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3
May

How to change your wallpaper and login screen in Windows 10


Windows 10 ditched the live tiles oft-associated with Windows 8 — well, sort of — and brought back the iconic Start menu last found in Windows 7. With something old and something new, Windows 10 is well-positioned to become the go-to operating system for most users, even if Windows 7 stills holds the lion’s share of the market. Regardless, what if you want to add a little of your own flavor to Microsoft’s latest operating system?

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between Windows 10 and earlier OS iterations is that you can personalize your computer’s login page and desktop. Unlike with other versions of Windows, however, the method for accomplishing these tasks isn’t as straightforward as you might think. To help with personalization, we’ve created this walkthrough for changing the image on your desktop and login screen.

Step 1: Navigating to the Windows 10 Personalization settings window

First, navigate to the Settings menu by clicking the Action Center icon in the lower-right corner of the screen. Then, click All Settings and select the Personalization icon to bring up the desktop’s visual options.

windows-10-settings-app-720x720.jpg

Windows 10 users also have the ability to right-click on the desktop to quickly reach the Personalization menu. Simply right-click anywhere on your desktop and click Personalize, and the intended section should open in the Windows Settings app. Once the window appears, follow Steps 2a and 2b below to successfully change your background and login screen.

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3
May

Switch to Windows 10 dark mode in seconds with our guide


Do you wish that Windows 10 was a little more… black? The built-in dark mode literally turns your windows black, changes the text and icons to lighter colors, and makes everything appear more shadowy. If you prefer to work with darker tones, or simply like the contrasting appearance afforded by dark mode, we’ll show you how to active the feature with a few simple step. Read on to find out how.

Dark mode: Here’s the deal

In earlier builds, there was a rumor of a developer-only “dark mode” that turned all the Windows 10 colors to black and inverted the text. This dark setting wasn’t available in consumer builds of Windows, however, so users started looking for specific commands and coding to implement this hidden, ultra-black theme. This all changed with the Windows 10 Anniversary update, which added a method to switch to dark mode at will. The only thing this affects is the color of the operating system, specifically:

  • The windows you open default to a black background and white letters.
  • Your Start menu and taskbar will turn dark if you had them set to a different color previously (subject to change in color settings).
  • UWP — Universal Windows Platform — apps will usually recognize this setting and switch their various backgrounds to black.
  • It’s a bit harder to find your way around the edges of windows, though accent colors can help.
3
May

How to record calls on your iPhone


In a time when our smartphones can help order pizzas, hail cabs, and detect heartbeats, you’d think it’d be easy to record a simple phone call. Sadly, that’s not the case. Despite what you may think, recording a call isn’t as simple as merely pressing a button on your iPhone, so in order to get it done you’ll need to install an app. There are tons of these littered across the Apple App Store and the web, and while many of them promise crystal-clear quality at a nonexistent price tag, very few live up to the claims.

To help you find an appropriate application, we’ve scoured the internet in search of the best call recorders and offered up a quick overview of our favorites in the paragraphs below. Just try not to forget about the whole legality thing.

Editor’s Note: There are federal and state laws pertaining to the recording of phone calls. As a general rule of thumb, though, you shouldn’t run into any legal trouble if you capture both parties verbally consenting to the recording. Some states require that only one party consent, however, feel free to check your state or local laws if you need further clarification.

Record an incoming call using Google Voice

Surprisingly, Google Voice will record incoming calls for the stellar price of zero dollars. The only setbacks are that Google doesn’t allow you to record outgoing calls — only incoming ones — and you have to port your phone number over to Google to get access to the recording feature. This makes it rather inconvenient if you’re hoping to record any conversations that you yourself need to initiate, or if you like your current carrier.

Pro tip: The website GetHuman is a great workaround for recording customer service calls. The site allows you to notify a specific company that you’d like a rep to contact you.

To start recording incoming calls with Google Voice, you first need to set up an account. This is extremely easy — just head to voice.google.com and follow instructions. Once your account is up and running, the next step is to enable call recording so you can actually record and automatically save your conversation as an MP3 file.

Step 1: Navigate to the main Google Voice homepage.

Step 2: Click the gear icon in the upper-right and select Settings from the resulting drop-down menu.

Google Voice Settings

Step 3: Select the Calls tab and check the box directly beside Enable Recording, near the bottom of the page.

Google Voice Call Options

Once you do this, you can record incoming calls by pressing the number “4” on your phone’s keypad during the call. Doing so will trigger an automated voice notifying both parties that the call is being recorded. To stop recording, simply press “4” again or end the call as you would normally. After you stop recording, Google will automatically save the conversation to your Inbox, which is where all your recordings can be found, listened to, or downloaded.

If you want to listen to your recorded phone calls on your iPhone, you’ll need to download the Google Voice app.

Launch the Google Voice app as you would normally.
At the top left of the app, Tap Menu in the top-left corner of the app.
Select Recorded.

Find the call you want to listen to, and touch the recording to open it.
Tap the play icon in the bottom-left corner.

Record an outgoing call with an iPhone app

When it comes to recording both incoming and outgoing calls, you’ll need to use something other than Google Voice. There aren’t too many free options out there, but thankfully, there are more than a few options if you’re willing to shell out a few bucks. We’ve tested out quite a few call recorders, and based on what we’ve seen thus far, we believe the three options below are your best bet.

Call Recording by NoNotes.com (25¢ per minute)

how to record calls on iphone

If you’re only looking to record a single call, this app is probably your best bet. After you download it and sign up for a NoNotes account, you get 20 minutes of call recording for free each month. If you go over this monthly limit, you’ll need to purchase additional minutes, but NoNotes does offer a variety of pricing options. If you only need a little bit more time, you can pay 25¢ for each additional minute, or you can buy in bulk to get 100 minutes for $10. NoNotes also offers low-cost transcription services, which are ideal if you’re recording an interview. It will also store your last 10 calls, in the event that you need to return to an older conversation.

Download now for:

iOS

IntCall (10¢ per minute for domestic calls)

how to record calls on iphone

With one of the cheapest pay-per-minute rates, IntCall might be a better choice depending on the specific country you’re calling. Additional minutes can be purchased for $5, $10, or $20 dollars, and the cost per minute varies in each country. We definitely advise checking out the price list before you buy anything, but most countries can be reached for 10¢ or 20¢ cents per minute, which makes it more of a bargain than the pay-per-minute plans offered by NoNotes. The only downside is that it works through a VOIP line, meaning you’ll need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network in order to use it.

Download now for:

iOS

TapeACall Pro ($10 unlimited recording)

how to record calls on iphone

If you don’t mind shelling out some money up front for a good app, spring for TapeACall Pro. For just 10 bucks, you get an unlimited amount of call recording time, regardless of who or where you’re calling. It works a bit differently than the other two listed here — for incoming calls, you initiate a recording by putting whomever you’re speaking with on hold for a moment, and then opening the app and hitting the record button. Once you do all this, the call is merged and stored with a remote recording service. For outgoing calls, you open the app, hit record, then call whomever and merge the call. Unlike other services, TapeACall Pro doesn’t notify the other party that you’re recording the conversation. When you’re done recording, you can access the stored audio file directly on your smartphone.

Download now for:

iOS

Record using an external voice recorder

RecorderGear PR200

The final option is to pick up a dedicated voice recorder designed to plug directly into your smartphone’s 3.5-millimeter jack — keep in mind that you may need to use a lightning-to-headphone adapter if you’re using an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. Products such as the Esonic Cell Phone Call Recorder and RecorderGear PR200 will easily record any incoming or outgoing calls, thus allowing you to save hours of conversations. They’re incredibly simple and reliable, but more expensive considering most range between $80 and $110 through retail outlets like Amazon.




3
May

Facebook will hire 3,000 moderators to tackle livestreamed violence


Following a spate of suicides and murders that were streamed or hosted on Facebook for hours before they were taken down, Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the company will be hiring an additional 3,000 people to its global community operations team over the next year. That will bring the total size of the department to 7,500, and the manpower will be dedicated to reviewing “the millions of reports we get every week, and improv(ing) the process for doing it quickly.”

Zuckerberg wrote that these reviewers will “help us get better at removing things we don’t allow on Facebook like hate speech and child exploitation,” and that the social network will continue working with law enforcement and local community groups who “are in the best position to help someone if they need it.”

In addition, Facebook will make it simpler for members to report problems and speed up the process for its reviewers to determine which posts violate community standards. The company previously opened up access to its suicide-prevention tools to all its users, and developed an AI system to identify potentially suicidal people.

One of the biggest criticisms against Facebook in the recent incidents is its delay in addressing the problematic content on its video platform. Zuckerberg appears to acknowledge that issue in this post, saying “If we’re going to build a safe community, we need to respond quickly. We’re working to make these videos easier to report so we can take the right action sooner — whether that’s responding quickly when someone needs help or taking a post down.”

Hiring more people over a year is a prolonged step towards alleviating the problem, but it will hopefully make for speedier response to such situations in future.

Source: Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook post)

3
May

Pocket your favorite videos with our guide to downloading from YouTube


So you want to download YouTube videos? It’s not surprising; after all, in our increasingly mobile world, you might want to watch a new music video or viral sensation, only to find yourself thwarted by a lack of Wi-Fi or a restrictive data plan. Thankfully, if you want to store your favorite videos, there’s no shortage of web-based and desktop software specially designed for downloading videos from YouTube.

Here’s everything you need to know to download YouTube videos. But first, a quick disclaimer: It is generally legal to share and embed YouTube videos on the internet, but downloading them for your own offline use isn’t always permitted. Downloading videos is a violation of the YouTube Terms of Service, unless YouTube has explicitly given permission to download the video in question. While we’ve tested the methods below, some may also have ads that link to shady websites or even download adware. As with any website, be cautious when clicking links and installing new software.

VLC (Windows, MacOS, Linux)

If you have VLC installed on your computer, you already have a great tool for downloading videos from YouTube. It’s not as straightforward as other methods, but it still allows you to bypass ad-riddled websites and other third-party software that you might otherwise seek out. And if you don’t have it, you can download it here. The method differs slightly between operating systems, but it’s not terribly confusing.

Keep in mind that there are downsides to using VLC, however. You can’t convert the video to another format, for instance, or choose which resolution you prefer. But the software still gives you access to your videos faster than other tools, mostly because it downloads directly from Google’s servers. Best of all, this method doesn’t require a website or any third-party tools, well, other than the open-source VLC player.

Step 1: Navigate to the YouTube video you’d like to download in your browser, and copy the URL. Then, launch VLC as you would normally, and click Open Network Stream. If you’re on a Mac, you’ll want to click File, then Open Network. Once done, paste your YouTube URL in the box housed within the Network tab, and click Open. Your video will automatically start playing in VLC.

vlc-youtube-download

Step 2: If you’re using Windows, select Tools in the toolbar at the top and select Codec Information from the resulting drop-down menu. If you’re on a Mac, select Window and click Media Information in the drop-down menu.

vlc-youtube-download-codec

This will bring up a screen with various information about the video, but we’re only interested in the “Location” bar at the bottom. This will showcase the exact URL for your video, directly from Google’s servers. Go ahead and copy the link and paste it in the address bar of your browser.

youtube-downloading-video-url

Step 3: The video will then play within your browser. Right-click the video, click Save As — or Save Video As…, if using a Mac — and wait for the download to complete. That’s it! The video is now on your hard drive.

vlc-youtube-download-file

3
May

Valve: Steam gets 75,000 complaints a day, so be patient


Steam, sure, everyone loves Steam, but there’s something about Valve’s overall lack of transparency that just rankles. Independent developers have called the platform a “big black box,” and users often talk about the service’s glacially slow customer service. Which is why Valve has issued something of a mea culpa, promising to do better at dealing with issues in the future and opening up about the task it faces.

Valve’s John McCaskey, in a blog post, explains how the company has built better support tools and hired more staffers to deal with your complaints. But, as a way of showing folks just how big the task is, Valve is also releasing daily stats on how many issues Steam employees have to deal with on a daily basis. On a regular day, the company gets around 75,000 help requests.

Of that figure, only 8,000 are left waiting for a response, although that figure has been as high as 50,000 at the start of February. The bulk of all the complaints are around refunds, with the next biggest number being related to account security and recovery. Which, at least, explains why Valve has worked so hard to push Steam Guard and its other security tools, like Mobile Authenticator.

Valve has also published typical response times for each request, with refunds taking on average less than two hours. The deadlines for account recovery, technical support and purchase support get progressively longer, with expected times running from 2.43 hours all the way through to 1.83 days. That said, if you know that you’re in a queue with 75,000 other people, it’s a little easier to be patient.

Via: Neogaf

Source: Steam, Steam Stats

3
May

Cord cutting 101: How to quit cable for online streaming video


Once called an “experiment” by prognosticating pundits in the past, live streaming TV has captured the attention of a wide audience, with Dish Network’s Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and AT&T’s recently introduced DirecTV Now all in play. Channels and hit series that were once strictly bound by the confines of a cable subscription can now be accessed for a small monthly fee with no contract, no equipment rentals, and no crappy customer service to deal with. There’s never been a better time to kick cable to the curb.

Not everyone is cut out to be a “cord cutter,” though. Ditching cable or satellite service and the bill that goes with it sounds great in theory, but it’s not something you want to rush into without doing a little research and preparation first. As with most things, there’s a right way to go about cord cutting, and then there’s the way that sends you back to your cable company begging for forgiveness. We tend to prefer the right way … the awesome way.

Keep reading to find out the most cost-effective methods for dropping cable in favor of streaming.

First things first: How’s your internet?

The thing about internet-delivered TV is that you need a broadband connection that’s copacetic with the streaming lifestyle. This may seem like a foregone conclusion, but we want to make it clear that if you’re going to bet your precious entertainment future on your network, you best have a solid hookup. Netflix and other similar streaming video services suggest downstream speeds of 5Mbps, but that’s simply not going to hack it for most folks, especially those with families that might want to stream more than one show or movie at a time.

When new cord cutters are confronted with buffering, they are understandably frustrated.

Consider that 5Mbps may get you one HD video stream, but you may experience loading and buffering delays if your network is getting choked up with any other traffic. Cable TV doesn’t interrupt your show to buffer, so when new cord-cutters are confronted with delays, they are understandably frustrated. Avoid the buffer and upgrade your broadband speed if you can, otherwise it’s time to reconsider ditching cable.

We also recommend testing your internet speed at peak streaming hours (between 6 – 10 p.m. weekdays) to determine if your neighborhood struggles under the strain of heavy traffic. For instance, if you routinely get around 10Mbps downloads during the day, but that figure takes a dive to about 3Mbps around dinner time, you’ll want to call your internet provider to see if anything can be done. Fortunately, this is an increasingly rare problem, but better to check ahead.

Of course, if you’re looking to get into the streaming big leagues to access the growing array of 4K Ultra HD streaming content available, you’ll want to kick up your broadband speed a few more notches. For streaming services like Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon you’ll likely want to have at least 25Mbps on hand (which is what Netflix explicitly recommends). If you’re only going to be downloading 4K content from sites like FandangoNow or Ultraflix, 10Mbps will probably suffice. In any event, fast and reliable internet is an integral key to a positive streaming experience.

Get an HD antenna

Before you’ve canceled your cable or satellite subscription, you’ll first want to investigate what’s available to you via an HD antenna. For people in urban areas, a good HD antenna likely offers all four major networks (FOX, ABC, NBC, and CBS), along with 10-15 other selections (PBS, CW, etc) in full HD, for free. To make sure you’ll get decent reception, you can simply buy one and try it out, ask around the neighborhood, or try this antenna analysis tool which will tell you which channels you can expect to receive and even offers a standardized color-coded system that can recommend specific antenna types.

There are numerous antennas available that will nab you plenty of HD channels, but here are a few of our favorites:

ClearStream Eclipse ($50)

The ClearStream Eclipse has some of the best-rated performance in its class. The antenna is multi-directional, powerful, and surprisingly versatile. The Eclipse comes in four separate versions: 35, 50, 60, and 70-mile variations, so you’ll be able to snag a model that best suits your location. The double-sided adhesive mounting surface is black on one side, and white on the other, and it can be painted over so you’ll be able to integrate it into any decor. The circular design of the antenna is unique and provides an advantage in being better at picking up UHF signals (a type of HD TV signal) than most other indoor antennas. Plus, it’s multidirectional, so finding an ideal configuration where the signal is clearest is easy.

Available at:

Amazon

Leaf Metro ($20-$25)

We like the Leaf Metro because its small profile easily tucks away, without sacrificing much functionality. Though its range is limited to approximately 25 miles, it’s perfect for those living in smaller apartments or rented rooms, especially in urban environments where over-air TV signals are plentiful. To compound the versatility enabled by its tiny size, the antenna also come in either black or white, and you can also paint it to match your interior. Plus, its adhesive coating means it’ll stick to most any surface and can be moved to other locations with ease. An included 10-foot coaxial cable allows for fairly flexible installation.

Available at:

Amazon

Channel Master FLATenna ($10)

If you’re cutting the cord to save money, then it seems logical to want to save on an indoor antenna, too. Fortunately, the Channel Master FLATenna is one of the cheapest on the block, and performs nearly as well as other models five or six times its price. The FLATenna has a range of 35 miles, and it’s simple design is also multidirectional. The antenna’s surface is adhesive for easy attachment to windows or walls — wherever it picks up signals (and fits) best.

Available at:

Amazon

There are several more recommendations in our indoor antenna guide, which also includes explanations on how antennas work and how best to set them up.

Think you might want to record your local network TV stations? Consider picking up a Channel Master DVR+ or TiVo Roamio OTA DVR.

Trade up for a real streaming device

You might have a Blu-ray player or smart TV with streaming apps on board, but if you’re going to transition to a full-time streaming entertainment plan, you’ll want a device purpose-built for the job.

Roku Premiere+ ($99)

roku_premiere_plus

For our money, the best and brightest offerings come from Roku. While every model the company sells has its merits, the best of the bunch has to be the Roku Premiere+. The Premiere+ improves on the previous best model, the Roku 4, by keeping 4K and the price tag but adding support for HDR and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. If you don’t need HDR, the Roku Premiere is cheaper and still offers 4K.

With thousands of available “channels,” Roku’s platform connects to virtually every major streaming service online. More importantly, the interface is very intuitive; you can quickly search for content across providers by actor, series or movie title, or the genre you’re looking for. The Roku interface will even tell you which services offer what you want for free, and which will charge for it. The remote is also super handy — you can even connect a pair of headphones for wireless listening late at night.

Available at:

Amazon

While the Roku Premiere+ is our standout favorite, there are some great alternatives, each with its own special something to offer. Here’s a rundown of some close contenders:

Apple TV ($69-$200)

Apple TV (2015)

After years of waiting, Apple finally debuted the latest version of its streaming box, which began shipping in October 2015. The new device comes in two versions: a 32GB version for $150, and a 64GB version for $200. The big seller for the latest Apple TV is its revamped touch-pad remote, which is designed to operate much more like an iPhone than its predecessor and it can also be used as a gaming remote. The new system is also faster, and more focused around integrating music and gaming, but it does not have 4K Ultra HD support. As such, many will want to go with an alternative like the Roku Premiere+ or the latest Amazon Fire TV (below).

Another option for the serious bargain seeker is to find the third generation model on a site like ebay, though we obviously can’t vouch for any reliability there. While the previous generation Apple TV is definitely showing its age, it’s still very handy for Apple fans thanks to Airplay, which easily allows you to stream media from your iPhone or iPad to the TV. Either way, if you’re a big-time Apple fan who won’t be getting into 4K in the foreseeable future, the Apple TV may be a viable choice as your streaming hub.

Check out our hands-on review of the Apple TV.

Available at:

Apple

Amazon Fire TV ($99-140)

Amazon Fire TV

Amazon’s Fire TV burst on the scene in April of 2014 as a speedy way to stream, while also offering voice-activated search, and a wide selection of games. The second-generation of devices from Amazon (released in the fall of 2015) offer a whole new bag of tricks, including an updated Fire TV streaming stick with voice-activation ($50), 4K Ultra HD streaming support for the standard streaming box ($99), and an upgraded bundle for gaming that comes with a dedicated controller ($140). Fast, easy to use, and integrated with Amazon’s clever voice assistant, Alexa, Amazon’s streaming boxes make for enticing choices when setting up your cord-cutting system. Bonus for those who own an Amazon Echo speaker, as the two can communicate with each other, offering a bundle of possibilities not available with any other streaming set-top box.

Check out our full review of the Amazon Fire TV.

Available at:

Amazon

Chromecast Ultra ($69)

google chromecast ultra 2016
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Chromecast, the wildly popular streaming dongle, doesn’t have a remote or on-screen menu, but it lets you use your smartphone or tablet to “cast” content at your TV, and it’s constantly being updated for new ways to play. The latest version of the device, the Chromecast Ultra, takes everything handy about earlier models but adds 4K resolution as well as HDR, with both Dolby Vision and HDR10 supported. If that’s too rich for your blood, the HD Chromecast is just half the price, and offers virtually all the same functionality. While the Chromecast is one of our favorite ways for quick and dirty streaming, search is still relatively limited via the Home app, and those who want to be able to exchange their phone or tablet for a more prominent interface on the big screen will want to go with one of the more traditional streaming boxes on our list.

Check out our full review of the Chromecast Ultra.

Available at:

Best Buy

Round up your video streaming services

Now that you’ve gotten all of the hardware you’ll need, it’s time to consider which streaming services will best meet your entertainment needs. We suggest aiming to strike a balance between variety and cost.

Netflix ($8-12/month)

netflix

An obvious choice, and one that is nearly essential to any cord-cutting list, Netflix’s streaming service costs $8-10 per month for single users, and extends up to $12 per month for a family plan that allows up to four users at once, with the added bonus of access to 4K content. Netflix’s catalog is loaded with full TV series (past seasons only), scores of movies both licensed and produced in-house, and original shows like Stranger Things, Marvel’s Daredevil, Master of None, and so many more, all of which come commercial free.

Subscribe to:

Netflix

Amazon Prime Instant Video ($99/year, $9/month)

amazon-instant-video-logo

While Amazon’s Prime video service often crosses over into Netflix’s catalog, it does have exclusive rights to a host of classic HBO series like The Sopranos and Oz, along with its own original series such as the critically-acclaimed Transparent. The service has been working hard to close the gap with Netflix and beyond, including the addition of bundles like Showtime and Starz networks at reduced prices with a Prime account, along with some of the first streaming content available in both 4K and HDR. The company is even adding live TV from the likes of AMC and ESPN, among others, and also offers video on demand, allowing you to rent or buy newer movies and TV shows. Finally, Amazon has introduced a new monthly plan for $9 per month. However, if you tend to do much shopping at Amazon at all, Prime’s free 2-day shipping makes the $99/year subscription a much better deal.

Subscribe to:

Amazon Prime Video

Hulu ($8-12/month)

The only choice out of the top 3 that plays commercials, Hulu is best loved for its selection of current seasons of popular TV shows, most of which show up on the site soon after their original air date. For those who want to have their cake and eat it, Hulu also offers a luxurious, commercial-free way to stream its growing catalog of original shows, network content, and movies for just $4 more a month — well worth it if you’re leaving behind the bonds of cable. With a wide variety of programming available via digital antenna, Hulu is an excellent way to supplement your services so you get almost all of the network content you crave, and a whole lot more.

Subscribe to:

Hulu

HBO Now

hbo

Those who love HBO will want to weigh HBO Now high on the list when it comes to paring down your services. While its $15/month price point is the most expensive service on our list, that comes with the benefit of seeing all of the service’s latest shows, including Game of Thrones, Westworld, Silicon Valley, and more when they appear. Add to that a cascade of past classics, from Curb Your Enthusiasm to Deadwood, newer movie releases, and virtually everything on the network anytime on demand.

Subscribe to:

HBO Now

Showtime

showtime

CBS’ premium network Showtime has made its own move into the standalone streaming game, calling its new streaming service simply (and confusingly) Showtime. As the name suggests, you’ll get virtually all the benefits of being a subscriber of Showtime’s cable version for its $11 per month price tag, and the service has also made deals to bundle with both Hulu and Amazon Prime at a reduced cost of $9 per month for each.

Subscribe to:

Showtime

An on-demand version of much of CBS’ network programming is also offered on CBS All Access, which will run you $6 per month. It’s important to note, however, that the more you spread out your selection, the closer you’ll come to matching that dastardly cable bill every month. If you’re looking to save real bucks, choosing just two or three of our highlighted services should probably be your goal.

In addition to these choices, ESPN, Nickelodeon, and other networks and platforms are expected to follow suit soon, though ESPN has thus far limited its wares to live streaming platforms, like Dish’s Sling TV and Playstation Vue, which we’ll cover in more detail below.

Web TV — the final piece of the puzzle

The most-anticipated addition to the cord cutter lifestyle only arrived in January of 2015 with Dish Network’s Sling TV, the first service to offer cord cutters channels like ESPN, ESPN2, CNN, Cartoon Network, TBS, HGTV, Travel and others. While it might have been the first, others soon followed, and there are now three major options, with even more on the way.

Sling TV

sling-tv

Sling TV offers two base channel packages: Sling Orange and Sling Blue. Sling Orange offers popular channels like ESPN, but is limited to a single stream — meaning subscribers can only view on one device at a time. Sling Blue offers many of the same channels as Orange along with a whole lot more, but is also missing some key channels — ESPN among them. Viewers can sign up for both packages and get a $5 discount, bringing the total to $40 per month.

You get to pick your poison, not have it spoon-fed to you.

Apart from the basic packages, $5 add-on packs like News Extra, Kids Extra, and other bundles can be added on top. There are no sign-up fees or contracts either, and there’s even a respectable selection of movies for rent in high-def for $4 each, or standard-def for $3. And while the picture may not be quite as clear or reliable as cable or satellite TV right now, Sling TV is affordable and easy to use, and the picture has significantly improved since launch.

In addition to the channel package add-ons, Sling TV also offers premium add-ons, including live and on-demand HBO programming for $15/month on top of your base package package, the same price as the HBO Now standalone app. You can find out more in our new Sling TV hands-on guide.

Subscribe to:Sling TV

PlayStation Vue

Meanwhile, Sony’s Playstation Vue service has moved from its Playstation 3 and PS4 bonds to include Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV devices. While Vue’s slew of channels make it much more comprehensive, until recently it was a much bigger investment than Sling TV, starting at $40 per month and moving up to $45, and $55 tiers. However, Vue has since added its new Slim packages, which drop local channels (available only in select cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, and Miami), but also drop the price to a very competitive $30, $35, and $45 respectively.

playstation-vue-lifestyle

Vue also offers ESPN’s glut of channels with the packages available nationwide, as opposed to being resigned to just a few cities. On the other hand, the service also recently lost the rights to Viacom-owned channels like Comedy Central, MTV, and Spike. The service tried to lessen the sting by adding channels like BBC America and NBA TV, but the threat of potentially losing key channels could serve as a warning to potential customers.

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Playstation Vue

DirecTV Now

Sling TV and PlayStation Vue are just the start, as several others including DirecTV, Hulu, and Google have announced plans for competing live TV streaming services. AT&T’s DirecTV Now was officially unveiled on November 28 with a launch date of November 30. Like PlayStation Vue, this service is closer to old-fashioned cable than Sling TV, and offers four different programming packages.

DirecTV Now
Digital Trends/Keith Nelson Jr.

The intro package, called Live A Little, offers more than 60 channels for $35 per month, while for $50, the Just Right package offers over 80 channels. The package given the most attention by DirecTV Now during its launch event was the $60 per month Go Big package, offering more than 100 channels, but if you’re looking for everything you can get, the Gotta Have It packages dishes up more than 120 channels for $80 per month. Finally, add-on channel packages like HBO and Cinemax are available for just $5 each — and no, that’s not a typo.

Keen on drawing both Sling TV and PlayStation Vue subscribers, DirecTV Now was announced with a number of deals, like offering the Go Big package — normally $60 per month — to early subscribers for just $35 per month. Other similar offers see the company offering free Fire TV Stick or Apple TV hardware to new subscribers who are willing to prepay for a a month or three.

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Adjust your expectations

While Sling TV and the other live TV streaming services feel a little more like cable than, say, Netflix or Hulu, the cord-cutting experience is very different from what you’re used to, and you should expect an adjustment period. Quitting cable is like dealing with any other kind of lifestyle change: At first it may be awkward, perhaps even frustrating, but once you’ve grown accustomed to it, it feels natural. No, you won’t be doing much mindless channel surfing anymore, but there’s something satisfying about being more deliberate about your entertainment choices. You get to pick your poison, not have it spoon-fed to you.

And when it comes to cord cutting, choice is really what it’s all about (because it isn’t really about monstrous savings). With the modern piecemeal delivery method, you can build your entertainment empire as you see fit, choosing from all or none of our suggestions. Once you get the hang of it, there are even more options to choose from, with new selections popping up all the time. So if you’re tired of being pushed around by cable or satellite companies, and want to make your own way, follow our lead and cut the cord. We did. And we never looked back.

Updated 3-8-2017 by Brendan Hesse




3
May

HBO will pull its shows from Amazon Prime in 2018


If you’ve been using Amazon to catch up on classic HBO shows, you’d better hurry. HBO chief Richard Plepler now expects to pull his channel’s library from Amazon Prime Video once the existing agreement ends in mid-2018. Simply put, the pay broadcaster is going all-in on HBO Now — why undermine your own paid service by licensing to someone else? Instead, it’ll take advantage of the “enormous momentum” of Now signups through Amazon Channels, not to mention sales through future owner AT&T’s DirecTV Now.

The original agreement, forged in 2014, was important for Amazon. It got access to a legion of big-name HBO shows 3 years after they wrapped (including The Sopranos and The Wire) at a time when in-house Amazon productions like Transparent were only just getting off the ground. Simply put, it needed a deal like this at the time — and HBO needed it, too, since there was no real way to revisit legacy shows without buying downloads or disc-based copies. Clearly, a lot has changed since then.

Amazon isn’t likely to complain too loudly, if at all. Channels still helps its bottom line, and Prime Video is increasingly focused more on Amazon originals than it is other studios’ back catalogs. However, this definitely isn’t great for viewers. If you only wanted to revisit the heady days of The Sopranos or The Wire, you now have to pay for a separate service. And because of the terms of the deal (where Amazon gets shows 3 years after they’ve wrapped), this also means that Amazon won’t get ongoing or just-ended series like Game of Thrones, Girls or Westworld. You’ll either have to carefully choose the services you subscribe to or accept that you’ll be paying more to have all the shows you care to watch.

Source: Variety

3
May

Don’t wake the baby! How to connect any headphones to a TV


For all the numerous features packed into modern TVs — from HDR and 4K resolution to local dimming and quantum dots —  most newer models are devoid of one simple feature: a headphone jack.

This isn’t an immediate issue for most users. After all, if you’ve got an awesome audio setup, why would you need to connect a pair of headphones? However, those looking to keep the noise down for the kids or other family members sleeping in the next room know that a good pair of headphones can be a serious boon to those late night streaming marathons and movie catchups. As such, it’s important to have a simple (and convenient) way to connect your cans to your TV.

Whether you’ve got wired headphones, wireless headphones, or a gaming headset, here are the best solutions to getting your TV time on the sly.

Wired connection

If your setup is conducive to a wired pair of headphones — meaning you’ll be sitting close enough to the TV or other device to conveniently span the distance — there are a handful of options for easily wiring into your TV.

Adapters

Connecting via an adapter first requires identifying what kind of audio output your specific TV has. On the back or side of your TV — usually wherever your inputs are — there should be some form of audio output connection. In older TVs there may be a 3.5mm (standard headphone) output, which makes it simple to plug and play. However, more common on older models are Left/Right RCA audio outputs, which will require an RCA-to-3.5mm adapter, like this one from Amazon. These are simple to set up, and better yet, they’re dirt cheap.

An example of audio out formats., including 5.1 out, RCA (2-audio), and Optical (digital).

Vladimir Logutenko/123RF

Newer TVs will be a bit trickier. Many TV manufacturers dropped analog outputs a while back for a digital Optical output. The output looks like a tiny, square-shaped door, often outlined in bright red light (or fitted with a rubber cap such as the one shown above). For this configuration, you’ll need a digital audio to analog audio adapter. This will not only allow you to plug in a 3.5mm headphone jack, but it also converts the audio output to the correct format to play back in your headphones.

In either of these cases, you may also need a headphone extension cable such as this one, which lets you stretch back as far as 50 feet.

Connecting to a streaming device’s remote control

Another option is to plug into the remote control of a set-top streaming device. If you’ve been thinking about getting a set-top box anyway, this is the perfect time to jump in. Streamers such as the Roku 3 and Roku 4 and Nvidia’s Shield TV have remote controls with a headphone jack built right in. In addition, the Amazon Fire TV’s gaming controller also has a 3.5mm headphone jack (but not its standard remote), so you’ll have to buy the gaming bundle to utilize it.

The only potential drawback here is that you will only be able to listen to the device you’re plugged into. If you’re watching TV mostly from a cable box, this won’t be the best solution.

Connecting through external audio devices

Devices like audio receivers or even external speakers will usually have an accessible spot to plug in a pair of headphones, as well. This is especially handy if you happen to have multiple source devices (e.g., a cable box or antenna, a streaming device, etc.). You’ll need to give your hardware a look over to see if there is in fact a headphone output, or you could alternatively use one of the output-adapter setups we mentioned above (such as the RCA or digital Optical). Most A/V receivers will have a quarter-inch headphone jack in the front, which requires nothing more than a simple adapter.

3
May

GM has a rental car service for Uber and Lyft drivers


Maven, General Motors’ Zipcar-style service, is expanding to grease the wheels of the despair-inducing gig economy. Maven Gig lets you rent a vehicle for, say, a week at a time, specifically as a way of making money on the “freelance mobility economy.” Specifically, if you pay $229, you’ll take control of a Chevy Bolt for a week so you can live your dream of working for Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Rodie and GrubHub.

GM explains that the service is designed for folks who want to “get their side hustle on” but don’t have a car, or one good enough for Uber. The company believes that 43 percent of America’s workforce will be “made up of workers who freelance.” In addition, Maven has already provided vehicles for ride sharing operations in 11 areas, apparently covering 9.3 million miles.

For GM, the move will help to get the Bolt into more markets and fleets as it looks to woo the world with its electric car. Not to mention that it’s already doing a similar job leasing other Chevy vehicles to Uber and Lyft drivers. Unlike those deals, you’re working directly with GM and renting a universal platform for the gig economy rather than, jumping into bed with just Uber.

Maven Gig will launch in San Diego right now, and is expected to include San Francisco and Los Angeles by the end of 2017.

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