Quantcast
Latest Stories
Tested: Overcast Podcast App for iOS

I've spent the last week testing Overcast, a new podcast player from Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper. I spend most of my time in the car listening to podcasts, but I've never found a client that worked exactly as I expect. While there are several apps out there that should provide what I want in a podcast player--a constantly updated list of the shows I listen to, downloaded when I'm on Wi-Fi, and ready to play whenever I hop in the car or hit the play button on my earbuds--every client I've tested has had problems.

In my week of testing, Overcast hasn't had any of the issues I've come to expect from my other podcast players. Whenever I press play in my car or on my earbuds, the last show I was listening to starts playing. When a new version of one of the shows I subscribe to is uploaded, the app downloads it automatically so it's waiting when I want to listen. And once I created an Overcast account (the process is free and took about 15 seconds), my podcast subscriptions and current progress in each episode were synced automatically between my phone, iPad, and the rudimentary web client at http://overcast.fm.

The dynamic playlists are the real heroes of Overcast. The playlists collect the most recent or In addition to all the sorting options that are common to many podcasting apps, when you create a new playlist, you can choose which shows to include (or which of the shows you're subscribed to exclude) and note that a subset of those shows are priority shows. When you play the playlist, it plays episodes you've listed from priority podcasts first, then keeps going down the list of podcasts that are part of that playlist, until a new priority episode hits. Many podcast apps include similar features, but this is the first one I've used that consistently worked the way I expected.

The app is brand new, and has a handful of rough edges. I'd love to be able to set my own defaults for the per-podcast episode retention and notification settings. It's a hassle to have to open settings and adjust the retention from 3 to 1 and turn notifications off for every show I subscribe to. I also encountered some inconsistent behavior when setting shows to be included or excluded from playlists. It took a few times for my changes to stick.

Overcast is free, with a single $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock a handful of advanced features: variable speed playback, voice compression for shows with audio issues, and a nifty feature that shortens shows by removing some of those pregnant pauses. There aren't any ads, but you do need to sign up for a free account if you want syncing to work. If you give Overcast access to your Twitter account, it will pull recommendations for new shows to listen to from your feed. The free version of Overcast is already the best podcast client I've used for iOS and it's well worth the $5 if you want any of the additional features or just want to support people who make great software.

Hands-On with Nvidia's Shield Tablet

Nvidia's first Shield was a dedicated gaming handheld, but its new model is a high-end tablet with gaming accessories. We spend a little time with Nvidia's new Android gaming tablet, compare it to the original Shield portable, and give our thoughts on this device's appeal to PC and mobile gamers.

Tested Builds: Japanese Papercraft, Part 2

Will and Norm continue to build the Porco Rosso Japanese papercraft kit, and the details of the structure they're constructing being to take shape! We only got through one page of the instructions in the first episode, so this next one is extra long at over an hour to catch up and keep page. To watch and follow along with the build, sign up for a Tested Premium Membership by clicking here.

The Best Blu-ray Player Today

After spending almost 20 hours with the best new Blu-ray players for 2014, the $90 LG BP540 came out on top after our previous pick was discontinued. The LG fits our criteria for a good player thanks to integrated Wi-Fi and the most popular streaming apps. More importantly, it has a better interface and video quality than the competition and offers the best combination of price and performance of those we looked at.

Who am I to make that claim? I’ve been handling almost all the Blu-ray reviews for Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity since 2010 and have had nearly three dozen players come through my hands. I’ve subjected them to countless objective and subjective tests. I’ve even thrown them on a $15,000 HDMI Analyzer to verify their performance. Often, as is the case with the LG, the picture from a cheap player is 100 percent identical to an $8,000 player’s.

If the LG BP540 sells out, the $90 Sony BDP-S3200 is our runner-up choice that is almost as good. The menu system is more confusing than our top pick’s and the overall interface leaves a lot to be desired, but it offers a wide selection of streaming content, and Blu-ray content does very well. Be warned, though: The Sony shows some jaggies while watching DVD content with diagonal lines.

With more expensive players, you’re usually paying for better CD playback quality or niche features. Along those lines, and if you also want the absolute best in audio and video quality, the $600 Oppo BDP-103D is the best high-end player you can buy. It has better DVD scaling than any other tested player, performs flawlessly even with foreign content and weird frame rates, and supports all audio formats as well. The integrated Darbee video processing is a favorite of most reviewers, including video purists, and Oppo has better service and support than other companies. For most people, though, the price difference isn’t justified.

Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured.

If you only want Blu-ray playback and don’t care about streaming whatsoever, the Samsung BD-H5100 is our step-down choice at $63. It does fine with Blu-ray content and the lack of Wi-Fi saves you some money, though it also means you’ll have to perform firmware updates manually or have hardwired Ethernet to do so. You’ll want to have updated firmware since it may affect your ability to play newer Blu-ray discs in the future.

Our pick from 2013, the Sony BDP-S5100, would still be our recommended pick if it were still being manufactured, but alas, it is not. It was less expensive than the LG, had the same streaming options, and loaded discs faster. If you bought our pick from last year, or you happen to find it somewhere on closeout, there is no real need to upgrade.

Tested Builds: Japanese Papercraft, Part 1

The month non-stop of Tested Builds continues! This week, we embark on a whole new kind of project: an intricate Japanese papercraft scale model from a classic animated film. It's an ambitious model kit that neither of us have attempted before, so join us for the fun! To watch, sign up for a Tested Premium Membership by clicking here.

How To Build a Life-Size Dragon

Norm's note: Frank first showed us his Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate dragon sculpt before this year's E3. Frank has since written up his build, which we wanted to share ahead of this week's Comic-Con--where the Gore Magala creature will be on display at the Capcom booth.

I love video games and video game culture, and last year was stoked to be asked to be a part of a team doing the Zombie makeups for Capcom's Dead Rising 3 booth at E3. It was there that I befriended the creative services team in charge of all of these cool trade show events and displays. Jump ahead to a few months ago, when I received a call from the team lead at Capcom to bid on the making of a display sculpture for one of their upcoming games: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate!

The concept was to have a 20-foot tall backdrop with a huge image of one of the game’s monsters, and have the front third of it coming out of the backdrop. Big is sort of an understatement here; once I did some quick math to put it into scale, the sculpture I would have to create would be almost 8 feet tall, 14 feet wide, and 12 feet long. To bid on something of this size is really tough. Most trade show displays are carved or milled out of bead foam and then hard coated, which leaves very little finished detail. But this monster has a lot of detail. So I had to figure a solution that could provide that kind of detail while keeping costs reasonable. After that came an engineering problem: how would this thing support itself? Additionally, it has to be transported to multiple venues and be durable enough for the public to interact with. So it also needed to come apart. Not easy!

After some back-and-forth details of the deliverables and specifications, and some careful planning and budgeting, I was awarded the job, which would be guilt in my newly expanded shop. Here is what my team and I came up with for the design of this build.

Karakuri Puppets, Japan's Automata

"Japans modern day robots can be traced back to the Karakuri. Today Hideki Higashino is one of the few remaining craftsmen who is determined to keep the history and tradition of Japanese Karakuri alive." This past Saturday, production house Bot & Dolly hosted the fourth annual Robot Film Festival in San Francisco (MCed by friend of Tested Veronica Belmont). It was a celebration of films starring and documenting our fascination with robots, with showings of short films and the 2005 Japanese science fiction film Hinokio. The film festival has made past entries available online, and 2013's films--including the one above on Japanese Karakuri--are just wonderful. I especially like that there's a category for Best Human as Robot Actor.

In Brief: Predicting Someone's Age By Their Name

In the new Planet of the Apes movie, Keri Russell's character briefly talks about how she had a young daughter who died of the simian flu virus. As the character was telling the story, my friend--who had not seen the film--leaned over to me and said "I bet her daughter's name was Sarah." And indeed, just a second later, that's what was uttered on screen. This prediction led to a discussion post-screening about why Sarah was such a suitable (and predictable) name to evoke the image of a child never seen in the film. Why is Sarah evocative of a young child and not a name like Bessie or Helen? Earlier this year, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight did a statistical analysis of the popularity of names, based on public data from Social Security Administration. We've seen websites and apps that show how popular names are over time, but Silver's team went a step further to calculate the median ages for every common and uncommon name, for both male and female names. Of all living Sarah's, for example, the median age is 26. While if you were to meet a Helen in person, it's more likely that she's older, given that the median age for Helen's still alive is 73. And the names with the youngest median age? For girls, it's Ava, and for boys, it's Liam. Jayden comes in at a close second. Thanks, Will and Jada.

Norman
How The Evil Dead's Tom Sullivan Mastered Low-Budget Effects

When Sam Raimi went to college at Michigan State, he formed a tight group of filmmaking friends. Scott Spiegel, who wrote Evil Dead 2, bonded with Raimi over their mutual love of The Three Stooges. Bruce Campbell became Raimi’s square jawed leading man, and Rob Tapert would become Sam’s long time producer. Another important member of that filmmaking fraternity was Tom Sullivan, who did the make-up effects for The Evil Dead. If Raimi's seminal horror debut is renowned for its low-budget production, it was Sullivan who gets the credit for providing those memorable scares with such limited resources.

Part of what made The Evil Dead so enjoyable was its very homemade feel. It was a completely independent movie, and like the best low budget movies that break out into the mainstream, enthusiasm and spirit triumphed over whatever technical flaws the movie had. Sullivan was a major facilitator in bringing Raimi’s insane vision to life, and as a long time horror fan, I welcomed the chance to talk to him about his memories of working on The Evil Dead.

Tom Sullivan first met up with Sam Raimi because his girlfriend was attending Michigan State as the same time as the wunderkind director. Sullivan had heard about Sam’s Creative Filmmaking Society, where he would show his 8mm movies he made in junior high and high school, and charge a buck or so for admission. “Sam was surrounded by a group of friends who were all interested in filmmaking and acting,” Sullivan says. “He had his own little company.”

When Sullivan met Raimi, they immediately hit it off because Tom was fascinated with stop-motion animation, special effects, claymation, and puppets, and these were all filmmaking techniques that were right up Raimi’s alley. All were solitary pursuits for Sullivan, and now he found a filmmaker with a like mind he could collaborate with.