Archive for September, 2008

Review: XBox Live Video Store – where's all the content?

Although the UK version of Microsoft’s Video Store for its XBox 360 console launched last December, it wasn’t until just over a month ago that I got to try out the service for myself. Microsoft’s PR team kindly loaned me a top of the line model – the HDMI equipped 120GB “Elite” version – to hook up to my High Definition TV to download and watch a few shows and movies purchased from XBox Live. However, while the service is dead easy to use and worked as intended, for a number of reasons I came away disappointed.

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Review: Nokia E71 (my favorite smartphone yet?)

I’m a great believer that when it comes to choice of smartphone, one size doesn’t fit all. As much as we like the iPhone here at last100, for example, particularly for its industry leading mobile web browser and fast growing library of third-party applications, for my personal needs it doesn’t quite fit the bill. Enter Nokia’s new QWERTY smartphone, the business-oriented E71, which along with addressing most of its predecessors’ shortcomings (the E61/E61i) is a device that comes incredibly close to meeting all of my own particular requirements. Which, of course, isn’t to say that it will meet yours, although it may well do.

Claiming to be the world’s slimmest cell phone with a QWERTY keyboard, the E71 is highly pocketable, especially compared to Nokia’s earlier attempts. It also looks the business in other ways, using a stylish blend of stainless steel and ‘grey’ high density plastic, resulting in a very solid feeling build.

Spec-wise, the version of the E71 for review was the UK version, a Quad-band GSM /3G phone with HSDPA, EDGE, GPRS and WiFi data support.

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Attention classical music fans: Passionato is open for business — but only in the U.K.

Almost a year ago, Deutsche Grammophon launched the Web’s best classical music store, DG Web Shop. Passionato, a new classical music download site, aims to take over.

Passionato provides the world’s largest collection of high quality classical music downloads with more than 18,000 recordings available. Unfortunately or unfortunately, depending on which side of the pond you live on, Passionato is available only in the U.K., with plans to expand to the U.S. and elsewhere at a later date.

Passionato downloads are single tracks, albums, or complete works in high quality 320kbps MP3 or lossless FLAC formats. These — three cheers! — are available free of digital rights management, meaning they can be played on any computer or portable music device, including the iPod.

Founder James Glicker, a former president of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, hopes to boost the classical music industry, which, like the rest of the physical music world, is sagging. Catalogs from major classical labels and independents will be sold at the site.

“This is a major motivation for us,” Glicker told the BBC of Passionato’s desire to boost the classical music industry. “It’s ironic that while classical music concert attendance is on the rise, labels are reducing their recordings and physical retailers are shutting down like there is no tomorrow.

“So the future of classical music distribution is online,” he said. “The only thing that has stopped this inevitable shift from happening to date has been audio quality, plus the DRM issue.”

To promote classical music — and, of course, Passionato — anybody registering with the site can download 10 free pre-selected tracks. Not a bad deal, if you like classical music. And live in the U.K.

"Family Guy's" MacFarlane debuts "Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy" on Web

Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy,” launched his Google-distributed “Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” today in which Super Mario rescues the Princess, who refuses to kiss him for his trouble.

It wasn’t bad. The sketch was short, bite-sized, and worth a laugh or two at the end. If it follows MacFarlane’s work with “Family Guy,” the “Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” will only get funnier and, most likely, crude and rude.

What’s interesting about the “Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” — available at and the show’s sponsor Burger King’s YouTube channel — is that it’s a part of the Google Content Network, which is a part of Google’s AdSense Network.

The Google deal calls for 50 mini-episodes, ranging from a minute to no more than two. For now, the two available episodes feature a pre-roll sponsorship ad from Burger King animated in MacFarlane’s “Family Guy” style of animation.

MacFarlane and Google expect the “Cavalcade of Comedy” shorts to populate the Internet as fans can embed their favorite episodes on thousands of Websites and blogs. As Ars Technica notes, the interesting part of the MacFarlane-Google experiment is revenue distribution.

Each time someone clicks on a “Cavalcade” video or ad, advertisers will pay a fee that is split between MacFarlane, Google, Media Rights (the production company), and the site hosting the video.

MacFarlane’s “Cavalcade” is a notable experiment in original Internet distribution for a content creator, Google, and the TV industry. It’s the first series with major advertising and production funding.

And it doesn’t hurt to have MacFarlane behind the art board.

Comscore estimates 5 billion videos were watched on YouTube in July

We’re obsessed with keeping score. And not just in sports. In politics, movie box office takes, the number of times Meredith and McSteamy glance longingly at each other in “Grey’s Anatomy.”

And YouTube. We love to see the YouTube balloon keep expanding, which means that online video is growing, breaking into the mainstream even more, and will one day rule the networks.

Comscore issued its July Website traffic and online video report and one number stands out: 5 billion. Comscore estimates that U.S. online videoaholics watched an average of 235 minutes of video, with 91 million viewers watching 5 billion videos on YouTube.

That’s 54.8 videos per viewer. In one month.

Just for grins, 51.4 million viewers watched 400 million videos on MySpace, about 8 videos per viewer.

Overall, Comscore says that 75 percent of the total U.S. Internet audience watched online video in July.

Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb asks a question that has been on my mind for a while: How accurate are the Comscore numbers? Are they any better than Hitwise, another analyst firm that has argued the online video market in general is declining — except for YouTube.

Numbers and statistics, of course, are subject for interpretation and barroom debate. The trend I see is right here in the house: The Kid, now a freshman in high school, has been spending even more time than usual watching YouTube videos. So are her friends. No one comes over any more to hang out and watch TV or a movie. They hang out and watch YouTube.

It’s The Kid’s TV channel of choice. After all, you can only watch MadTV’s “Can I Get Your Number” sketch twice — once if you happen to catch the original airing and a second time in rerun. On the Web and on YouTube, you can watch it over, and over, and over, and over.

Apple's line of iPods still rock, but not like they used to

Apple’s “Let’s Rock” event today was like going to see The Rolling Stones or The Who in concert. Mick and Pete can still rock, but not like they used to.

Apple’s line of iPod products still rock, but not like they used to. Apple unveiled an updated second generation iPod Touch, yet another iPod Nano form factor in snazzy colors, a 120 GB iPod Classic, and new headphones. That was it for hardware.

On the software-and-service side, iTunes 8 was introduced. The iPod Touch and the iPhone are getting a 2.1 software update, due Friday. The iTunes Store will be selling high-definition TV shows for $2.99 a pop. And estranged NBC Universal is putting its shows back on iTunes after a hiatus of nearly a year.

As Philip Elmer-DeWitt noticed for Fortune, “Apple fails to wow Wall Street” and saw its shares fall more than 7.5 points, or 4.7 percent, during the event. The stock closed at 151.68, down nearly four percent for the day.

Frederic Lardinois of ReadWriteWeb simply said “Let’s Rock” was “a bit of a lackluster event.”

Agreed. Apple’s announcements today were incremental and more maturation of a product line and ecosystem than game-changing, earth-shattering, stand-in-line-for, can’t-live-without, and must-have gadgets since, well, the first iPod or iPhone.

Here’s a roundup of “Let’s Rock.”

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HBO cautiously wades in Internet TV waters with new show "Hooking Up"

We’ve seen how major television networks such as Fox, NBC, CBS, and ABC and second-tier networks like The CW have been using the Web, but noticeably absent from this activity has been creative powerhouse HBO.

HBO on Monday announced it will be using the Web slightly differently than most, launching its own Web video series called “Hooking Up.” It’s a part of HBOlab, an experimental offshoot of the cable network’s online programming.

Jessica Rose of “lonelygirl15” will star in a 10-part show that begins airing on Oct. 1 on its own site — — and on MySpaceTV and YouTube. Rose is accompanied on the show by video bloggers sxePhil and KevJumba, giving the program three of the Internet’s most popular entertainers.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more hits than had we cast a bunch of funny people you didn’t know,” said Fran Shea, head of HBOlab.

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With little fanfare, Microsoft confirms details of third-gen Zune digital music players

Poor Zune. No matter what Microsoft does, its portable MP3 player is still treated like an ugly stepchild.

Rather than launching the third generation Zune to fanfare as planned on Sept. 16, Microsoft’s hand was forced when a partner — Ars Technica says it was the retailer Fry’s — “inadvertently posted a lion’s share of information” on the new devices, and Microsoft decided it might as well confirm the details.

All of this coming, of course, less than a day before Apple is expected to update its line of iPods with its usual special-event, hyped-to-the-max news conference.

The new Zunes include a handful of new features, none of which will erode Apple’s market dominance, but they are welcomed nonetheless. The first lets you buy songs over Wi-Fi, which you can already do on the iPod touch and iPhone through Apple’s iTunes Store.

Another feature allows you to buy songs you hear on the FM radio, something I would have liked 10 years ago, but now with the iPod (or Zune) who listens to FM radio all the time? The Zune also will be getting some music recommendation features, casual games, and a lower price for the Zune Pass subscription service.

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BBC iPlayer shows a little too much love to Nokia's N96?

Erik Huggers is the BBC’s Director of Future Media and Technology. Although a more apt title for himself, along with predecessor, Ashley Highfield, would be Director of Future License Fee Justification. That’s because the BBC, which is funded by British tax payers, is doing more than most broadcasters to stay relevant as we move towards a future where viewers want to watch ‘television’ on their own terms: from anywhere, on-demand and on the device of their choice.

Enter the BBC’s catch-up service, iPlayer, which streams the public broadcaster’s content to Windows PCs and Macs, Nintendo’s Wii, Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch, along with Virgin Media’s cable TV service. A download version is also available for Windows-only.

And just today, the BBC and Nokia announced that a streaming and download version of iPlayer will soon be available for the mobile phone maker’s yet-to-be-released N96 handset.

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Will it be enough? Joost to ditch desktop client in favor of Web-based player

It’s about time. Joost, last year’s “It” online video startup, has cast aside its desktop-only client in favor of a browser-based experience.

According to Om Malik, Joost will release a small plug-in that will embed itself in a browser to allow viewers to grab files using peer-to-peer technologies. The new browser-based video player is said to provide better quality than average video sites.

Since the story broke earlier today, NewTeeVee’s Liz Gannes has had a chance to poke around, which is password protected. (It will not be available to beta testers for about two weeks.) In the meantime, NewTeeVee,, and TechCrunch all have screenshots and/or video of New and Improved Joost in action.

While the early, early reviews are mostly favorable — videos start playing in a few seconds, they scale nicely for full-screen viewing — it’s hard to work up any excitement for New Joost, which seems like another version of Hulu, the online streaming video joint venture from NBC and Fox.

Unlike Hulu, however, New Joost suffers from a lack of prime content. Without it, why even bother with Joost?

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