Sunday, November 28, 2010

New irons from TaylorMade, driver from Nike to stuff your golf fans stocking with

The gentleman’s game is one of the most popular recreational activities in the Carolinas and also one of the most frustrating. TaylorMade and Nike are making it a little easier to help those high handicappers on your list this season.

TaylorMade’s new Burner 2.0 irons can be used by good players and not-so good players (many clubs are for one group or the other). They’re lighter than standard clubs, so they are easier to swing. Because they’re lighter, you can swing faster without trying, making your ball go father and hopefully stay on the course.

They’re also designed to fly high, and land soft. This lets even the weekend hacker hit the occasional “oh my goodness” shot. Bonus, the sticks are so good, your golfing friend won’t need to buy those new-fangled clubs called hybrids, which kind of look like fairway woods, to replace his or her long irons.

Nike’s new SQ Machspeed Driver is pretty to look at and seems to correct many of your bad swings. It’s hard to really hit this one terribly. Bad swings produce good distance and aren’t as crooked as you might expect. Good swings produce better distance than with the driver you have (at least if you are like us), and you can adjust the head to help you if you hit the ball to the left or right too often. You can even adjust it to hit the ball a touch higher or lower. Who needs lessons anymore?

Monday, November 22, 2010

ESPN 3D lands on Time Warner Cable

DirecTV customers in Charlotte, you've got some company when it comes to accessing ESPN 3D.

Time Warner Cable, which impressively is adding to its lineup of services by the week, has launched the 3D channel in Charlotte. Of course, to see it you need the proper set-top box, plus a 3D enabled TV and those darn classes.

The channel is located on channel 1505. The channel airs live sporting events in 3D and is part of a 3D pass that costs $10 per month. I'm not big on the add-on charge. I think it should come as part of the HD package, especially when the 3D content is not as varied as what most customers will be used to.

Some of the programming highlights on ESPN 3D include X Games, select NCAA football games, the BCS championship game, and select NBA and NCAA basketball games.

Here's the schedule for the next two months:

Thursday, Nov. 25 12 Noon; 2:30 p.m.; 7:00 p.m.; and 9:30 p.m. Old Spice Classic

Friday, Nov. 26 12 Noon; 2:30 p.m.; 5:00 p.m.; and 7:30 p.m. Old Spice Classic

Sunday, Nov. 28 11:00 a.m.; 1:30 p.m.; 4:30 p.m.; and 7:00 p.m. Old Spice Classic

Sunday, Dec.5 7:30 p.m. Harlem Globetrotters

Tuesday, Dec. 7 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Jimmy V Classic

Saturday, Dec. 11 12:30 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. SEC/Big East Challenge

Friday, Dec. 17 7:00 p.m. Miami Heat at New York Knicks

Saturday, Jan. 1 8:30 p.m. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Monday, Jan. 10 8:30 p.m. BCS National Championship Game

Friday, Jan. 14 10:30 p.m. Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Beatles coming to iTunes and Oprah too

By now, you may have heard that the Beatles catalog is coming to the iTunes store. After yesterday's teaser that quoted Beatles' lyrics on the webpage, Apple pretty much gave the surprise away.

Another big iDevice news item today is that Oprah's "O" Magazine is coming to the iPad. The App is now in the App Store.

Interactive editions will appear monthly and feature content from the print product. The App will allow users to enter Oprah's "12-Day Holiday Give-O-Way" sweepstakes, which starts Nov. 29.

The talk show queen is famous for her love of the iPad and the magazine app looks pretty solid. It has video and animation, an interview with "For Colored Girls" director Tyler Perry with a behind the scenes video. There's a gift guide, recipes, slide shows, a book room with excepts from Oprah's favorite books of the moment and it's easy to get around in.

Like the magazine and her TV show, Oprah The App is going to hit a big audience.

The best protection money can buy....for your handheld device

Some of you will be buying those cute little handheld electronics games and cellphones for your loved ones this holiday season. I must pass along a story I got from a reader in Kings Mountain.

She bought a new Sprint HTC EVO phone for her son and was going to surprise him with it on Christmas Eve. She got it last week. Curious to see what all the fuss was about, she cracked open the case, and started fiddling around with it. She was cooking while she was talking on it, turned too quickly, and the EVO slipped from her hand and fell to her hardwood floor.

The EVO, which costs about $200 with a phone service contract, was ruined. It was cracked and bent and wasn't anything she could give to her 16-year-old anymore.

So she e-mailed me Sunday night and asked what could she get to protect her (second) investment in Sprint cellphone technology.

I've seen lots of protective covers and cases, but I think the King of Protection has to be the OtterBox series ( You can go with the Defender Series ($25-$50), which is like putting your device in a heavy, near-impenetrable shell, or the Commuter Series ($18-35), which is lighter and less protective but still able to survive the odd drop. Or two.

The Defender series is rugged and comes in different colors to fit BlackBerrys, iDevices and other handheld goodies. It's actually two cases in one. The first is a hard plastic shell that includes a clear screen protector. It's built into the case and sits well on your device. Once you slide your phone into the plastic shell, you put a silicone wrap around it.

Even though it adds heft, the Defender feels comfortable in your hand and allows access to all buttons and ports, which have covered access. Slight drawback: It can feel like a brick in your pocket at first.

I felt the only thing that could really, well, brick my phone with this case on it was dropping it in water. I wrapped one around one of my personal devices and climbed on a ladder and dropped it on my driveway. I said a quiet prayer as it fell. Nothing happened.

The alternative is the Commuter Series, which uses the same plastic-shell-wrapped -by-silicone-case tech, but everything is lighter and thinner, and you have the alternative peel-off screen protector. And where the Defender covers a portion of the front of the device at top and bottom, creating a bumper effect for drops, Commuter leaves the front more exposed. A face-front landing with Commuter might not be a good thing, but for everyday protection, it's a lighter alternative.

So the moral to my story is this: If you're buying handheld gadgets for the holidays, think about a good case to go with it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

TW Cable lets you "look back" to find shows you missed

Time Warner Cable has been pouring on the features lately, from adding 3D content to increasing its home broadband internet speeds.

This week's update gives customers the ability to scroll back on their guide for three days to watch shows they've missed on certain channels -- without setting the DVR.

So, in theory, if you wanted to see that Oprah episode you missed on Thursday that your DVR, for whatever reason, failed to record, Time Warner's got you covered.

Just pick up the remote and scroll backwards, find that Oprah slot and watch away.

"Look Back" will launch with up to 48 channels on Time Warner systems, and they should be consistent market-to-market. You'll be able to access Look Back programming immediately after it airs on the network channel.

I typed in the Observer's zip code at Time Warner's website and found these channels available for "Look Back" locally:

ABC Family
Animal Planet
Discovery Channel
Discovery Science
Disney Channel
Disney XD
Food Network
History Channel
History International
Investigation Discovery
Planet Green

This service just finished marketing trials in several cities and was previously available to local customers who signed up for TWC's new gold Signature Home package

Now TWC is rolling it out in multiple areas, including New York, New England, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and parts of Texas.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Microsoft's "Kinect" system is a game changer

I think Microsoft has a major, long-term, hit on its hands with the Kinect sensor, which was released Thursday.

Kinect retails for $149.99 and is essentially a camera that detects players’ movements and some voice commands.

Sony’s new PlayStation Move controller and the popular Nintendo Wii-Mote both allow users to hold wand-like devices in their hands to play games. This allows for a unique playing experience, involving the player in more true-to-life movements. If you want to swing a golf club or a light sabre, you wave your Move or Wii-Mote controller like a golf or Star Wars weapon in real time.

Kinect allows you to do this without holding anything.

I think, potentially, Kinect will be as big a game changer as the Nintendo Wii became.

It’s easy to set up. If you have a newer “slim” Xbox, you plug in one cable in the rear of the machine. If you have the older version, you plug in the Kinect to a USB port and to a power source. The Kinect detects body movements in a virtual “field,” so you will need a little space. I had to move a table and a chair, and you need to be standing six to eight feet away from the sensor.

Using Kinect in the Menu screens reminded me a lot of watching Tom Cruise in “Minority Report.” You are swiping things left and right with your hands in the air while watching the TV screen respond to your movements. The revamped Xbox Live experience is stellar, too.

With Netflix, ESPN and the upcoming Hulu Plus, Xbox is a solid alternative to Google TV or Apple TV and is something many people already have in their living rooms. The ESPN intergration is especially cool, allowing you to see “SportsCenter” on demand and view live and saved sporting events, including some out of market.

Moving around the menus is seamless -- and sometimes hands free -- and you can even tell Kinect to do things with your voice, such as turn on, play a disc, go up a screen or back one. But it’s not perfect.

Kinect had issues detecting me while I was seated, and playing “Kinect Joy Ride,” a simple driving game, required you to stand up and hold your hands in front of you like you’re gripping an imaginary steering wheel. The driving game, though, is quite fun, and Nintendo simple, except its got HD graphics. I just would expect to sit down while I played a driving game.

In some sports games, Kinect can’t detect how hard you throw a ball or necessarily which direction. It just knows you made a throwing motion. Still, “Kinect Sports” should be every bit the hit here that “Wii Sports” was before it. Bowling while making real bowling motions -- with arms and legs -- is incredibly realistic. Track and Field got me sweaty and I just flat enjoyed kicking the balls around in soccer.

“Kinect Adventures” was another standout among the games I tried. You played in space, in water and on mountains. The graphics were amazing and truly using your whole body to play, while not perfectly implemented, is a new thing in videogames. There’s a “Space Invaders” like segment on Adventures where you are smashing balls with hands and feet that is just amazing.

“Dance Central” featured music from Salt N Pepa (“Push It”) and Craig Mack (“Flava In Your Ear”) and asks you to repeat the dance moves you see. Simple. Fast. Fun. But my favorite was “Your Shape Fitness Evolved.”

It features workouts created by the guys at Men’s Health and Women’s Health and you basically create a character that looks a lot like you (with a digital picture of you) and follow the on-screen assistant in a variety of workouts from step aerobics to boxing. The game gives you feedback as you go to make sure you’re doing moves correctly and I think you could really get in shape using this.

I think this is something families will really enjoy. You can video-conference from your living room, connecting your family all at once to loved ones who have a Kinect or a Windows Live Messenger account on their PC. And as Microsoft works out the kinks via firmware upgrades, I think Kinect could end up as the best of all the new controller gizmos.

It’s definitely on my Christmas list.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Time Warner boosts internet speeds locally, debuts "Extreme" speed service

Did you notice your Time Warner internet was running a little faster today?

The company said it boosted its internet speeds with an overnight update.

“We substantially increased our download speeds and essentially doubled upload speeds for all of our Turbo and Standard Internet service customers,” said Mike Smith, area vice president for Time Warner Cable’s Charlotte operation.

Standard internet customers went from 7 megabits per second to 10. Turbo customers went from 10 to 15.

More speed is always good. I get 12.5 megabits per second download on my Windstream DSL connection at home. The website says I can download a pretty sizable movie file in nine minutes or an iTunes song in five seconds.

Time Warner is also introducing a service for those who want more speed. It's "Wideband Internet" service offers up to 50 Mbps speeds -- with a severely fast 5 Mbps upload speeds -- for, ahem, $99.95 per month.

This speed was previously offered only in Time Warner's bundled Signature Home service (click here for more on that).

Another new plan, Road Runner Extreme, delivers speeds up to 30 Mbps downstream and 5 Mbps upstream for as low as $64.95 per month when bundled with any other Time Warner Cable Service. Time Warner says Road Runner Extreme is a great alternative for families on a budget who desire extra speed.

Well sort of.

This could be a popular package and price point, at $65, if it were offered as a stand-alone. I would hope Time Warner would do this moving forward.

Anyone using these services? I'd love to hear your thoughts.