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How Will Netflix Compete With Live TV Streaming?

At one time, Netflix was the undisputed leader in the streaming content space. When it was time to stream a film or TV show, the place you looked was Netflix. But after plenty of competition from the likes of Amazon.com, perhaps the greatest challenge yet awaits Netflix in 2017: the introduction of live TV streaming from rivals such as Hulu. So how will Netflix compete with live TV streaming?

That’s a great question to ask, and one that certainly Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been asking. Until recently, Netflix could ignore the entry of live streaming TV players like Sling TV. In fact, Hastings has often pointed out that many of Sling TV’s customers end up becoming Netflix customers as well, simply because Sling TV’s archived film options are not nearly as deep or wide as Netflix’s.

But along came Hulu and its plan to offer live TV streaming. Hulu is fundamentally different from the other live streaming TV players for two basic reasons – (1) it’s owned by major media companies Disney, Fox and Time Warner and (2) it already has a much broader and deeper TV show archive than Netflix.

Point (1) is important because it’s conceivable that the biggest media companies in the world might start diverting all their best media content to Hulu, which they own. Why should they offer content to Netflix on the same terms that they offer this content to Hulu?

Point (2) is important because a person who primarily watches TV shows is not the same type of person who watches only movies. Hulu has always been known as the place to go if you want to watch recent TV shows the day after they air. Once Hulu Live launches, it will be even harder for Netflix to woo away TV viewers.

With people already paying for Hulu Live (which will be much more expensive than Hulu Plus), it’s possible that people could decide they just don’t have the wallet to pay for both Hulu Live and Netflix. And that’s especially true if the perceived content gap between Hulu and Netflix narrows considerably.

In response, Netflix has three different strategies that it can pursue to hold back the barbarians at the gate. Here’s a quick look at all three of them.

Netflix Strategy #1: Ramp up the original programming

If the major media companies won’t give Netflix their content, then Netflix will create its own content! In just the past three years, Netflix has significantly ramped up the number of original Netflix series and films that are available exclusively on Netflix.

You can think of this as the “HBO Strategy.” Just as people are willing to pay $10-15 extra per month to get HBO, they’re going to be willing to pay $10-15 per month to get Netflix. Just as HBO has amazing shows that nobody else does – like “Game of Thrones” – Netflix has its own share of amazing shows, like “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black.”

Netflix Strategy #2: Reinforce binge-watching behaviors

What’s so great about the binge, you might ask? Well, if you’re binge-watching the latest Netflix series – all 12 episodes – are you really going to have time to watch live TV? One big reason why people began bingeing on quality TV shows in the first place was because “there’s nothing on TV.”

Thus, Netflix has a real reason to encourage the binge. It means people are forming deep and loyal ties to certain shows, and if those shows are on Netflix – it means that they will always keep their Netflix subscription.

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Netflix Strategy #3: Go global

Here’s one place where Hulu can’t touch Netflix. Think about it – when Hulu is streaming 30 channels into your home, all of those channels are for the U.S. marketplace. All of the Hulu Live customers will be in the U.S., too. So while Hulu is busy marketing itself to Bangalore, Maine Netflix can spend time marketing itself to Bangalore, India.

Right now, Netflix has plans to enter 130 markets worldwide. That’s a huge source of future growth. So while Hulu is trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again by creating some form of live TV that people are going to pay for, Netflix is out signing up people in Europe and Asia.

So how much does Netflix really fear live TV streaming? Well, CEO Reed Hastings has referred to Hulu Live as “cable getting better.” That’s a backhanded compliment, basically implying Hulu is just making a few cosmetic improvements to the live TV experience – a better user interface, softer pricing and better bundling options.

But what about YouTube?

That observation might be true, or it might just be a way to keep Netflix’s investors from panicking and heading for the exits. And it might just be the case that the real rival to Netflix is not Sling TV or Hulu Live – it’s YouTube TV.

YouTube TV is an entirely new kind of competitor. Number one, it’s backed by Google, which has very deep pockets and a big lobbying presence in Washington. Number two, YouTube is just about one of the most popular destinations on the Internet, so in theory, converting a portion of FREE YouTube users into PAID YouTube TV users shouldn’t be too hard. And number three, YouTube has a lot easier time playing in the “long tail of content” than Netflix does.

Say, for example, both YouTube TV and Netflix want to create content that appeals to horror film fans. Well, Netflix would have to go out and hire some really expensive Hollywood talent, commission a few episodes of the show, wait for it to finish filming, and then release it all at one time. It would then have to hope that the show is so good that it will convince some people to sign up for Netflix.

In contrast, YouTube could just hit up one of the website’s “YouTube creators” to create great new content and promise them a cut of any advertising dollars. YouTube could hedge its bet, by commissioning several shows at once and see which one goes viral. That’s a much more efficient model than the expensive Netflix original content model.

Going forward, then, Netflix has a lot of choices of what to do to fend off the strategic threat from the likes of Sling TV, Hulu Live and YouTube TV. Right now, it looks like Netflix is doubling down on its original content strategy, winning over fans with its binge-worthy content and expanding internationally.

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What Does YouTube’s Future Hold?

It’s hard to believe, but YouTube is now more than a decade old. Back in 2015, when YouTube officially celebrated its 10th anniversary, the biggest tech blogs were full of stories referencing “10 more years of video domination” by YouTube. The basic sentiment was that YouTube was so dominant and so ubiquitous in the world of online video, that it was impossible to imagine any type of upstart taking over YouTube’s top position.

But flash forward to 2017, and it’s not so obvious that YouTube is the undisputed video king. You have serious inroads being made into live streaming by the social media giants (Facebook with Facebook Live, Twitter with Periscope), you have the creation of all kinds of new streaming video business models made possible by the likes of Netflix and Hulu, and you have the inevitable risk of a disruption to the video market that we haven’t even considered today (maybe 360-degree videos and the rise of virtual reality as a new way of watching video).

That being said, YouTube is still the home of the internet’s video creators — and that’s mostly because YouTube rewards its top creators very lavishly. If you’re a top YouTube video personality – someone like the gamer-comedian PewDiePie – you can expect to clear more than $1 million annually from views of your videos. That’s one area where YouTube has a massive head start on any other video rival – the ability to pay its creators.

Say, for example, you’ve embraced the whole Facebook Live platform and have begun to “live broadcast” bits and pieces of your life. Every time you go on camera, your Facebook friends get updates that you’re “live,” and they may tune in. But who is paying you to do this? Nobody — at least not yet.

Live streaming from mobile devices

If you listen carefully to what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been saying recently, he’s been playing up the potential of Facebook Live and the internet’s embrace of the point-and-stream phenomenon. Think about it — video platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and Facebook Live are designed for the mobile guy (or gal) about town, who spontaneously decides to live stream a concert taking place in the park, or a few stadium scenes from a football game, or maybe just your kid taking his or her first steps in life. It’s raw, authentic and unscripted. And people aren’t capturing those moments on YouTube, which is becoming much more of a scripted video reality.

Everyone wants to be a cable company — except the cable companies

Another interesting trend important for YouTube is the growth of massive niche video networks to take on the traditional cable networks. In fact, that was the original plan of YouTube – to create a huge long tail effect of niche content channels, see what works, and then relentlessly promote the most popular channels as part of a cable TV alternative.

That strategy eventually evolved into the whole YouTube Red experiment, in which the company essentially bundled all its premium content creators and told people they’d have to pay a fee to access all that great content. The good news, however, was that you wouldn’t be forced to watch all those annoying ads that typically precede, follow and interrupt any YouTube video.

But now YouTube is taking a different tack. In February, the company announced that it was going to launch a $35 per month live TV streaming service called YouTube TV. The basic premise was simple — the company would offer a “skinny bundle” of the top cable networks and charge people $35 per month. Essentially, you would be getting “cable lite” with fewer networks, but also a lower cost than you’d pay for a regular cable TV subscription. So is that an admission that the YouTube Red experiment is essentially over, and that the only thing people will pay for these days is mainstream (professionally produced) cable content?

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The race for the global audience

Many of these trends are on most obvious display in the U.S. video market, where most people have fast broadband connections, powerful smartphones and a seemingly infinite appetite for LOL cat videos. But what about in the rest of the world? As YouTube’s management team explained back in 2015, the goal was to make it possible for anyone in the world – no matter what type of internet service they had – to be able to watch YouTube videos. The goal was simple: make YouTube content available to as many people and as many devices as possible. More views equal more ad dollars, right?

But it’s not so clear that YouTube is going to be the undisputed global leader. There are plenty of other companies that are looking to make inroads, including Netflix. In 2016, Netflix announced an ambitious plan to take its content into 130 countries around the world. And Netflix wasn’t being shy about throwing around cash – it has been investing tens of millions of dollars to create high-end, original content. So what does the rest of the world want to watch – silly cat videos or professionally-produced studio content?

New technological disruption

Looking ahead to the future for YouTube, it’s clear that a number of possible technological innovations could change the way people consume video. This would represent a far graver threat to YouTube than just people opting to go to a competitor – it would challenge the very essence of what it meant to experience video online. That’s why YouTube has been particularly innovative when it comes to embracing video in all its different formats – video filmed by drones, video filmed by GoPro cameras, video filmed with 360-degree cameras – it just doesn’t want to be left behind.

But what if people decide one day en masse that they’d prefer to strap on a virtual reality headset and experience video in a new way? It would appear that, here too, YouTube has been hedging its bets. Well, not YouTube directly – but Google, which owns YouTube. In 2016, Google introduced the Google Daydream VR headset. So if people decide to start watching videos with headsets, YouTube might still be able to recover, as long as people want to use the Google Daydream.

Or what about the growth of 4K and 8K video? We’ve already seen how people have raced from 720p to 1080p and now to 4K. At each step of the way, YouTube has also raced to keep up, working harder to make sure that all YouTube videos can be enjoyed in their full resolution on any digital device.

Conclusions

Thus, it’s hard to really imagine anyone knocking off YouTube overnight. Facebook could try to mount a challenge from the low end of the point-and-stream video segment, Netflix could try to mount a challenge from the high-end original streaming content market, but what about everything in the middle? Just as YouTube has successfully warded off strategic threats for more than 10 years now, it looks to be particularly well-positioned to deal with its video rivals over the next decade.

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Which TV Should You Buy in 2017?

If you’re in the market for a new TV in 2017, there are a few important considerations to keep to mind. Price point is obviously a major factor, as it’s still hard to find a high-end 4K TV for less than $1000 and an OLED TV for less than $3000. And you’ll also have to take into consideration whether you want any smart TV functionality built-in so that you can start watching a streaming TV service like Netflix or Hulu right out of the box (literally). With that in mind, here are 6 of the best TVs to consider in 2017.

#1: LG B6 OLED 4K HDR Smart TV: The ultimate high-end selection for the TV purist

If you simply want the best TV on the market today, you really can’t go wrong with LG. The LG B6 has picked up rave reviews, and it’s obvious why: the brilliant colors seem to pop right off the 65-inch screen. In just minutes, you’ll see why OLED is considerably better than LED technology – every pixel seems to come alive. Moreover, the TV comes with webOS 3.0 smart functionality. However, at a suggested retail price of $3499.99, it’s not cheap. (Compared to the LG OLED E6P, which retails for $3997.00, though, it’s a relative bargain.)

#2: TCL Roku TV S3750/FP110 Series: The ultimate affordable selection for the TV viewer on a budget

Ok, so we’ve already seen what’s available at the high end, so it’s time to check out the real bargain in premium TVs, and this Roku TV fits the bill. It has built-in smart TV, which means that streaming is essentially included as a key part of the overall TV experience. If you’ve cut the cord with cable, then you understand why this is so important – you can use Roku for all of your streaming needs. The picture quality could be improved, but for non-4K televisions, the price ($279.99) is simply too low to pass up. You could upgrade to the TCL Roku TV US 5800 Series, which retails for $999.000. That’s still at the all-important $1000 price threshold, so it’s relatively affordable as well.

#3: Vizio M-Series 2016: Best overall mid-range value

The only real drawback of the Vizio M-Series TV is that you’re not getting a TV set from a name-brand manufacturer like Sony, Samsung or LG. But if you can get past that, then Vizio is a great option. The M-Series retails for around $1399.99, which is about what you should expect to pay for a really great picture from a 4K set. You could upgrade to the Vizio P-Series, which offers an even better picture and is just about as good as you’re going to get without getting into OLED territory (but it comes with a price tag of $1899.99).

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#4: Sony XBR-X930D Series: Best LCD TV, period

The slim style and the magnificent picture quality of this Sony XBR-X930D makes it the single best LED LCD TV. If you’re not quite ready to splurge for an OLED set, this is a great second choice. At $2199.99, it’s not cheap – but it also represents a significant price savings from what you can expect to pay for an OLED TV.

#5: Vizio E-Series 2016: Best budget TV, period

Remember the good old days, when it was possible to get a TV for less than $500? Well, Vizio has you covered with the E-Series. It has received a number of accolades from top TV reviewers, who have called it the best budget TV for overall picture quality. It’s not quite as good as the Roku TVs, mostly because it has less features and functionality, but it’s an excellent choice for anyone considering a TV on a relatively constrained budget. That’s because you can pick up a Vizio E-Series for a suggested retail price of $479.99.

#6: LG 55EG9100: Best non-4K TV

LG has really become one of the elite TV manufacturers, and even though they’ve moved into 4K and OLED sets, they’ve also kept their non-4K sets innovative as well. This LG boasts a curved 55-inch screen, 1080p resolution and a truly extraordinary picture. .At $1395.00, it’s LG’s most affordable LED TV. If you’re looking for a slight upgrade, look no further than the LG 60 UH7700, a 60-inch 4K Ultra HD smart LED TV ($1497.00).

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As you can see, there are a number of factors that you need to take into consideration when buying a new TV in 2017. The most basic consideration, of course, is whether you want an LED, OLED or 4K TV. There’s an obvious trade-off here. Getting a high-quality 4K TV for less than $1000 is going to pose a real challenge. And, if you want an OLED TV with all those brilliant, gorgeous colors, guess what? You better allocate a cool $3000 for the purchase.

Once you’ve honed in on an approximate price point, that’s when you can start to find the right size TV for the room (if you’re buying for a living room, you’ll probably gravitate to the big 55-inch TVs) and also decide whether you want (or need) any smart TV functionality.

The real decision in 2017, though, is whether you are going to become a streaming TV enthusiast or if you are going to remain a linear TV type of guy (or gal). The real allure of the cheaper Roku TVs is that you won’t have to worry about using an Apple TV or other set-top box to stream shows or movies. It’s all baked into the Roku TV, so the only costs you’ll have are the actual rental or purchase fees. Now that streaming TV services like Netflix are investing tens of millions of dollars in exclusive films and shows, having access to this type of streaming TV option is becoming more and more necessary.

That being said, you will definitely want to avoid all the hype about pixel size. Yes, 4K sets do offer a better picture quality than 1080p sets — but only if you watch them close-up. If you plan on watching TV shows from all the way across the room, you may be wondering why you splurged for 4K. And, no surprise, there’s not nearly as much 4K TV content out there to consume. It’s not like you’re going to be watching your favorite primetime TV shows in amazing 4K — they’re still only offered in HD.

The good news is that there are plenty of TV sets to fit every budget and every TV viewing habit – and many of them are surprisingly affordable. That’s especially true if you’re willing to check out the latest TVs from Vizio. But if you’re one of those TV enthusiasts who has to always have the latest and greatest, then by all means, check out the amazing LG OLED TVs available!

App Review: Comcast’s Xfinity Stream

At the end of February, Comcast released the latest version of its streaming TV app, known as Xfinity Stream. The app enables Comcast customers to watch live TV and XFINITY On Demand on any device at home or on the go. Moreover, for X1 Cloud DVR customers, you can also stream or download your Cloud DVR recordings to your device and watch anywhere you go.

In many ways, then, what Comcast has done is open up the full power and potential of live streaming TV for the cable company’s on-the-go customer. If you have one of those X1 set-top boxes in your home, then you’ve just been given a lot more freedom to watch television when and how you want. Unlike the previous form of Comcast’s streaming TV app (known as Xfinity TV), this version makes it a lot easier to take cable TV content with you just about everywhere.

So why are Comcast customers not so enthusiastic about the new app? The website Android Police tracked down customer reviews of the app and found that there were three major complaints:

  • A lack of local channels when outside of your home Wi-Fi network
  • The lack of casting ability, such as what you can do with Google Chromecast
  • The lack of Android TV compatibility

Of these, by far the one mentioned most by fans was the inability to watch local channels outside of their home Wi-Fi network. On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal – if you’re already getting top networks like CNN, Fox, NBC, ESPN, BBC World News and The Disney Channel, why would you possibly care about local networks?

There’s a one-word answer to that question: sports. Say you’re a big Philadelphia Flyers fan and you like to watch their NHL hockey game each night on TV, and then you have to travel for business. The expectation is that you’d be able to pack your tablet into your carry-on bag, toss in your Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick, and then when you get to the local hotel where you’re staying, watch the game on the hotel TV (even if you’re hundreds of miles away)

But here’s the thing — you can’t “cast” the game to the hotel TV since there’s no casting ability involved. And, secondly, you can’t get the local network anyway, and so unless the game is a nationally televised game, you’re probably not getting the Philly game in another market.

So let’s back up a second. What exactly are you getting access to with the Xfinity Stream app? Here’s a brief overview of what you can, in fact, get with the app:

  • Thousands of Xfinity On Demand TV shows and movies
  • 200+ live streaming channels from anywhere you have Internet

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Of these 200+ live streaming channels, approximately 50 of them are from Music Choice, meaning they are essentially music channels and not “real” cable networks. But, among the other 150 or so channels, you do get access to some of the real biggies – like ESPN, CNN and Disney. Essentially, you get the biggest and most important cable networks, and you get a nice choice of sports channels, including NBC Sports and Fox Sports. So you really can’t complain too much.

In addition, there are a few other extras added in to sweeten the Xfinity Stream app. You get a Spanish Guide, as well as Common Sense content ratings for anything you’re going to stream. You also get an option to filter your channels by favorites, to make it easier to find what you want. And, of course, you get a schedule of what’s on at any moment and all those music channels.

The basic idea is to replicate your home viewing experience anywhere you go. That’s why it’s so important that you get access to your X1 Cloud DVR — after all, it makes no sense to record so much great content if you can’t watch it when you want and where you want. But, with the new Xfinity Stream app, you get access to anything you’ve previously recorded. The content is in “the cloud,” so it’s yours for the asking. This marks an upgrade from previous Comcast app experiences, where it wasn’t always possible to access your DVR content if you were outside of your home Wi-Fi network.

Overall, it’s clear that Comcast has tried to listen to its customers. And it’s read the writing on the wall from the other streaming TV providers — if Comcast wasn’t going to provide streaming TV to its customers, then someone else was going to. This Xfinity Stream app will also be the new home for the company’s Stream TV service, which will be rebranded when it launches nationwide later in 2017. (Stream TV was an add-on service for Comcast customers to watch shows from a limited number of TV networks on their tablet, laptop or smartphone).

And Comcast obviously wants people to use the new app. They’ve made it possible so that the old Xfinity TV app automatically updates to Xfinity Stream on your iOS or Android device. They realize that people don’t care as much about being able to stream just within their home Wi-Fi network — they want to stream everywhere they go. The thinking of customers is the following: “I’m paying a huge sum of money each month to get Comcast content, and it’s not fair if I don’t have 24/7 access to it.”

So you can think of the new Xfinity Stream app as the new home for all mobile video from Comcast. It’s your one-stop destination for getting all streaming TV shows or films, all live streaming networks and all Cloud DVR content. There’s simply not a better app experience for Comcast users.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a better app experience, period. In fact, if there’s one thing that we can look forward to in 2017, it’s the continued emergence of bigger, better and more impressive streaming TV options. Comcast wants to hold onto its hard-won cable customers, and every other streaming service wants to poach them away. The good news for streaming fans (and Comcast customers) is that the dream of ubiquitous live streaming content wherever you go is quickly becoming a reality.

The Pros and Cons of Amazon’s Fire TV Stick

If you’re looking to stream video content directly to your TV, one of the most affordable options out there is the brand-new Amazon Fire TV Stick, which retails for about $39.99. As an update to the first Amazon Fire TV Stick that debuted in 2014, the new Amazon Fire TV Stick now boasts Alexa voice integration. Here’s a brief overview of all the pros and cons of the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

PRO #1: Lightweight, flexible and affordable

It’s hard to get past the affordable price tag of the Amazon Fire TV Stick ($39.99), which represents a significant savings from the fully-featured Amazon Fire TV ($89.99). In terms of price and design, the Fire TV Stick is most similar to the Google Chromecast. Both “sticks” enable users to plug directly into a HDTV’s HDMI slot to start streaming content within minutes.

PRO #2: Powerful new voice features

The one major upgrade between the original Amazon Fire TV Stick (circa 2014) and the new one (released at the end of 2016) involves Alexa voice integration. If you’ve experienced Amazon Echo (which uses Alexa), then you know how powerful voice features can be. You can use your voice to do things like “Play Game of Thrones” or “Launch Netflix” or even “Find me a good romantic comedy.”

And, best of all, you don’t have to hunt for a way to use the voice controls. Right on the remote device that’s provided with the Alexa Fire TV stick, there’s a prominent button at the very top. This comes in handy because Alexa also comes with certain features (what Amazon calls “skills”), like the ability to place an order for pizza delivery with your voice.

PRO #3: Unlimited access to the best streaming content

The main reason people buy the Amazon Fire TV Stick, of course, is to get access to the best streaming content. The concept is so simple that it seems like it can’t really be true, but here it is: take the Fire TV Stick, plug it into your TV, and connect to Wi-Fi. Boom, you’re done. From there, you can access any of the major streaming services, like Hulu or Netflix or (of course) Amazon Instant Video.

What’s great about the Amazon Fire TV Stick is that you’re not forced to watch only Amazon content, though, – you can watch from any streaming service. For example, say you want to watch a new movie. You could stream from Netflix. Say you want to watch a new TV show. You could stream from Hulu. Say you wanted to watch a game on ESPN. You could stream from Sling TV.

Plus, there’s a “universal search” function so that you can find all the various competing services that offer a particular title, and determine the best way to get access to it. Maybe it’s cheaper to buy on Amazon than it is to rent on Netflix. Or, maybe not. But you have a lot of flexibility here. All told, you get access to more than 300,000 TV episodes and movies ready to stream. So there’s always something on.

PRO #4: Great integration with Amazon Prime

Every major tech company wants you to play in their ecosystem, and Amazon is no different. You may not have a Kindle Fire, but chances are, you have an Amazon.com account. If you have Amazon Prime, then you get unlimited access to Amazon Prime Instant Video. That means access to thousands of movies and TV episodes.

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PRO #5: Fast and furious streaming content (music, not just video!)

The new upgraded Amazon Fire TV Stick comes with streaming speeds that are 30% faster than in the previous version. A lot of this has to do with the way the Fire TV Stick connects to Wi-Fi, but the point is, you get a lot smoother streaming experience. In addition, you’re not limited to just streaming TV and film content – you can also stream music content.

Amazon refers to this in its marketing materials as “Entertain Your Way” – you can use the Fire TV Stick to stream music for guests during parties or on family night. Using Alexa voice integration, you can even do something like “play music for a dinner party,” and the Amazon Fire TV Stick will go to work, finding the right music to set the mood.

CON #1: Not as powerful as other set-top boxes

It might be obvious, but you’re not going to get the same type of functionality in a stick as you are going to get with a full set-top box like Apple TV or even the Amazon Fire TV. Thus, if you’re a hard-core gamer or a film purist, you might look at what the Amazon Fire TV delivers in terms of a higher-performance streaming experience. Moreover, the Amazon Fire TV comes with the ability to plug into the Ethernet, giving it a big leg up on the Amazon Fire TV Stick, which is still restricted to Wi-Fi access.

CON #2: No support for 4K televisions

If you’ve recently shopped for an HDTV, you know that not all TVs are created alike. There are SD (720p), HD (1080p) and 4K (nearly 4000p) pixel sizes. Well, the Amazon Fire TV Stick only supports SD and HD, so if you’re planning on buying a 4K TV anytime soon, then you need to upgrade to the Amazon Fire TV.

That being said, Amazon has done a wonderful job of listening to customers. One of the major complaints of the old Amazon Fire TV Stick was that it didn’t include voice search. Well, now it does. So if you were originally tempted to get a super-cheap Google Chromecast, it’s no longer a case of comparing two relatively similar devices. For the same price, you can get voice search and all the power of Alexa – so why wouldn’t you take it? Go with Amazon.

There’s a lot of innovation happening in the streaming video space, and it looks like Amazon is taking a lot of steps to increase its footprint in the industry. In addition to all the great original content Amazon is now producing (can someone say Manchester By the Sea?), the company is now finding clever ways – such as integrating the Alexa voice technology – to get people to switch to the Amazon ecosystem.

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Is PlayStation VR Successful?

When Sony launched the new PlayStation VR in October 2016, it was a welcome addition to the fast-growing virtual reality (VR) space. In contrast to the high-end VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, both of them selling for $599 or higher, the PlayStation VR offered a slightly more affordable option, priced at just $399. But even that price was nearly four times what you’d expect to pay for the Samsung Gear VR, easily the most popular VR headset on the market today.

Since the PlayStation VR launched in time for the all-important 2016 holiday buying season, the thought was that Sony would just sit back and watch all the sales roll in. To a great extent, though, the highly optimistic sales estimates have not materialized. The original estimate was for the PlayStation VR to sell 2.5 million headsets in 2016 alone. It turns out that the real figure was closer to 750,000 headsets. As of February 2017, according to the New York Times, the PlayStation VR has sold 915,000 units total — just south of 1 million headsets in about a single quarter. Not bad, but still not quite as many as Sony had originally projected.

Sony looks for first-mover advantage in the VR space

However, you can’t base success on sales alone. In general, the entire VR space has been undergoing a re-think over the past six months. In early 2016, VR was one of the hottest new areas of technology, as consumers eagerly awaited the arrival of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — the first two high-end devices on the market. In contrast to the Samsung Gear VR, which only functions by putting your Samsung Galaxy phone inside, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were self-contained headsets meant to be tethered to a high-powered PC capable of rendering virtual worlds in glorious color and crispness.

In that regard, you can start to see the creation of a two-tiered market emerging for virtual reality. On one side, you have Oculus (owned by Facebook), HTC and Sony — they have essentially placed a bet that the future of VR will involve motion controllers, tracking cameras and high-powered PCs or gaming consoles. On the other side, you have Samsung and Google, both of which have opted for VR headsets that work with powerful mobile phones. (But in the case of the Google Daydream VR headset, it only works with a small number of compatible phones, like the Google Pixel.)

You’ll notice that a few big-name competitors aren’t represented here – Microsoft, Apple or Nintendo. That being said, Microsoft is said to be working on a combination AR/VR experience called the HoloLens and Apple is purportedly readying an augmented reality (AR) experience for the iPhone in either 2017 or early 2018. And Nintendo appears to be working on a VR headset for its upcoming gaming console.

So you can see the genius of the Sony move with PlayStation VR – it established itself as an early mover in a potentially lucrative marketplace. And Sony has opened up a big lead on its long-time rival, Nintendo. So, while Nintendo is busy creating augmented reality experiences for the smart phone (like Pokemon!), Sony is busy creating VR experiences for the PlayStation console.

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What needs to happen next for PlayStation VR

Four months after the launch of PlayStation VR, we now have a much better idea of where Sony needs to go with its new VR headset. One major complaint, voiced by many VR gamers, is that there simply wasn’t a must-have gaming title for the PlayStation VR. Without the one game or one experience that everyone wants to buy, it makes it very difficult to attract casual gamers or people who may be new to virtual reality. So if Sony is able to create the “Pokemon of VR,” it’s safe to say that the sales figures are going to look very impressive for the PlayStation VR in 2017.

The other major factor mentioned by gamers is that, while the headset itself was stylish and very futuristic-looking, you really needed to get the PSVR bundle (including gaming controllers and tracking camera) in order to have the full VR experience. That PSVR bundle is $499, a hefty increase from the $399 that you’d pay for the headset alone. As Sony explains, the company thought the major buyers of the headset would be gamers who already owned the console and one or more controllers, so they wanted to make it possible for them to just buy the headset.

But, in many ways, that also speaks to one other drawback – a sometimes mixed message when it came to the PSVR. For example, Sony told gamers that the VR experiences would work best for the PS4 Pro, and that confused many gamers – they interpreted that to mean that they should upgrade their console from the PS4 to the PS4 Pro BEFORE buying the VR headset. And then there’s the matter of what to do with all the controllers and cameras – as some gamers pointed out, it looked like Sony simply gathered together a lot of existing technologies and cobbled them together for VR. So there’s not one amazing technical breakthrough that people can point to and say – “Sony really nailed it.”

In fact, that seemed to be why there was a mixed response in the marketplace to the new Sony PSVR — the new VR headset seemed to work “just good enough,” the new games for VR seemed to work “just good enough” and the overall design and functionality of every VR experience was “just good enough.” But there wasn’t anything truly disruptive about the new Sony VR headset.

Bringing VR to the mass market

The one advantage that Sony has today is the ability to make VR a truly mass-market phenomenon, and not just a hobby for hard-core gamers. Sony has a lot of marketing muscle and it has a dedicated core of fans who already love the PS4. Plus, Sony has plenty of deals and agreements in place with gaming studios and film development companies – it seems like it’s just a matter of time before Sony is able to attract the casual fan to VR.

So, if you’re willing to judge success on not just sales and technological breakthroughs, but also on the ability to bring a new technology to the mainstream, then Sony most definitely has a success on its hands with the PlayStation VR. In 2017, look for the company to move even more aggressively into the mainstream consumer tech market. Just as Oculus briefly experimented with setting up demo lounges at Best Buy in order to win over casual tech buyers for its VR headset, it’s easy to see Sony embracing the same type of marketing move. Releasing the PS4 at the end of 2016 was a signal to the market and to the company’s fans: we’re committed to virtual reality for the long haul, so join us for the ride.

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The Coolest Gadgets at CES 2017

Every year, the world’s biggest tech trade show, CES, features the most promising and upcoming hi-tech gadgets that push the boundaries of technology and imagination. Thousands of startups and multi-national corporations alike showcase their latest products. A large number of these products are truly extraordinary and any single list like this one can never do justice to them all. It is simply not possible to include all of them, because of space constraints. That said, we have rounded up some of the gadgets that truly blew our minds. Hope they blow yours too.

Razer Project Valerie

This one sounds right out of a sci-fi spy movie. The Project Valerie, pictured above, is a giant freaking computer from Razer. It is a single computer with three 4K displays. But, here is the most unbelievable aspect about it – it’s a laptop. For many of us, this 17.3-inch notebook is too big to carry around. Not for the hardcore gamers though. It has a combined resolution of 11,520 x 2160, which guarantees an immersive experience unlike anything ever seen before. This baby packs an overabundance of juice, thanks to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card powering it. If Razer decides to take this concept laptop to the market, it will rule the personal gaming stations across the world.

Kuri, the Digital Personal Assistant

Brace yourselves. Robots are here, and they are invading your …err…living rooms? Kuri is probably the first ‘intelligent’ robot that you might end up buying for yourself at just under $700. Kuri is smart enough to understand your voice commands. It can understand context and surroundings, and recognize different people as well. Kuri can make use of a range of expressions like head movements, lights, and sounds to interact with humans. It rolls on 3 wheels, which can spin in any direction. An HD camera on its head helps it navigate its surroundings, while 4 microphones enable it to listen to humans from any direction.

Robird, the Robotic Bird

Clear Flight Solutions has developed a robotic drone that is eerily similar to real birds. It even behaves like one. In fact, it flies by flapping its giant wings and steers using its tail fins. These remote controlled robotic birds are designed to scare the bejesus out of the other living birds. Why would someone go to this length to just scare a couple of innocent birds? Well, the answer is to keep aviation around airports safe. Birds are a common and serious problem for flights that are taking off and landing at airports. Robirds will man the airspace of the airports like giant birds of prey, and scare the living birds away from the vicinity, before they become a serious issue to aircrafts.

Motiv’s Fitness Tracking Ring

Save for the engagement or wedding rings, the rings are not a fashion statement that they used to be in the medieval periods. Now, they will be making a comeback, and for a reason that has nothing to do with fashion, thanks to Motiv. They have managed to do something the likes of which have not been seen since Apple released its first iPhone. Motiv has squeezed in an entire fitness band’s worth of functionality into one ring. This titanium-encased device can track a host of things such as your sleep, steps, calories burnt, distance, and heart rate. For a small ring packed with so much functionality, it lasts an unbelievable 3 – 5 days on a single charge. That’s innovation at its best.

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Underwater Drone For Fishing Hacks

The next time you go fishing with your buddies, you will have a secret underwater spy to help you increase the size of your catch. PowerRay is an aquatic drone that can dive up to 30 meters deep into the water. It is fitted with a sonar and an HD camera that can transmit data to an iOS or Android app installed on your phone. PowerRay can detect fish up to 70 meters away. It even comes with a secret weapon – a lure. It features a blue light that it uses as a lure to bring fish near you.

Smart Bed

Have trouble sleeping at night? Don’t worry. Your bed will now help you enjoy a more wholesome sleep experience. The smart bed, Sleep Number 360, is a self-adjusting, intelligent bed. It can adjust the various settings for your maximum comfort. It has a foot-warming feature, and an automatic snore detection and adjustment mechanism as well. Rest assured, as soon as you are in the bed, sweet dreams will envelop you. Once it has grown acquainted with your sleep routine, it will wake you up at the optimal moment. They certainly reinvented sleep with this one.

Polaroid

Did you ever wonder what happened to those photo-printing cameras that we saw as kids? Wouldn’t it be awesome to own one now and instant-print photos wherever we go? Well, your wish has just come true. Well, sort of. Polaroids are making a comeback, and in a big way. At CES, Polaroid showcased the all new Polaroid Pop, which features an impressive 20megapixel camera that captures stunning quality pictures. Most importantly, it can print instant photos that do look nice. It even sports a 3.97-inch LCD touchscreen for navigating the device controls as well as viewing the digital photo before printing it. In addition to the physical copies, you can save the digital copies as well.

LeEco’s Smart Bikes

LeEco is revolutionizing the experience of biking. It featured two smart bikes at CES 2017 – a road bike and a mountain bike. The bike is fitted with a 4-inch touchscreen that runs a customized Android Nougat OS and a quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor. It is powered by a massive 6000mAh battery, which has more than enough juice needed for the multitude of fitness oriented sensors installed on the bikes. Get turn by turn navigation, and a bevy of fitness data on the screen all the time you are riding.

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How TV Will Change Within a Trump Presidency

The television industry, at present, is bigger than it has ever been. There are more channels than you can watch, more streaming services than you can remember, and more TV shows than it is humanly possible to enjoy. If anything has been able to occupy the mental space of our collective minds more than the television entertainment, it is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and his eventual election as the President of the United States. They are not necessarily independent of each other. TV has played a major part in his meteoric rise in the campaign. Everything that aired on television, both good and bad, worked in Trump’s favor. Trump too made it a point to occupy maximum screen time. In essence, the 2016 presidential campaign was one big reality TV show. And, that was only the season 1. So, brace yourself America. Season 2 is due in 2020.

While the effect of television on Trump’s campaign is quite clear, it takes a nuanced approach to see his effect on television so far, and going forward. Whether you like it or not, the 2016 Presidential Election was the most engaging topic of the year. And, Trump has managed to keep alive that energy since he has taken office by signing a series of controversial executive orders. The television industry, which is fueled by the creators and the demand of the viewers, never was and will never be immune to his antics.

There Will Be Friction

For one, the present day America finds itself in a precarious situation. The investor confidence has taken a serious hit. Large corporations are not confident that their President will be taking decisions that will be favorable to them. Naturally, money follows their confidence. Where there is no confidence, there will be no money either. In a nutshell, the drop in investor confidence means that there is less room for risk-taking behavior. This applies to TV networks as well. The American TV industry owes its high quality TV programming to the producers’ appetite for taking risks. Now, the producers will be predisposed to take lesser and lesser risks. So, they will be following tried and tested TV formulae, and we all know that makes for a bland TV experience.

There is a flip side here too. The political atmosphere is so charged and the show creators are bound to be affected by it. Their views about the present state of things will undoubtedly make way into their creative works. A lot of them might even try to passionately express a particular opinion, which will not go well with the risk-weary producers. Sparks of friction will fly everywhere. Jane The Virgin’s showmakers have already indicated that the show will be taking up the issue of immigration and the repeal of Obamacare in the future episodes.

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Escapism Will Turn Viewers into False Heroes

The political situation in the US is a mess. Some people are taking it to the streets to express their displeasure; some people have turned their social media space into virtual battleground of words; and some people are spending their time and money to come to the aid of the distressed like the stranded immigrants in airports. Then there are also a lot of people who have resigned to the situation. Now, what better way to escape from reality than tuning in to their TV sets!

In the entertainment industry, there is a sort of consensus building that the astounding rise of a reality star, Trump, into the highest position in the country will spawn a series of shows that feature larger-than-life characters. The television will soon be inundated with ‘House of Cards-style’ shows, which will demand the audience’s attention. It is very difficult to capture the audience’s attention with the usual storytelling. A strong and big personality not only grabs, but forces people to pay attention to it. In Trump’s America, everything will be big, especially television.

Don’t Expect TV Networks to Always Take a Stand

Over the past year, Trump-bashing had become a favorite pastime for many TV channels who were aching for viewers. Since the announcement of the election results, Americans on the other side of the fence are slowly coming to terms with the fact that Trump is here to stay, and “is their President”. TV networks constantly reminding of Trump’s latest blunders is certainly not helping them escape the reality either. So, they are tuning into channels that are not focusing too much on him. Streaming services are a great option for them. If the networks keep on obsessing about Trump, they will lose a bulk of their audience with time. For better or for worse, TV networks are slowly realizing this too.

There is another part of this puzzle. While Trump-haters are tired of hearing bad things about him, the Trump supporters never wanted to hear anything bad about him in the first place at all. So far, the networks were playing a huge gamble by either supporting Trump or by criticizing him. Now, they cannot afford to take sides and ignore the other half of the population. Not to mention the powerful Republican lawmakers, especially when there is a Republican president at the helm of affairs. The survival instincts will kick in, and this combined with an audience that no more wants anything political, the networks will eventually give up their Trump-bashing, if not change sides altogether.

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How The Future Will Look

Many showmakers have expressed their plans to incorporate the issues of immigration, racism, and fear in their shows. They feel that their audience will relate and empathize with these issues better when they see them on the screen. While it is a great initiative on their part to combat fear, racism, and repression by using entertainment, only time will tell how much effect they will have on a typical American’s psyche. Because, make no mistake season 2 of Trump’s presidential campaign will be with us sooner than you think.

The Scoop on AirTV

In the middle of December of 2016, DISH Network leaked a few details about its latest offering to the cord-cutters – AirTV. But, we had to wait until CES 2017 to finally get a good look at the product. And from the looks of it, it can be a game-changer in the industry. For one thing, it has combined streaming service, cable programming, and Over-the-air (OTA) local channels into one irresistible package that is sure to revolutionize the television entertainment experience for viewers.

DISH Network brought a paradigm shift to the streaming industry when it launched its Sling TV service. At the time of its launch, it was the first of its kind to offer live television for streaming. It was now finally feasible for the cord-cutters to completely give up their cable connections. They could enjoy cable programming on the Sling TV app, and tune in to on-demand services like Netflix or Hulu, when they felt like it. It really was a huge step for the industry as a whole. Now, AirTV is taking this game to another level altogether.

At its core, AirTV is a streaming media player that runs Sling TV. But, calling it just a streaming media player is a gross understatement. In addition to running Sling TV, the streaming player from DISH brings you on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, and so on. But, that is not where its awesomeness ends. It does something that no other streaming service has been able to do before – offer local channels.

AirTV combines the live TV of Sling TV, on-demand services of streaming services, and the highly desirable local programming.

AirTV runs on Android TV. This means that it is capable of running all the streaming services that are available in the Google Play Store. Whether it is Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Now, or something else, if it is there in Google Play Store, then AirTV will run it for you.

The device itself is compact and occupies as much space as an Amazon Fire TV. It comes with a remote control that features a good selection of buttons on it. It even has dedicated buttons for Netflix, and Sling TV. Switching between cable programming, OTA channels (local), and streaming services is a seamless experience and not distinguishable at all.

If you get OTA channels like NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, CW, and others in your location, then AirTV will enable you to tune in to them using an add-on device. AirTV comes with an optional OTA USB adapter, which is fitted with an antenna. Once you plug in the adapter, the local channels broadcasted in your area will immediately appear in the Sling TV guide. You can select the channel you want to enjoy right there, be it broadcast channels or cable channels. Even the movie catalogue of Netflix appears right in the Sling TV app, making AirTV the most convenient all-in-one solution for TV viewers.

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AirTV is presently available at a starting price of $100, including the remote. If you want to buy the optional USB antenna separately, it will set you back by another $40. But, the AirTV + USB Antenna combo is available at a discounted rate of $130. When you buy the device, you get a $50 credit toward Sling TV. Although the device comes with Sling TV and Netflix pre-installed, and it is not mandatory for you to subscribe to either of the services. In fact, if you want to catch the local channels with AirTV, then all you need is the USB antenna. That being said, you are buying AirTV to enjoy the best of what cable, streaming services and OTA channels all have to offer. So, it would be a waste of money if you only use it to enjoy local channels.

Subscribing to Sling TV, or the streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and others will cost extra, as per the standard plans offered by those services. To recap, AirTV is not a bundled service, but an integrator that has managed to bring three different TV entertainment media sources on a single platform. And it does a masterful job at it.

AirTV will be directly competing against some other products that will be looking to make it big this year. Mohu AirWave, Tablo Droid, and Tablo Live will all be integrating antenna-based local channels with streaming. AirTV enjoys a unique position as a service from the satellite TV provider Sling TV. Whether that position will help it in any way against the competition, only time will tell.

It should be noted that AirTV is not the first device which combines live TV with streaming. In fact, we can already enjoy this on most of our smartphones. We can install a streaming service like Netflix, and a TV service like Sling TV, and enjoy what both have to offer. But, AirTV differs in one crucial aspect – ease of use. AirTV is designed for the not-so-tech-savvy among us. There are a lot of people who want to cut the cord, but are not comfortable using smart devices. For them, AirTV is a game-changer. Its simple design and easy to use remote allows such users to enjoy the very best of television entertainment, without having to master any smart devices. To make things easier for them, DISH is even offering them an installation service. At this very moment, AirTV is an unbeatable deal.

Although there is no doubt that AirTV is a great substitute for a cable connection, it is bereft of some crucial features, just like the streaming service Sling TV. DISH has yet again failed to introduce the much-awaited DVR capabilities. Some of you might know that DISH is experimenting with cloud DVR service, which is still in beta phase. Ergo, AirTV features neither the local nor the cloud DVR capabilities. Note, however, that it is still a great offering, despite the absence of a DVR feature.

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How to Enjoy the Super Bowl Without Cable TV

It’s that time of the year again. The time when 2017’s biggest (arguably) extravaganza will be happening this Sunday. It is the time when cable subscribers feel vindicated and cord-cutters curse themselves for ditching their cable connection. Their plight is only understandable, because IT’S SUPER BOWL TIME!
This year’s Super Bowl, the Super Bowl LI, is pitting Atlanta Falcons against the New England Patriots. As thrilling as the game is bound to be, the half-time performance will be no less amazing either. In case you are wondering, it will be performed by Lady Gaga this time. Not to mention the phenomenal Super Bowl commercials, which have become a tradition of sorts. Yeah, no. We are not rubbing your nose in it, cord-cutters. On the contrary, we bring you today some simple solutions to address your present problem – how to watch the Super Bowl without a cable connection? Check out which of these methods work best for you.

 

Digital Antenna

When everything else fails, go back to the basics. We live in the era of 4K content streaming over the internet; we enjoy the DVR feature that enables us to never miss a show; we are able to enjoy television anywhere and everywhere. But, we are yet to get sports entertainment on more than a few streaming services. So, what is the solution? Take the old-fashioned option. Purchase a digital antenna from your local electronics store. It will allow you to catch a whole range of broadcast networks without paying a single penny to the cable operators. More importantly, you will be able to tune in to your local Fox affiliate, and enjoy the Super Bowl in all its glory. By the way, the type of antenna that you should buy depends on your geographical location. So, do some research and pick the right one.

 

Chromecast

A representative of Fox Sports recently made an announcement that the Super Bowl will be streamed live on the channel’s official website. Clearly, all you need is a smart device and an internet connection to enjoy the most awaited sports event of the year. Smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, or any other similar device will do. But, if you want to enjoy the event on your HDTV, then you will need a Chromecast. This device will allow you to stream the event on your device, and then cast it onto the TV. If you have a high speed internet connection, then you can enjoy it in high definition as well.

 

What About Overseas Audiences?

If you are an American who is travelling overseas, then it becomes even more difficult to find a source that streams Super Bowl there. Even Fox Sports has stated that only limited sports programming will be available in the overseas markets. It is reasonable to assume that wherever you are staying, the chances of Super Bowl being broadcasted live are slim. Be that as it may, there is a clever trick to not miss the game. Of course, you will need the usual items – an internet connection, and a smart device. Now, all you need to add to the mix is a US-based Virtual Private Network. There are dozens of good VPNs operating out of the US. Sign up for an account with a suitable pricing. It will allow you to mask your device’s IP address, and fake it. The VPN fakes your location within the US, and you will now be able to enjoy Super Bowl online on the Fox Sports website, as if you are at home

 

Fox Sports Go App

The Fox Sports Go app usually requires you to login using your cable subscription credentials, which you obviously do not have or else you wouldn’t be here. But, the network is disabling the authentication for the game. The app itself is compatible with a host of devices and platforms, making is easy for almost everyone to enjoy the game on their device.

Fox Sports Go is supported on iOS, Android, Windows, and Amazon tablet platforms. Apart from the smart devices, the following devices support the app as well – Apple TV, Roku, Xbox One, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, and Android TV.

 

Sling TV

Sling TV is the streaming service from Dish Network which brings cable programming for cord-cutters. The service offers live TV that includes more than a hundred channels via competitively priced packages. But, guess what? You don’t have to sign up for the service yet. You can start by signing up for a trial run of the service. Dish Network offers a 7-day trial of Sling TV for new users. Once you sign up, you can go right away to Fox Access, which is where the Super Bowl will be featured. To its credit, Sling TV is a cool service. But, if you do not wish to continue with it, remember to disconnect the service before the trial period expires.

 

PlayStation Vue

Simply put, PlayStation Vue, is Sony’s answer to Sling TV. It is slightly pricier than Sling TV. But, you need not worry about that, as Vue also comes with a 7-day trial offer for new users. Create an account with Vue, and start enjoying the service right away. Here too, you need to go to Fox Access to watch the Super Bowl. However, before you sign up for the service, check out whether PlayStation Vue is compatible with at least one of your devices, on the official PlayStation website. At the moment, the service is available on a limited set of devices only. Needless to say, deactivate the account before the trial period is over, if you do not intend to continue with the service.

Verizon Users

Verizon users have won a jackpot this time. All of them will be able to enjoy Super Bowl on their smartphone or tablet for absolutely free of cost on the NFL Mobile app. Alternatively, if you have Chromecast, you can cast the live event onto your TV at home and enjoy it on the big screen.

Finally, if everything fails, just hit a sports bar, or plan the weekend at your friend’s. Make sure that they either have a cable connection, or some other way of watching the sporting event.

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