Archive for October, 2007

Vudu slashes price of its set-top movie box

Vudu slashes price of its set-top movie boxA little over fifty days after Vudu launched its set-top movie box and download service (see our review), the company has slashed the price of its hardware from $399 to $250.

Will the price cut give Vudu a much needed boost in the face of increasing competition? I’m not so sure. But it’s a start.

The company still faces a real challenge in persuading consumers to pony up the cash needed to buy the Vudu box in the first place, on top of renting the movies themselves. Instead, Vudu should bundle a number of rentals free with every box purchased. Or better still, turn Vudu into a subscription service similar to Netflix, with a minimum contract — say twelve months — and give the box away for free.

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Netflix confirms XBox 360, PS3 and set-top box ambitions

Netflix confirms XBox 360, PS3 and set-top box ambitionsLast week we stated the case for why we might see Netflix roll out its own dedicated set-top box in the not too distant future. However, during the company’s Q3 earnings call with investors, CEO Reed Hastings talked up more ambitious plans including the possibility of putting Netflix’s online video service onto next generation games consoles, XBox 360 and PS3, along with networked DVD players and other set-top boxes.

See also: Netflix is finally coming to Xbox 360, which is getting a dashboard makeover and Mii-like avatars

“Our goals in online video over the coming years are three-fold: one, to expand the content we offer online; two, to make it inexpensive and easy for consumers to view that content on the television; and three, to understand what the financial model for the hybrid service will be in the long-term.”

In terms of making it easier for consumers to view online video on a television, Reed says that Netflix are working with a “variety of partners” to explore options including Internet connected, high definition DVD players, Internet connected game consoles, and dedicated Internet set-top boxes.

“In the meantime, laptop computers are, for the younger generation, one of the primary ways video of all sorts is being enjoyed, and our online viewing is up dramatically quarter over quarter.”

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Google, Nielsen join forces, may someday change TV advertising

google logoGoogle, which dominates the Internet ad space, and the Nielsen Company, the definitive voice in measuring TV audiences, have joined forces to give advertisers a more realistic and accurate measure of how many people are watching their TV commercials and who these people are.

nielsen media research logo 200It’s a long way off at the moment, but the teaming of Google and Nielsen and the information they produce could one day alter television advertising, disrupting the way ads are created, how they are sold, how they’re targeted, and ultimately what we as viewers see at home.

“We can make advertising more relevant to the viewer at home,” said Mike Steib, the director of the Google TV Ads program. (BusinessWeek.)

“We want to bring all the advantages that we see in online advertising — like more accountability, a better sense of audience, better tools to optimize a campaign — and bring them to television to make TV advertising more effective,” Steib said. (New York Times.)

“We see a future in which, when you sit down in front of your television set, you will see ads that are more relevant for you,” he said.

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TiVo update adds progressive downloads, multi-room viewing, and TiVoToGo

TiVo update adds progressive downloads, multi-room viewing, and TiVoToGoTiVo have announced a host of new features including multi-room viewing and the ability to transfer content to a PC for DVD burning — available as a software update for its Series 3 and HD line of DVRs.

Progressive downloads

With the introduction of progressive downloads, users of the TiVo version of Amazon’s television and movie download service UnBox, will no longer have to wait for the full video file to download before they can begin watching. Instead, UnBox content will start playing after a much shorter period of buffering, the length of which is dependent on broadband speeds.

As NewTeeVee notes, this puts UnBox on TiVo in much more direct competition with the newly launched set-top box movie service, Vudu (see our review), which differentiates itself from many of its competitors by enabling video rentals to be progressively downloaded for playback on a television.

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In just 30 days, Amazon MP3 may be the No. 3 online music store

amazonmp3 logoThe potent combination of DRM-free music, low cost, and the fact that what you buy plays on your iPod has made Amazon MP3 (see our review) the No. 3 online music store in just one month.

Hypebot, a music, technology, and new music business blog, reports that a number of record labels are saying privately that they believe Amazon MP3 has climbed past Rhapsody, Wal-Mart, and Napster to become the No. 3 retailer in downloaded sales of their music.

Amazon trails market leader iTunes and eMusic, although Hypebot speculates that Amazon MP3 could slip past eMusic to finish the year as the No. 2 online music retailer for some labels. The measurement here is dollars paid, not the number of tracks downloaded.

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Why I bought an iPod Touch and not an iPhone

Disclaimer: I bought an iPod TouchWhen details of the iPhone’s UK launch were unveiled at a special press event in London last month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and O2 UK boss Matthew Key both had to field a question about the recently announced iPod Touch. Since the Touch has many of the iPhone’s key features — multi-touch interface, widescreen display, mobile browser, WiFi support — and would go on sale in the UK before the iPhone, would it not eat into iPhone sales?

“You always know Apple will be on the front foot”, replied Key to the amusement of reporters, since O2 wouldn’t have been privy to Apple’s plans for an iPod Touch before they decided to go into partnership. The Touch and iPhone are “a different segment of the market”, argued Key, and both will sell well.

“One is a phone, one isn’t. One has email, one doesn’t”, explained Jobs. Then, exercising his famous Reality Distortion Field, he went on to claim that the iPod Touch would actually help drive iPhone sales, as people who experience the cut-down functionality of the Touch will realize that with the iPhone “they can have it all.”

After months of iPhone-envy from across the pond, and in light of the iPod Touch’s UK release, I made the decision that I didn’t want or rather need it all. At least not yet, anyway.

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Is Microsoft working on new HD-DVD Xbox?

xbox 360 smallWith all the news recently about Sony’s Playstation 3 becoming a full-fledge media device, particularly overseas, I’ve wondered what Microsoft plans to do with its Xbox game platform.

David Richards at Smarthouse may have answered my question. He reports that Toshiba, owner of the HD-DVD patents, is working with Microsoft on an Entertainment Xbox, due out in late 2008 or early 2009. The device will feature, naturally, an HD-DVD player, a large hard drive, and new entertainment software that’s a spin off of Microsoft’s Media Center.

ps3 vs xbox smallFor Toshiba, an Entertainment Xbox with an HD-DVD player is critical for success if it is to defeat Sony’s (and others’) Blu-ray players in the format wars.

Of course, the Entertainment Xbox is being developed in response to Sony’s Playstation 3, which has started slowly but seems to be gaining momentum lately after price cuts, game availability improving, and the device being positioned as a powerful stand-alone home media hub (mostly in Europe and Asia), not just a game console or a PC-based media extender.

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AT&T, Napster hope kids will spend $$$ to download music to their phones

att napsterAT&T and Napster are banking on the spontaneous behavior of kids when it comes to today’s announcement that the entire Napster music catalog will be available for download to AT&T’s mobile phone customers.

AT&T already has a “sideloading” agreement with Napster that lets subscribers transfer their music from a personal computer to their cell phones via a cable or memory card. With the new agreement, AT&T customers can buy music directly from Napster on their cell phones, spending $7.49 for a bundle of five songs or $1.99 a la carte. The service begins in mid November.

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SanDisk launches TV-friendly USB stick and video download service

SanDisk launches TV-friendly USB stick and video download serviceSanDisk has become the latest company to tackle the PC-to-TV problem.

Taking a much simpler approach compared to the many media extenders on the market, the Sansa TakeTV player forgoes the need for a home network. Instead, content is physically shuttled from a PC to a TV via a dedicated USB stick and docking station. “No confusing WiFi set-ups, no waiting to burn DVDs”, boasts the Sansa online store.

The TakeTV device supports popular video formats DivX and xVid, and is available in two versions: a four-gigabyte model priced at $99 and an eight-gigabyte model for $149.

To support its TakeTV device, SanDisk has also rolled out a Beta version of a new video download service called Fanfare, which will offer paid-for, and eventually, ad-supported content from various partners. Of note, CBS and independent film-store Jaman are among the first to have signed on.

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Weekly wrapup, 15 – 19 October 2007

Here’s a summary of the week’s digital lifestyle action on last100. Note that you can subscribe to the weekly wrapups, either via the special weekly wrapup RSS feed or by email.

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Top digital lifestyle news

Lots of mobile news this week, the biggest of which was probably Apple’s decision to finally open the iPhone to third-party developers. At the Symbian Show in London, Nokia also showed off the new version of the mobile OS S60, which offers an optional iPhone-like touch interface — watch the mobile Internet space heat up.

In Internet TV-related news, the BBC has partnered with Adobe to add an iPlayer streaming option with Mac and Linux support; and Sony — which just launched a cheaper PS3 — talked up its forthcoming online video network for the PS3 / PSP.

Additionally, speculation surrounding a Netflix set-top box has resurfaced.

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