Archives For HDTV

Google’s $35 Chromecast stick pushes Netflix, YouTube to your TV

A World Without CableCARD

Dave Zatz —  July 17, 2013 — 19 Comments

cablecard

The CEA, TiVo and Public Knowledge continue to hammer the FCC, due to the government agency’s bungled Charter waiver, and appeal to the body that “its regulations be reinstated.” Some choice quotes:

By misreading the law, the FCC took away your ability to buy alternative set-top boxes like Tivo and Smart TVs. We think that’s wrong. (Public Knowledge)

The Bureau’s Order, like the Charter Request, deals in assumptions and hopes rather than in facts. The Commission cannot let stand this nullification of law and regulation, without process or public comment. (CEA)

By vacating these rules, the Court created an unhealthy amount of uncertainty in the industry — uncertainty that harms innovation and competition as well as settled consumer expectations. (TiVo)

Due to a variety of factors we won’t rehash, beyond TiVo, CableCARD and retail cable set-top boxes have never really taken off. And even TiVo’s market penetration is suspect. I reached out to the NCTA and was informed there are about 600,000 CableCARDs currently deployed (plus Verizon FiOS). So that’d include TiVo hardware, Windows Media Center, and any legacy smart TVs that support the tech. It also encompasses households with multiple cards, as the TiVo Series 3 requires, and to serve folks with multiple devices — meaning there’s something less than 600k active CableCARD homes. Now, that’s not necessarily a number to scoff at. But it pales in comparison to tens of millions pay TV subscribers and burdens cable with additional infrastructure and support costs – including 40 million+ set-tops they themselves provide with CableCARDs.

We rarely shed tears for big cable and have been TiVo proponents for many years, yet it’s an interesting exercise to imagine a post-CableCARD era where Section 629 is met by iPad, Roku, Xbox, and Apple TV. Discuss.

jvc-slingcatcher

It may not be the Roku client we’ve been pining for, but as the post-Panasonic JVC continues to flesh out the video side of the Kenwood corporation, they’ve launched a new line of “BlackSapphire” Smart TVs sporting a native Slingbox app. The modestly priced and sized sets, clocking in at only 42″ and 47″, could make for a nice den SlingCatcher. Beyond Sling support, Netflix, Vudu, and Pandora are also present… along with a “flippable” QWERTY remote according to CNET. Of course, while many television manufacturers produce “smart” sets, I’ve yet to meet one with both an efficient and snappy UI. Not to mention, my Vizio has been known to crash/reboot at inopportune times, while my Panasonic is littered with ads. So JVC judgement will await CNET’s review.

Archos TV Connect with Google Play Store on Android Jelly Bean

We got a new flat-screen TV for my house in December of 2009, and we’re not likely to upgrade any time soon. That doesn’t top me from wanting to add a little after-market action, however, and for some inexplicable reason, I find that I’m craving an Android TV box for my living room set-up.

Brad over at Liliputing is reporting that TP-Link will soon launch the TPMini in China, and it looks to be similar to the Archos TV Connect announced just before CES. The Archos box hasn’t made it to retail yet, but several hands-on reviews have me wanting to give it a try when the hardware does hit stores.

Both the Archos device and the TPMini run Android 4.1 and let you access the Google Play store on a TV screen (unlike official Google TV hardware). The TV Connect comes with a camera and a funky wireless remote control, and will sell for about $130. The TPMini also comes with a camera, but it uses a mobile app for control instead and is expected to retail (in China) for $56.

Why do I want an Android box? I honestly have no idea. Continue Reading…

Hillcrest HoME TV UI 1

Hillcrest Labs stopped working on its HoME interface for smart TVs close to seven years ago. And yet the UI is still better than most you’ll see on the market today.

I stopped by the Hillcrest Labs HQ earlier this month, and, as part of the visit, got a full demo walk-through of HoME. The reference TV UI includes web apps, movie cover art, a beautiful zooming motion, and easy drill-down options for content discovery across TV and personal media. Kodak used the design in its Kodak Theatre HD player, but unfortunately that product launched in 2008… just before the financial crash, and just as Kodak was starting to slide into bankruptcy.

The HoME interface isn’t used anywhere today, and Hillcrest has decided to back-burner the technology. However, the company still holds numerous patents in the space. While Hillcrest execs have turned their focus to motion-sensing software (more on that another time), they also aren’t closing the door on future TV UI development efforts. HoME could make a return someday.

Hillcrest HoME TV UI 6

In the meantime, check out another photo from my Hillcrest visit. My favorite is the photo library from CES 2005. That happens to be the first year I ever made it out to the Vegas show. Bill Gates was keynoting, and the Ojo video phone was making its rounds. Good times.

lg-webos-smarttv

File this one under Left Field. LG just announced a deal to acquire the remnants of webOS. If you’ll recall, webOS sprung to life as Palm’s next generation smartphone platform and answer to the iPhone… before being snapped up by HP. While HP had grand intentions of webOS powering mobile devices, printers, and PCs (!), they abruptly shuttered commercial operations mere weeks their TouchPad launched to lackluster reviews and sales. Fast forward a year or so ahead, past an open source initiative that hasn’t caught on:

To support its next-generation Smart TV technology, LG has entered into a definitive agreement with HP to acquire the source code, associated documentation, engineering talent and related websites associated with webOS. As part of the transaction, LG also will receive licenses under HP’s intellectual property (IP) for use with its webOS products, including patents acquired from Palm covering fundamental operating system and user interface technologies now in broad use across the industry.

Our ongoing fantasy has been that Amazon might pick up webOS to power it’s Kindle Fire line of tablets (and perhaps smartphones). But with Google continuing to develop and freely distribute Android, at least until the Microsoft patent tax gets you, it’s probably most efficient and cost effective to continue skinning as opposed to rolling their own platform. In regards to LG’s hopes, we doubt “webOS” is something that would move the needle in sales, but so-called “smart” televisions could certainly benefit from a more stable and ad-free presentation. Will they deliver?

Making The Case For Aereo

Dave Zatz —  January 19, 2013 — 16 Comments

aereo-verge

My Twitter pal Michael Turk, whose name you may recognize from a tenure at the NCTA, recently wrote up his disdain for Aereo:

You know what is 100% free and doesn’t require any payment to the cable industry? Broadcast TV. This guy is suggesting people pay money every month – albeit to a different company – to watch something that is broadcast OVER THE AIR. [...] if all you are watching are broadcast channels, you certainly don’t need to be paying Aereo or anyone else for it.

While Turk makes some reasonable points regarding onerous retransmission fees and Aereo’s legal challenges, there’s way more to the service than basic access to broadcast channels. $8/month grants you access to two micro antennas and 20 hours of cloud DVR storage space (or $12 for 40hrs). So not only does Aereo provide “live” broadcast television, but you can schedule season passes and the like. Further, you’re not confined to a television and set-top box in your home as Aereo pretty much allows you to watch your live and recorded television programming via any modern browser… including the ones found on our smartphones and tablets. Continue Reading…