Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Extra TV for Free

Advertisers have known for years that two things sell: sex and free. Well, this column will only entice you with free.

Tablet PCs, probably best known by the Apple iPad, have clearly made a major foothold in the marketplace. Software applications — or "apps" as they're called — are instrumental in giving these tablets life.

Much has and will continue to be written about the different strengths and weaknesses of Apple's offerings versus the Android operating system from Google and the offerings from HP, BlackBerry and others. This not the column for that discussion.

What is of interest is that if you purchase your cable service from Cablevision and use their Optimum products, there's a very powerful app for the iPad that you may want to try.

Called "Optimum for iPad" and available from Apple's App Store, this app does a handful of things quite nicely.

First, if you are within your home where your cable service is delivered, the app allows you to watch live TV directly on your iPad. This is where the free TV offer comes in. In essence, it turns your iPad into a TV — for free!

Second, the app lets you schedule and manage your Optimum Digital Video Recorders. This means that if you want to record "American Idol," you can do it directly from your iPad. This is a function that does not have to be done from within your home.

There are a few limitations to the Optimum for iPad app that I have encountered.

First, the limitation of the iPad having to be on your home WiFi network and in your home is unfortunate. This is a licensing-of-shows issue, not a technical one. While I understand Cablevision's licensing restrictions, it would still be nice to watch live TV wherever I happen to be with my iPad.

Second, while we can control the DVR(s) in my home with the iPad app, it would be nice to allow the DVR to stream video I've already recorded to the iPad. The current version doesn't allow this. If I want to watch something I've recorded, I have to sit in front of the television to where the DVR is connected. How quaint.

Third, I've found that with the live TV streaming to the iPad, the video frequently will halt, seemingly go back in time about 10 seconds and start streaming again. This seems to be an issue with the app or the service, but something that I hope will be fixed soon.

Optimum also offers an iPhone/Touch app, but it only controls the DVR. It doesn't offer live video streaming. Optimum also offers an app for Android devices, but it currently offers only the features of the iPhone/Touch app. I expect this will change as Optimum's software developers write code. What was pleasantly surprising was how Optimum has done a good job of keeping abreast of mobile technologies when their business is typically based on an inherently fixed (e.g. "cable") service.

For us as consumers, it is freeing us to have the entertainment we want when and where we want it. Life is good.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 27 July 2011.

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