Feb 22 2011

Podcast Review: Buzz Out Loud

Update 10/4/11: I stopped listening to Buzz Out Loud several months ago, so did not find out about this when it happened (late September) but Buzz Out Loud is now a weekly show (airing on Thursdays). While a weekly tech show can be interesting (early episodes of TWiT, for example) and enlightening, Molly Wood and Brian Tong aren’t the people to bring an in-depth look at the news. So now in addition to being silly and overly focused on a handful of topics, the show will be dated by the standards of the internet.

New rating: 1/5. Unless you just have extra time to fill on your Friday commute and have run out of podcasts released earlier in the week, don’t bother.

Buzz Out Loud was the second or third podcast I ever listened to, back in 2005, after being referred there by This Week in Tech.  I gave it a shot and for years, BOL was a part of my daily routine – I would get to work, and start listening.  Any day they didn’t have a show (which was rare) felt off-kilter.  The podcasts of late 2005 through mid 2007, when the hosts were Tom Merritt, Molly Wood, and Veronica Belmont (<8), stand far above any others as my favorite podcasts, because of moments like these:

However, those times are gone, so I’ll try to review the Buzz Out Loud of today rather than score out of sentimentality.

This is the first professionally produced podcast I’ve reviewed – it’s recorded in the San Francisco studio of CNet, with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and a dedicated producer. As you’d expect, it sounds and looks (looks? It’s both an audio and video podcast, though for the record I subscribe to the audio version) great. Another nice benefit of the deep pockets is that they have an iPhone app through which you can watch their livestream as well as pre-show discussion, and a chatroom where you can talk to hundreds of other viewers.  Hosts are distinct and audible (except for, sometimes and ironically, the producer – though that’s an english as second language thing).

The format of the show was the same for several years – talk about news, then take voicemails and emails.  The current hosts have added in some ‘segments’, which in general I think are a waste of time; they’re little more than an excuse to play a sound effect prior to talking about stories they would have mentioned anyway.  The segments so far are Quick Hits, Gadgets, Science News, and the Feedback Loop.  Of the four, Quick Hits is the only one that really makes any difference, and I think it’s a negative one – stories in Quick Hits don’t always get as much discussion as I think they should.

There are 3 hosts, sort of – Molly Wood, Brian Tong, and producer Benito Gonzalez. Molly was one of the original hosts, 6 years ago (although she took a hiatus for a while); Brian and Benito are more recent additions. Benito tends not to say much, which is probably for the best, as if he wasn’t producing he wouldn’t really have the geek credentials to be there.  Brian and Molly have a good chemistry – but it’s a bit 16-year-old-boy sometimes, in both energy and content. I find myself missing old host Tom Merritt, who was calm, measured, and more likely to make a joke with a reference to an obscure event in history than to sex.

I also find myself yearning for the good old days when it comes to content.  The show has become heavily weighted toward Facebook and Apple news.  I have an iPhone, so I’m not an Apple hater; but I think devoting several times as much news coverage to a company as it has in the PC market is a bit silly.  Facebook, on the other hand, I don’t use, and find it annoying that the hosts constantly complain about Facebook’s attitude toward privacy but continue to use it, and to talk about it more frequently than ever.

Many of the stories not related to those two companies are stuck in the segments, and get only a brief discussion at best.  They also often skip stories, even mentioning that they’re doing so on air, which is extremely frustrating.

In short, unless all you care about is Facebook and Apple, Buzz Out Loud cannot be relied upon as your sole source of tech news. It can be fun to listen to, but the quality tech news has suffered for the frivolity.

It pains me to do this…

Rating: 3

May 9 2009

Podcasts Part 2 – DiggNation

Diggnation is both an audio and video podcast, hosted by Kevin Rose (creator of digg.com and pownce) and Alex Albrecht. It is a podcast of selected top stories from the social news website digg.com. A typical episode will feature about a half dozen stories from Digg, and a few minutes of commentary on each, then a viewer email or two.

Digg itself started out very tech-centric, so at the time so was Diggnation – now, with Digg expanding into just about everything, there’s little focus in the Diggnation stories; it’s just whatever the hosts find interesting. Sometimes the hosts will have special insight (it’s one of the best places to get Apple rumors prior to a release, since Kevin has good sources), but its real strength is the back and forth between Kevin and Alex.

Diggnation is not safe for work and not safe for children. If you don’t want to hear the kind of off-color jokes you’d expect from two guys hanging out talking, you probably shouldn’t listen. Oh, and I can’t forget the drinking – each episode Kevin and Alex drink a beer or (occasionally) tea, and they’ve even got their own beer club (as well as special Diggnation blend teas – I recommend Alex’s blend). The drinking and the subject matter has led some (Leo Laporte of the TWiT network, for example) to criticize Kevin and Alex – but personally I think it’s fine. Just because children/teens might choose to listen doesn’t mean a show needs to be changed to accommodate them.

Topic: Various
Length: ~45 minutes
Frequency: Weekly
Audio/Video: Both
Link: http://revision3.com/diggnation/

May 8 2009

Podcasts Part 1 – CO-OP

I own a Zune. A brown, 30gb Zune in fact (cue the mocking). I really like it for a number of different reasons, but the biggest change it’s made to my music listening when compared to my old Sansa actually has nothing to do with music. I’m now listening to (and watching, in a few cases) an insane number of podcasts, thanks to how well the Zune manages them. I spend most of my workday listening to podcasts, in fact. If I can’t start my morning with my news podcasts, the day feels off balance.

I listen to a couple dozen – I’m going to post overviews of each of them over the next couple weeks, going generally in order from least to most liked.

CO-OP is one of many podcasts that was reinvented after the death of EGM and the firing of a large number of 1up.com staff earlier this year. It’s made by the team who previously did the 1UP Show – which I rarely watched. (I don’t watch much internet video in general, since if I’m in a place where I CAN watch video I’m typically busy with something else.)

CO-OP is different from most other podcasts I listen to in terms of production value – this isn’t JUST a few people getting in a room and talking about games, although that’s the core of the content; it also includes sketches between the main segments, and the video element is well done.

Each episode typically covers three games, with discussions lasting several minutes per game. They have a wide variety of cast members; three or four will be gathered together and talk about the game in question, but this also is more produced than typical podcasts – you can tell the conversations are heavily edited.

I’m not sure whether I’ll continue to watch; they cover 3 games a show, but about 90% of what they cover are games that I have absolutely no interest in (especially indie games, most of which I simply don’t get the appeal of).

Topic: Video Games
Length: ~35 minutes
Frequency: Weekly
Audio/Video: Video
Link: http://revision3.com/coop/

May 1 2009

First HDTV

My television watching experience has become increasingly PC-centric ever since I got my Dell system with a TV tuner and Windows Media Center… five years ago? At first I just recorded a few shows; then I recorded most of the shows I watched; eventually, the only shows I actually watched live on a TV were the Friday night Sci-fi Channel stuff – Stargate, Dr. Who, Battlestar.

When the time came a year ago to move to my current apartment, I didn’t even bring a TV – by that time, everything was available online – some of it even legitimately! Most shows are now available online at sites like Hulu or tv.com, and so I haven’t really missed the TV.

My Xbox 360 has changed that. Currently I play from a comfortable leather chair, on a 23″ HDTV on loan from my sister. This is fine, but I’m increasing my game library, and I want to spend more time playing – and clearly, an HDTV will improve the experience; not only because the screen will be better, but because I’ll be able to play from my favorite chair. (It just didn’t work with the current TV, since I need to sit fairly close.)

I’ve ordered a Samsung LN32B460 from Dell. I’m close enough to the TV that a 32″ is feasible, and I felt like this one was the best balance of quality to size available to me. It’s not the ideal living room TV, of course, but it’ll certainly do for now…

So, my home media center system is nearly complete: I’ve got a computer with a few large hard drives (my main system), a laptop, an Xbox 360, an HDTV, and a second desktop (with the TV tuner); all connected together, so I can watch any of my videos from anywhere.