CES 2015: webOS, tablets and funky tv’s

The 2015 International CES is over.  Among the products and product lines shown off were curved Televisions, 4K TV, ‘quantum dot’ TV, TV dongles, tablets, smartphones and accessories, self driving cars and more computers-of all shapes and sizes. Oh, and smart watches and fitness bands. Lots of them.

So, where do we start?  Well, lets start with one of my favorite operating systems. This OS is now in televisions, phones and … soon, smart watches.  Yep, webOS is making a splash with LG spearheading the way.  They purchased the OS from HP in 2013 and began adapting it for use in smart televisions.  The first effort, while it sold five million televisions, was less than stallear. webOS 2.0, however, is said to be fast and easier to code for than the previous release.  It has also been shrunk down to watch size.  LG has, seemingly, teamed with Audi to produce a watch that can open the car doors, place calls and a plethora of things.  LG denies it and Audi was just trying to show off the car.  The Verge reports seeing an ‘about’ screen that shows the webOS version.  For a dead OS, it sure is making a splash.  The interesting thing is that, at the current rate, LG will have more webOS devices in the wild than Palm/HP Palm ever could.

Intel showed off its Compute Stick, an HDMI dongle for your Television that is a complete Windows computer on a stick.  Selling for $149, the Compute Stick features an Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and features a micro-SD slot for future expansion. So, it is a rather spartan PC, but, it is very portable and Wifi enabled,so you could just throw it in a bag, your pocket, whatever and take it with you instead of a laptop. The drawbacks, of course, are that you do need a keyboard and mouse AND an HDMI enabled display. But, if you don’t mind these limitations, the Stick might just be your travelling companion.  A cheaper, $89 version running Linux will also be available.  Though, the Linux version sports half the RAM and only 8GB of storage.

I’m no Sony fan, but, I would definitely purchase their newest 65 inch set. This thing is 4.9 mm thick. The 4K set is thinner than most current smartphones.  It is edge to edge awesomness.

In a big nod to Microsoft’s Surface tablets, a group of former Google engineers introduced the Remix. To be offered up next month via a Kickstarter campaign, the device has many of the same features of Surface, looks like the Surface and its software, another Android fork, even resembles Windows 8 applications and its mail client is a rip off of Windows 8 mail.  Still, It says much about Surface that these gentlemen would decide to ‘me too’ the tablet.

Speaking of tablets, there were plenty to choose from. From a six inch Windows tablet all the way up to a 65 inch, 4k enabled tablet from FUHU.  Perhaps the most interesting ones, however, are the under $150 Windows tablets which are going to be available in the next month or so.  There were no new Kindles, but there were a bunch of Android tablets as well. No one tablet really stood out (well, maybe that 65 incher) but they were all well represented.  Have a look on CNet’s News.Com for more.

For a complete wrap up of the events at CES, the Verge has a good summary.

Comcast…What the hell is your problem!?

For the last week, I’ve not been getting all of the cable service that I am paying Comcast to deliver. Indeed, the cable box (a nice, small Motorola HD DVR) locked up and refused to work. So, I took it back and got another box. That one, another small Moto box, refused to ‘authorize’.  At first, I tried the online method. That failed. Then, I call the local number. That failed. My wife calls the customer service line and they ‘sent a signal’ and told use to wait 45 minutes. Of course, nothing happened.  I took it back.

I am now on the third box, another one of the ancient – a BIG – silver Moto boxes.  Get that one home, set it up, call the local authorization number and….nothing. Or, so it seemed.  I put on the tv guide and, viola! it started to load.

Thinking we were good to go, I started channel hopping.  Video! The Weather Channel, check!  CNN, check! Several channels down and all is go.  Then, it hit me…these were the crappy analog and SD channels that are just being carried digitally now.  Damn.

So, I go to the HD version of Weather Channel and….’you are not authorized’.  SERIOUSLY?! Dammit, Comcast, what the hell is your problem! was what I thought.

So, I call the customer service number.  Turns out, not only was the box I given not in the system, it seems the person I spoke with was not even in the damn country. Now, I don’t mind talking to someone in some far off land, even if they are pretending to be where I am, but, I do want to be able to understand them and this person just was not clear.  They had an accent, but it was not all that thick. No, the issue was that they were mumbling. Yeah, mumbling.  Like the dude on ‘King of the Hill.’

Anyway, he ‘guaranteed’ that what he was going to do would fix my problem. He sent several ‘special codes’ and ‘signals’ to my DVR, but nothing worked.  So, he tried one last time.  He tells me to wait an hour (bullshit, these things do not take that long) and then try again. ‘Picture be back, guaranteed.’ Some guarantee. Of course, it did not work.

Called them again today-I refuse to waist my time and gas going back to that bloody office, they can come to me and I WILL NOT pay for a house call either.

The young lady, clearly from somewhere in the continental United States this time, was polite, even though I was less than polite. Daisy, you did good, by the way. After explaining what happened, that my wife had JUST CALLED, an hour earlier (she really did, even had a ticket number) and that I was ready to cancel the service, she told me that there was a problem with my account, with the DVR and that more special codes and signals would be needed.  She tried four, maybe five times to no avail. 

So, Comcast is now paying me a visit in the next 24 hours.  We will see how that goes. Dish Networks, I’m looking your way.  If Comcast fails me tomorrow-they have one shot-I’m giving you a call.

Oh, and remember my glowing comments over Comcast a few posts ago? Yeah, you can forget that.

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Comcast: new consumer focus?

So, I’ve been pretty harsh on Comcast-with good reason. However, I have to share a rather pleasant trip I had to the local Comcast office.
I had two DVR’s and neither of them worked right. One would not authorize and the other stopped displaying the HD channels and refused to record or playback. Since we only need a DVR on one TV anyway, I decided to swap one for just a digital box. So, we went to the Comcast office and not only did we not have to wait (went Saturday afternoon) but they were pretty efficient. The damned window booths are gone. They are using iPads to pre-screen customers so they can go to the right person and, in our case, that was just two feet away. The young lady who waited on us was not only helpful and patient (I couldn’t make up my mind as to what kind of box I wanted) she was also very nice.

Unfortunately, the experience once I got the gear home was different. The DVR installed quite easily, but the digital converter did not – and it is much simpler than the DVR. Calling the local authorization number did not help. I had to call the national number. However, it was not a difficult ordeal as they now use voice prompts instead of the keypad on the phone. Once I told it which box to authorized, it took just a few seconds to get the box working.

The DVR, however, does not work with HBO, which I pay for, and the Video On Demand. It is giving me the old ‘not authorized’ message and a funky error screen. So, another call is in store.

Overall, though, I have to say, the Comcast of old appears to be going away, replaced with a better, more consumer focused company.

The recent change to the data cap, the better attention to consumers via Facebook and Twitter and the revamping of the local offices all add up to a more pleasant experience.

Good on you, Comcast!

Call of Duty Elite: rip off or massive deal? Depends

Activision. A great name in gaming. An early ‘third party’ game developer, Activision developed an entire genre…the platformer…with Pitfall!. Indeed, this company pioneered or popularized many different genre’s and games.  It’s most successful, though, is Call of Duty.

Call of Duty has endured and, through time, has had many great and not so great games.  Recent editions, however, have sort of staled. Oh, there are minor differences and a few enhancements in the last two games.  Unfortunately, Activision didn’t actually develop them. It’s subsidiary Infinity Ward did Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2 and parts of Modern Warfare 3.  Black Ops was done, mostly, by Treyarch. Try as you may, though, the games suffer from a sameness that Activision seems to want to acknowledge and set right.

The answer is Elite.  Elite is a service that started with MW3 that provides, among other things, enhanced stat tracking, and the ability to look at said stats from a multitude of devices.  Elite has a free and a paid version.  The paid version, which costs fifty dollars (US) give additional perks like clan management and a ‘season of exclusive downloadable content’ such as map packs. They promise nine months of the DLC.  Elite members get the DLC weeks or months before ‘normal’ users.  Most map packs are in the $15 range and they said three to four such packs would be released, so $50 seems like a good deal. Right?

Not so fast.

If only one person in your household plays the game, then, yes, awesome deal. BUUUUT…..

If, like me, you have two more people (or more) in your household who also like the game, well, you best be ponying up Fifty bucks per person because those map packs ONLY work with paid memberships. Yep. They are not CONSOLE oriented like the other map packs, no, they are PER USER.

I made the mistake of purchasing Elite, thinking that the new maps that came out a few days ago, would be made available for all users.  I remember reading that early on. They would be CONSOLE tied, not user tied. Well, guess what? They are tied to the USER.

Of course, I was not going to spend another $100 in addition to the $50 I had paid for Elite and the $60 that the game cost.  $210 is quite a bit of money for a shoot them up game. Hell, it is a lot for any game.

So, unhappy with the situation, I attempted to contact Activision. I found NO phone number on their web site and, seemingly, no other good way to contact them.  I finally found a support page on FACEBOOK!  So, I posted my complaint and, surprisingly, got a response fairly quickly.  I was told that  I would need to contact MICROSOFT for a refund since I bought Elite from XBOX Live Marketplace. 

Well, calling Microsoft would have meant a forty five minute wait on the phone but I could get help immediately if I used the online chat. So, I did.  I got some dude named ‘Marc’.  He was very helpful and, in fact, did refund the full fifty dollars plus gave me a one month XBOX Live Gold Membership. He apologized for the inconvenience and that was that. 

Not so quite, though. Back on Facebook, the Activision rep responded again and was sort of sympathetic. They said that Activision was aware of my situation (I’m guessing they got LOTS of complaints) and were going to address it. Not only that, my complaint was being forwarded to the appropriate departments.  So, maybe they will offer a ‘family’ membership option. As long as it is reasonably priced, I would probably buy it.  Reasonable being up to twenty dollars more. 

At any rate, be sure you know exactly what you are getting into before purchasing such memberships.

And, Activision? You won’t have my loyalty again unless you fix this.  I used to think you all were the best. No longer.  You aren’t any better than EA.

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