marquee-productMy dog is named Little. My living room is little. And my audio-video set-up is little.

But my dog and my A/V setup are awesome.

The awesomeness of the latter is in no small part thanks to a really nice boost from Google Chromecast. For those unfamiliar, it’s a nifty little device that plugs into your TV or monitor and allows you to stream movies and music that you control from your iPad, Chrome browser or Android-powered device.

This is a subjective Chromecast review, based on how I watch and listen to stuff. If you’ve already got a Roku or Boxee, you probably don’t need this — thought it might still be fun for traveling. I also managed to buy one of the $35 devices while Google was offering 3 months of Netflix, which I already subscribe to, so it cost me something like $20 shipped. I bought it from Google, which came with a shipping fee, but you can buy it through Amazon and get free Prime shipping.

My home A/V system is simple. I have a great little Asus 23″ LED widescreen monitor, a $25 T-class amp, a power supply for the amp, and a set of older Mission bookshelf speakers. If I were to set it up today, I’d probably go with this sub $200 Samsung TV (which would probably double OK as a monitor) and these $50 bookshelf speakers.

41n04jEFZEL (1)Previously to watch movies, I’d just hook my laptop up to the monitor via HDMI cable and using a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, I’d send the audio to the amp. For music, I’d attach a little Android something (either my phone or a Nexus 7) to the same 3.5mm cable.

Now the setup is a bit different. I plugged the Chromecast into the HDMI port on the back of the monitor and then ran a USB power cable for the Chromecast to the power strip. (If your monitor/TV has a more advanced HDMI port, it can power Chromecast or if your monitor/TV has powered USB ports, you can run a short cable from the dongle to the USB port to get power. My monitor had neither.)

I left the 3.5mm cable dangling from the amp, and now run a 3.5mm to RCA cable from the audio out on the monitor to the RCA in jacks on the amp. (That way I can send audio either from Chromecast or from any other source that has a 3.5mm headphone plug.)

With Chromecast, I can now select a Netflix film from my phone, and quickly throw it to the Chromecast. Chromecast takes over the job of streaming. You can then use your phone to control the playback and volume, and do whatever you like on the phone otherwise.

You can do the same with YouTube and Google Music, which makes for a nice working environment. The monitor and amp sit on the other side of the room, and I can pause, lower the volume or change tracks right from my phone. The set-up for Chromecast-enabled apps is very nice – your router isn’t streaming music to your phone which then sends it Chromecast. Instead, your phone tells Chromecast to do the streaming and your phone just acts like a remote control.

That works differently for Chrome browser tabs, which you can also throw to Chromecast. This works fine for most things, but it’s still in beta and highly dependent on your WiFi strength (there’s two hops going on).

Amazon videos look awful and the sound is out of sync — but perhaps Amazon will finally come up with an Android app for its video and make it work with Chromecast. While you can make Chrome open a pretty amazing range of video files, so far getting them to play nicely via Chromecast hasn’t happened.

But throwing a Vine or a webpage or a map or a YouTube video from an open Chrome browser tab is pretty simple once you install the extension on your laptop or desktop browser (so long as everything’s on the same WiFi connection). So far this doesn’t extend to Chrome on Android.

The sound for movies is quite good and will get more than plenty loud. The picture quality is great, but in my case, the WiFi doesn’t have to go far — the router is just a few feet from the Chromecast.

Music from Google Play (where you can upload 20GB of music for free) sounds very good as well, but it’d be nice to have Rdio, Spotify and Pandora support.

The two biggest drawbacks of my setup is that the monitor has to be on and that I still have to physically hookup my laptop to stream DVD rips. There’s also a very, very slight hiss from the monitor which you can hear if the volume is very high, but the source is quiet.

Don’t get me wrong – the sound is still impressively clear and there’s almost no way you’d ever notice this during a movie. you don’t get big bass from this system, but you do get incredible clarity and ambience for not much money.

Seriously, connect a T-class amp with a good power supply and bookshelf speakers and put on Bohemian Rhapsody and you’ll see how it handles layers of sound, quiet passages, vocals and a wall of sound.

So for now when I really want to listen to music intently where I might notice that little hum, I connect the music directly to the 3.5mm cable.

But with Chromecast, I find have music on much more often as I can quickly control it from my phone. The only annoying thing there is that Google Play doesn’t recognize long clicks on the volume rockers as next and previous track messages, so you do have to turn on the screen to adjust tracks.

But that’s just nitpicking. Chromecast takes a very solid and astoundingly inexpensive A/V setup and pulls it all together — and the setup of Chromecast is incredibly easy.

So take a $150 monitor/TV, $50 set of speakers, $50 amp/power supply combo, and toss in the $35 Chromecast and $15 worth of cables and for $300 you’ll have a great sounding and looking audio/video system for a small to medium-size room that you can control from your phone or tablet.

That’s just simply incredible. And as more services add Chromecast support, it’s only going to get better.

 

 

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Leaving Wired to Spend More Time with Startup Contextly

by Ryan Singel on November 2, 2012

Ten years of writing and editing at Wired, covering everything from the NSA to Y Combinator, has taught me many things: that privacy and transparency matter, that journalism is hard and fascinating, and that, while the future of news and publishing is the Web, the tools for online journalism remain frustrating.

Writers must move faster than ever and are now often their own editors, photo desk and publicists — though the tools they use are too often kludgy and inadequate.

That’s why today is my last day as an editor at Wired; and why I’m leaving to run my start-up, Contextly, full-time.

Readers crave context in news, even as a reporter’s job of putting the day’s story (and more often stories) into a larger picture is hard to do when speed is essential and the news cycle never stops. But writers – good ones — know that the day’s work is just part of a long-term story that they and their co-workers have been telling for years.

There is deep institutional knowledge stuck in writers’ heads — for instance, knowing that today’s story about Twitter competitor App.net has deep resonance in earlier, but still relevant, stories about the open-source challenge to Facebook, Diaspora. But that’s not something algorithms or tags are good at surfacing.

And what about the readers that come to your older posts via search? How will they know that you’ve written more recent pieces on related content?

In my early days at Wired, we tried to deal with this by hand-crafting related links using HTML and a text file that we’d copy and paste into our stories. That model was, to put it in kind terms, inefficient and non-dynamic.

From that frustration and others, came Contextly. We’ve built an editorial solution to this problem that marries editorial control with serendipity. Our related links widget has been running on a number of sites, including across all of Wired.com, in our stealth beta for months. We’re not at liberty to say how much we’ve increased page-views and time-on-site for Wired, but it’s been *interesting* and we’re very happy with our start.

Contextly Related LinksRelated links chosen by a Wired Science writer that point readers to the best and most relevant earlier coverage of similar topics.

It’s an exciting time for online journalism, with a wide range of innovation, and there’s still so much that’s yet unexplored — even basic things.

For instance, adding links in the body of stories to previous work and to other sites around the web benefits readers. Links are what makes the Web a web and they even help with SEO. But adding links is a mind-numbing drudgery of tab switching, searching and cutting-and-pasting – even just to link to your site’s previous stories.

So Contextly comes with a tool that makes adding links of all stripes simpler and faster than ever.

We’ve also made analytics tools that produce reports are readable, designed for publishers and writers. We send out daily, weekly and monthly reports that sites love, and we’ve only just gotten started with building data tools designed for the needs of publishers and writers — not e-commerce sites.

There are other related links widgets out there, but none have been designed by a journalist for journalists. Contextly combines ease-of-use and dynamism and serendipity, while making sure that editorial control is not lost.

Contextly "You Might Like" LinksAlgorithmically chosen links to other great content on Wired – for when readers are in the mood to explore widely, not deeply.

We’re also building tools that help companies with blogs to present to their readers non-annoying offers to join an e-mail list, buy a conference ticket or sign-up to join a beta or read a white paper.

With invaluable testing help from sites like Wired, BoingBoing, Cult of Mac and others, we’ve had a great stealthy beta, and we’re ready now to expand it by opening up our beta invite sign-up to the world.

We’re proud of what we’ve already built and hope that the tools are a solution to challenges that many sites are facing.

Those who self-host WordPress can install the plugin in minutes, simply by searching for “Contextly Related Links” in the Plugins section of WordPress. We don’t strain your database and are nimble on your site. Those on other platforms can drop us a note and we’ll talk with you about our API and how we can work with you to get Contextly working on your CMS.

That said, this is just a beginning. Our roadmap is long and exciting – filled with big data challenges, tools that make publications and writers’ workflows simpler, and tools that help sites learn about their readership and try things they’ve never done before.

We’re called Contextly because we believe context is everything and that current CMSes largely treat each new story or post as if it has no connection to what came before it. We have an expansive conception of what context means and believe new tools can make news better for readers, more fun to publish as journalists and more profitable for publishers, big and small.
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Leaving Wired was a tough decision, especially now.

Wired has published some amazing work over the last year, including Mat Honan’s gripping story of his epic hack, Kim Zetter’s piece on the recruiting e-mail that unraveled a massive phishing hole, Wired Enterprise’s work that makes data centers and servers gripping to read about, Spencer Ackerman’s award-winning stories on the FBI’s anti-Muslim training courses, Wired Science’s outstanding coverage of the Mars Curiousity landing, and Playbook’s wickedly fun series on the physics of Olympics sports.

Time also recently named the section I edited at Wired, Threat Level, one of the top 25 blogs of 2012, thanks, in no small part, to work like David Kravets’ must-follow legal reporting and Quinn Norton’s deep dive into the world Anonymous.

It’s not easy walking away from such co-workers, and I’ve only been able to do so thanks to the support of Wired.com’s Editor in Chief Evan Hansen.

But I’m taking with me the commitment to storytelling and journalism that I learned at Wired. It lives at the heart of Contextly, which will support great sites around the Web, helping them get great content to readers who want it.

We’d love to have you join us on the adventure and work with us to build tools that make news and online publishing better.

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Founders and Funders: Stop Screwing Users on Privacy

February 13, 2012

Michael Arrington comes to the defense Sunday of one of his Crunchfund portfolio companies, Path, arguing that the New York Times‘s Nick Bilton is just piling on after Path “showed its belly” by apologizing for secretly copying and storing its users’ contacts in a company database. But Arrington’s just wrong – it’s not piling on […]

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Facebook Gets Caught Going After Google

May 27, 2011

Facebook recently got caught hiring a PR firm to push stories about a Google social feature that Facebook thought was too deep an invasion of privacy. The ploy backfired on the social networking giant and its PR firm. Catch a flavor of the story with these posts (Getting Caught, Getting Caught Covering Up) from my […]

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Teens See Facebook Differently

May 11, 2011

Parents often think their teenage children will post anything to the web, and that it’s fair game for them to comment on their kid’s status messages. But teens have a different idea of what kind of public space Facebook actually is, according to new research from Microsoft. In restaurants, people often dine close enough to […]

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Thanks BoingBoing!

April 3, 2011

I love Creative Commons-licensed content. At Wired.com, we rely heavily on photographers who license their photos on Flickr for re-use with credit. And now, I’m launching a data-mining project at the site world-facts.net using 10 years of posts from BoingBoing.net, which they license under a liberal Creative Commons license, allowing re-publishing for non-commercial ventures. Thank […]

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Bloomberg Game Changers Tackles Twitter

March 12, 2011

A month or so ago, the crew that makes the Bloomberg Game Changers documentaries about entrepreneurs who have transformed our lives stopped by the Wired offices to ask me a bit about Twitter. The 25-minute show is now online and being show on Bloomberg TV. Check out the trailer below, and you can watch the […]

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Facebook, Faux Dating and Fox

February 22, 2011

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story for Wired.com about how two performance artists had scraped 1 million Facebook profiles to create a fake dating site — the story took off quickly, as did the cease-and-desist letters from Facebook’s lawyers. The site — Lovely-Faces.com — is shut down now, but the duo explains their […]

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Mark Zuckerberg Does SNL (Thrice)

January 31, 2011

This week’s Saturday Night Live had three versions of Mark Zuckerberg kicking the show off. Not knee-slapping, but actually quite funny.

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In Praise of Twitter

January 11, 2011

In December, Twitter received a court order from the Justice Department seeking details on users connected to Wikileaks, an order that came with a gag order forbidding the site from revealing the existence of the order. Twitter fought that gag order and won the right to tell the account holders about the order, giving them […]

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