Category: Media (Pictures

Cord Cutting 2016 Update

Cord Cutting 2016 Update

In case you haven’t heard the term, cord cutting refers to cancelling your cable/satellite TV service and using an alternative Internet based approach. We’ve done several articles on this subject over the years, but because it’s always changing, it’s time for another update. Cord CuttingThis all stems from my own experience cutting the cord many years ago. As new services and hardware have become available, I have changed my approach. The approaches I have used in the past were very technical and complicated and, thus, not for most people.

However, I was getting tired of all of the problems we were having and also in the last year or so, I have become aware of some new services and some new hardware that make cord cutting easier and more accessible to people without the technical complication.

Before I go any further, I want to tell you that cord cutting isn’t for everyone. It all depends on what is important to you. For example, if you are someone who primarily watches local channels and Netflix and that’s just about all you need, then cord cutting could work for you. But if you want to record shows on cable channels and play them back at your convenience, then cord cutting may not be for you. It all depends on what shows you want to watch and when you want to watch them.
The biggest advantage to cord cutting is saving money. Our cable bill was over $200 when we cut the cord. But we aren’t saving $200 each month because there are some subscription costs associated with cord cutting. It’s more ala cart than cable. That’s nice because you can pick and choose and only pay for what you want.
Now let me tell you how to cut the cord.

I’m assuming you already have a TV and Internet service. The next thing you need is a steaming media player. A streaming media player connects to your TV and the Internet and lets you stream video from the Internet. The streaming media players currently available include Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, TiVo Roamio, and Android TV boxes (made by many different companies). Of course, computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones can also be streaming devices, but that’s another story.

I am currently using a Roku 3 streaming media player and I have to say that I really like it. I have used Amazon Fire TV some and it seems pretty good too. Apple TV as well seems good too, but I’ve only messed with it briefly a few times at other people’s homes. Roku has been around the longest. It doesn’t have the prettiest interface, but it’s good. Because it has been around so long, it has the most “Channels”. A channel is really an app. Just like you can install apps on your phone, you can install channels on your Roku. There are over 3000 official channels for the Roku. And that doesn’t even include the untold thousands of private channels you can get as well.

But don’t think that all of these channels are free. Many of them charge a subscription fee. Let’s talk about the big three. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon are three services for which there are Roku channels. You can install these channels on your Roku, but before you can watch them, you must have a subscription. Netflix is $8/month. Hulu is also $8. Amazon is $100/year (or about $8.25/month). There are many cable channels that are available on the Roku but only if you also have that channel on cable TV and jump through some hoops to link it to your cable TV subscription. That’s not we cord cutters are looking for.
Other popular channels that require subscriptions include HBO, Showtime, MLB.TV, NBA, ESPN, NFL, Disney, and many more. There are a lot of free channels on Roku too. Some good ones are Crackle (movies and older TV shows), iHeart Radio (music), Pandora (music), PBS, and YouTube. If you haven’t explored YouTube in depth, you might be surprised as to what’s available on YouTube. There are lots of news channels too. As I said, there are over 3000 channels and many of them are very specific. The Dog Relaxation channel is something you can play for your dog while you are gone. There’s one for cats too. Not sure what you are supposed to do if you have a dog and a cat. Are you a UFO fanatic? There’s channels for you. Are you a bride to be? Yep. You’re covered. Do you like to watch goats? If so, try Goats Live! Actually, this is one of the more popular channels, believe it or not. Enjoy listening to 911 calls? Yep, there’s a channel for that. And yes, of course, there are channels just for adults. For a list of channels on Roku, click here.

There is something I want to make sure you understand. When you watch a channel on Roku, it’s not like watching on cable TV. When you switch to a channel on cable TV, you see whatever is playing at that time. Whatever it is may have just started or may be half over. For example, let’s say it is 15 minutes past the hour and you tune into PBS on cable TV and Sesame Street is on. You missed the first 15 minutes but can watch the rest live. On a streaming media player like Roku, when you go to the PBS Kids channel, it lists a bunch of shows that you can watch. One of them is Sesame Street. They aren’t live. You can select the show and episode you want to watch and watch it from beginning to end.

Having said that, there is now a service that basically gives you live cable TV on your media streaming player. That service is Sling TV. The basic package is $20/month and includes 25 cable channels that you can watch live. But you can’t record them and watch them later. And you can’t skip commercials. If you are a sports nut (I’m not) the basic package (Sling Orange) includes ESPN and ESPN 2. Their top of the line package (Sling Blue) includes those plus NFL Network, NBC Sports Network, and Fox Sports 1 & 2. They also have a Sports Extra add-on for $5/month which gives you eight more sports/outdoor channels.
A Roku alone wasn’t enough for me. Although there are Roku channels that let you watch your local news live, I wanted to be able to watch and record shows from local TV. A new breed of device has come on the market in the last couple of years. These devices are called Over-The-Air DVR’s. They connect to an antenna and to your local network (your router) either wired or wireless. Once connected, just install the corresponding app on your media streaming players and you can watch and record local TV on all of the streaming media players in your house. And you only need one OTA DVR to service the whole house. Of course these devices aren’t cheap. The one I have is called Tablo. It was $200 plus a $50/year subscription.

So for the basic setup, you have hardware costs for Roku 3 ($100), Tablo ($200), and a TV antenna for Tablo ($40). So startup costs are $340. In terms of subscriptions, the only subscription you have to have is for Tablo which is $50/year or about $4.17/month. That’s a lot cheaper than $200/month for cable TV.

For the sake of cost comparison, let’s say you want Sling TV (the basic package) ($20. In addition, let’s say you want Netflix ($8), Hulu ($8), and HBO ($15). Now your monthly subscription cost has gone to $55.17. Still much cheaper than Cable TV.
Let’s say you only want Sling TV and you want their biggest package ($25) but you want to add Kids add-on ($5), HBO add-on ($15), Comedy add-on ($5), and the Lifestyle add-on ($5). That gives you 66 cable channels with a total monthly subscription cost of $59.17 including the Tablo subscription.

I personally have a lot of movies, TV shows, music, pictures, home videos, and stuff like that loaded on a computer which we use as our media server. Using free software called Plex along with the Plex Channel on the Roku, I can stream all of that media to any of our TV’s that have a Roku on them. We can view our home videos, pictures and so forth on our TV in addition to watching movies and TV shows. Doing this is a little more complicated than Roku and Tablo though. If you are interested in this, you might need our help.

If you are interested in cutting the cord, we would be glad to help. We can help figure out what will work for you and we can even set it all up for you.

Why Go Digital With Your Media?

Why Go Digital With Your Media?

When I was a teenager we didn’t have CDs. We had records and we had cassette tapes. 8-track came and went and didn’t last very long. You could purchase your music on record or cassette, but I would always purchase records and record them to my own blank cassette tapes and listen to them on cassette instead of the record. I did this for two main reasons. One reason was that I wanted to lessen the wear on my records. I figured I could listen to the cassette until it wore out or got lost. Then I could record it onto another cassette tape from the record again. The other reason was that I had a cassette deck in my car that allowed me to listen to my recorded music in the car.

Today, although you can still purchase CDs and even records to some extent, music has pretty much gone digital. And for good reason. In fact, some of the reasons are the same reasons I recorded my records onto cassette. When you have a digital copy, you have flexibility and control. You can burn it to a CD if you want but you can also put it on an mp3 player, smartphone or tablet. Just like with my records and cassette tapes, if something happens to your CD or your device, you still have the music and can burn another CD or put it on another device.

But digital copies of your media give you even more power and flexibility than that. You can edit your media. Is a particular song not loud enough? Edit it and make it louder. Does a certain song go on too long? Shorten it. Let me give you an example. Most people have heard the song, “Hey Jude” by the Beatles. The end of that song gets kind of repetitive and goes on for a long time. If you don’t like that, you can edit the song and fade it out earlier and thus, shorten the song.

Digital media also gives you the power to share your music with others, but that would be a copyright infringement in most cases.

Movies are going digital too. Buying and renting DVD’s is still around but mainly only through RedBox machines and rent by mail services like NetFlix. You certainly don’t see video rental stores like BlockBuster anymore. And that’s primarily thanks to services like Netflix that allow you to watch movies on your computer, gaming console, or internet connected TV. You can’t really purchase digital copies of movies, but you can watch them which is kind of like renting.

So now that we know the advantages to having your media in digital format, how do we get our media into digital format? That all depends on what format your media is on. CD’s are easy. All you do is pop your CD into the optical (CD, DVD) drive on your computer and use a program to rip (import) your music from the CD into digital format. Windows Media Player (WMP), which comes with Windows, can do this. However, before you use WMP to do this, change the Rip Music format from WMA to MP3 in the options. You can also use iTunes or any other music player on your computer to rip music from a CD. Just check the settings to make sure it’s going to put them in MP3 format.

If your music is in a cassette tape, 8-track, reel to reel, or record, then it gets harder. In this case, what you have to do is come up with a device capable of playing the media and figure out a way to connect that device with your computer. Then you can used free software like Audacity to record it while you play it on the device. Another way to get your music into digital format is to re-purchase it from an online store like iTunes or Amazon.com.

Another consideration for getting the music you own on one format to another format is to download it for free from other people. I’m not condoning copyright infringement here. However, it seems to me if you paid for a particular piece of music in one format, you shouldn’t have to pay for it again to get it on another format. If I have the equipment to take a song on a record and get it into digital format, that’s not a copyright infringement, but if I download the song from someone else, that is? I don’t think so. Downloading music from peer to peer file sharing networks started with Napster which was the first popular file sharing application. Since Napster was taken down, there have been others that rose and fell including the popular LimeWire but the only real viable method these days is BitTorrent. Downloading music using BitTorrent, however, is dangerous. You can easily infect your computer if you are not careful. So for most people, the best bet is to either repurchase or come up with the equipment to record your existing media into digital format.

For movies, it’s harder. DVD’s can be ripped like music CD’s, but because of copy protection, you have to purchase DVD ripping software to do it. If you want to do this, I recommend Magic DVD Ripper. I haven’t used them all. In fact, Magic DVD Ripper is the only one I have used. But it works great. If your movie is on VHS, then you will need a VCR to play the movie and a capture device to take the output from the VCR and feed it into the computer. If your video is on film, you would be better off taking it to a specialist and having them do it. Unlike music, you can’t go online and purchase a digital copy of a movie. You can only subscribe to services that let you watch online. Just like music, most movies can be downloaded in digital format using BitTorrent. However, as I mentioned earlier, it’s dangerous.

Once you have your media in digital format, we recommend that you back it up so that you don’t lose it all if you have a hard drive crash, theft, flood, or fire. You can back up to external hard drive, but that only protects you against hard drive crashes. It doesn’t help if your home is destroyed by flood or fire and it doesn’t help if a thief steals your computer and your external hard drive. Online backup services are good, but you have to be careful to get the right one. First of all, movies take up a lot of space, so make sure you choose a backup service with unlimited storage. Next, some online backup services won’t back up videos by default. One such service is Carbonite. If you have videos you want to back up online, I recommend CrashPlan. One other thing to mention is that if you have a lot of digital media, especially video, it’s going to take a long time to do the first online backup after you sigh up with a service.

Another media I should mention are pictures. If you have pictures that are not digital and only exist on photo paper, then you should consider getting them into digital format as well. There are two ways to do this. You can scan each one yourself, or you can send them off to a service that will do it for you. They can even scan negatives and slides. However, some of these services are very expensive. Online services are usually cheaper. Research them thoroughly.

There are several advantages to having your photos in digital format. You can edit them and fix them so that they look better. You can share them with family and friends. You can back them up and thus protect them. You can use them on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). You can use them to create slideshows. Use your digital music as background music for your slideshow too!

Computers, the Internet, and Music

Computers, the Internet, and Music

When I was a kid, we had records. You had the album, also known as an LP (Long Play), which was a disk about the size of a dinner plate. You played it on a record player. The album could hold about 25 minutes on each side. You also had the 45 or the single. This is a smaller disk that could hold one song on each side. The LP ran at a speed of 33 1/3 while the 45 ran at a speed of, you guessed it, 45. I know they had 78’s, but that was before my time, so I’m not too familiar with them.

In the late 70’s, the cassette began to catch on. They were smaller than records. The player for cassettes was also more portable than records. Another nice thing about cassettes was that you could record your records onto the cassette and then listen to that same music on cassette. All it cost was the price of a blank cassette. Another nice thing about cassettes was that you could get 90 minute cassettes which would hold 45 minutes on each side. So you could often put two albums on one cassette.

When you went to the music store, you could usually purchase your album on record or cassette. I always purchased them on record and then recorded it to a blank cassette. My reasoning was so that I did not wear out the record playing it. I could wear out the cassette and then just re-record the record to a new blank cassette.

By the way, I’m skipping the 8-track format because it never really caught on like the cassette and CD did. I’m also ignoring reel-to-reel because those were mainly owned by audiophiles. In the early 80’s, the CD began to become popular for music distribution. CD’s had many advantages over both records and cassettes. The CD was still very portable like the cassette tape, but CD’s don’t wear out and you could easily skip a song or go directly to a specific song instead of all of that fast forwarding and guessing that came with the cassette tape.

It wasn’t too long before records and cassettes started disappearing from the music stores and you’re only option was to purchase music on CD. But there were some drawbacks. Unlike cassettes, you couldn’t record the records and cassettes you already had onto CD. If you wanted all CD’s, you had to re-purchase all of your music. I suppose that’s the way the music companies wanted it.

You may be wondering why I’m talking about music distribution media in a computer newsletter. The reason is to talk about how computers and the internet have changed music. CD’s were the standard for quite a while, but now music stores are dying and electronic distribution is taking over.

It’s really pretty easy to take your records, cassettes, and yes, even your 8-track music and get it on to your computer. All you need is something that will play that format and a cable to hook it up to your computer. Then you can record your music to the computer. Getting music from audio CD’s onto your computer is even easier. Just pop it in the drive on the computer and rip the music using any number of free software like Windows Media Player which comes with Windows.

In the digital world, you still have the issue of format, though. Instead of records, cassettes, 8-tracks, CD’s, and so forth, you instead have mp3, wma, mp4, flac, and tons of others. The good part is that it’s not too hard to convert music from one format to another. I convert everything to mp3 because it’s so portable and you don’t have to worry about licensing. Some audiophiles don’t think mp3’s sound as good as other formats, but I think they sound just fine. I can’t tell the difference, at least.

So, once you have all of your music in digital format, what then? If you have all of your music on one computer, then any other computer in the house can listen to that music over your home network. You can install a media extender on any TV and access music and other media on your computer. If you have an Xbox, you can listen to your music through that. You can purchase a radio transmitter for about $150 and hook it up to your computer and have it play music. Then you only need to tune into the correct radio channel on any radio in the house to listen to that music.

Taking your music with you is even easier with digital format as well. iPods and mp3 players are great for taking music with you. Most smart phones like iPhones can be loaded up with music and you can listen to it. In your car, you have lots of options too. If your car has an aux plug on the stereo, you can plug your smart phone or mp3 player right into the stereo and listen to the music that is on the device. Some of the newer car stereos have USB ports so all you have to do is load up a USB flash drive with music and then just plug it in there.

But what if your car doesn’t have an aux plug or a USB port? No problem! You can purchase a device that transmits your music over FM radio. Then you plug that device into your music device and then tune your car radio to the correct station and  you can hear your music. It really couldn’t be easier or nicer. And no commercials.

Google Versus Apple

Google Versus Apple

Google Versus Apple

Apple and Microsoft have been battling it out since the two companies were formed. In the world of computers, Microsoft has been the clear winner for a very long time. However, computers are not the only market where the two companies compete. Two other big areas are portable audio and cell phones. Microsoft has never been successful at matching Apple’s success in these markets.  Although the Microsoft Zune and Windows 7 phones are very good products, they have never gained anywhere the popularity of  Apple’s iPod and iPhone.

In the last few years, however, there has been one company who has not only been able to compete with Apple in the cell phone market, they have taken the number one spot away from Apple. That company is Google. Google’s Android operating system has unseated the iPhone as the best-selling smart phone.

What has separated Apple from the pack in the past is their goal to create products that are simple and easy to use, even for the common, no so gadget-minded person. They do this not only through the design of the product, through control of how the product is used. For example, with the iPhone, Apple has worked very hard to restrict which applications you can download and install on your iPhone. They also control the App Store and make it very hard for you to use any application other than those on their App Store.  You can “jailbreak” your iPhone so that you can use other applications, but it’s a complicated process and you risk voiding your warranty. Because of that, most people won’t do it. Google’s Android phone, on the other hand, is not only very configurable, it’s not restricted like the iPhone is either.

Another example of Apple’s control is on the iPod. You MUST use iTunes to load music onto your iPod. Other mp3 players on the market allow you to manually drag and drop music. You can also use any of the slew of media players for Windows to load your mp3 player. But you can only use iTunes with an iPod.

Apple’s strategy has obviously worked well for them in the past, but that may be coming to an end. Apple’s target market is people who are intimidated by gadgets and people who are technology challenged. But that part of the population is declining. With each new generation, there are more and more people who grew up with this technology. Those people want features and flexibility. They aren’t afraid of technology. In fact, they embrace it. Apple is simply going to have to change their strategy if they are going to compete with Google.

Apple’s latest success has been the iPad. It uses the same operating system as the iPhone, so it has the same restrictions and control. It has been very successful, but it’s about to be unseated just like the iPhone was. How, you might ask? Google’s Android operating system that runs on phones is being used on tablets now. A comparison in a recent issue of “Maximum PC” magazine compared the Motorola Xoom (a tablet running Android) with Apple’s iPad 2. Out of seven categories, they tied in a one category. The iPad 2 won two categories. But the Android tablet won the other four categories and was chosen as the overall favorite.

Are we saying Apple products are bad? Certainly not! Apple products are very good. Especially for those who are intimidated by technology. All we are saying is that Apple is going to have to change their strategy because their target market is shrinking.

DCIM

DCIM

If you have a digital camera and you have ever looked at the contents or manually moved pictures from a memory card to your computer, you have no doubt noticed that the pictures are always under a folder called DCIM. Doesn’t matter what brand of camera you have. They all put pictures in a folder called DCIM. Have you ever wondered what this was all about?

DCIM stands for Digital Camera Images. Basically, it’s a standard. Kind of like hot on the left and cold on the right for sinks, tubs, and showers. It’s supposed to make it easier to find your pictures because you always know they will be in the DCIM folder.

This standard was started by JEITA (Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association). It was adopted by digital camera manufacturers around the world and remains the standard today. If you delete DCIM from the memory card, the camera will recreate it and put any pictures you take in that folder.

Sharing Photos

Sharing Photos

Something that most people do with their computers these days is share pictures with friends and family. These days, there are lots of different ways to do that. The two most popular ways of sharing pictures are to put them on a website or to email them. There are lots of websites that allow you to share photos. The most popular one is Facebook. Flickr.com is probably the second most popular with PicasaWeb (from Google) gaining fast.

In this article I’m going to focus on how to email pictures. You may not be aware of this, but there is a limit to how big an email can be. However, that size limit varies from email host to email host. It generally varies from 2 megabytes (mb) to 5mb. If the maximum size of an email is 5mb on your email service but it’s 2mb on the email service used by your friend, then if you send that person a 5 megabyte email, they won’t get it. Because of this, you should always try to keep your emails at or below 2mb.

But when you are emailing pictures that you took with your digital camera, a single picture can be 2mb by itself. You really don’t want to have to send one email for each picture. You also don’t want to have to edit each picture to reduce the size just so you can email it. Never fear, we are here to tell you about some easy ways to send pictures through email.

By the way, reducing the size doesn’t mean taking an 8×10 picture and making it into a 4×6. When we refer to the size of a picture, that refers to how much space it takes up when stored. When you reduce the size of a picture, you are lowering the quality of that picture. If the those receiving your pictures are just going to look at the pictures on their computer, then this lower quality won’t matter. The pictures will still look great on the computer screen.

If, however, the people you are sending photos to want to get prints made, they should not uses these reduced quality photos you send through email to make big prints. If the people you are sending photos to want to do that, you should send the picture in its original form without reducing the size or quality.

In general, the best way to email a group of photos is to use photo software. Most digital cameras come with photo software. Some are better than others. There is a free photo program from Google that is called Picasa. It’s very good and has a lot of great features. And best of all, it’s free. You can use it to transfer the pictures from your camera to your computer. You can use it to email a group of photos as well. All you do is select the pictures you want to email, tell it you want to email them, tell it who you want to email them to, and then Picasa will automatically adjust the size and quality of the pictures so they can be emailed. Most photo software can do this.

Another feature Picasa provides is PicasaWeb. You can use Picasa to post your pictures on PicasaWeb. Then you can just send a simple email (with no pictures in it) to your friends and family and give them a link they can click on to view the photos.

By the way, if you are ever looking at a photo online and you want to save a copy of it for yourself, it’s easy to do. Just right-click on the photo and choose “Save As” or “Save Picture As”. Then just tell it where you want to save it and give it a name and you’re done.

Some email clients have the capability to reduce the size of your pictures for you so they will fit in your email. In Outlook 2007, you can have it automatically reduce the size of your attached pictures. To do that, once you have your email all ready to go and the pictures attached, you can click on attachment options. Under picture options, you can select what size you want to resize the pictures to.

In Outlook 2010 it works a little differently. It’s more automatic but gives you less control. Instead of you specifying the size, you just tell it to automatically reduce the size of your attached pictures for you to whatever makes sense for email. To do that, once you have your email ready to go and the pictures all attached, click on File and at the top of the window, click on the circle to the left of “Resize large images when I send this message”. Now click Message to go back to your message. When you send the message, Outlook will automatically reduce the size of large pictures so your email will go through.

And by the way, never send any sensitive photos over the internet. Any photo  you post on a website or send through email can be intercepted by someone. If you have sensitive photos you want to send someone you should encrypt them before you send them. How to encrypt a file is a topic for another article. Another option would be to just print them on paper and mail them instead of sending them over the internet.

How to Load Music Onto Your PC From CD’s

How to Load Music Onto Your PC From CD’s

Computers are great for music. When you play music on your computer, the music either has to be coming in over the network or Internet, or the music has to already be loaded on your computer. In previous articles we talked about how to play music that is on the web. Today we are going to talk about how to load music onto your PC; specifically, how to get music from your CD’s onto your computer.

Generally, music can be loaded onto your computer either by downloading it (whether legally or illegally) or by copying music from your CD’s onto your computer. The process of copying music from a CD onto a computer is called ripping. I don’t know where the name ripping comes from for this process. It sounds violent, doesn’t it? I assure you, no music is harmed during the process of ripping a CD.

Just about any music player that runs on a computer and plays CD’s is capable of ripping a CD. But because Windows Media Player comes with Windows, I’m going to be using that as an example. So here’s how to rip your CD’s to your computer.

First, open Windows Media Player. There are several different versions of Windows Media Player. Which one you have depends on what version of Windows you have.  If you have Windows XP, you could have anywhere from version 8 to version 11. If you have Vista, you should have version 11. If you have Windows 7, then you should have Windows Media Player 12. Windows Media Player 12 will not work on XP or Vista. If you have XP and you don’t have version 11, you can download it by clicking on this link: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?FamilyID=1d224714-e238-4e45-8668-5166114010ca&displaylang=en

Now that you have Windows Media Player 11 running, you will see a tab called “Rip”. Click on the small arrow icon just below the Rip tab and click “More Options”. Here is where you can set the options for ripping. You will only need to do this once on your computer. From then on, these options will be in effect by default. It’s important to know where the music is going to end up on your computer once it’s been ripped. In the section “Rip music to this location” it shows you where the music will go. If you don’t like where it’s going to put it, click the “change” button to tell it where you want it to put the music.

Next, change the format to MP3. And lastly, set the audio quality to 128kbps and click OK to save these settings. Now that all of the settings are ready, insert a CD into the drive if you haven’t already. You should then see a list of all of the tracks on the CD in Windows Media Player.  You can add and remove checkmarks in the boxes next to each track to tell it which tracks you want to rip. Only the tracks with a checkmark next to them will be ripped. When you are ready, click the button marked “Start Rip”.

It will take several seconds for each track to be ripped. Once complete, each song you selected will be in your rip folder in MP3 format and ready to be listened to.


PC’s are Great for Music

PC’s are Great for Music

PC’s are great for music!

We’ve already covered in a previous article about playing music off of the internet. But what about music that is actually on your computer?

There are several ways music can get onto your computer. If you have CD’s, you can rip your CD’s. Ripping a CD is the process of taking the music from the CD, converting it into a digital format, and storing it on your computer.

Another popular method of getting music onto your computer is to purchase it from an online store like iTunes, Amazon.com, Walmart, Best Buy, and so on. Selection and price vary. What also varies is what format the music will be in once it’s downloaded to your computer and whether or not that music will have any sort of copy protection on it. Most online stores are steering away from copy protection. If you make sure to download your files in mp3 format, there’s no copy protection because mp3 format does not provide copy protection functionality.

The other popular way that music gets on computers is to download them using peer-to-peer software like Utorrent or LimeWire. In most cases, doing this constitutes a copy infringement. We aren’t condemning or condoning this practice. We are simply saying that a lot of people get music on their computer using this method.

Once you have music on your computer, you’ll want to organize it. There are lots of ways to organize your music. You might want to organize them by genre (Rock, Country, Christian, Rap, Hip Hop, etc), artist, or time period (70’s, 80’s, etc.). Or you might want to organize it by mood (love songs, fast songs, mellow songs, party songs, etc.). However you organize them, we recommend that you do organize them. Don’t just throw them all into one folder. Create sub-folders to organize them.

The other thing that is good to do is to fix the tags. Tags are information about the song. The title of the song, the artist, the album, etc. It’s a good idea to have these tags be correct so you know what you are listening to. Editing the tags can be achieved with most any music player, but not easily. If you want to do mass editing of your music tags, then  you will want a tag editor. The best free one I have found is mp3tag. Check it out at www.mp3tag.de/en

Now you have your music on your computer. You’ve organized it and have the tags all correct. Now you’ll want to play your music. You can play it on the computer where the music is stored. You can share it with the other computers on your network so they can play the same music without having to load that music on them. You can copy the music to your phone or mp3 player so you can listen to it on the go. Sharing music and getting music on your mp3 player or phone are big topics that will be covered on their own in future articles.

In terms of what software to use to play the music on your computer,  you have lots of options. Windows comes with Windows Media Player which can play most kinds of music. It’s a pretty good player. Some versions of Windows also come with Windows Media Center (note that is different than Windows Media Player). Windows Media Center not only plays music, it can play video, TV, radio, and more. Between Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center, I would use Windows Media Player if I am just playing music.

The most popular alternatives to Windows Media Player are iTunes and WINAMP. My favorite is WINAMP. There is a paid version, but there is also a free version. For the vast majority of people, the free version of WINAMP has everything you need.

There are lots of things I like about WINAMP. When you click stop to stop a song in the middle, it doesn’t just stop. It quickly fades out. That may sound like a stupid feature, but I don’t like it when music abruptly stops, so it’s a feature I like. I also like the fact that I can crossfade music. As the music plays, instead of one song ending and then another starting, the ending song will fade out as the new song fades in; just like you would hear on a radio station or at a dance. But what I like most about WINAMP is how configurable it is. There are loads of skins available for download. You can specify what information is displayed and how. There are a lot of cool plug-ins  you can download for it, but you really need the paid version for that. If you are interested in WINAMP, check out www.winamp.com.

Can I Cancel Cable TV?

Can I Cancel Cable TV?

I don’t know about you, but I would love to cancel my Cable TV and just use a computer and the internet to get programming. Preferably free. It seems like we are getting closer to that, but how close are we?

We’ve done articles in this newsletter about Home Theater PC’s. In case you missed those articles, a Home Theater PC is a computer that is connected to a projector or TV and to the internet. It is used to obtain or record and also play back media like video and music. Video includes TV shows and movies.

Here’s what’s a Home Theater PC can do today.

A home theater PC (HTPC) can play music CD’s and movie DVD’s. Most PC’s can do this.

Your HTPC can act as a media server. Store all of your media there and share it. Then any computer in the house can access it. Other TV’s in the house can access it if you purchase and connect a media sharing device that lets you access media on your HTPC.

You can go to websites like YouTube and Hulu to watch videos and TV shows on your HTPC. You can also watch TV shows on the network websites. But not all shows are available and there is often a delay of days to weeks before you can see them.

You can install a TV tuner that will not only allow you to watch TV shows, but will also act as a DVR so you can record and playback. If you hook an antenna up to it, you can only get over the air stations. You can hook cable TV up to it, but you can really only get basic cable this way.

As far as movies go,  services like Netflix are starting to offer the ability to stream movies to your computer. So if you are a Netflix subscriber, you can watch some movies that way.

There are ways to download music, TV shows, and movies and watch those on your HTPC free of charge, but by doing this you are violating the copyright on that media. You can be sued for this.

In a nutshell, we aren’t there yet. We are just part of the way there. Without cable or satellite TV, you can’t watch any stations other than local broadcast channels. You might be able to see the shows after the fact, but then again, you might now as all shows are not available.

If you only watch network TV, then an HTPC would be great on its own. But for the rest of us, that’s not enough. Not yet, anyway.

Streaming Versus Downloading Media

Streaming Versus Downloading Media

 

When you access music and video over the internet, there are basically 2 ways you can get the content. Some content is streamed to your computer while other content is downloaded. It’s a good idea to understand the difference, so we are going to try and explain it in this article.

Actually, you probably already understand downloading. When you download Music or Video from the internet, you download a file to your computer. You can place that file on  your computer wherever you want to. Then you can open that file and view or listen to the content. The file stays on your computer until you remove it. So you can generally come back and listen to or view it again and again.

Streaming, on the other hand, is different. When you access a media stream on the internet, no file is downloaded to your computer. The music or video comes in real time and is played real time. It’s not stored on your computer, so if you want to listen to it or view it again, you have to stream it again. It’s kind of like an on-demand live broadcast.

As you know, the most popular video website is YouTube. You may be wondering which of these models it uses. It uses downloading, but it downloads the file to a temporary location that’s hidden from view. Take a look at this picture:

you tube player progress

This is from YouTube. You will see this at the bottom of any video you watch on YouTube. See the download position? That’s how much of the video has been downloaded to your computer. The playback position is where you are in the video as you play it back. If the playback  position catches up to the download position, the video will pause and wait until it downloads some more of the video before it starts playing again. If you run into this a lot, you can either get a faster internet connection, or you can pause the playback  yourself and wait for most (if not all) of the video to be downloaded and then play it.

If you come back and try and watch a YouTube video again, it may not have to download it again. It all depends on of that copy of the video is still in that temporary location or not. Those temporary files get cleaned out periodically.

An example of a type of website that uses streaming is any radio station website where you can listen to their live broadcast. Another example is hulu.com. On that website, you can watch TV episodes, movie trailers, and even a few movies.

If there is media content that you plan to watch or listen to over and over, then it would be a good idea to try and find a source for that where you can download it to your computer. Especially if you have a slow internet connection, or if you have bandwidth limitations on your internet connection.

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