All posts by DRhodes

SmartGlass Brings Secondary Display to Xbox

SmartGlass lets your tablet become a secondary display in supported Xbox games. (Image via Engadget)


Once upon a time, home video games were a ball bouncing around hitting a moving paddle or a tank shooting at an opponent tank where the gaming console was connected to your home television. Color wasn’t even a given on that set, where black and white or shades of gray was more than enough. Fast forward quite a few years and things haven’t changed that much, as you’re still connecting the gaming consoles to the television. It is just the TV is now HD, providing you with a much stronger graphics palette. The tank battles have gotten a little more complicated thanks to the richer hardware capabilities of today’s machines, but it is still pretty much the same contest: killing an opponent and capturing a “flag” for the reward or just scoring more points.

One of the leading gaming consoles today is the Xbox, coming out of Microsoft. According to a recent earnings report, Microsoft has sold 70 million units of this console. It is not your typical console any more though. It provides an HDMI connector to your HDTV, allowing that “big basketball game” to be seen and heard on an HD television. In addition to hooking up your Xbox to your television, Microsoft has created a sort of companion program that runs on nearly all the latest phones, tablets and Windows-based computeroperating systems out there. Throw in Android, iOS and Windows Phone, and you have hit a large portion of your available audience. This companion program is called SmartGlass.

SmartGlass connects to your Xbox 360 and turns any compatible device into either an output source for media or, more importantly, a real controller for your Internet connectivity through the Xbox. Think of it as a secondary display. For instance, while playing a war game, you might want to see a map. Previously, you would have needed to “pause” the live action within the game and popped up a map on your TV over the game. Now, with SmartGlass, there is no pausing. Just look (quickly) at your device running the SmartGlass application and the map will always be there, tracking your location in the game as you roam around. When watching a DVD on the console, running SmartGlass on your device presents information about the show’s actors and sound tracks. It even acts as the cursor when running the newly integrated Internet Explorer.

Probably the biggest surprise of all with SmartGlass is its integration with iOS and Android. Sure, it will run on a Surface tablet or a Windows Phone, but if nobody has those, the app is useless. Typically, Microsoft is of the “me, me, me” mentality: if it doesn’t benefit Microsoft, it doesn’t get done. So, all those iPhone, iPadand Android fans get to play with SmartGlass, too, if they have an Xbox.

The latest news related to SmartGlass is the fact that ESPN will be using the device as a second screen when watching the main feed through the Xbox. Imagine picking up around the league highlights on an iPad while watching the main game without interruption, and doing a screen swap if matters get more interesting. There was talk of the SmartGlass device having a statistical view, too, but that appears to not be in the initial release.

Overall, what SmartGlass does is great, if you have an Xbox. What most companies are also doing though is bringing similar technology to every mobile/tablet based application out there that connects to a television/radio program. Syncing audio once the application starts up, you can then buy a product demonstrated on screen or see those stats related to the players in the game. I guess Microsoft feels that SmartGlass has a better chance of breaking into the app marketplace via the Xbox than the Microsoft Phone does into the mobile market on its own.

About the Author: Danielle blogs on behalf of Sears and other brands she uses.

Don’t Feel Blu(Ray): Finding Nemo

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For those living under the sea since its 2003 premier, the story of the animated film kicks off with a tragedy: a family of fish is eaten by a barracuda, leaving only the dad and one son. Yes, this is a G-rated kids movie, just like Bambi. Fast forward a few years and the son, Nemo, swims a little too far away from an overprotective father and is captured by a scuba diver to live in a fish tank in a dentist’s office. His father, Marlin, frantically sets out to save him. With the help of a forgetful fish, Dory, he journeys to Sydney, Australia, encountering sharks, jellyfish and sea turtles.

The vibrant video comes in 1080p High Definition with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The audio track is presented in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD. Both provide a beautiful view with to-die-for sound. The original animated imagery is starting to show its age as it isn’t as sharp as newer films, but that’s about the only minor complaint one can make. Watching this, one literally feels like they are under the sea with the fish.

As far as the story goes, it is your typical rescue scenario of a parent losing a child. The film is full of humor and an assortment of enjoyable characters. You’ll get emotional throughout, rooting for the success of the rescue. A definite winner, as shown by its 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Disney is well known for putting lots of extras on their discs, and this release is no different. Your typical outtakes and deleted scenes are there, but also present is a roundtable discussion by the filmmakers. There is even the early artwork of an alternative opening (no spoilers here). Given the underwater nature of the film, there is a great HD Aquarium that you can just leave running all day. This looks amazing on the LED TV. The 3-minute Pixar short Knick Knack is also included, along with a Making Nemo documentary.

You can’t forget mentioning the now Disney standard CineExplorer feature though. That wraps all the commentary/extras and shows them at the right time in the movie, enhancing the viewing experience to better understand what the directors (director Andrew Stanton, co-director Lee Unkrich, and co-writer Bob Peterson) were thinking at production time on the alternative audio track: think picture-in-picture-type environment. My favorite feature of the extras though is the Reinventing the Submarine Voyage production. It is a 15 minute showing of the upgrading of the Submarine Voyage ride at Disneyland into the Finding Nemo Submarine Adventure ride.

What parent of a young children doesn’t love Nemo? If you’re not into 3D, this is the first Blu-ray release of the film. It looks great on the home system. With a big enough set up, you’ll feel like you are in the theater. If you’re a big enough Nemo fan, you won’t want to miss upgrading to this amazing presentation with an assortment of extra special extras. About a 9.5 out of 10 in my book.

Danielle blogs on behalf of Sears and other brands she uses.

Crashing Cannes: Insider Tips for the Uninvited & Dispossessed

A True Insider … Or At Least Deserve to Be

Whether you are a true student of cinematic art somehow overlooked in the invitation vetting process, the Actress of Our Time still-undiscovered in your day job at Denny’s or simply an unabashed celebrity hound who follows every whispered rumor on Twitter, attending the Cannes International Film Festival should be the pinnacle of your daydreams. Held once in 1939 and then interrupted by World War II, the festival resumed in 1946 and continues to this day. This year’s event — Festival de Cannes — is scheduled for May 15 to May 26, 2013 and represents the event’s 66th year. As the epitome of high-class celebrity sightings, Cannes makes L.A. events such as the Oscars or the Academy Awards resemble kindergarten graduation ceremonies.

Preparing to Crash Attend the Events

Although airline and hotel reservations constitute mundane details of preparation, they are necessary nonetheless. A little black dress, sandals and a scarf are all that are required to pass for second-tier celebrities. Travel insurance is always a necessity, especially when one plans to attend social events that are prefaced by the term “security” and certain celebrities are trailed by imposing bodyguards. Access to real parties, showings and celebrity events — in the absence of official entry badges and invitations — is based on two absolute imperatives: early and constant reconnaissance and, frankly, chutzpah also known as a degree of saucy confidence.

Sources of Recon Information

Face facts: Tom Cruise, while temporarily single again, will have a date for Cannes and it won’t be you. Instead, you’re going to have to become a student of the event in order to best enjoy all the showings and fetes it has to offer. The festival’s 2013 webpage is already up and fully operational. You’ll need to study all the information provided so as to know and use the right lingo. The “red carpet” is more than a figure of speech. At the Festival de Cannes, the “red carpet of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès” refers to a specific event in which attendees and celebrities are photographed. If you think you might be under undue scrutiny, pull out a compact and sigh with a comment about how poorly you photograph against red.

More Sources of Recon Information

In addition to the Cannes Festival website — don’t forget to study the area maps — are other sources of information on schedules, schedule changes, attendees, winners, scheduled fetes, benefit dinners and unscheduled parties. This easily overlooked information can be located on some of the website pages and include sign-ups for festival newsletters, RSS feeds, podcasts, the official Twitter page and the official Facebook page. In addition to information on the 2013 festival, you should also make yourself acquainted with press coverage of past events.

That Moxie Part

If you need an official reason to be in the vicinity during the event, consider signing up with one of the European film schools that routinely offer “Cannes” classes during the festival. The schools are well known to event organizers and are expected to crowd up against security barriers. Be sure to carry a clutch with only the laminated edge or corner of a 4 x 6 card exposed. While everyone is supposed to wear their event badges, women rarely chose to ruin the look of an outfit with a laminated card necklace. Act as if you are in fact an invitee.

The Beach as Back-up

Public screenings of certain films are shown “on the beach” so to speak; so don’t be too disappointed if you can’t crash the party the first time. You can still watch the films discussed and the festival lasts a long time.

Locked Up Abroad Continues to Captivate

Photo credit © Steve Kemp / Raw Television

Originally debuting in 2007, “Locked Up Abroad” is a hit series on National Geographic that has attracted somewhat of a cult following. The show is currently in its sixth season, with new episodes airing each week. “Locked Up Abroad” is presented in documentary form and is based on true events. It appeals mainly to viewers interested in thrilling, if not terrifying, tales set in exotic locations.


During each episode of “Locked Up Abroad”, viewers watch a realistic reenactment of a true story in which a person was imprisoned or kidnapped while visiting a foreign country. Clips of the reenactment are broken up with commentary, as well as interviews with the story’s main characters. The show was originally released in the United Kingdom, where it was known as “Banged Up Abroad.”

Past Episodes

The stories covered on “Locked Up Abroad” often involve drugs, cultural differences or simply a person who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, in “Dangerous Liaisons,” principal character Stephen Comiskey traveled to Saudi Arabia to work as a nurse after coming out as a homosexual. Because homosexuality is forbidden under religious law, Saudi Arabian officials arrest Comiskey and put him in jail.

In another past episode, “Cocaine Mule Mom,” American citizen and mother Ruthie Lambert engages in drug trafficking to provide for her family. After successfully smuggling drugs out of Peru on numerous occasions, Lambert is captured and remanded to a South American prison.

Things I’ve Learned from “Locked Up Abroad”

Watching this program can teach viewers a lot about the dangers of making mistakes in foreign countries. Below are some of the most important lessons from “Locked Up Abroad.”

  • Don’t talk to strangers. In several past episodes, travelers ended up in trouble because they trusted someone they didn’t know. Whether the individual turned out to be a drug smuggler or kidnapper, the ending was never good.
  • Never travel without insurance. Imprisoned or kidnapped individuals usually come out of the situation with broken bones and more than a few bruises. Without short term medical insurance, it must be difficult to pay the hospital bill.
  • Nothing in life is free. Characters in “Locked Up Abroad” often find themselves in bad situations because someone made them an impossible promise of money or other valuables. People in foreign countries aren’t standing on the street waiting to give their money away. If someone is promising the world, they probably want a pretty big favor in return.
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. In more than one episode of this program, characters are told that doing something will be “easy,” “harmless” or “legal,” only to discover that going through with the request will land them in jail. In situations where a huge reward seems to come at an uncharacteristically small price, people should always use common sense.

Though “Locked Up Abroad” isn’t for the faint of heart, for others it is a captivating program that highlights the perils of traveling unprepared, as well as the differences in international legal systems. New episodes air on Monday evenings at 10 PM EST. Enjoy!

Comic Book Convention C2E2: Another Successful Year

Comic Book Convention C2E2

The aura of a comic book convention is like no other, so needless to say, the best thing about the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, C2E2, held every year is the atmosphere. Each year, this is the season that Chicago hotels and restaurants become clogged with thousands of pop culture junkies flocking to the area for the premier comic exposition in the Midwest. C2E2 is even bigger and brighter than its summer competitor, Wizard World.

When the doors opened at 10 am on the dot, conventioneers flooded the McCormick building to see all that C2E2 had to offer. The first stop, two booths that were kings this year just as they have been in the past: DC Comics and Marvel. From there, visitors could work their way around to the smaller publishers such as Archaia and Avatar Press. The layout of the convention floor is like an open market, full of movies, t-shirts and, of course, comics. Everywhere the eye could see there are heroes in cardboard, plastic weapons and memorabilia.

The retail highlight for many at the 2012 Expo was the Captain America auction where convention goers could bid on a piece of comic pop culture history. Up for auction were shields and costumes from the movie as well as signed posters and scripts.

Avenger Auction

To one side of the exhibition hall was Artist Alley, the place that houses the creative minds that breathe life into characters like Thor and Captain America. Those attending could stroll down the alley and have comics books signed or even purchase original pieces of art. Featured artists such as Sean Murphy, Gabriel Hartman and Ramon Perez were on hand for a chat.

Transformers actor Shia LaBeouf signs autographs

While the booths are fascinating and the marketplace is a comic book maverick’s dream come true, the panels were the highlight. Panels allow conventioneers to sit and discuss ongoing plots in a series like Voltran. Guests listen to writers and creative directors provide previews of story arcs for heroes such as The Green Hornet. The panels take questions and answers to give insight on the creative process. One of the big panels for 2012 was Marvel’s Next Big Thing where producers gave away secrets on upcoming plans for Thor and the Mutant Gambit.

Convention goers that came to see celebrities were not disappointed in 2012. This year’s autograph sessions included John Cusack, Shia LaBeouf and author Anne Rice. Visitors had the chance to prescreen movies and see trailers of upcoming films. Entertainment guests sat on panels and answered questions for the audience.

True comic book fans save all year round to visit conventions that will fuel for their obsession, but if forced to pick just one, C2E2 should be at the top of the list. Smaller conventions in the region like CoreCon in Moorhead, MN or DemiCon in Iowa spread the focus to Sci-Fri and horror graphic novels. Even the conventions that celebrate comics like Midwest Comic-Con in Indianapolis or the Mid-Ohio Comic-Con in Columbus fail to draw the level of entertainment and graphic artists that are featured at C2E2.

The Oscars and Your DVD List

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Seemingly overshadowed by glitz and glamour on the red carpet; the films of the Academy Awards are often overshadowed. But now that the accolades have been doled out, movie lovers across the country start to edit their movie “to watch” lists. After a film is honored with an Academy Award it will start to fly off the shelf and could be hard to come by. Internet, as well as brick and mortar retailers may run dry. Diligent movie buffs will be looking online; sorting through solid deals, the lowest shipping quotes and waiting lists to get their hands on 2011’s greatest films.

Singular Award Winners

With several nods from critics and fans, these two films appear to have been underappreciated by the Oscar committee. Do not be fooled by their lack of awards, as these two movies are dynamite additions to any collection.

The Descendants – Despite having five nominations The Descendants only took home the award for writing. This film is a character study of a family in crisis. Attempting to discover the deep Hawaiian roots that tie them to an important, historical family, the characters ultimately find truths about themselves and their relationships during the quest. Primarily a feel-good tale, this DVD makes for a comfortable companion during family and friend get-togethers.

The Help – Both the leading and supporting ladies received nominations for their engaging performances in this touching tale. Octavia Spencer did win for best supporting actress, but the film was a favorite for best picture and it fell short. The Help is one of the hottest movies of the year and is still on a “long wait” with the top two DVD online rental companies. Full of controversial moments, The Help tackles race relations in a very relatable way. It is a movie you will enjoy watching again and again.

The Big Winners

Both The Artist and Hugo received five Oscars. These megahits are expected to be the most sought after DVD releases. Interestingly, the two top winners are dramatically different each other, and the usual choices made by the committee.

The Artist – A meditation of the nostalgic silent film era, The Artist captivates viewers with plots of love, loss, and hope. Since its premier at the Cannes Film Festival, it has earned a cult following. Its antics readily bring audiences to tears of joy and sadness. Look for the release on DVD in early spring, and discover why this enigmatic work landed five Oscars, including Best Picture.

Hugo – This was Martin Scorsese’s first attempt at an animated/family film with Hugo. a 3-D creation, tells the tale of a French orphan investigating his father’s sudden death with the help of a robot. Winner of Oscars for Cinematography, Visual Effects, Art Direction, and two sound awards, the film is captivating and stimulating to the senses in all respects. Consider investing in the three-part DVDs with Blu-Ray and 3-D versions for the ultimate experience.

Two remarkable movies received nominations in six categories including best picture, but they didn’t take home a statue: War Horse and Moneyball. However, the appeal of these pictures is not lost on disgruntled fans. They come highly recommended as two additional DVDs to consider adding to your must-see list of Oscar candidates.

2012 DGA Awards

The Directors Guild of America honored directors from both the film and television industry on January 28, 2012. Some of the top directors competing for the titles of Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film, Comedy Series, Musical Variety, Dramatic Series, and Mini-Series, gathered their casts and crews at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland in Los Angeles.

Some of the big names that were vying for awards this year were 30 Rock, Modern Family and Curb Your Enthusiasm. In addition to honorees, stars filled the event as well: Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys and Fred Savage to name a few.

Though Michael Hazanavicius took the coveted award for Feature Film, this year’s comedy series category proved to be one of the most competitive:

30 Rock  (NBC)
30 Rock is a television comedy that was created by Tina Fey. The whole series is based on her experiences as the head writer for Saturday Night Live. A show with-in a show, the series takes place behind the scenes based of a fictional comedy sketch show. 30 Rock actually refers to the building where the program is produced, the GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Modern Family (ABC)
Modern Family is centered on the lives of three branches of the same family. This comedy does a beautiful job of comically portraying the things that plague most of our families. There are running bits about old grudges, broken stairs and the odd quirks every family tries to hide. The show is shot as if it were a documentary, so there is plenty of footage of the characters doing normal activities such as eating breakfast, running the washing machine or playing ball. This series does a beautiful job of balancing outrageously funny moments with touching scenes that showcase the good in families.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
This series is focused on Larry David’s life as a producer and writer in New York City. It revolves around his many personalities and problems with social conventions and their expectations of him. He is easily annoyed by the way other people behave and has a hard time letting go of anything. The whole show is filmed without a script, so it can often take a hilarious turn that even the producers didn’t originally see coming.


All three shows are ratings-toppers and fan favorites, but only one could take home the prize. With his second DGA, director Robert Weide’s directorial team took home the prize for Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Danielle is an avid writer and blogs on behalf of Sears and other prestigious brands. Read her work at

Why and how streaming/subscription TV and movie services work

Watching videos online used to be a hassle. Speed could be affected by a slow Internet connection like dial-up, which also influenced the rate at which data was being transferred across phone lines. Thankfully, streaming technology has seen many improvements. As more and more of the world becomes Internet-based, it’s no surprise that services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant are growing in popularity. Here’s a look at how streaming video and subscription services work.


All online video content makes its way to a viewer’s home from a server. That computer network works with a plugin, a piece of software that decodes the information and results in the ability to watch the television show or movie the viewer has requested. Netflix relies on online file storage to handle their expanding catalog of streaming content, which includes both movies and television shows. Though the company has come under fire for its limited selection of new releases available instantly, not to mention its recent price hike, it is arguably the most accessible service, available through numerous services including game consoles like the X-Box.


Not yet poised to offer consumers a wide range of movies, Hulu is better suited to viewers looking for television programming. The site offers a wide range of programming from major networks, like Fox and ABC, but does not currently offer shows from CBS or pay channels like HBO. Much of Hulu’s programming is available without having to subscribe to Hulu Plus. Often, the last five episodes of a show are available to watch, allowing viewers to catch up on or discover new shows. Those who take the ‘Plus plunge’ pay $8/month (the same as Netflix’s instant service) and gain access to a wide range of services, such as a backlog of episodes of shows that are no longer on the air, like “Lost.”

Amazon Instant Video

Amazon Instant Video is quite similar to Netflix, although its programming cannot be watched on game consoles or handheld devices. The service is included with the annual cost of Amazon Prime, a members-only plan that offers shoppers free or deeply-discounted shipping on their purchases. Though the service currently offers fewer titles than Netflix, Amazon is busy building their catalog so as to offer customers a selection of the newest releases. Customers also have the option to buy or rent the television shows and/or movies they watch, capitalizing on the growing popularity of streaming content and shoppers’ natural tendency towards impulse purchases.

With a growing demand for instant entertainment, similar services are making their debuts, all of them anxious to occupy the number-one slot when it comes to home entertainment. Look for subscriber services being rolled out by companies like Comcast and Dish Network and online movies offered by Blockbuster, as well as continued changes to older services like Netflix. Considering there are only so many ways you can package the same service and call it different, success will likely visit companies who offer their customers the newest releases possible, all while keeping their prices competitive.

Angelina Jolie’s Natural Glow Isn’t Really All that Natural

For many, suntans are a natural part of life. Rather than walking around and glowing in the dark, many people opt for a year-round tan, as it gives you an overall healthy looking radiance, the appearance of a flawless complexion, and highlights muscle definition. This is possible with tanning beds, but many opt for a sunless tan with the use of various tanning products.

When you’re a Hollywood star, it has become increasingly important to look your best at all times, and that’s where James Read comes in. Read is a tanning expert that the stars call in when they want that sunkissed glow without the risk of it looking fake or overdone. His clients include Lady GaGa, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Clive Owen, Ellie Goulding, Mariah Carey, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Angelina Jolie.

According to Read, “Self-tanning has become so advanced now that there is a product choice for everyone, which allows people to achieve different looks for each season. Tanning is no longer just for the summer. It’s a year-round thing and is now part of people’s beauty regime.” Thanks to his years in the tanning industry, Read is able to produce the desired results in his clients.

Take Angelina Jolie, for example. This starlet is known for her natural-looking glow, but this doesn’t come easily. “Angelina focuses on adding luminosity to her skin, and this subtle tan makes her look radiant.” Read’s top tanning rule is to always pick the right tan for each skin tone; by creating a healthy, realistic tan for Angelina, he helps bring attention to other assets, such as those long locks and sultry eyes of hers, as opposed to if she had a dark bronze tan, which would detract from her overall appearance.

Subtlety isn’t always Read’s favored tactic, however. In the case of Mariah Carey, he opted for a deeper tan that wouldn’t go unnoticed. “I love a vibrant tan, and Mariah’s intense American colour really adds a warmth to her skin,” he said. In the event that a tan is too dark, Read recommends mixing lime and lemon juice with a face mask, toothpaste and crushed sea salt, applying the mixture to your skin and leaving in place for 20 minutes, then removing the concoction with a warm towel and showering.

Another of his clients is 24-year-old Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Read describes her glow as a “golden and very natural-looking […] 70s tan” that “has been a huge hit this year”. When tanning in the winter, particularly if you opt for a more vibrant tan, the key is proper moisturization: “Apply moisturiser to a tanning mitt, then glide over your skin, making sure to remove any excess afterwards. This is great for the winter months as it stops your skin drying out.”

When choosing a sunless tanning product, “There are so many good brands to choose from! For a facial tan it would have to be Chanel Soleil Identite Perfect Colour Face Self-Tanner or Sisley Sun Glow. On the body I’d suggest Clarins Radiance Plus for a light glow, He-Shi Liquid Express for a medium ran, and for a dark Seventies retro tan Xen Tan Absolute Lux. Go for a good wash-off tan as well; Fake Bake Flawless range is perfect for this.”

As you can see, there’s a lot more that goes into maintaining a healthy glow throughout the year than simply laying out and trying to avoid tan lines. Celebrities are serious about their appearance, which means they’re serious about their tans. If you’re after that perfect natural glow too, then make it part of your daily beauty regimen, and be aware of which products will help you to achieve your desired results.  Avoid an “odd looking orange tan” by being knowledgeable and confident in your tanning choices, and you will be thrilled with the results!