Archives For Media

EngadgetHD’s Ben Drawbaugh recently abandoned TiVo in favor of a CableCARD Vista Media Center and has been evaluating the current crop of extenders. His ultimate advice: If you’re a gamer, stick with the Xbox 360 (despite the cost and noise). Otherwise, the quiet and relatively inexpensive Linksys DMA2100 ($240) is the way to go.

Wimbledon 2008 starts today and runs to July 6 and I discovered that Wimbledon provides a two week ‘Wimbledon Live‘ service. For a flat fee of $24.99 you can stream live matches to your PC or download up to 250 matches in .wmv format after the match is complete. Matches will be available until May 1, 2009. Day passes will also be available but so far I haven’t found pricing details.

As usual, my TiVos are queued to record as many matches as TSN and NBC air. But, all too often, matches that I want to watch are not broadcast. Or, too frequently, certain channels have exclusive rights to particular high profile matches with the result that they are not shown on the channels that my cable provider, Rogers, makes available to me!

All video is in 384 x 288 with a 4:3 aspect ratio. I took a quick look at the free streaming demo of the 2005 Federer vs. Roddick Wimbledon Final. The quality wasn’t great (see pic above), but it wasn’t bad either. Because the service only works with Windows Media Player, the it’s not available to Apple users and, presumably, not available through AppleTV.

Note: In addition to the free streaming demo, I tried the free downloadable version but it would not play without having to first sign up and give them my credit card. This kind-of defeats the “free” part of the ‘Download (FREE)’ offer.

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Why Dave Gave Up On Hulu

Dave Zatz —  June 20, 2008

I received the same Hulu email as Mari earlier this week. And it didn’t move me. I don’t want to stream full length feature films on my laptop. Hulu‘s real strength has been in shorter form television entertainment. (Given their NBC and FOX DNA, this comes as no surprise.)

During Hulu’s beta I was pretty tolerant of their “random episode” policy, figuring it’d take awhile to encode the content library. However, after many months I still see no rhyme nor reason to what shows are available and when.

For example there’s not much on TV these days, so when I heard about USA’s Pysch I dropped by Hulu to check it out. As you can see above (click to enlarge) – only a few episodes are offered, they’re not in any sensible (sequential) order, and at least one will expire (before I’d get to it). As someone who’s never seen Psych, at the very least Hulu needs to provide the first episode of each season so I can see what it’s all about without joining mid-stream. Ideally, they’d present the entire season – but even if they offered a few episodes, perhaps they’d hook me and I’d buy the DVD or (gasp) even watch live.

The bottom line here is that big media still doesn’t (seem to) get it. I’m willing to sit through the commercials, generating additional new revenue for these guys. Online, they need to focus less on (the false premise of) cannibalizing DVD sales or television viewing and focus more and monetizing what people are acquiring for free… or ultimately ignoring. Too hard to find Psych? Fine, I’ll skip it. They’re leaving money on the table.

Boxee: XBMC Reloaded

Dave Zatz —  June 15, 2008


While the XBMC desktop port continues, a new player (Boxee) is stepping in to create a (free) unified front-end that layers social networking features on top of traditional media extender functionality. For those unfamiliar with XBMC, I’ll go ahead and quote myself:

when you’ve completed the upgrade, the classic Xbox is more capable, useful, and affordable than most most media extenders out there – including the 360. All sorts of multimedia can be streamed across your home network, played back from the local hard drive, or via the optical drive. Hooks into YouTube and Apple’s movie trailers are included, plus all sorts of other widgets are available.

Of course, that description was specific to the original XBMC running on classic Xbox hardware (XBMC = Xbox Media Center) – but the experience is being translated into a (multiplatform) computer app. While XBMC development has been doing OK on it’s own, it’s still remains largely the province of geeks. To go mainstream, we’ve got to get past compiling code and installing Python scripts. By bringing leadership equivalent to the Mozilla Corporation to bear on this problem, Boxee should be able to speed and enhance development.


Boxee’s currently self funded and the team is comprised of about ten people, including a former Sling Media colleague. I was provided an advance look at a pre-alpha build and found the visual interface both pleasing and speedy, with some innovative new methods of media interaction (think: friends) for this category.

As far as challenges, Boxee’s will be no different – the space is getting crowded and the market for computer-based media centers is finite. According to NewTeeVee, they may ultimately look for hardware partners. My short term suggestion: Let me replace the AppleTV experience. Apple’s hardware is pretty solid and priced right at $229 but, while not quite a wall-garden, software functionality is limited. I assume the XBMC MPEG-2 codec is unlicensed and, as a commercial venture, Boxee will be on the hook for royalties (if they provide playback).

Hit to request an invite for alpha testing (Mac & Linux), which begins Monday.

Let me start by saying every device should offer some sort of wireless connectivity, preferably built-in. Research indicates folks are going to connect a limited quantity of devices to their televisions, so it behooves companies to reduce barriers to entry. As to why wireless isn’t integrated into everything: Another chip raises the BOM. And more than the additional hardware cost is the price associated with supporting wireless configuration and performance. While I understand the rationale, I don’t buy it. If you want mainstream penetration, you need to offer WiFi.

Having said that, I’m actually (pleasantly) surprised to see Vudu provide a wireless option – especially since they stream at pretty high bitrates. I’d have assumed they’d play it safe with no remote networking option or, perhaps, Powerline. However, it seems to me that they’re mitigating support costs by selling a pair of wireless bridges to simplify configuration. In fact, at $79 I doubt they’re making any money on these.

Coincidentally, I happen to have a compact ASUS wireless bridge which looks remarkably similar to what Vudu is selling. Setup was extremely efficient and performance (Vudu, Slingbox SOLO) has been rock solid – much more so than the two Buffalo wireless bridges I recently ebayed. And what I find most clever is that it doesn’t require a power adapter (though one is provided) – it’s able to get enough juice off a USB connection, thereby reducing my clutter quotient. I wonder if there’s a way to decouple the Asus Vudu wireless bridge pair… If so, that $79 becomes an excellent value for adding WiFi to two devices (Vudu, Xbox, Slingbox, TiVo, etc).

Jeremy Toeman received an extremely thought-provoking YouTube non-takedown notice regarding his January 2007 video upload containing a U2 soundtrack. Here’s the excerpt:

UMG has claimed some or all audio content in your video Pussycat Dolls @ Microsoft CES Party – basic Muvee w/U2. This claim was made as part of the YouTube Content Identification program. Your video is still live because UMG has authorized the use of this content on YouTube. As long as UMG has a claim on your video, they will receive public statistics about your video, such as number of views. Viewers may also see advertising on your video’s page.

I experienced the same reaction sequence as Jeremy: Outrage initially, followed by acceptance. All in all it seems like an entirely reasonable compromise – Universal Music Group has vetted the content and asserted their rights (to possibly make a few bucks) while leaving Jeremy’s creative content available. Our initial agitation could probably have been reduced if YouTube had presented the info somewhat differently… Perhaps prefacing the note by thanking Jeremy for his contributions the community and then giving him a choice of resubmitting or removing the video as alternatives to UMG’s eminent domain claim.

Apple’s now offering movies via iTunes in the UK and in Canada. But that doesn’t interest me so much – it wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of when. The real news here is that they’ve obviously worked a deal with the studios to permit a 48 hour viewing period. A current pain point for many (real or perceived) is the 24 hour limit to complete watching a rental. I’ve thought 36 hours should be sufficient to allow ‘film interrupted’ folks to resume viewing their flick on a consecutive evening. While Vudu has taken things into their own hands (and probably at their own cost) to offer 24 hours of extended viewing (48 total) for an additional $2, perhaps the tide is turning and we’ll hear something (other than iPhone 2.0) out of WWDC next week…

Earlier than I had anticipated, the first Netflix set-top box has hit the market. Many of us complain of “box fatigue”, but we’ll probably make an exception for the compact Roku Netflix Player listed an attractive $100 with unlimited video streaming (for Unlimited Plan subscribers). Though, Roku obviously overlooked physical design to get this unit out quick and at a reasonable price point. Having said that, they didn’t skimp on network connectivity by kindly integrating wireless along with the typical wired Ethernet option. The fanless media streamer currently maxes out at 480p, but the HDMI-equipped unit is capable of higher definition once Netflix provides HD content. (Higher tier plan?) The UI is limited to browsing your pre-existing Watch Now Queue – meaning, you won’t be searching or adding movies on the fly.

Now the interesting thing about Roku is the founder and CEO… About a year ago Anthony Wood (also a founder of ReplayTV) left Roku to head up Netflix’s Internet TV Group. In January, he returned to Roku and here we are. I assume this is the smaller Netlifx partner which I got wrong (suggesting a D-Link or Netgear). Perhaps, I would have voted differently had I kept tabs on Wood.

Early Reviews: