HBO Online More Available Than Ever With HBO Go and HBO Now

With many content providers and media companies getting in the video on-demand game, it comes as no surprise that HBO also entered the fray with their HBO Go online streaming service. Now you are able to keep up with the Targaryens, Starks, and Lannisters by streaming the wildly popular Game of Thrones no matter your location — Westeros, Essos, or even beyond the Wall.

If you already subscribe to HBO through your satellite or cable television provider, you simply need to download the HBO Go app for either the iOS or Android platforms to stream HBO online content wherever you may wander. Additionally, cordcutters are now also able to enjoy the premium television service by subscribing to the new HBO Now service. Let’s take a closer look at how these HBO online services compare.

HBO Go and HBO Now online

Differences Between HBO Go and HBO Now

As mentioned earlier, the simplest way to look at HBO’s two video streaming offerings is the following. HBO Go allows those who subscribe to the premium movie channel through their cable or satellite service to enjoy on-demand streaming of HBO movies and TV shows on their mobile device. HBO Now, on the other hand, provides the same functionality without first subscribing to cable or satellite TV.

An HBO Now subscription costs $15 per month, which is comparable to paying for the channel on your satellite or cable service. This option launched in early April 2015, exclusively for owners of an Apple TV box or an iOS device, like the iPhone or iPad. After an initial three month period, HBO Now becomes available on other platforms, including Android mobile devices, and probably other video-on-demand products, like the Roku and Chromecast.

iOS users note that the HBO Now app is compatible with iOS 7.0 and greater. For comparison’s sake, the HBO Go app supports iOS 5.0 and greater.

Make sure your Internet Bandwidth handles HD Video Streaming

When using either HBO Go or HBO Now, remember to perform regular Internet speed tests to ensure you’re getting enough bandwidth to stream HD-quality video without hiccups or too much buffering. At least 5 Mbps is a good benchmark for HD video streaming, but 10 Mbps works better, especially if you have multiple users accessing your router.

HBO Go and HBO Now offer users an easy way to stream quality HBO online movies and TV shows when on the go. As more consumers eschew regular cable and satellite TV service, expect more content providers to follow HBO’s lead with their own streaming products. 

Four Quick Ways to Improve Bandwidth for Streaming Movies

Whether you’re a cordcutter without a subscription to cable or satellite TV, or you want the convenience of streaming content using DirecTV Everywhere or HBO Go, bandwidth remains a vital part of your video-on-demand experience. Trying to enjoy streaming video on a slow Internet service leads to buffering and ultimately a poor experience.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few quick ways to ensure there is enough bandwidth for your video streaming enjoyment.

improve bandwidth for streaming media

First Off — Test Your Internet Speed

Before trying to optimize your bandwidth, make it a point to run a quick Internet speed test to see whether your service supports video streaming. Anything above 5 Mbps works for HD-video quality, although speeds greater than 10 Mbps perform better, especially if multiple users are accessing the same router.

Limit the Number of Users Accessing Your Internet Service

As mentioned at earlier, make sure to limit the number of users accessing your wireless router before streaming a movie. Even if you subscribe to broadband Internet service with a decent speed, multiple users sharing that service often hampers performance for everyone.

Invest in a High-end Dual Band Router

Dual band wireless routers provide you with essentially two different networks: one at 2.4 GHz (the same speed in single band routers), and a faster 5 GHz network that’s optimized for streaming rich media content. A dual band router with a superior range will definitely improve the streaming experience of any device connected to your network.

Additionally, higher-end routers leverage a technology known as beamforming that optimizes the connection between the router and device. In short, if you plan on doing a lot of movie streaming and online videogaming at your house, an investment in a top of the line dual band router is a smart call.

Pay Attention to the Router’s Location at your Residence

Routers are affected by location. Consider placing your wireless router close to your prime television viewing area to improve the overall streaming experience. This helps you get the most out of your bandwidth even without spending extra on a high-end router.

Fiber Optic Internet Options from Google, Verizon and AT&T

Fiber optic Internet service offers the ultimate in speed and bandwidth for the home user. Unfortunately, its availability tends to be limited; the high cost of installing fiber optic cable being a primary reason. Still, where it is available, it generally leads to healthy competition between the country’s top Internet providers.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three major carriers and whether or not you can get high speed Internet service over fiber from them.

fiber optic internet service

Google Fiber Continues Slow Nationwide Rollout

Google Fiber is the Internet service on the wish list of many consumers. Its one gigabit per second Internet speed is more than enough to meet the needs of a large family each streaming their own HD movie simultaneously. The price is more than competitive:  around $70 per month for Internet only, and $120-140 per month with an added digital TV service.

The service first became available in late 2012 to residents in the Kansas City metro area, with Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas also slated to get the service shortly. Google started taking Fiber signups in Austin late last year.

In January, Google announced that the Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and Atlanta metro areas were to be the next metro areas to receive Fiber, with Salt Lake City joining them shortly after. Still, this leaves the vast majority of the country — especially the Northeast — out of luck for the foreseeable future.

Verizon Focusing More on Wireless Business

Verizon offers their own fiber optic Internet service, known as FiOS, which is typically delivered as a bundle with digital TV and home phone. The service launched in 2005 and saw significant expansion up to 2010. FiOS remains available in selected U.S. cities, mostly on both coasts.

FiOS expansion slowed due to Verizon’s poor 2010 financial performance, leading them to focus on their more profitable wireless business. The service’s Internet speed ranges from 25 Mbps to 500 Mbps, depending on the tier. As of May 2013, FiOS is available in 18 million homes, with five million current subscribers.

AT&T U-verse Expanding its Footprint

AT&T’s U-verse is a mostly fiber optic service bundle with high speed Internet, digital TV, and phone. Depending on the service location, AT&T either runs fiber to each individual house or, more commonly fiber to a node, with copper wire then carrying the signal to each subscriber’s home. U-verse, while not available everywhere, is more common than Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS.

With U-verse, Internet speeds vary from 3 Mbps all the way to a one gig service — GigaPower 1G — that became available in Austin, Texas soon after Google announced Fiber was coming to Austin. There is also a different GigaPower tier available in a few cities, but it only offers a 300 Mbps Internet speed.  Here’s hoping more local governments continue to get in the ISP game, like Chattanooga’s successful one gig service.

In the meantime if you want fiber optic Internet service in your location, you may have to wait until the three big providers bring their networks to your city.  Monitor Google, Verizon and AT&T for the latest updates on fiber optic internet availability.

Using Your Mobile Phone as a Personal Internet Hotspot

One of the best features of the modern smartphone is their ability to work as a mobile Internet hotspot when necessary. Essentially, you are able to easily create your own private wireless network, which comes in handy when traveling or if your regular ISP goes offline for whatever reason.

mobile hotspot data usage

When using a smartphone as a hotspot, be sure to pay close attention to your personal hotspot data usage. If everyone connected to your hotspot streams video content simultaneously, expect your monthly data allowance to disappear quickly! With that caveat in mind, let’s take a closer look at using a smartphone as a hotspot.

Make Sure Hotspot Capability is part of your Wireless Contract

Before using a phone as a hotspot, you need to ensure that capability is part of the contract with your wireless carrier. When signing a new two-year deal, make sure that mobile hotspot is one of the features. It normally is included with most smartphone contracts, but some companies tack it on as an extra, with a monthly price around $10.

If your carrier doesn’t include a mobile hotspot feature as part of your contract, it is a good idea to add that capability on a temporary basis when going on vacation. If you work from home, you may have to add it in an emergency should your regular Internet service suffer any downtime.

Turning on Mobile Hotspot Capability is Easy

Setting a mobile hotspot is easy. On an Android smartphone, simply click on “Settings.” Under the “Wireless and Networks” section, click on “More…” You’ll then see “Mobile Hotspot” listed as one of the choices. When turning the hotspot on, it prompts you to turn off access to any WiFi networks to which your smartphone is connected.

If you get a message saying that mobile hotspot capability isn’t part of your current plan, that may be the case. However, that same message appears if you’ve forgotten to turn on your phone’s mobile data connection. This is typical if you generally access your home’s regular Internet connection on your smartphone.

Always Monitor Your Personal Hotspot Data Usage

When your mobile hotspot is active, make sure to use a strong password, and keep an eye on the number of connected devices. You don’t want any surreptitious access by strangers, so beware when in a public space. As mentioned earlier, using a smartphone as a hotspot is a great way to use up your monthly data allowance so always pay close attention to your personal hotspot data usage.

Perform a DSL Speed Test at Different Times of the Day

No matter what type of Internet connection you use, — fiber, cable, or DSL — performing a speed test at different times during the day gives you the best idea of your bandwidth quality. Since its overall speed is affected by network traffic based on the time of the day, running a DSL speed test at different times makes perfect sense.

Let’s take a closer look at ways to ensure your DSL speed tests give you an accurate report of your ISP network quality.

DSL is Affected by Network Traffic

Despite the fact that a DSL connection isn’t shared between the other residences in your neighborhood — unlike cable-delivered Internet — a DSL network occasionally suffers from slowdown during the evening hours. You probably noticed this effect if you regularly run speed tests during the evening as well as during the day.

The reason for this poor performance relates primarily to the extra traffic generated during the evening by subscribers streaming video and other rich media content. As more consumers unplug traditional cable and satellite television services for Internet-based video on demand options, expect this trend to continue until the larger investments in network equipment are made.

This DSL slowdown issue becomes exacerbated the farther away your residence is from the central office of your ISP. The distance from the modem to the network central office affecting bandwidth is an issue unique to DSL as opposed to cable or fiber delivered Internet service.

inconsistent DSL speeds

Your DSL Speed Test May Not Be Accurate

The bottom line is if you only perform speed tests during the evening, you aren’t getting an accurate account of your Internet speed. It is important to regularly run tests at various times throughout the day as well as on the weekend. Make it a point to perform a speed test early in the morning in addition during the evening’s prime viewing time, and record your results.

Keeping a running tally of your Internet speed is especially important when trying to determine the accuracy of your DSL speed test. In addition, if your ISP isn’t keeping up their end of the bandwidth bargain, these speed test reports will help you earn a refund if warranted.

So, when it comes to DSL speed tests: test early; test late; test often, and save your test results!

How to Setup a Wireless Stereo System at Home

One of the nice features provided by Bluetooth technology is its ability to stream music wirelessly to speakers, headphones and earbuds. While the sound quality suffers compared to a high-end stereo system playing vinyl or an advanced audio format like SACD or DVD-Audio, it works well enough with compressed formats like MP3 or AAC. The added convenience of wireless means you can listen to your music library anywhere in your house.

With that in mind, let’s look more closely at putting together a wireless stereo system at home. Setup is a breeze when working with Bluetooth.

mobile_speakers_music_notes

Shopping for a Bluetooth Speaker

The market for Bluetooth speakers has exploded over the last few years, driven by the growth in smartphones and tablet computers able to store and stream your music library. If you have the time, make it a point to visit your local brick and mortar retailer to try out the speakers with your own ears. Just like the halcyon days of “old-school” stereo stores, you need to hear their sound quality in person, as speaker preference is a very subjective matter.

One piece of advice is to stay away from the Beats brand, as they are known for poor sound quality relative to their price, especially considering their headphones.

When auditioning Bluetooth speakers, pay close attention to their bass response, as well as their support for two channel audio — stereo still being superior to mono. Other notable features include support for battery power and the ability to operate as a speakerphone when paired with a smartphone. Some speakers even remember the last few devices they were paired with, making it easier to switch between multiple Bluetooth transmitters.

DLNA is Another Option for Streaming Wireless Music

Many smartphones, tablets, Blu-Ray players, smart TVs and AV receivers support DLNA technology. This allows you to connect a DLNA-compatible hard drive hosting your music library to your wireless router and then stream that music to any compatible device in your house. If you have a high-end audio system, this generally offers superior sound quality compared to streaming to a Bluetooth speaker.

DLNA also works with video and photos, offering a convenient method of accessing different types of media on a variety of devices. You are also able to access the content of your hard drive when traveling. In this case, run a speed test to make sure your ISP is providing a high enough upload speed to support streaming — video obviously using more bandwidth than audio.

Setting up a wireless stereo system at home can be a breeze but take the time and put the effort into choosing the right Bluetooth speaker. And if you take advantage of DLNA technology you can enjoy a worthy option offering better sound quality in addition to video streaming.

Top Three Best Smart TVs for the Holidays

With more and more consumers enjoying the ease of streaming media content — movies, TV shows, videos, music — at home, it made sense for TV manufacturers to add WiFi networking capabilities to their products. These new Smart TVs seem to be ubiquitous this holiday season, with built-in support for many popular video streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu Plus.

When adding a Smart TV to your home, make sure to check your Internet speed to ensure the best possible viewing experience. With that in mind, here are the three best smart TVs that would make great Holiday gifts without breaking your budget.

Best Smart TVs for Holiday Season

The Vizio E-Series 39″ Class Full Array Smart TV for the Budget

If you are looking for an inexpensive, nearly 40″ Smart TV, check out the Vizio E-Series 39″ model. Most retailers are pricing this Vizio at around $350, providing a great chance for those on a Holiday budget to check out video streaming. CNET called the E-Series “likely the best value of 2014.”

The television’s full array LED display offers a bright picture with 1080p HD video. Support for many streaming services, including, Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, and Crackle is built in. You are also able to access your social media accounts — Facebook, Twitter, and more — using the TV’s convenient collection of apps.

The Samsung LED H5203 Series 46″ Smart TV for the Big Screen

Samsung gives you the option of a larger screen, 46″ Smart TV, with a retail price slightly above $400. The LED H5203 sports a CMR rating of 120 to go with its full HD 1080p picture. The high CMR means any high-speed sports action renders smoothly on screen.

In addition to the standard collection of streaming media apps and services, this Samsung Smart TV includes the “Smart Hub” which offers an enhanced user interface for managing your streaming content and apps. If you plan on streaming most of your television content, the Samsung H5203 makes an excellent choice.

Sony’s 40″ KDL-40W600B Bravia Smart TV for the Picture Quality

If you are looking for a Sony Smart TV, check out the 40″ KDL-40W600B Bravia model, one of the best smart TVs. While it features a smaller screen than the Samsung, it offers enhanced backlighting with a unique contrast feature that promises a more realistic picture. Retailers carry this Bravia model for around $450.

All your standard media streaming services are available on the Bravia, including the Sony Entertainment Network. The TV’s PlayStation Now feature means you can play your favorite PS3 games streamed to the TV without a video game console. Now that’s cool!

So if you are in the market for a Smart TV this Holiday season, hopefully these three models piqued your interest without killing Santa’s budget!

Three Best Laptop Tablet Hybrids This Holiday Season

There remains no doubt — the introduction of the iPad popularized the tablet computer like never before. While the iPad Air 2 and similarly powerful Android tablets, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Kindle Fire HDX, still dominate the market, a new category of laptop tablet hybrids also emerged, with Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 serving as a somewhat expensive example. Considering Windows 8 itself is essentially a hybrid of desktop and mobile operating systems with differing interfaces as well, most hybrids run Windows.

These hybrids also combine the power and typing ease of a laptop with the touchscreen user interface improvements ushered in by tablets. You’ll get the power for video streaming, so make sure your ISP offers enough bandwidth. What follows is a look at the best laptop tablet hybrids that make sense on your Holiday shopping list.

The best laptop tablet hybrids feature great pricing, features, and innovation

The ASUS Transformer Book T100 – An Inexpensive Hybrid Option

ASUS’s Transformer Book T100 continues to garner accolades as an inexpensive hybrid option powered by Windows 8.1. With a retail price starting around $350, the T100 sports an easily detachable 10.1-inch touchscreen that functions perfectly as a Windows tablet. The design leverages Intel’s low-power Atom processor that promises desktop-level power with enhanced battery life.

The T100 features 2 GB of RAM, and either 32 GB or 64 GB of storage capacity; the 64 GB model retails for $399. In addition to Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office Home and Student also comes pre-installed. The included keyboard dock adds little to the T100’s weight and width when in use.

The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 features a Useful Rotating Hinge

Dell’s Inspiron 11 3000 is priced slightly higher than the ASUS hybrid (anywhere from $400 to $500 depending on options), and its unique rotating hinge gives you a ton of flexibility when using your hybrid. A tablet, a laptop, or even as a small video screen — the possibilities are nearly endless with the Inspiron’s 11.6-inch touchscreen.

The $479 Inspiron model sports an Intel Quad Core N3530 processor and 4 GB of RAM. An actual 500 GB hard drive offers you a better storage option than the limited solid state memory in the ASUS T100. The $399 model still offers the same RAM and hard drive, but its Dual Core processor is weaker than the N3530.

 

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 works as a Premium Hybrid Solution

Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 3 is a robust option, possibly one of the the best laptop tablet hybrids, but one with a much more expensive price point compared to the Dell and ASUS models. The price of the Surface Pro 3 ranges from around $800 (a version without a keyboard) to nearly $2,000 depending primarily on the included processor and on-board storage. In fact, a version powered by an Intel i7 processor with 512 GB of storage and a detachable keyboard costs $2,099.

For that price, however, you’ll get desktop level performance with the convenience of a 12-inch touchscreen and a keyboard. Considering that the ASUS T100 comes with Office pre-installed, Microsoft might have considered offering more software on their flagship hybrid. Windows 8.1 is pre-installed, but Office is extra on the Surface Pro 3.

If you are looking for the convenience of a tablet with the power of a laptop, a hybrid is probably your best bet. Models from ASUS and Dell give you the benefits of a hybrid while still leaving you some leftover budget room for the others on your shopping list.

Net Neutrality in a Nutshell

With the President recently weighing in on Net Neutrality, this somewhat esoteric issue is now back in the news along with occasional misinterpretations and misinformation. With such a controversial and technically complex subject, basic facts can get lost amongst the political debate and pundit protest. So, what exactly is Net Neutrality and how does it affect your Internet activity or broadband speed? Let’s take a closer look at the details.

“That All Data is Created Equal”

In a nutshell, Net Neutrality means that all data on the Internet is equal, no matter its source or its original creator. This is how the Internet has always operated. ISPs provide you the bandwidth and Internet speed you pay for without any say or control of where that data originates: Netflix, Pandora, Amazon — it makes no difference.

Large telecommunication companies and ISPs have sued the FCC in recent years to challenge the principles of Net Neutrality. One main reason involves the large amount of streaming video data they transmit on their networks, most notably from Netflix. They feel they should be able to charge Netflix and other content providers more to transmit their data in an Internet “fast lane,” costs that will surely end up passed onto Netflix subscribers.

speed_traffic_lights_city

Preventing the Blocking of Content or Thwarting Fiber Network Expansion? 

Net Neutrality also means ISPs can’t block content from certain providers and websites. When a company like Comcast is both an ISP and as owner of NBC, a content provider, what is to stop them from throttling your bandwidth when you watch ABC or CBS? Net Neutrality.

ISPs feel the extra revenue earned from charging content providers for an Internet “fast lane” will allow them to expand their networks. Taxpayers through subsidies have also contributed billions to telecommunications companies to upgrade their networks. In fact, AT&T threatened to stop its investment in fiber optic network expansion if Net Neutrality rules are ultimately upheld; something met with derision from industry watchers.

Is the Internet an Information Service or a Telecommunications Service?

Another major issue in the Net Neutrality kerfuffle is whether the Internet is classified as an information service or a more regulated telecommunications service. The fact that the Internet was reclassified as an information service by the FCC in 2002, led to Verizon’s successful challenge of Net Neutrality rules. The FCC chair who made that original classification is now a cable industry lobbyist; the current FCC chair, nominated by President Obama, used to be a cable industry lobbyist.

Net Neutrality proponents obviously want the Internet reclassified as a telecommunications service. They feel this extra regulation will allow the principles of Net Neutrality to once again to guide the concept of a free Internet. Considering that many of you only have one or two options when choosing a local ISP, regulation may be ultimately necessary to prevent monopoly abuse.

So how does all this banter and brouhaha affect your daily broadband and Internet speed? If telecommunications companies are successful in instituting an Internet fast lane for video traffic, expect your Netflix subscription to increase by $5 – 10 per month, especially with Ultra HD becoming more popular. The specter of ISPs blocking content from other competing entities is another issue that may have to be solved separately from the Internet “fast lane” issue depending on how the politics play out over the next few years.

Stay tuned.

Two Easy Solutions to Prevent Streaming Media Buffering

The scenario is common in this Internet age. The family gets together to watch the latest movie on Netflix, only to have the viewing experience spoiled by video buffering and stuttering. You check the Internet speed at your house, and the bandwidth looks fine. So what gives?

Well, the problem might be with your home network. After looking at your router management software you see that everyone has their smartphone, tablet, and laptop simultaneously active on the network. The Netflix movie you are watching can’t get enough bandwidth to stream properly, forcing you to deal with buffering and poor video resolution.

What steps can you take to optimize the performance of your home network?

Limit the Number of Devices active on your Network

An easy way to maximize bandwidth before streaming a movie or TV show is to limit the number of devices on your network. Is Billy in the basement playing Call of Duty online with his friends? Great, kick his PS4 off the router and make him finish his homework!

Remember that even if you are paying extra for a 20 Mbps Internet service, all the devices on your Home WiFi network share the same bandwidth. It is important to manage network connections for the best possible media streaming performance.

Streaming media on a tablet

Upgrade your Router to Optimize Streaming

Investing in a better router gives you more options to boost streaming performance on your WiFi network. Consider spending extra for a dual band router, as it provides a 5 GHz network with the extra bandwidth suitable for watching movies online. Devices performing normal Internet activities like email and web browsing can use the router’s 2.4 GHz network freeing up the 5 GHz band for streaming activity.

Some high-end routers allow you to optimize the wireless connection for certain devices on your network. So your media streaming devices get the extra bandwidth they need for movie watching without buffering and video stuttering. Learning how to manage your router properly pays off with better Internet performance for everyone.

Ultimately, video buffering doesn’t have to be a problem with a fast Internet connection. Make it a point to limit the number of devices on your network when streaming rich media content. Additionally, invest in a better router — preferably dual band — to give you more flexibility when managing your home network.