Apple TV First Impressions

This could possibly be the longest I’ve let a new piece of Apple hardware sit around in a box. It showed up on Thursday and sat as I tried to figure out how I was going to integrate it into my home setup — My existing receiver has only two component video inputs and it doesn’t do HDMI, so figuring that out was a mess. My TV is on the wall a good 12 feet away from where the equipment sits. All my cables run out through the wall into the garage and back in behind the TV. It all looks very clean, but running a 16′ HDMI cable (at $200.00) wasn’t part of the equation. Long story short, I am setup now after a couple of hours of planning this morning. If the TV was right next to the Apple TV box this would have all been avoided.

That aside, I have to say that the experience of turning it on for the first time exceeded my expectations. I should have taken some pictures, but my wife already thinks I am too into this tuff (here are some pictures of setup from TUAW).It has the standard Apple feel to it … plug it in, flip on the TV, and the glowing Apple logo greets you on screen. The only real setting out of the box are selecting a screen resolution and wireless network. The Apple TV actually saw about a half dozen wireless networks that my laptop doesn’t see. I selected mine and it instantly worked. It gave me a little pass code to pair it with my iMac in the office and that was it. The Apple TV showed up under the heading “devices” on the iMac’s iTunes much like it was an iPod. From there I was able to syncing options for TV Shows, Movies, Music, Photos, and Podcasts. Either all or selected playlists/albums can get synced. No need for me to tell you how it manages all that as Apple does a good job at their website.

What I will tell you about is how fast it all is — very. I instantly filled up about half of the hard drive on the Apple TV with my selections … honestly it was very fast moving items to the Apple TV itself. No problems and I have not purchased the new Airport. No need. As you can imagine the menus are very slick and seem well polished — as a matter of fact the interface is better than FrontRow as far as I am concerned. One thing that is interesting is that one of the menu selections is “sources.” Going in there lets you switch between the items living on the hard drive of the Apple TV or switch to other machines. Selecting the iMac sees the Apple TV connect to it very quickly and make all the media on it instantly available. Unlike the problems I’ve had streaming music from laptop to laptop I haven’t seen any issues pulling the music and video from the air.

This morning we watched a bunch of movie trailers, listened to music (the screen saver is very cool), and watched slideshows backed by our own soundtrack. Everything worked perfectly. I’m not too keen on having yet another little Apple Remote, but it does let you pair it so it doesn’t mess with my iPod sitting next to it. I’ll post more, but I have to say the quality is great, music sounds great over the digital out and video quality of things purchased recently via iTunes Store look good. I was even able to watch movies I had originally prepared to watch on my iPod and they look solid as well. I’m not done putting it through the paces, but it does what Apple claims and does it all with the typical elegance we’ve come to expect from Apple. Good purchase and I have a feeling as I get more used to the way it all works I’ll be taking advantage of it quite a bit.

Nike + iPod

I am going to preface this post with the fact that I am pathetically out of shape. I know that now b/c I went out running yesterday and I hurt today — when I say I hurt, I mean I really hurt. OK, on with the post.

Even though I am thinking my iPod is a little old skool now that the iPhone is out, I did start using my Nike + iPod yesterday. I got the thing for Christmas and have just now gotten around to trying it … when in the world would I have left a piece of technology sitting around for a few weeks? Must be the exercise part … I have to say that my first impressions are very positive … here’s a quick recap of my experiences with it:

  • It worked so well with my iPod Nano … really just plugged it into the bottom of the Nano, slid the fob into the sole of my Nike sneakers and it connected and communicated right away. Starting a run was as easy as selecting to start workout. It asked me to pick a playlist and I was off. Every five minutes a voice came over the iPod to tell me my progress … very cool.
  • It actually motivated me to exercise … something that nothing has been able to do in the last year or so. I’ve used my recumbent stationary bike on occasion, but this blend of technology and music/podcast listening is something I may be able to get into. The web interface is so slick and actually encourages you to set goals for yourself. I’ve set four unique goals using the Nike + site … to run 20 miles in 4 weeks, burn 2000 calories, run 10 times over that period, and do at least 5 miles under 10 minutes. I know at this point it is mighty pathetic, but I have to tell you it is time I start somewhere.
  • In high school I had to be able to do 2 miles in under 12 minutes every season for varsity soccer … my senior year I was able to do the two in eleven minutes and eleven seconds. During my run yesterday I did my first mile in eleven minutes. I am seriously out of shape. Maybe connecting the dots with technology and exercise will help me get it back together.
  • Once I get myself together a bit I think I will invite some other people to some running challenges. This whole site has the ability for you to create events and challenge friends from all over the world to compete against you. Again, I am seriously out of shape and it will take me time to get to that point, but I am sort of looking forward to it. This whole thing feels a hell of a lot like a massively multiplayer online game … not Warcraft or anything, but something that might motivate me further.

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So other than the fact that I am so out of shape the Nike + iPod deal is really a great product. Now, can I continue to go after my goals? Only time and my online profile will tell.

The Podcast About My Zune

Now that I have had the Zune for a whole day the true nature of it is starting to become apparent.  Not that I don’t like it … I’m not a huge fan, but it isn’t bad.  I haven’t had a chance to test what I feel is the most compelling aspect of it, the social networking capabilities.  The device itself is an MP3 player that, to me, doesn’t evoke an emotional response on any level.  It is a device that is a utility … no statements or anything, just a device.

I do like the hardware, it is the software that is a real pain for me.  Maybe it is because I am so comfortable with the iTunes and iPod integration, but it just doesn’t speak to me.  Having to log into all those damn Microsoft accounts just to purchase Zune Points is really something that I am not interested in.  It is so clear to me now just how much of an advantage Apple has when it comes to the user experience related to the software/hardware integration.  I wonder how someone who doesn’t like Apple feels?  I am sure the Zune is so much better for so many people, but this is my space and that is my impression.  At the end of the day it is a good device and honestly only the second non-Apple MP3 player I have owned.  Before my iPod I had a Rio … I felt the same about that as I do the Zune.  It works, but nothing else.  At least the Rio connected to iTunes.

So I sat down and recorded some thoughts about the device yesterday and tried to give a balanced report — a lot like Fox News 😉 … I also sat down with a few ETS people and got their reactions.  Keep in mind this is the first time I have ever tried to create a podcast like this — just me editing a lot of stuff together.  It may be annoying, but I am trying to get better at this.  At any rate, here is a link to the ETS Special Edition Zune podcast at Penn State on iTunes U.  Thoughts?

XtremeMac MicroMemo has Arrived

I finally got my hands on the XtremeMac MicroMemo microphone for the 5th gen iPod and I have to say I am very impressed (it took long enough). For starters, this one comes with a little microphone that is on flexible arm that can be pointed in any direction. That can be removed and an external mic or other source can be plugged in. That is where my interest falls off a bit. When i plugged my griffin lav mic into it the sound was not so great. Using it with the included mic makes perhaps the best portable iPod setup I have found. I did a quick podcast comparing the internal and external mic this morning and have posted it here. Take a listen and let me know how you think it sounds and how it compares to the TuneTalk Stereo.

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If I had a rating system here I would give a 5 star rating on out of the box performance, but I would dump it down to a 3 with an external mic. All in all, if you need something to record stuff from your desktop this thing kicks butt.

A Little Teaching and Learning with Music

Last semester I had the pleasure of meeting Stephen Hopkins.  Dr. Hopkins is a faculty member here at PSU in the College of Arts and Architecture.  He is not only a masterful teacher, but also an amazing musician.  I was lucky enough on a rainy afternoon that one of my colleagues at ETS decided to introduce us … you see Steve had just composed and recorded a new CD that he was actually carrying around with him.  He stayed in my office for quite some talking and we listened to his music together — I was hooked.

Steve represents one of those unique faculty members who spends his time thinking about his students.  He thinks about teaching and learning and uses his talents as a musicuan to bring it all to life.  He has a passion for both the music and for teaching that can really get you excited.  He was gracious enough to share his CD with me and it has honestly become an evening soundtrack in our house.  You can actually go and get a copy of it if you are interested in checking out some wonderful piano composition.

Not too long ago he stopped in my office to talk about all the podcasting stuff we have been working on.  I set up the M-Audio rig and we sat down and did an “in the moment podcast” right in my office — the ETS Talk Podcast Studio.  We talked mostly about music and music theory, but also where the passion and inspiration for all of it comes from.  His easy going style is so clear in his music, but man it knocks you over when you sit with him and talk.  The podcast isn’t all that long, but I think it is worth a listen.  We mix in some tracks of his CD and just sort of talk through the whole creative approach to music and teaching thing.  If you have some time to spare, take a listen to the podcast  (iTunes U Link) and if you like the music give it a shot as well!

Finally, the Belkin TuneTalk Stereo Recorder Arrives

Quite some time ago I had written about the long wait we were forced to endure with the new iPod voice recorders. I saw a bunch of them on display at MacWorld back in January and kept waiting and waiting for a solid portable recording solution …. well, I’m not sure when it actually got released, but I finally was able to get a new Belkin TuneTalk Stereo (TTS), only down side is that it is black and my iPods are white. The quality is really so much better than the previous versions for older iPods that it isn’t even worth comparing that. Just right out of the box you can make very high quality sounding recordings with your iPod, the TTS, and the goofy little stand it comes with — BTW, that stand must have cost Belkin a whole quarter of a penny.

I spent some time testing the thing — both as a stand-alone and with a couple of lav microphones to see what I could get. Right out of the box the thing sound good plugged into the bottom of an iPod — in some situations you can hear a little hum from the hardrive in the iPod spinning — I noticed it more on my 60 GB than on the 30. There is a little gain switch on the bottom that makes a huge difference in quality.

When I got this thing the thing that got me interested was the line in … it allows you to bypass the internal mic of the TTS and plug in an external setup into the .35mm jack on the bottom. Originally, I thought a wireless mic setup would be ideal for so many situations — walk in, drop an iPod on the podium with the TTS hooked to the bottom, plug in the base unit, and start recording with the freedome to roam. The setup doesn’t seem to work with my Gemini LIX-16 wireless unit as I am only able to get one channel to record audio. I then tried my wired Griffin lav mic and it produces really good sound. It actually got me thinking that the iPod with the TTS and the lav mic plugged into it is actually only a half inch bigger than the wireless unit … the iPod setup is noticably thinner too.

The software on the iPod works the same way as it did before … clip on the TTS and the iPod switches over to voice recorder mode with the option to start recording. You can now also set the recording quality to high or low. I went with high for all my tests. THe one thing the whole thing misses is some sort of user feedback. THe recording click ticks along, but a level meter on either the TTS or, even better, on the iPod screen would make a huge difference — just take the guesswork out of the whole process. At any rate, the included podcast will give you an idea what this thing can do — about half way through the podcast I swtich from the TTS with the lav mic to without. Let me know what you think.

Update: A lot of people have emailed me asking where to find this thing … we found it at the Apple Store … if you are an edu customer, make sure you go into the education store as it is $10 cheaper. Here is the link to the public store.