Gizmo Guy: Letting tech take you closer to Olympic action

gizmo31-4
For virtual reality, use the GearVR viewer (left) and listen on a Jabra Halo Smart headset. The SteelSeries Stratus XL controller spins the 360-degree Rio scene.

Hi, everyone. My name is Jon, and I'm a Summer Olympics addict. Morning, noon and night, you'll find me tube tied and chowing down with the NBC-hosted biennial.

This summer's Aug. 5 to 21 marathon (plus two preview nights) will make for an even greater "staycation" with buddy Bob Costas as lead tour guide, taking in the sights, hearing dramatic backstories and cheering for all the Young Americans as "we" bring home the medals.

TV travelers won't even have a body clock adjustment to worry about, as Rio sets its collective watch just an hour ahead of our East Coast daylight saving time.

Closing the deal, a mess of innovative tech and app enhancements will make Olympic-thons even more inevitable.

Split-screen pleasures. "Landing" screens that simultaneously show several Olympics channels are not new in pay-TV land.

But Comcast, parent of NBCUniversal, will really up the game with an Xfinity X1 interactive cable box first: inviting TV viewers to split their screen, choosing from the 9 NBC broadcast and cable channels, on-demand athlete backgrounders plus 4,500 more hours of streamed raw feeds. This smart box will even send alerts when your favorite sports and competitors are on.

Summonable, as well, on tablets, smartphones and computers through the NBC Sports app and at NBCOlympics.com.

But few of the raw streams will be narrated. You'll have to rely on the "wild sound" of arena announcers to figure out who's who.

App-titude. There's the official app from the International Olympic Committee, plus spiffy ESPN and cerebral BBC Sport apps. And, for the kids, a Paralympics focused game called Tom's Adventure. All free for iOS and Android devices.

"Streaming" TVs and set-top boxes. Have an internet-connected smart TV? Or one of those nifty little streaming video devices - an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku or Google Chromecast?

NBCUniversal will deliver live and on-demand Olympics coverage to those devices, too, another first, "tunable" through the NBC Sports app. Here's an opportunity to reduce conflicts in Olympics-crazed households that have multiple TVs (and a prerequisite pay TV subscription) but only one or two tellys connected to a cable or satellite box.

Which web TV box should you buy? Judged by its slicker presentation of Olympics warm-up content, Apple TV ($150-$200) is looking like the gold-medal winner. But Roku and Amazon Fire web tuning "sticks" and boxes can get the job done for lots less - as little as $39.99.

Don't have a spare HDMI input on your TV set to plug in one of these little streamers? Add an HDMI switcher: $51 (at Amazon) buys the future-proof E-SDS UHD 4K@60Hz HDMI Switch. This can juggle as many as five connected devices, including 4K ultra-high-definition sources.

Bring me Phelps. Shout at the screen a lot? This year's slew of voice-activated smart-TV remotes will let you really do something - speed the game changing or find the happenings you want.

Apple, Amazon and (top-of-the-line) Roku internet TV streaming devices all offer voice-controlled app switching.

Even more useful is Dish Network's sleek new microphone and touchpad-equipped 50.0 remote control for its high end Hopper 3 and Joey satellite TV receivers. This sweet switcheroo (just $30) lets you verbally call the passes between Olympics-showcases NBC, NBCSports Network, USA Network, Bravo, CNBC, MSNBC and Golf Channel, plus Spanish language Telemundo and NBC Universo.

Yet in this realm, too, Xfinity X1 excels. Its voice-activated remote has been tuned to recognize more than 1,500 Olympic-linked voice commands, to summon specific competitions and athlete appearances as well as channels.

Ultra-high def. Early adopters of 4K ultra-high-definition TV sets can enjoy views of the Olympics as "good as being there." NBC is capturing the opening ceremonies in 4K UHD with the added enhancement of High Dynamic Range color/contrast tweaking. Olympic Broadcasting Services and Japan's NHK will share other events in 4K including swimming, track and field, basketball, the men's soccer final, judo, and closing night plus Rio "scenics."

Comcast's current generation X1 boxes aren't up to delivering 4K, drat. But Xfinity subscribers who have a Samsung 4K smart set will be invited to unlock UHD Olympic events streaming through the TV's Xfinity app.

One long stride ahead in the 4K TV race, DirecTV customers with a Genie receiver and Dish Network subscribers with a Hopper 3 can sprint directly into 4K Olympics land.

Gearing up for gear VR. Olympics sponsor Samsung is celebrating with a Galaxy S7 Edge Olympic Games Limited Edition phone, available only at Best Buy. But it's hardly the only Galaxy phone that will help you take in the games in razzle-dazzle, all-around-you, virtual reality form. All S7, S6 and Note 5 phones can be paired with a Samsung Gear VR headset (about $100) to give such an untethered, fully immersive 360-degree experience.

Samsung will be producing about 85 hours of Olympics content in VR form. Already posted, a VR tour of Rio is stunning, though clips from U.S. swim team trials in Omaha looked blurry and didn't kill.

In truth, the new Jabra Halo Smart Wireless Stereo Earphones ($79.99 at Best Buy) deliver a far better enhancement to your VR viewing adventure. These little buds are sweet sounding, and seem barely there, with electronics and controls stashed in a curved neck band.

takiffj@phillynews.com

215-854-5960@JTakiff