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In Episode 49 of the net@night podcast, Amber MacArthur and Leo Laporte interviewed the co-founder of animoto, Brad Jefferson. animoto is a web service that generates professional quality, customized videos from your images and music. FYI, here’s Leo’s video.

I decided to give it a whirl. I am impressed. So far I’ve ‘produced’ three videos including this one of my 2002 trip to Thailand (turn on your speakers for this).

The images in this video were taken from these Thai locations in this order: Bangkok (including the backpacker Mecca of Khao San Road), Ko Samui,Ko Tao, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Rai Leh, Ao Nang Krabi, Kanchanaburi (Bridge Over River Kwai), Phang-Nga then back to Ko Samui

Except for the uploading and processing time, assuming your pictures are generally ordered on your computer or hosted web service in the order you want them in your video, the process takes only about 10 minutes of your time.

Animoto ‘How To’ Summary

  • Select Images: Upload your pictures to animoto (one picture per second or two of music worked well for me). Alternatively, you can select pictures from your flickr, facebook, smugmug, picasa or photobucket account
  • Arrange Images: Arrange the photos in the order you wish. You can tell animoto which pictures to highlight in the video
  • Select Music: Select one of their canned tracks or upload an MP3 file from your computer
  • Payment: Pay either U.S. $3.00 per video, or $30 for a year long unlimited all-access pass, with Paypal or Google Checkout (unfortunately no credit cards yet). Note: See the referral program info below to get $5 off the all-access pass
  • Processing: animoto will churn away for an hour or two analyzing your pictures and chosen music and then create a customized video. animoto will email you a link to the finished product when done

Below I describe what you can do with the resulting video and provide a step by step guide, showing how I made the Thailand video.

Read the rest of this entry at The Daleisphere »

Mac TV software ‘The Tube’ has been updated to include an interesting new feature:

The new 2.7 release now supports “placeshifting.” Using iChat, you can drag a The Tube icon onto an active video chat to stream video on your TubeStick to friends using iChat Theater. Attendees can also record video clips of the show being shared.

It just so happens that I have an older (NTSC) Miglia TVMicroExpress USB stick review unit here… which includes a license for The Tube. While I’ve verified the iChat television sharing feature does exist (above), I haven’t actually tested this new way of socializing around television content. (Busy prepping for a work trip this afternoon… I’ll recruit Tofel to fire up iChat when I’m back home next week.) TubeToGo (below) is another notable new feature (introduced in March, v2.5), facilitating web archiving (and streaming) of television content. Something I’ll also need to check out more thoroughly when I return.

Sezmi Follow-Up

Mari Silbey —  May 13, 2008

I’ve been meaning to follow up on Dave’s Sezmi post. I’ll start by saying that I love the idea of Sezmi, the former Building-B, but I simply can’t imagine how the enterprise will succeed.

As everyone has discovered, video services are entirely dependent on the quality of the transmission systems they use. Sezmi is relying on two transport methods, over-the-air transmission and fixed-line broadband networks. Both Cynthia Brumfield and Glen Dickson pointed out that leasing over-the-air capacity is not as easy as Sezmi has made it out to be. According to Dickson, Sezmi is unlikely to get more than 60 Mbps of capacity in any market, which probably can’t support more than ten HD channels at most even using MPEG-4 compression at very low data rates. Given that folks are complaining about the lack of HD channels with FiOS, how can Sezmi compete with only ten?

On the wired side of the equation there’s even more of a bandwidth issue. Sezmi plans to sell its service through broadband partners (ISPs, telcos without TV service, and some retailers), but if it’s truly successful, the broadband portion is going to place a tremendous strain on the Internet delivery mechanisms (likely not fiber to the home) of those partners. I can just hear cable’s new Slowsky commercials now.

Of course, all of that’s not even taking into account the issue of the content deals Sezmi is negotiating. Video deals are notoriously difficult to arrange, and certainly if cablecos and telcos ever truly sees Sezmi as a threat, no doubt those operators will bring every bit of leverage they have to bear to make sure the content Sezmi gets is not as good or wide-ranging as theirs.

Sezmi is attempting to do two things that consumers are anxious for: provide a cheaper option to cable TV, and create an effective interface that combines broadcast video with Internet video. On the first point, I think it will be blocked at every turn. On the second point, I think the company may show others a way forward, but it’s a problem that all the big guys are already working on, and will bring out their own solutions for when they’re good and ready.

Best of luck to Sezmi. These guys have been really innovative, and deserve huge kudos for trying something new. I wish the obstacles in front of them weren’t quite so daunting.

HBO content lands on iTunes, with variable pricing (based on unknown criteria):

“We’re thrilled to bring this incredible lineup of programming from HBO to the iTunes Store,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s vice president of iTunes. “Sex and the City,” “The Wire” and “Flight of the Conchords” are $1.99 per episode, and “The Sopranos,” “Deadwood” and “Rome” are priced at $2.99 per episode.

$2.99/episode seems quite high… for older shows (no longer in production). The few times I’ve been motivated to purchase episodes online were series not yet available on DVD, such as Burn Notice. And even though these are purchases, as opposed to rentals, it’s not like you get a ton of replay value – DRM-ed content isn’t easily shared (like a DVD) and you’re not going to stick a 55 minute show into a playlist for repeat enjoyment like a digital song. I suppose the value of an iTunes download is being able to sync content to an iPod or iPhone without ripping, transcoding, etc. Though handheld entertainment has its place, the only folks I see paying for and watching an entire season are those regularly commuting via bus or subway.

Surprisingly, Entourage isn’t initially available for download. Is this a licensing issue and/or is it just a matter of time? (And I doubt shorter shows will be introduced at a new 99 cent tier.) Seems like Apple and HBO would want to eat into the BitTorrent-embracing demographic by getting this series onto iTunes.

Michael Gartenberg believes the introduction of variable pricing opens the door for the return of NBC material to iTunes. And while I’m not entirely opposed to tiered pricing, I expect to see newer or longer content command a premium – rather than HBO’s apparent randomness.

As an aside, I dropped HBO when they couldn’t get Deadwood renewed. Showtime currently provides the best original, commercial-free programming on television now. Incidentally, Showtime also embraced digital downloads early and via multiple destinations/services… which is how I ended up a subscriber.

Hands On With Eye-Fi

Dave Zatz —  May 12, 2008

I’ve had the Eye-Fi on hand for a few months now, and generally speaking, I’m a believer.

This agnostic 2GB WiFi SD card ($100) allows most digital cameras to store and wirelessly transmit JPEG photos to both a local Mac or Windows PC and one of many online destinations (Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug, etc). It’s the perfect tool for the lazy blogger (that’d be me) or tech novices (like my mom) – removing the need for card readers or USB cables and manual imports. Though I wouldn’t recommend the Eye-Fi to those regularly shooting hundreds of photos, as WiFi uploads are slower than your existing transfer methods and camera battery life will be impacted. I’ve been mostly satisfied using the card for shooting and transmitting blog photos… Pics are conveniently uploaded into iPhoto on my MacBook Pro and into my Flickr account (as a backup archive).

My older Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 has experienced the occasional prob: Sometimes after attempting to snap a pic, the camera fully extends and then retracts the lens in a sort of zoom cycling – and unfortunately, an image is not captured. A nice-to-have feature that I’d like to see integrated into the very nice software interface and service is the ability to send my phone a text message once the current batch of photos has finished uploading (so I know it’s safe to turn off the camera). I’d also like a way to transmit videos, and I’ve noticed others looking for RAW support – though I’m not sure those folks fall within the typical Eye-Fi demographic.

Today, Eye-Fi is announcing the expansion of their product lineup. The card I have is being re-branded the Eye-Fi Share (still $100), providing both computer and online service uploads. At the lower-end, the Eye-Fi Home ($80) facilitates only camera -> local computer transmissions. At the high-end, the forthcoming Eye-Fi Explore ($130) will geotag all photos and adds Wayport hotspot uploads (free the first year, $19/yr thereafter). While the geotagging feature is pretty cool, until/unless Starbucks hotposts (AT&T or T-Mobile) are added, I’d purchase the Share card… which I’m surprised they’re not offering (yet?) in 4GB capacities.

Overall, I’ve appreciated what the Eye-Fi offers and it’s one of the few review products I’ll purchase once the loaner has been returned or raffled off.

DivXDivX reported their 1st quarter earnings on Monday and while I’m still waiting to read the actual 10k before digging too far into the numbers, I did want to comment on what I see as a significant shift in strategy. Over the last 7 years, DivX has done an impressive job of building an eco-system around a single file format. The first time that I came across a DivX file, I actually thought that it was some kind of a virus. It took me two weeks before I worked up the courage to download the DivX media player so that I could play the movie, but once I did, I realized that my fears were unfounded. The file not only offered a superior video experience, but it was a lot smaller than the MPEG files that I was used to downloading. Since I was on a dial-up connection at the time, every little byte made a big difference.

As the P2P networks developed, DivX and it’s open source cousin XviD, became an important resource for file sharers. Initially, my own interest in DivX was driven by it’s technological advantages over other video formats, as well as the wide availability of DivX content on the grey market, but as compression technology has evolved, my reasons for using DivX have changed as well. Since I’m no longer on a dial-up network, compression is less important then what I can actually do with my videos.

As DivX gained in popularity, they were able to forge agreements with consumer electronic manufacturers that allowed you to play DivX files on a wide range of devices. Even though, H.264 is a superior standard for internet video, I still prefer DivX files because I know that I’ll be able to play them on the hardware devices that I own.By creating an eco-system that supports portability, DivX has been able to lock me into their format in the same way that Apple has been able to use iTunes to keep their customers buying iPods instead of MP3 players.

Continue Reading…

NBC’s still got Steve and iTunes blacklisted (for now), though that hasn’t stopped them from making content available to Apple devices. Turns out is providing iPhone owners video clips and full episodes (30 Rock, The Office) free, without commercial interuption. Video is selected via Safari and launched within the QuickTime player. Resolution isn’t high, but it streams well over WiFi and the price is right. Over EDGE, I had to wait (too long) for a suitable buffer to build – and I wouldn’t recommend it. But, no worries… the 3G iPhone is coming next month.

In other NBC video download news, content is now purchasable by Zune owners. Those very same Zune owners may also see their devices loaded with “copyright cop” software. OR maybe not.

(via Gartenberg tweet)

Looks like we’ve got a new player in the PC extension business… Last last week, ZeeVee introduced the ZvBox – available for pre-order. The ZvBox transmits both PC VGA video output (up to HD resolutions) and audio (up to 5.1 surround via USB) over coax to televisions in your home. Re-using the existing coaxial cabling installed in most homes is an efficient way to move content, from the SD DIY AVcast to whole-home DVR products from vendors like Verizon FiOS TV and Dish Network. Unlike those solutions, however, ZeeVee doesn’t transmit control over coax – relying instead on a two-way RF remote with a reported range of 150′.

ZeeVee hasn’t yet indicated the exact requirements to receive the “Zv channel.” Can the signal be passed through a set-top box, or will the cable need to be split? And what about my older Panasonic CRT HDTV without ATSC tuner – am I out of luck? Though, the biggest hurdle these guys face isn’t technological, it’s pricing… At $500, I’d rather buy a small, dedicated computer to watch Netflix, Hulu, etc on my television. If they reduce consumer cost by 1/3 – 1/2, they’ll have a much better shot at success.

(Thanks for the tip, Ryan!)