Sunday, April 7, 2013

Surface Tension

When I’m on my exercise bike, nothing passes the time like watching a movie or a TV show. My Surface RT 10” tablet by Microsoft (given to me for free as a Microsoft employee) is a great device for this…if you set it up correctly.
Watching movies on the surface is built-in, so you can simply double-tap a movie file to play it with the built in Xbox media player. However, it’s a fairly limited player, and navigating the file explorer interface can be cumbersome on the small screen.

The first thing I needed to make the experience better is a way to view my files. The best app I found for this was “my explorer”. This is a file explorer for the “modern” interface, with large icons and the ability to save your favorite folders. For me, this is over the network to my main file server.

Once I defined my folders, I needed a good player, and for me, the ability to seek comfortably is critical, because skipping over commercials or jumping back a few seconds to catch a word you missed needs to be easy. Every player has a scroll-bar to navigate, but it’s not granular enough for even a 45 minute TV show. You slide your finger a bit, and you find yourself way too far. With PC-based software like XBMC, you can assign a button to jump 30 seconds back or forth, but most tablet players do not. One that does have a brilliant design is “PressPlay video”. Besides being able to associate to video files in the Modern UI (so it will play movies directly when tapped in My Explorer (many other players require you to use the File/Open interface, which is slow and cumbersome), it has a micro-seek function. With Micro-seek, you swipe up or down the screen, which skips forward or backward between 1 second and a full minute (depending on how much you swipe). This is extremely accurate and efficient. Want to skip back 10 seconds? Simply drag from top to bottom about 20% of the screen, and you’re there.

Another feature it has is the ability to playback at faster or slower speeds. This is handy if there’s something you NEED to watch, but it’s not particularly enjoyable. Playing a training video at X2 speed saves a lot of time, but still exposes you to the entire content.

Happy watching!

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