Posts Tagged ‘ TV/video ’

What’s Next for Apple TV?

Now that I’m used to surfing through YouTube videos on the television with my remote, I have to wonder: what’s next on the horizon for Apple TV?

I’ve been a fan (and owner) of Apple TV since its introduction earlier this year. Just as the iPod completely changed how I consume media while commuting, at work, and on travel, Apple TV has transformed video viewing habits in my home. Apple TV makes iTunes a more viable option for buying movies and episodic television shows, but it also brings Internet video to my TV and remote. I hate sitting in front of my PC to watch video content, which only leaves air travel and car waiting time for catching up on Ask A Ninja, MacBreak, and other Internet short-form content. But with Apple TV, my Internet video subscriptions are in my Den, up-to-date, waiting for my enjoyment. Apple TV and iTunes sync automatically through my home network; it all happens seamlessly and invisibly. And with iTunes’ ability to note and share my last play position for video content, I can pick up where I left off if I want to finish watching a TV show in another room or catch the end of the movie on my morning flight.

Is Apple TV everything I want it to be? No. Will it be? Maybe. With this device, Apple has created a platform that it can expand with both hardware and software. Happily, the signs point to just that plan. A few months ago, Apple released a new Apple TV model that bumps its introductory local storage capacity of 40GB up to 160GB. Now we’re talking about some decent room for video content. Shortly thereafter, Apple introduced YouTube on Apple TV. It’s a good start, but hopefully it’s just that: a start.

What’s next? Here are some options I hope that Apple is considering:

iTunesHD. Apple TV has the ability to deliver high definition video and multi-channel sound to your television, but where is the content? While the Xbox Marketplace is offering movies for paid download in 720p, movies on iTunes are still limited to sub-DVD quality. I’m hoping we’ll see high definition movies and TV shows for purchase through iTunes before the end of the year.

iClick&Buy. Just how much can I do with that tiny little remote? Not enough. Yet. I’d argue that I should be able to browse and purchase content on the iTunes Store right from my sofa. Apple could take iTunes Top Movies and similar features on the Apple TV to a new level with just one little option: Buy this Movie.

Appleflix. Netflix and TiVo never managed to get it together, but why not go for the same effect with Apple TV? The Apple TV is the ultimate device for PPV content – be it movie rentals or special programming. Its iTunes Top Movies and Theatrical Trailers features demonstrate that direct-to-device streamed content is already possible, and much of the back-end storefront architecture is in place today to support iTunes.

iDVR. With added capacity and a software update, the Apple TV could be the perfect platform for a completely new type of flexible DVR solution. Stackable, add-on components that share the Apple TV’s footprint could deliver channel-specific single and multi-tuner cable, satellite, or IPTV content right to the device for real-time or shifted viewing. How do you get your TV: DirecTV? CableCard? Digital cable/QAM? With swappable TV modules, it wouldn’t matter. This kind of solution could make Apple TV the first fully-integrated provider-independent DVR. If nothing else, I’d love to see the UI they’d create for a TV programming guide.

So that’s what I hope to see out of Apple over the next year or so for Apple TV. Clearly, Apple has been heavily focused on the iPhone and the Mac hardware and software updates recently. My hope is that they’ll come up for some air when Leopard goes to market and focus their creativity on the largely unrealized potential of this new entertainment platform.

Feedback for Disney

I’m enormously disappointed that Disney is not offering video titles in the HD-DVD format. While Paramount and Warner are supporting both formats, Disney has once again chosen sides in this latest of video format wars. I remember when about a decade ago, Disney made similar moves by supporting the Divx (Digital Video Express) format over standard DVDs. The Divx discs offered consumers less flexibility, while promising studios better protection of their content. Wow, déjà vu…that’s very similar! A few years later, Disney realized the error in its judgment and threw itself into the Digital Versatile Disc market with uniquely-branded “Disney DVD” videos. Whatever…I didn’t care about the artificial victory announcements. I was just glad the discs started to arrive on shelves. So now, about those HD-DVD discs…when should we expect to start seeing them?

Feedback for tvguide.com

You know how your own publication has jeered at the networks for BLARING commercials, while they (the networks) claim that they can’t do anything about it? We all know that they can, of course…do something about it. Even I know how to normalize audio across multiple sources. Well shame on you, TV Guide. Not only do the pre-roll commercials you run on tvguide.com’s Videos section SCREAM at an unreasonable volume, but you’ve also prevented visitors from pausing the commercials, you’ve prevented visitors from changing the volume of the commercial*, and you completely ignore visitors’ volume selection for videos, reverting to the previously-mentioned unreasonable volume when playing each new commercial. Seriously? Tonight was my first and last visit to your new Videos section.

*It’s worth mentioning how poorly you’ve implemented the volume control for commercials. I’ve noticed that you don’t actually prevent me from attempting to change the volume. Indeed, I can click the volume icon and move the slider. In response, however, not only do you not change the volume, but you pop up another browser window that, in some browsers, displays an error message. Sloppy. Really sloppy. Your customers expect and deserve better.


I encountered problems when I attempted to submit this feedback online at tvguide.com. The customer support section requires that you select a feedback category [note that it doesn’t tell you this…it just requires it]. Since there isn’t a category appropriate for web site or online video content, I didn’t select one. In Internet Explorer, I received this error:
We are having a technical problem. Please try later.

In Firefox, absolutely nothing happens when you click Submit. Nothing – categories selected or not. Nice error-checking, team…very nice.

Xbox 360 HD DVD Player

I didn’t think I’d pick a side so early in the ongoing high-definition video disc format wars, but with Microsoft’s introduction of the add-on HD DVD player for the Xbox 360, I couldn’t resist. The Xbox 360 HD DVD Player is a USB device that plugs into your existing Xbox 360 game console, further expanding the 360’s home theater capabilities. But the hook for me was the price point: $199.99. So…for significantly less than any other high definition disc player, you’re ready for next-generation DVD video.

What You Get. The Xbox 360 HD DVD player comes with the drive, a separate power brick, the necessary power and USB cables, and (for a limited time) a copy of Peter Jackson’s King Kong on HD-DVD and the Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote. Together, the disc and remote carry a retail value of about $70, so you’re really only paying about $130 for the HD DVD player itself. One more time, for effect: you are getting an HD DVD player for just $130!

What You Need. Clearly, I’m not suggesting that you can add HD-DVD playback to any high definition home theater system for under $200. This player is designed to connect to your existing Xbox 360 game console; and for HD quality video, you’ll need to invest in an Xbox 360 HD cable system (for somewhere between $20 and $60 – but that’s a 360 upgrade you should absolutely have already). That said, many industrious consumers have already discovered that with the right drivers and software, you can use the Xbox 360 HD DVD player as an external HD DVD (read-only) drive on your Mac or PC.

The Bad News. So far, I only have a few gripes with the drive. First, I don’t like the form factor. The drive shares the book-like form of the game console itself, though it’s somewhat smaller and apparently only designed to lay flat, as opposed to the console’s ability to stand upright on it’s end. This makes it difficult to stack or configure the devices near each other in any way that seems natural. I’d have preferred a piggy-back design that clamped onto the side of the console itself.

Second, the 360 differentiates your add-on HD DVD tray from its own built-in disc tray by splitting the graphical on-screen eject button into two halves. Rather than representing the drives separately, this seems somewhat convoluted and is further complicated by the fact that the Eject function on the 360 remote seems to only function with the internal drive.

Finally, I wish the drive and the console were smart enough to turn on and start playing when an HD DVD disc is inserted into the drive. With the system powered down, the Eject button on the add-on unit’s face still functions. While this allows you to insert a disc while your XBox console is off, the system isn’t smart enough to turn on when the drive detects the inserted disc. Hopefully, this is something that can be addressed in future software and firmware updates.

Why HD DVD. Did I mention the price? Seriously, with the widespread adoption of the Xbox 360 game console, many homes have a ridiculously-low adoption cost of under $200. No other player can come close. Of course, the PS3 will play Blu-Ray discs, but good luck finding a console in the near future. Or good games. There are many other reasons to like HD DVD, including superior use of available compression technology (currently, HD DVD discs use Microsoft’s VC-1 codec), transparent menu overlays on movies in play, available hybrid DVD/HD DVD discs that are backward compatible with existing hardware and software, and overall better hardware availability. HD DVD also employs a consumer-friendly copy protection scheme that is designed to allow consumers to extract the content of their discs to a home media server. Plus, as of the Christmas 2006 shopping season, HD DVD appears to be winning the battle – at least by the numbers.

Why Not Blu-ray? First off, it’s yet another proprietary format introduced by Sony in direct competition with the industry heir apparent. Beta, anyone? MiniDisc? SACD? I am genuinely sick and tired of Sony bucking the industry with its own unique solutions that muddy the waters, confuse consumers, and ultimately damage technology adoption for an entire market. And did I mention, it’s Sony? Sony…the purveyor of desktop root kits in the name of protecting the intellectual property of musicians. Then there’s the hardware. All of the Blu-ray hardware costs more than the comparable available HD DVD hardware. Why? And while ultimately capable of storing far more data…who cares? You don’t need all that extra storage with the new compression codecs supported by these discs.

For me, the choice is obvious. I want HD DVD to win this format war, but we’ll just have to see how it really plays out. In the meantime, I’ll be requesting HD DVDs from Netflix and buying only DVD/HD DVD hybrid discs…just to be safe.

An e-mail message to Fox Broadcasting

I was really interested in watching Vanished, but the season started so early that I missed the pilot and started recording episodes a week or two into the story.

No problem…I figure I’ll watch the pilot online. So I go to Fox’s site to stream it. No luck. Apparently, Fox is only streaming episodes for a limited time. Very limited. [Blink] Hey…it’s gone! It…vanished. I’m weeks late, so no luck there.

OK, no problem. I’ll buy the episode on iTunes. Nope, not there. In fact, there’s nothing new there. That’s right…Fox has none—zero, zilch, zippo—of its new shows available for download through the iTunes music store.

It’s also not available for download or streamed viewing on Google, Guba, Amazon, AOL, or Yahoo!

So I won’t be watching Vanished this season. It’s a shame because I was really interested in this show. With the technology and media outlets available to content providers today, it could have been so easy! I was willing to pay to watch this episode that I missed, but Fox failed to make it available through any of the numerous delivery outlets. When will you folks get it?

An e-mail message to the SciFi Network

Wow…VERY disappointing news that you plan to cancel the long-running series Stargate SG-1. As a long-time Stargate fan, from the original movie to this series and Atlantis, I’m saddened by your decision to end this show that continues to deliver new and interesting stories, despite its long run. Even Anderson’s departure was handled adeptly, introducing Browder and (cleverly) Black. The tongue-in-cheek dialogue combined with continually intriguing mythologies make this a mainstay for SciFi. Or so I thought.

I hope you’ll reconsider this decision. Here we are just weeks into the new season, days after the celebrated 200th episode, and shortly after your inclusion of the series on iTunes for mobile consumption. This decision just doesn’t make sense. PLEASE, consider that television viewership has been at an all-time low this summer, as more and more people move away from traditional on-time, live TV viewing and adopt alternate entertainment experiences (gaming, web, etc.) and alternate content consumption habits (e.g., time- and/or place-shifting). As such, this series’ summer ratings alone may not be sufficient measure of its success.

Respectfully (and regretfully),
Richard
Washington, D.C.

Feedback for ABC.com

Streaming popular shows to the masses on abc.com…good. Streaming video ads with sound on the abc.com home page…bad. Experimenting with new advertising models…good. Disabling consumers’ ability to pause or stop advertisements…bad. Please consider that automatically playing video advertising on your home page (with sound and no ability to pause or stop the ad) is invasive and um, rude. I applaud your efforts to consider new media delivery models, but please be considerate of your audience.

Feedback for Vongo

Wow…what a great concept! I love this idea. All-you-can-eat, er…watch, videos downloaded from the net for a subscription fee. I love it. However, there’s one key problem with this model. The computer on which I download video is different from the Media Center computer at my television where I watch the video. Without a ten-foot interface or, even better, a Media Center integration point, there’s no way this can work in my household (and – I suspect – many, many others).


As far as I’ve seen, Vongo has one of the best, most consumer-friendly, legal video download services available. As a project of Starz entertainment (think Encore and Starz TV), this has a real chance of success. I hope they don’t forget, though, that people aren’t likely to sit at their computer to watch a two-hour-long movie. Similarly, people with Media Center computers hooked to their big-screen TVs rarely use a keyboard and mouse from the couch to run “desktop-style” applications. I believe that they need to integrate with existing services like Windows Media Center to make this service a success.

A message to Warner Brothers

I just visited guba.com because I heard that Warner Brothers was offering feature films online. What a great idea! Oh, wait…no, it’s not so great after all. Let me see if I understand this properly. I can pay $19.99 to download a video to my computer from GUBA OR I can just buy the DVD itself on sale somewhere for about $17. If I buy the film from GUBA, I get an encrypted file that I can only play on a Windows computer with Internet Explorer or on a Plays for Sure device–but not on a standard DVD player. If I buy the DVD, I can play it on any computer with any DVD player software and on any DVD player. Now…which option do you think I’m going to choose?

I have to ask, “What were you thinking, Warner Brothers?” This is such a poorly conceived idea, it’s incomprehensible that anyone with any intelligence at any company could delude themselves into believing that this would be an attractive alternative for consumers. Why isn’t it, you ask? (1) This distribution model gives consumers fewer viewing location choices, completely eliminating the most popular one: the DVD player attached to the home TV. (2) The selection of Windows’ (and only Windows’) DRM alienates many tech-savy consumers who choose not to use IE, Media Player, and/or Windows itself. (3) The price point is completely out of line. Ultimately, consumers get less in this model, so they should expect to pay less.

Do you want consumers like me to consider buying Warner Brothers content online? Here’s what you need to offer: For 9.99 or less, let me purchase and download a file that I can play on any computer or TV in my home from a central file system. For 4.99, let me download either Plays for Sure (Windows) or FairPlay-protected (Apple) versions of the content, targetted for smaller, portable devices at 320 x 240. Then, and only then, will I consider buying Warner Brother content online. Until that time, I’ll be sticking with DVD media.


Want to let Warner Brothers know what you think?

Leave them a message of your own.

An e-mail message to the Director of Communications at Philips

To Whom It May Concern:

I am disappointed and outraged that Philips has pursued patents on technologies that could significantly limit consumers’ control of their television viewing experience. While I understand your assertion that you have not yet implemented nor do you intend to implement such technologies in your devices, I have read the patent applications, and the language is very clear. The technology described in Philips’ application would essentially provide broadcasters with an extortionist approach toward television advertising: Watch the ads or pay! And as if preventing fast-forwarding in recorded content isn’t bad enough, the application describes technology that could hijack consumers’ hardware by disallowing them from changing channels during advertising! That is completely unacceptable. How dare manufacturers and content providers even consider such technologies? It is outrageous. Philips must truly disrespect consumers to pander so significantly to content providers and advertisers.

I am planning to purchase a new television in the coming months. I am an early adopter who spends thousands of dollars annually on consumer electronics. Because Philips might even contemplate technologies that could so significantly limit my usage rights as a consumer, you can be assured that I will not now ever consider purchasing products from Philips—not televisions, not kitchen appliances, not light bulbs. You, as a company, have completely lost my business.

[Richard]
Washington, D.C.