Latest gadgets that are changing TV

Once upon a time, watching TV meant the entire family gathering around to see Ed Sullivan on a bulky black-and-white set. Today, the experience is markedly different: huge flat screens in the living room, teeny tiny screens in our hands, not to mention the remote control’s facelift. There’s a revolution under way, and it will indeed be televised in one form or another.


The phenomenon: cord cutting. The reason: Cable packages are expensive and cheaper Internet offerings, such as Netflix and Hulu, make for good substitutes. Roku helped lead the charge of cord cutters when it introduced its first Netflix-compatible set-top box in 2008. In the same vein, Simple.TV is being hailed as the next major device that could push people to say goodbye to pay TV. Its time-shifted controls can record over-the-air content and stream shows and movies to supported devices, such as the iPad, Boxee, Roku and Google TV. A premium subscription costs $5 a month, which includes automated recordings (like a season pass) and the ability to stream the device to five users on the home network. Simple.TV will be released in the spring and will retail for $150.


With a great entertainment system comes great responsibility. After all, you have to manage the bevy of remotes that come with your TV, game console, speakers, set-top box, Blu-ray player, stereo receiver, cable box, VCR — you name it. But instead of heading to the electronics section of a big box store to find a universal remote, look to Griffin’s Beacon, a device that transforms your smartphone into a remote to rule them all. Your phone connects to Beacon using Bluetooth and the free app Dijit, and Beacon talks to your entertainment system using an infrared blaster. While a smartphone remote seems practical, I have to admit that it can be cumbersome to type in your passcode and launch an app each time you want to change the volume. Beacon is compatible with iOS and Android devices and retails for $69.99.


Launched in late January, Viggle has become one of the most buzzed-about apps in social TV. The free loyalty program rewards people with gift cards, movie tickets and music for “checking into” TV shows, much like how Foursquare users check into restaurants, bars and other venues. Viggle works by using a smartphone’s built-in mic to capture a show’s audio sample to check in. That sample is converted into a digital fingerprint matched against the app’s database. Users earn points for checking into shows and interacting with the app’s quizzes, polls and games. In less than a month, the user base grew to 140,000. During the Super Bowl, more than 1.4 million votes were cast with a thumbs up or thumbs down rating Madonna’s halftime show. Microsoft’s search engine Bing also sponsored Viggle Live at the Grammy Awards, which awarded bonus points for those who checked into the show. The iOS app is available for free, and the company plans to release an Android app as well.


Have you dreamed of becoming a big Hollywood star? With the show Beckinfield, you might find yourself starring in a sci-fi soap opera with a global audience. All you need is a Web cam. It’s not quite the same as seeing your name on a marquee, but Beckinfield, which bills itself as the world’s first mass participation TV web series, has at least one big name for now. Jonathan Frakes, of Star Trek fame, has joined the cast as a special guest star. The crowd-sourced online television show uses about 4,000 amateur actors from across the world who contribute short videos each week furthering a central plot line. The story is loosely dictated by writers who email a newsletter to the actors each week, but participants are encouraged to use their own creativity to create story arcs. If you’re interested in joining the cast, check out


You would think in today’s age of YouTube and Facebook that privacy is a thing of the past. Givit, however, begs to differ. The online-video service is built around sharing videos privately. “You use Givit because your boss is on Facebook,” Greg Kostello, the company’s CEO, told me at Macworld. Givit is a form of more intimate communication, in some ways resembling text messages or e-mails — but with video. In addition to the Web interface, there are also apps for iOS and Android devices to make it easy to share video messages directly from the phone. Unlike Web conferencing, communication on Givit can happen without coordination, since both users don’t need to be online at the same time. Kostello says the service has been useful for deployed military personnel keeping in touch with family and friends in the U.S. For now, the service is free, but the company has plans to monetize Givit.

As reported in USA Today