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Rewards and incentives are a great way to boost your market research insights and response rates. But should you use instant rewards, sweepstakes, or points-to-rewards?

It is no exaggeration to say that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd is a company that built the history of Japan’s manufacturing industry.

There’s an art to growing leads and maintaining successful relationships with customers. When you want to give your sales and marketing teams a digital advantage,

Ultimately, the consistent and reliable flow of data across people, teams and business functions is crucial to an organization’s survival and ability to innovate.

Ultimately, the consistent and reliable flow of data across people, teams and business functions is crucial to an organization’s survival and ability to innovate.

Organizations’ top data priorities over the next two years fall into three areas, all supported by wider adoption of cloud platforms:

  • Europe takes the lead in sustainable growth

    Elena Rotzokou is Global Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Researcher at Ecoveritas. She came to Ecoveritas immediately after completing a master’s degree in English at the University of Oxford.

  • LFR Spotlight on ArtSystems Media Product Specialist Gemma Norman

    Following her appointment as Media Product Specialist at systems distributor and service provider ArtSystems last year, LFR caught up with Gemma Norman to find out how she is settling into the new role and to discuss some of the key developments she has experienced so far.

  • Drytac: Are architectural films the new sexy?

    In the graphic installation community, car, boat and motorcycle wraps have always been considered the “sexy" side of the industry. And who can deny it? But for me as a business owner, profits and shareholder distributions are two things that are very sexy to me.

  • LFR on How to easily improve your Google rank and get found

    While almost all print and signage businesses have some form of online presence, not all are familiar with how they can maximise this offering to attract more customers. LFR takes a closer look at SEO tools and how these solutions can offer a cost-effective and impactful way of driving more traffic to your website.

  • Drytac supporting customers with a flexible approach

    With such deep knowledge of the self-adhesive sector, Drytac is fully aware of the types of challenges companies working with these materials experience and how difficult it can be to find a solution.

  • Beyond Wide-Format Sign and Display – Could you Pivot and Win?

    While much has been said and written about making the move into wide-format as a way of growing a print business, what about moving the other way? Can sign and display specialists diversify into other markets, and if so, where should they be looking? LFR Editor, Rob Fletcher, investigates…

  • Oracle’s Container Engine for Kubernetes to offer managed virtual nodes

    Oracle on Monday said it is adding virtual nodes to its managed Kubernetes service called Oracle Container Engine for Kubernetes (OKE) in an effort to let enterprises run their development operations without having to manage any infrastructure.Nodes, which are one of the most fundamental building blocks of Kubernetes, are physical or virtual machines that make up clusters that in turn run Kubernetes and the containers managed by that particular instance of the orchestration system.OKE’s new virtual nodes, which were first announced by the company in October last year, will eliminate the operational overhead of managing, scaling, upgrading, and troubleshooting worker nodes' infrastructure (servers), said Vijay Kumar, vice president, of product marketing, app development services and developer relations at Oracle.To read this article in full, please click here

  • Developers, unite! Join the fight for code quality

    For software engineers, a vote for quality isn’t always on the institutional ballot. Sometimes (too often) the sole metric for success is speed. The directive goes: Get your code out the door ASAP and leave the pesky testing to quality assurance. In fact, in many organizations, QA exists as a separate office from development, with stilted communication stumbling sporadically between the two groups.But while the powers that be may have deemed this separation optimal for deploying at hyper speed, it ultimately works to the detriment of the software’s short-term readability and long-term extensibility. To optimize those two elements, quality must belong to everyone, perhaps even especially to developers. If you’re a software engineer and your organization doesn’t expect it from you, it’s still in your best interest to both prioritize and promote quality code.To read this article in full, please click here

  • Docker’s bad week

    Docker had a bad week. What’s less clear is whether Docker deserved it.For those who haven’t heard, last week Docker announced that it was sunsetting Free Team subscriptions. Some in the open source world read this as “pay up or lose your data.” In light of the uproar,  Docker was quick to apologize: “We did a terrible job announcing the end of Docker Free Teams.” Unsurprisingly, this failed to placate its most vociferous critics: “The open source community is not alarmed because of how you communicated, but because of what you communicated and how you implemented the transition,” one person commented.To read this article in full, please click here

  • AWS Chatbot now integrated into Microsoft Teams

    Amazon Web Services has integrated its AWS Chatbot into Microsoft Teams to allow enterprise users to interact with AWS cloud resources from within the chat application.AWS Chatbot, which was first showcased in 2019 and made generally available in 2020, is a service that lets enterprise development and IT teams receive notifications about their AWS infrastructure resources from within a productivity or chat application such as Slack.“When using AWS Chatbot for Microsoft Teams or other chat platforms, you receive notifications from AWS services directly in your chat channels, and you can take action on your infrastructure by typing commands without having to switch to another tool,” Sébastien Stormacq, principal developer advocate at AWS, wrote in a blog post.To read this article in full, please click here

  • Sovereign clouds are becoming a big deal again

    Cloud-using industries such as banking, insurance, healthcare, and the public sector face additional challenges complying with laws and requirements within specific regions. This has increased the demand for sovereign clouds. This cloud architecture approach seems to fly under everyone’s radar; thus, I’m bringing it up.Sovereign clouds are semipublic cloud services owned, controlled, and operated by a particular country, region, or sometimes a cloud provider serving a region. They may be owned by the local government outright or by a consortium of private and public organizations.In a few cases, they are owned by private companies that work closely with the government. The objective is to provide computing infrastructure that can support specific government services, especially protecting sensitive data and complying with laws and regulations specific to a country or region.To read this article in full, please click here

  • Civet: A better TypeScript?

    "There's a rumor going around that Civet is the new CoffeeScript but maybe that's a good thing. CoffeeScript brought classes, destructuring, async/await, arrow functions, rest parameters, and more to the official JavaScript spec. Maybe Civet will get the pipe operator, pattern matching, and more into ES2025." —Civet creator Daniel Moore Civet is described as a kind of modern CoffeeScript for TypeScript, which may not sound promising if you remember CoffeeScript as I do. Before you write it off, though, consider what Civet has to offer. This is a compact, modern language that aims to give you everything you like about TypeScript with more power and simplicity, including early access to proposed ECMAScript language features. You could be surprised by some of the capabilities Civet puts into your hands with very little effort. To read this article in full, please click here

  • AWS takes a hit in latest round of Amazon layoffs

    When Amazon announced it was laying off another 9,000 employees today, AWS employees were not exempt with Amazon CEO (and former AWS CEO) Andy Jassy announcing the cloud division would be included into today’s round. TechCrunch is hearing that around 10% of today’s total came from AWS. The company would not confirm those numbers instead AWS takes a hit in latest round of Amazon layoffs by Ron Miller originally published on TechCrunch

  • Flagstar Bank to buy some Signature Bank assets, but not crypto operations

    Flagstar Bank, a subsidiary of New York Community Bancorp, has signed a takeover agreement with U.S. regulators for some of Signature Bank’s assets and loans. Earlier this month, after Silicon Valley Bank’s customers all tried to withdraw their funds at the same time, Signature Bank was the second victim of a bank run. Both banks Flagstar Bank to buy some Signature Bank assets, but not crypto operations by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch

  • For tech titans, AI prominence is the new measuring stick

    For many tech companies, investors are applying a new valuation method that has caught our eye: AI proficiency. For tech titans, AI prominence is the new measuring stick by Alex Wilhelm originally published on TechCrunch

  • Hear why AtoB calls itself Stripe for trucking on TechCrunch Live

    Trucking is a vital industry and yet the majority of operations are operating on outdated platforms. AtoB thinks it has the solution and co-founder Harshita Arora says the company is essentially Stripe for transportation. I’m excited to have her and Eric Tarczynski of Contrary Capital speaking on an upcoming TechCrunch Live taking place on March Hear why AtoB calls itself Stripe for trucking on TechCrunch Live by Matt Burns originally published on TechCrunch

  • Twitter testing government ID-based verification, new screenshots show

    Twitter appears to be testing a new verification process for Twitter Blue subscribers that would involve submitting a government ID. Code-level insights reveal a process for sending in a photo of the user’s ID, both front and back, along with a selfie photo to verify their Twitter account. The feature is listed alongside others only Twitter testing government ID-based verification, new screenshots show by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

  • Podcast network Maximum Fun is becoming a worker-owned co-op

    Maximum Fun owner Jesse Thorn is selling the podcast company that he founded almost 20 years ago. Rather than surrendering the network to a big tech company or media conglomerate, he is selling it back to its workers. Maximum Fun, best known for distributing hit shows like the McElroy family’s “My Brother, My Brother and Podcast network Maximum Fun is becoming a worker-owned co-op by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunch

  • The Google Pixel 7 is on sale for a new low price of $449

    The Pixel 7’s design may not be for everyone, but this price may be. | Image: Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge As the days get longer, Google’s Pixel phones are continuing to get cheaper. The unlocked Google Pixel 7 is on sale for $449 ($150 off) at Amazon, Target, and Best Buy — the last of which is offering an additional $100 off if you activate it on a carrier, dropping it to $350. These are the best prices on the Pixel 7 yet, offering an exceptional value if you want a speedy Android phone with a sizable 6.3-inch screen, excellent dual cameras (with wide and ultrawide lenses), and Google’s own feature-rich version of Android 13. This is the usual price for the midrange Pixel 6A, which also gets frequent discounts, but the Pixel 7 has a larger screen, newer processor, and extra niceties like wireless Qi charging. Read our review. If the... Continue reading…

  • United Nations warns 2050 net-zero climate goals are already outdated

    UN Secretary-General António Guterres (L) speaks next to Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) at the start of The International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan in Geneva on January 9th, 2023. | Image: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images When it comes to tackling climate change, achieving “net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050” has become a ubiquitous rallying cry. It’s in goals set by cities, states, and the Biden administration. It’s a hallmark of companies’ sustainability pledges, from Big Tech to Big Oil. It’s not enough. The world’s leading climate experts called for more swift action on climate change in a major report released today by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Near-term goals to slash greenhouse gas pollution need to be a much higher priority, advocates say, and there’s precious little time to reach them. “The climate time-bomb is ticking. But today’s IPCC report is a how-to guide to defuse the climate time-bomb.... Continue reading…

  • The tech industry’s moment of reckoning: layoffs and hiring freezes

    Companies have been cutting costs. | Photo by Natt Garun / The Verge Over the past few months, the economy has started to turn, and tech workers are being hit hard. Meta, Twitter, and more have fired thousands, and others are slowing or freezing hiring. Continue reading…

  • Amazon’s latest layoffs cut 9,000 more jobs in divisions including Twitch and AWS

    Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Amazon is laying off another 9,000 workers, according to a memo to employees CEO Andy Jassy sent to workers on Monday. The employees affected by the cut include those in roles in AWS, Twitch, advertising, and human resources. In his memo, Jassy cites the “uncertain economy” as the reason for the cuts and says the company has “chosen to be more streamlined in our costs and headcount.” Amazon just got done laying off a total of 18,000 people across the company late last year and in January, which included workers in its hardware and services, human resources, and retail teams. “The overriding tenet of our annual planning this year was to be leaner while doing so in a way that enables us to still invest robustly in the key long-term... Continue reading…

  • The Internet Archive is defending its digital library in court today

    An officially licensed ebook library. | Image: Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge Book publishers and the Internet Archive will face off today in a hearing that could determine the future of library ebooks — deciding whether libraries must rely on the often temporary digital licenses that publishers offer or whether they can scan and lend copies of their own tomes. At 1PM ET, a New York federal court will hear oral arguments in Hachette v. Internet Archive, a lawsuit over the archive’s Open Library program. The court will consider whether the Open Library violated copyright law by letting users “check out” digitized copies of physical books, an assertion several major publishers made in their 2020 suit. The case will be broadcast over teleconference, with the phone number available here. The Open Library is built... Continue reading…

  • Text-to-video AI inches closer as startup Runway announces new model

    An example video generated by Runway’s Gen-2 model. The text input prompt was “A shot following a hiker through jungle brush.” | Image: Runway Text-to-image AI is mainstream now, but just waiting in the wings is text-to-video. The pitch for this technology is that you’ll be able to type a description and generate a corresponding video in any style you like. Current capabilities lag behind this dream, but for those tracking the tech’s progress, an announcement today by AI startup Runway of a new AI video generation model is noteworthy nonetheless. Runway offers a web-based video editor that specializes in AI tools like background removal and pose detection. The company helped develop open-source text-to-image model Stable Diffusion and announced its first AI video editing model, Gen-1, in February. Gen-1 focused on transforming existing video footage, letting users input a... Continue reading…

  • Netflix wants to make its games ‘playable on every Netflix device that you have’

    Illustration: Alex Castro / The Verge Netflix is still working on its cloud gaming service, which could make its burgeoning games lineup easier to play and available across more devices. The company’s VP of games, Mike Verdu, announced in October that Netflix was “seriously exploring” a cloud gaming service, and work on the project is “underway,” Leanne Loombe, Netflix’s VP of external games, said in a briefing with reporters. “We are very early in that side of our journey,” Loombe said. “We do believe that cloud gaming will enable us to provide that easy access to games on any screen and be frictionless and provide the accessibility into gaming experiences.” She cautioned that Netflix is being “super thoughtful” about how it builds the service, perhaps to avoid a Google... Continue reading…

  • Netflix is adding Monument Valley next year as part of its continued gaming push

    Monument Valley coming to Netflix in 2024. | Image: Netflix In 2024, Netflix will be adding two of the most revered mobile titles of all time to its fledgling gaming service. The company announced that both Monument Valley and its sequel will be available to Netflix subscribers starting in 2024. It’s a big get, as both games were huge mobile hits on release and are currently available as part of Apple’s Arcade subscription service as well. (It’s not clear yet if the games will be available on both subscriptions simultaneously next year.) The announcement was made as part of a bigger reveal of upcoming titles from Netflix. On April 18th, Ubisoft will be releasing its second game on the service, a roguelite called Mighty Quest: Rogue Palace, while Super Evil Megacorp — the studio behind mobile... Continue reading…

  • Ikea adds stock-counting drones to more of its stores

    Image: Ingka Ikea has enlisted more drones to keep tabs on its inventory. In a blog post shared last week, Ingka, the legal entity responsible for most of Ikea’s stores, says it now has a total of 100 autonomous drones counting stock in its warehouses during nonoperational hours. Ikea first partnered with the drone-making company Verity in 2020 to deploy the drones in Switzerland, but now, the company says they’re zipping around 16 locations across Belgium, Croatia, Slovenia, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. The Swedish furniture giant says the drones help improve the accuracy of product availability and also support “a more ergonomic workplace,” as it saves employees from counting stock manually. Verity, which specializes in creating... Continue reading…

  • How Tumblr turned social media polls into a game design challenge

    Tumblr’s poll game phenomenon often shares a likeness with the infinite monkeys on a typewriter theorem. | Image: im-a-freaking-joy / Tumblr On February 3rd, Tumblr user Relientk used the site’s then-recently released poll feature to list several common baking ingredients. “Okay let’s bake a cake,” the poll urged. There were no further instructions, no rules. Users’ votes just implicitly set the percentage of things like butter, flour, sugar... and vanilla extract. If you’re already a Tumblr user, you know how this went. The resulting cake recipe was 44 percent vanilla — briefly turning the phrase “vanilla extract” into a sitewide meme. While the gag was short-lived and the cake (based on one real-life baking test) far from delicious, it’s become part of a much larger trend on Tumblr: turning the site’s polls into sometimes surprisingly complex — and often very funny — games. ... Continue reading…

  • Jordan Peele's Next Movie, Whatever It Is, Is a Christmas Gift Next Year

    With his Oscar-winning first film Get Out, Jordan Peele quickly established himself as a filmmaker to constantly be excited about. Then, with his next two films, Us and Nope, he delivered on that promise. Now, Peele has set up his fourth film—which means it’s time to get pumped all over again, even though we don’t…Read more...

  • Doctor Who's Next Anniversary Project Turns Sooz Kempner Into Doom

    Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary in November 2023 is giving the series a chance to go seemingly as bonkers as it wants. Shove David Tennant in as a new Doctor? Sure. Russell T. Davies is back like it’s 2008? Hell yeah. TikTok and Twitter superstar Sooz Kempner is getting her own series of comics, books, games, and media…Read more...

  • Virgin Orbit Reportedly Preparing for Insolvency in Wake of Rocket Failure

    Richard Branson’s private space venture Virgin Orbit is reportedly planning for insolvency in the event it’s not able to secure new funding, according to Sky News.Read more...

  • A Government Program Hopes to Find Critical Minerals Right Beneath Our Feet

    This story was originally published by Grist. You can subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.Read more...

  • Ikea Expands Its Affordable Electronics Lineup With a $15 Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker

    Ikea as a brand is already synonymous with well-designed and affordable furniture, but it seems like it also might have aspirations of becoming the Swedish Sony, given its continued push into consumer electronics under the Vappeby brand. Its latest wireless speaker is light on features, but more importantly, it’s even…Read more...

  • Star Wars: Jedi Survivor Takes a Walk on the Dark Side

    Has it really been four years since the Jedi: Fallen Order video game came out? Wikipedia swears it’s true, which is just slightly less than the five years former padawan Cal Kestis (Cameron Monaghan) has spent between his inaugural game and the next chapter in his saga, Jedi Survivor. Now Cal’s Force powers are more…Read more...

  • Apple's Delaying Products, Avoiding AI in Desperate Bid to Avoid Layoffs

    Apple does not want to resort to layoffs, unlike many other major tech companies, which have been downsizing since around the turn of 2023. The tech giant is so desperate to not become another Google, Microsoft, or Meta (which thought 11,000 Meta staff layoffs were so nice that it did it twice) that it has put a hold…Read more...

  • If You Are a Russian Diplomat, You Should Be Using a Fliphone

    While governments around the world are racing to place restrictions on TikTok over perceived espionage and security concerns, Kremlin leaders in Moscow have their sights set on another target: smartphones. The officials, according to Russian newspaper Kommersant, have advised staff involved with President Vladimir…Read more...

  • Amazon CEO Andy Jassy Announces an Additional 9,000 Layoffs

    In an email to staff this morning, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy announced another round of layoffs at the massive tech corporation—this time resulting in 9,000 Amazon employees losing their jobs. According to the memo, which was obtained by CNBC, the affected departments include Amazon Web Services, human resources,…Read more...

  • 27 Million Indians Lose Internet Access as Punjab Police Hunt Sikh Separatist

    India is again immersed in a statewide internet blackout in Punjab as authorities search for a Sikh separatist. Amritpal Singh is on the run for allegedly spreading potential unrest, prompting local authorities to shut down the internet over the weekend and extended it on Monday for another 24 hours, The Washington…Read more...

  • Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power Continues to Add to the Cast

    Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power announced three new cast-members for the second season of the Tolkien-inspired series today on Twitter. Ciarán Hinds, an Oscar-nominated actor (for Belfast in 2021), who is known for playing Julius Caesar on the HBO series Rome, among numerous other roles, Rory Kinnear (Men, Penny…Read more...

  • The BBC, Which Has 4 Million Followers on TikTok, Tells Employees Not to Download TikTok

    The BBC has 4.4 million followers on TikTok, and it posts new videos every couple of hours on its main account. If you work at the venerable British broadcaster, however, the organization says you shouldn’t watch those TikToks. The BBC sent its employees a memo on Sunday, urging them not to download the world’s…Read more...

  • A Real GameCube Died So That This Lego GameCube Could Actually Play Games

    Buying a classic game console like a Gamecube online is always a bit of a gamble. Even if it arrives in perfect working order, there’s a chance the rest of the console could look like it was handled by a rage-filled toddler. Restoring retro hardware is a time-consuming process, but as YouTuber Peter Knetter…Read more...

  • Alex Jones Is Reportedly Hiding Money to Avoid $1.5 Billion Sandy Hook Payout

    As the Feds try to rip Alex Jones’ $2,000 cat from his conspiracy peddling hands, the disgraced right-wing Infowars host has been reportedly concealing funds while paying out the court-ordered $1.5 billion in damages to the families of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting.Read more...

  • The Venture-Backed Rocket Industry Is Finally Coming Back to Earth

    Venture-backed rocket makers recently spent an anxious weekend waiting on the outcome of Silicon Valley Bank’s failure, but their latest troubles have no connection to the lender’s collapse.Read more...

  • Best smart speakers and displays: We pick the brightest and best-sounding models

    You don’t need to live in a smart home to benefit from smart speakers and smart displays. Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and other digital assistants can help you in dozens of ways, and you don’t have to lift a finger to summon them—just speak their names. Here are our top picks in several categories. Looking for more guidance beyond our top recommendations? Scroll down the page to our in-depth buyers’ guide. Updated March 20, 2023 with a link to our coverage of the latest Apple HomePod display rumors. Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (5th Gen) — Best smart speaker for most people Pros Larger display conveys more information Highly useful ambient temperature sensor Accelerometer for gesture recognition Can operate as a node on an Eero mesh Wi-Fi network Cons Audio performance still pales in comparison to a Sonos One 3.5mm analog audio output has been removed Mesh node feature is useful only to those with Eero routers Best Prices Today: £64.99 at Amazon Amazon is the strongest player in the smart home market today, and the Echo Dot with Clock (5th Gen) is a key reason for that position. Amazon could easily have left well enough alone with its third-generation entry-level smart speaker, but it just keeps innovating. While it’s true that you’ll spend $10 less if you buy the 5th-generation Echo Dot sans clock, that display adds much more than $10 in value. The one area that Amazon continues to trail with its entry-level smart speakers is audio performance. But if you’re buying a smart speaker mostly to control your smart home devices, this is the smart speaker to buy. Read our full Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (5th Gen) review Google Nest Mini — Best smart speaker for most people, runner-up Pros Improved sound quality Google Assistant rarely gets stumped Works great with other Nest devices Inexpensive Cons Capacitive buttons are easy to miss Sound quality still isn’t that great No cable management to go with the new mounting hole No analog audio output Best Prices Today: $49 at Google Google takes the runner-up spot despite the improvements the company has made to its rebranded smart speaker. Yes, audio quality has improved, and Google Assistant is still smarter than Alexa, but Amazon is ahead of the game when it comes to hooks into the smart home. If you want better audio performance, the Google Nest Audio delivers a lot of bang for the buck, but it costs twice as much as the Mini. The Nest Mini’s price also makes it the runner-up in the best budget-priced smart speaker category. Read our full Google Nest Mini review Apple HomePod mini — Best smart speaker in the Apple HomeKit ecosystem Pros The only smart speaker with Apple HomeKit support Impressive audio quality for its size Works as a Thread border router Easy to set up Cons We’ve heard better-sounding smart speakers in the Mini’s price range No physical mic mute control Intercom feature doesn’t support two-way calls Best Prices Today: $99 at Apple Apple’s HomeKit is a great smart home ecosystem that emphasizes privacy. If you’re an iPhone user looking for a smart speaker and you want to take advantage of all that HomeKit can deliver, the HomePod mini is the only game in town. Read our full Apple HomePod Mini review Amazon Echo Dot (3rd gen) — Best budget-priced smart speaker Pros A very inexpensive voice-powered smart home controller Best sounding audio in its class Pretty industrial design Cons Still not recommended for critical music listening Google Nest Mini offers tighter integration with Android smartphones We don’t know how much longer the third-gen Dot will be around, but if you’re looking for an inexpensive Alexa-powered smart speaker, this is the model to buy. If you’re looking for a budget-priced smart speaker based on Google Assistant, you can’t go wrong with the the Nest Mini, mentioned above as our overall runner-up. Read our full Amazon Echo Dot (3rd gen) review Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin — Best smart speaker for music Pros Best-in-class stereo performance from a tabletop speaker Impeccable industrial design Streams high-res audio Cons Alexa is the only supported digital assistant Control buttons are difficult to see If you’ve got the bread, Bowers & Wilkins has the best-sounding smart speaker on the market. It only supports Alexa, though, so Google Assistant fans might want to look elsewhere. The Nest Audio sounds good for a $99 speaker, but as you would expect, it is just not in the same league as this puppy. Read our full Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin review Amazon Echo Studio — Best smart speaker for music, runner-up Pros Great audio performance for the money Supports 3D audio (Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio) Can be paired with Amazon’s inexpensive subwoofer and/or a second Studio for stereo Cons Lack of Z-Wave support weakens its abilities as a smart home hub You must subscribe to Amazon Music to get 3D audio Speaker enclosure is insufficently isolated from the surface it’s placed on Amazon’s Echo Studio is a great value for $200, and it has an integrated Zigbee smart home hub to boot. It’s outfitted with three 2.0-inch mid-range drivers (one firing left, one firing right, and one firing straight up) and a 1.0-inch tweeter that fires straight at the listener. A 5.25-inch down-firing woofer handles the lower frequencies and is mounted directly above a slotted bass aperture. You can pair two for stereo, and Amazon even offers an optional subwoofer.  Read our full Amazon Echo Studio review Sonos Roam — Best portable smart speaker Pros Exceptional sound for its size Auto Trueplay now works over Bluetooth Sound Swap feature lets you “swap” music with other Sonos speakers Small and light, with a waterproof design Cons Slow wireless charging (at least with third-party chargers) Sound Swap doesn’t work across Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay 2 modes Price When Reviewed: 159 Best Prices Today: £144.00 at AO£149.00 at John Lewis£159.00 at Currys OK, the Sonos Move is a better-sounding portable smart speaker, but the Sonos Roam is just so much more practical when you want to take your music on the go. It’s not a big deal to take the Move out on the patio, but stuffing it in a backpack and taking your tunes on a hike? You’re going to want to Roam for that. The Roam also costs a lot less than the Move. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely love the Move, but when you want to roam, grab the Roam. Read our full Sonos Roam review Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) — Best smart display Pros Display can automatically rotate so it's always facing you Significant improvements in display brightness and image quality Strong home security features, including Alexa Guard and the subscription-based Alexa Guard Plus Very good audio performance Cons You might find the tracking feature to be creepy (it can be disabled) Wi-Fi and Zigbee radios onboard, but there’s no Z-Wave or Thread support Needs at least 5 inches of clearance all the way around if it’s to fully rotate The Amazon Echo Show (3rd Gen) features a 10.1-inch display that tracks your movement and rotates so that it always faces you. Amazon’s AZ1 Neural Edge processor tracks your movement right on the device, enhancing your privacy by not uploading your image to the cloud. It has a high-quality display and a very good audio system. As with most of its more-expensive Echo devices, there’s an integrated Zigbee smart home hub, plus a radio that taps into Amazon’s new Sidewalk neighborhood network technology. If you want an even bigger display, consider the Echo Show 15, but read our Echo Show 15 review to understand why we didn’t pick that model in this category. Read our full Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) review Google Nest Hub Max — Best smart display, runner-up Pros Impressive audio quality Excels as a digital photo frame Built-in Nest camera Google Assistant is one of the smartest assistants we’ve tried Cons No physical camera shutter No analog audio output Google Assistant’s smart home compatibility still lags Alexa Best Prices Today: $229 at Google The Google Nest Hub Max delivers great sound, fabulous picture quality, and tight integration with the Google ecosystem. Alexa is still the superior digital assistant when it comes to smart home compatibility, but that advantage won’t last forever. Read our full Google Nest Hub Max review What can smart speakers do? With the exception of Amazon’s Echo, smart speakers are powered by the same digital assistants used with smartphones. Siri comes from the iPhone, Google Assistant comes from Android phones, and Cortana from Microsoft’s now-dead Windows Phone platform (Cortana has since found a home in Windows 10). Alexa was created exclusively for the Amazon Echo, but can now be found in a host of other devices, ranging from the Ecobee Smart Thermostat to the Leviton Decora Smart Voice Dimmer. At its most basic, a digital assistant is cloud-based software that understands natural language voice commands, performing tasks and fetching information for you. In the real world, digital assistants aren’t quite as sophisticated as that. While you don’t need to talk like a robot—e.g., “Alexa, set timer, 20 minutes”—they do get confused easily, and you’ll hear a fair amount of responses such as “Sorry, I don’t know that one” (that’s an Alexa phrase, incidentally) when you trip them up. The cool thing is that the algorithms powering digital assistants can learn over time and become better at predicting what you need. Here are just a few of the things that most smart speakers can do (you can add “and more!” to the end of each bullet list): Entertain Stream music over Wi-FiStream music over Bluetooth (most models)Work with Chromecast devices (Google Home models)Control your TV Stream music to multiple speakers (multi-room audio)Play gamesStream videos (models with displays) Retrieve news and information  News headlinesWeather forecastsTraffic reportsDate and timeWikipedia entries Manage your schedule Set appointmentsProvide remindersServe as an alarm clockMaintain to-do lists Help in the kitchen Recite recipes (and show them on models with displays)Set multiple timersGet measurement conversions (“How many cups are in one quart?”)Maintain shopping listsSet the temperature for a sous vide cookerGet nutrition information (“How many calories are in an apple?”) Contact friends and family Make and receive phone calls (video calls on models with displays)Serve as an in-home intercomSend text messages  Control your smart home * Turn your lights on and off (and dim them)Adjust your smart thermostatManage your smart sprinkler controllerClose your garage doorLock your smart deadboltArm your home security systemStream video from your home security camera (models with displays)Work with IFTTT * There are caveats when it comes to using a smart speaker for home control. Smart home devices that can be controlled via Wi-Fi don’t require any other hardware. Products that use the Zigbee or Z-Wave protocols depend on the presence of a smart-home hub, such as a Samsung SmartThings. Amazon’s higher-priced Echo models are exceptions to that rule, because they have an integrated smart home controller (although it’s limited to Zigbee) How to choose the right smart speaker An increasing number of soundbars double as smart speakers. The Sonos Beam can be configured with either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, but not both at the same time. In a perfect world, smart speakers and smart displays would be interoperable, so you could buy one brand because it’s better for music, another brand because it’s the best for smart home control, and a third because it’s superior for retrieving general information from the internet. That’s not how it works in the real world. Once you commit to one platform, you’ll want to stick with it. On the upside, choosing one brand of smart speaker over another generally won’t tie you into that brand’s entire ecosystem. Buying an Amazon Echo, for instance, won’t limit you to subscribing to Amazon’s music services—you can also use it with Spotify, Pandora, Qobuz, SiriusXM radio, and lots of other services. And even if you have a smart home system from one company, you can use voice commands to control smart home products that would be otherwise incompatible with that system—provided those devices are compatible with your digital assistant of choice. That said, if you’re wedded to Google Play Music, streaming music from your account to an Amazon Echo is not perfectly seamless (the same goes for streaming music from Amazon’s services to a Google Home). And there are some major coexistence exceptions: Google is currently blocking its YouTube videos from appearing on the Echo Show and Echo Spot devices, for instance (although you can get there using a web browser on an Echo Show), and Apple’s HomePod will stream music only from Apple Music (or other services from a mobile device using AirPlay, but that ties up your mobile device). If you plan to mix and match third-party products with your smart speaker, do the research to make sure they’ll work together. Consumer Electronics, Entertainment, Smart Home, Smart Speakers, Speakers

  • A HomePod with a screen? Your wait just got longer

    A HomePod display would be a sure-fire purchase for those of us invested in Apple’s HomeKit platform, but the latest word is that a screen-equipped HomePod won’t be happening anytime soon. According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple’s brewing smart-home efforts, including a rumored HomePod with a display, have been pushed back until next year “at the earliest.” The reason for the delay: cost-cutting measures aimed at preventing layoffs in Cupertino, Gurman reports. This news story is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best smart speakers. Apple’s smart home efforts aren’t the only victims of belt-tightening at the company, with Gurman writing of budget cuts “across several teams,” delayed bonuses, a hiring freeze for some departments, slashed travel budgets, and other measures. Among the smart home products that Apple was said to be working on included a smart display that could be “essentially a low-end iPad” for controlling home devices, along with running FaceTime video chats. There’s also been chatter about a possible iPad dock that would turn the tablet into a smart display. We’ve reached out to Apple for comment. A HomePod display would give a major boost to Apple’s smart home lineup, which looks pretty anemic compared to its competitors. Both Amazon and Google have had their own smart displays for years, complete with multiple sizes and generations. Amazon’s latest 10-inch Echo Show display even has a motorized screen that can follow you around a room. A HomePod display would make for a great way to monitor and control HomeKit-enabled devices, as well as get on-screen calendar notifications, weather reports, reminders, and other daily essentials, not to mention FaceTime calls. Apple did take a step forward last month when it released the second-generation HomePod speaker, although it took a step backwards late last year when it pulled its much hyped new Home architecture following complaints of buggy operation. An updated version of the revamped Home architecture, which Apple has billed as “more reliable and efficient,” appears to be on tap for iOS 16.4. Smart Speakers

  • Samsung prices its 2023 QD OLEDs (Finally, mostly…)

    Samsung has finally announced the prices for five of the six new quantum-dot OLED TVs it announced at CES in January. Now, a cynical person might think that announcing new products at CES, and then waiting a month or two to announce how much those new products will cost–and then doing that in dribs and drabs, instead of revealing the whole kit and caboodle at the show–is designed to garner more attention from the press than would be earned otherwise. As this is TechHive’s third article discussing Samsung’s 2023 television lineup without having laid hands on one, such cynicism just might be warranted. In any event, we now know how much a new Samsung QD OLED will set you back in the coming year. Unless you want to know about the 65-inch S90C series, that is. Samsung S95C and S90C quantum dot OLED TV series prices Samsung has divided its 2023 QD OLED lineup into two tiers: the S95C series and the S90C series. The former is pricier and delivers such goodies as HDR OLED+ (to achieve higher peak brightness), Dolby Atmos, and more powerful image processing. The latter is, well, more affordable if not quite as satisfying to videophiles. The Samsung S95C series, with its solid pedestal, is represented on the left; the S90C series is on the right. The S95C series will ship in 77- ($4,499), 65- ($3,299), and 55-inch ($2,499) flavors. Those are MSRPs (manufacturer suggested retail prices), so you might be able to find them for less once they’re in plentiful supply. The S90C series, meanwhile, will arrive in the same screen sizes, with the 77-inch costing $900 less ($3,599) and the 55-inch priced at $1,899. The 65-inch S90C is described in Samsung’s press release as “coming soon,” but without an MSRP. Really, Samsung? If I had to guess, I’d say it will be in the mid-$2,000 range. I’ll update this story as soon as I get pricing information for that model. If you’re not familiar with the differences between Samsung’s and LG’s OLED technologies, keep reading. There will eventually be a 65-inch model in Samsung’s QD OLED series, and Samsung will eventually tell us how much it will cost. What’s the difference between QD OLED and WOLED? QD OLED is a display technology developed by Samsung Display (not Samsung’s TV division) in 2022. It uses blue OLED elements to create light, and quantum dots to turn that light into purer colors. QD OLEDs are RGB; i.e., they use red, green, and blue sub-pixels to form other colors, including white. LG’s competing OLED TVs are WRGB, aka WOLED. They add a fourth white sub-pixel that handles white all on its own; that white sub-pixel also adds brightness where needed. To sum up the difference in terms of picture, QD OLED will have more saturated highlights, while LG can deliver peak brightness without overdriving the RGB sub-pixels, albeit at the expense of color acuity at those higher levels. Both flavors offer fantastically rich images, but our top-rated OLED TV, the Sony A95K, is based on a QD OLED panel. Stay tuned for a more in-depth article exploring both technologies, including the possible differences in lifespan. Smart TVs

  • Atomi Smart Coffee Maker with Grinder review: Master the basics

    At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsSolid designReliable brew performanceAdjustable grinderAlexa and Google Assistant supportBrews whole beans or pre-ground coffeeConsNoisy grinderSmall bean hopperManual cleaningManual grind controlOur VerdictThe Atomi Smart Coffee Maker with Grinder is a competent option in smart brewing. It’s reliable, produces good heat, and grinds well. It’s a one-trick pony in that it only does conventional drip coffee, but anyone looking for easy programming and fresh grinds in their morning drip will find this machine adequate to the task. Coffee being the most essential nutrient to humankind, smart coffee makers are rapidly becoming required hardware for anyone seeking to thrive in the 21st Century. But “smart” is a relative term, and it’s challenging to find a machine that strikes the ideal balance between cost, convenience, and capability. The Atomi Smart Coffee Maker with Grinder delivers competent, if conventional, drip coffee production with solid automation and app connectivity. With a built-in conical burr grinder, this simple brewer will take you from conception to consumption with a tap in the app on your smartphone, so long as you remember to empty and clean the filter, and pre-fill the beans cup and water reservoir. At its $300 price point, that’s very solid automation, eschewing some of the fancier self-cleaning and water-hookup features found on smart brewers in the higher price ranges. For those who want straightforward control when it’s time to brew via the app, this machine is a good fit. Those looking for more intelligent control over the grind and brew settings via their app, on the other hand, will want to look into a higher-end option. What makes the Atomi Smart Coffee Maker with Grinder smart is its mobile app, which connects to Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control. It’s worth noting at the outset that Atomi isn’t primarily in the coffee-maker business. The company produces a wide range of smart home devices, all of which are controlled by the same mobile app. So this brewer is intended to fit into a suite of other devices in your home, from lighting and smart plugs to space heaters and aroma diffusers. Considering coffee isn’t Atomi’s main focus, the coffee maker itself is well made and performed well across a couple months of testing under daily use. The Atomi Smart Coffee Maker’s bean hopper holds more than enough beans for two full 12-cup carafes of coffee.Robert Strohmeyer / Foundry Does the Atomi Smart brew good coffee? The Atomi Smart Coffee Maker and Grinder is intelligently designed. The construction is relatively solid compared to other brewers at this price, and we liked the look and feel of the components–with the exception of the plastic grind control knob on the top of the brewer, which looks and feels cheap compared to the rest of the device.  The filter door pops open when you press the silver OPEN button on the side of the appliance.Robert Strohmeyer / Foundry While the bean hopper is on the small side, it holds enough beans for several full 12-cup brew cycles. The burr grinder itself is extremely noisy, though. Setting the machine to brew first thing in the morning, we found the whirring of the burrs loud enough to ensure we wake up to go drink the coffee while it’s fresh. If you’re hoping to let the rest of the household sleep while you prepare your morning brew, you’ll want to skip the grinder and put pre-ground beans directly into the filter, which is an option. You can control the size of the grind via the aforementioned 8-position plastic knob atop the machine. We found the knob solid enough in its function, and it held its position well in daily use. What we would have preferred, however, is a software-controlled grind adjustment, rather than a manual knob. The Atomi app does give you three options to control the strength of your brew. Setting it to Mild, Medium, or Strong adjusts the volume of beans to be ground into the filter. So between the manual knob and the Brew Strength setting, you can fine tune to suit the beans you’re brewing.  The machine comes with a gold cone filter, which resides behind a door on the front of the machine. To access it, you press a silver button on the side of the device, which pops the door open. The filter is capped with a splash guard, which helps keep the inside of the machine fairly clean from brew to brew, and which you’ll need to rinse off along with the filter itself between brews. The control knob atop the machine controls the fineness of the grind.Robert Strohmeyer / Foundry Filling the 12-cup water reservoir is somewhat awkward due to the position of the reservoir at the back of the machine. The flap that covers the reservoir is fairly narrow, leading to spills during refills, and we had to pull the machine out from under the cabinetry each time. Fortunately, the machine is lightweight, so this is no great strain. Surprisingly for a $300 brewer, there is no filter for the water reservoir, so you might prefer to use pre-filtered water for brewing to minimize mineral buildup in the machine. How smart is the Atomi Smart Coffee Maker? What makes the Atomi Smart Coffee Maker and Grinder smart is its mobile app, which connects to Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control when your phone isn’t handy. The primary value of the app for this brewer is setting up timed brews. Before bed, you can fill the bean hopper and water reservoir, check the filter and grind control knob, and then use the app to set the time, strength, and volume to brew. The app gives you options for recurring brew schedules, so you can have it automatically brew every morning at wakeup time. But given that you must manually prepare the beans and water anyway, we found it better to just set it each time. That way we didn’t have to worry about the machine trying to brew from an empty water reservoir or hopper if we’d forgotten to fill them or–worse–grinding fresh beans into yesterday’s grinds in the filter if we’d forgotten to clean it. The app does know if the water reservoir is empty, so it won’t brew from an empty tank, though we were never able to get it to detect a full 12 cups in our tests–it consistently detected 12 cups as 10. The app is straightforward, letting you schedule brews, set the strength of the brew, and connect the device to Alexa of Google Assistant for voice control.Robert Strohmeyer / Foundry For brewing on demand, we liked the Atomi Smart’s simple one-touch brewing on the machine itself. Some smart brewers take the app control a step too far, forcing you to use the app to do a basic brew. This one is easy-peasy. If you’re already standing at the machine, just press the Brew button on the front and it goes to work. Atomi offers a good smart coffee maker for the money Ultimately, the Atomi Smart Coffee Maker and Grinder is a very competent option in smart brewing. It’s reliable, produces good heat, and grinds well. It’s a one-trick pony in that it only does conventional drip coffee, but those looking for easy programming and fresh grinds in the morning drip will find this machine adequate to the task. If you prefer something that does espresso, cold brew, and drip, with self-cleaning capabilities and a tap-water hookup, you’ll have to spend considerably more on something like the Spinn Coffee Maker. Smart Appliances, Smart Home

  • Best smart lighting for your connected home

    Smart LED bulbs that can be controlled by a hub or smartphone app are no longer a new idea. What is new is how far this technology has come since its advent just a few years ago. Also new: Products like the Nanoleaf Light Panels—a system of interlocking LED panels that let you decorate with light—fundamentally change the light-bulb concept. Smart LED bulbs aren’t quite a commodity, but they are getting close to maturity as far as the market goes. Today’s bulbs are more compact, much brighter, have better color representation, and, for the most part, feature control apps that do more than ever and are easier to set up. Prices have also come down, with some no-name color-tunable bulbs now available for less than $10 each. (Buyer beware: You get what you pay for.) This roundup considers several types of smart lighting fixtures as well as smart bulbs. Click this link if you’re looking for our smart dimmer and switch reviews. Updated March 20, 2023 to add a link to our WiZ Mobile Portable Light review. Best smart lighting for every situation Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance — Best color smart bulb Pros Bluetooth support eliminates the need for the Hue Bridge Excellent light quality and smooth dimming Hue ecosystem is unrivaled in terms of size and depth Supports Apple HomeKit ecosystem Cons Philips Hue products are much more expensive than the competition Relying on Bluetooth limits you to 10 Hue devices You need the Hue Hub to assign Hue devices to rooms Philips (now known as Signify) was one of the first players in this market, and the company’s experience shows. The recent addition Bluetooth support obviates the need for the $60 Philips Hue Bridge (although most smart home denizens will want the Bridge anyway). Signify’s Philips Hue lighting ecosystem is the industry’s deepest and broadest, with bulbs of every shape and size imaginable, not to mention lighting fixtures landscape lighting. Read our full Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 (Bluetooth + Zigbee) review Wyze Bulb Color — Best color smart bulb, runner-up Pros Very inexpensive Connects via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth–no hub or bridge required Surprisingly bright considering the price Cons Can't be grouped with the tunable white Wyze Bulb Only available as a 2- or 4-pack No competition for Philips Hue in terms of lighting ecosystem Best Prices Today: $34.99 at Wyze Wyze Labs can’t match Philips Hue in terms of the breadth of its smart lighting ecosystem, but it beats Signify’s brand by a country mile in terms of pricing, and Wyze has a much broader array of product offerings when it comes to other areas of the smart home–most importantly in terms of home security. Wyze also now offers an excellent BR30 color smart bulb. Read our full Wyze Bulb Color review Philips Hue White Ambiance A19 (Bluetooth + Zigbee) — Best white smart bulb Pros Bluetooth support eliminates the need for the Hue Bridge Excellent light quality and smooth dimming Hue ecosystem is unrivaled in terms of size and depth Supports Apple HomeKit ecosystem Cons Philips Hue products are much more expensive than the competition Relying on Bluetooth limits you to 10 Hue devices You need the Hue Hub to assign Hue devices to rooms Best Prices Today: £43.99 at Amazon Our choice won’t surprise anyone who’s been following this market. Philips dominates this space and is also our top pick for best color LED smart bulb. The latest Hue bulbs can be controlled via Bluetooth or Zigbee (the latter requires the Philips Hue Bridge), they deliver high-quality light, and are backed by a strong warranty. We only received the BR30 form factor for our review, but apart from form factor, that bulb is the same as the A19. Cree Lighting Connected Max Smart LED — Best budget smart bulb Pros Very inexpensive Good quality light, plus colors No hub requirement Several other form factors in the Cree Connected Max family Cons We experienced slight delays during our testing No Apple HomeKit support We experienced a bit of stuttering sending commands to this budget-priced smart bulb, but you can’t beat the price considering you get both tunable white and full color. Cree Lighting’s Connected Max family includes a full range of form factors, too, including BR30, PAR38, vintage filament, tape lighting, and even retrofit downlights. It’s not HomeKit compatible, but it does work with Siri Shortcuts. Read our full Cree Lighting Connected Max Smart LED (Tunable White + Color Changing) review Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus (2020) — Best LED light strip Pros Bright and colorful Supports both Bluetooth and Zigbee Apple HomeKit compatible (with the Hue Bridge) Robust scheduling and automation features Cons Much more expensive than competing products Power cable saddled with a chunky wall wart Lights can't be animated without a third-party app Best Prices Today: £114.23 at Amazon The Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus makes for a great and easy way to add accent lighting to kitchen counters, stairways, and other indoor areas. The Philips Hue ecosystem is bigger than any other smart lighting solution, but Hue products are also much more expensive than the competition. Read our full Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus (2020) review TP-Link Kasa Smart Light Strip KL400L5 — Best LED light strip, runner-up Pros Affordably priced Alexa, Google Assistant, and SmartThings integrations Solid collection of animated effects Plenty of scheduling, scene, and grouping options Cons Cumbersome Wi-Fi setup Can’t sync its LEDs with your music Flimsy construction Can’t be extended with additional light strips Best Prices Today: £94.17 (£18.84 / meter) at Amazon TP-Link built more features into this light strip than we expected for the price, and it even offers one feature that our top pick doesn’t: animation sequences. The Philips Hue product, on the other hand, feels much more durable, and you can add extensions to the end of a strip. The biggest factor in TP-Link’s favor? The price tag. Read our full TP-Link Kasa Smart Light Strip KL400L5 review Nanoleaf Shapes Hexagons — Most innovative lighting design Pros Beautiful and interactive lighting scenes Touch actions let you control other smart devices Alexa, Google Assistant, Thread, and HomeKit compatible Surprisingly easy to install Cons Panels can be difficult to remove from a wall (but don’t appear to cause any damage) Chunky AC adapter Expensive Best Prices Today: $199.99 at Nanoleaf This is the first of Nanoleaf’s Shapes interactive light panels, and it set the stage for several other equally fun versions. This modular lighting system won’t illuminate a room–that’s not it’s intended purpose–but it can set a mood like nothing else on the market today. Read our full Nanoleaf Shapes Hexagons review Philips Hue Lily — Best outdoor spotlight Pros Robust aluminum housing, glass lenses, and IP65 weatherization to withstand the elements Full color light, with up to 600 lumens of brightness Can be scheduled, controlled by Alexa or Google Assistant, and triggered by a Philips Hue Outdoor Sensor Low-voltage cables can be buried Cons Requires Philips Hue Bridge Range is impacted by having the the Hue Bridge inside your home, hardwired to your router Expensive, and each add-on spotlight costs another $100 Best Prices Today: £219.99 (£73.33 / count) at Amazon Signify’s Philips Hue product line includes the most complete collection of outdoor and landscape LED lighting. In addition to the Lily spotlight, there’s the Lily XL spotlight, the Calla Bollard light, the Econic Outdoor Pedestal, the Amarant linear outdoor light, no fewer than 9 wall or ceiling-mount outdoor lights, and even outdoor LED light strips. That diversity, and the high-quality design and construction of these luminaires, justifies Signify’s high price tags. Read our full Philips Hue Lily outdoor spotlight (3-spotlights and 1 power supply) review Philips Hue Calla — Best outdoor pathway light Pros 16 million of color, plus temperature-tunable white light Robust construction and protection from the elements A component in the broad Philips Hue lighting ecosystem Cons Delivers only 600 lumens of brightness Must be hardwired to a plug-in power supply Very expensive compared to run-of-the-mill pathway lighting The Philips Hue Calla outdoor pathway light adds sophisticated safety to outdoor walkways and patios, and Philips has the most complete smart lighting ecosystem in the industry. But you’ll need an outdoor outlet to power this and all other Hue landscape lighting, and the components are very expensive. Read our full Philips Hue Calla outdoor pathway light review Ring Smart Lighting Solar Pathlight — Best outdoor pathway light, runner-up Pros Battery powered with integrated solar panel Built-in motion sensor Can be integrated into the robust Ring home security ecosystem Once you have the bridge, add-on lights cost only $35 Cons Fabricated entirely from plastic Much more expensive than dumb pathlights Requires Ring Smart Lighting Bridge, which connects only to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks Ring’s smart lighting system isn’t as broad as Signify’s Philips Hue, but it covers the bases and it includes at least one feature the Hue ecosystem doesn’t: lighting integrated with home security cameras. While we were initially concerned about the all-plastic housing, we’ve had one of the lights deployed for more than two years and haven’t detected significant deterioration. Read our full Ring Smart Lighting Solar Pathlight starter kit review Enbrighten Wi-Fi Café Lights — Best outdoor string lights Pros Wi-Fi control, with Alexa and Google Assistant support Bright, vibrant colors, plus white light in six color temperatures Very good app with lots of customization and scheduling options Additional strings can be daisy-chained, up to 750 feet Cons No IFTTT or Apple HomeKit compatibility Bulky control unit housing the power supply and Wi-Fi adapter Expensive compared to a plethora of “dumb” alternatives Best Prices Today: $170.99 at Jasco Products Jasco’s Enbrighten Wi-Fi Café Lights are certainly expensive, but they’re also very pretty, highly customizable, and exceptionally durable for year-round outdoor installations. There’s also surprisingly little competition in this admittedly specialized segment of outdoor lighting. Signify has outdoor Philips Hue light strips, for example, but that’s a very different look from café-style lights. Read our full Enbrighten Wi-Fi Café Lights review Our guide to shopping for smart bulbs and other forms of smart lighting sources White LED bulbs are smart, too With their rainbow of hues and myriad party tricks, color LEDs get all the press in the world of smart lighting. It’s fun stuff, but the reality is that most of us will rarely find much of a need to turn all the lights in the house blue or red—unless it’s time to celebrate our team winning the World Series. Even then, you’ll probably want to turn them all back to white after the celebration. White light is also important in its own right, as today there is plenty of science to show how various shades of white—with variations in color temperature—impact our psychological state. Cool light that’s closer to blue has an energizing effect, and is best in the morning. Warm light is relaxing, and is best after the sun goes down. Note, however, that not every white LED smart bulb is color-temperature-tunable. Check out the specs before you buy. White smart bulbs downplay the party features that are a staple of color-tunable bulbs. On the other hand, white smart bulbs are less expensive than color bulbs, making it more affordable to roll them out in multiple rooms. Smart lighting protocols and features Three control technologies continue to vie for leadership in the smart bulb market (Z-Wave is a major contender in smart lighting, but you won’t encounter it in bulbs—just in switches, plug-in modules, control panels, and smart-home hubs). Zigbee: Bulbs that use the popular smart-home networking protocol require a bridge to communicate with your home Wi-Fi network. This is the technology Philips has adopted for its Hue lineup, but it’s not the only one.Wi-Fi: This class of bulb talks directly to your Wi-Fi router, no hub or bridge required. LIFX and TP-Link both manufacture excellent Wi-Fi smart bulbs, but neither company comes close to Signify’s Philips Hue lineup in terms of the depth and breadth of the Hue ecosystem.Bluetooth: These bulbs skip your home network altogether and pair directly with your smartphone or tablet. As such, they can’t be controlled from outside your home. GE and a number of other manufacturers make Bluetooth bulbs, some of better quality than others. Signify has recently added Bluetooth radios to its Philips Hue line of smart bulbs, which eliminates the need to deploy the Philips Hue Bridge. Taking the bridge out of the equation reduces the overall cost of deployment, but adds some limitations. You can read more in our review of the new Philips Hue bulbs. Each of these technologies has pros and cons, so before you attempt to settle on a specific bulb, first try to determine which tech is right for you. If you want to hook your bulbs into a broader smart-home system—such as SmartThings or Nest—Bluetooth bulbs are out. You can control more than one bulb with your phone, but you can’t connect it to sensors or other systems inside your home. Don’t like the idea of pairing a bulb to your phone? A Wi-Fi bulb will work best for you, though you won’t have quite as many options as you’ll find with a Zigbee product. Smart bulb, or smart switch? There’s a significant argument about the best way to install smart lighting, and two approaches present themselves. You can either go with expensive smart bulbs and control them all individually, or you can use cheap dumb bulbs and install smart switches to control all the lights on that circuit. Both approaches make sense: With smart bulbs, the biggest issue is cost, but there’s also complexity to deal with. While bulbs can usually be grouped based on location, this is only as intuitive to manage as the bulb control app. Smart switches, on the other hand, are far more complicated to install—to the point where some users might be uncomfortable dealing with exposed wiring and would prefer to hire an electrician. Smart switches, however, provide more flexibility in many installations. Habituated from years of flipping hard-wired switches, many users (or their children) will instinctively use the wall switch to turn the lights out when they leave a room. Once that happens, all the apps in the world won’t be able to turn the light back on until the switch is returned to the on position. While this won’t be an issue if you install smart switches, they can’t change a bulb’s color or color temperature. That said, smart bulbs, no matter what the technology, still won’t be right for everyone. Notably, most of these bulbs cannot be dimmed via a hardwired wall switch (it messes with the power going to the radio, rendering them useless). Some will fail even if a dimmer is present on the circuit and dialed up to full power. The quality of light from an LED bulb is likely to be much, much better. The good news is that bulb prices are going down, so it’s easier to get started with smart bulbs and less punishing should you find that a product doesn’t work for you. That said, we want to get you started on the right foot. So without further ado, here are deep dives into the most worthwhile color and white LED smart bulbs on the market.  Consumer Electronics, Lighting, Smart Home

  • WiZ Mobile Portable Light review: A smart on-the-go mood lamp

    At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsWorks with Alexa, Google Home, and Siri ShortcutsDetects motion when used with other compatible WiZ lightsFeels light but not cheapTwo-zone light designConsNo wireless control when out of Wi-Fi rangeMotion detection features might not play nice with mesh routersNo vacation modeNo water or dust resistanceOur VerdictThe WiZ Mobile Portable Light makes for a lightweight companion that can glow in multiple animated colors, and it can even detect motion when grouped with other WiZ lights. If you’re in the market for a smart mood lamp that can follow you around the house or even outside, the WiZ Mobile Portable Light makes for a lightweight–and plenty smart–companion.  Equipped with a slew of lighting modes, including separate upper and lower light zones, this Wi-Fi-enabled mobile lamp boasts the usual scheduling and grouping skills, and it arrives with a nifty trick up its sleeves: the ability to detect motion when used with other compatible WiZ lights. We’re also fans of the intuitive (and newly redesigned) WiZ app. We do have a few bones to pick with the WiZ Mobile Portable Light ($89.99), however. While the lamp works with Alexa and Google Home, it’s not compatible with Apple HomeKit (although Siri Shortcuts are supported). We’re also bummed by the lack of a weatherized design, and if you wander out of Wi-Fi range, the only way to control the light is by tapping its buttons and controls. This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best smart light bulbs. How much does the WiZ Mobile Portable Light weigh? Measuring 7.6 inches tall and 4.6 inches in diameter at its widest point, the 1.4-pound WiZ Mobile Portable Light feels light but not cheap, and it appears reasonably sturdy. A handle near the top makes the lamp easy to tote around, while the rubberized base keeps the light from slipping on a tabletop. Sturdy, attractive, and packed with smarts, the WiZ Mobile Portable Light is a convenient and affordable way to bring your mood lighting with you. While the WiZ Mobile Portable Light feels relatively tough, it should be noted that the lantern doesn’t have an IP rating. There is a UL certification that says the light can be used in “damp conditions,” but that really only means that it can withstand the conditions in a steamy bathroom or under an eave or overhang. For its part, the WiZ website says that the “intended” use for the Mobile Portable Light is “indoors.” On the top side of the WiZ Mobile Portable Lamp is a power button, a “mode” button (marked “M”), and a brightness slider, all of which are touch-sensitive. The mode button can cycle through four light modes, which are assignable via the WiZ app. If you’re using the light outside of Wi-Fi range, the buttons are slider are the only way to control the device (the lamp has a Bluetooth radio, but it’s only for setup purposes). On the back of the light near the bottom is a USB-C charging port; a small LED just above the port glows red when the lamp is nearly out of juice, or green when it’s charging. Finally, a traditional on/off switch at the bottom lets you power off the Mobile Portable Lamp completely. How bright does the WiZ Mobile Portable Light get? Capable to emitting up to 400 lumens, the WiZ Mobile Portable Lamp is a tad too dim to adequately light a large room, but the lamp is perfect for illuminating an outdoor dinner in the backyard (provided there’s no rain in the forecast), or for adding some mood lighting to the den or another living area. Touch controls on the top of the WiZ Mobile Portable Light let you power the unit on and off, adjust the lighting, and change lighting modes.Ben Patterson/Foundry The light can glow in up to 16 million different colors, with a “two-zone” design that works with certain light modes (we’ll discuss that more in a moment). The lamp can also shine in white color temperatures ranging from a warm 2,200 Kelvin to a daylight 6,500K. How do you set up the WiZ Mobile Portable Light? Getting the WiZ Mobile Portable Lamp up and running is a straightforward process. Just fire up the WiZ app (make sure to install the newer “v2” version), then tap the “+” button in the top-right corner of the screen. If the app detects any nearby WiZ devices to pair, they should pop up on the display; if not, you can pair WiZ lights manually. In my case, the WiZ app detected both the Mobile Portable Light as well as a couple of WiZ Light Bars that I was also testing, and I was able to pair all three devices in one shot. Just keep in mind that automatic pairing requires connecting to a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network, which means dual-band router users may need to temporarily deactivate the 5GHz frequency. Once the light is paired with the app, you’ll be able to add it to a room with other WiZ lights, allowing you to control all the lights in the room at the same time. You can also create light groups within a room.  The WiZ Mobile Portable Light’s USB-C charging port sits in the rear, while an LED just above glows red when the lamp is almost out of juice.Ben Patterson/Foundry Does the WiZ Mobile Portable Light have dynamic lighting scenes? For tuning the WiZ Mobile Portable Light’s colors, you get three options within the intuitive WiZ app interface: Static, Dynamic, and Custom. The Static tab lets you choose from a series of presets. A White heading includes one-touch warm white, daylight, and cool white options, while the Functional section serves up such presets as “Night light,” “Cozy,” “Relax,” “Focus,” “TV time,” and “Plant growth.” Next, the Dynamic tab lets you pick from about two dozen animated light modes, ranging from “Candlelight” and “Steampunk” to “Party” and “Halloween.”  Finally, the Custom tab lets you adjust a pair of color wheels: one for white light, and another for colors. A slider at the bottom of the interface lets you adjust the brightness, while a “Ratio” slide lets you tweak the relative brightness of the lamp’s two light zones. Move the Ratio slider all the way to the left, and the bottom zone gets brighter; move it to the right, and the top glows more brightly. There’s also a “Speed” slider that makes the animations for the dynamic scenes go faster or slower. Can you set schedules for the WiZ Mobile Portable Light? The WiZ app lets you put a room of lights on a daily or weekly schedule. Besides selecting the start and end times, you can pick a light mode (including Dynamic and Custom modes, depending on the capabilities of the lights in the room) and set a brightness level.  There’s also a circadian rhythm feature that adjusts the white color temperature of the lights in a room according to the time of day. You can stick with a preset hourly schedule of circadian effects or craft your own, but it’s worth noting that the schedule isn’t tied to your regional location. Can the WiZ Mobile Portable Light detect motion? Finally, there’s SpaceSense, WiZ’s most innovative feature. With two or more SpaceSense-compatible products, your WiZ lights can detect motion by sensing disturbances in Wi-Fi signals between the devices.  You’ll need to designate one light as a “beacon” that sends Wi-Fi transmissions, while one or more “processor” lights receive the signals and measure any fluctuations. SpaceSense then registers any fluctuations that are strong enough as motion. The WiZ app guides you through the setup process, including a brief calibration process. You can then set the times of day when you want motion sensing active, as well as set a delay before SpaceSense. The WiZ app lets you change lighting modes, choose hues from a color wheel, and configure SpaceSense motion detection.Ben Patterson/Foundry When SpaceSense works, it works well. Over the course of several weeks of testing, SpaceSense reliably triggered my WiZ lights–including the Mobile Portable Light, which was acting as a SpaceSense “beacon”–and kept the lights dark when I was away.  Those with mesh Wi-Fi routers, however, might find the SpaceSense setup process to be a chore, as you must ensure that all the WiZ lights in a given SpaceSense setup are connected to the same access point, and some mesh routers don’t make it easy to pick and choose which devices are assigned to which Wi-Fi nodes. Another nifty WiZ feature that’s a few years older than SpaceSense is WiZclick, which turns a dumb light switch smart by triggering different light modes depending on how many times you flip the switch in a row.  For example, if you flip the switch once, you could trigger a standard warm white light mode, while flipping the switch twice in a row could activate a cool white mode. So, what’s missing? A vacation mode that tricks would-be intruders into thinking you’re home, for starters. And while there are wake-up and bedtime dynamic themes that gradually brighten or dim your lights over a 28-minute period, we wish they were more customizable. Does the WiZ Mobile Portable Light work with Alexa and Google Home? The WiZ Mobile Portable Light is compatible with both Alexa and Google Home. While the Mobile Portable Light doesn’t work with Apple HomeKit, it does support Siri Shortcuts, meaning you can control the lamp using Siri voice commands. Does the WiZ Mobile Portable Light get good battery life? I tested battery life on the WiZ Mobile Portable Light regularly over a period of several weeks, and I found that the lamp delivered between eight and ten hours of illumination on a single battery charge. I reported a wide range for battery life because the results vary significantly depending on brightness and lighting mode. If you crank the brightness and activate an animated lighting scene, you’ll get closer to seven or eight hours of battery life from the WiZ Mobile Portable Light. If you set the brightness below 50 percent and pick white light, the lamp’s battery life can extend beyond 10 hours. Is the WiZ Mobile Portable Light worth the cash? Sturdy, attractive, and packed with smarts, the WiZ Mobile Portable Light is a convenient and affordable way to bring your mood lighting with you, provided you don’t stray too far into the elements. We’re fans of the SpaceSense motion detection (which does rely on other WiZ lights), the intuitive WiZ app, and the Alexa, Google Home, and Siri Shortcuts compatibility. A weatherized design would have been nice, but that probably would have upped the sub-$100 price tag. Lighting

  • The secret way to watch March Madness for free (or cheap)

    To watch the full NCAA basketball tournament—even without cable—you’ll still need access to CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV; and three of those four channels are only available through a pay TV package. That means paying for dozens of other channels you don’t necessarily want and enduring a sudden spike in your TV entertainment bill. But if you’re willing to jump through some hoops–no pun intended–you can circumvent these requirements and watch much of March Madness—possibly even every game—for free. You won’t even need to resort to piracy, which has its own pitfalls to consider beyond the obvious legal and moral ones. CBS: Use an antenna or get Paramount+ for free Snag a free Paramount+ subscription to stream CBS’s March Madness games.Paramount If you’re fortunate enough to have solid over-the-air reception in your area, you can use an indoor or outdoor TV antenna to watch CBS games for free (don’t miss our reviews of the best TV antennas). But if not, no worries: With a Paramount+ Premium subscription, you can watch every March Madness game that airs on CBS. While the service normally costs $12 per month for a live CBS feed, you can always use monthly coupon codes to get the service for free, even if you’ve subscribed before. Just sign up at the Paramount+ website, and when you get to the final checkout page, use any of the current codes–including PINKLADIES, QUEEN, RABBITHOLE, or SCHOOLSPIRITS. See my TechHive column for more detailed instructions on how to redeem these codes and avoid a Paramount+ bill at the end of your free trial. TNT, TBS, and TruTV: March Madness app preview loopholes With the NCAA March Madness Live app, each device (and web browser) gets its own three-hour preview.Jared Newman / IDG Other March Madness games will air on TNT, TBS, and TruTV, none of which are available without an entire bundle of pay TV channels. The cheapest streaming bundle that includes all three is Sling TV Blue, which costs $40 per month. But as in previous years, the official March Madness Live app and website both offer a free three-hour preview across all those games with no sign-in required. (It will also stream CBS games for free, but only on iOS and Android.) Paramount+ Read our review Best Prices Today: $4.99 at Paramount+ While three hours is barely enough to cover a single game, each device gets its own three-hour preview with no sign-in required. That means you can employ an array of tricks to extend your “preview” time even further: Switch browsers: If you’re watching on a laptop or desktop computer, you’ll get a fresh preview window for each browser. Simply by moving between Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, and Apple’s Safari, you can cover a huge chunk of the tournament. (While there’s no native Chromecast support for sending the video to your TV, tab mirroring does work.)Use your mobile devices: Download the March Madness Live app on iOS or Android, and you’ll get another three-hour preview to enjoy. Got an iPad or Android tablet? Install the March Madness app there to get yet another three-hour preview. (Sadly, AirPlay and Chromecast are both blocked with this method, so you can’t send the video to your TV.)Cycle through streaming devices: The March Madness Live app is also available on every major streaming platform, including Roku, Fire TV, Android TV/Google TV, Apple TV, Xbox consoles, Samsung TVs, and LG TVs. Each of those comes with its own three-hour preview. If you have multiple streaming devices—or a streaming device plugged into a smart TV—you can use each platform to extend your preview time even further.Further trickery: On some devices, you might be able to uninstall and reinstall the March Madness app to get a fresh three-hour preview. This has worked reliably for me on iOS and Apple TV in years past. As a last resort, factory-resetting your streaming device can also reset the preview clock, though of course you’ll need to download and set up all your other apps again if you do this. You can even use multiple web browsers to gain additional free previews.Jared Newman / IDG Cycling through free March Madness previews might not be feasible if you plan to be glued to every game, but it’s effective for mainly tuning into the major upsets and biggest games. In previous years, I’ve been able to get through the entire tournament without much effort. Free-trial tactics If you’re bothered by the ticking clock of a three-hour free preview, you might also consider using a free live TV streaming service trial get through the tournament. YouTube TV is currently offering a two-week free trial to new customers. You do need a Google account to sign up, but creating a new one is trivial if you’ve burned through a YouTube TV trial before. (Just be sure to cancel right after signing up, so you don’t get billed at the end.) Unfortunately, other live TV streaming providers have stopped offering free trials, presumably to discourage tactics like this. The next-cheapest option for TNT, TBS, and TruTV is Sling TV, which is offering half-off the first month for new subscribers, bringing the price to $20. My longtime maxim is that the easier cord-cutting is, the less money it saves. While the methods above are more of a hassle than paying for a big TV bundle—even for just a month—they can certainly save lots of money for those who just want to watch the games without the bloat. Click the following link and we’ll show you even more ways to watch March Madness without a cable TV subscription. To learn more about how to cut cable and save money on your TV bill, sign up for Jared’s Cord Cutter Weekly newsletter. Streaming Media

  • Belkin’s Matter pause doesn’t matter much, at least not yet

    Eyebrows were raised in the smart home world this week with word that Belkin was taking a “big step back” from Matter, the new standard that promises to unite the big smart home ecosystems. Speaking to The Verge, a Belkin rep said that while Matter will “have a significant positive impact on the smart home industry,” the company’s Wemo smart home brand would “take a big step back, regroup, and rethink” its earlier pledge to develop Matter-enabled products. The reasoning behind Belkin’s Matter backtrack is a tad vague, with The Verge reporting that the manufacturer would only return to Matter if “it can find a way to differentiate” the resulting products. A slow start for Matter The report about Belkin’s Matter pause raised alarm bells because the Matter standard has, admittedly, gotten off to a slow start.  After a couple of lengthy delays, Matter finally launched with great fanfare last fall, followed by a slew of announcements from the big smart home players pledging their support for the standard. Encouragingly, many ubiquitous smart home hubs, from Amazon’s Echo devices and Google’s Nest speakers to the Apple HomePod line and recent Samsung SmartThings hubs, have been (or soon will be) updated with Matter support, allowing them to connect Matter-enabled devices to the internet and to each other. But while the promise of Matter–namely, that any Matter-certified product will work seamlessly within the Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and other major smart home ecosystems–sounds like a panacea on paper, the reality has been somewhat more complicated. Matter’s promise versus the reality First came the fine print that mainstream users may have missed: namely, that the initial Matter spec only supports certain categories of smart home products, including smart lights, thermostats, door locks, TVs, window shades, security sensors, and streaming video players. Support for other major smart home products, such as security cams, robot vacuums, and garage door controllers, is still on the back burner. Then came the reality that the slew of Matter device announcements that came in the wake of Matter’s launch were, in fact, only announcements. Beyond hubs, bridges, and apps, only a handful of Matter-enabled devices have actually shipped, including smart plugs from Meross and TP-Link’s Tapo brand. Many more Matter devices are slated to arrive in the coming months, but they aren’t quite here yet. Finally, there’s been some grumbling that the seamless Matter experience isn’t as seamless as it could be. Writing for Stacey on IoT, Keven C. Tofel complained about the difficulties involved in adding a Matter device using the Apple Home app, a process that required (for Tofel, at least) an Android phone and the Google Home app. Given these bumps in the road, it’s no wonder that word of Belkin’s about-face on Matter lead to some hand-wringing about the standard’s future. Put another way, is Matter in trouble? Matter still has plenty of runway The short answer: not yet. With any new standard, especially those as ambitious as Matter, there are bound to be hiccups and rough corners. Momentum takes time to build, and it’s no big surprise that after only a few months, Matter hasn’t revolutionized our smart homes yet. Also, Belkin is a relatively small player in the smart home market, and its reasons for backing away from Matter are unclear. Does it have misgivings about Matter itself, or is it simply unsure how to make its Matter smart plugs stand out from an eventual sea of Matter-enabled competitors? Hard to say. The bigger trouble for Matter would be if a larger smart home manufacturer were to walk away from the table, such as Nanoleaf, Philips Hue, or–gulp–Apple.  The latter example is a stretch, given that Apple is one of the original backers of the Matter standard (originally known as Project Connected Home over IP, or CHIP). But if more smart home players began to distance themselves from Matter, then we’d have ourselves some trouble. Smart Appliances

  • How cord-cutters can watch March Madness without paying for cable TV

    Brackets—not baseball—herald the arrival of spring for millions of sports fans. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship’s big upsets, Cinderella stories, and weird mascots, has transcended sports to become a cultural event. This year’s tournament has already had some amazing upsets, and there will sure be more to come. For cord-cutters, however, it’s a bittersweet time. If the logistics of following more than 60 teams through a month-long tournament aren’t arduous enough, nearly 70 percent of the games are televised on cable channels. The tournament starts with Selection Sunday on March 12, and games will be aired across four networks: CBS, TBS, TNT, and truTV. TBS and TruTV share coverage of the First Four match ups, and all four channels air games during the First and Second Rounds. TBS and CBS share coverage of the Elite Eight and Sweet 16, and CBS broadcasts the Final Four. CBS and TBS broadcast the Championship Game on alternate years—this year CBS airs the final games. Based on the NCAA tournament schedule at press time, we’ve put together a strategy that will allow you to watch every minute of March Madness live without a cable subscription. The options below will take you all the way through to the Final Four on April 1 and 3. Catch CBS games over the air or over the top TechHive has in-depth reviews of all the latest TV antennas. Rob Schultz / IDG CBS’s March Madness coverage starts on March 19 with the First Round. The easiest—and only free—way to watch all the CBS action is with a good antenna. If you’re purchasing one for the first time, remember to first check to see which stations you can receive in your area, and which antenna type you’ll need to pull in your CBS affiliate. Given the challenging logistics of catching so many games, you might also want to invest in an over-the-air DVR to time-shift some of your viewing. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Read our review Best Prices Today: £64.99 at John Lewis If you can’t access CBS over the air, consider subscribing to Paramount+, which bundles ViacomCBS brands including CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and Paramount Network into a single subscription. The app, which replaced CBS All Access, will give you live streaming access to every game broadcast on the network. To get your local CBS station, you’ll need to sign up for the Premium subscription for $10 per month or $100 per year. The service offers a one-month free trial, but we’ve found that you can repeatedly take advantage of this offer by cancelling a day or two after you sign up. Find out how you can get Paramount+ for free. Sling is the thing for Turner telecasts As in previous years, the bulk of the tournament will be aired on three Turner Sports networks—TBS, TNT, and TruTV—with most of the action on the flagship station. You can get all three of those channels with the Sling Blue package for $45 a month. Sling TV always has attractive incentives for new subscribers, and if you sign up now you can get a free Amazon Fire TV Stick and $15 off your first month. The service also offers other promotional gifts for when you prepay for two or three months. Sling TV continues to dangle attractive incentives in front of new subscribers. Sling TV Read our review Best Prices Today: $35.00 at Sling TV DirectTV Stream steps onto the court DirectTV’s streaming service offers many of the same channels as SlingTV. Its basic Entertainment package will give you more than 65 channels—including TBS, TNT, and TruTV—for $75 per month. This lineup also includes ESPN and ESPN2, both of which will certainly have highlights and other coverage of the tournament. Use their channel lookup tool to see if you can get a live CBS feed in your area as well. DirectTV is offering unlimited cloud DVR storage to new DirectTV Stream subscribers who buy online. Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV Unlike their competitors, Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV each offer a single, flat-fee package that includes the four channels you need to catch all of March Madness. They’re priced comparably—$65 per month for YouTubeTV and $70 per month for Hulu with Live TV—but YouTube TV is currently offering two weeks free and a discounted price of $55 a month for your first 3 months. Pricing aside, you’ll need to check with each service to see which offers the required live channel streams in your area before making your decision. Hulu + Live TV Read our review Best Prices Today: $69.99 at The NCAA March Madness Live app The NCAA’s own March Madness app offers lots of specialized content that revolves around the championship series.NCAA The NCAA is once again offering all tournament games through the NCAA March Madness Live app. In addition to the game streams, the app offers live scores and stats, an interactive bracket, classic March Madness videos, game notifications, and curated social content. As attractive as this option sounds for cord-cutters, the claim that you can watch the entire tournament with NCAA March Madness Live is a little misleading. Only the CBS broadcasts are available without a cable subscription; to view CBS’s games on your TV, or any of the Turner network broadcasts on any device, you need a cable subscription login. Still, it’s worth downloading if you don’t want to miss any of the CBS matchups while you’re away from a TV. Time for tip off The options for streaming live sports have never been better, so don’t let cutting the cord make you miss the NCAA champs cutting the net. Grab a beer and your bracket and take advantage of these cable alternatives for courtside seats for one the greatest sporting events of the year. And if you’re looking for more free and cheap ways to watch this year’s tournament, don’t miss our secret ways to stream to stream March Madness for free story. Cord Cutting, Streaming Media

  • Streaming Major League Baseball games: A how-to guide

    Although the 2023 Major League Baseball season ushers in a glut of rule changes, the game’s biggest story this year might not be how it’s played but how we watch it. Unlike the NFL or NBA, MLB is largely a regional league, with most teams’ games aired on cable-only regional sports networks (RSNs), such as Bally Sports San Diego or NBC Sports Bay Area. But the RSN landscape is undergoing a seismic shift. Over the last several years, streaming services have dropped regional sports networks from their lineups over carriage-fee disputes, eliminating one of the cheapest ways for fans to stream those channels. Meanwhile, Diamond Sports, which operates the Bally Sports Regional Network, filed for bankruptcy protection on March 14. Diamond owns broadcast rights for 14 MLB teams, but said it intends to continue broadcasting games, as it seeks to restructure a staggering $8 billion in debt. Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns three of its own regional sports networks under the AT&T SportsNet brand, is also undergoing significant changes. It has announced it will abandon the RSN business by the end of March, potentially leaving the Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Houston Astros without TV contracts. This story was updated March 16, 2023 for the current season. Sling TV includes ESPN in its channel lineup as well as NBC Sports regional content in select markets, allowing some fans to watch their hometown teams. While fans of the impacted teams might wonder if they’ll be able to watch their favorite club when the season opens on March 30, MLB has indicated they need not worry. The league says it will take over local broadcasts for the Bally teams and stream them for free in their respective local markets while it negotiates with cable companies for lower-priced contracts. (As Diamond Sports has only indicated four teams–the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, San Diego Padres, and Arizona Diamondbacks–have unprofitable contracts, it’s presumed the other 10 teams will remain with their respective Bally RSNs.) MLB also plans to eventually take over the AT&T SportsNet broadcasts, but it expects those teams’ games to be aired on their respective networks “for the time being.” It’s important to note that most other teams, including marquee clubs, such as the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox, still have strong affiliations with their RSNs. As nationally broadcast games will continue to be split among ESPN, Fox, FS1, TBS, and MLB Network—networks that can be found in most streaming services’ channel offerings—your best bet is to determine which streaming service has an agreement with your favorite team’s regional sports network and go with that one. Here’s a look at your options: Over the air a great amplified indoor Tv antenna Televes Bexia Read our review Since broadcast baseball has largely gone the way of the Sunday doubleheader, there are few options for watching any game without a subscription of one kind or another. The Fox network, however, can still be had for free with a good indoor antenna. That will give you access to a bunch of nationally broadcast Saturday-afternoon games. If you’re purchasing an antenna for the first time, remember to first check to see which stations you can receive in your area and which type of antenna you’ll need to pull in your local Fox affiliate. You should also check our recommendations for the best TV antenna. DirecTV Stream DirecTV Stream Read our review Best Prices Today: $69.99 at DirecTV Stream If you have Fox broadcast accounted for via an antenna, you can catch all the rest of the MLB action with a DirectTV Stream subscription. It’s the service with the most regional sports network coverage overall, including the Bally and NBC Sports regional networks, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, New England Sports Network, YES Network, and Spectrum SportsNet LA. It also offers ESPN, FS1, TBS and MLB Network. To get this bounty of baseball riches, you’ll need the “Choice” package for $99 per month. That will also get you unlimited cloud DVR storage you can use to record games. Sling TV Sling TV Read our review Best Prices Today: $35.00 at Sling TV Sling TV offers ESPN, ESPN2, TBS, Fox, and Fox Sports 1, as well as NBC Sports for local-team broadcasts. If you want them all in one package, though, you’ll need to step up to the top-tier Sling Orange + Blue option (basically Sling’s two individual packages combined and offered at a discount) for $60 a month.  To sweeten the offer, Sling TV typically includes device discounts with prepaid commitments. Currently, you can get a free Chromecast with Google TV when you subscribe. The service also offers other promotional gifts for when you prepay for two or three months. Televised coverage of Major League Baseball is in a bit of turmoil this year. FuboTV FuboTV Read our review Best Prices Today: $74.99 at FuboTV The once soccer-centric streaming service offers a fair amount of baseball-broadcasting channels including ESPN, Fox, FS1, and the MLB Network. It also includes the NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California networks, and recently added Bally Sports. To get them all. you’ll need the Pro package for $74.99 a month (there’s a 7-day free trial for new customers) and the Sports Plus channel add-on for an additional $11 a month. Hulu + Live TV Hulu + Live TV Read our review Best Prices Today: $69.99 at Hulu offers a single, flat-fee package that includes more than 65 live and on demand channels—including the ESPN, FS1, and TBS—plus regional sports networks in select areas. You get them all, in addition to Hulu’s original content and its streaming library, for $70 a month. YouTube TV YouTube TV Read our review Best Prices Today: $72.99 at YouTube TV Like Hulu, YouTube offers a flat-fee package of more than 85 channels for $73 per month (current subscribers will pay $65 per month until April 18, 2023). YouTube TV recently dropped the MLB network from its lineup; apart from that, it’s most similar to Hulu + Live TV. MLB.TV An subscription can get you a lot of baseball, but blackout rules still apply. The league’s official streaming service offers live streams of every regular season out-of-market game, with perks like multi-game viewing (up to four games at once), in-game highlights, and a free subscription to the At Bat Premium app. Note the phrase “out-of-market,” though. MLB.TV is not a true cord-cutting resource. It was really designed as way for transplants—a Red Sox fan living in Seattle, for example—to watch their former home teams. Local broadcasts remain subject to blackout rules, so you won’t be able to watch your hometown ball club live on TV this way. That said, MLB.TV remains a valuable option for dyed-in-the-wool seamheads to catch virtually every out-of-market game broadcast—home or away—throughout the regular season. And if you’re not particular about real-time viewing and can avoid social media and other potential spoiler sources, you can watch replays of your local team’s games on demand 90 minutes after the game’s conclusion. A full MLB.TV subscription, which gives you access to all 30 teams’ games—minus those of your local club’s—is $24.99 per month or $149.99 for the year. There’s also a single-team option that lets you follow a non-local squad of your choice for $129.99 per year. Play ball! Major League Baseball is finally stepping up the plate and giving cord cutters more options to watch the Grand Old Game. We’d still like to see it offer more free streaming options of marquee matchups; until it does, you can take advantage of these cable alternatives, along with our guide to second-screen baseball apps, to make sure you catch all the action on the diamond. Cord Cutting, Smart Home, Streaming Media

  • The best second-screen apps for watching Major League Baseball

    When Major League Baseball starts its 2023 season on March 30, you can enhance your big-screen game-watching experience by enlisting the aid of your small screen; e.g., a tablet or your smartphone. A second screen adds context to the game by delivering everything from analysis, player stats, and interactive features, to tools for communicating with other fans. We’ve rounded up the six best second-screen apps that belong on your smartphone or tablet this baseball season. Download and install one or more of them to make sure you’re game ready when the ump yells “play ball!” Updated March 17, 2023 for the 2023 season. MLB At Bat If you don’t use anything else this season, be sure to install at least the free “Lite” version of MLB at Bat. Michael Ansaldo/Foundry As second-screen apps go, Major League Baseball’s At Bat remains the ace of the rotation. Even the free “lite” version has enough features to render any seamhead giddy, including breaking news, player stats, scores, standings, schedules, interactive rosters, and the ability to customize your homepage as a hub for your favorite team. You can also receive push notifications to alert you to game starts, lead and score changes, and in-game video highlights. It’s worth ponying up for the premium features ($3.99 per month/$29.99 for the year, or free for MLB.TV subscribers). You’ll get access to a treasure trove of on-demand content in the video library, real-time box scores with pitch-by-pitch tracking, and each team’s live local radio broadcast for every game from spring training through the World Series. The last is particularly useful when you want to mute national network blowhards and tune in to your hometown broadcast team. If the live games action isn’t enough to sate your baseball jones, you can even use your cable login to watch MLB network right within the app. iScore Baseball Scoring a game by hand is a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of baseball; but in our digital age, this pen-and-paper activity could easily go the way of flannel uniforms and Pullman cars. Thankfully, there’s iScore Baseball. This app turns your device into a digital scorebook, but you don’t need to know any of the arcana of scorekeeping to use it. iScore employs interview prompts to help you track the on-field action. Say the batter grounds out to first base: To record that play, tap the Out button and iScore will ask what kind of out was made. Select Ground Out and the app will ask you to tap on the diamond where the ball was hit and the position that made the out. As you record each play in this manner, iScore translates it all into scorebook speak. After the game, you can generate and email a completed scoresheet, box score, or team stats. iScore Baseball, available for Android and iOS devices, can create a traditional scoresheet without requiring you to know the details of scorekeeping. iScore Baseball, available for Android and iOS devices, can create a traditional scoresheet without requiring you to know the details of scorekeeping. And if the idea of scoring a game for posterity seems quaint now that the web can serve up play-by-play stats for just about any matchup in history, consider that its greater purpose might be keeping you focused on the game amid the distractions of home. (Android, iOS) ESPN If you prefer your baseball coverage from a third-party source, it’s tough to beat ESPN’s free flagship app. In addition to scores and standings, it will keep you supplied with a steady stream of injury reports, contract signings, and other breaking news from around the league. You’ll also get live streaming access to national and regional ESPN Radio stations and more than 100 ESPN Podcasts. Designate your favorite team and you can receive alerts before games and get the latest news and videos about your club sent directly to your ESPN inbox. Best of all, you can use the app as a second screen for other sports after the Fall Classic. Bleacher Report: Sports News Bleacher Report’s Team Stream lets you stay on top of your favorite club. Michael Ansaldo/IDG Like most fans, it’s your own rooting interests rather than the league at large that keeps you glued to the screen. Bleacher Report understands this and lets you customize your second-screen experience with Bleacher Report: Sports News. Though not exclusively a baseball app, Bleacher Report: Sports News lets you curate your own news feed to receive breaking news on your favorite MLB teams, players, and fantasy investments. Just add your favorite clubs, and all the latest rumors, news, hot plays, and injury reports from those organizations will appear in a real-time stream on its home screen. The app also makes it easy to email, text, or social-share the juiciest stories with your baseball-loving buddies. A separate Scores tab keeps you up today on your team’s schedule and game results. ESPN Fantasy Sports The ESPN Fantasy app provides everything you need to manage your lineup from opening day to, hopefully, the postseason. You get full access to your ESPN fantasy team, letting you start, bench, add, drop, trade, and waive players, so you’re fielding the best nine possible on game day. It also provides a steady stream of player news and enough stats and analysis to satisfy the most hardcore sabermetrician. During games, the app keeps you updated with real-time scoring by all your fantasy players, while push notifications alert you to injuries, trades, and other player news. MiLB First Pitch There’s always important action in the minor leagues, too. MiLB First Pitch helps you keep track of it all. Michael Ansaldo/Foundry A companion to MLB At Bat, MiLB First Pitch provides similar coverage of 160 minor-league clubs with scores, stats, news, video highlights, and push-notification game alerts. As with the big-league app, the basics are free, but you must buy into video streams of games—both live and on-demand—and other premium offerings. But it’s the best way to scout tomorrow’s stars while following their parent clubs on TV. Pair it with At Bat for complete coverage of your favorite team’s entire organization. Batter up! Okay, those are our picks for the best second-screen apps for baseball. What do you think, did we hit a grand slam or fly out to left field? What are your favorite second-screen baseball apps? Let us know in the comments section on our Facebook page. And don’t miss our in-depth cord-cutter’s guide to streaming Major League Baseball without a cable subscription. Cord Cutting, Streaming Media

  • iFi xDSD Gryphon review: One DAC to rule all the hi-res formats

    At a glanceExpert's Rating ProsKiller soundA+ OLED displayIncredibly versatileConsBattery life is good but not greatOur VerdictThe iFi xDSD Gryphon is the all-in-one tool you need to extract the full hi-res audio experience from your audiophile headphones. Best Prices Today: iFi xDSD Gryphon Retailer Price £586.00 View Deal Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide iFi Audio’s xDSD Gryphon is a remarkably versatile DAC and headphone amp that strikes a perfect balance between breathtakingly great audio and easy portability. Enveloped in iFi’s entertaining whiskey-flask enclosure, the unit looks and feels like the premium audio device it is. You can buy outstanding portable DACs that cost far less than the Gryphon, and many of those units are manufactured by iFi. What you get here for the extra cash is an experience that truly reaches audiophile heights. I’ve had nothing but a good time with the iFi xDSD Gryphon; it’s become my favorite way to listen to music. I’ll go this far: My listening experience with the iFi xDSD Gryphon is a lot closer to the one I had with the $3,700 Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 digital audio player than to the one I enjoyed with the $329 iFi GO bar. All three units feature outstanding DAC and amp hardware, but the Gryphon is an exceptional value if you can afford it. iFi xDSD Gryphon build quality The ifi xDSD Gryphon comes with a protective pouch, a charging cable, and connecting cables for USB-C and Lightning outputs.James Barber/Foundry iFi says the xDSD Gryphon uses the same Burr Brown DAC as its flagship $3,249 Pro iDSD Signature desktop DAC/Amp, and its “PureWave” analog stage puts out 1,000W at 32 ohms. There are separate Bluetooth, DAC, and amplifier stages, to maximize the performance of each of the three functions. The unit has four physical inputs: USB-C and S/PDIF digital inputs, plus 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm single-ended analog inputs. The iFi xDSD Gryphon body is a beautiful gray aluminum, with a solid knob that you press to turn the unit on and off. That knob also has a satisfying click as it turns to control the volume, and a quick press can play or pause playback. One end of the unit is a high-quality black plastic, only because iFi had to have somewhere to put the Bluetooth antenna. In addition to the knob, the front end of the unit has 3.5mm single-ended and 4.4mm balanced headphone outputs. Color-coded LED indicators tell you which input you’re using and the current playback frequency. There’s a lot of data delivered by a rainbow of colors, but there’s a card in the box that details what each one means. This complicated scheme, common to many DACs I’ve tested, is purely a secondary source of intel on the Gryphon, as you’ll see below when we discuss the display on the side of the unit. The ifi xDSD Gryphon has an excellent volume control knob in the center. To the left are its 3.5mm singled-ended and 4.4mm balanced headphone outputs.James Barber/Foundry There’s also a button to engage iFi’s XBass II and XSpace digital processing enhancements. You can use none, either, or both at the same time. I turned them off n a quiet environment, but the enhancements added some depth and excitement in a noisier environment. The XBass II was especially effective as a noise-cancelling frequency when the air conditioning or furnace blower were running. The button is there if you want to use it; purists can ignore it and enjoy everything else. The final control on the front end is the input selector, which switches between USB, Bluetooth, S/PDIF, and Line inputs. The unit can handle a comprehensive array of audio resolutions via USB: PCM: 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1 kHzDSD: 512/256/128/64DXD: 768/705.6/384/352.8kHzMQA: Decoder The S/PDIF port, meanwhile, handles PCM (192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz) and DoP (DSD-over-PCM). DSD: 512/256/128/64 DXD: 768/705.6/384/352.8kHz MQA: Decoder The S/PDIF port handles PCM (192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1 kHz) and DoP (DSD-over-PCM). The bottom of the unit has an IEMatch switch that can cut out the hiss from highly sensitive in-ear monitors with either 3.5mm or 4.4mm connectors. The bottom of the ifi xDSD Gryphon as a toggle switch to reduce noise on highly sensitive in-ear monitors.James Barber/Foundry The black plastic rear of the unit has two USB inputs (one for charging its battery and the other for audio), and one S/PDIF input. There are also 3.5mm single-ended and 4.4mm balanced analog outputs. You can also tweak the XBass II and XSpace settings with a physical toggle switch next to the charging input. As for battery life, I got a full charge in about three hours, but only got about six hours of playback. There’s a lot going on inside the Gryphon as it processes your audio and amplifies your music, so that play time is reasonable. iFi xDSD Gryphon’s display The OLED display on top of the Gryphon tells you exactly what you want to know in an incredibly clear fashion. You can see the battery level, the source input, the audio format (PCM, DSD, DXD, MQA), the resolution, and a number representing the output volume. You don’t need to decode colors or esoteric symbols. I’ve needed to take photos of the user manuals for some other DACs because I can never remember exactly what colors go with each audio format. The exception is that MQA is always purple, and I can remember that. The display does have one minor shortcoming, but the issue disappears once you understand it: iFi labels MQA tracks as OFS, which stands for ‘Original Frequency Spectrum,’ and is apparently an acceptable alternate way to describe an authenticated MQA stream. That was news to me, and I don’t think it’s a big deal. The characters on the readout are large and clear enough that I can make them out without eyeglasses. That might be a first on any portable device I’ve tried, and it’s one of those minor design choices that creates a surprising amount of joy when using the Gryphon every day. What comes in the box An excellent OLED display tells your everything you need to know.James Barber/Foundry The iFi xDSD Gryphon comes with a USB-A to USB-C charging cable, a USB C cable that can be used for audio or charging, and a USB-C to Lightning cable for iPhone users. All three have solid connectors and the cables are covered by braided gold fabric. There’s also a velvet carry pouch and a quick-start guide. As with any aluminum electronic device with a finish, the Gryphon is almost guaranteed to exhibit wear and tear over time. If you’re looking to preserve that finish, consider getting the xDSD Gryphon case, a dove gray, faux suede sleeve ($39) that slips tightly around the DAC. A plastic window ensures you can see that excellent display. Listening to the iFi xDSD Gryphon The iFi xDSD Gryphon will make most any headphone sound better, but anyone who’s not using true audiophile headphones or in-ear monitors might be better served by the impressive-for-its-price iFi hip-dac2 ($189). To fully appreciate the detail that the Gryphon digs out of each track, you’ll need headphones capable of reproducing audio at a high level. For my testing, I rotated between the new Sennheiser HD 660S2 and Sivga SV023 open-back headphones, the Focal Celestee closed-back headphone, and the Sennheiser IE 900 in-ear monitors. Each headphone sounded better with the Gryphon than with the less-expensive hip-dac2, but the real surprise was how much the soundstage on the Sennheiser HD 660S2 opened up when using the Gryphon. There’s an outrageous amount of low end on the 48kHz Qobuz stream of the track “Cerberus,” from Colin Stetson’s 2022 album Chim​æ​ra I. The drone is relentless, but the track’s real reward is how Stetson creates seemingly endless depth in a stereo mix. With the IE 900, the sound seemed to move through my head from one side to another. he  ifi xDSD Gryphon has both digital and analog inputs on the rear of the unit. James Barber/Foundry Music labeled “experimental drone” might seem an extreme way to test a DAC—or headphones, for that matter—but “Cerberus” was the track that showed up in a Qobuz mix that sent me down this path. No worries, because a 96kHz stream of “Hold On Loosely,” by .38 Special, and a 192kHz stream of “Stop! In the Name of Love,” by The Supremes, were equally impressive. The Gryphon revealed decay on .38 Special’s guitars and Motown session-player Jack Ashford’s vibraphone that I’d never heard before. What you won’t get from the iFi xDSD Gryphon is that absolute commitment to revealing every detail that ultimately mars some audiophile gear. The Gryphon’s output is always musical, and the mixes stay glued together rather than becoming a collection of individual instruments and parts that compete for your attention. That sense of musicality is present even in iFi’s least-expensive and least-precise DAC/amp combo, the $59 iFi Go Link. What’s most impressive here is that the company’s engineers have achieved a stunning level of detail while allowing tracks to carry the same emotional weight they did when you first heard them through a cheap, mono AM radio. iFi xDSD Gryphon’s Bluetooth performance The Gryphon can act as a Bluetooth receiver, with a Bluetooth 5.1 radio that supports the aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, and aptX LL (low-latency) codecs; Sony’s LDAC; Huawei’s HWA, Apple’s AAC, and the ordinary SBC codec. That’s not every single option floating around out there these days, but it should take care of the overwhelming majority of users here in the U.S. I’ll confess that I was mystified as to a use case for Bluetooth on this device, so I visited a few audiophile message boards and learned that some users like to use Bluetooth when they’re on the move, because it’s unwieldy to have the Gryphon connected to their phones. I can see that. This optional protective sleeve ($39) would be a good investment to protect this high-end DAC/headphone amp.iFi Audio Other people are big believers in wireless streaming, but they want to use wired earbuds or headphones. You can count me out there, because I’ve yet to hear any wireless audio setup that can compare with the highest-quality wired audio chain. I’m sure we’ll reach a point in the next generation or two where wireless codecs can deliver truly lossless audio, but my ears tell me we’re not there yet. I nonetheless tested the Gryphon using Beats Studio 3 headphone that has a 3.5mm cord in addition to Bluetooth. The Bluetooth signal sounds better when run through the Gryphon than it sounds going directly to the Beats. But do you know what sounds even better? Plugging the Gryphon into the phone and the Beats into the Gryphon. This DAC has a very good Bluetooth radio, but you’ll want to rely on wires whenever you can. Using the iFi xDSD Gryphon with Spotify Using the Gryphon is definitely an improvement when listening to Spotify’s lossy music streams, but subscribers to that service should think twice before investing in a DAC as pricey as this. The Spotify sound of “I Don’t Know Why I Love You,” from Fleetwood Mac’s 1978 album Rumours, was beefed up when I switched from the Apple 3.5mm audio adapter to the Gryphon. But listening to the same track via a hi-res 96kHz stream from Apple Music exposed the problems with Spotify’s lossy stream: The soundstage exploded, and nuance appeared in both the attack and decay of the bass, drums, and guitar parts. The difference is breathtaking. The iFi xDSD Gryphon’s circuit board credits its design to Ron Z. Ron deserves a round of applause.iFi Audio Perhaps Spotify will eventually deliver on its promise to offer subscribers a lossless audio option, but it sure seems like the company has other priorities; take its decision to launch a new Tik Tok-style scrolling interface. There are plenty of inexpensive DAC dongles that will improve Spotify’s low-resolution streams, including the iFi Go Link I mentioned earlier. But no hardware can put back frequencies that aren’t there in the first place. If you want to take full advantage of what the Gryphon has to offer, you need a service like Apple Music, Amazon Music HD, Qobuz, or Tidal’s HiFi Plus tier. You want high-resolution streams or at least CD-quality when those aren’t available. If you’ve purchased hi-res digital recordings for your home-audio system, the Gryphon will let you take them on the road, where it will deliver them in all their glory. Should you buy the iFi xDSD Gryphon? I’m here to testify on behalf of the iFi xDSD Gryphon DAC and amplifier. I’ve had nothing but a good time over these past few weeks, and it’s become my favorite way to listen to music. The experience is deeply immersive, and I’ll attribute that to the fact that the added detail the Gryphon produces doesn’t come at the expense of the artist’s and producer’s intentions for the mixes. Unlike some other DACs, tracks sound familiar but better, instead of breaking into discrete audio stems that you must put back together in your head.  Anyone who has invested in high-end headphones should give serious consideration to the iFi xDSD Gryphon. It’s a versatile, well-built piece of gear that can handle almost any format you throw at it. Most importantly, it improved the sound of every single track I played through it. Headphones, Home Audio

  • YouTube TV hikes prices in advance of NFL Sunday Ticket

    YouTube TV is poised to hike its prices for the first time in three years, with the increase slated to arrive before NFL Sunday Ticket debuts on the service this fall. In an email sent to subscribers, Google said the price for YouTube TV will rise to $72.99 a month, a $7-per-month increase. The price hike is set to go into effect April 18 for existing users, or immediately for new subscribers. While the base price of YouTube TV is going up, Google is cutting the monthly rate for YouTube TV’s “4K Plus” add-on in half, to $9.99 a month. The net effect is that YouTube TV users who were paying the full $19.99/month price for the 4K add-on will be getting a price cut. This news is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best streaming TV services. In its email to subscribers, Google said it was hiking prices for YouTube TV because “content costs have risen” and “we continue to invest in the quality of our service.” Speaking of content, we’re just six months out from the regular season debut of NFL Sunday Ticket on YouTube TV. Google reportedly paid handsomely for that deal, on the order of a staggering $14 billion over seven years.  Google also just rolled out out a new “multiview” feature for YouTube TV that allows subscribers to watch up to four streams at once, a tool that should come in handy for football fans who want to keep tabs on multiple games simultaneously. In its price hike announcement, Google said that the 4K Plus add-on (which allows for 4K viewing of “available content,” unlimited concurrent streams at home, and the ability to watch DVR recordings offline) would be available to new users for a 12-month promotional rate of $4.99 a month, while those who were already getting a sub-$9.99 deal for 4K viewing would be able to keep their discounts until their deals expire. The last time YouTube TV hiked its prices was back in 2020, when Google raised the monthly charge for its live TV service from $50 to $65 a month. Of course, YouTube’s live TV competitors have been raising their prices, too. Hulu + Live TV got a $5-a-month price hike (to $69.99 a month) in late 2021, an increase that included a (mandatory) bundling with ad-supported Disney+ and ESPN+. The version of Hulu + Live TV with the ad-free version of Disney+ and the ad-supported ESPN+ was discontinued, but existing subscribers were grandfathered in. Last November, Sling TV upped the price for its Orange and Blue packages to $40 a month, $5 more than the previous $35/month price. Updated shortly after publication to clarify that while YouTube TV’s price hike won’t go into effect until next month for existing users, it will kick in immediately for new subscribers. Streaming Media

  • Best live TV streaming service: YouTube TV vs Sling TV vs Hulu + Live TV and the rest

    As cord-cutting becomes more popular, TV networks have responded by bringing their popular cable channels to the internet. That means you no longer need an expensive satellite or cable TV service to watch local news, sports, and your favorite shows live. Most services even offer DVR service in the cloud, so you can record your favorite shows and watch them later–sometimes with the added perk of being able to skip past the commercials. But with all this competition comes more confusion. Between Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, and others, cord-cutters have a lot to think about. Each service has its own quirks and caveats, and their channel lineups (and increasingly, their prices) are constantly in flux. Here are top picks today, with links to our in-depth reviews. Updated March 16, 2023 to reflect the YouTube TV price increase that goes into effect April 18. YouTube TV — Best TV streaming service overall Pros Solid mix of channels for the money Includes DVR with no storage limits Easy-to-understand app design Cons Ad-riddled on-demand videos can override DVR Some channels don’t support 60-frames-per-second video Best Prices Today: $72.99 at YouTube TV YouTube TV might not meet every cord-cutter’s needs, but even at $65 $73 per month (effective April 18, 2023), we think it’s the best path to local stations, live news, national sports, and a broad selection of entertainment channels. It also includes cloud DVR service that can record an unlimited number of programs for up to nine months. If you’re looking to replace cable TV with something cheaper, this is your safest bet. Read our full YouTube TV review Hulu + Live TV — Best TV streaming service, runner-up Pros Excellent value for Disney bundle subscribers Expansive on-demand catalog Recommendations and staff picks make the app fun to explore Cons Live TV can be inefficient to navigate Hard to figure out which programs allow ad skipping Can't watch on TV devices while traveling Best Prices Today: $69.99 at What sets Hulu’s $70-per-month live TV bundle apart from others is its inclusion of Hulu’s on-demand service (normally $6 per month), which includes a large catalog of network shows, plus originals such as The Bear, Only Murders in the Building, and The Oroville along with strong TV shows from Disney-owned networks including FX. Hulu’s interface can be busy, but it ties everything together in a way that encourages discovery. It costs $5 more per month than YouTube TV, but it includes access to Disney+ and ESPN+ (Disney owns all three streaming services). Read our full Hulu + Live TV review DirecTV Stream — Best TV streaming service for sports fans Pros Powerful grid guide DVR has no ad-skipping restrictions HBO is included Cons Limited channel selection for the price DVR limits both recording space and storage time No personalized viewing recommendations Best Prices Today: $69.99 at DirecTV Stream At $90 per month for its “Choice” package, DirecTV Stream is not a particularly great deal for cord-cutters, but as of this writing, it’s the only way to regional Bally Sports networks (formerly known as Fox Sports) or the YES Network without cable or satellite TV service. That service tier also includes NBA TV and MLB Network for good measure. Read our full DirecTV Stream review Sling TV — Best budget-priced TV streaming service Pros Lower entry price than any other streaming bundle Simple menu system with easy access to favorites DVR supports ad-skipping, partial recordings, and time-shifting Cons Price can quickly escalate to get certain channels Most channels top out at 30 frames per second Only supports one user profile Best Prices Today: $35.00 at Sling TV Sling TV is an intriguing option if you’re using an antenna to get local channels, because it doesn’t include much local coverage on its own. As such, its starting price of $35 per month is a lot lower than other bundles, and you can add channel packs that otherwise might be cost-prohibitive. On the downside, integrating local over-the-air channels with the Sling app requires extra hardware. Read our full Sling TV review Philo — Best budget-priced TV streaming service, runner-up Pros Less than half the price of most live TV services Apps are straightforward and easy to use Three simultaneous streams with no weird viewing restrictions No arcane restrictions on ad skipping or where you can watch from Cons No way to simultaneously watch and browse live channels 60-frames-per-second support remains absent No personalized recommendations on what to watch Best Prices Today: $25 at Philo is the biggest bundle you can get with no sports channels. As such, it only costs $25 per month, with channels from AMC, Viacom, Discovery, and A&E and unlimited cloud DVR service. Philo is a fine supplement if you can get prime-time shows and sports from an antenna. Read our full Philo review How to watch TV online TV streaming services like YouTube TV and Sling TV carry live network television programming from the likes of ABC, CBS, and NBC. Most also include feeds from your local broadcaster (channel 2, channel 4, etc.). In this regard, they’re close cousins to cable and satellite TV, but their content streams over the internet instead of coming into your home via coaxial cable or a satellite dish on your roof. Most streaming TV services let you record live TV programming to a DVR in the cloud, just like cable and satellite TV set-top boxes–or third-party devices like TiVo–do. Some let you skip past the commercials in live TV. This policy, the number of programs you can store in the cloud, and the length of time they’re stored, vary by service provider. You can read our individual reviews for those details. What’s the difference between TV streaming and video streaming? TV streaming services like the ones covered here differ from video streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in that the latter services don’t offer live TV programming or shows you’ll find on network television (ABC, CBS, NBC, et al). Netflix, Amazon, and the like are more focused on movies and TV shows they produce on their own, although they also license movies and TV shows from other producers, including the aforementioned broadcast networks. You don’t need a set-top box or a tuner to receive streaming TV, but you will need an internet connection and a display you can watch TV on. Most people will use a smart TV, and virtually every TV manufacturer builds those these days, including LG, Samsung, and Vizio to name just a few. You’ll find our top picks in smart TVs at the preceding link. You can also subscribe to these services with a streaming device that plugs into a TV, such as an Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, or something similar. Such devices come as either an HDMI stick or as a small box with an HDMI cable. They connect to your TV’s HDMI port either way, drawing power from the TV’s USB port or from a power adapter. You’ll find our top picks in streaming devices at the preceding link. Yet another alternative would be to install an app from your TV streaming service provider of choice on your smartphone, tablet, or personal computer. Other TV streaming services to consider If none of our top picks meet your needs, sports fans might want to read our thoughts on FuboTV. Vidgo is another less-expensive competitor, although we were even less enthused with it the last time we checked it out. If local channels are important to you, click the following links and enter your zip code to see which channels are available on DirecTV Stream Hulu with Live TV, FuboTV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV. Cord Cutting, Streaming Media

  • Is Verizon +play a good deal?

    If you’re tired of dealing with disparate subscription services, Verizon wants to help. The wireless carrier is offering a new service called Verizon +play for managing lots of subscriptions from one place. While +play launched in December as an open beta, Verizon has now opened it to all who are interested. To entice signups, the company is offering of a full year of Netflix Premium for free. Verizon +play doesn’t cost anything to use, and anyone can browse what’s on offer; however, you must be a Verizon customer (subscribers to Verizon’s mobile, 5G Home, and LTE Home services are eligible, but Verizon FiOS subscribers are not). For Verizon customers already paying for Netflix, this deal is worth taking, as any subscription you add will cost less than Netflix alone. Still, there some caveats to keep in mind before you jump into Verizon +play for anything else. This story is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best streaming TV services. FAQ 1. Can anyone sign up for Verizon +play? No, Verizon +play is available only to Verizon’s postpaid wireless subscribers (including mobile, 5G Home, and LTE Home, but not Verizon FiOS). 2. How does Verizon +play work? Verizon +play is a section of Verizon’s website where you can sign up for different subscription services and manage them through a single billing system. After signing into the site, you should see a “Manage” tab for adding new subscriptions and cancelling existing ones. There’s also a “Notifications” tab, where you can manage alerts for billing activity, price changes, and account updates. Unlike other subscription marketplaces, such as Amazon Prime Video Channels and Apple TV Channels, Verizon doesn’t offer its own interface for streaming, so you’ll still sign into apps like Netflix and Discovery+ to access those services’ content. Verizon +play is just a centralized way to manage your subscriptions to those services. (Even so, those subscriptions are billed separately from Verizon’s wireless service and won’t appear on your regular monthly Verizon bill.) To start using +play, just head to the website and click the “Sign In” button at the top. Once you’ve signed into your account, click the “+play” tab and choose which, if any, subscriptions you want to sign up for (you’ll find details on the one-year-of-free-Netflix offer below). 3. Which services are available with Verizon +play? Verizon +play currently offers 32 subscription services across several categories, not all of which are streaming-related. Here’s the full list as of March 2023: Video: Netflix, Starz, AMC+, HBO Max, Paramount+, Disney+, Discovery+, Hallmark Movies Now, UP Faith & Family, A&E Crime Central, History Vault, Lifetime Movie Club, FlixLatino, Vix+, Fox Nation, Kocowa+, Marquee TV.Gaming: Xbox Game Pass, Google Play PassSports: NBA League Pass, NFL+ Premium, The AthleticMusic: Qello ConcertsLifestyle: Calm, Peloton, Super Duolingo, Blue Apron Plus, MasterClass, Wondrium, ABCMouse, Adventure Academy, Perlego With most of these services, you can’t easily switch over to +play billing if you’re already a subscriber. Instead, you’ll need to cancel the subscription, then sign up again through Verizon’s system. The exceptions are Netflix and HBO Max. If you add either service to +play and have an account already, you’ll be able sign in with your existing account and transfer it over to Verizon’s billing system. (Do not do this for Netflix until you’ve redeemed the offer below.) 4. How can I get Netflix Premium for free with Verizon +play? As a limited-time deal, Verizon is offering a year of Netflix Premium when you pay for a year of another service through +play. This deal is available even if you’re already a Netflix subscriber. Those services (and their annual prices) are: Starz ($75), AMC+ ($84), Paramount+ ($100), Calm ($70), Peloton App ($130), Super Duolingo ($84), and MasterClass ($90). Netflix Premium costs $20 per month, or $240 for an entire year. So even if you have no interest in any of the above services, you can save money on Netflix by taking advantage of Verizon’s offer. Note that you must be a new subscriber to the above services to get the deal, and you’ll be switched to monthly billing after the first year. After signing up, head to the subscription management page on Verizon’s +play website and you’ll see an option to activate Netflix. If you’re already a Netflix subscriber, you’ll be directed to the Netflix website to sign in and transfer your subscription to Verizon’s platform. Verizon hasn’t said how long the Netflix deal will last, but it’s available as of March 15, 2023. 5. What are the downsides to Verizon +play? With its free Netflix offering, Verizon clearly hopes that you’ll see the benefit of managing lots of services in one place, and that you’ll start using it for other services as well. But like any other subscription marketplace, Verizon +play comes with some caveats: Some subscriptions might cost more. Verizon +play won’t always give you the best price on streaming services. Paramount+, for instance, is available for free with monthly coupon codes, and other services such as Starz and AMC+ routinely offer deals for new subscribers. You can’t get those deals through +play. Verizon also doesn’t offer annual billing for certain subscriptions such as HBO Max and NBA League Pass. Instead, you can only sign up for monthly plans that cost more over time. Don’t sign up for anything through +play unless you’re sure a better deal isn’t available elsewhere. It won’t cover all your subscriptions. Many popular TV services remain unavailable through +play, including Amazon Prime Video, Peacock, Apple TV+, MLB TV, YouTube TV, Sling TV, and Philo. Verizon doesn’t even offer the full Disney bundle through +play, which is amusing given that the carrier provides it for free or with an extended trial on some wireless plans. Even if you consolidate some subscriptions through +play, you’ll still have keep track of more subscriptions in other places. Leaving Verizon can be a hassle. Verizon says you can keep using +play even after switching carriers, but you’ll need to set a username other than your Verizon phone number, and you’ll lose any deals or promo prices that were tied to your Verizon plan. That bit of extra friction might dissuade you from leaving Verizon in the first place. Ultimately, Verizon +play represents yet another way to pay for TV when we already have too many. While it may alleviate some of your subscription headaches, it won’t eliminate them outright, and Netflix deal aside, it may prompt you to pay more for streaming than you otherwise would. Like any bundler that claims to solve your streaming headaches, Verizon introduces a few new ones as well. Sign up for Jared’s Cord Cutter Weekly newsletter for help navigating the streaming TV landscape. Cord Cutting, Streaming Media