Making Sense of Streaming TV
Many TV viewers have been turning to an ever-growing number of streaming services to get their entertainment, sports, and news. Some are adding streaming to enhance their satellite or cable service, and some are completely switching to streaming because they're "cutting the cord" from satellite and cable. Sometimes I feel like we are little islands in a river, and we have this abundance of services streaming by us. It's hard to know which ones to hook into. If we're not careful, we could wind up spending more money than if we had the most premium Xfinity pacakage. It can also be confusing to know the difference between, say, Netflix and Prime, or Apple TV and Apple TV+. Here's a short tutorial on what the various streaming services are and how to receive them.
First, let's break down the terminology into two categories: streaming services and streaming devices.
A streaming service is a "channel," such as Netflix, Hulu or Peacock that provide video on demand. A streaming device is a physical piece of hardware that allows you to watch a service on your TV.
Each service offers it's own library of TV shows and movies, and most have a monthly or annual subscription fee. A service like Netflix will have shows and movies that it licenses from many different production studios. They will also have in-house TV series and movies that they (Netflix) produce. And some services, such as Peacock, will only have entertainment from their parent company (NBC in Peacock's case).
In addition to those I just mentioned, here are a few more examples of popular services and what type of content they have to offer:
Prime Video: Owned by Amazon, this service is a lot like Netflix. When you sign up for Amazon Prime to get that great free shipping on Amazon's shopping website, you also get Prime Video.
Disney+: Owned by Disney (obviously), this service has nearly all Disney movies and shows from Walt Disney Studios and the Disney Channel going back since the days of Walt. It also includes the different holdings that Disney owns today, such as Marvel, Jim Henson's Muppets, and Star Wars.
Hulu: This service is also much like Netflix with it's broad range of entertainment from many sources. They also offer a live TV streaming option (called Hulu + Live TV). You get many of the same channels you would get with a cable or satellite subscription, plus local channels and sports networks. Hulu + Live TV is attractive to many cord cutters, due to the available channels and sports content.
YouTube TV: Owned by Google, YouTube TV is a direct competitor to Hulu's live service. You get many of the same channels you would get with a cable or satellite subscription, plus local channels and sports networks.
HBO Max: Hold on to your hats– this is where it gets crazy. It is different than plain old HBO that you might get with your cable or satellite provider. HBO Max is a streaming service that lets you stream HBO, plus even more movies, TV favorites, as well as new HBO Max original content.
You can also stream just HBO by itself. That service used to be called HBO Now and HBO Go. Just to confuse everyone. Now they simply call it HBO.
Apple TV+: This is Apple's on-demand video streaming service, featuring content that it has purchased or has had produced. Apple TV+ is NOT the same thing as Apple TV. Again, just to confuse everyone.
Apple TV is a streaming device. It is a physical, little box that you can buy at the mall or online. It plugs into your TV and connects to your internet. When you turn it on, you can then select and subscribe to your various streaming services, like Netflix or Apple TV+. Apple TVs also integrate seamlessly with any other Apple products you may own.
Another popular streaming device is Roku. like an Apple TV, it is also a physical box that works the same way. Amazon is into the game, as well, with their Fire HD device. They also offer a tiny yet powerful version called the Fire Stick. And, of course, Google is in on the action with its Chromecast TV device. Any of these devices will get most of your streaming services. Those services that aren't preloaded are usually available by download to your device.
The last type of device I'd like to share with you is the "Smart TV." This simply means that, if your TV has this designation, then it can connect directly to the internet and act as a streaming device. However, do your research. Not all brands of smart TVs get all streaming services. All TVs made today are considered "smart." If you have an older model at home, though, look to see if it's a smart TV. That way you'll know if you can use your TV for streaming, or if you'll have to purchase an external device like an Apple TV.
There are many different streaming devices and even more streaming services that I don't have the space to mention. It's best to do your research on the cost of the device and the cost of the subscriptions. You should also think about which services have the type of content you want to watch. If you're not careful, those $9.99/month subscriptions can add up fast!
Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to help you navigate these waters and get you the exact device and services that are right for you.
If you don't already use a mobile payment app, chances are, you've at least heard of them. You may have had a friend trying to pay you back for lunch at Zingerman's ask, "Do you have Venmo?" Or, perhaps you've seen the Apple Pay logo on myriad credit card machines in stores. More than ever, these payment systems are growing and becoming mainstream. Let's explore what exactly mobile payment apps are, and should you be using them?
First, what is a mobile payment app? As the name suggests, it's an application that you can use from your smartphone to pay for things. The various types basically fall into two categories.
1. Apps to pay for goods and services directly to businesses
2. Apps to send money directly to another person (known as person-to-person or P2P)
Examples of payment apps in the first category include Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, and PayPal. Some of them come pre-installed on your smartphone, and some you have to download. To use one of the apps, you need to enter and store your credit card information. This is done securely, as only you can access it with your passcode, Touch ID, or facial recognition. When you go to pay for something at the store, your authorization sends your payment information as an anonymized token (an encrypted version of your credit card number). Your actual number is not sent, so paying with the app is considered safer than physically handing over your card. Additionally, these transmissions comply with the same encryption security standards as regular card payments. And, most banks these days have a no-liability policy to protect you against fraud, so you can use the app with peace of mind.
All of the above mentioned apps also fall into the second category: Person-to-Person (P2P) transactions. With each one, you can securely link your bank account or bank debit card in order to pay a friend directly. Two additional apps in this division are Zelle and Venmo. While you can't use the latter two in a store at the credit card machine, they are secure ways to pay individuals. You'll find that many banks have incorporated Zelle into their own mobile apps. Venmo is so popular, in fact, that we've seen its verbification: "Can I Venmo you that?"
Zelle transactions go directly from your bank account to your friend's bank account. (Same with Google Pay.) With Venmo and the other apps, when someone pays you, the money goes into a holding area. You then must transfer it to your bank account, which takes 1-3 days. (Note: Venmo will allow you to receive funds directly to your bank account for a small fee.)
Think of using P2P apps for paying individuals to be just like handing over cash to someone, so be careful. When the transaction is complete, you can't get your money back if you change your mind or sent it to the wrong person (unless your payee has a conscience). It's important, therefore, that you only use P2P apps with someone you know.
Employed smartly, though, mobile payment apps are a quick, convenient, and safe way to make transactions. Before setting up the first one on my phone a few years ago, I called my bank to get its opinion. The response I received was reassuring, and I've been using 4 of these apps ever since. Mobile payment apps are growing in number and are here to stay for the time being. According to a NerdWallet survey in 2020, 79% of Americans reported using mobile payment apps. So go ahead and use them–use them wisely, and use them confidently.
Recently, a client of mine shared an article with me about how China was behind a recent hack of Microsoft Exchange servers across the U.S., allowing unauthorized access to hundreds of thousands of emails. Reports like this are both scary and frustrating–scary in the sense that we want to feel our data is safe, and frustrating in that most of us can't keep up with all of the latest security prevention methods.
I've talked before about ways to keep your privacy and data safe, but here I'll go into some detail about some of the easiest steps you can take to keep out unwanted hackers. Of course, a good first step is to be sure the computer's firewall protection is turned on. You can find this in Windows by typing "Windows Defender Firewall" in the search box. On a Mac, go to Security & Privacy in your System Preferences.
Of course, it's also beneficial to make sure you have solid, reputable malware protection installed. Be careful in which one you select, however. A few out there will actually slow down your computer and make it run like it's on drugs.
Aside from firewall and malware protection, though, the easiest step you can take is to keep your computer's software up-to-date. This goes for your operating system, as well as your applications. We've all seen those notifications. They pop up whenever we're in the middle of doing something important. I think we've all grown so accustomed to seeing popups for ads and scams that we instinctively dismiss almost any alert. And if we do happen to read them and think that they're legit, remember, we're in the middle of something important and can't be disturbed right now. We'll get to it later.
Next thing we know, our operating system is three generations behind and is out-of-date.
Another reason we don't install the latest software updates–and I'm guilty of this too–is that we're afraid they may contain bugs, or they'll make some of our applications nonfunctional. To be honest, bugs, glitches, and obsolescence do happen. That's why it's important to read what improvements come with the new version. If it's a new security patch, like the one Microsoft initiated, then upgrade it immediately. If the update is merely for cosmetic changes or new features, then it's okay to wait a month to make sure the developer has fixed any unexpected bugs. (Note: people sometimes confuse "bugs" with "viruses." Bugs are not malicious–they are mostly just small dysfunctions in a program caused by a mistake in the code.) Often, updates are exactly that: they fix the known bugs in the software, and it's a good idea to download them.
Clients ask me, "Should I do this update? Do I need it?" The short answer is almost always yes. If not immediately, then very soon. For my own computers, I follow the same advice. Not only do I get excited about seeing new features in an update (yes, I'm a nerd that way), but I also sleep better knowing that I have the latest security patches to defend against hackers.
It wasn't too long ago that setting up an email account seemed like a real fun idea. It was the greatest invention to come along since a phone you could carry in your pocket. But now, a lot of the luster has worn off, and our grand electronic postal service that was supposed to help us quickly communicate with friends, family, and business colleagues has turned into a dumping ground for sales announcements from LL Bean, Hotel Deals This Weekend Only! and corny jokes and stories that have made the rounds around the internet so many times they're received like fruitcakes at Christmas. The stories probably weren't even true anyway.
These emails come so fast and so abundantly. We haven't the time to keep up–not even to delete them. As a result, we end up with thousands of unread messages in our Inbox, and we run the risk of missing the important ones. Or, at the very worst, we give up and don't even bother checking them anymore. What can we do to regain control?
1. One method to resolve this issue is to cut bait and delete everything older than 30 days (or whatever timeframe you're most comfortable with). Think of it as an Amnesty Day for old emails that were waiting to be read. Let them go. If something was that important, and you missed it, chances are likely that the person or organization would have called you by now. You will end up with a much more manageable garden to then go weed. Save this one, delete that one, etc.
2. Additionally, one trick to preemptively handle future onslaughts of unwanted emails is to click on Unsubscribe, usually found at the bottom of commercial emails in tiny faint letters. Be sure to wear your progressive lenses. Note: only click on Unsubscribe in emails from legitimate businesses and organizations. Companies, like Target, will honor your request and take you off of their mailing list. Dubious players, like Ukrainian Wines Cheap!, will not. In fact, clicking Unsubscribe here will likely encourage them to send you more junk.
3. An alternative, the nuclear option, is to start all over with a new email address. If you choose this solution, be sure to send out an email to all of your contacts stating that you want them to email you at your new address. Don't forget to let your doctors and other services know, too!
Once you've cleaned out your Inbox and have 0 unread emails, It's a good idea to check it frequently enough that you don't let them accumulate again. From now on, that red bubble with the number in it will have regained significance and legitimacy.
Spilling coffee on your laptop, a power surge during a summer storm, or plain old hard drive failure. These are just a few things that can cause your computer to crash and for you to lose access to whatever you had stored on it–photos, music, documents, and more. If this were to happen, what would you lose? Would it be "game over," or do you have a backup plan?
Having a good backup system in place is a core element in managing your digital life. (And, as much as many of us hate to admit it, almost all of us do indeed have a digital life in some fashion or another.) Fortunately, the process of making sure your important items are backed up isn't as daunting as it seems.
There are a few solutions that are readily available. One that requires almost no work at all is cloud computing. It's a fancy shmancy term for having your data synced and backed up to a computer that's located somewhere else. If you have a Gmail account, you are using "the cloud." Your emails are located on a server that Google owns, and any device you use to access your email talks to that server. Google Drive is the same thing, only with documents. Any changes you make from any device are synced on Google's cloud server. Microsoft has OneDrive, and Apple has iCloud for email, photos, documents, and other data.
However, simply owning an iPhone or MacBook doesn't guarantee that you're using the cloud. You have to turn it on in System Preferences. Likewise, if you download a Google Doc to your computer and make changes to it, it doesn't mean that the new version is necessarily stored in the cloud anymore. While there are some procedures to follow, fortunately they're not difficult once you get started.
Cloud computing aside, it's also a good idea to backup your entire computer to an external hard drive on a regular basis. Both Macs and Windows PCs have programs that can automate this function for you. You just need to purchase the hard drive. Good news: they're not that expensive, and they hold a lot of data! From your external hard drive, you can even restore your entire system should you experience a crash or buy a new computer and want everything back the way it was.
Managing your digital life is something necessary–like going to the dentist twice a year (but not as painful as getting a filling). With a few procedures in place, you can feel confident that your important documents and family photos are backed up. You'll be ready when lightning strikes!
2020 has been a crummy year on so many different levels. For many families, one of the greatest hardships of the year has been being isolated from loved ones. For those of us who have family in assisted living, the lockdowns have been excruciating. There was one bright spot, however, that made this year a little better: the Echo Show smart display with Alexa.
When my dad went into assisted living about a year and a half ago, we wanted some way that we could communicate with him at any time of day or night. At first, we thought that we could simply FaceTime or Zoom with Dad, but we soon realized that his motor skills and lack of technology experience put an end to those video chat options. It wasn't that we weren't comfortable calling him. It was that he wasn't able to answer those calls. That's where the Echo Show came to the rescue.
Of course, the one we gave him was only intended to supplement the in-person visits that we had with him. Little did we know those visits would soon come to an end when COVID hit. Suddenly, the Echo Show was the main method of communicating with him.
The great aspect of the Echo Show is the Drop-In feature. It does what the name suggests–it allows you to "drop in" on the person you're calling. All you have to do is begin the video chat on your end (with a smartphone or another Echo Show), and it will call the person on the other end, with audio and video activated. In other words, my dad didn't have to do anything to answer the call. We could instantly see and hear him, and vice-versa. (Note: users have the option to turn this feature off for privacy.)
We liked the Echo Show so much that we set one up for my mother-in-law down in Florida. She doesn't live in a nursing home, but she has Parkinson's disease and has great difficulty holding a phone steady. Now we can drop in anytime to see her. In addition, when she's not using the Echo Show for our video chats, she utilizes its Alexa voice assistant to control the device. She can have it play music, show pictures, and fetch the weather and news.
I've recommended the Echo Show for many of my clients who live in or have family who live in assisted living, senior living, and independent living. While some of them don't like things that are "too techie," they all agree that this device has been very helpful. To me, it's one of the few material objects that made 2020 a little more bearable.