May 17, 2017

Twitter still thinks it’s a TV platform — and here are its dozen new shows

Last year: NFL. This year: Bloomberg, the WNBA, Live Nation and our friends at The Verge.
Yesterday, Twitter announced it was building a 24/7 streaming video service with Bloomberg. Today, Twitter rolled out even more video plans, teasing live programs from nearly a dozen partners, including Live Nation, BuzzFeed and the WNBA.

Our Vox Media colleagues are in the mix, too: The Verge’s Nilay Patel will host a live weekly gadget show. Go Nilay!

A few thoughts:
  • Twitter’s news is the opening frame of the “newfronts” — two weeks of digital video pitches for advertisers, modeled on conventional TV’s “upfronts.” Hulu, for instance, has its big unveil on Wednesday; YouTube is on Thursday. Do bear in mind that if past performance indicates future results, some of the stuff you’ll hear about over the next several days won’t materialize. These are often pitches, not promises.
  • Assuming all of the stuff Twitter talked about today does show up, it seems like a reasonable bet for the company and its partners (again — one of whom is Vox Media, which owns this site) to make. Every digital publisher wants to distribute its video as widely as possible and hopefully figure out how to make money from its video. And Twitter wants as much video as it can get. Since the highest-value video — the stuff that appears on TV — is likely to remain on TV or TV-like platforms for some time, Twitter needs to do deals with digital publishers (Go Nilay!) or get people who have traditional TV deals (the NBA) to give them stuff that doesn’t run on TV.
  • As Facebook and others have proven, if you have a lot of people gathered on your platform, you can get them to watch video, even if they didn’t come there to watch video. So Twitter should get some kind of audience for the programming they’re rolling out today. It’s fair to ask, though, whether Twitter’s audience really wants to see video, especially since they have many other places to watch video. Bear in mind that it’s relatively easy to make a compelling text or image-based message; making compelling video is much much harder.
  • The NFL makes the most compelling video in the world, and last year Twitter had 10 NFL games, which they offered for free to anyone who asked — no login required. The streams looked nice and worked well, but the audience was ... meh. Twitter averaged 266,000 viewers for each of its Thursday night games; CBS and NBC, which showed the same games to TV viewers, averaged 15.8 million.
I wasn’t going to list all of Twitter’s new programming, but my editor Dan Frommer thinks I should. He’s right! Why not? So here’s the text, directly from Twitter’s press release:
WNBA: Starting later this month, for the first time the WNBA will live stream a weekly regular-season game on Twitter (20 total per season) during the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons. Twitter will deliver live action of the best in women's basketball and the best in fan conversation about each game all on one screen.

MLBAM: In addition to weekly live MLB games that stream on Twitter this season, a new 3-hour once weekly MLB program will live stream exclusively on Twitter. The whip-around show will feature live MLB game look-ins and highlights, and tap into the power of Twitter by delivering those top moments and discussing MLB storylines as they're trending in real-time. Stay tuned for more information regarding timing and talent.

STADIUM: A new, original, fully programmed, 24/7 linear experience will stream live on Twitter in the coming months. This network will integrate exclusive live collegiate sporting events, extensive highlights, classic games, and daily live studio programming. Combining the production quality and editorial values of TV with the speed, accessibility, conversation and interactivity of Twitter, STADIUM infuses real-time, fan sentiment and feedback into every sports conversation, covering the topics that matter most to sports fans as they happen.

The Players’ Tribune: #Verified, a modern forum for athletes to connect directly with fans, will be a live show, exclusively on Twitter, featuring athletes answering fan questions and sharing their insight, reactions and timely takes on important topics on and off the field. Driven by Twitter and fan-submitted questions, the series will debut in the coming months and will feature regular interviews from some of the most popular players across sports, including Karl-Anthony Towns, A.J. Green and Richard Sherman.

PGA Tour: Building upon the current live stream relationship between Twitter and PGA TOUR LIVE that features more than 70 hours of live competition coverage across 31 tournaments, the PGA TOUR will live stream 360 video of the iconic island 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass during THE PLAYERS Championship (from May 11-14) on Periscope and Twitter.

Bloomberg Media: Bloomberg will debut the first-ever 24/7 breaking news network that will be global, live, social and exclusively on Twitter. The new live streaming news network, to launch this fall, will combine the vast global editorial and news gathering capabilities of Bloomberg with the digital power, conversation and speed of Twitter.

The Verge: Coming this fall, Circuit Breaker: The Verge's Gadget Show is a weekly live program that will review and experiment with the hottest gadgets everyone wants right now, and the weirdest ones we'll want tomorrow, hosted by The Verge's Nilay Patel.
BuzzFeed News: MorningFeed, a brand new morning news and current events show broadcast live on Twitter by BuzzFeed, will reach an audience that wakes up hungry for the latest in “fire Tweets.” Hosts will bring news and memes to the audience where they are - on their timeline - from reporters in the field to special guests on set.
Cheddar: Cheddar’s hour-long Opening Bell will stream live daily at 9am ET from the New York Stock Exchange, beginning today. This expands on Cheddar’s successful Closing Bell show at 3pm ET, which has aired on Twitter since last October.

Live Nation: Live Nation will deliver select Live Nation concerts and original content exclusively on Twitter. The concert series launches on Saturday, May 13th with a live stream of the three-time GRAMMY-winning multi-platinum Zac Brown Band. The event kicks-off their highly anticipated new album ‘WELCOME HOME’ (Elektra/Atlantic) and their 2017 tour in their hometown of Atlanta on a sold-out opening weekend at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park. Grammy Award-winning San Francisco rock band Train, Portugal. The Man, August Alsina and Marian Hill will also live stream one of their upcoming shows. Additional artists will be announced.

IMG Fashion: IMG Fashion will bring its premium designer and brand relationships to a live content program consisting of exclusive runway shows and behind-the-scenes Fashion Week content for Twitter users, live, from New York, Milan, Paris, London and beyond in September 2017. IMG Fashion will also work closely with Twitter to leverage opportunities exclusive to Twitter users globally.

Propagate: #WhatsHappening is a new live daily, entertainment-driven, primetime show on everything in the world that embraces Twitter’s unique conversation. See every side of pop culture, music, binge-worthy television, celebrity Tweets, and top trending discussions as they unfold around the globe.


May 16, 2017

Pluto TV Announces FREE On-Demand Movies

Today after months of testing Pluto TV announced a free video on demand service along side of their current streaming service.

The lineup of free movies available on-demand include Paramount Pictures’ “Vanilla Sky” and MGM’s “Silence of the Lambs,” “The Usual Suspects,” and “Species,” as well as complete TV shows like Lionsgate’s “ALF” and Warner Bros.’s “The Ben Stiller Show” and “Super Fun Night.”

Other movies on VOD include: “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” “The Birdcage,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Mad Max,” “The Hours,” “Defiance,” “The Kite Runner,” “Dances With Wolves,” “Paulie,” “Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away,” and “Lars and the Real Girl.” TV shows on the VOD platform include “Fear Factor,” “American Hoggers,” “I Love New York,” “The Dead Zone” and “Paranormal State.”
“We’re excited to give [Pluto users] even more ways to enjoy the content they love, and now they can pick specific movies and TV shows to watch on demand,” said Tom Ryan, CEO of Pluto TV told Variety.

Pluto TV’s already has 100-plus linear channels are accessible on a wide range of devices including the Fire TV; Roku; Android TV; Google’s Chromecast; smart TVs, iOS, Android, and Amazon mobile devices; PlayStation; and at

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March 8, 2017

How to Get HD TV Channels for Free (Without Paying for Cable)

Remember TV antennas? Well, they still exist. A digital TV antenna allows you to watch local TV stations for free, all without paying a dime to a cable provider.

Discover Your Local Channels and Their Signal Strength


To find out which TV channels you can get over the air for free, we recommend visiting a site called TV Fool and using their signal locator tool. Simply enter your address and click on “Find Local Channels”.

Give it a few moments to load the next page. Once it loads, you’ll see what looks like a round diagram with various lines inside, as well as a list of channels off to the right, highlighted in different colors.

It can be a bit daunting trying to figure out what it all means, but the only thing you really need to pay the most attention to is the circular diagram. The lines you see are in various lengths, and each line represents a channel. The longer a line is and the closer it is to the center of the bullseye, the better the signal is for that channel based on your location.
The direction of the lines are important as well. The diagram’s cross represents north, south, east, and west. As you can see from my diagram above, most of the broadcast signals are coming from the northeast, which means I should ideally place my antenna in the northeast corner of my house so that I can get the best signal possible. (More on antenna selection in a moment.)
From the list of channels on the right-hand side, you really only need to focus on the distance of the broadcasts signals, which tells you how far away they are.

Since many of the signals that I can get are fairly close to my location (only 5-10 miles away), placement of my antenna isn’t super critical. However, if your broadcast signals are farther away, you’ll need to pay extra close attention to where and how you place your antenna.
TV Fool gives you a rough idea on this by using colors to highlight which channels you’ll easily receive and which ones would be more difficult. Channels in green are channels that you could get with a basic TV antenna, while channels highlighted in yellow and red will need a more powerful antenna and strategic placement.

The Different Types of Antennas

Which type of antenna you purchase largely depends on the information that you gathered from above diagram, and different antennas are available depending on how far away you are from the broadcast signals.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Antennas


Not all TV antennas are weatherproof, and many cheaper ones are only meant to be placed indoors. If broadcast signals are relatively easy to come by in your area, then you’re probably fine getting an indoor antenna.
If some of the broadcast signals are farther away, though, an indoor antenna may not be powerful enough. For that, you’ll need an outdoor antenna, built to take the grunt that mother nature provides, and reach much farther. Outdoor antennas are almost always more reliable, though they take a bit more work to set up.

Directional vs. Multi-Directional Antennas

You’ll also want to consider whether the antenna you get is directional (also called uni-directional) or multi-directional (also called omni-directional). As you can guess, directional antennas grab a signal from a single direction, while multi-directional antennas can fetch signals coming from any direction.

Multi-directional antennas are more convenient, but have a significant downside: their range is usually much weaker than directional antennas, which can put all of their power toward gain a signal from a single direction. Multi-directional antennas can also suffer from noise and interference coming from all directions, whereas a directional antenna can block all that out.
Of course, a directional antenna will only work if the channels you want are all in one direction. If they’re coming from different parts of town, a directional antenna won’t work well for you.


Television broadcast signals are transmitted over two different frequencies: Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF), so it’s important that the antenna you end up buying supports either or both (ideally both).
If you go back to your TV Fool analysis, you can take a look at the section below the list of channels, which will tell you what channels use UHF and which ones use VHF.

You don’t need to know a whole lot about this, other than which frequency is used the most by the channels that you can receive over the air. If they’re mostly UHF, then you’ll want to be sure to buy an antenna that can grab UHF signals. Most antennas can grab both VHF and UHF channels anyway, but it’s good to check before you buy, just in case.

A Note on Pre-Amplifiers

Other than the antenna itself, you also may need what’s called a pre-amplifier, which is a small device that gets connected inline with the antenna’s coaxial cable on its way to your television.

If the cable from the antenna to the TV is going to be any longer than 50 feet or so, then you’ll need to get a pre-amplifier. The longer the cable is, the weaker the signal gets by the time it reaches your television, so using a pre-amp (like this one) and installing it near the antenna inline with the cable will make sure that you don’t lose any signal strength.
However, make sure to check if your antenna already comes with a pre-amp built in. Many outdoor antennas already do, since they know you’ll likely need a long run of cable to make it to your television.

Our Recommended Antennas

If you’re looking for a basic indoor multi-directional antenna, this 1byone indoor antenna ($13) is one of the most popular indoor TV antennas on Amazon, thanks to its 25-mile range and measly price tag. If you just need a cheap, basic antenna to place in a window and be done with it, that’s a good option. It has a common flat design to it that many antenna makers use, so feel free to go with another company if the price is better—The Mohu Leaf ($40) is also very popular (I have one and it works great), and The Wirecutter recommends the ClearStream Eclipse ($40, amplified version for $60).

Indoor directional antennas aren’t as common, but they do exist. This antenna from Terk ($60) is a popular option with a range of 45 miles. We’ve also used the 60-mile ClearStream 2 ($90) in the past with great results, though it’s a little big to be considered “indoor” (even though it’s labeled as such). Still, on an apartment balcony, we found it got all the channels in that direction with great clarity.

If you want an outdoor multi-directional antenna, we use this amplified 60-mile range model from 1byone ($70) and it works great. There’s no need to point it in any specific direction, so you have a lot more options as far as where you could mount it on the outside of your house, which also helps since you need to run power to it.

Outdoor directional antennas are extremely common, though, so you’ll find a lot of options in this area. 1byone’s outdoor directional antenna ($45) has an 85-mile range, which has a farther reach than their multi-directional model, but it’s also much larger. It also requires that you plug it into a power source, since it’s amplified.

Again, there are lots of other antennas out there, but these are a few popular, highly rated options (and a few we’ve tried ourselves with good results). Every antenna will work a little differently depending on your neighborhood and where you set it up, so you may have to try a couple before you find the ideal one for you. Buy from somewhere with a good return policy!

How to Hook Your Antenna Up to Your TV

Got your antenna? Great! Now it’s time to set it up and try it out.
You’ll first need to position the antenna in a good location (ideally where it has the best line-of-sight with signal towers). Again, if you get a very strong signal, a basic indoor antenna by your TV will probably be good enough. Mounting it by the window will get you a better signal, if you need it. (Don’t actually mount anything on your wall until you’re happy with the signal you get, though. You may need to move the antenna around to improve your signal and experiment with different locations.)
If you need an outdoor antenna, though, it’ll take a bit more work to install—you’ll likely have to use a ladder to climb up and mount it to the roof or side of the house using the included hardware. If you aren’t comfortable doing this, call a professional. (Check to see if your house already has a roof antenna, too—many do!)

After you’ve found a good place for your antenna, connect it to your television with the included coaxial cable. In the photo above, you can see how we’ve attached the coaxial cable from our antenna to the antenna input jack on our TV. And if your antenna is amplified, plug the amplifier into a power source. Our antenna can be powered via USB, so we plugged the USB cable that powers the amplification system into the TV’s USB port.
Once it’s plugged in, head to your TV’s channel setup menu. Your TV will need to scan for available channels, which should take just a few minutes. When it’s done, you’ll be watching HD TV channels, you can cut the cable cord for good. If you aren’t getting the best signal possible, adjust the positioning and try scanning again—hopefully, with a bit of tweaking, you’ll be watching all your local channels in crystal-clear HD.


March 6, 2017

What Is Android TV, and Which Android TV Box Should I Buy?

If you’re in the market for a streaming set-top box and are also an Android user, you’ve undoubtedly considered Android TV. The thing is, this is a really confusing landscape: there are a lot of “fake” Android TV boxes floating around out there, and only a handful of official boxes actually worth considering.
If you came here for the short answer, I’ll give it to you straight up: buy an NVIDIA SHIELD and be done with it. It’s the best Android TV box on the market, bar none. That part is simple.
But if you’ve been on the hunt for a while and see the other options—Razer Forge, Nexus Player, etc.—including those weird “Android TV” boxes on Amazon, we’re here to help you filter through the fluff by explaining what not to buy.

What Is Android TV?

Android TV is more than just Android on a box that you connect to your TV. A lot more. Android TV has been specifically designed for the bigger screen—it has a dedicated interface, better controller and remote support, a specifically curated Play Store, and all the other goodness you’d expect from a streaming set-top box.
In other words: it’s not like plugging your phone up to the TV and hoping for the best. Just like Apple TV has a very iOS-like look and feel, Android TV retains the familiarity of Android in a much more TV-friendly package.

But much like Android phones, Android TV is available on many different devices from different manufacturers. Google isn’t the only one making Android TV boxes—Razer makes one, NVIDIA makes one, and some TVs even come with Android TV built-in. Android TV is a platform, like Android—not just one specific device, like the Apple TV.

So What’s With All These “Android TV” Boxes I See on Amazon and eBay?

If you go to Amazon and search for “Android TV” right now, you’ll get a lot of results. The thing is, most of these aren’t really Android TV boxes. They’re boxes that run Android and hook up to your TV.

See, these sorts of “shady” manufacturers are just playing on words here. The majority of these boxes aren’t actually running the dedicated Android TV interface because they don’t have access to it. Only the core parts of Android TV are part of the Android Open Source Project, and even those parts are not permitted for re-distribution, since it requires modification of the Nexus Player source code.
Instead, what these guys are doing is taking the original Android source code—the one that’s meant for phones or tablets—and turning it into a sort of hackjob piece of software that will run on a box that plugs into your TV. So instead of getting that slick Android TV interface, you get a phone interface on a big, non-touch screen. Yuck.
To make matters worse, many of these boxes don’t even have access to the Play Store, since that requires certification from Google. Those are the shadiest of all the boxes out there, as they’re often loaded with software of questionable integrity.
So why would anyone buy these boxes? Well, they might be tricked by the naming scheme—many of these boxes make themselves sound like Android TV boxes by calling themselves something like “Android 6.0 TV Box”—which is not the same as “Android TV”.
Other people may actually want these janky boxes, since they offer fewer restrictions. Remember earlier when I said Android TV has a specifically curated Play Store? That’s to ensure compatibility with the big screen. Some people may want access to everything—even if it’ll look and work poorly on a large, non-touch device like a TV. Different strokes, I suppose.

How Do I Know Which Boxes Actually Run Android TV?

Your best bet is to stick with boxes that are well-known. As I mentioned earlier, NVIDIA SHIELD (available on Amazon for $200) is hands-down the best Android TV box on the market—it’s fast, updated often, and well supported. If you want Android TV, you want SHIELD. It’s that simple.

But there are other boxes out there, like the now-outdated Nexus Player. The latter was actually the flagship box for the launch of Android TV, but is still very much relevant today and you can often find it at a fraction of the cost of SHIELD if you look around places like eBay. So if you’re looking to stay on the lower end of the pricing, there’s no shame in going with the Nexus Player—it’s still a very solid box. Just keep in mind that it is a little long in the tooth here.
The Razer Forge is another box that sort of sits in that well-known Android TV unit market, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s the only box that doesn’t run Netflix out of the box (seriously), and just isn’t very well supported by Razer. I think the intentions were good initially, but ultimately this box was a flop and I’d recommend staying away from it. If you’re looking for premium, go SHIELD. If you’re looking for affordable, go Nexus Player. There’s no reason to waste money on a Forge.
You could also get Android TV built-in to your next TV. There are a handful of modern smart TVs out there that have Android TV baked right into the set itself, which is convenient—but it like most smart TVs, it comes with downsides. Manufacturers like this generally skimp on the hardware so it’s nowhere near as powerful as a standalone unit. These baked-in options generally are also very rigid in terms of upgrades: no expandable storage or other potential upgrades that can be done on standalone boxes.

Android TV hasn’t had quite the takeoff that many of us had hoped it would, but that doesn’t make it any less of a great set-top box setup. NVIDIA has almost single-handedly changed the course of what Android TV would’ve been with SHIELD, as the company has really picked up Google’s slack in this segment.


January 24, 2017

Review of USTV Now Roku Channel

You may have heard of USTVnow, the streaming service that offers cable television packages that range in price from free to over $100.
USTVnow is ostensibly designed for Americans living abroad (military service members, for instance). The idea is that Americans would normally have access to these channels (perhaps even free over the air), but no longer can. However, USTVnow doesn’t do anything to verify that you are American or living outside of the United States, so it’s effectively a free-for-all.
That means you can get USTVnow no matter where you live. But should you? Here’s our review.


The user experience

Device support is fairly weak on USTVnow. There is a Roku private channel that is pretty good, and USTVnow works on your phone, tablet, computer, and smartphone. That’s about it, though – don’t expect support for Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV. The unlimited DVR feature is a nice touch (you can only get it with the paid account, though).

USTVnow's browser interface
USTVnow’s browser interface
We weren’t that impressed with USTVnow’s UI. USTVnow’s interface isn’t bad, exactly, but it’s also a constant reminder that the service exists on the fringe of legality. It’s pretty basic, with stock photos, blue links, grey tones, and right angles galore. Using it was pretty painless, though it occasionally hit us with strange error dialogue boxes upon login. The USTVnow logo in the upper left corner of the screen indicated that the service is in Beta, and it shows.
All of this is no big deal for the free plan – you don’t expect luxury when you’re using a quasi-legal service and netting a bunch of free TV. But USTVnow’s paid customers probably deserve better.

The content

USTVnow’s paid version includes more than 25 channels. That’s not a bad selection, especially considering the big names that are included: you’ll get the four major networks, plus AMC, CNN, ESPN, FX, TBS, and TNT, to name just a few. The free version includes six channels: ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, and PBS (those are free because they’re the ones that Americans could theoretically get free over the air at home). Here’s a quick breakdown of the pricing for the paid version:
USTV Now pricing
There’s also a “premium plan” with over 200 channels, including HBO and Showtime. That will run you more than $99 and uses a different system.
It’s hard to find reasons to complain about USTVnow’s content. The only strange thing about the content is that it comes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Since the major networks, PBS, and the rest have regionally-specific content, this can make for kind of weird moments. Local news, NFL games, and other programming will be based on whatever Harrisburg gets. There are also lots of local Harrisburg commercials, which is amusing. It’s a little bootleg, for lack of a better word.
We mentioned the NFL up there. NFL games are a big boost to USTVnow’s content selection, especially since most games are on the channels that you can get for free (the Monday night games on ESPN are the ones that will cost you extra). NFL games are really hard to get ahold of, so it’s nice to be able to catch them. Note that the local broadcasts for Harrisburg cover the Steelers and Eagles, so you’ll have to hope that your favorite team isn’t playing in the same time slot.

Streaming quality

Streaming through USTVnow is solid but unspectacular. The quality is determined largely by your internet bandwidth, but you can choose between low, medium, high, and HD quality at will. We experienced occasional pixelation and poor picture quality. Streaming on low quality was very consistent and smooth; at higher picture quality levels, we dealt with more freezes and choppiness. Internet bandwidth determines streaming success, so your milage may vary. For what it’s worth, the low quality stream wasn’t that blurry, so this wasn’t the end of the world.

Low quality streaming worked best for us - here's what it looks like

Low quality streaming worked best for us – here’s what it looks like
One annoying thing about the stream is that it re-loads every time you change the quality (understandable) or picture size (less understandable), and it takes a fair amount of time to do it. You’ll miss 10+ seconds of your program if you make a switch from one video quality to another.
We did have some issues streaming content on Sunday, when NFL games were airing. This could have been because a high volume of users were streaming at once. Once again, it seemed like something you’d expect from a free illegal stream, but would be hard to swallow as a paying customer.

Our conclusion

You can’t beat the price of USTVnow’s free plan. Even if USTVnow is eventually shut down, individual users will almost certainly never be prosecuted, so you might as well make a free account.
USTVnow’s monthly rate of $29 for a paid plan is much tougher for us to justify based on our experience. Sling TV has fewer channels and a weaker content selection, but it’s also $9 less, features more device support, and isn’t illegal. That said, USTVnow’s day passes are a very attractive option for appointment viewing like sports events and TV specials.

Stephen Lovely
Stephen Lovely is a freelance writer and a longtime cord cutter with a passion for technology and entertainment. You can find his work on and his tweets at @stephenlovely.


The Hassle-Free Guide to Ripping Your Blu-Ray Collection

Blu-Ray may be majestic, but it also has more copy protection than any other format around, and playing it on your computer can be difficult to impossible. Here’s how to rip those movies for glorious HD movies, anywhere you want them.

Apart from its very heavy copy protection, you can only play Blu-Ray discs in a few choice desktop computer programs, most of which cost a lot of money. If you use a Mac, it becomes even more difficult, and it’s pretty much impossible on Linux. Luckily, video encoding has come a long way since the days of grainy, 700MB DVD rips, and you can get high quality Blu-Ray rips that can weigh in anywhere between 4 and 12 GB each, depending on how close to the original source you want them to be. Best of all is that even a 4GB file looks a ton better than those DVD rips, so by ripping your Blu-Rays, you can still get that amazing HD quality on any computer you want—no Blu-Ray drive or expensive software required (you’ll need a Blu-Ray drive to rip them though, of course—but then you’ll be able to play those files anywhere).
Five Best Blu-Ray Playback Suites

There are a lot of different methods for ripping and encoding Blu-Rays, several different encoding programs, and more than a few ripping solutions. We combed through the options to pull together the simplest, working method using the best free programs we could find. In addition, everyone’s preferences on quality and method of encoding are different, so you may prefer some advanced options we do not cover here, but this is intended to be a fairly simple, hassle-free guide for people who want to get the job done. It makes a compromise between being easy to execute without sacrificing too much quality. Also, this method is 100% cross-platform, as both programs are available on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
What You’ll Need

Unlike a lot of the Blu-Ray guides I’ve stumbled onto, you’ll only need a few things for ours:

    A Blu-Ray Drive. This is pretty obvious; you won’t get far if your computer can’t read Blu-Ray discs. You can get them for as low as $60 now on Newegg if you don’t already have one.

    Previously mentioned MakeMKV for the initial Blu-Ray rip. It’s about the simplest ripper on the market, rips your movie to a high quality MKV file for easy encoding, and is free while in beta (which, so far, has been a very long time). If you have another ripper that just rips the disc in its original format, like AnyDVD HD, that should work just as well, but if you don’t have a program on hand, MakeMKV will do the job brilliantly.
    Handbrake, our favorite (and your favorite) cross platform, open source video encoder. There are a few other programs out there that will encode HD video, and some of them are a bit easier to navigate, most notably Ripbot264. However, I and many others have had problems running this on 64-bit versions of Windows 7, so I decided to go with Handbrake instead. Make sure you’re using the latest version.
    Anywhere from 30 to 60 GB of hard disk space, depending on what you’re ripping. Blu-Rays are big, and we’re going to rip the whole thing to our drive first, so depending on the movie you’re ripping and the quality you want in your final movie file, you’ll need a good amount of space. An external hard drive will work just fine if you have one and don’t have the space on your PC.

That’s it. Unlike using RipBot or other similar methods, you won’t need AviSynth, ffdshow, or any of the other many installations such programs often require. Just download and install MakeMKV and Handbrake (if you don’t have them already) and you’ll be good to go.

Step One: Rip the Movie with MakeMKV

The first thing we’re going to do is rip our movie to our hard drive, which will produce a very large MKV file of your movie at full, 1080p, Blu-Ray quality. It’ll be very large, but we’ll slim it down later, so for right now, don’t worry about how big it is.

Open up MakeMKV and hit the bit “Open Disc” button. It will scan through your disc, which will take a few minutes. When it’s done, it’ll give you a list of the chapters on the disc. Find your movie (usually the longest title) and uncheck all the other boxes. Then, just choose your Output Folder and hit the “Make MKV” button. Usually this’ll take a half hour or so, depending on the size of your disc, but once it’s done you should have a big MKV file waiting for you in the folder you chose.

Step Two: Choose Your Resolution in Handbrake

Now comes the more complicated (but also more fun) part of the process. There are a lot of settings available in Handbrake, and while we won’t delve into all the advanced features it has, you still have some choices to make and some settings to tweak. Most of it is personal preference, but we’ll outline what we recommend for getting the best compromise between quality and space savings on a movie-by-movie basis, so you can fit as many of those HD movies on your hard drive as possible.

The first thing you want to think about (which will affect your output size pretty heavily) is resolution. Blu-Rays are 1080p natively, and by default, Handbrake will keep that resolution. However, you may want to consider toning it down to 720p for some movies. 720p is still HD, but takes up quite a bit less space—in fact, by bringing our test movies down to 720p, I nearly halved the size of the final file. And, if we’re being honest, certain movies just don’t need all those pixels—I love Anchorman as much as anybody, but I don’t need to see Will Ferrel running around cracking jokes in magnificent 1080p. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, probably deserves all the pixels 1080p can offer. It’s up to you to decide which movies you’d like to dedicate an extra few gigs to, but toning the less visually interesting ones down is something I’d highly recommend.

If you’re ripping a movie that deserves 1080p, you can skip this step, because 1080p is the already the default resolution. If you want to change it to 720p, then click on the Picture tab (or the “Picture Settings” button along the top of the HandBrake window, depending on your platform). Set the “Anamorphic” box to “loose” and change the width to 1280. Note that Handbrake crops out the black bars on either side to save some space, so your height will not be 720, but rest assured that it will be what you know as 720p quality. Exit that window and return to HandBrake’s main settings.

Step Three: Set Your Quality Settings and Encode

Next, hit the High Profile preset in the right sidebar and choose your output type. I like MKV; it’s open in nature, supports DTS and AC3 audio, and works great in quite a few media players, including most media center software. Choose H.264 as your video codec and head to the Audio tab. Here, you have a few options depending on the nature of your disc. It will likely be some form of either AC3 (aka Dolby Digital) or DTS—there are a few different versions of each, but for each I recommend choosing the Passthru option for your Audio codec (AC3 Passthru or DTS Passthru). If you choose the DTS-HD or TrueHD track, you’ll get lossless audio, but you can save some space by choosing the regular DTS or AC3 track with very little loss in quality.

Lastly, we’ll pick the quality of our encode. This part is pretty open to experimentation, but it’s pretty widely accepted that doing a constant quality encode is the best option, so select that. I and many others have found that an RF of 18 is the “sweet spot” for Blu-Rays. This setting will give you a file much smaller than your original MKV (around 15% the size, I’ve found), but with quality nearly indiscernible to your eyes from the original. If you have particularly sensitive eyes, you may want it closer to 16, or even 14 for some Blu-Rays. If you tend to not notice minor imperfections, maybe and RF of 20 is more your speed. Again, this is personal preference, and it can depend on the movie too—movies with lots of fast motion and dark scenes will need a higher quality setting—that is, a lower RF—to look good. So, you may have to play with it a bit before you make your final decision. I’ve found a good way to do this is to rip a single scene using MakeMKV, then test that with a few different quality settings in Handbrake before encoding the final movie, since encoding the whole movie can take a long time.

When you’re ready, hit the encode button and let it go to town. It will take a little while, depending on the settings you’ve chosen, so maybe now is a time to kick back with a cold one and, if you’ve already ripped one of your Blu-Rays, watch one (or two or five—seriously, it could take awhile). Once you’ve ripped your movies, you can watch them either in our favorite video players for Windows, Mac, and Linux, or put together a turbo charged XBMC computer for your home theater.

Like I said before, this is certainly not the only way to rip your Blu-Ray discs. A lot of people prefer different programs and settings, but if you’re not a true audio or videophile, these settings should help you upgrade your movie collection to HD without taking terabytes of space. As always, if you have your own favorite methods for ripping HD content, sound off in the comments.


December 15, 2016

Reuters TV Comes to Roku Players With FREE News Coverage

Now you can watch Reuters TV for free, personalized video news on your Roku.
Reuters TV is your video news service. Powered by more than 2,500 journalists in 200 locations around the world, it offers exclusive news programming that’s ready whenever you are. Watch news that’s curated for you, straight from the source and made to fit your day on your Roku player.
Choose your video news program length and watch news that’s ready when you are.
Here is our full video review:

Key features include:
• On­-demand: Reuters TV is ready whenever and wherever you are
• Up to date: Insightful and unbiased coverage of national and world news that’s always current
• Relevant to you: Personalized to your interests and location
• Live feeds: Watch the world’s most important events as they happen
• Any duration: Choose the length of your personalized news program, from 5 to 30 minutes
• Quick control: Skip between each story in your program
• Follow trends: Whether it’s the migrant crisis or the race for the self-driving car, stay on top of news trends in our Featured Programs section
Access to Reuters TV is completely free with limited advertising.
You can add Reuters TV to your Roku here:
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December 14, 2016

The Weather Channel Comes to Roku Players


Miss the Weather Channel after you left cable? Well the Weather Channel is now available on your Roku with their new Local Now Roku Channel.
If you have had Sling TV recently you are probably already familiar with Local Now.  It brings local weather, news, sports, traffic, and other local content to your Roku. During sever weather like tornadoes and hurricanes they often flip over to a live feed of The Weather Channel in the effected markets.
If you have a login to a service that provides the Weather Channel you will be able to get a live feed of the full Weather Channel. Hopefully a streaming service will soon offer that option. Yet for now this is a great option for cord cutters looking for local weather.
weather2From The Weather Channel:
Local Now offers real-time, hyper-local weather, news, sports and traffic reports. For the first time your local news is available instantly on demand and on any device. The localized content is featured within a short loop that is updated in real-time. So if you miss something, you can catch it again only a few minutes later.
Powered by The Weather Channel and other leading content providers, Local Now delivers a unique viewing experience that gives information that is relevant to you and your day. Additionally, Local Now offers localized severe weather clips within your personally customized locations, providing you with the real-time weather information you need to stay safe if your area is impacted by a particular weather event.
Local Now also offers a live video stream of The Weather Channel television network to the majority of users that have a current TV provider subscription. Additional partners will continue to be signed and announced, you will be prompted to select your provider at time of login.
Update: Something not listed in the description is that you only get a free 31 day trial of this channel. After the 31 day trial is up you will need a service provider to continue using the Roku Channel.
You can add the Local Now Channel to your Roku her:
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December 5, 2016

Hulu now streams 4K, starting with its originals and 20 Bond films

Starting today, you can stream 4K content from Hulu on Xbox One S and the PlayStation 4 Pro. But the selection of shows and movies available at launch is pretty underwhelming compared to rivals Netflix and Amazon Video, who’ve both been offering 4K for some time now.
Hulu’s first batch of 4K includes the company’s lineup original shows and 20 James Bond films. So while that’s pretty good news for 007 fanatics, well, it doesn’t do much for everyone else. Hulu Originals (11.22.63, The Path, Chance, etc.) aren’t exactly the same award-winning critical darlings we’ve seen from the service’s competitors. Hopefully the company will waste no time in widening its catalog of things to watch in 4K. It’s also lagging behind Amazon, Vudu, and now Netflix in enabling offline downloads.
Anyway, here’s the list of Bond flicks that you can now see in UHD on those two devices:
  • Spectre
  • Die Another Day
  • The World Is Not Enough
  • GoldenEye
  • Licence To Kill
  • The Living Daylights
  • A View To A Kill
  • Never Say Never Again
  • Octopussy
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Moonraker
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • The Man With The Golden Gun
  • Diamonds Are Forever
  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  • You Only Live Twice
  • Thunderball
  • Goldfinger
  • From Russia With Love
  • Dr. No


December 2, 2016

Sony 'mastered in 4K' Blu-rays a mixed blessing

The "mastered in 4K" name is sure to confuse many buyers this year, but Sony's special new Blu-rays are an impressive boost in quality over your average Blu-ray release.

You'd be excused for thinking this Blu-ray is in 4K. It isn't, but it is still very good.Photo by (Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Sony is pushing its status as the only company able to deliver a complete 4K experience "from the lens to the living room". As part of this business integration — from movie studios shooting and finishing films in 4K through to new 4K televisions hitting the market in coming weeks — Sony is eager to deliver something that gives viewers a reason for choosing Sony ahead of Samsung, LG or another company.
Enter Sony's "mastered in 4K" Blu-ray releases, which will hit the market around the same time as Sony 4K televisions (we will find out Australian availability later this month). These films are specially mastered to deliver enhanced quality over standard HD movies, particularly when viewed on a 4K TV.
That statement alone encourages consumers to make some bad assumptions. No, these discs are not 4K; they are still HD Blu-ray discs. Sony representatives have been using phrases like "near 4K", but we are still talking about movies delivered in 1920x1080 that will be upscaled to 3840x2160.

When discussing these new "mastered in 4K" discs with technical staff at Sony Pictures, there was a clear disdain for using 4K terminology on discs that are not 4K. Confusion may breed resentment, and ultimately cause a negative reaction to the value that real 4K content will deliver once the content is ready to be delivered in its truest form.
On the other hand, "mastered in 4K" Blu-rays also turn out to be the best picture quality ever produced on a Blu-ray disc, and will really look amazing when played on a Sony 4K TV.
There are three technical measures that elevate a "mastered in 4K" disc above the rest:
  1. Enhanced bitrate: these discs exclude content extras in favour of using all available disc space to deliver the film in a greatly enhanced bitrate. Where most Blu-ray discs are typically delivered in rates in the 24Mbps to 30Mbps ballpark, these "mastered in 4K" discs deliver at 35Mbps to 38Mbps. A greater bitrate means a much clearer picture, and less moments where blocking or blurring will occur, particularly in action sequences.
  2. XvYCC support: in the Blu-ray standard, xvYCC (also known as x.v.Color) is a colour space option that to date, has almost never been supported. XvYCC extends the available colour gamut to better represent the colour space that the original film was intended to be displayed at, while the standard sRGB space cuts off a lot of information in the red and blue-green sections of the spectrum. As long as your Blu-ray player and your TV support xvYCC, these discs will deliver a solid colour enhancement over other discs on the market.
  3. Sony 4K algorithms: this final feature is a sweetener focused on giving Sony 4K TV owners a better experience with these discs than any other 4K TV owners. Being part of the same family, Sony Pictures and Sony Bravia have shared proprietary algorithm information to give the best possible upscaling performance on these films. Sony 4K televisions will be able to identify a "mastered in 4K" disc and use an upscaling algorithm based on the same formula used at Sony Pictures to downscale the film from 4K to HD. This secret sauce is likely to give a Sony TV the edge over other TVs that must use less-specific algorithms to upscale the content.
Viewing a "mastered in 4K" disc side by side with the same footage displayed in true 4K video, you have to be looking very carefully to pick up on the difference. But that leads to another dilemma: is Sony's stop gap "mastered in 4K" going to create another scenario where 4K TV owners don't see the benefit in buying true 4K content? Could HD Blu-ray be "good enough" in the same way that DVD has mostly been seen as good enough for HDTV owners?
These special edition discs are undoubtedly little more than a stop gap until a final 4K Blu-ray format hits the market, and spending money on a movie collection that will be outdated next year also seems to be a dud play. But they do give an enhanced experience, so it isn't just a marketing exercise.
The best-case scenario would see these movies offered up as a bundle deal with the purchase of a new Sony 4K TV. Then they move from the awkward (if gifted) step-child to a sweetener that gives great value today while you wait for perfection tomorrow.
Fifteen films are scheduled to be released in the format, ranging from recent releases like The Amazing Spider-ManTotal RecallThe Other Guys and Battle: Los Angeles all the way to classic films restored in 4K, such as Lawrence of ArabiaTaxi Driver and Ghostbusters.
Seamus Byrne attended a 4K television press event as a guest of Sony Australia.


November 12, 2016

Watching live TV on the Roku platform

We chat with different types of Roku customers every day – some cord cutters who strictly stream, others who have cable, and many cord shavers who fall somewhere in between. To share his perspective and expertise on cord cutting, we’ve invited Chris Brantner for a guest blog post series. 
Sure, the on-demand streaming revolution is amazing. It’s awesome to want to watch something and be able to find it and watch it immediately. Still, there is something magical about live TV.
Watching something as soon as it’s revealed can be great fun. Channel surfing is a great perk of cable or satellite, which involves being able to watch different live shows as well as finding new things to watch. Not to mention, who wants to watch sports or the news on demand?
So, even though on-demand streaming is awesome, there is still a case to be made for live TV. It’s just not going out of style.
That’s one of the best things about Roku streaming devices. While you can watch live TV with an antenna or on cable/satellite, there is also plenty of live TV available on various Roku streaming channels. And it’s not just for cord cutters. If you’re a cable subscriber, you can access a wide variety of cable content on your Roku streaming device.
If you’re looking for live TV, here are some of your best options when you’re using a Roku streaming device.

Live TV (channel bundles)
Sling TV – Sling TV was made for cord cutters. If you don’t have a pay TV subscription, Sling TV gives you access to a variety of live cable channels (anywhere from 25 channels to over 100). Depending on the Sling TV package you choose, it may be more affordable than a traditional pay TV subscription. You get channels like AMC, TBS, and TNT, starting at $20 per month. Sling TV even recently added NHL Network to its Sports Extra pack just in time for hockey season.
PlayStation Vue – Vue is similar to Sling TV, though you pay a little more, while receiving more channels. Fans of channel surfing will like Vue. You get channels like Syfy, Bravo, FX and Food Network. The benefit here is that there is really something for everyone and a unique cloud DVR.

News (Free)
NewsOn – If you’re looking for live news, NewsOn offers live, local news from over 130 local news stations. It’s absolutely free and you can watch it live whenever you want.
Newsy – Newsy offers 24/7 news in livestream format. The service is absolutely free so you don’t need a subscription to watch. Rather than full news shows, Newsy is fun because you get short, unbiased videos from the day’s top news stories. It’s a whole new twist on the news.

WatchESPN – In order to watch the WatchESPN channel you need login information for one of the following: cable subscriber, ISP, Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. If you’re looking for a way to watch sports in real time, this is a great way to do it. With WatchESPN you’ll be able to watch whatever live sport happens to be on at the time on channels including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, SEC Network, and many others. Although it’s worth noting that which channels WatchESPN gives you access to depends on what’s included in your pay TV subscription.
FOX Sports GO – This channel also requires a pay TV or PlayStation Vue subscription to give you access to live content. Once you’ve logged in you’ll be able to watch a variety of sports based on your local area. FSN offers everything from NCAA and NFL to MLB and NASCAR.
WWE Network – Wrestling fans can’t get enough of the WWE Network channel. You just login with your subscriber info ($9.99 per month) and you’ll be able to watch every WWE pay-per-view event live. You even can watch WrestleMania! The channel also includes documentaries and reality shows all related to WWE.
Fubo.TV – If you’re looking for a way to watch soccer in live or on-demand, Fubo.TV is the channel for you. For $6.99 per month you can watch matches from La Liga, Capital One Cup, Copa del Rey, Copa America, and many others. You also get other live channels include beIN Sports, GolTV, and more.
NFL Sunday Ticket – With NFL Sunday Ticket you need a DirecTV login in order to watch live sports. You will be able to live stream any out-of-market NFL games all Sunday long! You also have access to DIRECTV FANTASY ZONE which gives you game analysis, real-time stats and much more. However, it’s only available to college students and those living in areas where you can’t get DirecTV satellite service (check eligibility here).

Live TV/Movies
Pluto TV (free)– Pluto TV is a channel like no other, broadcasting over 100 linear streaming channels in a TV guide-like interface. From live news to movies to YouTube videos, there really is something for everyone here.
HBO NOW – You need an HBO NOW subscription ($14.99 per month) to watch HBO. This isn’t technically live TV (with the exception of VICE News Tonight which is live at 7:30 pm ET weekdays), but the primetime shows arrive on the HBO NOW channel at the time they would air on TV, so it’s essentially the same thing in that regard. You get access to every HBO show and a wide variety of popular movies, too. Have cable? Then you can log into HBO GO, which offers the same content.
SHOWTIME – SHOWTIME’s standalone Roku channel features a live stream of what’s currently airing on Showtime, along with an on-demand library of Showtime’s original series, comedies, sports, movies, and more. After a 7-day free trial, SHOWTIME is $10.99 per month.
Crackle (free) – Crackle offers a live stream of movies in a linear fashion, which makes it feel more like a television station as opposed to a standard streaming channel. Crackle offers a mix of TV, originals, and movies. Best of all, they are completely free.
As you can see, there are a ton of live TV channels available on your Roku streaming device. I would like to make note that streaming live TV is a bit more taxing on your internet setup than streaming on demand content. So make sure you have a good Wi-Fi setup, and a fast internet connection for streaming.
Have a live Roku channel you think I missed? Share in the comments section below!


October 21, 2016

Vudu Starts Offering FREE Movies

Vudu, the Walmart-owned video streaming service, has long tried to compete iTunes and Amazon Video. They offered options to rent or purchase popular movies and TV shows and stream them online.

Now Vudu is jumping in on the free with ads streaming model made popular by services such as Crackle and Tubi TV.

The new service, Vudu Movies on Us, will not include newer movies. Those will remain available only for rent or purchase. At launch Vudu on Us will offer movies such as Mad Max, True Grit, Abduction, School of Rock, Hoosiers, The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Young Adult, Margin Call, A Walk to Remember and The Magnificent Seven (1960). Vudu says it will be adding more content in the coming months.

“There’s no better value than free,” said Jeremy Verba, VP and GM of Vudu. “We see a gap in the marketplace for watching free HD movies on-demand.”

This is a move many had previously hoped a service such as Crackle or Tubi TV would offer. Watch for free with ads or watch ad-free by paying. Although the catalog is small, hopefully Vudu will grow their selection.

It will be interesting to see if competitors will be able to release a similar service; however, some have already dipped their toe into the market. Recently Amazon has started offering the first episode of many shows for free with ads to allow you to test the season before paying. It will be interesting to see if they jump in and try to compete in this new market with Vudu.

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