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NDS Surfaces 3

By far my favorite thing at the Cable Show this year has been the NDS concept demo of Surfaces, a next-gen TV experience that puts video on the walls around you. The theory from NDS – a set-top and video software company out of the UK – is that TV doesn’t have to fit into a TV set. Instead, it can be overlaid on modular panels that give you the flexibility to see video in different sizes and combine it with other information and associated content.

In the demo I saw yesterday, NDS showed everything from TV clips to music playlists, news feeds and a baby monitor “live” stream. The demo was controlled from an iPad, but all of the content appeared on the wall in front of us in a variety of layouts. For example, one moment we were watching a movie across an entire wall of seamlessly connected screens, but the next we were interacting with a mosaic of widgets that pushed TV content to a much smaller window off to the side of the viewing area.

NDS also showed off 4K-resolution video on the wall-sized display. (Sourced from YouTube, by the way…) Words don’t do it justice, and unfortunately neither does the photo I took with my cheap point-and-shoot camera. However, suffice it to say, the effect is stunning. Continue Reading…

X1-App-Pandora 1

Forget net neutrality. Comcast has some new shiny objects for your attention. And here’s the latest news:

  • Comcast is launching Xfinity TV on the X1 platform. Translated, that means the IP-based Xcalibur platform is storming to life in Boston after extended trials in August, Georgia. Roll out will begin in Boston “in the coming weeks” with several major markets to follow in 2012.
  • There’s a new X1 Remote Control App coming. Comcast says it will let you swipe your touch screen to control your TV, and allow you to create personalized shortcuts favorites. Imagery looks pedestrian.
  • Comcast is introducing “Dayview.” This one’s still in project codename territory, but the theory here is a unified interface that works across TVs, laptops, smartphones and tablets – something akin to a Today homescreen.

Project-Dayview-home-screen

Stay tuned for some analysis on Comcast’s announcement.

The phrase “net neutrality” is a seriously loaded term, which is why Comcast has to be so irritated that it’s once again part of the lexicon as we head into this week’s Cable Show. In case you haven’t been following along, the latest dust-up started when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings raised objections on Facebook over Comcast’s Xfinity app on the Microsoft Xbox. The Xfinity app is delivered over Comcast’s “managed IP network” and, unlike with other over-the-top (OTT) services, video streamed over the app doesn’t count toward broadband usage caps.

Then Sony vice president Michael Aragon jumped with his own cap complaints. He went on the record to say that Sony was postponing its plans to enter the video service market precisely because of the bandwidth cap issue.

Fast forward to today, and we now have a virtual war going on between Comcast, and, well, the rest of the world. Just as the Cable Show starts up – and the government crowd pours into Boston for the event – Comcast finds itself fighting on three fronts. Continue Reading…

better-queue

Having problems finding winners on Netflix? A Better Queue just launched which hopes to improve your experience by linking Rotten Tomatos meta movie rankings to Netfix streaming inventory. Unfortunately, it proves what we already know – there aren’t many recent, mainstream hit movies available for just $7.99/month. But A Better Queue, which doesn’t actually connect to your “queue,” might help surface more obscure, independent, or foreign fare you may not have otherwise easily found.

After taking it for a quick spin this AM… I went ahead and cancelled my Netflix account. I’m sure I’ll return as I always do. Yet, in the interim I’ll attempt to find enjoyment from my Amazon Prime Instant streaming “gift” and, once again, spend some quality time with physical media given recent streaming frustrations. Also, I continue to contemplate a TiVo Premiere XL4 — adding more tuners and drive space to preemptively record more of what I seem to end up buying after the fact via Amazon.

(via The Verge

Last fall The Wall Street Journal reported that Sony had plans to launch an Internet-based video service. Now there’s word from Variety that the company is holding off. Apparently it’s not the content licensing deals that Sony’s worried about, but bandwidth caps. At an industry conference yesterday, Sony VP and GM Michael Aragon noted: “These guys have the pipe and the bandwidth. If they start capping things, it gets difficult.”

So here we are, storming into another battle over bandwidth caps. Sony isn’t the only one complaining. Netflix and several others have also raised a red flag because Comcast has said that use of its Xfinity app on the Xbox won’t count against users’ 250GB broadband cap. In contrast, any other video streamed over the web does count against the cap. Critics are calling this a net neutrality foul, and Comcast is countering that Xfinity streaming is different from other services because it’s delivered over a managed network rather than the Internet. It just so happens that both networks are IP-based.

There is a serious discussion to be had here, but it’s a difficult one, and it’s complicated by many factors most people aren’t aware of – like how cable networks are evolving. As a first step to untangling the problem, I have one wild suggestion. Let’s start monitoring how much bandwidth cable companies are devoting to managed IP services versus public Internet service. I’m not saying we should regulate that ratio… at least not yet. But let’s monitor it. We don’t want the Internet side of the pipe to get shortchanged, and if there’s more bandwidth available for public Internet service, there should be less pressure to cap usage. Continue Reading…

NimbleTV

And then there were three. The New York Times is reporting that a new start-up, NimbleTV, will start beta testing a TV Everywhere service today, joining the likes of Skitter and Aereo in trying to bring traditional TV to the web in a direct-to-consumer service model. NimbleTV proposes to stream a subscriber’s entire pay-TV line-up over the Internet. For a likely (though unconfirmed) fee of $20, consumers will theoretically be able to watch all the shows they pay for anywhere, at any time.

Of the three new TV Everywhere companies, NimbleTV sounds the sketchiest of all. The company isn’t attempting to sign retransmission deals isn’t attempting to operate through existing telco franchise agreements the way Skitter has planned, and it’s not sticking to over-the-air content the way Aereo is. (According to MultiChannel News, investor and board member Barry Diller is headed to Congress tomorrow to testify to its legality.) Former Slinger and current adviser to one of NimbleTV’s VC backers Jason Hirschhorn says the company is picking up where Slingbox left off, but although Sling has miraculously managed to skirt around the industry’s legal land mines, I can’t imagine NimbleTV will be able to do the same. Retransmission rights have become a huge deal, and pay-TV providers are creating their own TV Everywhere platforms. They have no interest in turning that distribution channel over to a third party, particularly one that wants to own its own relationship with the consumer.

To top it all off, who wants to pay an extra fee just to stream TV shows you’ve already paid for? I’d say NimbleTV is one for the deadpool. Anybody else care to weigh in?

UPDATE: Turns out NimbleTV is negotiating retransmission rights and paying content licensing fees, contrary to my initial understanding of the service. However, the company believes it doesn’t need the blessing of pay-TV operators to do business. This puts NimbleTV on less shaky legal ground, but still means it’s got a tough fight ahead of it.

Skitter and Aereo

They sound like bad comic book character names, but Skitter and Aereo are two of the latest companies to jump into the video service game. Instead of trying to offer premium content, however, the two start-ups are going old school. They’re both selling traditional broadcast content over the Internet and optionally combining it with a DVR. (Skitter’s DVR service hasn’t launched yet, but is in the works.) On the plus side, you get decent-quality transmission of the prime-time networks, access to TV across a bunch of connected devices, and all the benefits of being able to pause live television, fast forward through commercials, etc. On the minus side, you have to pay a chunk of change every month (around $12) for content that’s supposed to be free.

Whether you like the idea behind Skitter and Aereo or not, the fact that they exist (for now) is an interesting commentary on the state of television. Both companies are offering a very basic content package with a few extra goodies. It reminds of my household circa 2008 when we steadfastly held on to analog cable and combined it with a subscription-free ReplayTV DVR. Most of our TV watching was still focused on the major networks, but the ability to get ESPN and decent reception had us paying a monthly fee to Comcast. Fast forward to today and we pay a much larger monthly bill to Verizon for TV. Granted that bill includes HD channels, a FiOS DVR, VoD, and a much wider selection of linear content, but it’s still tough to stomach when the invoice clears are mailbox every four weeks.

And so Skitter and Aereo enter the scene. Continue Reading…