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We've landed in Vegas, just in time to enjoy the proverbial calm before the storm that will be the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. Motorized carts zoom around the parking lot as the Las Vegas Convention Center begins to take shape -- as always, getting the million-dollar-booths fully dressed before the curtain comes up next week seems an impossible task, but the crews will come through, making the finished product a far-cry from what we see today. And as exciting as it can be to roam the halls of the LVCC and surrounding venues during the show, the pageantry of CES is really about the products, including many of which we haven't heard so much as a peep about in the weeks leading up to the show. But as the booths inside will remain veiled until company heads have a chance to brief attendees, a few hints have begun popping up outside the convention center, as workers hang sponsored banners above and along the massive entranceways. Some of these product hints serve to confirm previous rumors, so join us past the break for an early look at what's to come.

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Channel Master TV review

If you prefer your DVR with no strings attached, your choices are pretty limited these days. You can of course roll your own, but admittedly, that isn't for everyone. Channel Master does plan to change that, though, as it's currently accepting pre-orders for its over-the-air DVR with over-the-top features that doesn't require a subscription. The Channel Master TV ($399) should be hitting retailers and homes this week, and since we love DVRs, especially when they're free from commitments, we decided to take it for a spin. Click through to see how it stacks up.

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The new "whole home solution" from TiVo consisting of the four tuner Premiere Q DVR and Preview extender is finally available for the first time, from RCN. The initial rollout is taking place in the Washington D.C. area, marketed as the Whole Home Bundle consisting of one Premiere Q and one Preview for $29.99 monthly. Additional Preview extenders, which lack tuners and hard drives entirely, can be added for $9.99 per month. While DVR features like pausing live TV aren't currently available, Gizmo Lovers points out a DSLReports post by an RCN rep indicating that early next year it will gain the ability to start recordings on the Q remotely, so users can press record, then pause, rewind, or fast forward freely. The Preview box still has yet to hit retail, but those who need four tuners in their TiVo can always pick up the Premiere Elite which features a bigger hard drive than the Q. A press release with all the details is after the break, or you can check the forum post for more Q&A.

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Autumn is fast approaching -- and you know what that means: it's round about time for an Xbox Dashboard update. Sure, we got a peek of Microsoft's upcoming harvest back at E3, but the good folks from Redmond invited us to take a closer look at what they're calling the "most significant update to the Dashboard since NXE." Senior project Manager Terry Ferrell was on-site to walk us through an early engineering beta and show us how an updated Metro UI, Bing search and deeper Kinect integration is going to change the way folks manage their entertainment content.

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It ain't nearly as monumental as the day that YouTube actually started supporting high-def videos, but it'll certainly make those who routinely upload HD content a bit happier. We're talking about two new additions put forth by the YT team: HD preview images and a logoless playback option. Any new video uploaded to the site in a resolution of 480p or higher will have an HD preview image wherever the player is embedded, and we're told that preexisting HD videos will be updated "in the next few weeks." Moving right along, that pesky YouTube watermark (seen above) will be no more should you choose to nix it, but it's not as simple as just ticking a box; you'll need to add "?modestbranding=1" at the end of the video URL in order to make it disappear. So, celebratory drinks at noon?

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Our trailer was just visited by an iriver rep bearing his company's Kindle killer in waiting, the Story HD. This 6-inch e-reader touts a bodacious 1024 x 768 resolution, which contributes to an even better contrast ratio than on Amazon's E Ink slate, while software optimizations between now and release are expected to make the Story HD the fastest-refreshing device of its kind. The display itself is built by LG Display and is accompanied by a Freescale Cortex A8 CPU, 2GB of onboard storage, and an SDHC card-reading slot. Sun rays are, as expected, absolutely no problem and we have to admit that on first sight we thought the device had a sticker affixed to its front -- its that good at reproducing printed materials. Physically, it seems to have been constructed with the third-gen Kindle as its dimensional blueprint, albeit with quite a different control scheme. The hand-built proto unit we played with wasn't really ready to have its ergonomics judged properly, but iriver has plenty of time until the expected May launch to iron out any kinks. Content distribution partnerships have already been sewn up for the US, so now it's just a matter of patience until we get our e-reading on in gorgeous XGA resolution. Video hands-on after the break.

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Sure, we already told you what Hulu Plus looked like on iPhone, iPad and a Samsung TV, and not much has changed since that juncture, but we expect a number of you care quite a bit about how it will operate on PlayStation 3, especially considering you'll (presently) have to cough up an additional $50 annually for the privilege. The good news is it's absolutely nothing like the PS3's disc-based Netflix solution -- here, you're looking at a responsive experience through and through, and the interface is about as simple and full-featured as we'd hoped.

After a 28MB download, we were invited to either log in with an email/password combination or link our console at Hulu's website, both of which launched the program nigh instantly from the hard drive. The interface afterwards is a dead-ringer for the Samsung TV version, except optimized for console control, with the analog stick and shoulder buttons smartly seeking through programs at high speed, or tapped to jump ahead in fifteen-second increments. You can similarly adjust video quality (and thus, bandwidth usage) with a press of the R1 button, watch picture-in-picture programs while you browse, and the search function admirably narrows down Hulu's content as quickly as you can type the letters in. It does have its bugs, like when we tried to watch High Fidelity and were asked if we wanted to subscribe to the show, and there was the time we got caught in an unending advertising loop for body wash, but that time we think the app was just trying to tell us something. Yeah, we'd better run out to the store, but don't go away -- hit the gallery below for a brief tour.

Update: Our friends at Joystiq have a video walkthrough; check it after the break!

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In every geek's life, the time must come when he or she steps away from the pocket-friendly compact point-and-shooter and straps up with a hefty DSLR to do real photography with. Or such was the received wisdom until not too long ago. It's still the case that lenses, bound by the laws of physics, will protrude more than most of us want them to, but mirrorless Micro Four Thirds shooters from Olympus and Panasonic, along with Samsung's NX series, have shown that prosumer camera bodies don't always have to be that bulky. This is the stage upon which the NEX-5 enters, with Sony predictably aiming to outdo everyone using an ultraslim magnesium alloy body that delivers 1080p video and 14 megapixel stills. Join us after the break to see what we thought of the Japanese giant's latest product.

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We're less than a day away from another MLB season starting and the league is celebrating by throwing up another free preview of its online streaming platform. Viewable through a variety of mediums (including iPad, Boxee and Roku of course) there's even more HD streams promised, with VOD access to archived baseball games, a new pitch-by-pitch display and the requisite DVR and multigame viewing features. Unfortunately blackout rules can still put a crimp in the player's style, even with prices rising once again to their $119 (Premium with DVR, home or away broadcast and Multi-Game View) or $99.95 (standard) levels, keeping an eye on the TV schedule will be as important as checking out the bandwidth meter on the Flash-powered player before deciding to pay up for continued access.

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Popcorn Hour C-200 media streamer
It looks like Popcorn Hour's C-200 media streamer is making its way into end-users' hands, so prepare yourself for a flurry of reviews. Our friend Brent over at GeekTonic should be jumping into the fray soon, and has kicked things off with a preview. Yeah, the C-200 is bigger than its sibling A-100, but it brings so much to the table that we'd say Popcorn Hour has packed in just as much -- if not more -- goodness per cubic inch. With space available for a hard and/or Blu-ray drive, wired and wireless networking, and USB ports to round out the input connectivity, the C-200 then adds a smorgasbord of codec support just to make sure your bits will survive the translation back into entertainment. With the "it plays anything" kind of capability the C-200 is promising, we've got a feeling that a positive review or two might be the only thing standing between us and a $300 dent in our credit cards.

[Via ZatzNotFunny]

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The folks over at HDGuru managed to spend a few quality minutes with Samsung's forthcoming hybrid player, and initial impressions look to be pretty positive. Granted, their BD-UP5000 was a pre-production sample, but they were mighty impressed with the BD-Java / HDi support, HDMI 1.3 functionality, and the Reon scaler chip within. During limited time with the player, the assortment of HD DVDs and Blu-ray films that they got to view "all looked spectacular, with every image appearing clean, crisp and sharp as a tack," and the "faster chapter changes and quicker entry into other menu functions" compared to previous generation units were highly praised, too. Overall, it seems that we've got a respectable combo player on the horizon for those not willing to choose a side, so be sure and give the read link a visit if you're too impatient to wait for a full-on review.

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If you're quickly growing frustrated with the excess heat that tends to build up within your H20, the folks over at DBSTalk have managed to score a first look at its replacement, the H21-200. This HD receiver (read: no DVR capabilities) is essentially an upgraded H20 that sports a currently unused Ethernet port (shown after the jump), adds a coaxial digital audio output, reportedly responds "much quicker" to the remote than the HR20, and best of all, seems to "run much cooler" than the unit it will inevitably replace. Of course, we don't envision too many of you clamoring to get your palms around a device that doesn't record, but if you're interested in DirecTV's upcoming answer for your secondary (or tertiary) set, hit the read link and dig in.

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Universal Remote's company name leaves little unsaid about what its core competencies truly are, and its latest professional-series remote recently got a bit of hands-on time with the crowd at Electronic House. The MX-810 Pro Wizard was purportedly designed to work with setups ranging from a single room to an entire home, and sports a color LCD, 44 hard buttons, RF / infrared compatibility, rechargeable Li-ion, and hot keys for powering up select groups of components. Interestingly, this unit also includes 32MB of built-in memory to store commands that control "up to 24 activities for each of 24 different devices programmed into eight LCD pages." Of course, this also means that you'll need at least a week of vacation to actually program this $399 gizmo once it hits your doorstep in July.

[Photo courtesy of Tony Scarpetta]

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We can't deny feeling a little rush of excitement when we first learned that LG would be releasing an optical drive that could handle both Blu-ray and HD DVD discs -- like many fence-sitters, we see these combo units as an end run around the format war -- so obviously we were quite stoked to read ExtremeTech's initial thoughts on one of these devices (provided by HP in what was likely an upcoming Media Center). Bearing in mind that neither the review unit nor the drivers were finalized versions, it sounds like the GGW-H10N does indeed live up to its promise of reading nearly every disc format available as well as burning and Lightscribing Blu-ray media, DVDs, and CDs; however, Blu-ray write speeds were well below the claimed 2x in testing, and the lack of HD DVD-R/RW read support could prove to be a rather frequent annoyance unless it's rectified through a firmware update (or HD DVD pulls a Betamax). Bottom line: if you just can't wait any longer to jump into the game, this LG drive will give you most of the capabilities you're looking for -- but with a likely pricetag of $1,000 and more full-featured models probably right down the road, it would seem to pay off if you can just keep on waitin'...

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It's that time again folks, when you gleefully head on over to TiVo's website and download a new release of its desktop software to add more of those PC / TiVo integration features you love so dearly. While we've watched the software mature from 2.1 to 2.2, right on up to the much-anticipated 2.3, it's now time for 2.4 to shine, albeit in beta fashion for the time being. While the now-prior rendition allowed users to convert TiVo recordings into mobile-friendly versions for a $25 fee, 2.4 seeks to offer up the process a bit in reverse by allowing non-DRM-laced video files on your PC to be transcoded for playback on your TiVo box. Unfortunately, the $25 fee for the required TiVo Desktop Plus upgrade key is still again in place, and while this process can be done manually for those looking to save a few bills, at least the company is offering up a simplified alternative for those with more money than time. Additionally, users can look forward to broadcasting "HD resolution" (read: up to 1,280 x 720) photos from their PC to a Series3 unit, but beta software wouldn't be complete without a stash of digs built in. Aside from the list of known issues that will hopefully be ironed out by the final release, Mac users won't be enjoying any of these niceties right away, and of course, the $25 fee is a debatable downside as well. Still, for those looking to get their transcoding on with non-protected WMV and MP4 / H.264 files, and don't mind the expected hiccups associated with a "preview release," be sure to hit the read link for your downloading satisfaction, and tap the Via for a few snapshots while you're at it.

[Via ZatsNotFunny]

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