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Net neutrality could affect more industries than you think

Charmaine Blake

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Oh yeah, that.

Image: cofotoisme/getty

With a historic net neutrality vote set to take place tomorrow, people across the United States are rightly concerned about the future of the internet. Visions of price-tiered online spaces dancing in their heads, constituents all over the country are reaching out to their elected officials in a likely doomed effort to forestall what many see as the inevitable destruction of our mostly level digital playing field.

But tomorrow’s vote is about more than whether Comcast can charge you extra for streaming movies on Netflix. Just as the internet has seeped into many unexpected facets of our lives, abandoning net neutrality could have unexpected consequences in places you might not expect. 

Self-driving cars

If Elon Musk is correct, driverless cars could soon be everywhere.  

Those vehicles will require sophisticated onboard computers, and those computers will probably come with some form of internet connectivity. 

We’ve already seen the benefit of this. Tesla vehicles can download “over-the-air software updates” when linked up with Wi-Fi, negating the need to take a car into the shop to address recalls. This is both a cost- and time-saver for car owners, and will likely become a widespread feature as older cars are phased out over time. 

Throttle this speed.

Image: JustSuper/getty

But what if, say, your home internet provider felt like making a little extra cash. It might reasonably assume that anyone with a self-driving vehicle is on the wealthier side, and could conceivably charge extra for access to the Tesla network issuing the patches. Oh, you want your Model S to be able to perform regular self-maintenance? That’ll be an extra $20 a month. 

Also, while self-driving cars will likely not be constantly connected to the internet for security reasons, it’s hard to predict just what features will and will not become standard. Doing away with net neutrality gives internet providers the ability to shape how our cars connect to the online world.

The Internet of Things

The ever-growing Internet of Things has made it clear that no device or gadget is too small or “dumb” to be saddled with some form of connectivity. From doorknobs to dildos, manufacturers are rushing to ensure that every damn thing has a place in our connected future. 

And, to be clear, many people enjoy these products! Think of your smart speaker, or your internet-connected teddy bear. If you’re the type of person to buy one of these things, you probably love it. The ease with which those devices put the internet at your fingertips is one of their big selling points. But what if it wasn’t so easy?

While companies like Netflix may pay up for fast-lane privileges, the maker of your Wi-Fi-connected coffee pot may not feel likewise inclined. Essentially, this could translate into a de-prioritization of IoT traffic. In other words, your smart home could become a tad bit slow. 

Healthcare

In addition to just being a pain in the ass, the repeal of net neutrality could do real harm to your health. That’s because the modern medical field has come to depend on that aforementioned free and open internet — something very much at odds with Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai’s plans. 

These days, electronic health records are often kept in the cloud, and fast and reliable access to this data is vital to patient care. What’s more, telemedicine — remotely providing healthcare via some form of telecommunication — is super data heavy. Whether that’s remotely analyzing X-rays, or a rural patient connecting with a doctor in a far-off city, this stuff takes a lot of bandwidth. 

Will your small-town hospital be able to compete with the Facebooks of the world when it comes to buying a piece of bandwidth pie? Unfortunately, we may soon have to find out.  

Cryptocurrency

Bitcoin and the wide assortment of altcoin in the world are big business. Like, very big business. This magic internet money is bought, sold, and traded on exchanges like Coinbase. People depend on access to these exchanges in order to manage their cryptocurrency, and any restriction of that access could have huge financial and structural implications. 

Blocking the blockchain.

Image: martinwimmer/getty

With no net neutrality to stop them, ISPs could in theory throttle access to exchanges not of their liking. While diehard cryptocurrency enthusiasts would surely find a way around such a step, the common person may not have the skill or patience to do so. 

This could impact the price of some cryptocurrencies. If the main exchange offering your altcoin of choice is suddenly given the short shrift by Verizon, well, then associated trading and the coin’s value could possibly decline as a result. 

So, what now?

The loss of net neutrality will likely have far-reaching implications, and it’s still too early to know exactly what those will be. It’s not too early, however, to predict that many of them will be unpleasant. From self-driving cars to cryptocurrencies, tilting the scales in favor of established players with deep pocketbooks is unlikely to benefit the little man. 

However, with the fate of tomorrow’s vote all but certain, net neutrality appears to be on its deathbed. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take us and our internet-connected world down with it. 

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/12/13/net-neutrality-impacts/

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AT&T launches a low-cost live TV streaming service, WatchTV

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AT&T this morning announced the launch of a second TV streaming service, called WatchTV, days after its merger with Time Warner. The lower-cost alternative to AT&T’s DirecTV Now will offer anyone the ability to join WatchTV for only $15 per month, but the service will also be bundled into AT&T wireless plans. This $15 per month price point undercuts newcomer Philo, which in November had introduced the cheapest over-the-top TV service at just $16 per month.

The service will arrive for everyone next week, including both wireless subscribers and the general public.

With WatchTV, customers gain access to over 30 live TV channels from top cable networks including A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, CNN, Discovery, Food Network, Hallmark, HGTV, History, IFC, Lifetime, Sundance TV, TBS, TLC, TNT, VICELAND, and several others. (Full list below).

Shortly after launch, it will add BET, Comedy Central, MTV2, Nicktoons, Teen Nick, and VH1.

There are also over 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand, along with premium channels and music streaming options as add-ons.

While the new WatchTV service is open to anyone, AT&T is also bundling it into two new unlimited plans for no additional cost.

These plans are the AT&T Unlimited & More Premium plan and the AT&T Unlimited & More plan.

The Premium plan customers will have all the same features of the existing AT&T Unlimited Plus Enhanced Plan, including 15 GB of high-speed tethering, high-quality video and a $15 monthly credit towards DirecTV, U-verse TV, or, AT&T’s other streaming service, DirecTV Now. They can also choose to add one other option, like HBO…..”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/21/att-launches-a-low-cost-live-tv-streaming-service-watchtv/

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AMCs MoviePass competitor arrives June 26

Charmaine Blake

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It was just a matter of time before AMC went head to head withMoviePass. After all, the two companies have been at odds for some time. Back in January, MoviePass dropped out of 10 of the theater chain’s highest traffic theaters in what was seen as a negotiating tactic. But AMC had no interest in playing ball.

The company had already publicly stated that it had “no intention[…]of sharing any […] admissions revenue,” one of many signs that it was working on its own version of the subscription service. That response arrives June 26, in the form of AMC Stubs A-List, an add-on to the company’s loyalty program.

Signs ups for the service start next week, at $20 a month. And at first glance the whole thing actually sounds pretty good, so long as you’re okay sticking with the 660 or so theaters AMC currently operates in the U.S.

Per the press release:

Through AMC Stubs A-List, members can enjoy any available showtime, any AMC location, any format — including IMAX at AMC, Dolby Cinema at AMC, RealD 3D, Prime at AMC and BigD. AMC Stubs A-List can be used at the spur of the moment or also can make planning ahead days or weeks in advance possible, as securing tickets is made easy via reservations capabilities on the AMCTheatres.com web site, or on the AMC Theatres smartphone app.

The membership includes up to three movies a week at any of the chain’s US locations, with no rollovers. Those three movies can be viewed on the same day, assuming you have a “two-hour buffer” between each and nowhere else to be. The same movie can also be viewed multiple times. Tickets can be purchased online for up to three movies at a time.

There are some non-movie ticket perks, as well, including popcorn upgrades, free refills and a rewards program.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/20/amcs-moviepass-competitor-arrives-june-26/

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5 cool video streaming devices to check out

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Image: Vicky Leta/Mashable

When you start researching video streaming devices, the first ones you’ll find will likely be Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV. Between those three there’s a decent price range, so your search can just stop there, right?

Wrong. While the most popular video streaming devices out there will likely be a good fit for many users, there are other options you should look at. 

Perhaps you’re looking for more versatility? Maybe you’re a power user that wants something extremely tweakable? Are you looking for a cheap PlayStation alternative? Or you’re just looking for the cheapest possible option out there that also does 4K?

We’ve rounded up some of the lesser-known video streaming devices out there to ease your search. 

Cheap with 4K: Xiaomi Mi Box ($69)

Image: Xiaomi

China’s Xiaomi has a reputation for delivering solid products with top-notch specs for an impossibly low price. The company has done it with nearly every gadget you can think of — from smartphones to smart TVs to scooters, and with the Xiaomi Mi Box, it entered the video streaming space as well. 

And yes, for the features it offers — Android TV 6.0, 4K streaming, HDR video support, DTS/Dolby Digital Plus support and a Bluetooth voice remote — the Mi Box is pretty darn cheap at $69. Add to that the elegant, simple, Apple-like design, and you get a pretty sweet deal. 

Since the device is Android TV-based, you get a ton of apps, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Vevo, Vudu Plex, and Google Play Movies & TV. Google Cast is built in, so you’ll be able to send content to your TV from phones, laptops, tablets and more. 

The specs are decent: quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU, MALI 450 GPU 2GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage (expandable via a USB port). And this is where you might find chinks in Mi Box’s armor: While these specs are decent, especially for the price, some users might want more powerful innards to power 4K playback. 

Great for gamers: Nvidia Shield ($179)

Image: Nvidia

Starting at $179, the Nvidia Shield is one of the most expensive video streaming devices, but hear us out. This device is an absolute powerhouse, with an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, 3GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, which should be enough for smooth 4K playback. It also supports HDR playback, Dolby Atmos/DTS-X audio, and comes with a remote, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 3.0 jacks, and an HDMI 2.0 jack. It runs Android TV, meaning you get the Google software experience and all the nice apps that go with it. 

But besides being a great media-streaming machine, the Shield’s greatest strength is that it’s also a game console. Add $20 to the base price and you get a game controller (for $299 you also get 500GB of storage instead of 16GB). So what can you do with all that? Play games, of course! For $7.99 per month, you can subscribe to GeForce Now, which lets you play Android titles such as Outlast 2, Obduction, and The Surge as you would with a GTX 1080 GPU, and stream them to your big screen. 

Obviously, you do not need this device if you only want a media streaming device, and that’s perfectly fine. But if price is no issue, and you’re not a big fan of Apple TV, the Nvidia Shield is pretty powerful, and one of the most versatile media streaming devices you’ll find. 

Dirt cheap: Roku Express ($29.99)

Image: Roku

Roku sells quite a few video streaming devices, so you’ll be forgiven if you’ve overlooked the Roku Express. Its specs are nothing special: You get 720p or 1080p resolution, a single HDMI jack, a remote… and that’s about it. 

But where Roku Express wins is the price. At just $29.99, it’s the cheapest option out there (outside of no-name devices from China), and for the price, you also get a remote and an HDMI cable, so you’re ready to go pretty much as soon as you bring it home. It’s the perfect option for someone that’s just not sure whether she needs a media streaming device in their life, or as a secondary device for your bedroom. 

Supported apps include the usual suspects: Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and Google Play Movies & TV, among others.

If you want all the latest bells and whistles, such as 4K resolution and HDR support, you can also check Roku’s most powerful video streaming device, the Roku Ultra. You’ll have to dish out three times the money, as it costs $99, but it’s still a pretty fair price for what you get.  

Power user’s dream: Minix U9-H ($159.90)

Image: Minix

Unlike the other devices in this list, Minix doesn’t have a big brand behind it, but it does have a pretty big following. This is because its video streaming devices are actually much more than that — they’re pretty powerful little computers with impressive specs and a plethora of connectors.

The company’s U9-H came out in 2017, but it’s still one of the best options for media streaming in Minix’s range. It’s got an octa-core, 64-bit, AmLogic S912 processor, a Mali-820 MP3 GPU, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. It’s also got a serious array of output connectors: HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio, optical audio, Gigabit Ethernet, and three USB 2.0 ports. Add to that a microSD card reader and you’ll see that adding some serious storage to this baby is no issue. 

Its predecessor, Minix U1, had a pretty big software shortcoming, as it ran on now very dated Android 5 Lollipop. Minix U9-H remedied this by switching to the next version, Android 6 Marshmallow, which makes it a lot more future-proof. 

If you opt for a Minix, know that setting things up isn’t as easy on most other streaming devices — for example, installing something as common as Netflix can be a chore. But if you know your way around Android, you should be fine.

The Minix Neo U9-H can be had on Amazon for $159.90.

Super-versatile: Evanpo T95Z Plus ($104.99)

Image: evanpo

Evanpo’s hexagonal box, the awkwardly named Evanpo T95Z Plus, probably offers the best bang for the buck in terms of sheer specs. It comes in several variants, and the most powerful one sports an octa-core processor (same one as the Minix U9-H), 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, Android 7.1, a remote, and a wireless keyboard — and you get all that for $104.99. 

The T95Z Plus can play 4K videos at 60fps, which should result in a very smooth picture. It also has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, meaning you can connect all sorts of peripherals to it. And did we mention the wireless, full-sized keyboard? No more fidgeting five seconds per letter on a numerical keyboard. 

On the connectivity side, you get two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI port, optical port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. 

The biggest downsides of Evanpo are that it’s a lesser-known brand and that sometimes, getting everything to work as you want might be a more complex than, say, plugging an Amazon stick into your TV. But you’ll be rewarded with a myriad options that very few devices on the market offer. 

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