Neuros Unveils Next Gen Hardware

Dave Zatz —  November 19, 2008

Another day, another media extender. However, the new Neuros Link ($300) tackles the issue of moving web video to the television in a unique and more practical way. While products like the SlingCatcher, D-Link DSM-300, ZvBox, and PlayOn require a local PC to acquire, transcode, and serve Internet video, the Neuros is handling this function in the cloud via the also new and subscription-free Neuros.TV online service. In addition to channeling a large selection of web video, such as Hulu and CBS, the Neuros Link Ubuntu platform can also playback a wide variety of local media files at up to 1080p.

The technical specs aren’t comprehensive… So while I assume external storage can be directly connected to any of the 6 USB ports, it’s not clear if the unit will also support local streaming from computer or NAS. As an owner of Neuros’ previous generation product, the OSD, I also wonder if the Neuros Link will offer video recording functionality.

While this product is now leaving beta, Neuros is classifying it as a Gamma release – meaning the experience may still be a bit rough around the edges, is intended for early adopters, and a 4 month-no-questions-asked return policy is in effect.

34 responses to Neuros Unveils Next Gen Hardware

  1. Problem is, whats the quality of Hulu? I tried to watch something on hulu with my laptop and it was awful. At least half as good as netflix video. I ended up purchasing the eps on Amazon instead, which had 480p or better available.

  2. From their web page:

    “…The cable/satellite monopoly is over. The Neuros LINK gives you access to the largest video library: the Internet. Free TV shows, on demand with no subscriptions or contracts….”

    Loves it! ( Even if its wishful thinking )

    Marketing hype aside, doesn’t this solution still qualify as a proprietary, dedicated STB?

  3. Scott, current Hulu quality is not great full screen on a computer or projected onto a television. I agree Netflix looks better (and has already started to go HD on the Xbox). I assume Hulu quality will improve over time and CBS offers some real nice stuff.

    However, the bigger problem is these unofficial scraping techniques (like Boxee has implemented) can be killed temporarily or permanently as the distributors make changes on their end. Which is why I’m still hopeful off seeing some formal relationships… like Hulu on my Netflix Roku box.

    Todd, the Neuros OSD was completely hackable. In fact, they counted on community developers to extend the platform. This new offering is built on Ubuntu and will probably also be open for community development.

  4. Oh wow. It is kinda open hardware. They even ported the VLC to that previous gen box:

    http://open.neurostechnology.com/content/vlc-porting-neuros-open-internet-television-hdplatform

    Good grief if they bake in VLC support into this new box and then connect them all together with a cloud based “super VLC server” I would buy one instantly!

    Anyone from Neuros reading this post please ding me via Twitter @ronin691 – !!!

  5. Dave-

    Yes the Neuros Link will play about any content you have on your network.

    480p Hulu content looks atucally quite good on a TV.

    The HW and Software will be hackable as always.

  6. @Dave
    It’s not exactly scraping in our case, we’re going to the source and giving you the flash video player from the TV network site (as embed when possible, with the rest of the page when not).

    We are likely to look at dealings with these content providers for more integrated access as we progress (no promises if they actually will want to do that, though).

    As Johan said, hackability is major, it’s an Ubuntu box essentially, so you can do pretty much whatever you want with it.

    @Scott
    In our search and browse results we have also unbox results, in case you want to pick up your episodes from there.

    @Todd
    It’s not proprietary at all, and regarding VLC support it can run on this box without any problem, even though the VLC-cloud thing you mention is a bit far off for now ;) I don’t use twitter so if you happen to read back this comment, you can email me instead at nerochiaro at neurostechnology dot com

  7. Why wouldn’t the networks shut down the access to professional content? It just seems like a likely move.

  8. Why would they put it online in the first place then ?
    They can shove advertising before and during it and also on the side of it in the webpage, they have all to gain.

    The only access they are likely to block is direct access to that content, skipping ads, which is pretty much already impossible right now since you can rarely play the video outside of their flash player interface, and that constraints you to watch some ads.

  9. Mari, some sites like YouTube have an accessible API and it’s easier to allow others to develop. Others like Hulu may turn a blind eye or even encourage this, as their embedded ads get served and individual views are still counted.

  10. Yeah, I get why they should allow it, but given that the networks shut down Redlasso, which was trying to make them money, I have to wonder.

  11. I think the problem with redlasso was that they were creating clips out of the network’s content.

    In our case we’re just accessing that content, with ads and all, so they have no reason to shut us down or block our access to content. It’s a win-win situation unless I’m missing something extremely obvious.

  12. You are missing something obvious. They may block you simply because they don’t want anyone else even indirectly profiting off their content without a deal in place. In other words, they’ll block you simply because they can.

    We aren’t talking about (somewhat) benevolent corporations like Google here. Hulu is run by big media. If they notice you, they’re likely to crush you. Just because they can.

  13. In addition to Rodalpho’s point, there may also be a variety of guild-type licensing issues related to how and where this content can be presented. TV may not be appropriate and there’s the whole issue of region-based viewing.

  14. Region based viewing is enforced pretty much by all of these sites already. Watching that content outside of the states is pretty hard, unless you mess with proxies and whatnot.

    Rodalpho has a good point, they are indeed evil entities.

    But i think that if they want to crack down on the kind of usage that the Link will alow of their content, and they want to do that with technical measures, then they will end up cracking down pretty much on everyone that use their web site’s flash players.
    The Link is merely using whatever they put online for everyone to see, it’s not even literally scraping their sites.

    Obviously they can do such a crackdown from the legal angle, misusing the legal system to serve us a silly lawsuit that we are unlikely to have the energy to litigate. It’s what they have their lawyers do for sport when they’re bored.
    Hopefully when that time comes, an agreement can be negotiated that allow continued access to the content. In any case, I believe the Link will be too small for quite a while to be under the dinosaurs’ radar ;)

    Time will tell, i guess

  15. It would only take trivial changes to the site format to break these services. It wouldn’t be very difficult. While I agree that it’s a win/win, I can’t imagine big media seeing it that way. They haven’t blocked boxee, neuros, etc, because they haven’t noticed them yet.

  16. I am pretty confident when i tell you that trivial changes to the site’s format will not break at least the Neuros service.

    Changing the site’s layout is the way to break services that do page-scraping or that try to extract the FLV stream from the site’s own flash-based video player UI (and other similar techniques).

    But this is not what the Link is doing.
    As said previously it’s using the entire flash embed when available, or just displaying the entire page where the video is published when that is not available.

    In this way, the web server has really no way to tell this kind of access apart from any random person accessing the site from Firefox from a random desktop workstation.
    That’s why I see it as pretty hard to block in this way.

    Again, the legal manipulation way will also be probably less expensive and easier for them anyway, so that’s more likely to be used if the time ever comes.

  17. You’re just talking about the video. If there’s no scraping, how does your UI work? Lets say a user wants to watch the latest episode of Heroes. How do you find the correct URL for that video without scraping the webpage, since they don’t expose it via any kind of API? The answer of course is that you don’t, you need to scrape.

    Of course you could always literally load up firefox and let the user browse around to find it himself. But that’s giving up entirely.

  18. There are sites that index most of internet video content such as Truveo and other search engines that provide internet video results.

    To provide the links to the videos (or the pages with the videos) we use these sites, plus a database of shows and episodes, some community-based help, and some magic on top of that ;)

  19. Ahh, didn’t realize you were a Neuros employee. The sites you mention of course utilize scraping to generate those links, and that saved data would be invalidated if the content providers choose to change their sites’ format. Same deal with the community.

    You’ll end up in an arms race. After each format change, your users will be forced to wait for new scrapers to be released. Opensource evangelists running mythtv/freevo/etc were willing to endure that kind of thing, but consumers certainly will not. They paid for a black box and just want to watch TV.

    Anyway good luck with the device, I loved the idea and ideals behind the OSD but never jumped in due to lack of HD support. Sounds like you guys could be a great popcornhour competitor.

  20. PlayOn’s previously experienced some glitches (which killed playback) due to changes on Hulu’s end. So, yeah, it’s an arms race. And a simple login could make it a hell of a lot more difficult to grab content… For the moment Neuros, Boxee, etc may be off the radar. And as they get larger, hopefully some copacetic deals could be worked out. But again, it’s the licensing that kills so much of this on the web. Everyone needs to get paid.

  21. @ Rodalho: I believe, Neuros now has OSD that supports HD, but it’s in beta or something like that.

  22. Ivan, I was actually wondering if the OSD 2 HD has morphed into the Neuros Link. Perhaps Johan or Nerochiaro can enlighten us?

  23. @Rodalpho, Dave
    You raise good points. Trying to keep the system not tied to specific details of these sites will be key in ensuring things will not crumble down when they change things. Hopefully we will be able to stay ahead of the race.

    @Rodolpho, Ivan
    We have an device called OSD2 that is currently sold as developer kit only, it will be able to support HD playback and recording. And the Link itself will be able of HD playback (not recording though).

  24. @ Nerochiaro: that’s what I thought. It’d be nice if it were one device though. Or is OSD2 going to have Link’s features+recording?

  25. @Ivan
    I see that as very hard, since the OSD line right now is based on ARM+DSP platform which doesn’t offer any easy ability to play most internet video, like the Link can.

    What is more likely to happen is that maybe in the future we release another Link-like device that can do also recording (we got several requests for it in fact). But that’s all speculation at the moment, there are no concrete plans for that yet.

  26. @Nerochiaro

    What about Revision 3 content and other shows such as Cranky Geeks? Are they be available or can the end user add other content sources such as these?

    Also: why no 802.11n? Cost? Waiting for release of the finalized spec?

  27. @TheHoldSteady

    Regarding 802.11n is mainly a matter of cost, it’s still pretty expensive at the moment.

    Regarding those other shows you mentioned, I suppose you meant to ask about non-TV shows. Well, we aren’t directly supporting them right now in the sense that you won’t be able to browse into them by season or by episode, but you can still find some of the episodes by using the search function.

    However we have already planned features that allow people to contribute to the database. Initially by being able to flag search results as “hey, this is episode 45 of Cranky Geeks” (so that others can browse to it without searching). Later this will be expanded to allow people to create and maintain their own shows, in the sense of adding episode lists, recaps, linking episodes the to videos etc. etc.

    In a month all the above is probably going to be already implemented, if things go according to plan.

  28. @Rodalpho, Dave

    Content providers could certainly try to make our lifes harder if they want to, but do they really? Their execs seem to have realized over the last couple of years that the internet could increase their viewership if they have the content readily and easily available. And their goal is just that, put their stuff in front of more eyeballs to be able to charge more for ads. As Nero pointed out, we direct people to the sites of the content providers, so viewers see what the providers want them to see.

    The other advantage of content delivered over the internet is the unmatched level of interactivity the medium brings to the table. By sharing/recommending videos to friends and family, you just make it easier for everyone to watch shows, movies and clips.

    As long as you don’t temper with the content and deliver it as is, I am quite positive content providers will be quite happy to see their shows easily accessible.

    The ones that might not be happy with that are the Cable and Satellite TV providers. At this stage, we are more of a complement to their service, but it is clear that Internet TV is a threat to their business as it exists today since they happen to be the middle man. They can either hold their ground and fight this trend, or come up with their own internet TV solution. Comcast with its Fancast site did the later and I think we will start seeing more of that in the months to come.

  29. If they’re as enlightened as you say and happy to have 3rd parties embedding their content, why haven’t they provided an API for that purpose?

    They realized nothing of the kind. Hulu and its ilk exist because the mass media execs learned from the recording industry debacle with napster, the iTunes store, etc, and know with no alternative everybody will just bittorrent the shows with no ads at all. Which, I’ll add, many are doing even _with_ Hulu because they still offer better quality and can be streamed to their TV with an xbox360 or PS3.

    Anyway back on topic, the best you can hope for is to be ignored; in which case they won’t purposefully try to block you but also won’t hesitate to change their site for whatever reason (branding, redesign, promotions, etc) either. So you might avoid the arms race, but it’ll still be a game of catch-up. If I were basing my business model on streaming internet video, I’d be really nervous with content sharing agreements in place. Slingmedia did it with the slingcatcher and sling.com; they will play ball.

  30. @ Nerochiaro

    So no RSS-like feed capabilities ala Miro, etc?

  31. Johan, you’re overlooking the crankiness of the various guilds, unions, agencies, and collective bargaining. By piping the content back to a television set, it’s quite likely the licensing terms (and payment structure) shift. Case in point is the Columbia/Sony movies not available on Netflix hardware but available on Netflix.com. Hopefully, you remain off their radar until those things are worked out.

  32. @TheHoldSteady

    Not initially at least, but it’s sure an idea for further improvement.

  33. For businesses used to have everything run under tight control open API is certainly a little too early. They still offer the option to embed their content though, it is more than I would have expected at this point.

    Being aware of what is coming does not mean you can move or want to move on a dime. All these companies have been running the same business model for quite a while now, taking a different approach will take time.

    In the meantime, we will work on gathering momentum for our open platform. Critical mass will go a long way to allow use to strike content deals when the time is right.

  34. @Dave

    Believe me, we are well (too?) aware of all the hurdles on our way. That is the beauty of innovation though. Thankfully, we are plenty of big and small companies out there working on getting more content online.