Tech and geek culture headlines

The Hobbit Might Look Too Lifelike

One of the things that has me most interested in this upcoming movie season is the news that The Hobbit will be made available in 48fps High Frame Rate 3D in as many as 450 different theaters across the country.

Having the option to see a particular movie in differing formats, 2D, 3D, IMAX, IMAX Digital, IMAX Digital 3D and so forth is a pretty boggling thing for the average movie goer.  But when you throw in the idea that now you will have something call “HFR” thrown in there, well, what’s a popcorn eater to do?

High Frame Rate is the process that shows a movie at twice the number of frames per second that is what you have always seen movies, no matter film or digital.  That traditional rate is 24fps, but The Hobbot director Peter Jackson, has decided to film and show the movie at 48fps (and in 3D).  The first of this was seen at a theater owners convention earlier in the year and the reaction was not good.  The intention is to bring you a movie experience that “more lifelike”, but from the reactions to those that saw it, more lifelike wasn’t something that also made for a good moviegoing experience.  The effect of HFR is a continuation of movies looking less like film and more like extremely detailed video.  Some have compared the differences to seeing a BluRay movie for the first time, but HFR also can change your perception of movement within a scene.

Knowing it will create a giant question mark over people’s heads, Warner Bros. is attempting to head people off at the pass with a HFR primer (right, click for full version), which they released earlier this week.

As mentioned above the movie will be offered in as many as six formats: HFR Imax 3-D, HFR 3-D, Imax 3-D, Imax 2-D, regular 3-D and boring old 2-D. Additionally, and for added excitement, a small number of ready screens will be using Dolby’s new 64-channel Atmos sound system.

This link will tell you if there is a theater near you that will be showing the movie in HFR-3D.  Luckily the list shows my local theater of preference will be one of those… So I will give a full report, pending my eyes don’t melt.

Advance ticket sales went on sale Wednesday.

Brad Pitt Zombie Movie Gets a Trailer

World War Z is the upcoming movie based on the much loved book by Max Brooks.  Brad Pitt plays a United Nations worker who has to figure out how to stop the zombie breakout engulfing the world.  His wife is played by Mireille Enos (last seen in the very frustrating The Killing) and… there are a lot of zombies.  A. Lot.

From the trailer the zombies aren’t your typical slow movers.  No, these appear to have serious speed and are in enough numbers to scale walls by simply creating zombie ladders – a simple overwhelming mass of zombie bodies stacking on top of each other.  If there’s something I didn’t like about the trailer, these CGI sequences look very much like CGI sequences.

There is also a lot of controversy over how closely the movie follows the book and from the trailer it appears, not very close at all.

Enjoy and let everyone know what you think in the comments section.

You Gotta Be Playing Letterpress

If you love a good word game, you best be trying Letterpress.

Built by Loren Britcher, the person behind the once great Twitter app – Tweetie – has come up with a genius and simple new game that’s all the rage in the app store.  Its the prefect marriage of Scrabble and Boggle with a wonderfully beautiful and simple design.  Its addictive because games between you and your opponent can go pretty quickly or drag out for a while depending on your strategy – and there is a surprising amount of strategy to be had in this game.

Best of all, the app is free and the upgrade (giving you color options and being able to play more than two matches at once) is only $0.99!  Sadly, its only available for iOS, but hopefully Android and Windows8 versions will happen.

Mythbusters / BreakingBad Mashup!

The Discover Channel announced that later this week they will be filming a new episode of geek fav “Mythbusters” that will attempt some of the science from Breaking Bad.

Mythbusters hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman (right) will try two specific moments from Season One of the TV great.  While we don’t know specifically what the 2nd is, we have been told that the first will be looking more into the much beloved scene when Jesse Pinkman fails to follow of the directions of Mr White when dissolving a human body in hydrofluoric acid.  Those that have seen the show will remember that Jesse’s failure to put the body in a ‘plastic’ barrel, and instead putting it his upstairs tub results in the acid eating thru the tub, the floor(s) and resulting in a terribly bloody mess.

They promise that the show, which is family friendly, will work hard to find ways to marry itself to one of TV’s least family friendly shows.  So, there will be no discussion of Walter White‘s “blue sky” crystal meth recipe, and I’m guessing the 2nd test won’t be trying to recreate how long it takes someone to choke on their own vomit while on a meth high.

The show is being taped this week and will air next Spring, and yes Aaron Paul will make an appearance.

New Slingboxes Are Here!

I have been a long time proponent/owner of Slingbox.  Don’t know what that is?  Well, Slingbox is a wonderful device that you connect to your home theater system and then allows you to watch the content from your DVR, Cable Box, etc pretty much anywhere you can get online.  It’s wonderful, and the good news is that after a very long wait, there are now two new Slingboxes for you.

Now in stores are the Slingbox 350 and 500.  Both will now stream full 1080p to the free desktop apps or to pretty much any handheld device (iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows and even other devices like Boxee.  The apps for most of those devices have been dropped in price from the way too expensive $30 to $15 (still pricey, especially if you have shelled out for the top-of-the-shelf model).

The 350 still requires you to find a way to hardwire the device to your home’s network to get it online.  This has always been one of the Slingboxes obstacles.  Not everyone has a wired outlet where their TV equipment is, so additional parts were needed to get the thing online.  The 500 solves that by adding wifi into its chassis, fixing that problem and additionally adds HDMI support.  Not only can you connect via HDMI there is a new option called “SlingProjector” which turns your Slingbox into a device for streaming content from your handheld onto your display.  Oh, and both now feature some oddly designed cases.

If you, or someone you know, travels a lot this is a worthy investment.  Paying for any of the “TV anywhere” services like Hulu, Netflix, etc are great but Slingbox gives you access to all the content that you have gathered on your DVR, and live TV.  And once you pay for the device (300/$180  500/$299) there are no extra monthly fees.

Minnie Mouse in The Leia Slave Costume?

Look, by now you’ve heard the news.  There is a massive amount of coverage of Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars franchise that I won’t try to outdo.

But, while we are all concerned about how Disney will treat this, consider this very excited idea that was proposed to me by my buddy, Chris Ferrell (@RoundTableNerds), anyone up for a Joss Whedon written/directed Star Wars?   That idea does soften the blow of the news.  Odds are that Disney will go more JarJar and less Botta Fett, if you know what I mean, but they got The Avengers right, so I guess we gotta cut some slack and just wait and see what happens.

So 2015 for Star Wars VII, and what that means is very unclear (really old Luke and Leia?) and plans for VIII and IX to follow after that every couple of years.

WiFi Lightbulbs – Yep.

The maddening circumstances of incandescent bulbs being phased out and that CFL bulbs stink to high heaven is the promise of LED technology.  The problem with that, at least for now, is they can be terribly expensive.  But starting today you can add the nifty feature of being able to control LED bulbs with an app on your smartphone.  LED bulbs meet the promise of extreme life span, wicked money savings and being able to turn on instantly – versus the maddening warm up period of the CFL.

Phillips has been rolling out variations of LED bulbs for a couple of years now, and they’ve been an indecent proposal as each bulb could breach $75 each.  Those prices have been coming down as late (you can find them online for $20), but starting Oct 30th, you can get a version that adds the above mentioned ability to control via your wifi network and an app.

Yes, its still expensive as not only do you need the bulbs, but a smart bridge that plugs into your wifi router and speaks to the bulbs.  That comes as part of a starter kit (with three bulbs) that is priced at $199.  Additional bulbs will set you back another $59 each.  With the kit not only can you turn on and off the bulbs, but you can also control the color of the light they emit.  The bulbs are capable of matching any of the 16 million different colors in the RBG color spectrum.  There’s even a setting that allows you to set a timer to turn on the bulbs with a “gentle wake up” setting.

The kit goes on sale Oct 30th at Apple stores.


Follow Along With Sandy

There are many ways to keep up on the latest with Hurricane Sandy, but while sitting at your computer you may want to keep a browser window open with Google’s Crisis Map.

The map has several layer options to toggle on and off.  From the storm’s current location and forecast track, you can even find out where emergency shelters, live webcams and traffic conditions.

What Did Microsoft Do?

Yesterday Microsoft, a company for years weighed down with the failures (perceived or real) of the Windows OS, made an impressive attempt to turn their ship around in showing off Windows 8, a plethora of new PC’s and tablets from other manufactures and their own new device, Surface.

I watched the entire two part event.  First the OS and then a section about Surface.  My first and immediate reaction is that I can never remember seeing Microsoft employees speaking about their products in such an earnest and passionate manner.  It was refreshing and infectious.

I have yet to hold a Surface in my hands and my experience with Windows 8 is limited to a demo version running on a device at a Microsoft store in San Jose.  What I do know about both of these things are that they clearly have gone through an epic amount of design and group think and both are beautiful.  What I also know is Surface, by all accounts, is a wonderful piece of hardware but ironically Windows 8, from a company that historically is software company, is a brave innovation that holds promise but will need to grow into the shoes its trying to fill.

First Windows 8.  During all of the demos done during the event I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, those devices look really nice, but man Windows 8 looks really confusing”.  The bottom line is that for the first time since way back in the late 1900’s when we last had to learn a new Windows UI, we all have a whole new learning curve to go through with Windows 8.  It is totally different.  Literally, we gotta start again from the basics.  It’s no longer just a “start” button in the lower left corner.

The screen is now filled with tiles, and each tile does different things from being places to start apps, to pushing information to you and being one touch shortcuts to everything you want access to.  All of this is highly customizable, and you even open your device with a new password system that uses a custom-designed gesture you create with a picture from your library.  You can push, pull, swipe, touch and all with two, three or more fingers (or mouse).  And all the demonstrations were like that scene with Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” as he easily interfaced with a holographic UI.  Each person on stage smoothly moved around the UI by touching the screen of the device they were on and made it look easy, although it was hard to follow and figure out what exactly they were doing.  I looks mighty cool, but it is going to take some time to learn it.

There is a version that runs on PCs and a version that works on handhelds, called Windows 8 RT.  The latter is a scaled down version but the idea is that no matter which one you’re working in it is an almost identical experience.

Get use to that because if you buy a new Windows PC, tablet or smartphone device – its going to have Windows 8 on it.  Good news is that any PC that is now running Windows 7 will work with Windows 8 and the upgrade cost is cheap, $40.

The Surface presentation was a solid 45 minutes of a company making the case Microsoft has produce a device that rivals any currently on the market.  The amount of words, video and pictures dedicated in showing off just how finely design, manufactured and built Surface is pretty much uncountable.  If you learn anything about Surface is that it looks and feels like the Rolls Royce of tablets.  And by the reviews that are out Microsoft has built a really impressive device, and may have actually, *gasp*, done something cool!

So, if you’re interested, and you should be, below is a list of links of reviews from people that have hands-on experience.  I have no idea if Windows will succeed with either of these, but I appreciate the attempt and its good to see a company feeling like they’ve really achieved something good.

Surface Reviews


Windows 8 Reviews


What Did Apple Do?

Tuesday Apple held another one of their “events”, and what was anticipated to be nothing more than showing us what we’ve already known – the existence of the iPad Mini – became something much more, and upset many of their biggest fans by wiping out a product many of them just bought.

Before I get into the iPad drama, let’s briefly review the other product updates shown.

iMac – the overdue refresh is interesting for a few reasons.  First the screen sizes remain the same (21″ & 27″) but offer a new mega thin, sexy form factor.  They get this by removing the optical drive.  In doing this Apple has now effectively eliminated any way for old dinosaurs, like me, to use physical media.  I am that guy that still buys CD’s and DVD’s… But now I can’t plop those into my new iMac and rip them (yes, I can buy the USB Super Drive $80) like I have been able to do since, well, forever.  Apple wants you to buy this material from iTunes, and if they can also achieve a nice design factor in the process, well that’s great.  The new iMac also has maybe the coolest new feature mentioned all day, Fusion Drive.  A marriage of a flash SSD drive and a normal HDD, and while this has been done before it is the native software that will automatically move regularly used software to the SDD portion of the drive so the user’s access to that is much faster. 21″ starts at $1299, 27″ $1799.

MacBook Pro – A new 13″ with retina display was shown off, also with a nice lightweight design.  Nothing really new here, but the 13″ laptop is really ideal for portability and this comes with that awesome display and starts at $1199

Mac Mini – vastly updated versions of these little wonders in a little box get bigger processors and more memory.  For under $1000 you can get a rather nice everyday use computer that you can plug in and use with that monitor and keyboard/mouse that you already have.  Starting at $600 and goes up depending on how you option it.

Ok, so the iPad Mini was introduced and it pretty much is exactly as we expected.  7.9″ screen, but it is NOT retina display, and in fact kinda disappoints with a pixel density of 162ppi.  That’s important because that is a lower resolution screen than competing devices, which are less expensive.  And that brings us to the price, starting at $329 Apple did not come in under that $300 point that many think they needed to be competitive.  But Apple sets prices to make money and they are banking on the idea that the iPad Mini – even though it’s $80 more than a Nexus 7 or $130 more than the Kindle Fire HD – will blow you away with it’s “superior design, build quality and most importantly, apps.  Apple is going to be able to test their premise that “apps matter” and having over 250,000 apps available that are designed for the iPad platform, rather than with Android a whole bunch of “phone apps sized up” that user experience is enough to get you to pony up for the higher priced device.  And this has been the case with the full sized iPad.  Apple bragged they’ve sold over 100 million iPads since the product launched and their ownership of the tablet market is anywhere from 70-90% (depending on who you believe).   With the Mini, will people care enough about that to spend the extra money, especially with the word that cheaper, better Android tablets are on the way?

Which takes us to the news that rocked everyone.  The 4th generation iPad.  Just forget that the 3rd gen was rolled us just less than six months ago – you can’t buy it no mo’.   This was stunning news that became obvious as Apple began to explain the “update” was more than switching to the new Lightening connector.  Nope, now there is the new A6x processor, that is “2x faster” than the one in the iPad bought as recently as yesterday.  It also has a better forward facing camera, better LTE and wi-fi.  These are incredibly significant updates and Apple just did that to everyone that just bought the new one.  Watching the reaction of the crew at TWIT was really interesting simply from the standpoint that even they were shocked that Apple would make a move so fast.  The looks on their faces when they realized what was happening was very telling.

Here are my thoughts on this… Apple felt they needed to do this for several reasons.  First, I’m betting that Apple wanted to move it’s production schedule so that iPads could roll out in the fall, before the holiday buying season.  Tablets are products that people buy for others as gifts (phones, not so much), and now each year they can roll out new versions just as that time is approaching.  The only way to do that was either, now, or wait another full year before updating.  Doing it now creates some drama and hurt feelings but Apple couldn’t wait a full year.  Why?   Because the Surface is coming out now, and there are an untold number of Android products on the way with the very, very nice new versions of that OS.  Apple couldn’t wait, and oh btw, they had the new, mo’ faster parts to stuff in there anyway.  And what this portends for the 5th generation iPad I assume will go on sale a year from now – Apple must have something really big planned.  If that’s true, it makes more sense of what happened here.

Should you be mad?  Sure, if you’ve recently bought the 3rdGen model. (If it was a month or less ago, Apple will refund your money)  But otherwise you still have a fantastic device that is better than anything else in the category – other than the newer iPad.  It also strengthens my mantra that you always buy the fastest, baddest version of an Apple product (or any brand for that matter) you are shopping for at that time.  Simply because you never know when its going to go from current model to outdated.  But people have a right to be pissed if they paid $500+ on a device just months, or weeks, ago that now is not “top o’ the line” – but they will get over it because what they have is still better and works great.

Apple minus Steve Jobs is a new and fascinating beast.  Lots of talk yesterday about if Apple would have done this, or the detailed product comparison that was done in the event between the iPad Mini vs the Nexus 7.  Who knows?  Things are very different these days as the competition that was not there when Jobs was continues to get better and make outstanding products that in many ways are better options for many consumers.  Apple is in the position they are in only because they created these successful markets and got massive head starts and were able to establish their products as gold standards for everyone else to reach for.  To keep  that position Apple is going to have to make decisions that go against what they’ve said publicly before (iPad Mini) and make hard decisions that will peeve dedicated fans.  It’s the cost of business.