Posts Tagged ‘ TV/video ’

I’m at the DMZ

The Digital Media Zone

Looking for something? The Digital Media Zone (DMZ), a tech blog about the products and services available for home and mobile media consumption, is now home to my post about CableCARD and the HDHomeRun Prime. Expect to find future posts about home entertainment and consumer electronics devices there, while The World According to Richard continues to serve as the platform for my rants and perspective on all other things.

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I Don’t Want Apps on My TV

With Google throwing its unexpectedly pricey hat into the TV set top box business, I grow ever more frustrated by a move that I just don’t understand: Apps on the TV. Apps give content owners and distributors an opportunity to offer branded, custom portals to their content. Yea for them. But that’s not what I want, and I question—despite all of the tech media hype—if it’s what the masses want.

I don’t want to hunt for shows that interest me in a bunch of different applications. Will I find How Your $#*! Got Outsourced in the CBQ app, the Buena Brothers app, or the huFlix app? Why does it have to be in any of them? I just want to watch the damned show. I don’t care who claims the digital streaming rights to it, and I sure as Hell don’t want some heavily-branded experience wrapped around it. I don’t want a different library browsing, selection, and playback experience from show to show or app to app. I just want to watch the damned show. Oh…and I don’t want another accessory on my coffee table: a keyboard. (TiVo: I think you nailed this one).

What we need is an aggregator. I want to see a service and/or device that can pull together all of the digital content available to me and make it navigable and discoverable (and even purchasable) in meaningful ways. Include the stuff I own, the stuff I can buy, the stuff I can or have recorded, and the stuff available to stream freely; but don’t throw up walls between those acquisition models. Let me search and browse across all of that content. Slice it up and group it in different ways, using robust metadata beyond just genre and network. I still want to browse by network, too, because that’s still a logical association, but define network more broadly than just what you find on your cable box, and include YouTube channels and Internet-only content, like CNET and Revision 3.

Boxee tries to do all this, but it’s still too disjointed, and the UI is overly complex. Apple TV—the old Apple TV—did it fairly well, but its appeal is limited to consumers who have bought into the walled iTunes media garden, and the entry price was too high. Hulu and Netflix both get partway there, but their content is limited by distribution rights that are governed by frightened license holders and greedy attorneys. TiVo teased this with Premier but didn’t deliver, and the Roku box is fundamentally designed around the concept of apps.

It’s a tricky issue, because the content rights holders want to paint their colors and logos all over the place, and then get out their rulers. Everyone wants to do their own thing, but ultimately that makes it harder for consumers to find and consume content. Ironically, this thwarts the content owners’ opportunities to distribute and monetize their content.

So the big question is whether Google can pull this off. They have the expertise in content aggregation and discovery, but Google’s user experience record is underwhelming. The solution needs to be simple, powerful, and engaging. And the price point needs to be right. So far, the $300 Logitech set top box and $1300 Sony television with baked-in Google TV have missed that mark. That said, I’ve already pre-ordered the Revue, so I’ll know soon enough.

Crestron’s Analog Sunset Ads Seem Misleading and Deceptive

I recognize that a large segment of high-end customers don’t want to be bothered with the licensing and legislative details of digital content protection on their devices and content, but that’s no reason for Crestron to be spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt by making false claims in ads. Crestron’s latest ads make the following statements:

Analog audio and video is being killed. By the end of the year component outputs will only support standard definition signals, and by 2013 component outputs and analog video will be gone forever.

These statements are false. Are they lies designed to mislead the otherwise ignorant public? The reality–the truth–is that the “analog sunset” to which these ads allude affects only Blu-ray players manufactured and some Blu-ray content distributed after December 2010. The AACS License Agreement that Blu-ray uses stipulates that after 31 December, 2010, manufacturers must stop designing Blu-ray players with analog component HD output capability, and content providers will have the option (but are not required) to disable analog HD output on new Blu-ray discs. Further, Blu-ray players with any analog output capabilities cannot be sold after December 2013. This is a digital rights management restriction imposed only on Blu-ray technology and nothing else. That’s all.

What doesn’t this affect?

  • Consumers’ current Blu-ray discs played on Blu-ray players manufactured by December 2010 (or, more realistically, as late as December 2011, depending on how quickly existing pipelines and stock are depleted)
  • HD and SD content from satellite and cable providers, with the singular possible exception of some new FCC-permitted constraints on first-run content like movies that are still in theaters
  • Content on or recorded to DVRs
  • Standard, progressive, and upscaling DVD players
  • HD and SD output from game consoles
  • Any content from Internet media streaming devices like RoKu, Media Center, Apple TV, and others
  • Existing HD and SD content on installed media distribution systems from Crestron or any of its competitors
  • Consumers’ existing high definition monitors and TVs that have any digital input options
  • Any other pre-existing component device in a consumer’s home

It’s baffling to me that Crestron would resort to such deceptive advertising practices. I understand that times are tough, but is misleading customers really the solution? These ads likely violate the Federal Trade Commission’s truth-in-advertising rules, satisfying key criteria in its policy statement against deceptive advertising. Primarily, consumers’ existing audio/video equipment is not going to suddenly stop working on 1 January, 2011, and the term Blu-ray doesn’t appear anywhere in these ads, even though that’s the only technology potentially affected by these ridiculous, fear-mongering claims.

I can hope that people wise up and see through Crestron’s false statements. But I can also help. I can share this very information with Crestron, on my blog, on Twitter, and with the FTC.

So that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Feedback for CBS.com

I love that you make content available online. I love that I can CHOOSE a sponsor to favor during breaks, but I can’t believe you’re applying the same, annoying practice of making the audio for advertisements notably louder than the content itself. For years the networks have been claiming technical limitations prevent proper limiting. That’s crap, and we all know it. There’s no reason whatsoever that you can’t level and normalize the audio streams so that the ads are at roughly the same level as the content. To claim otherwise is a blatant lie. To do otherwise simply demonstrates a disregard for your audience.

Marriott Understands Travelers’ Technology Needs

After finally giving up on the Sheraton Stamford, I strayed from my Starwood roots to stay at Marriott’s Courtyard Stamford Downtown earlier this week. I was surprised and delighted to find the room appointed with many perks, including an LG high definition LCD TV, and a desktop interface with power, communication, and media connections galore!

Check out the options here:

  • 4 outlets, specifically oriented to accommodate multiple wall-bricks
  • 1 telephone jack
  • 1 Ethernet jack
  • 1 3.5mm stereo audio jack
  • 1 set of RCA audio/video jacks
  • 1 S-video jack
  • 1 VGA connector
  • 1 HDMI connector

The A/V connectors all feed into the widescreen LCD TV, which auto-detects and selects the connected source. Of course, if you want to go wireless, you can do that, too. The hotel provides wired and wireless Internet access in the rooms at no cost. The only negative: the hotel’s television and video service offers just standard definition programming and content.

Response to Netflix

I am enormously disappointed to see Netflix abandon its HD DVD customers in favor of supporting just the Blu-ray format. Clearly Blu-ray looks like the inevitable winner in the wake of confusion left by this unfortunate format war. However, many consumers invested in HD DVD hardware over the past year or so [I’m included in that lot]. This decision by Netflix to stop stocking discs in the HD DVD format leaves these people with few options. Also, there are likely to be upcoming HD DVD titles that are unavailable in the Blu-ray format for a while. Netflix, you’re simply going to deny your customers of these titles in HD altogether? Even with Blockbuster switching [who really cares, right?] and retailers now clearly favoring Blu-ray, many consumers took comfort in the fact that some major studios still support the HD DVD format and that, all the while, Netflix has provided unwavering support for both formats. Until today. Until now.

I understand the need to gain economies. I understand the costs associated with distributed fulfillment. So here’s my plea, Netflix: Continue to offer titles in the HD DVD format as they’re released and as long as demand exists, but centralize the distribution. This allows for a smaller inventory while continuing to serve customers with the latest in high-def content. When customers select movies in the HD DVD format, they’ll do so knowing that the distribution process may take a little longer. That’s OK. I’m willing to wait a little longer for a title in a high definition format that I can use.

Eventually, one format will prevail, but that day hasn’t truly arrived yet. That day won’t arrive until all the major studios abandon support for and discontinue the release of titles in the other format. That day may be tomorrow, but from what I see, it’s at least five months—if not a full year or so—from now.

Respectfully,

Richard
Long-time Netflix customer and HD DVD adopter (doh!)

DirecTV Tuner for Media Center Closer to Becoming Reality

Yesterday DirecTV started officially talking about its upcoming new PC tuner. At CES, product sheets outlined the features of a stand-alone, USB-connected, two-tuner device called the HDPC-20 (think external CableCard tuner). Specifically, this product provides significant new options for Media Center and DirecTV customers alike. It delivers DirecTV HD content to Windows Vista Media Center, opening new markets for Media Center and (finally) an alternative to DirecTV’s own less-than-spectacular DVRs. DirecTV isn’t offering up any information about dates and cost, but price-wise, I’d expect it to fall somewhere between their set-top HD tuners and HD DVRs. Whatever the schedule, it’s nice to see that this relationship between Microsoft and DirecTV, first announced by Gates at CES two years ago, is real.

Feedback for NBC

I’m frustrated and disappointed that NBC has decided to walk away from iTunes–the leading online store for purchasing TV episodes to watch on a mobile device. While I’m sure the executives have everyone convinced that this was the right move, I believe that it was short-sighted. Like many, many other consumers, I have no interest in purchasing television content that I cannot take with me on my iPod–the market’s leading mobile media device available today. I have no interest purchasing content that I cannot play on multiple devices around my home (with iTunes I can play the episodes on my iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, and on my laptop–all without an Internet connection). I have no interest in streaming TV shows on my computer while tied to my desk. And I have no interest in paying more for a season of episodes than I would pay for the entire box set of DVDs for that season. It’s just not going to happen. So it seems that NBC has lost my business for video downloads. I suspect I’m not alone.

NBC and the Business of TV Downloads

Apparently, NBC Universal thinks that consumers should pay more than the going rate of $1.99 per episode to download single episodes of television shows…as much as $4.99!

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. HA ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

Wow…they just really don’t get it, do they?

Feedback for Amazon and TiVo about Unbox on TiVo

I love Amazon Unbox video downloads for TiVo. When Amazon first unveiled Unbox, I was leery of its proprietary desktop playback solution. I don’t want to watch a movie at my computer. I want to sit back and use my remote—I don’t want to have to fumble clumsily with my mouse for some soft pause button hidden who-knows-where on the screen.

Unbox on TiVo solves this problem. I can go online anywhere to rent movies, Amazon pushes the movies to my TiVo automatically, and I can watch them on my TiVo, just like any other recorded video in my Now Playing list. Well, not just like. Almost just like. Unbox rentals expire 30 days after downloading or 24 after first playing them—whichever comes first. This is a pretty standard model, but it still sucks. It means that you likely can’t start to watch a movie one night and then finish it later. You also can’t shuffle Unbox content between your TiVo boxes, so you can’t start the movie in the family room, and then finish watching it in your bedroom using TiVo’s multi-room viewing feature. And it gets worse. Apparently, Amazon does not permit you to re-rent an Unbox video once it has “expired!”

I recently rented Stranger than Fiction from Amazon Unbox. If you’re unfamiliar with this movie, the movie follows a man whose life is being scripted by an author who kills off her hero in every book. The whole question of this movie is: will the hero die at the end or won’t he? I watched Stranger than Fiction at the end of the 24-hour period on the last of the 30-days’ viewing window. Five minutes before the movie’s end, my TiVo deleted it automatically. I had reached the end of my permitted viewing period. OK, anyone could argue that it’s my fault that I waited until (literally) the last minute, but c’mon…there should be some slack there while it’s actually playing. Adding insult, I can’t rent the video again through Unbox. Amazon’s site apparently doesn’t allow it.

Were I renting from Netflix or from some brick and mortar store, I’d have the ability to re-rent something that I didn’t get the chance to watch or to finish. If the movie rental business is ever going to work in the digital world, you’re going to have to be more flexible and at least provide the minimum of services available through traditional retailers. Give me the option to extend my rental period (even if at a cost). Give me the ability to re-rent content. And give me more flexibility on when and where I can watch the video. If digital rentals can’t ultimately provide these options, then they’re doomed to stand behind the superior offerings of companies like Netflix and Apple—companies that better understand and respect how people want to consume media.