Studio711

Gadgets

XFinity For Roku

Earlier this year, Comcast launched an app for Roku, but I only just got around to installing it. It’s still in beta so you won’t get a full feature set, but it’s still an interesting move for the company.

Previously, if you have Comcast service and you want to add another TV in your house, you had to pony up $10/month or more for another box that sits with that TV. Ouch. Now they are offering you alternatives to that extra monthly bill.

For quite a while they’ve allowed you to stream to a browser window or a phone app. The main limitation there is that you have to be on your home network for it to work, but this has still given me a way to have football on out in the shop. I just connect my laptop to the TV and I’m good to go.

The Roku app makes this even easier. You can pick up a basic Roku for ~$30-40 if you don’t have one already. The XFinity app is free and voila, now you’ve got live TV via the Roku without an extra monthly fee. If you have their Cloud DVR service then  you can access those shows through the Roku interface. (Note that I haven’t tested that since we don’t have the Cloud DVR service.) The only downer for me right now is that I only get standard definition on most of the channels. That doesn’t happen for everyone and it should change when the app is out of beta.

This feels like a direct response to the rise in popularity of non-traditional TV services like DirectTV Now, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Playstation Vue, etc. Compared to those services, Comcast is coming at it from the other side (moving from traditional cable to internet) but it’s good to see them making moves in that direction.

Samsung Gear VR

My first experience with virtual reality was probably playing with a Nintendo Virtual Boy in a store in the 90s. It has progressed a wee bit since then and now the phone that you carry in your pocket can provide a pretty impressive virtual reality experience.

Thanks to Don and Megan for getting me a Samsung Gear VR for my birthday! I had a Google Cardboard set up from last year and that was enough to convince me that it could be really cool but not good enough to really scratch the itch. The Gear VR is a very nice experience.

Setup was pretty easy but required a lot of app installs on my phone. But once that was done, I plugged the phone into the goggles, adjusted the straps, and entered the world of virtual reality. I’m still learning my way around, but so far the coolest thing I’ve done is take a flight with the Blue Angels. 2D videos are great, but being able to move your head around while watching the video really takes it to another level. It’s an awesome experience!

I can’t see using this for long periods of time on a regular basis, but it’s really neat to see how far the technology has come. It makes me want to experience a full-blown setup with dedicated goggles driven by a beefy computer (but not nearly enough to pay for all that myself!) I feel like we’re getting closer and closer to my dream video game: Forza Motorsport VR Edition. It has to be coming some day. RIght? Pleeeeeeeeease?

Automatic OBDII Reader

I first learned about OBDII back in 2003. It’s the on board diagnostics system in your car that lets you get all kinds of live data while your car is running. I bought all the electronics to make my own reader and then… nothing. Eventually in 2008 I realized that I was never going to build it and bought a ScanGauge. I happily used that little device in my Subaru and later in my F150. It worked flawlessly, but now it’s sitting in the garage because I got an upgrade.

For my birthday, Tyla and Elijah gave me an Automatic. It’s an OBDII reader with a built in GPS and 3g modem. While you drive, it automatically records a bunch of you car data along with your current position and it uploads it all to their cloud service. You can also connect to the device via Bluetooth to get live data displayed on your phone. Setup was a breeze and so far it has worked flawlessly.

I think the target audience for the device is someone who drives for business and needs an easy way to track their business trips. You can easily flag a drive and it gets added to a report. Personally I’m more interested in downloading my data and doing my own analysis on it. There are some nifty apps that work right out of the box as well. For example, one app shows you your min, max and average commute times to and from work. Another builds a heat map of the places you have visited. Another one draws one of those maps where every county that you have visited is colored in.

Do I need this? Nope! But I love having gadgets that collect data about random stuff in my life so this fits right in. Time to crack open their API and see how to pull my data out of their cloud.

Camera Phone vs dSLR

I bought my first film SLR a few years before digital cameras were a big thing. It didn’t take long for that to feel obsolete and I sold it. My digital SLR has gotten a LOT more use (over 30K photos taken so far), but I’m at the point where I’m finding fewer and fewer uses for it. The camera on my Galaxy S7 is incredible.

Camera phones have slowly been replacing our big camera for a long time, largely because of the huge convenience factor. Some of the previous phones have had reasonable cameras, but this S7 camera is quite a big step up. Many camera phones do well in bright light, but this one even does a great job in low light situations. A prime example is this shot that I took long after sunset when we were camping.


The camera app on the Galaxy S7 even has full manual controls. I can control ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance and more while storing the image in a full RAW format. That opens up a huge range of shooting options.

The dSLR is still my choice for action shots, zoom shots or when I really want to make sure I nail the picture, but when I forget the big camera, I don’t feel that sense of dread that I used to. How much longer before it starts collecting dust on the shelf?

Garmin Fenix 3

I pulled out my GPS watch for a hike and while it was charging, I was surprised to find out that I’ve never done a blog post on it. So here’s a “long term update” on the watch even though it doesn’t get used a lot.

Last fall I picked up a Garmin Fenix 3. It’s a ridiculously fancy watch. The key features that I use are hooking it to my phone for text message and phone call notifications, GPS tracking of my hikes, and tracking my skiing. It also has some cool golf features (distance to hole, etc) but I haven’t played golf in a long time.

It’s expensive. It was around $500 when I got it, but thanks to a health benefits program at work, I sort of got it for free. But if you are really active and like to have a great GPS tracker with you at all times, this seems like a pretty good fit.

Last weekend, Logan, Elijah and I hiked up Little Mt. Si and I used the watch for that hike. It was really nice to have a good feeling for how far along in the hike we were (I knew the total distance and the total elevation) and then watch us follow the track back.

When it’s all done, you get a website showing all the data from the hike and you can share that with other people. Here’s a link if you want to see it: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1776138597

So yeah it’s cool. It’s fun to put random watch faces and different apps on the watch. Would I ever pay for it? Nope. I don’t wear a watch day to day and I don’t do enough activity stuff to justify it. But is it fun to use? Yep!