Posts Tagged ‘Feature’

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain [Explainer]

13 Jul
For all of its wild popularity, caffeine is one seriously misunderstood substance. It's not a simple upper, and it works differently on different people with different tolerances—even in different menstrual cycles. But you can make it work better for you. More »


Giz Explains: Why HD Video Downloads Aren’t Very High Def [Giz Explains]

10 Sep

Yesterday Apple introduced HD TV downloads to the iTunes store, meaning you can watch Peter be super emo on Heroes at a crispy 720p resolution. That's a higher resolution than DVD, and technically, yup, that's HD. There's a catch though. Like every other video download service touting HD videos, it's all actually lower quality than DVD.

It's all about bitrate: How much data is packed into a file, described as bits per second. Generally speaking, a higher bitrate translates into higher quality audio and video, though quality can also be affected by codec—the encoding and compression technique that was used to make and read the file—so bitrate is not an absolute mark of quality, but it's still a very good indicator.

You're probably most familiar with this bitrate business when it comes to ripping your CDs. When you shove a CD into your computer, your ripping program will ask what format you want and what bitrate you want. A song ripped at a higher bitrate will sound better, with more presence and detail, but it does take up more space.

The same principle applies with video, though it's actually a bigger deal, because it's easier to see quality differences in video than it is to hear differences in audio. The bits make a huge difference when you get into fast moving stuff like sports or action movies—to be frank, they'll look like splattered, smeared shit in highly compressed low-bitrate vids. This chart below, expertly crafted by George Ou at ZDNet provides a solid starting point for comparison, with average bitrates of most digital video available.

As you can see, regular DVD runs at about 6-8 megabits per second. High-def iTunes content, despite having a higher resolution, is half that, a mere 4Mbps. Vudu's current HD movies is also about 4Mbps, if you've got the pipes. Xbox Live Marketplace has the highest bitrate—and indeed, often gets props for its quality—at close to 6.8Mbps. On the other hand, standard-def movies on the Netflix Roku box max out at around 2.2Mbps—and are often delivered in lower qualities because of bandwidth constraints. iTunes standard def TV shows run around 1.5Mbps. Now, consider that Blu-ray is a mean 40Mbps and you see that the definition of "HD" is suddenly remarkably vague.

That's a pissload of numbers. What does that mean?

This comparison test we ran in February pretty much shows you what's wrong: No matter how awesome MPEG-4 compression—or whatever the codec of the month is—gets, it can't work miracles when it's missing bits. It's why Vudu, for instance, is testing out a new closer-to-real-HD service—that they've revealed to us has three times the bitrate of any other download service on the market, meaning it should be close to 20Mbps—that will take hours to deliver to your home. But even then, the notion that it would truly rival Blu-ray is totally laughable.

It's not just download services giving you this watered-down so-called "HD lite", either. Comcast was busted cramming three HD channels into the space of two, resulting in crappy looking HDTV, and the satellite guys adding a million HD channels a year aren't much better.

Now that you understand what makes or breaks an HD picture—the amount of data— it's probably no surprise to you that the major reason everyone is peddling subpar HD is bandwidth. HD content is pipe-bustingly huge—a standard-def Battlestar Galactica file on iTunes is 520MB and takes about 15 minutes to download via a strong cable connection. The 720p HD download is 1.4GB and takes 40 minutes or so for your hard drive to completely swallow. The Blu-ray version of the same ep might be 10 times that—like 14GB. Putting that in more context, a single TV episode would take up twice the space as the average dual-layer DVD movie.

Right now, we don't have the broadband infrastructure to support it, and who knows when we will? Hell, the people with the best chance of giving us that added bandwidth—the major ISPs like Comcast and AT&T—are doing just the opposite: Implementing usage caps that will mean less HD downloading. The sad thing is, they probably won't even use the added bandwidth to make their own HD TV channels look better.

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The Best Tech Tools and Fitness Plans to Get in Shape [Fitness]

22 Jul

If there’s one thing geeks and non-geeks alike all share, it’s an aversion to exercise. No matter how much you’d like to slim your waistline and lose the belly, it’s difficult to find a workout routine that not only works, but one that fits your needs and is easy to stick to. Over the years we’ve covered several fitness plans along with free and cheap technology to help you get in shape and stick to a training plan, and I’ve used many of these tools to help run two marathons. Read on for a look at the most simple yet effective plans we've covered—along with the best tech tools to help you get and stay in shape. Photo by luiginter.

This isn’t a “How to lose 200 pounds in a year” article, but it could be. Despite the proliferation of diet plans and expensive exercise equipment, the key to fitness is and always will be healthy eating, portion control, and a solid exercise routine. (But, a solid exercise routine need not be hard or expensive.) Here are some of the tips and tools we’ve covered at Lifehacker over the years, many of which I use regularly.

From Couch to 5k to Marathon

If you’ve never done much running or exercise, getting started can be a bear. The key is baby steps, and the Couch to 5k running plan gets you ready to run your first 5k (that’s three miles) in just six weeks. (Original post)

chicago-marathon.pngIf you’re beyond the 5k, I’d recommend giving a marathon a try at least once (or, if that seems a touch ambitious, a half marathon). Twenty-six miles may seem insane, but if you can run a 5k, you can probably do a marathon. Running expert and writer Hal Higdon’s free marathon training guides are a perfect place to get started, and when the marathon actually comes around, check out how I hacked the Chicago marathon. Photo by Chicago Producers.

Zero to One Hundred Push-Ups in Six Weeks

push-up.pngWhether you like doing them or not, the push-up belongs in your fitness routine. Unfortunately the push-up has always been a difficult nut to crack, not least of which because of the embarrassment of hardly being able to finish a small set. Much like the Couch to 5k running plan, web site One Hundred Push Ups provides workout routines designed to take you from zero to one hundred push-ups in six weeks. The push-up works your whole body, which means whether you take the 100 push-up route or not, it’s worth integrating into your workout routine. (Original post)

Work Your Entire Body with a Sledgehammer

Probably the most embarrassing part of my workout routine (at least when I’m explaining it) involves shovelgloving, a daily, full-body workout that requires just 14 minutes and a sledgehammer wrapped in a sweatshirt. The brainchild of a guy who just wanted an exercise routine he could do from the comfort of his bedroom, shovelgloving is a surprisingly effective exercise routine for working your entire body. Shovelglove exercises are also fun to do, incorporating old-timey routines like the butter-churn, wood-chop, and (naturally) shovel. (Original post)

Map Your Workout

Whether you’re running, biking, hiking, or skipping, mapping your workout is an excellent way to track what you’ve done, workouts you’ve enjoyed, and even calories you’ve burned.

My go-to tool for this purpose has always been MapMyRun, a site with a huge set of features for setting up a training plan, mapping your runs, calculating the calories you’ve burned, and more. The site’s massive feature set has made it a little more intimidating for first-time users, but if all you want to do is quickly map out a run, just jump straight to the route creation tool. (Original post)

trailrunner.pngIf you’re not keen on the web-based route, the Mac-only TrailRunner is an incredible desktop application that tackles many of the same features with a quick and very attractive interface. TrailRunner even integrates with Nike+ iPod, Google Earth, and your GPS (though MapMyRun does GPS, too).

Pick the Right Running Shoes

running-shoes.pngIf you’ve decided to take a serious stab at running, the only significant, unavoidable expense is shoes. Sure you could just stick with your aging pair of gym shoes, but running is hard on your body, and a good pair of running shoes can go a long way toward preventing injury and keeping you comfortable while you run, which also means you’re more likely to stick with your workout. With that in mind, it’s important to know how to pick the right running shoe for your feet. (Original post) Photo by jordanfischer.

Pump Up the Jams

workout-music.pngWhether it’s an iPod, Walkman, or even radio, take full advantage of the distracting and motivating power of music when you’re working out. Fill up your MP3 player with a playlist full of great workout music. They shouldn’t all be over-the-top motivators like Gonna Fly Now or Born to Run—those are really just for the times you need them. Try different songs and pick out what kind of music works best for you, and reserve your motivators for the times you really need an extra boost. If you take the Nike+ iPod route, you can actually set a song as your big motivator that you can instantly skip to when you need it. If you don't have Nike+, the same idea applies: Make it easily accessible so you can get that instant pick-me-up when you need it. If you're looking for suggestions, check out our readers’ favorite workout music. If you’ve taken to burning more calories with interval running, set up your very own interval running playlist in iTunes. Photo by Geff Rossi.

Nike+ iPod

nike+-ipod.pngI've been using the Nike+ iPod since January and am loving it. It's easy to use when you're already running with your iPod anyway, and it makes tracking and graphing my progress over time dead simple. All of that extra information—like that I've run about 320 miles so far this year—is surprisingly motivational. At only $30 for a Nike+ iPod sport kit, it’s not terribly expensive (provided you’ve already got a supported iPod), and you don’t actually have to buy Nike shoes to use it. I dug a hole in the insoles of my running shoes and stuck the Nike+ dongle inside, but if you don’t want to mutilate your shoes the Nike+ iPod shoe mod may be just the ticket.

Track Your Fitness on Your Computer

traineo.pngOur very own Kevin has covered several ways to track your fitness progress with free tools. My favorite, which he mentions in his feature, is web site Traineo. Traineo is there to help you stick with your plan and motivate you to achieve your exercise and fitness goals. (Original post)

There are gobs of tools available designed to tackle a lot of the same goals mentioned above, so if you’ve got a favorite that I didn’t point out, let’s hear more about it in the comments. For a couple of fitness remainders we’ve covered in the past, you may also want to take a look at how to get in shape with the Wii Sports weight loss program and how to get six pack abs.

Adam Pash is a senior editor for Lifehacker who may—counterintuitively—be overweight if not for technology. His special feature Hack Attack appears every Tuesday on Lifehacker. Subscribe to the Hack Attack RSS feed to get new installments in your newsreader.

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