Entertainment

We all need to have some fun. These apps are all for entertainment, although are not games. If you are looking for games, head over here.

Time-Warner-Cable

Time Warner for iPad

A few months ago Terry reviewed the Comcast Xfinity App here and it made me jealous! Where I live we’ve got Time Warner, and while they’ve been promising an App for a long time we had nothing. Last week all of that changed. Time Warner released its new live streaming App allowing time warner customers to stream a selection of the most popular channels over WiFi at your home.
 

What it does

This App is sort of a one trick pony, but that pony works really, really well. The Time Warner App is designed to let Time Warner customers to watch 31 popular channels from the TWC program listing. With channels like Vh1, Spike, Nat. Geo, MTV, MSNBC, History, Headline News, Disney and more, there is something for everyone. The shows load quickly, and playback is smooth even on the HD channels. Next to the channel icon on the left side of the screen is a listing of what is currently playing, as well what’s on next. In the top right corner of the App you see a button giving you a list of channels that have been watched during that session.
 

What we NEED

While Time Warner customers welcome an App from their cable provider, we had hoped for a little more. The ability to stream live TV shows to the iPad is awesome, however the App lacks any way to control your set top box. Unlike the Comcast App, the TWC App doesn’t allow access to your DVR units to manage your recordings, or even better, stream your recorded shows to your iPad. This is a feature that I would really like to see added to the next update. To do this, I think there will have to be a firmware update to the cable boxes because while they have a network input on the back, currently (at least in Cincinnati where I live) there isn’t an option to connect to the network with our boxes within the software. If cable box control can’t be added, I would like to at least see a program control for more than an hour into the future. Another feature, or limitation to this App has to be the WiFi requirement. With this App you have to be connected to your Time Warner network. I would like to see the ability to stream live anywhere. Since you’re not actually connecting to your cable box, there is no reason that you shouldn’t be able to stream your cable programing from anywhere in the world over WiFi.
 

Conclusion

If you’re a Time Warner Cable customer, there is no reason in the world to not have this App. Time Warner is providing this App for free to its customers. It does a great job of streaming live TV programming to the iPad over WiFi seamlessly and without choppiness, or compression loss. For free what do you have to lose?

You can get the TWC App for iPad for Free here from the iTunes

TiVo

The TiVo iPad App is Finally Here

Anyone that knows me knows that I'm a TiVo fan! I have been ever since my DirecTV TiVo Series 1. Since those early days I have moved on to multiple TiVo HDs and finally a NEW TiVo Premiere XL box. As a matter of fact my biggest reason for upgrading one my TiVo HDs to the Premiere XL is because I wanted to use the NEW iPad App that TiVo announced was coming, back in November. While I do like the TiVo Premiere XL, I was perfectly happy with my TiVo HD boxes. However, now that I have the TiVo Premiere XL it's definitely many (little) steps in the right direction and improves on an already best in class experience. With that said, I was anxious to see how the new App would make life even better.

 

It's an intelligent Remote Control

First off the TiVo App for iPad was designed to be a "companion" and remote control for your TiVo Premiere. Once the App is installed and you've got your Premiere box setup with Network Remote Control enabled in the prefs, the TiVo App will give you information about the show that is currently playing. You can drill down on the actors/actresses and see credits as well as other shows/movies that they have been in. This is where the intelligence comes in. If you see a show/movie that you're interested in you can then check to see if it's coming on anytime soon. If it is you can set ti to record it right then and there. You can also buy the movies that they were in on the spot from Amazon, Blockbuster or stream it via Netflix if it's available. 

Too much to write about

Rather than go on and on in words here trying to describe how the App works, I figured it would be easier just to show you a demo:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awLckRU7XyE

Two points of clarification from the video: I never showed that you can in fact jump to a specific day/time in the guide and set a show to record that's coming on in the future. Also I mistakenly said that the Slingbox was connected to "your computer" when in fact it's connected to your TiVo or other video source and doesn't require your computer to be on or connected at all.

 

The Bottom Line – The Right Way to Do Internet Connected TV

I have to give it to TiVo for once again solving a problem that the rest of the industry seems to be scratching their heads about. There have been many (failed) attempts at combining the internet and TV and while TiVo is definitely leaning towards the TV side of the equation (as opposed to general internet browsing on your TV), their combined solution (TiVo Premiere and iPad) makes sense. I actually own a Sony TV with Google TV built-in and I rarely use the internet features of it because of the obvious issues of using a keyboard and having to share screen real estate with what's currently on TV. Having a tablet device instead means that the action doesn't have to stop on TV for me to look something up, schedule a show or manage the shows I'm already recording. Yes, they've done it! This is what I hoped Internet/Google TV would be.

You can get the TiVo App for iPad for Free here from the iTunes

Sadly the App only works with TiVo Premiere and Premiere XL boxes. It would have been nice to see support of at least the remote scheduling and remote control of playback for the older TiVo HD boxes. Also I'd love to see an iPhone/iPod touch version for scheduling on the go (yes I know that there are other Apps that do this, but I want the TiVo branded one.)

See my TiVo Premiere XL Review here.

Get the TiVo Premiere here for less than $99 or the TiVo Premiere XL here for less than $299.

See my Slingplayer for iPad App review here.

Get the Slingbox Solo here for less than $170 or the Slingbox Pro HD here for less than $290.

 

color_and_shape

Color & Shape

A few weeks ago I wrote about the top 5 apps that make my toddlers happy. In that review I gave some examples of apps that my twins not only thought were fun to play or use, but also taught them things. After all if they don’t think an app is fun they will lose interest quickly, no matter how good of a learning tool it is. It’s my goal as a parent to give my children every opportunity to succeed possible, so when an app comes along like Color and Shape that not only keeps their attention but also helps them learn I take notice.
 

K.I.S.S

If you’re not familiar with this term it stands for keep it simple stupid. The developer did a great job of keeping it simple with this app. Upon launching the app, you get a nice splash page with two options COLORS or SHAPES. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. The first option is colors so I’ll start there. Inside you find three rows of spheres with distinct colors. The background is filled with a scene from what appears to be a field of grass with lady bugs and birds. Touching any of the 12 different spheres prompts the English (read: British) narrator to reveal the color. All of the colors are strait forward and very easy to distinguish. That’s it. That’s all there is to this page. It does exactly what you would think it would do; it tells you the colors. The other page is the shapes. Again three rows with 12 objects for your toddler to touch. This time the background is a sunny beach view complete with seagulls and a rainbow. The rows in the shapes page are broken down into three different types. The first row is your standard square, circle, rectangle and triangle. The second or middle row is where it gets interesting. It starts with pentagon, then you get parallelogram! Whoa. It took me a little by surprise the first time my son touched that shape. I didn’t expect an app that teaches basic colors and shapes to have parallelogram in it. I was afraid that my kids might stumble over the name and lose interest, but to my surprise they picked it right up and didn’t have a single problem with the name. The rest of the shapes are strait forward and what you would expect from an app with a name like Color and Shape. Again, they got strait to the point with the shapes page. It does exactly what you would expect it to do. Tell the shape name as it’s touched.
 

Almost Perfect

This app does exactly what it says that it will do. It shows, and tells colors and shapes in an easy manner that any toddler can pick up. A couple of things that I’d like to see in the next update: First I would like to be able to change the shape of the colors to something other than spheres. The spheres work just fine, but the ability to change the shape might help retain younger children’s attention. The next thing I would like to see or hear in this case, is different voices. Just like when using a GPS, I’d like to be able to choose my desired voice. While the British accent isn’t heavy enough to cause a problem, it’d be nice to have the option. Lastly I’d like to see some sort of game addition where the child hears a color or shape said aloud, and then touches the screen to match the corresponding color or shape. I have already done this with my children aloud, and maybe that’s the point of not adding a “game” feature, to keep you engaged with your children. Either way, it would be a nice addition.

The Bottom Line

At first I thought my children would lose interest quickly with this application because of its simplicity. With all of the other app options on my iPad that include animations, video, and interactions I thought that they might pass this app by for something else if given the choice. I was surprised. A few days after first playing with it, I woke one morning to my 4 year old son sitting in bed next to me saying “sphere”. He woke up early and decided to get the iPad off of my nightstand. The app he chose all on his own? Color and Shape. I can honestly say that I feel my twins have a better handle on their colors and shapes because of this app. If you have toddlers, I would definitely recommend it.

You can get Color and Shape for $0.99 here from the Color & Shape - Stefano Nosella
 

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SlingPlayer_Mobile

I’m Thankful For SlingPlayer Mobile for iPad

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I normally take holidays off from doing reviews. However, since this is Thanksgiving and I have so much to be thankful for I thought I would recognize one of the most recent Apps I'm very thankful for and that's the NEW SlingPlayer Mobile for iPad. This is one of the Apps I've been waiting for since I got an iPad on day one. While the original SlingPlayer Mobile App for iPhone functions on the iPad it doesn't take advantage of the iPad's screen size and therefore the video can look kinda bitmappy 🙂

SlingPlayer Mobile for iPad was worth the wait!

This App is everything I hoped it would be. It's clear that Sling Media took time and effort into making a great iPad App. The interface is slick and the video quality is AWESOME! The controls are easy to use and laid out in a logical manner. I have no real complaints about the App itself. It rocks!

 

 

A rocky road to success

Let me reiterate that I'm "thankful" for this App, but that's not to say that I wasn't kinda ticked off in the pricing of  it and what it took to get it setup. First off the App is $29.99. It's not a universal App so it means buying it again and there are no discounts for previous owners. OK fine, a lot of work went into this version and well no one put a gun to my head to buy it. It costs what it costs, take it or leave it. I took it! The next surprise was that it didn't work with my Slingbox Pro! WTF??? Now granted when I went back and looked at the fine print on the App Store page it clearly states that it requires a Slingbox Solo or Slingbox Pro HD, however I figured that if the existing SlingPlayer App for iPhone supported the Slingbox Pro that the iPad App would too. Afterall, is there any technical limitation between the two players that would have prevented this? My "guess" is NO! As luck would have it I had just upgraded my other Slingbox Pro (which died) to a Slingbox Pro HD. So after doing some room swapping and reconfiguring I now had the appropriate hardware connected to my TiVo HD. What's next? "You need a firmware update!" Argggghhh. OK, fine. I logged into the SlingPlayer App for Mac to update the firmware only to be told that there was no update available. Yet the App clearly stated that I needed a newer version than what I had. I went to Slingbox.com in search of the one to download and as it turns out Mac users (for whatever reason) can't install the firmware updates manually. "You've got to be kidding me! It's 2010! Really?" Fine, as luck would have it (yes I'm pretty lucky), I had Windows installed on a MacBook Pro and rebooted into Boot Camp. Sure enough logging into the same site with Windows XP/IE 8 I was able to update the firmware no problem and finally I was able to use the SlingPlayer App for iPad.

 

The Bottom Line

The App is GREAT! Yes, I'm still thankful for it and many other blessings in my life. I'm more than a little annoyed by the price and the fact that it won't work with a Slingbox Pro (like the iPhone version does). Sling Media, you definitely need to get on the ball with Mac support. There's no excuse for that at this point. I would also like to see the betaremotes.slingbox.com site work on a Mac as well or simply add the ability to "learn" remote buttons right in the SlingPlayer App itself. It's odd to have to create a whole new remote just to be able to use my HDMI switcher when there's an "input" button sitting right there on the onscreen TiVo remote doing nothing.

Unfortunately SlingMedia is not the only company playing the "you must have our latest hardware to use our iPad app" game. The upcoming TiVo iPad App is going to require the latest TiVo Premiere too. So if you have a perfectly working TiVo HD like I do, you're going to be out of luck with their iPad App as well. 

Putting my rants aside, if you have a Slingbox Solo or Slingbox Pro HD and an IPad, you want this App!

Update

Performance over 3G: I got some questions regarding performance over 3G, so I did some testing over the weekend. The first test was in an area with relatively weak AT&T 3G coverage. I was getting about 2 bars. The SlingPlayer for iPad App in that location was unwatchable! No matter if I tried to watch in HQ or standard quality, the video paused every 3-5 seconds. Then I tried it at home where I have a strong 3G signal of 4-5 bars and I had no problem watching in HQ over 3G. It paused for a couple of times for the first few seconds and then played continuously without skipping a beat. 

Therefore I would have to say that the current 1.0 version of the iPad App is a lot less forgiving for low bandwidth than the iPhone App. Although the iPhone App would really go down in visual quality on a slow connection it would still play without pause most of the time. That's just not the case with the IPad App. Hopefully they work on an update to improve performance especially given the price paid for the App.

You can get the SlingPlayer Mobile for iPad App for $29.99 here from the SlingPlayer Mobile for iPad - Sling Media

You can get the original SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone/iPod touch App for $29.99 here from the SlingPlayer Mobile - Sling Media

You can get a Slingbox Solo here or a Slingbox Pro HD here.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

xfinity

Comcast Nails It with the Xfinity TV App

Although I love my Comcast digital service and high speed internet, I've never really been a fan of the Comcast supplied (Motorola) DVRs. I prefer TiVo HD DVRs. Nonetheless I have a couple of the Comcast DVRs around the house as well as a Comcast Digital Converter Box on a TV in the kitchen. I've been waiting for and begging for a great iOS App for my TiVo boxes and I continue to wait. In the meantime Comcast has delivered Xfinity TV for their boxes. I have to give credit where credit is due. They nailed it! 

Comcast Gets It!

We all have our complaints about the various services we have, but this time it's praise. Comcast delivered the App that I've always envisioned. First off it's a Universal App for all iOS devices and taking advantage of the iPad's larger display. Next it provides FAST access to the channel line up and guide. Of course it's not a new concept for an App like this to allow you to remotely program your DVR to record a show and this App does that very well. However, the thing I wasn't thinking about was that it also turns your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch into a basic remote control for the times when you're watching live TV. If you want to switch to a different channel/show, just scroll to the show you want to watch, tap it and the App will give you the option of switching your DVR/digital box to that channel right now. No line of sight required because it's doing it over the internet. No codes to learn because it already knows about your Comcast gear. Virtually no setup at all! You just log in with your Comcast user name and password and your Comcast equipment will show up. Since I have 2 of their DVRs they first showed up as DVR 1 and DVR 2. Thinking ahead, they allow you to tap each box and display an identification message on the screen of your TV so that you know which one is which. Then you can give them whatever names you want. For example, the one in my office is now called…. "Office". Since this control works over the internet you can do it from any room or anywhere in the world that you have an internet connection. I can already see the pranks happening that people will be playing on unsuspecting loved ones 🙂 (Change the channel and then just as they reach for the remote, change it back…repeat…)

My only wish for the next update is that there doesn't seem to be a fast way to jump to a particular day in the future on the guide. You can search for shows. You can filter down to things like just HD, but if I want to go to Friday's listings I have to scroll and scroll and scroll (unless I'm missing something), just like on the physical DVRs. Give me that and it's a 5 star App!

If you're a Comcast TV customer and you have an iOS device, this is a must have App!

You can download the Xfinity TV App for Free here from the XFINITY TV - Comcast Interactive Media

adobeideas

Adobe Ideas 1.1

Adobe Ideas 1.1

Back a while ago, Adobe released the first ever version of Adobe Ideas (which Terry reviewed here). Now Adobe has come out with an update to the popular application with some highly anticipated features, turning this app more into a proper drawing application.

Layers are here!

Let’s get the biggest new feature addition over with from the start. You can purchase an in-app purchase that will enable layers in your document. For each sketch you are able to create ten layers with order and opacity controls available for each layer.

Adobe Ideas - Adobe Systems Incorporated (universal for iPhone and iPad)

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MovieVault

MovieVault lets you watch old movies for free

Actually the App is $2.99, but once you pay for the App then you can stream the full length Classic movies to your iOS device for no additional cost. MovieVault features over 1,000 movies and you can watch them over Wi-Fi or 3G. You can browse by genre, search keywords or by title/director and more. Most of these films came out before I was born, but it's cool to be able to see this content relatively for free. 

It works great

I had no problem streaming a movie the minute after I fired up the App. The playback was fine and even the quality was surprisingly good considering the source content and the fact that it's streaming. The developer claims to be adding content all the time. So if you're an Classic movie buff, this App was made for you. 

I'd like to see a "Favorites" feature in the next rev so that I can build a list of movies to watch when time permits.

You can get MovieVault ($2.99) for the iPhone/iPod touch here from the Movie

You can get MovieVault ($4.99) fro the iPad here from the Movie

VLCmediaplayer

Play your AVI’s and DivX Files on your iPad

If you’re anything like me, you probably TiVo, or record your favorite tv shows for later viewing. Personally I have a dedicated computer with a couple of tv tuners to handle all of my tv recording. I save all of my favorite shows to the hard drives, then I either copy the files to my laptop, or (until this app) convert them to Apples MPEG4/H.264 format with a 3rd party file conversion program for viewing on my iPad. My preferred method for encoding is Divx because it compresses files to a quite manageable size, and a good viewing quality for mobile devices. Divx is also a really common file format that can be played across a wide array of devices. VLC, the makers of a popular open source media player recently released a native app for the iPad. While this isn’t the first app that allows for playback of AVI’s and Divix formats, it’s (in my opinion) the best. 

Functionality

What is a video app like this if it doesn’t support a wide array of files? Keeping with that thinking VLC supports AVI, MPG, MKV, etc. so it doesn’t disappoint. Loading files couldn’t be easier with VLC. Under your app tab in iTunes you scroll to the bottom of the screen, select the files that you want to add and it syncs them. Strait forward functionality, just as you would expect from a company like VLC. Where this app really impressed me was in the UI. Just like Terry, I’m a UI guy. I like the layout to be smooth, easy to navigate, and intuitive. VLC for iPad does all of this. Your videos show up as small preview screens with the file name underneath it. They have incorporated a “shelf” like look similar to the bookshelf found in iBooks. It may be trivial, but I enjoy this look and feel and I appreciate the effort that went into the graphics.

What I’d like to see

While standard definition files play back flawlessly, I have found that high definition files can be choppy. I think this may be an issue with the app not using the iPad’s built in hardware acceleration. While this isn’t a huge issue for me, it may be for some people and the developer is currently working on a fix for this. Also I would like to see a few more file formats supported. Specifically .flv files. You have to be on iOS 3.2 or later. It doesn’t support Beta 4.2 yet, however they are working on that.

Conclusion

For quick, easy Divx playback, VLC is the best available right now. I love the UI, and with standard definition files, it is stable. If you like to watch videos on the go, you should get this for your iPad. The price is definitely within the budget at free.

You can get the VLC Media Player for iPad here from the VLC

Netflix

Netflix for iPhone: I wanted a little more

Earlier this year Netflix released their first App for the iOS platform. It was the Netflix App for iPad. The iPad is a great platform for an App of this type and at the same time Netflix also announced that they would be releasing an iPhone version later this summer. Well it's here! I was anxiously awaiting this App not only for the obvious streaming content benefits, but I was also hoping for a great Netflix queue manager. I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed. While the App does let you manage your "Instant Queue" for streaming, it doesn't let you access your DVD queue.Now in all fairness this was never promised and even on the iPad the App brings up your DVD queue in a browser (inside the App). So we've never had native DVD queue management. Nonetheless I was hoping to finally have a Netflix branded App that allowed me complete access and management to all aspects of my account. In the meantime I'm continue use and recommend MovieFlick for Netflix queue management.

Streaming Netflix Videos to your iPhone

As with all video streaming apps you're at the mercy of your available bandwidth. Netflix is no different. On a slower connection you will experience pauses in your video while more video content buffers. On 3G, the video is watchable and GREAT quality, but I did experience a few momentary pauses. On WiFi the experience is much better. With that said, I probably won't be watching too many feature length movies on my iPhone. I'd probably watch a 30 minute TV show here and there while waiting in a line or waiting room. For that, this App is great. Netflix continues to add more and more content for streaming. This makes it easier to continue paying my monthly account fee. I also love the fact that I can start a movie on one device and finish it on another and now that they have support for so many platforms (ie. TiVo, Wii, iOS, etc.)

Downloads would be nice – One of the places that I actually watch the most movies is on planes. While WiFi is coming to more and more flights, streaming video isn't something that people should be doing as the bandwidth would come to a crawl. The ability to download a movie or two before getting on the flight would be nice. Sure I can already do that with iTunes as a rental or purchase, but I'd like to be able to do it via the Netflix account that I'm already paying for. It would be great to be able to download the same selection of streaming content right to the device and watch it offline. 

 

The Bottom Line

The Netflix App does what it claims, but no more. It's FREE, but you need a Netflix account to actually be able to use the App. I'd love to see more account features built-in to this App as well as offline viewing.

You can download it here from the MovieFlick

moviesbyflixter

Movies by Flixter

It's time for another look at Movies by Flixter. I had given up on and removed this App from my iPhone. Not because it didn't work. I removed it because it took too many taps to get to the one thing I wanted to know: "what time does the movie start?" What most of these Apps suffer from is that they force you to navigate between two to three screens to find your local theater and then show you the movie times. They assume you're opening the App to "choose" a movie or theater. When I go to an App like this, nine times out of ten I've already decided which movie I want to see and guess what, I'm going to the same theater I always go to. So i'm only opening the App to see the start times. For this simple reason, I went with OneTap Movies and haven't looked back.  So why look at Movies by Flixter again? I noticed that the App has been updated with native support for the iPad. So I wanted to see what the experience was like on the iPad and I gotta say – WOW! They've come a long ways!

It looks great on the iPad, but that's not enough

While I am a sucker for a pretty (inter)face, I'm pretty adamant about the functionality of an App like this. It has to give me what I want without having to tap my way through several screens every time I use it. So I fired up Movies on my iPad and of course it asked to use my current location. Then after a few moments it presented me with the closest theaters. The one I go to 99% of the time was listed and I saw all the movies and there times at a glance. So far so good. The next thing I did was mark that theater as a Favorite (star) and then I closed the app. I closed it because I wanted to see if it would make me repeat this process all over again upon the next launch of the App. To my pleasure, it took me right back where I left off. This is exactly the way the App (and all others) should have worked all along. The next day I went into the App and again, my theater was right there and still selected and the show times updated. We have a winner. Sounds so simple, but this was a miss with most every other App I tried in the past. 

What's up next? Now that I can move beyond my basic requirements, it was time to explore the other features of the App and there are a plenty. You can of course view movie trailers right in the App. You can also see the ever important Rotten Tomato Reviews and ratings. They do a nice job of displaying these ratings right in line with the movies and show times. Nice touch. If your theater supports buying tickets online you can do so within the App and they also added a local restaurant search that is powered by Yelp. Not a movie theater buff? No problem, you can also use the App to see up coming DVD releases. Also when you run this App on your iPhone/iPod touch (not yet implemented on the iPad) you can manage your Netflix queue and share movie ratings via Facebook with your friends.

You can get Movies by Flixter here from the App Store: Movies

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