Tag Archives | Best Buy

Whatever Happened to Radios?

Everyone knows that certain technology products are endangered species. Film cameras, for instance. Turntables. Payphones. Odds are pretty good that you haven’t used any of them recently. If you’re young enough, you might never have used them.

I never thought of pocket-sized AM/FM radios–the sort with built-in radios and telescoping antennae–as falling into this category of obviously-doomed products. I assumed that any store that sold electronic gadgets of any sort still stocked them.

But last week, my mother, who I’ve been visiting in Boston, asked for one. And boy, was I surprised by how tough it was to find one for sale locally.

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Roku is Going Beyond the Box With…a Stick

Apple TV, Apple keeps saying, is just a hobby. Google TV, to date, is a disappointment. But for tiny Roku, Internet TV is a success story. The company has moved more than 2.5 million of its little streaming boxes since 2008, founder/CEO Anthony Wood tells me, and sales were up by 300% in 2011. It now offers more than 400 channels, including biggies such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO GO, as well as many more offbeat options.

And now Roku is getting ready to release a version of its service that doesn’t require a box. If you think that means it’ll be built right into TVs–well, you’re on the right track, but that’s not quite it.

Building Internet services into a TV, Wood says, has some issues. For one thing, most TV makers don’t have as many major content deals as Roku does, and their user interfaces aren’t as simple. And even if they did have great content and great software, streaming technology is moving a lot more quickly than TV technology in general is: Unless you plan to upgrade your TV every couple of years, any embedded Internet technology it sports will start looking long in the tooth long long before the rest of the set feels obsolete.

So Wood’s company is creating a Roku that’s almost built into TVs. It’s a thumb-drive sized gizmo called the Roku Streaming Stick, and it incorporates the Roku software, service, and Wi-Fi connectivity, just like the boxes do.

The stick also has a connector that uses a new standard called Mobile High-Definition Link. MHL connectors, which are compatible with standard HDMI ones, are mostly meant to let you hook up a smart phone to a TV and watch video. But Roku is using the standard to put its streaming channels onto MHL-equipped TVs. (MHL provides power to the stick, so there’s no need to plug a brick into the wall.)

Roku wants to work with TV makers to offer the Streaming Stick as their Internet TV solution–either included with sets in the first place, as a “soft bundle” available at retail, or as an option. It’s signed up one big partner already: Best Buy, which will offer the Streaming Stick for its house-brand Insignia TVs. These sets will come with remotes that can control Roku as well as the TVs’ other functions.

Once you’ve popped the stick into a slot on the back of a TV, Wood told me, it’ll offer all the advantages of embedded Internet capability. But because it’s actually a self-contained add-on, you can replace it with improved models as they become available. (Over time, Roku plans to offer several versions, at prices from $50 to $100.)

The Streaming Stick won’t go on sale until the second half of 2012; Roku hopes to have other hardware partnerships lined up by then, and will also offer it in standalone form for use with any MHL-capable TV. It sounds like a clever way to bring the best single way to watch Internet TV on a TV to even more people.



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Best Buy’s New Insignia TVs: TiVo Goes Beyond the DVR

For more than a decade, TiVo has been one thing: a DVR. And while it’s been a really good one, an awful lot has changed about the way we find and watch TV since the first TiVo box debuted in 1999. And now the company is involved in its first non-DVR project. It’s designed the on-screen interface for two new Internet-connected LCD TVs from Insignia, one of Best Buy’s four “exclusive brands” (along with Dynex, Init, and Rocketfish).

Insignia’s TVs don’t have any DVR features, and doesn’t offer an on-screen programming guide for over-the-air or cable programming. So they’re missing the aspects of the TiVo interface most closely identified with, will, TiVo. But when Best Buy demoed one of the sets for me last week, the interface did look like it has some of TiVo’s approachable DNA. That’s a major plus: TV companies don’t tend to be very good at at coming up with user interfaces when left to their own devices.

The sets come with CinemaNow and Napster–two services owned by Best Buy–as well as Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. They use Chumby widgets to provide access to more than 1500 applets with information on subjects such as weather. And they’re the first TVs with built-in support for Rocketboost, a Best Buy technology for sending audio to speaker systems wirelessly.

They don’t, however, include DLNA compatibility, which would let you stream content off PCs and hard drives on your network: Best Buy says that its goal with these TVs was to keep things simple, and DLNA still isn’t straightforward enough.

The 32″ TV is $499; the 42″ one is $699. Best Buy says they’re available now, and that it plans both to upgrade their software with new features over time and to introduce new connected TVs and other devices based on the software in these TVs.

The Best Buy-TiVo partnership was announced more than two years ago; I was excited at the time, then so much time passed that I’d forgotten about it. Now I’m curious what other Internet-centric products TiVo might be working on. A Roku-style TiVo box could be nifty. And TiVo might be able to do a better job than Google TV has done so far at imposing a decent interface on over-the-air and cable TV. I hope that the company is furiously working on some of this stuff, and just hasn’t announced it yet…



Roku Hits Retail

For essentially just being available online, Roku’s been doing pretty darn good. The company says it has sold about one million of its media players this way, and now its ready for it’s next big move — retail. Beginning today the devices will be available from most Best Buy, BJs, Fry’s Electronics, and Radio Shack locations.

Different retailers will be stocking different models. Best Buy and Radio Shack will carry the XD, the company’s standard 1080p HD capable unit that retails for $79.99. BJ’s on the other hand will carry the XD|S, which adds dual-band wireless and retails for $99.99. Fry’s plans to carry both models. (The cheapest Roku, the $59.99 HD, remains an online-only item.)

Roku had kind-sorta been available through retail before, through a Netgear-branded box, which was available from Best Buy. The way Engadget words it seems to suggest that these devices would be phased out as the Roku branded units themselves are brought in and would become the defacto unit sold at retail.

I have to say I’ve had my eyes on one of these units for quite a while now, and with it easier than ever to get one, I just may end up breaking down and picking one up. After all, it would be nice to watch Al Jazeera on my HDTV versus my laptop.

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Motorola's Xoom Looks Good, But I'm Not So Sure About the Price. Or the Advertising

Engadget has uncovered what seems to be a Best Buy ad that lists Motorola’s upcoming Xoom tablet at $799.99. The price doesn’t come as a stunner–it appears to confirm an earlier rumor–but it’s disappointing, at least if you’re rooting for at least one an Android tablet to emerge as a best-selling archrival to the iPad.

Don’t get me wrong–$800 isn’t an absurd price for a device with the Xoom’s specs. It’s got a dual-core CPU, a 10.1″ display at 1280-by-800 resolution, 1GB of RAM, two cameras, and an SD slot, and will get 4G wireless soon after release. All those features make it an upgrade from the current iPad, at least on a purely technical level. If you were contemplating buying the priciest version of the iPad–the $829 model that has 3G wireless and 64GB of RAM, but a slower CPU, a smaller and lower-resolution display, 256MB of RAM, no cameras, and no SD slot–an $800 Xoom is a plausible alternative.

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Best Buy's Buy Back Bonanza

BGR is reporting on apparent plans by Best Buy to launch a program called Buy Back. It doesn’t have all the details, but the basic idea is this: You pay an up-front fee–supposedly $59.99, at least in the case of phones–when you buy a phone, laptop, netbook, tablet, phone, or TV. That gets you the right to sell the device back to Best Buy for a gift card that covers part of the original cost–50% in the first six months, for instance, and 20% during months 18-24.

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Nexus S: In a World of Adulterated Google, a Pure Google Experience

It’s a busy day for long-rumored Google developments turning into official announcements: The company has announced the Nexus S, the first Android phone to run Android 2.3 “Gingerbread.” The phone is made by Samsung and has an interesting-sounding curved 4″ AMOLED display, a 1-GHz Hummingbird CPU, 512MB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and two cameras; It’ll be sold unlocked starting on December 16th, and is intended to run on T-Mobile in the US.

Gingerbread doesn’t sound like a massive update, but Google says it’s the fastest version of Android to date. It features tweaks to the on-screen keyboard, status updates, text selection, and cut-and-paste. And as Eric Schmidt recently teased, it supports Near-Field Communications, an emerging technology that will enable activities like easily using your phone to make payments at retail stores.

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Best Buy to Sell Kindle

It’s hard to judge an e-reader without seeing and touching it in person. And Best Buy may be the best place to do that-with the news that it’s going to sell Amazon’s Kindle, it now stocks nearly every major contender.

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Best Buy and TiVo Developing Non-DVR HDTV(s)

For years, I’ve pined for a TiVo-fied television. In fact, Humax was set to deliver a TiVo solution way back in 2005. Unfortunately, the 26″ LCD TV with TiVo DVR capabilities and integrated DVD recorder never made it to market. Last summer, when TiVo and Best Buy hooked up with a pretty expansive dealio, it looked might we might see another attempt at an integrated TiVo+television solution:

As part of the deal, the companies also said that Best Buy would finance an effort to bring TiVo’s software and search tools to Best Buy’s own brand of consumer electronics, like its Insignia high-definition TVs.

And now we have confirmation that development is underway. However, somewhat surprisingly, the Best Buy TiVo product will not include DVR functionality. Which may not be an entirely bad thing. For example, my favorite DVD player of all time was actually a TiVo (the Toshiba SD-H400). This is obviously Best Buy’s method of competing within the connected television space while is provides TiVo a platform to expand their brand and market. But I’m hopeful the companies choose to support streaming multi-room viewing (MRV) from TiVo DVRs and enable basic trick play functionality, in addition to the other connected features and UI. If so, I could see this easily being a killer kitchen or den television and DVR extender. Otherwise, meh?

From the press release:

TiVo Inc. (NASDAQ: TIVO) and Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE: BBY) today announced that development is underway to integrate TiVo’s software and advanced television services into broadband-connected Insignia televisions. The new Insignia televisions will provide Best Buy customers with an exceptional, intuitive user experience for accessing online content by utilizing the latest TiVo non-DVR software and advanced television service. TiVo’s easy-to-use platform will give the viewer a one-stop-shop for delivering and searching content right on the television.

(This post is republished from Zatz Not Funny.)

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