympic fanfare/Summon the Heroes track to my iPhone. That’s right! I can’t just attach it my my PC and use iTunes to copy over my preferred track (or any other track for that matter). I’m assuming Apple can’t fathom a world where any of their “solutions” would ever fall short of customer expectations. Perhaps, I’m expecting it wrong??

My Workaround

Okay, this scenario doesn’t really impact me very often, and I hate workarounds. But we live in a techie world, so workarounds are part of our worlds.

Settings Music

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings/Music.
  2. Tap the toggle to turn off iCloud Music Library.
  3. Confirm that you wish to turn off that feature.
  4. Connect the iPhone to your computer and use iTunes to add your desired music tracks.
  5. On your iPhone, return to Settings/Music to enable iCloud Music Library.
  6. Confirm that you wish to Merge the media resources on your iPhone.

Hope this helps!