Sep 10 2011

By icerabbit

To expand a bit more on my interaction with TWC staff yesterday:

Late yesterday afternoon, while running errands, I stopped at the Time Warner Cable office in Augusta to inquire and (if they had them) pick up two Digital Cable Adapter boxes. There were some banners on display about the digital conversion and they had a temporary table setup to right hand side as you come in, with two computer stations and two staff members dedicated to customers coming in about the Digital Cable Conversion. Behind the table were a stack of boxes with the adapters.

They asked me how many TVs I had and I said I was just going to pick up two adapters for my analog DVR & DVDR. Both staff members said that everybody needs a Digital Cable Adapter per TV set. I replied asking: Even if I have modern HDTVs with a digital tuner and I already get some digital channels, I will really need on of those boxes? For every TV? They said: Yes, you need an adapter per TV, no matter which tuner it has. They insisted that unless you have one of their big (higher tier) Digital Cable Boxes (pointing to one mounted on the wall behind them) you will no longer get any cable service. Everything that is attached directly to the cable / wall needs an adapter or box. No adapter or box, no cable TV. The guy said Cable TV is going password protected. Etc.

Boxes can already be authorized on the network. I was told to call the number in the box from my home phone and follow the automated prompts.

There was some positive spin of course, that customers have reported they get better service and a clearer picture, etc.

I will try to put that to the test shortly. Stay tuned.

Sep 9 2011

By icerabbit

I picked up a couple of Time Warner Digital Cable Adapters this afternoon, so here are a few quick snapshots. I will share more photos at a higher resolution and additional details tomorrow, as I got home late and it is nearly midnight.

I think the photos are pretty self explanatory with a few shots of the box cover, content, manual, wall wart, cables. The cables are a coax cable and an IR cable to control your TV.

The device is a bit bigger than a credit card and quite small actually. The casing is metal. It feels weighted and robust.
The remote is small, basic, cheap … common with inexpensive TVs & the Over The Air antenna boxes. It is capable of being programmed for your TV set.
The wall wart is quite big and will take up a considerable spot on your power strip. Depending on your strip it may need three slots.

Off note: when I picked up these adapter boxes, I was told, more than once, that anybody without a digital cable box will need one of these adapters per tv. More on that in my next post.

To be continued …

Sep 8 2011

By icerabbit

We are one of the ‘lucky’ 90000 people in the central Maine area where Time Warner Cable is launching its pilot program Digital Cable Conversion plan on Oct 18th. It will go statewide and then nationwide later. Through the AVS forum, I learned this is going to be true for Comcast subscribers as well and that apparently they are starting this conversion in Maine as well. I think Brighthouse and other providers probably will follow suit as well. If two major players in the industry do it, more will follow.

I learned about this after catching part of little Time Warner Cable ad Tuesday morning, featuring a small cable box that transformed into a flying bot, etc. The TV was muted, so I didn’t catch the audio and I haven’t seen the ad again, to describe in full details.

Summary

Starting Oct 18th, Cable TV as we know it, is going all-digital, starting with central Maine.

Basically, anything with only an analog tuner – older TV, VCR, DVR, DVDR, computer tuner card … – will no longer receive any stations, unless you get the digital cable converter box (( or upgrade to the higher tier digital cable boxes //// or cut cable and go over the air with an antenna and digital antenna box )) and then you still face the hurdle of controlling the channels and programming the devices for recording. Most existing equipment will not know the remote code to transmit a channel change via an IR blaster, if they have one at all. So it is not good for people with lots of money invested in analog recording equipment. You will set your TV or device to channel 3 or 4 and receive cable via the converter box.

Consumer opinion / consensus *

The consensus so far between a few local affected consumers, based on what we have read & learned, seems to be that:

A) Channels 2-24 considered basic cable will be transmitted digitally clear and unencrypted and be receivable with a modern TV with digital tuner, or other device. No digital cable converter box needed, if you have a recent TV with digital tuner. If on the other hand you have an older analog TV, you will need the digital cable converter box. This box is similar to the OTA / Over The Air digital adapter box we learned about a few years ago, but smaller. It needs to be authorized and activated by the cable company and you have to use its remote for your channel functions. The converter box is offered for free, for us, through 2013. Then they will charge 99c/mo rent thereafter, per converter.

B) Channels 25-70 considered expanded cable are most likely to be transmitted encrypted and will require the converter box, per device that you wish to view those channels on.

So, if you have a QAM HDTV and expanded cable 2-70, you presumably (no confirmation from the cable company here yet) will get basic channels 2-24 unencrypted in SD & HD. Then you tune to channel 3 or 4 to get the cable signal from the digital cable converter box for channels 25-70 in SD. Yes. Standard Definition. One tidbit about the initial converter boxes that will be sent out is that they are only capable of standard definition. See FAQ link further.

” At this time, the Digital Adapter does not support HD signals. Time Warner Cable plans to offer HD Digital Adapters later this year. We will provide you with more information once they become available. ”

Brilliant, convenient, eco-friendly and we have to guess that the stations currently on channel 3 & 4 will move elsewhere.

C) Higher end tiers are not necessarily affected. If you already have a digital cable box (more than 100 channels etc) with every TV, nothing changes. Just keep using the rented equipment which does this digital conversion already.

If you do not have a cable box for all additional TVs, then those additional TVs’ reception will be affected as above for the basic and expanded lineup included with your service.

* Consensus noting that:
a) It is just a few consumers’ input so far
b) There is conflicting and incomplete information out there … thank you TWC
c) The TWC FAQ says that if you don’t have channel 122 or hook cable directly to your TV, you will need a converter … but elsewhere excepts QAM TVs … but then doesn’t cover expanded cable.
d) Two people I was in touch with from TWC fell completely out of the air and had no clue what I was talking about
e) TWC has not sent their customers any information yet. This is supposed to happen in about a month, but we have had no communication via the monthly bill or direct mail.

Local News Coverage

Local TV news from WCSH6 on the subject.

http://www.wcsh6.com/news/article/171959/2/Time-Warner-Cable-launches-digital-conversion-initiative

At least the Bangor newspaper was aware of this in late July apparently:

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/07/28/business/time-warner-cable’s-all-digital-television-campaign-starting-in-mid-maine/

Time Warner Cable put a positive spin on it with a few angles (a few more channels, more capacity, better phone & internet, VOD, …) that this is a good thing for consumers but I can’t really see this as good news for anyone. A ton of analog equipment becomes obsolete with this move. People who have chosen the lower service levels and those with more than one TV may be forced into rental fees to continue watching TV where they please in their home. And, one will have the encumbrance of needing to use their converter box and its remote, in addition to your own.

We just went through the digital over the air transition and heard the ‘promise’ that if you had cable, you wouldn’t need a converter box per TV/device like with an antenna. But fast forward a couple years and now you do.

I think we all know everything is going digital and that analog would be phased out at some time, but I didn’t know the end of analog started next month, in Maine.

We are going to be directly affected by some of this, with some of our electronics, so I will be ordering some digital cable converter boxes, I guess. Maybe just one to try it out, and scrap the rest?

Time Warner Cable Website

Time Warner cable has quite limited info about the “digital cable adapter” and who needs it.

Time Warner Cable Digital Adapter Support Page

On the Time Warner ordering page is the only place it showed that basic cable will be received fine on modern TVs with a digital QAM tuner and then goes on to give a few details about QAM. Note that it It doesn’t say expanded … so anybody with 70 channels and multiple TVs is going to be in for some converter boxes, more than likely.

Time Warner Cable Digital Adapter Ordering Page

Feb 7 2011

By icerabbit

Take an example at this AT&T with your one measly bar of service.

Service anywhere we go … YES!!!

Feb 7 2011

By icerabbit

The new baby has arrived.
Let’s hope the phone network does better than the website:

Apr 18 2010

By icerabbit

Apr 6 2010

By icerabbit

(it seems there is a technical problem where line and paragraph breaks are removed)

The iPad, the morning after.

It has been an interesting experience so far, with some growing pains.

Please don’t view the following paragraphs as an absolute tear against the iPad. I know they are growing pains because of  limitations in the current iPad OS – actually I should say iPhone OS used on the iPad – but I think they are reasonable and common enough problems, that you may like to read about them.

The main questions about the iPad are of the “do I need an ipad?” and “can/will this replace my laptop?” kind.

My short answer is: you probably don’t need an iPad and it won’t replace your laptop. Certainly not in and by itself. Plus, you probably want to wait for the operating system to be fleshed out a little if you would like your iPad to work more a little bit more like a computer, rather than an iPod Touch.

I see the iPad mostly as a coffee table machine, where you can tap your way to some information (pull up some local information about a location in a travel show), show pictures to other people, without having to pull out a notebook; or – if you don’t have an iPhone – as something for light browsing and reading on the road and some quick messaging.

If you are an avid reader, Apple certainly wants to sell you the iPad as an ebook reader capable of a whole lot more.
Or, if you have specific apps for your profession or education, like reference material, then the iPad does give you the ability to have a go anywhere portable library of books with a good size color screen and lots of storage.

Copying data to the iPad

The biggest hurdle I have experienced so far is getting data into into the iPad and accessing network data using the iPad.

Take for instance PDFs. I spent a large part of my Sunday afternoon trying to figure out how I could put some instructional and educational PDFs onto the 60+ GB of space (we have the 64GB iPad) There is no card slot or USB port, so it is either WiFi or syncing. Via WiFi I can browse to PDFs I host on the network in Safari, but one can’t save anything in iPad Safari.

Syncing then? I can hook the iPad up to the notebook and sync with iTunes, but I can’t transfer anything. Not a PDF, not a txt note, nothing other than iTunes & iPod compatible music & video. Via online third party instructions it turns out that data transfer is document type dependent and only enabled when you have a compatible application on the iPad. Since there is none by default, you have to purchase one.  While it makes sense that you don’t want customers to copy a plethora of data files over that they will never be able to view on the iPad … what about simple text documents, notes, html files, etc.? The stuff we all view in Preview or Safari?

So, despite the fact that the iPad shows PDFs, you will need to buy a third party PDF compatible with data transfer ability; before you can get PDF files onto your iPad. Welcome to hunting for apps and trying to determine which is going to be best value to do what you want. Something that easily could have been included via a small iPad Preview app.

And why the cludge of a) iTunes syncing and b) per app? Why isn’t data transfer part of the OS? Why is it via USB cable and not WiFi? Why is there no Disk sharing ability on the iPad, where the iPad storage shows up on your desktop and you can drag & drop stuff over? Why is there no small iPad Finder capable of browsing the local network and copying some files over. Let the iPad be a wireless family member. Allow access to public shares, on the fly. Not this, oh wait, I have to go plug my iPad into my desktop and sync a file over iTunes crap.

Shared libraries
I have two systems on the network that share data files, music, etc. Through Safari I can browse to individual files on the NAS (network attached storage) and play them in Safari, but I can’t view shared stuff on our macs or PCs. To my disappointment (but not that it really surprises me in the end) I can’t play music from shared iTunes music libraries.

The question is: Why not?  With multiple GBs of music online on the network, and being at home, it is silly to require that you copy stuff over from the NAS to a Mac, then copy it via iTunes onto the iPad, when it is all there in the home cloud. And, so far I have not found an app that will enable this functionality.

The whole lack of File Management, lack of sharing and network access is so … first generation iPod, but then anno 2010 on a device Apple has been developping for, eh 5 years?

Safari
As good and fast as the browser runs on the iPad, I miss tabbed browsing as well as Firefox and AdBlock Plus. I know quite a number of sites that browse a lot faster when ads are blocked, alas there is no ad blocking in iPad Safari. Having been addicted to tabbed browsing ever since it was first introduced, it is a bit of step backwards that you need to tap a button to switch to an all pages view and then jump over. Ditto to close the page you are on.

I know they did this to give the full screen experience, but I think it would not be a problem, from the user standpoint, to have an auto-hiding tab bar on top.

Also, the all windows view causes delays, because when you switch to all pages view, they load as blank pages and then start to refresh their content. Or at least that’s what it looks like. And then when you open a page, it reloads again. Maybe they’ll implement a cached thumbnail and some browser cache to avoid this.

Printing
It is not that I print that much, but it is a frequent occurrence that I want to print something. You either receive something in email, order something online, research this or that, stumble on something, etc. and either want to print a receipt for an order, print some complicated instruction on paper or as I do to stay green: print to PDF. I am aware of a 3rd party app solution to print from the iPhone (“there’s an app for that”) but in my opinion Apple should have provided a conduit to print a local computer. Of course Apple will probably just go green – while saving some green by not developing printing for the iPad – and let the iPad save paper ;)

Keyboard
I can type quite well on the virtual keyboard, either with one finger or two index fingers, but entering passwords and punctuation would greatly benefit from having a virtual notebook keyboard instead of the limited iPhone keyboard. Switching between keyboard modes shouldn’t be required on a screen this big. By virtual notebook keyboard I mean: having the number row, 4 cursor keys and possibly the modifier keys CTRL, OPT & CMD (for copy/paste like behavior etc).

Business apps
It is reported in various websites, including MacWorld, that when you export your office files through iTunes into the iPad with Keynote, Pages and/or numbers installed, that some data gets stripped out, and of course remains lost when you edit the file on the iPad and want to transfer it back to your computer. What the heck?!

Final thoughts
Again, I know many of these things are growing pains, if they are not deliberate limitations imposed by Apple (which some may be). But, I hope they will make some serious improvements soon – because with the iPad positioned as a multi-fuction computer that they also tout as business capable???

In some areas it does feel like its wings are clipped and I don’t think it is a complete enough of an experience to be revolutionary.  The device is evolutionary, but the current limitations rub me the wrong way. High time for some OS updates.

Speaking of updates. I’m curious whether Apple will separate the iPhone OS from the iPhone OS with regards to features and updates. iPhone 4 OS will be previewed next week and likely released this summer (with the new iPhone). Does that mean the iPad OS will update as well? Or will the iPad OS update independently 6 months or a year from its release date?

PS: A few extra details:
+ I can’t read the iPad in the sun wearing polaroid sunglasses on. The screen just appears black.
+ Forgot to mention it is single user and no multitasking, other than background audio.
+ No tethering to your iPhone Unlimited data package.

Apr 3 2010

By icerabbit

The Apple iPad, Apple’s latest brain child is touted as their most revolutionary product, and we pre-ordered one. Not because of the hype, but because we like the iPhone, which does seem undersized for use at home.

With the announcment of the iPad it also became obvious why Apple never produced an ultra-mobile PC / netbook class machine, and likely never will, so one might as well get an iPad then.

If you are familiar with the iPhone or iPod Touch, the iPad will be most familiar, if not, it is very intuitive.

Unboxing. There is not much in the box: iPad, cable, charger and a tiny pamflet. No headphones, stand, dock, … which was known at the time of ordering but I think a basic dock should have been included.

inside the iPad box

It is very glossy: iMac glossy, but now in a portable version that will be angled towards the ceiling and user. Even with the brightness all the way up you get reflections abound. Part of me wants to call this the iMirror.
(photo below is with screen off)

iPad or iMirror

Fit and finish is not 100% and I dare to say that Apple rushed these out the door. Our iPad screen and case are not entirely flush all the way around the device. See the black line appear and disappear outside of the aluminum frame.

iPad rough around the edges

The first start is a let down because you have to activate it with iTunes and need to get the latest iTunes update as well, so you’re just sitting around twiddling your thumbs for 20 minutes till iTunes is updated before you can really turn the thing on. Then it wants so sync apps, music etc. Another delay in gratification.

Finally you get to the home screen.

iPad home screen

The iPad is bigger than you think and heavier than I thought. In size it compares directly to a 10″ netbook screen and the weight is probably the same as a netbook without battery.

iPad on top of MSI Wind 10"

It has a curved back, meaning that it doesn’t lay flat in a stable way. It wobbles a bit when you type on it. Typing is very doable. Easier than I thought.

You will need a dock or some kind of stand. You can hold it in your left hand and tap around with your right hand, but you’re not going to do that for anything but brief periods of time.

iPad browsing

If you put  a lower edge on the table, so you’re not lifting it anymore, it still wants to scoot around.

iPad resting and holding

Propped up against the MSI Wind for a stand, since the dock and other accessories are still days and weeks away.

iPad resting against MSI Wind

The machine is fast. The user interface is very responsive.

Connecting to WiFi was no issue. It detected our home WiFi network and upon selection it requested the password. Done.

Safari is fast. I have managed to crash iPad Safari three times trying to log in to MacWorld. Otherwise it has been stable. Most sites work and load fast.

The elephant in the room is of course that there is no Flash and no Silverlight, meaning you will not see video content from a whole range of sites, for the time being.

No video news at:

ABC News

ABC new flash problem

VTM.be – iWatch.be

vtm.be - iwatch requires silverlight

NOS.nl

Flash needed for NOS.nl

No videos at hulu.tv

No hulu.tv video

No streaming of local radio stations like 94.9 WHOM that use Flash

94.9 WHOM  on iPad

Flash required pop-up on iPad

I just hope that we won’t need multiple news/video/radio apps to the tune of one for every single TV and radio station that will stick it out with Flash.

Propping it up in your lap is not the greatest. You need to hold it with one hand or prop it up against a bent knee. It has a tendency to sit really low in one’s lap, hiding the home button under a t-shirt or whatever clothing.

iPad browsing in recliner

iPad couch surfing requires knee or hand

Did I mention this thing is a finger print magnet? Clean hands on a warm 70+F spring day.

iPad fingerprint magnet

Readability of the screen: very high. The IPS screen is great. I do wonder if they couldn’t have made an iPad nano. Same screen resolution, but the whole device fitting inside the area within the bezel. I’d forego some battery life etc for a bit smaller size and lighter device.

It feels sturdy.

I’ve clicked around in most apps.  I am sure there are other sites that will cover the variety of apps in great detail and point out the various shortcomings.

Niggles & negatives:

I have very mixed feelings about tethering it to iTunes to bring documents and files in an out of the iPad. I will have to increase my cloud computing.

No USB, SD … file access.

I am really missing a USB or SD card reader slot, so I can just pop in several GB of data without having to sync or push and pull things through a cloud, email myself, … Ugh.

No printing. I don’t expect to have direct printer support on the iPad … but can’t we get a conduit to send anything via PDF to a networked mac and have it push things to the printer?

No tethering. I know there are a couple reasons why we can’t tether to the iPhone (don’t overtax AT&T, pay extra for iPad 3G, pay for AT&T iPad 3G account) but it shouldn’t have to be that way. As an individual you can only use the iPad or the iPhone at the same time.  If you share your iPad with a family member on the road, so be it.

Single user only.  C and I have different internet habits and needs, use different apps, …  it would be nice to have the ability to setup two users.  Even a guest user account would be handy.

Keyboard.  On a screen this size, why couldn’t they put the number row up on the virtual keyboard? So you don’t have to keep swapping keyboard styles to put some numbers for passwords.  Typing in PASS123word456 is more cumbersome than it should be. I guess you should only do it once and have it save the password. Nonetheless, that row of # would be handy throughout all  apps.

While using the bluetooth keyboard, I kept wanting to use a mouse; but instead had to move my hand up and touch the screen.  I have to get the bluetooth mouse out of the office and see if works, for the heck of it.

Home screen. Why couldn’t they fit more buttons on a single page? There is a a lot of wasted space.

App button management. The iPad received all 100+ apps from the iPhone … in alphabetical order.  This is the third time all iApps are scrambled into alphabetical order … grumble … can we finally have some fixed categories or sorting options, please!

As with all things Apple, be it the iPods, iPod Touch and iPhone … you have to live within Apple’s limited mobile OS and general Apple structure of one or two ways of doing things, the Apple way (iTunes, iPhoto, …)

I’m really hoping a ton of people will send feedback Apple’s way to take this mobile  OS to the next level, just like with the iPhone.

If you have questions,  feel free to post in the comments and I will answer to the best of my abilities & time. I am also more than happy to do brief visits to your website with the iPad and comment if it all works fine.

Apr 3 2010

By icerabbit

Time to hunt for Easter eggs ;)

Jan 1 2010

By icerabbit

Best wishes for 2010. May everybody enjoy good health and may the new year be full of joy & happiness.