Disconnecting my TV passthrough on Xbox One

So as long as I’ve owned my Xbox One I’ve enjoyed the convenience of running my DISH Network through the Xbox One. It’s been nice to use the Kinect and snap TV to check up on a football game, or switch effortlessly between TV and a game or an app on the Xbox One. It’s also been nice to see when my friends log on while watching TV, or to snap my friends list and check to see who is playing what during a commercial.

However, there has always been a pretty significant degrade in image quality when passing the TV signal through the Xbox One. For a long while I just learned to live with it, accepting the degraded quality in exchange for all of the conveniences. However, after I disconnected my Xbox to go on vacation I was taken aback by just how sharp everything looked when not filtered through the Xbox One. It’s honestly a little jarring.

Since I’ve returned from vacation I’ve been reluctant to run our DISH through the Xbox again. So far I’ve left it hooked up directly to the TV and enjoy the superior picture. The degraded quality is most notable when viewing blacks (dark black areas appear more grey when ran through the Xbox) and also during sports.

So now I’m left torn. I miss having the convenience that comes along with routing live TV through the Xbox One, but I’m enjoying the better picture quality.

Do you still run your cable through your Xbox One? Does the degraded quality bother you, or does the convenience make up for it?

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection

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Yesterday I downloaded the Borderlands: The Handsome Collection on Xbox One and excitedly jumped right into the graphically polished Borderlands 2. The first thing I noticed (after the annoying long intro you still can’t skip) was just how crisp everything looked. I played a little bit of Borderlands 2 on the 360 with my brother while I was on vacation and I can say the updated version on the Xbox One is much easier on the eyes. The damage numbers that pop out of enemies look especially clean (a weird thing to comment on, I know) and it felt so satisfying to watch those numbers fly around the screen again.

The gameplay is still the same as far as I can tell, but that’s fine as Borderlands 2 was a blast to play even on the 360. I never got too far into either Borderlands game, but I’m glad I didn’t as I’ll get to experience all of the gameplay in a superior format.

I played around the first hour of the game yesterday solo (I had my game set to open, but no one jumped in) and it was enjoyable, though I found myself dying more than I would have liked. After I hit somewhat of a road block I decided to back out to the menu and try to hop into someone else’s game. The process proved to be a tad unpleasant, as I had trouble joining a game and it took longer than I would have liked. I was initially matched into a game only to receive a message saying I wasn’t on the same patch version as the host which didn’t quite make sense (unless an update dropped while I was playing solo). After that I timed out trying to join another game, but eventually got into a game on the third try.

The multiplayer was as enjoyable as I remember it being, though Borderlands really shines when playing with friends (which I have yet to do). I’m looking forward to jumping back into the game with people I know and mowing down enemy after enemy with a variety of exciting weapons!

I haven’t tried out Borderlands the Pre-sequel yet (I’ll probably wait until I finish Borderlands 2, unless I get bored) so I can’t comment on the quality of that experience. I’ve heard it performs less smoothly than Borderlands 2 which is unfortunate if true. Hopefully it’ll get patched and the issues will be ironed out before I get around to trying it out.

 

A look at Sling TV (on the Xbox One)

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So I should start off by saying I’m not a cord cutter, and I probably never will be one. I enjoy having a traditional “cable” service. We have DISH Network and enjoy it immensely. I love channel surfing and having a large variety of content, even if most of it I just leave on to fall asleep to (or leave on in the background). I also enjoy watching live sports, and so far it’s not very easy to do so outside of cable / satellite TV. MLB.tv and WWE Network are steps in the right direction, but the NFL is still locked down tightly (the only negative thing about having DISH is not having as much access to the NFL).

With that out of the way, you’re probably puzzled as to why I would sign up for Sling TV if I already subscribe to DISH (and pay over $100 a month). Well, I have to say I’m a huge fan of new ways to consume entertainment, and services such as Sling TV, Playstation Vue, HBO’s new cable free service and the forthcoming Apple streaming TV service are wonderful for all consumers.

These services are great for the college student who can’t afford cable, those in living situations where installing cable or satellite TV isn’t practical, and those who know exactly what they want and don’t want to pay for what they don’t watch.

Sling TV starts at $20 a month, and is completely commitment free. No contract, no extra fees, cancel any time. Heck, you don’t even have to deal with customer retention services to cancel, you can do so right from your account (though I haven’t tried canceling yet as I’ve just signed up).

The sign up process on the Xbox One was a breeze. I was signed up in a matter of minutes. Xbox One users are able to try out Sling TV for 30 days free. You can also add ALL of the add on packages ($5/mo each) for free for the first 30 days as well. Set up your package, enter your payment information and there you have it, you can jump right into watching live TV.

The picture quality is great. I have a 50mbps connection and I can’t tell the difference between a channel on Sling TV when compared to the same channel coming through my DISH. There is some buffering that causes a subpar picture for a few seconds when first switching to a channel, but it quickly clears up (I imagine this could be worse or better depending on your internet connection).

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If you have a data cap, using a streaming TV service might not be practical if you watch a lot of TV. We have a 400GB monthly cap that I already eat into a good bit by downloading games and watching Netflix. If I tried to use Sling TV as my primary TV service I would easily blow through my data cap. I checked my bandwidth usage on my Xbox after using Sling TV for about twenty minutes and found that I had used 638MB during that period. I wasn’t downloading anything else, but I wasn’t watching the data in real time so I can’t say for sure how much of that was used by Sling TV. Still, it’s a pretty high number so you can imagine how much data you’d use in a month.

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The Sling TV interface is clean and easy to navigate, though I think the DISH interface is easier to navigate (though not as good looking). I like that when viewing a channel’s schedule you’ll see pictures for most of the upcoming shows or movies. However, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to see everything that is on all the channels without scanning through each one. I could be missing something, but I don’t see any sort of traditional guide.

Sling TV guide (xbox one)

 

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Sling TV’s base package includes a lot of high demand channels such as ESPN, TBS, AMC, IFC and Cartoon Network. With the $5 addon packages you can get even more content, such as the sports pack (ESPN News, ESPN U, Universal Sports Network among others), movies (four EPIX channels and Sundance), news and more.

So far I’m pretty impressed with the service. I’m excited to see if these services can affect the traditional cable services, possibly giving users more control over what they get for their money. We can only hope!

Back from vacation..so much to blog about!

I landed back in Boise late Saturday night after spending a wonderful three weeks back in York Pennsylvania with my family. The weather didn’t quite cooperate most of the time, but overall it was a great trip! I enjoyed hanging out with my dad, playing Minecraft with my brother and seeing the rest of my friends and family. I certainly miss them a lot the rest of the year!

I also enjoyed the two weeks Vanessa spent with me during her second trip to the East Coast. We had a blast in New York City, touring the Yuengling factory in Pottsville, visiting the National Aquarium in Baltimore and enjoying all of the fun at Chocolate World in Hershey! The time went by so quickly and I’m quite sad I won’t get to visit again until next year.

On the upside, I’m glad to be back in a city again. My dad lives in the middle of rural (nowhere) Pennsylvania, and while the scenery is nice (you can see so many stars at night!) I’m glad to have broadband internet and all of the convenience of city life again. I still have some unpacking and housework to do, and I went back to work last night (working the night shift again), but I’d like to get back to blogging more regularly as soon as possible.

I have so much I’d like to write about. I’d like to share some photos and experiences from vacation (Drunk Shakespeare off broadway in NYC was an absolute blast!) and there’s plenty of topics I want to talk to you about. I’d like to try out Sling TV on the Xbox One (though I already subscribe to DISH and don’t see myself “cutting the cable” anytime soon. I enjoy having a traditional TV service). I’m also looking forward to picking up the Borderlands Handsome Jack Collection tomorrow as well as playing through episode two of Tales from the Borderlands.

I’m hoping to tell you about how much I’m enjoying the new Modest Mouse album (my vinyl copy will arrive Wednesday) and also the latest comedy album from Trevor Moore (whom you may know from Whitest Kids U Know). There’s so much I’ve wanted to write about, but ultimately I’m glad I spent most of my time enjoying the company of friends and family instead of worrying about my blog. I hope you haven’t minded the silence! I promise, you’ll hear more from me soon!

Redbox now has Xbox One and PS4 games at more locations

I was browsing Redbox this evening and was surprised to find they now offer Xbox One and PS4 games. Redbox had been testing out the current gen rentals in select locations, but out here in rural Pennsylvania there are several kiosks now offering rentals for those systems.

The rentals are a tad pricey, at $3 a day, however that price point might work for someone who can finish a game in a binge session, or maybe for someone who just wants to give a game a try. I use Gamefly for most of my gaming rentals, however I might be tempted to grab something from a Redbox once or twice.

Have you rented a game from Redbox yet? What do you think of the pricing?

‘Going Up?’ falling for the Skyride tourist trap at the Empire State

I’ll be writing about my more enjoyable experiences in New York soon. I also have more to write about, but hey I’m on vacation, so please excuse the lack of content lately!

This week Vanessa and I spent a lovely two days in New York City, and one of the last attractions we planned to attend before leaving the city was the Empire State Building. Neither of us have ever been, however we did Top of the Rock last year which was an enjoyable experience. We figured visiting the Empire State would be a great conclusion to our trip.

I had glanced at various Trip Advisor pages before making our trip, and I recall reading through a post that strongly advised against buying Empire State tickets from the vendors outside the building. During most of my New York trips I’ve easily avoided all the various street vendors selling tours and such, however a few years ago I bought comedy club tickets on a whim from a street promoter and had an absolutely wonderful time.

As we approached the Empire State building we were met with the infamous “going up?” question from one of the venders on the corner. Against my better judgement I replied that we were indeed ‘going up’ and before I knew it the vendor had begun his sales pitch. He asked if we were planning to visit the 102nd floor, and I said we were and he said he could get us up there for $52 while including the Skyride attraction free. He assured me he was an authorized seller, displaying a badge and all (albeit a Skyride badge), and even asked a security guard how long the wait was. “Forty-five minutes” was the reply, so then the vendor promised we’d skip that wait for $7 more.

‘Oh, why not?’ I replied. I love the indoor “rides” in Orlando, so figured the Skyride might be worth checking out. Before long we had out receipt and three sets of printed tickets, one for Skyride, one for the Empire State and a free “bonus” ticket for a one hour cruise that would allow us to checkout the Statue of Liberty (via Hornblower Cruises).

Once we got inside the building and up to the Skyride attraction the attendant took our slips of paper and gave us actual tickets. I took the tickets, still excited for the adventure ahead. As we got shuffled into the Skyride attraction by employees who were entirely unenthused, I noticed our Empire state tickets not only were ONLY for the 86th floor, but they also had “not EXPRESS tickets” printed on them. So two of the things I was promised (the 102nd floor and express passes) were not given to me.

At this point I was already in a declining mood, and then I realized just how pointless the Skyride attraction is. The seats are old and falling apart and once the “ride” started it was apparent how terrible the attraction was. The screen was blurry, shaky and straight out of the 90’s. The display was so terrible it was sickening. The Skyride tickets are $42, but honestly the experience is NOT worthwhile at all.

So what exactly did I get for the $64 a ticket I paid to the street vendor? If you take out the $42 for Skyride I paid $24 for a standard 86th floor ticket. My stomach sank when I realized how much cheaper it would’ve been had I just headed inside and bough standard tickets.

I realize the Skyride people aren’t associated with the Empire State Building in anything other than they operate out of the building, but their presence really hampered our enjoyment of the entire experience.

The view from the Empire State was enjoyable, and we did end up spending an extra $40 ($20 each) to visit the 102nd floor (which also wasn’t quite worth the money) but the fact that we spent $160 at one attraction was disturbing.

We were pretty annoyed about the entire experience we decided not to bother checking out the “bonus” cruise. Maybe it would’ve made up for the cost, but I was more afraid it would be another subpar experience that would further my displeasure.

Moral of the story? Don’t be like me. Don’t listen to anyone selling you something on the street, even if they’re just a few feet away from the attraction. Just don’t do it.

And screw the Skyride people.

Bose SoundLink Color, an incredible bluetooth speaker

 

 

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I was looking for a portable bluetooth speaker for my trip back home and decided to try out the Bose SoundLink Color. I have a pair of Bose SoundTrue (on ear) headphones that I absolutely love, so the $129 SoundLink Color seemed the obvious choice.

I’m quite impressed with the quality and punch that lightweight and easily portable speaker packs. The acoustic guitars of SiriusXM’s Coffee House sound absolutely wonderful on the speaker (as they do on the headphones as well). I was quite surprised to find that the SoundLink Color also emanates a deep, quality bass. If I hid the speaker you’d be easily fooled into thinking the music was coming from a much larger sound system. I’ve heard Beats Pills and I have to say the SoundLink Color easily exceeds the quality of even the $300 XL pill.

The audio guided bluetooth pairing is pleasant to use. I have the speaker paired to both my iPad and phone and it was easy to set up and switch between either. The battery life is also impressive, I haven’t run it dry yet. That said, I usually leave it plugged in while hooked up (via the aux in port) to my SiriusXM unit in the bedroom.

I love listening to acoustic Coffee House music on the SoundLink Color in the morning while enjoying my coffee. I highly recommend the speaker if you’re in the market for an easily transportable bluetooth speaker with exceptional quality. Pick one up for $129 and hear for yourself!

 

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