Archives For Web

Stay Away From Swoopo

Dave Zatz —  August 18, 2009

swoopo

I have a pretty extensive history of mucking about in the online auction space. I picked up my very first DVD player (new) at a steep discount in 1998 via Ubid (or maybe it was Microwarehouse’s auction site). Over the years, I’ve also unloaded a ton of gadgets and more on ebay, originally via my own account and most recently via a real world consignment shop. And yesterday, after seeing a ton of ads and catching the NY Times write up, I gave Swoopo a try.

Swoopo positions themselves as a spend to save, shopping entertainment site. But this ain’t no Mercata. Bidding on the nice looking new inventory runs 60 cents a pop. (Bid units are bought in bulk, with 40 @ $24 being the lowest entrance fee.) Which doesn’t sound like much, but with limited merchandise and numerous competitors you’re going to spend a pretty penny to most likely fail in your quest. Plus, each bid extends the time remaining in an auction by a preset amount of seconds. Resulting in additional bids.

I blew about $30 trying to pick up the nice looking Panasonic Lumix TS1 waterproof digicam last night. The winner ultimately nabbed the camera for about half off, but who knows how much he spent for that honor. And the automated BidButler sniping feature he used takes away the competitive joy. In fact, I wonder if I’m bidding against pros who’ll ultimately resell their bounty. I’m also left with a somewhat dirty feeling using Swoopo, which is more akin to gambling than other auction sites. And, as with Vegas, the house always wins.

The Limits of Online Video

Mari Silbey —  August 15, 2009

Dollhouse Epitaph 1

Last night I had one of those moments – scratch that, one of those hours – which illustrates exactly why TV is still the best medium for television shows. I’m a big fan of Hulu, and I love that I can catch the occasional old episode of Bones or Thirty Rock on my netbook while hitting the treadmill or cleaning the kitchen. However, by far the best TV experience for me still comes from pointing my remote at the big screen in my living room. Here’s why.

I discovered recently that an un-aired episode of Dollhouse, Epitaph 1, had made its way to iTunes (Amazon VOD, too), where the Whedon show has been exceedingly popular. I instantly plunked down the $2.99 and started downloading the HD version to my trusty Eee PC. Since the episode was a 676MB file, I left my computer running and checked in later… only to discover that my PC had done an automatic update and automatically shut itself down. Begin download take two.

The second download worked fine, and last night I set things up to watch the coveted episode on our big screen TV. I plugged the netbook in to the TV with a VGA cable and connected the audio up to some living-room speakers. Brilliant, right? Hardly. I assumed that since the show was downloaded and not streaming, and since I had successfully watched crystal-clear HD content on my Eee PC before, that porting over to the big screen would not be a problem. Unfortunately, my poor little netbook didn’t have the horsepower to carry it off. First came the stuttering, and then came the abrupt, no-warning shut-down of my computer. Continue Reading…

Video Moving Online

Anyone who follows digital distribution knows that P2P is a popular method for video downloads, but how popular it is may surprise more than just angry content owners. In June, Futuresource Consulting released the results of an in depth survey called “Living With Digital: Consumer Insights into Entertainment Consumption” which examined legitimate and illegitimate video usage in the UK, France, Germany and the USA and came up with some pretty interesting data.

According to their survey’s, 8% of consumers in these countries have admitted to using p2p to get content. With these countries representing approximately 500 million of the 6+ billion global population, it suggests approximately 40 million people are participating in illegal downloading in these four countries alone. Continue Reading…

roku

I love my little Roku box. The Roku Digital Media Player ($99, Amazon), which began life as the Roku Netflix Player, streams Netflix content (free for subscribers) and Amazon video on demand (VOD). Standard def was decent, but both are now available in HD (720p). Sure, it’s not Blu-ray but it’s good enough for many. Perhaps, most. And the mighty quick, dead simple interface is a joy to use, providing a better experience than TiVo’s equivalent Netflix and Amazon apps. We know Roku’s got several new partner services lined up this year, including video podcasts by MediaFly and Blip.tv webisodes. Plus, it looks like YouTube may also be on tap. At $99 the Roku’s in impulse purchase territory – it’s hard to go wrong. Having said that, as an owner and a guy who follows this space, I’ve got a few suggestions for the Roku team (and their partners). Enable some of these, and I’ll pick up a box for every room.

1. Display the Netflix Instant Streaming Library
If the Xbox 360 can do it
, so can Roku. Let me browse the Netflix instant streaming library, instead of viewing just the queue I filled from my computer. It’s more a natural and spontaneous couch-based video experience. Even in its current updated form with the Xbox only displaying top titles in each genre, it’s still a massive improvement that I’d like to see replicated on Roku.

2. Enable 1080i
I was extremely psyched when Roku flipped the switch on HD last December. However, as it turns out, the Roku box only outputs 720p high definition. Meaning many early HDTV adopters are unable to use Roku in HD mode on 1080i-only sets. Which is what we have in the bedroom. With nearly 200 comments and over 38,000 views, Roku’s 1080i discussion thread is a strong indication I’m not the only one suffering.

3. Integrate Streaming Music
The Roku Soundbridge
was my first streaming music hardware gadget purchased (and ebayed) many moons ago. And while both Roku, Inc and I have fond Soundbridge memories, they’ve clearly moved on from this product line. But why not leverage that knowledge and technology into their set-top box? Even if Roku’s no longer interested in powering LAN audio streaming, at the very least give us Pandora or Slacker – who have shown a willingness to partner in this space.

4. Sexify the Hardware
Obviously, one of the keys to Roku’s success has been keeping their hardware price in check. But, man, is this plasticy black box and remote seriously lacking in the personality department. There’s gotta be something economical that can be done to improve its looks. Especially if they plan to expand into the retail marketplace. I’d almost like to suggest a Roku Pro, a more powerful device with sexed up hardware. But that comes with its own series of challenges to overcome, including consumer education.

5. Play Boggle or Trivia in the Cloud
The problem with most platform casual gaming is that companies take the shotgun approach of engineering (or licensing) many games of questionable quality which are then buried in a rarely visited sub-menu. I propose a different strategy. Pick one game, partner, and make it a showcase piece. In 2005 (!), TiVo launched an (unofficial) amazing apps.tv example, which showed tons of potential. I was a big fan of this Boggle-esque game played against fellow TiVo subscribers. Unfortunately, but typical, for TiVo only a few dozen of us knew it existed and the game didn’t go anywhere. As Microsoft has 1 verus 100 on the Xbox locked up, Roku could partner with say NTN/Buzztime and let me subscribe to a trivia game network with real prizes.

Bonus suggestion:

6. Not Hulu
My love affair with Hulu is over. They’re a sock puppet for big media dinosaurs with an ever changing, incomplete, and restrictive video library. Let them fail with ZillionTV while Roku strikes independent deals with the likes of Comedy Central or sports leagues.

How much do I love Joss Whedon?

Dr Horrible's sing-along blogMore than two years ago I ran a post suggesting that it would take someone like cult-favorite Whedon to blaze the next trail in online media. Then last year Whedon launched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a three-part production that was made available for free on the Web. Through DVD sales and paid iTunes downloads (the content was only free for a short time), Dr. Horrible grossed $2.5 million.

Now Joss Whedon is at it again, this time with a plan to create a microstudio focused exclusively on content for the Internet. From a recent Forbes article:

Whedon envisions producing series that could be shown as individual episodes and then repackaged as movies. The site would make money the same way Dr. Horrible did–via downloads and DVDs.

Given that big media is still more than a little scared of online ventures, it’s a relief to see someone with Joss Whedon’s clout experimenting with ways to make Internet media financially viable. It will be a long time before revenues from online video come close to being competitive with traditional TV, but the path has to start somewhere. I can think of no one better to start mapping the way than Joss Whedon.

college-football-hd-guide

College football fans out there know summer is nearing its end and the season is almost here. I ran across a few college football guides you might want to check out including the HDTV guide and the overall schedule. Check out the entire HD lineup at HDSportsGuide.com and for the full NCAA college football schedule, hit ESPN.

Catch more of Brent’s reflections on tech, gadgets, software and media over at Geek Tonic.

google-video-on2

There’s beginning to be some interesting commentary on the purchase of video codec company On2 by Google, see here, here and here. Much of the speculation understandably has to do with what this will mean for Google’s future with video, either via YouTube or in the Chrome browser and eventually OS. Within the specs for HTML 5 there is a push towards a simpler, more open video standard, with the open source Ogg Theora already getting some official support. Since On2’s earlier VP3.2 is the basis for Ogg Theora, some believe by purchasing On2, Google is likely looking to take their much more advanced VP7 and VP8 codecs open source and possibly license-free. Such a move would provide HTML 5 with very advanced video technology for free, and would create serious competition for other current codecs and/or platforms such as h.264, Flash, Silverlight, etc., while at the same time giving Google another point of real strength in future internet developments.

One question that I have yet to see answered sufficiently is how empowered Google would actually be to make such an aggressive move in regards to video technology. On2 claims that VP8 and their earlier technologies are completely patent free, unlike other video codecs like H.264 that have very complicated patent claims handled currently by the MPEG-LA licensing body. Even though there are excellent open source versions of h.264 encoders, such as x264, users still have take care of licensing with MPEG-LA. If Google could actually release VP8 technology as open source, or even if just royalty-free, codec, that would be a major disruption of the current video landscape and the future plans of many competing companies, including Adobe, Microsoft, Apple and DivX (full disclosure, I am a DivX stockholder). There have, however, been some rumblings about just how patent protected On2’s codecs really are. I don’t know enough to comment, other than to say that patents and video technology can be very, very complicated and messy.  In any case, there will certainly be much investigation and discussion around these issues before we see any major shifts from Google based on their purchase of 0n2.

Catch more of Bruce’s digital media musings over at Digitalwerks.