Archive for November 20, 2009

New Blu-ray player Ratings: Movie-streaming grows, prices to plummet?

Vizio Blu-ray player Ratings

Vizio’s VBR100 Blu-ray player will be $100 on Black Friday.

If you’re on the hunt for a high-def Blu-ray player to go with your new flat-panel HDTV, here’s some good news: Our latest Blu-ray player Ratings, available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers, show that prices continue to fall, even as more players add BD-Live, a feature that can provide access to Internet-based content, including streaming movies from several online services.

In fact, the Ratings include several full-featured models that cost $200 or less, as well as more-basic models (without the BD-Live feature) for as little as $130. We expect prices to fall even more sharply as we near Black Friday weekend, the traditional kickoff for holiday-season buying. For example, Best Buy recently offered a BD-Live Insignia-brand player for $100, and Vizio just announced it will drop the price of its VBR100 model—a tested BD-Live model included in our Ratings, now regularly priced at $150 to $180—to just $100 at Costco and Costco.com on Black Friday, at least while supplies last. And the company is throwing in an HDMI cable to boot.

All BD-Live models can access extra content, such as out-takes, deleted scenes or even games, from a movie studio’s servers. In and of itself, this feature is less than compelling, in our view. But many of these Internet-enabled models, from companies such as LG, Panasonic, and Samsung, also offer what we believe is a more engaging extra: the ability to instantly stream movies from services such as Amazon Video On Demand, Netflix, and Vudu.

As the category matures, we expect to see Blu-ray players with new features or capabilities. For example, our latest Ratings include the only portable Blu-ray player available, as well as the first Blu-ray/VHS combo player we’ve seen, both from Panasonic.

We’ll be tracking Blu-ray pricing from Black Friday though the holiday buying season, so check back here regularly for updates. —James K. Willcox

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Daily electronics deals

Today's deals, courtesy of The Consumerist:

  • Amazon: Palm Pre Phone (with new service plan from Sprint) for $79.99 w/ Free shipping
  • Walmart: Virgin Mobile Slash Prepaid Camera Cell Phone with Bluetooth, VMM310SMKIT190 for $20 + $0.97 Shipping
  • BestBuy: Dynex – 32" Class / 720p / 60Hz / LCD w/ Built-in HDTV tuner for $299.99 + $44.23 Shipping
  • Microsoft: Zune HD 16 GB for $197.99 w/ coupon MSSTORE10%OFF w/ Free shipping
  • B&H Photo: Samsung PN42B430 42-inch 720p Plasma HDTV $649 + free shipping
  • onSale: Toshiba REGZA 37CV510U 37-inch 720p LCD HDTV $500 + free shipping
  • Amazon: Skullcandy Proletariat Noise Canceling Headphones $25 + free shipping
  • Redbox: Free Redbox Rental Every Month when you sign-up to SMS notifications (standard text charges apply)
  • Amazon: Free $50 Gift Card with Wii Console & Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board
  • Pogo.com: 14 Days free plus 50.000 tokens, no credit card required
  • Walmart: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Movie (Blu-Ray) $9.36 Free Shipping
  • JR: JR.com Black Friday DVD Blowout: DVDs from $4, Blu-ray Discs from $10

Neither Consumer Reports nor The Consumerist receive anything in
exchange for featuring these deals; the posts are intended to be purely
informational. These deals are often fleeting, with prices changing or
products becoming unavailable as the day progresses.

These posts are not an endorsement of the featured products or
the Web sites that sell them—though some of the sites may be included,
and recommended, in our Ratings of retailers for computers and other major electronics (both available to subscribers). Price shouldn't be your only criterion. Be wary of lower-priced deals that seem too good to be true, and check return policies for restocking fees and other gotchas.

For general buying advice for many of the products on sale above, check out our free Buying Guides.

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Warner Bros. turns old DVDs Blu

DVD Blu-ray exchange Warner Bros. DVD2Blu

First it was exchanging old HD DVD discs for Blu-ray versions. Now Warner’s at it again with a “DVD2Blu” program that let’s you swap old DVDs for new Blu-ray versions of the same movie—for a price.

Just go to Warner Bros.' DVD2Blu website and select the movies you want to trade in. You can only get a Blu-ray version of the same movie you own on DVD, and there's a limit of 25 titles per household that can be exchanged. Once you’ve selected the titles, click on “checkout” and pay a fee, typically $7.95 or $9.95 per disc, plus $4.95 shipping. (You get free shipping on orders of $25 or more.)

You can then print out a prepaid label, which includes a barcode for delivery tracking, and mail the old DVDs, without their cases, to a processing center, where the titles are compared to those listed on your order. Once the discs are received you’ll receive an email letting you know when the Blu-ray discs are shipping along with tracking info. It takes about four to five weeks for the whole transaction, and the Blu-ray package you'll receive is the same as the ones sold in stores, with all the accompanying materials.

The exchange program is limited to the DVDs listed on the DVD2Blu.com website, and you can only exchange one copy of each movie. If you’d like more info, visit this DVD2Blu FAQ, or visit the Warner Bros. Shop for more details about the movies.

This seems like a pretty fair deal, although before you swap out titles you may want to see if the same Blu-ray movies are already being discounted elsewhere. Amazon, for example, regularly discounts Blu-ray titles. For example, we came across these specials, where prices were generally only $8.99 or $9.99. This would let you get new Blu-rays, and you'd be able to keep your DVDs for use on a portable player or notebook computer. And in case you didn't know it, Amazon runs its own exchange program, where you can trade in old DVDs (and even HD DVDs) and receive a $10 gift card. The company also maintains an area on its website for newly released or recent Blu-ray movies priced below $20. Let us know how things went if you try either of these exchange programs. —James. K. Willcox

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Warner Bros. turns old DVDs Blu

DVD Blu-ray exchange Warner Bros. DVD2Blu

First it was exchanging old HD DVD discs for Blu-ray versions. Now Warner’s at it again with a “DVD2Blu” program that let’s you swap old DVDs for new Blu-ray versions of the same movie—for a price.

Just go to Warner Bros.' DVD2Blu website and select the movies you want to trade in. You can only get a Blu-ray version of the same movie you own on DVD, and there's a limit of 25 titles per household that can be exchanged. Once you’ve selected the titles, click on “checkout” and pay a fee, typically $7.95 or $9.95 per disc, plus $4.95 shipping. (You get free shipping on orders of $25 or more.)

You can then print out a prepaid label, which includes a barcode for delivery tracking, and mail the old DVDs, without their cases, to a processing center, where the titles are compared to those listed on your order. Once the discs are received you’ll receive an email letting you know when the Blu-ray discs are shipping along with tracking info. It takes about four to five weeks for the whole transaction, and the Blu-ray package you'll receive is the same as the ones sold in stores, with all the accompanying materials.

The exchange program is limited to the DVDs listed on the DVD2Blu.com website, and you can only exchange one copy of each movie. If you’d like more info, visit this DVD2Blu FAQ, or visit the Warner Bros. Shop for more details about the movies.

This seems like a pretty fair deal, although before you swap out titles you may want to see if the same Blu-ray movies are already being discounted elsewhere. Amazon, for example, regularly discounts Blu-ray titles. For example, we came across these specials, where prices were generally only $8.99 or $9.99. This would let you get new Blu-rays, and you'd be able to keep your DVDs for use on a portable player or notebook computer. And in case you didn't know it, Amazon runs its own exchange program, where you can trade in old DVDs (and even HD DVDs) and receive a $10 gift card. The company also maintains an area on its website for newly released or recent Blu-ray movies priced below $20. Let us know how things went if you try either of these exchange programs. —James. K. Willcox

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Daily Dispatch: "Nervous system" planned for Earth; Pre-paid Blackberrys

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The Daily Dispatch is a collection of interesting news about computing,
consumer electronics, and other technology gathered from around the Web
by Dirk Klingner, our technology-trend watcher, and other staffers. If
you have a tip on news you want to share, leave a comment below.

A Central Nervous System for Earth: HP's Ambitious Sensor Network (ReadWriteWeb)

HP Labs has joined the race to build an
infrastructure for the emerging Internet of Things. The giant computing
and IT services company has announced a project that aims to be a
"Central Nervous System for the Earth" (CeNSE). It's a research and
development program to build a planet-wide sensing network, using
billions of "tiny, cheap, tough and exquisitely sensitive detectors."

T-Mobile launches pre-paid BlackBerry (Chicago Tribune)

One of the first smart phones available without a contract or credit check, opening up smart phones to a new market.

Automatic captions in YouTube (Official Google Blog)
Leveraging the voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice has allowed Google to begin automatic captioning (auto-caps) of YouTube videos. They have also launched an automatic caption timing feature which allows the user to submit a text file containing the text of the video and Google will do the rest, automatically applying the correct placement and timing to the text.

Wal-Mart Web Site Offers Remote Tech-Support Services (The Wall Street Journal)

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), which launched new technical support services in its stores last month, is now offering its online shoppers remote tech-support services—such as virus removal, diagnostics, and repairs—through an India company.

Mplayit Wants to Let Your Share, Demo iPhone Apps via Facebook (The iPhone Blog)

Mplayit is a new online service that aims to let your Facebook friends share iPhone app recommendations with you—and then take it one step further and actually let you see videos, demos, and other information before you decide to buy it via the iTunes App Store.

Tiny chip could diagnose disease (BBC)

Researchers have demonstrated a tiny chip based on silicon that could be used to diagnose dozens of diseases.

Netherlands The Latest To Propose Mileage Tax That Requires GPS For Tracking Driving (Techdirt)

Various US states, including Oregon, California and Massachusetts have toyed with such ideas, and while some in Congress have pushed for it on a national scale, the Obama administration has come out against the idea.

Lighter side: The Space Chair project sent a living room chair 98,268 feet into the atmosphere for a technology company commercial. (Wired)

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