Archives For Industry

With CES upon us, USA Today chatted with Sony executive Kaz Harai on wide array of home entertainment topics — including Sony’s foray into cloud services across various platforms and the, perhaps inversely related, decline of Blu-ray sales.

But what I found most interesting are their  “smart” TV intentions. First, Kaz is on target when stating both Sony and their competitors simplify messaging to convey the benefits of an Internet-connected platform. As, while I believe widgetized televisions are selling, I’m not convinced web feature, as currently implemented, see much use. Next, kudos to Ed Baig for this killer question, “Will there be an Apple TV?” To which Kaz reponds,

I’m on my product development guys to do the very best they can to deliver a compelling experience and have competitive product in the market, whether Apple is there or not.

There’s been significant speculation that Apple might enter the television space Continue Reading…

Several pay-TV operators debuted iPad apps with streaming video in 2011, and most started offering live TV before the end of the year. Now Broadcom is hoping to take those TV Everywhere efforts a step further. This morning the chip maker announced an integration deal with EchoStar to embed Sling place-shifting tech in its dual-tuner HD gateway system on a chip (SoC), the BCM7425. The news means set-top makers, like heavyweights Motorola and Cisco, will soon be able to add a dose of Sling into their set-tops with the help of one of their existing suppliers.

To date, Dish Network is the only service provider offering place shifting with a Slingbox or “Slingloaded” set-top. All of the other live streaming apps on the market require users to stay within the bounds of their home Wi-Fi networks. Thanks to current licensing deals, and programmer squeamishness, TV Everywhere is more like TV Everywhere in Your House. However, Cablevision’s (until recently) COO Tom Rutledge already stated publicly in August that Cablevision is working to change that. The Sling-on-a-Chip news could help pave the way. If  “slinging” becomes more mainstream, it will be hard to argue that operators can’t offer the same functionality in their apps, with our without Broadcom’s SoC.

Broadcom says the new BCM7425 will be available in the third quarter of this year for cable, telecom and satellite TV operators.

As we roll inevitably toward another Consumer Electronics Show, it’s instructive to look back at what made headlines only a year ago. Some of the products announced then have come and gone. Others are still waiting in the wings for a launch date. Here are five stories we covered at CES 2011 with a look at what’s changed in the 12 months since.

The nPower PEG was one of the coolest green gizmos demoed at CES last year. The Personal Energy Generator stores your kinetic energy and lets you use it as back-up power for your mobile gadgets. According to reps at CES, one minute of walking time could translate into one minute of listening time on an iPod Nano. Unfortunately, while the PEG was on back-order last January, it’s still only in available in limited quantities today. According to the website, “Each week – as we assemble nPower® PEG units in our Cleveland, OH facility – we contact individuals on this reservation list to let them know that their PEG is ready.” That hardly sounds like a model built to scale.

Both Dave and I fell in love with the Yahoo Connected TV platform over successive years at CES. However, I was well aware last January when watching a demo of Yahoo’s latest technology that the company was unlikely to live up to its television potential. Too many promises; too few deployments.  Today, after much delay, the Yahoo Connected TV Store is finally available to consumers on Sony and Toshiba TVs. According to Yahoo’s blog post on November 2nd, the platform offers premium paid TV apps in addition to 180+ free apps, and Yahoo expects to its TV Store to reach “millions of TVs in the coming months.” Call me skeptical, but isn’t everyone and their mother offering connected TV apps now? Perhaps Yahoo can make things work with the help of its broadcast interactivity tech, but given competition from the likes of Shazam and Invidi, there’s a tough road ahead.  Continue Reading…

No matter how many different ways you have to watch TV today – on your HD screen, 10” tablet, or Xbox Live – there is no free-for-all, a-la-carte nirvana. In fact, subscription costs for pay-TV services continue to go up, and, thanks in large part to sports programming, the trend shows no sign of reversing in 2012.

Sports franchises hold a lot of TV clout for several reasons. People don’t generally watch sports on time delay. Live events make mobile distribution more important. And sports fans can be fanatical, willing to pay large sums of money to catch their favorite teams. Because of program bundling, many others pay a lot of money too. In fact, Will Richmond calculated last February that folks who don’t watch sports and casual fans spend close to $3 billion a year on programming they don’t watch.

As we settle into 2012, there are a number of battles being fought between sports programmers and distributors over how much money sports are worth. Here’s a look at a few data points in the larger war. Is there a tipping point ahead? And how deeply will regulators get involved? Continue Reading…

As we collectively move towards the more efficient whole-home DVR model, Verizon has announced plans to launch a FiOS TV “media server” in late 2012. With such a long gestation time, they’re not quite ready to reveal their hand. Yet, I’d expect at least three tuners and 1TB of storage (compared to the DirecTV HR34‘s 5 tuners, 1TB or the TiVo Elite’s 4 tuners, 2TB). Of course, along with such a beefy centralized unit Verizon will introduce small form factor extenders to sprinkle throughout one’s home. And, as you can see in the video above, one of their marketing points is improved energy efficiency. Lastly, Verizon continues breaking new ground with their television-as-an-app initiative, potentially fed via the aforementioned media server – with references to tablets and the Sony PS3 possibly joining the Xbox as IPTV set-top box replacements.


Update: Verizon tells me to expect 6 tuners (!) and that recording capacity is still being determined but they’re leaning towards 1TB at this point.

The 2011 Boxes Of The Year

Dave Zatz —  December 21, 2011


It’s that time of the year again where we run down our selection of best digital media boxes. And, surprisingly, the top 2012 recommendations aren’t dramatically different from our 2011 picks.

In the ‘all around’ category, we’re still partial to the current generation of Sony and Microsoft gaming consoles… which offer far more than HD gaming. The Xbox 360 ($200) delivered more innovation in 2011 than the PS3, with (another) massive UI overhaul and new video services including Verizon FiOS TV and YouTube. Yet, despite Sony’s well documented security lapses, we’re nevertheless giving the PS3 ($250) the edge this year for two reasons. First, despite the proliferation of Internet video, there continues to be a void of compelling content that can’t be sourced (legally) online via services like Hulu or Vudu – making the PS3’s integrated Blu-ray player just as compelling as ever. Next, many desirable Xbox features, like Netflix streaming, require a $60 annual subscription. For gamers who play collaboratively online, it’s a sunk cost. But for everyone else, the Xbox 360 carries a recurring premium that’s hard to justify when a fee-free media streamer like the the Roku LT runs a mere $50.

Roku LT

Speaking of that 720p Roku LT, Continue Reading…

Reuters dropped a veritable bombshell yesterday when it reported that Verizon has plans to launch a streaming service in 2012 to compete with Netflix. It wasn’t a bombshell because Verizon’s never talked about this before. After all, we got an inkling of the operator’s plans at CES last January. It was a bombshell because the report follows last week’s announcement of a major spectrum deal between the telco and its cable competitors. The combination of news has many speculating about what Verizon plans to do with its FiOS TV service, and all that fiber it’s got in the ground.

First off, here are some of the facts. Reuters says Verizon is currently in talks with prospective programming partners about a new standalone video service. The service would not be tied to FiOS TV, and it would be made available outside of existing FiOS markets. Sources for Reuters say content for the service would be limited, possibly focused on movie packages and/or children’s programming.

Assuming Reuters’ information is accurate, what we don’t know yet is how a new streaming service would fit into Verizon’s overall video and broadband strategy. Some are suggesting that Verizon is giving up on its wireline infrastructure in order to focus on wireless. After all, why not ride someone else’s pipes for video, and dedicate valuable internal resources on developing the company’s newly acquired spectrum? The problem with that theory is that Verizon’s wireline infrastructure – aka its fiber-to-the-home network – is a huge competitive advantage. Not only has it allowed the telco to sign up 5 million FiOS TV subscribers, it’s also given Verizon a huge leg up on cable with Internet delivery.

Going forward, I believe Verizon will use its proposed on-demand streaming service as a way to gain incremental revenue and fill the gaps where it can’t reach subscribers with its FiOS TV offering. It seems likely that the operator will market the new service with its wireless packages, possibly offering discounts for a different kind of bundle when consumers are willing to sign up for both cell phone coverage and streaming content. I believe the new service will buy Verizon new customers and a new revenue stream, but that it won’t negate the value of the company’s wireline assets. Instead, it will give Verizon time to sort out when it should invest in further fiber deployments, ultimately extending the footprint for its full FiOS TV and Internet service.

When it comes down to it, Verizon’s fiber network is the ace up its sleeve. All that bandwidth means better control over video quality, and it means more capacity for consumers who want to download and upload lots and lots of stuff on the Internet. Wireless networks are great, but they have their limitations. Verizon can focus on 4G rollouts now, but that doesn’t mean it should or will abandon any fiber plans for the future. There are too many advantages that come with Verizon’s network in the ground.

One of the selling points for Amazon’s Kindle Fire is supposed to be its Silk browser with embedded web acceleration capabilities. However, new data suggests Amazon’s claims of a better browsing experience are overstated. Google employee Steve Souders tested the performance of Silk on the Fire and compared it to web browsing on other tablets. Souders can’t be considered an unbiased observer given Google’s own interest in web acceleration technologies, but his findings are still interesting. According to Souders (and reported by ReadWriteWeb), Safari on the iPad 2 loaded pages faster in most cases than Silk on the Kindle tablet did. The Galaxy Tab performed better than the Fire with three out of eleven pages tested.

Part of the issue with Silk is that it requires content to be routed through Amazon’s servers in order for the company to perform its acceleration magic. That’s great for content already hosted on Amazon’s cloud, but (as I understand it) it means an extra step for content originally hosted elsewhere. In addition, as one commenter points out on Souder’s post, websites that already use serious content delivery network services have maxed out acceleration potential at the network level and won’t see improvement on Amazon’s network. Despite public perception, the Amazon cloud can’t compete from a distribution perspective with the networks operated by the major global CDN players.

Souders does make clear that he expects Silk to continue to improve. He says Amazon hasn’t optimized everything yet on its acceleration platform, and certain obvious optimizations, like concatenating scripts, are likely to roll out in the near future. In the meantime, Kindle browsing appears to work better with Silk acceleration turned off than with Silk acceleration turned on. Keep that in mind if you plan to wrap up a Kindle Fire for someone this holiday season.