Services Technology

Mr Robot on Amazon Instant Video: Love it!

I’m usually a Netflix of a BBC iPlayer person. I have long been an Amazon Prime customer but it’s only recently that I’ve started to bother with the company’s Instant Video streaming service.

I really enjoyed watching ‘The Vikings’ on Amazon’s Instant Video service but because there’s not been a download function, I’ve used the service intermittently.

That changed when I bought an Amazon Fire TV. It’s now the third ‘box’ in our house — that is, the Sky+ satellite Pay TV box is probably still primary. Although it’s a close call between that and the Apple TV. We access Netflix through the Apple TV. And then the children use the Amazon Fire TV a lot.

Now and again I’ve had a look at some of the movies.

However when I got notification from Amazon that they’d added a download option for Instant Video, I changed my tune.

All of a sudden I felt the service was significantly improved: Offline viewing is sadly still a very, very important feature despite what the mobile networks would have us all believe.

I happened to flick up the Amazon Instant Video app when I was on the train to Scotland last week. I did a bit of work for half the journey then I decided to try it out. I’d downloaded a 90 second trailer of “Mr Robot” to watch.

This is a new series just released on Amazon produced by USA Networks. It follows “Elliot”, a cyber-security engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night, who gets recruited by a mysterious underground group to destroy the firm he is paid to protect. That’s what the blurb said.

I watched the trailer and thought, “You know what, that is rather good.”

So I hit “stream” on the first episode.

I happened to be in a main station on the way up to Scotland — Darlington I think it might have been, so the train wasn’t moving. I was astonished when the first episode began to stream… in what looked like high quality.

I was further astonished to be able to watch the first episode, end-to-end, without any gaps… ON THE TRAIN! I think Amazon must have built in a heck of a lot of compression and smart algorithms combined with their AWS heritage to get the data to the Three mobile network as fast as possible.

My signal was up and down like a YoYo as you’d expect on the way up to Scotland. Yet I ended up watching almost three episodes in quick succession — all of them streamed.

I’ve obviously now downloaded the rest ready for further viewing. I would like to recommend you take a look at Mr Robot if you’re a bit of a geek.

I’ve really appreciated the virtual realism that they’ve displayed. Everything I’ve seen in the episodes is a heck of a lot more relevant and real than any of the ‘Hollywood hacker’ scenes I’ve seen before in other movies and TV shows. It’s also got some good pace about it — a bit like the energy I saw in The Social Network.

If you haven’t checked out Mr Robot, have a look. And if you are a Prime customer and haven’t tried Amazon Instant Video can I recommend downloading the app and having a play?

Observations Technology

Sky hasn’t quite reached the connected age yet

Screen Shot 2012 06 03 at 23 23 11

I’ve been a Sky customer for ages. Now and again when I’ve been living in an apartment that didn’t have a dish attached, I’ve had to put up with Virgin but I’ve always come back to Sky when possible. I like their set-top box approach.

I’m pretty content with the service.

Granted, the set-top box interface is, I feel, looking a little bit dated in today’s connected world. It’s also getting quite a bit of competition from all the integrated features of the new Sony TV I bought a little while ago.

I realised this afternoon that I never bother using the Sky Movies package that I added on a while ago.

I used to sit back and flick to 301 (the start of the movie channels) when I wanted a bit of downtime for a few minutes. It was always useful to be able to jump straight into a reasonably popular movie. Sometimes I might watch 10 minutes. Sometimes I might watch the whole thing. I valued the service.

I can’t remember how much it costs except that it was a bit of a hefty add-on to the existing subscription.

I resolved to spend the cash on iTunes movies and TV episodes rather than on Sky Movies. I have far more use for iTunes — I can watch that content anywhere. I don’t want to be chained to the TV nowadays.

So this evening I visited and logged in.

Clicking about it looked like it would be impossible to change my account package online. I clicked some more and found that it was only possible to add to my package. Arses. Failure point #1. But a little obvious. Of COURSE they will make it difficult. They live for the subscription revenue.

A little pop-up window then appeared asking if I’d like to chat.

Yes I would, I thought. I clicked.

The chap who greeted me asked for my name. That was annoying. Failure point #2. If I’ve logged into your secure account system, I expect you to know who I am. And yes, Sky, I mean building a little bit of code to pass my details to your LivePerson instance.

I got straight into it with the chap:

Screen Shot 2012 06 03 at 22 47 47

I found it fascinating that the chap characterised my motivation as ‘thinking of downgrading’.

I didn’t think of it that way.

I certainly recognise that this is how it will seem from Sky’s point of view. I think this was a canned response.

It tells you something though.

I thought I was making a change on my account. The chap tells me I’m downgrading. Twice, actually. Failure point #3 — there’s no need to go negative. You’re reinforcing the action in my mind. I’m being told that I’m downgrading. I’m being asked to call ‘to downgrade’. You’re helping me continue my course of action.

I was actually a customer ready to buy. I know that’s not what I wrote at the start of the post but if you think about it, there could have been an opportunity for a bit of negotiation. An engaged sales person could have run rings around me.

“So you want to remove the movies? Ok. Well sir I’ve just noticed that for an extra £2 you could actually have movies, sports and blah-blah-blah on our special deal.”

Before you know it, I’ve actually paid more (and perhaps got a bit of a discount or a deal).

However I was moved into the ‘downgrade’ mindset this way.

I was already cooking though. I was already annoyed.

That’s because despite reaching ‘someone at Sky’ didn’t help. I doubt the chap worked in the Sky UK call centre) — the experience felt like a someone was operating canned responses from a call centre somewhere in the world, I could be wrong.

As far as I’m concerned, Sky, I talked to you this evening at 11pm. It was great to get some interaction, but it was almost pointless.

I talked to you today by ‘chat’ and you told me to phone you.

Ridiculous. That’s Failure Point #4 — making me PHONE you.

Failure Point #5 is answering my second question (“So I’ve got to phone someone to downgrade?”) with another stupid canned response that didn’t even have a “Yes” or “I’m afraid you’ll have to call our team..”

Failure Point #6 was asking me to type in my home phone number when I called customer services. As IF I remember that. Yes, I know all Sky customers are meant to have a home phone number but goodness me, how arcane. I wouldn’t have minded typing in my stupidly long customer number.

I pressed hash and star a load of times and eventually managed to skip that bit. All I wanted to know was whether a human was available at 11pm to handle my ‘downgrade’.

I waited 3 minutes paying stupid amounts via my Three phone and then hung up. The 0844 number that Sky uses costs me £0.20 per minute. I wonder how many people phone Sky from a mobile? When most people either have unlimited landline calls from their home phone (and similar on their mobile) why bother using 0844 numbers?


I hung up and then thought I’d check the right address was on my account. It turns out it’s the old address. I thought my wife had changed it. Apparently not.

I clicked the link to change the address. Gahh. Failure point #7: I have to PHONE them to change my address.

Come on!

If I can *ADD* packages online (you can, I added the movies online about a year ago) then you obviously accept legal instructions via the web. Upgrading my package is a legal instruction. Changing my address is the same flipping thing.

But then it’s probably something that the team want to ‘control’ (read: Make a bit more complicated) because there’s a lot of work involved in moving house and ensuring you have a Sky dish at the other end. Blah blah blah.

I think my key point here is that I have limited amounts of time to deal with this kind of life admin. Or, to be clear, I wish to ensure I have limited amounts of time wasted, in my view. (I am happy to spend a few minutes writing a blog post — but that’s different!)

I just want it done, Sky. I want to click a few buttons and be done.

Why not show me a few special offers when I click ‘downgrade’? I was totally susceptible at that point. But putting me through the ringer and forcing me to have to fit to your business models was rather frustrating. It’s also ensured I’ll be a lot cooler on the phone tomorrow.

Update on 8th June: I managed to get through to Sky. The chap I spoke to in “disconnections” was not happy at the prospect of my downgrade. He eventually offered me a 10% discount on my whole package for 6 months, unprompted. I thanked him but declined. Is that it, Sky? Goodness me.

“So you’re wanting to save money?” the chap said.

“No, I’m just choosing not to spend it with you,” I clarified, “I’m spending far more with iTunes.”


Eventually after the chap realised I wasn’t to be swayed with a 10% short-term discount (A whopping £22 across 6 months) he processed the downgrade. Job done.


Bring on CES: LG’s largest OLED TV is just 4mm thick

Next week is CES week — and that means that almost every single consumer technology giant you can think of will be showing off their latest devices and services. I can’t wait to see what they’ve got for us.

Meantime, if you’ve been in the market for a TV, you might give some thought to LG’s all new OLED TV. It’s the largest of it’s type — 55 inches — and is a ridiculously amazing 4mm thick. Simply fantastic.

What’s interesting here is that the picture quality is technically impossible to achieve with other technologies. So, depending on your viewpoint, your current TV is now a pile of smoking dung. Here’s what LG’s blog has to report:

Such color capabilities are technically impossible with LED and LCD display panels. And at 1,000 times faster than LED/LCD displays, LG’s OLED TV shows crystal clear motion without any blurring or bleeding.

I like this phrase, too:

…And at only 4 mm thin and a mere 7.5 kg, LG’€™s OLED TV practically blends into the wall

Yes please.

You can read all about the TV in a little more detail here. It’s due to be launched formally next week. In terms of costs, The Telegraph’s Matt Warman points out that previous OLED TVs from Sony have retailed for around £2k (and that was for an 11″ version!) so set your price expectations to medium-high.

How much would you pay for something like this? 55″ and more or less completely flat? £3,000? £5,000?

That said, I don’t think this will be in the B&O @80k territory. (See my Bang & Olufsen post).

Chap Who Has Everything Music Technology

Harman’s AKG K3003: The world’s best “reference class” earphones?

I’ve spent a lot of money on earphones over the years. I blame Apple. I was perfectly happy nodding away with my white iPod specials until I walked into the Regent Street Apple Store and found a massive range that I’ve never heard of before. In particular, I was thoroughly impressed by the range of Shure in-ear ones — the price points were, from memory, £69, £199 and then £299. Something like that. I didn’t need any further prompting — I bought the £299 ones. Obviously.


And they were gorgeous. About a billion miles away from the ‘Fisher Price’ style free ones you got with the iPod. And so my expensive habit for headphones began.

More recently I’ve been experimenting with some Etymotic ones and finally, after my friend Tom bought me some RHAs, I have settled there.

I think, however, the search may have ended with the release a few months ago of the AKG K3003 earphones from Harman. That’s them pictured above and the first thing that sets them apart from the competition is the price: These are retailing for £1,000 in Harrods or you can pick them up from AKG directly.

The next thing that makes them special is they’re hand-crafted. (I’d hope so, for £1,000.) And they’re 100% quality-tested after final assembly. Plus, as you might expect, the materials and the engineering are simply exquisite. Here’s how AKG describe them:

Building on AKG’s decades of breakthroughs in audio technology, we’ve combined know-how with premium materials to produce our K3003 reference class 3-way earphones. Each earphone housing is chiseled from one piece of brushed stainless steel, while our specially refined cable materials allow for tangle-free handling. The K3003 earphones come with a genuine leather carrying case individually molded to protect them wherever you go.

And now here’s the AKG Youtube video showing how they’re made:

Right then, that’s me sold.

These are, it seems, the equivalent to buying a Bentley Continental GT. The price point is certainly eye-catching, however I wonder just what the difference is between say, the £29.95 RHA MA-350 earphones and these AKG K3003s. Could I — as a non-audio professional — tell the difference? I suspect that this is more or less irrelevant, though.

I delight in owning and using quality equipment. I really enjoyed using the Shures and Etymotics — and the audio felt better. I suspect that using these AKGs, I’d have a brilliant experience! And although the £1,000 price tag sounds quite a lot, I’ve probably spent that in the last 3-4 years on earphones if I add up all the Etymotic/Shures I’ve bought.

These AKGs are definitely going into my Chap Who Has Everything category here on The Pursuit of Quality. What’s your view? Have you got a recommendation for excellent earphones? And could you see yourself spending £1,000 on a pair?

Accessories Technology

Is Thule’s Gauntlet Sleeve the sexiest MacBook Air case?

I think it could well be.

I’ve got a MacBook Air 11″ that I use religiously, especially when I’m abroad. I don’t have a case for it per se. Instead I stick it into one of my suitcase pockets. Not good, I know. It’s asking for trouble. So I’ve been on the lookout for something decent to protect my Air in transit for a little while.

I might just be sold on Thule’s fantastic looking Gauntlet Sleeve:

The Gauntlet is stitch-free. Seams are heat-welded and there’s an extra fold inside to provide water-resistance. The interior is lined with soft nylex to avoid scratches. If you bought the 13″ MacBook Air, don’t worry, there’s a Gauntlet for that too.

You can pick one of these up at the Apple Store for £39.95 (link). A perfect gift — but, really, I think this is actually something that’s more likely to be purchased by the owner. I’m giving serious consideration to it.

Sports Technology

Going Skiing at Christmas? Make sure you’ve got Satski on your phone!

I’ve not made it to Val d’Isere in the French Alps for almost two years now. I really enjoy skiing and I find it a particularly useful occupation during those ‘off days’ between Christmas and New Year when nothing much tends to happen.

The last time I was in Val d’Isere, the iPhone phenomenon was just taking hold. (In fact you can read about those experiences over at Mobile Industry Review.) I remember remarking that smartphones were perfect for skiing. Not only could you locate yourself easily but you could also access a wealth of services there-and-then from your hand. At this point back in 2009, most folk swapped to a dumbphone whilst skiing, or they simply left their mobile phone at the hotel/apartment. The last thing you want to do is fall on your ‘brick’ phone and kill your thigh doing so. Or smash your fragile iPhone.

How times have changed.

I wouldn’t think about going into resort without at least one dedicated app. I had a note over from the chaps at Satski to highlight their latest app which is available on iOS, Android, Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Phone 7 and BlackBerry. The app looks like it offers almost everything you’d ever need — for a veritable ton of resorts. From weather to locating the nearest doctor or pharmacy, Satski has it covered.

Satski offers a host of features:

  • Navigation — Google Maps isn’t that useful when you’re trying to plan your runs or avoid the horrifying black runs. So Satski has piste/ski trails and resort maps built in.
  • Real Time Stats — So that you can stop for a moment to check vital statistics like maximum speed, distance and so on. Love it.
  • Tracking & Data Storage — Satski will track your movements so you can replay the highlights in the bar later on
  • Locate Me — Highly important when you can’t see anything during a ‘white out’ or useful if you can’t remember quite where you’re standing
  • Emergency — Everything you need in an emergency to connect with local services (including your exact co-ordinates)
  • Resort Info — Standard resort information e.g. doctors, police, ski hire shops, ski schools and so on
  • Buddy Tracking — I love this one. By mutual consent (managed by Satski) you can track where your friends and family are. Absolute genius.

Hugely comprehensive. You’ll find Satski in your app store of choice priced at around €8.75 or thereabouts. If you’re like to get ultra serious, you might consider taking a look at the company’s Standalone GPS unit (€239).

Head over to the Satsports site for more information.

Now, Satski is only as good as the smartphone battery. So please, please, please charge your device up before heading to the slopes. Better still, carry a Proporta or other battery pack just-in-case.

[I should point out that I’ve not been able to try Satski myself so if you’ve done so, or if you’ve other recommendations readers should look at, please do comment below!]

Must Have Technology

Why you definitely need to buy the 3M Camcorder Projector

You definitely need one of these for Christmas.

Set aside your top of the range Nexus Prime, or your shiny iPhone 4S. The rest of the family don’t care about that. Granny doesn’t want to admire the latest capabilities of Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich. No. You need one of these to wow the family and friends this holiday season.

It’s from 3M and it’s their latest gizmo that’s going to make you really popular with your wife — because it promises endless hours of entertainment for even the most trying guests.

The name says it all: 3M Camcorder Projector CP45 (Amazon link). Yup. It’s a camcorder and it projects photos and video on to any surface. Think of it like a Flip camera with a super-high-quality projector directly integrated. The intent is simple: You film the children’s football game in the morning and then everyone can watch it later on projected on to your living room wall. Or, anywhere.

I haven’t had hands-on but the projection definition looks really, really smart. It takes photo and HD video. It’s got 2GB of memory on-board, enough for 1,000 photos and 25 minutes of HD video, plus the battery will last for 1.5 hours — enough to capture a lot of action. (You can, by the way, expand the memory dramatically with the MicroSD card slot — up to 32GB). There’s a built-in speaker and microphone and you can connect to some speakers if you really want to show a nice instant-replay.

The projector will display up to 65″ on almost any flat surface — don’t be surprised if your children take to shining it at themselves as it’ll work on clothing too. Ideal conditions obviously call for a bit of a darkened environment so you can see the output in full clarity.

The goodness doesn’t stop there though. You can connect your iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone to the CP45 and it’ll project output from there. Plus it’ll do the same for games consoles and laptops. (Provided you get the right connectors). Absolute genius.

That’s the overview. Now have a watch of the funky video and it’ll show you just how the CP45 works:


The RRP is £299. You can now pick it up from an array of retailers online.

I recommend Amazon myself:

I think this is one of those products that you should have in your arsenal, especially with the holidays coming up. All you need to do is show your significant other (i.e. wife/girlfriend) the projection bit and I reckon they’ll be sold. That’s what granny is going to want to see and everyone will have a super time playing with it on Boxing Day. And of course it’s got a heck of a lot of potential beyond Christmas, especially when it comes to the children: Football games, rugby games, school plays, concerts, weddings.

It’s the immediate replay function that knocks this into the must-have-now category. You know when you film something (or take a photo of something) and then everyone else wants to see it? Rubbish. Because they typically have to look at a small screen. How cool will it be to actually say, “No, hold on, let me show you properly.”

Yup. I like this a lot. I’m pleased 3M have brought this to market. I hope to get a look at one shortly.

And here’s the CP45 spec sheet:


Update on the Office365 trauma

If you’ve been following my trauma with Office365, then you’ll remember I was less than impressed yesterday at discovering two key problems when I signed-up.

1. The agreement was for a year. Whoops. I specifically clicked ‘pay monthly’ and presumed that was a month-to-month arrangement. No. I should have looked closer.

2. I opted for the £15/month version of the email service so that I could get a licensed copy of Office Professional — you could, just not for Mac. The service had the temerity to tell me to go and buy a copy of Office for Mac 2011 if I’d like to use it with Office365. Errrr, no. You’re Microsoft. You’re one brand as far as I’m concerned, so sort it out.

I’m pleased to report that they’ve responded to my cancellation request but unfortunately there is no way they can do this by pressing a button. At least, not yet. They need to speak to me first. And they’re now closed until 9am tomorrow. So I’ll do that.

Meanwhile I had my Google Apps account for The Pursuit of Quality live within about 5 minutes last night.


You still use Tiscali? For your PERSONAL email? You heathen!

I discovered yesterday that a chap I regularly work with is still using Tiscali for his personal email. He’s a high-powered manager, overseeing a number of hugely important projects in the Information Technology industry.

You’d expect more.

At worst, I’d expect at least a Gmail account. At best I’d expect some kind of custom service running on (for example) Google Apps or perhaps even Office365 (a lot of IT folk really still have a lot of love for Microsoft).

The last thing I expected was for this chap to be using a ridiculously old, highly limited, bog standard email service. There’s nothing wrong with it per se.

It just annoys me.

The reason I discovered this shocker was because the chap’s wife is having problems. With her sodding Tiscali account. I mean, obviously. She’s trying to get it to work on her Mac. I pointed the chap to the TalkTalk/Tiscali mailbox setup details but there’s some flaw preventing the computer from sending email.

“It’ll be some mail server rubbish,” I informed him. Something like you need to authenticate the SMTP server. Or blah blah. I don’t care. I don’t want to care. NEITHER should he! That, I think is my problem with it all.

Gmail just works.

Anything else, frankly, works better. Gmail, Yahoo — we’ve now got beyond this sort of rubbish, haven’t we?

I haven’t checked to see what kind of ‘package’ you get with the Tiscali email, but given the fact it’s a freebie included for TalkTalk subscribers (as the chap told me, anyway) and given the fact Tiscali doesn’t exist as an outfit anymore, my expectations are set to zero.

It’s so pedestrian, I think that’s the source of my frustration. In fairness to the chap, he just wants it to work too — he doesn’t want to have to think either.

I suggested that he stop expending any more energy on the Tiscali account and swap his wife to Gmail. He can setup an automatic import for all the old email and he can set-it-and-forget-it. Plus it works with everything. Support is even hardcoded into the iPhone email setup process.

What’s the gold plated solution for personal email nowadays? I think it’s got to be your own domain name running on Google Apps. Or perhaps running on your own dedicated server or some kind of cloud system.

What’s your strategy for personal email? Please tell me you’re not using Tiscali.

Accessories Technology

Clear your Christmas List for Bang & Olufsen

Hello to the team at Bang & Olufsen.

I have a confession to make in this regard. I walked past the Bang & Olufsen shop almost every weekend for about a year when I lived in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. I walked straight past. I didn’t go in.

This is because a) I didn’t want to be tempted and b) I had the wee man (Archie) in the buggy and didn’t think he’d appreciate having to watch me stare at technology for hours.

So Hello to Bang & Olufsen — especially the team at the company’s Glasgow Merchant City store. (By the way, I do recommend checking out their gallery demonstrating the installation of Scotland’s biggest TV — in a room that, if you ask me, really should be a lot bigger). They’ve put together a rather handy Christmas Wish List for tech lovers.

You know what’s coming, right?

Yes. A litany of gorgeous looking, super-expensive technology.

First up? They recommend BeoSound 8. This is precisely what you need if you’ve been thinking about getting a speaker dock for your iPad, iPod or iPhone. Here’s the science bit:

It’s conical speaker eliminates internal resonances and also creates a sleek and unobtrusive design which will suit any room in the home.

I’d buy one. Speaking of which, it’s retailing for £935. Now let’s have a picture of it:

BeoSound 8 in yellow

Next up, the team recommend the BeoCom 2 as “a conversation piece”. I like what they did there — the BeoCom is a phone. But, yes — this is Bang & Olufsen we’re talking about so it’s It’s crafted from a single piece of aluminium, sits naturally in your hand and the gentle curve matches your face. Useful and stylish. £735. I think I need a few of these.

Let’s have a photo of that:

BeoCom 2

I would really like to check out the next gizmo on the list: The BeoTime Alarm Clock. It will, the team at Glasgow reliably state, transform your traditional morning ritual into an extraordinary experience. It’s got a built-in motion sensor along with subtle automatic backlighting. I do very much like the look of this sitting on the bedside table. £299. Here’s the photo (in-situ):


Next, the team list the highly reasonable £105 Form 2 headphones. I’ll just do a link for this one as I’d like to move over to BeoVision now.


BeoVision looks to be the ultimate for me. It’s the last item on the list.

First though, seriously — watch this introductory video:

Now I’ve bought the concept, what’s the BeoVision 4 all about? Well it comes in two sizes: 85″ and 103″.

I automatically want the 103″, obviously.

I won’t bore you with the specs except to quote the BeoVision introductory paragraph:

In BeoVision 4, Bang & Olufsen’s advanced picture engines are combined with the best Full HD 3D plasma screens in 85 or 103 inches, to achieve a phenomenal viewing experience. No ordinary plasma screen can beat BeoVision 4 in terms of long term picture quality. All plasmas degrade with time, but BeoVision 4 has the remedy – in the form of Automatic Colour Management, a unique system that compensates for the effects of aging. A tiny built-in camera serves as your in-house technician, checking your screen after every 100 hours of use and adjusting the colour balance accordingly

Ah I think I need a BeoVision. With my existing setup I can’t tell you how flipping annoying it is having to arse around with the picture/contrast settings every time I want to watch something properly. And then trying to choose between LIVE or SURROUND or ROCK or whatever audio profiles, none of which really seem that good. I won’t admit to you just how embarrassing my existing solution is. It’s shocking. It’s about a billion miles from BeoVision. Suffice to say I had to augment the sound on my existing TV with a set of JBL Creature III speakers.

Besides offering a Full HD 3D “phenomenal viewing experience”, what’s the retail price for the BeoVision then? Care to hazard a guess? Well, I think you’d need to make a choice between either a full spec Range Rover or the BeoVision 4 103″ model.

The 85″ BeoVision 4 is £52,150.

The 103″ BeoVision 4 is £82,085.

This is how it should look in your house:

BeoVision 4

Very, very nice.