Archive for May, 2008

Catching up with Time Warner Cable, Blockbuster, TiVo, iTunes UK, and Netflix

time warner cable logoAnother day, another set-top box.

This one comes courtesy of Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, who told those at the Stanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York that the company planned to market equipment to its subscribers to make it easier for them to watch Internet video on their televisions.

Naturally, Britt offered few details, other than to say:

“Right now it’s pretty hard to get Internet stuff on your TV,” Britt said [via Reuters]. “We’re actually going to have equipment we make available to subscribers. It’s actually going to be a new wireless cable modem that will allow you to network everything in your house.”

Naturally, Britt didn’t elaborate or say when the set-top box would be available to subscribers.

“Within a relatively short time . . . it’s going to be very easy to get Internet TV on your big screen TV.”

OK. So Time Warner is throwing its hat into the ring with the likes of Apple and the AppleTV, TiVo, Netflix/Roku, Vudu, Microsoft, Sony, the cable companies, and seemingly hundreds more. As long as we’re watching the vendor sports between these players, we might as well throw Time Warner’s set-top box scheme into the mix.

Catching Up

After the break, a few stories of interest from the just-concluding week.

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Sony's agreement to use tru2way technology will eliminate set-top boxes, but not right away

sony logoDon’t count out the set-top boxes just yet.

The news this week that Sony has signed a deal with the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) is essentially good. The agreement will allow people to rid themselves of clunky, mostly ugly, space-consuming set-top boxes and still receive “two-way” cable services such as pay-per-view and video-on-demand movies.

tru2wayTo do this, Sony will incorporate a cable TV technology called tru2way in new televisions. Tru2way is an open java-based platform that allows developers to create all sorts of applications like games, eBay notifications, or interactive guides.

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Google demos Android again; it's full of promise, but we're still waiting for the real deal

android ioGoogle demonstrated its Android operating system again, this time at the I/O conference in San Francisco. And, well, it’s still full of promise, just in case you were wondering.

As you would expect from the company that brings you search and Google Maps, Android handles information delivery, location and navigation extremely well — or so we think. There’s still no actual Android phones to play with.

The coolest feature shown was a “compass” tool that automatically roams with the phone while a user looks at photos of a city map.

But the rest of what was shown was, well, underwhelming or just plain expected.

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Finally! Somebody (Vudu) extends movie-rental deadline beyond 24 hours

vuduSeemingly lost in the news of iTunes, the AppleTV, Amazon’s forthcoming online video streaming service, and the newly available Netflix set-top box from Roku, is Vudu.

Vudu, the movie-on-demand service with its own set-top box, has upgraded its software to version 1.5 — ho hum — but this upgrade includes the ability to extend the rental past the 24-hour deadline.


One of the loudest complaints from people who rent or stream video content over the Internet is that they’re given 24 hours to watch a movie once it has started. If the baby interrupts and you can’t get back to “Atonement” in time, tough. You’ve got to rent it again to finish.

Vudu now allows you to extend the rental period for $2 off HD movies and $1 off regular flicks. The option is available for a week after the movie expires; once chosen, you have another 30 days to watch, 24 to 48 hours (depending on the film) after you hit play. The extension is available only once, although we wish it was without an additional cost [Ed. all rentals should be viewable for 48 hours at no extra cost. The studios are just being plain greedy and demonstrating that they still don’t understand viewing habits. Have they never heard of “no late fees”?].

It’s a reasonable amount of time to finish what you started, or watch again. It’s also something that others — ahem, iTunes — should offer as soon as possible.

Details are scant, but Amazon will be launching online video streaming service soon

bezos at all things dThe details, unfortunately, are scant. This is what we know:

Amazon, the world’s largest Internet retailer, will be launching an online streaming video service in the next several weeks, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said a little too matter-of-factly at the D: All Things Digital conference. (Reuters)

One detail: The streaming service will start immediately for viewers, unlike Amazon’s Unbox product, in which users are required wait a period of time as content downloads.

Another semi-detail: The streaming service will operate a-la-carte, but we don’t know what this means exactly. Can viewers stream movies on a pay-per-view basis, presumably at the industry standard $3.99 per rental? Or will this service operate ala Netflix, where people pay a monthly subscription fee (like $15) for a certain number of movies?

We’re sure additional details will be forthcoming in the coming days, or weeks.

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How to save the Zune

This is a guest post by Michael Pinto who is the Creative Director of Very Memorable, Inc. a design firm that specializes in the youth market and interactive media.

With the iPhone taking away the mind space of the iPod, the Zune already seems to be in an orphan category with consumers. A sign of this is the recent high profile blowout when GameStop announced that they planned to stop selling the Zune. However, to me the surprise was that GameStop had been selling the Zune in the first place. I’ve been to several locations over the last year or so and I’ve never spotted one in a store. Perhaps the reason for this is that I was hunting to buy yet another Nintendo DS Lite and not looking for an MP3 player as a stocking stuffer.

In fact the only time that I’ve seen a Zune in the wild was while I was running through Kmart. Now think about that for a second: The biggest market for this device would be those hungry for music — tweens, teens and young adults. This market is very style conscience to say the least, and the one place they might encounter this device is in-between the linens and pantry items. Also the few times that I’ve seen representatives of the youth market at Kmart they were hunting for dorm room necessities rather than objects of entertainment.

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Location-based services like Whrrl on iPhone to usher in Internet of people, places, and things

kocb logoGet ready for the Internet of people, places, and things. Thanks to the iPhone and Android, it’s just around the corner — no pun intended.

BusinessWeek reports that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venture capital firm behind the iPhone funding program iFund, have chosen two companies as its top picks to date — Whrrl from Pelago and Home Security 2.0 from iControl Networks.

Kleiner Perkins, a big fan of location-based services, has extended an offer to one other startup and are “seriously considering” 10 others, whatever that means.

whrrlWhrrl combines the mapping capabilities of the iPhone with the ability to find information on your friends, where you’ve been, where anybody has been — in essence, connecting people, places, and things. Whrrl currently works on the BlackBerry Pearl and Curve.

iControl’s application isn’t as sexy as Whrrl — it is home automation after all — but it gives users the ability to communicate to the places and things important in their lives, namely their homes or businesses and what’s in them like door locks, air conditioners, lights, and so on.

Add these programs to the applications being developed as part of the Android Developers Challenge (Bread Crumbz, LifeAware, Beetaun) and you can see a locations, locations, locations trend forming. In Wired lingo, it would be:

  • plain old voice communications: “expired”
  • mobile Internet surfing: “tired”
  • using mobile devices to interact with people, places, and things: “wired”

“There’s going to be a ‘what’s going on around me right now’ button,” Kleiner Perkins partner Matt Murphy told BusinessWeek. “You’re always one button away from that immediate context.”

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DLNA certified: how your computer, cellphone, games console, media streamer and other devices can play nicely together

Imagine a world where your computer, cellphone, games console, storage devices, media streamers and other hardware all play nicely together, so that, for example, music, photos and video can reach the television or Hi-Fi no matter where in the home it originates.

That world is one which the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), an industry consortium backed by big name consumer electronics, computer and mobile device manufacturers such as HP, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung, is aiming to create through support for the UPnP (Universal Plug ‘n’ Play) AV standard. For end consumers this means that any ‘DLNA certified’ device should, in theory, be able to share or access media on the same home network — a message that DLNA members have largely failed to communicate, which is especially sad considering that many people already own a number of compliant devices (see our recent guide to streaming media from a Mac to PlayStation 3).

In this post we’ll explore the UPnP AV standard a little further, and pick out a few of our favorite supporting devices.

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Could we be edging closer to a Europe-wide 'iPod tax'?

Could we be edging closer to a Europe-wide 'iPod tax'?Consumer electronics companies including Apple, Nokia and Sony, maybe softening their stance against a Europe-wide copyright levy on “the sale of products that can be used to copy music, books, films and other protected content”, reports the Financial Times.

Currently 22 out of 27 European countries already enforce the so-called ‘iPod tax’, at greatly varying levels, on products ranging from digital music players, printers, mobile phones and even blank CDs. Notably, the UK doesn’t currently enforce any kind of copyright levy. The charges are designed to compensate for the losses copyright owners may face from “private copying” of works.

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Monday's links: TV becomes social again; Solar powered iPods; iPhone Earth

It’s a bank holiday here in the UK and Memorial Day in the U.S., therefore posting on last100 will be a little lite today. However, the ‘interweb’ never takes a day off and so without further ado here are three of this morning’s more noteworthy stories:

TV becomes social again

The BBC’s Darren Waters has an interesting post talking about the return of TV’s ‘water cooler moment’. In the age of multiple platforms, on-demand, Internet TV, PVRs and the like, people no longer watch television ‘together’. Or at least not as much as we used to. However, potential ‘water cooler’ moments still exist, such as this weekend’s Eurovision song contest, which can be discussed around a virtual water cooler, and in near-realtime, thanks to the messaging service Twitter. “Last night I was watching Eurovision with Twitter running on my laptop. In real time, my Twitter friends and I shared comments and made observations about the event as it was happening. Twitter was being used to extend the experience of watching the event together, but also for people to share links to sites with backstory, or explainers etc.”

Also see our post from last year: Television networks seek connections to viewers through Twitter.

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