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October 29, 2004

No Video iPod?

So says Merrill Lynch analysts who follow the market closely. ThinkSecret.com has all the details, but here's the important graf on video:

Milunovich dismisses the notion that a video iPod may follow after a photo iPod, echoing previous sentiments from Apple executives. "In our discussions with management about usage patterns, it is clear that a Video iPod (for playing movies) gets the thumbs down," he writes. Apple simply doesn't see a strong a device that would require users to view a movie on a small screen for an extended period of time.

Something tells me this isn't a dead issue yet. If other vendors are successful, look for a change of heart. It's probably prudent to let other companies prove the market and see what develops.

Posted on October 29, 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

XBoxMediaCenter 1.1 Released

Via Build Your Own PVR, XBMC 1.1 has been released with a lot of cool new features. XBMC is a media center player for the XBox that requires some elbow grease to get setup, but is a really nice way to stream video and audio out to your television.

Additional Info:

Posted on October 29, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tivo Auto Delete PPV

Yesterday I mentioned a set of articles on DRM, including Due Diligence's three laws of DRM. Here's his three laws again:

  • Copy protection DRM always destroys end user value, in both convenience and robustness. When you see DRM in a business plan or analysis, it is always there to benefit someone other than the end user. Find out who, it will indicate where power lies in a content value chain.

  • The mere presence of DRM indicates a failure to deliver end user value. If the information object were to lose value when extracted from the bundle or service from it was derived, DRM would not be felt necessary. Therefore the presence of DRM suggests a vendor that is behind the curve, failing to find a new value to deliver as their chokepoint disappears in the digital world.

  • DRM almost always means there is trouble afoot for aggregators ('infomediaries'). If it's an aggregator inserting the DRM, their value added is in question. If it's information originators mandating DRM, then they feel they can damage the aggregator's value with impunity, and will likely try to drive end users' attention to themselves.

I won't rehash yesterday's article, but I pointed out that bad implementations of DRM is a more accurate descriptor particularly when it tramples of the rights of people who legally own copyrighted material. Well, PVRBlog has example #1A of bad DRM and it obeys Tim Oren's three laws perfectly. Just as importantly as the article on PVRBlog is the comments from users, who are generally pro-Tivo for the most part.

Tivo's in a hard spot so I can't blame them too much for their decision since litigation against a deep pocket company is counter-productive to them getting critical mass for their business. However, Due Diligence once again is proven correct, and if there is any question about Tivo's relationship with content providers, see Rule #3. They are getting squeezed like toothpaste.

Posted on October 29, 2004 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 28, 2004

TVHarmony Product Tracker

I've added a new resource for people researching products called the TVHarmony Product Tracker. It includes the latest reviews, news items, interesting links, and specs for all the various products that I've run across and found interesting, and I'm sure I'll be adding a lot more products to the mix as the weeks go by. I plan on updating it on a weekly basis to keep it fresh and fill in more details.

At this point, I should also note that if you click through many of the links in the "street price" section, TVHarmony gets a tiny commission that will go towards maintaining this website. Don't feel obligated to purchase through any of the links, but if you do some comparison shopping and still find the price comparable, I always appreciate the support.

Posted on October 28, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

DRM - Bad or good?

I was very interested in Due Diligence's reaction to Charlie Demerjian's article, Prepare to get screwed by digital rights management. Tim Oren, the author of Due Diligence, always has interesting things to say, and he didn't disappoint with these bullet points:

  • Copy protection DRM always destroys end user value, in both convenience and robustness. When you see DRM in a business plan or analysis, it is always there to benefit someone other than the end user. Find out who, it will indicate where power lies in a content value chain.

  • The mere presence of DRM indicates a failure to deliver end user value. If the information object were to lose value when extracted from the bundle or service from it was derived, DRM would not be felt necessary. Therefore the presence of DRM suggests a vendor that is behind the curve, failing to find a new value to deliver as their chokepoint disappears in the digital world.
  • DRM almost always means there is trouble afoot for aggregators ('infomediaries'). If it's an aggregator inserting the DRM, their value added is in question. If it's information originators mandating DRM, then they feel they can damage the aggregator's value with impunity, and will likely try to drive end users' attention to themselves.

I agree with those statements, and as someone very interested in video convergence technologies, DRM can easily stifle innovation and it's my greatest concern in seeing the true value of this technology evolve for the benefit of the consumer. The problem, as I see it, is that the current DRM technologies not only protect the rights of copyright holders, but goes beyond that and tries to stomp out the rights given to owners of copyrighted material. I don't think DRM in and of itself is bad, but those parties that make use of it are quickly crossing the line.

Let's substitute the word "licensing fee" for "DRM" and the same logic applies. Charging users a "licensing fee" to own copyrighted material certainly destroys user value by its very nature. If I could get something for free, I'm a hell of a lot better off than getting charged for it, at least at the micro-level. At the macro-level, not allowing copyright holders to receive money for their work makes things more complicated and in a capitalistic society, only the truly dedicated or truly crazy work for free. We may want things for free, but we also want new things to be created, so we need to find a balance.

The grandmother of all "DRM" is copyright law, and while I'm sure I'll make a few attorneys cringe with my layman's explanation, I think it's important to look at copyright law and how it applies here. Early on when those damned Europeans had the nerve to create the printing press, it soon became apparent that there needed to be protection for creative works that could be re-produced easily and cheaply. In effect, it became clear that the value of the creative work exceeded the value of reproducing it, producing a value of imbalance. As a result, copyright laws were created to put things back into balance again.

Just as soon as the printing press starting making illegal copies of copyright law for all its friends in the neighborhood, it became apparent that giving authors of creative works absolute rights actually really sucked and things shifted too much in the opposite direction. For instance, if I'm a theater reviewer for the London Medieval Times and I want to mention Bill Shakespeare's latest play in an article, I don't want to get sued for just mentioning the play. Quickly, the lawyers, unencumbered by 400 years of relative peace before the 2000 Florida Presidential recount, realized things had to change and they developed the theory of "Fair Use". Basically, it said that there were limits to copyright law and there were times when you can use copyrighted material. Things like news reporting, education, and scientific use were exempted.

It didn't end there, however, when some copyright holder walked by a used bookstore and saw his book being sold lower than the retail price. His take on things is that since he has control over the copyright, he should have control over the price, regardless of whether it was being sold new or used. "No, No, No", said the courts when they came up with the doctrine of "First Sale", which stated that there are rights for people who own copyrighted material too. As long as the owner of a book doesn't reproduce the copyrighted material, you could do whatever you want with the physical copy that you owned.

Things were great for awhile. If you owned a book, you could loan it to a friend, throw it in the fireplace to warm up the room, or sell it on ebay. The DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyrights Act) muddied things up a little by saying that copyrighted material owners can't circumvent copy protection, but for the most part, it seems that the "First Sale Doctrine" remains intact and is a good compromise between copyright holder and copyrighted materials owner.

I think that's where I draw the line and where DRM is starting to encroach on my turf. If I subscribe to HBO and want to record the Sopranos on my Tivo, it is for the most part settled law that I own that particular version of the copyrighted material. I can watch it now or wait until later; I can delete it or I can move it on to a VHS tape for later viewing. That's First Sale Doctrine at its best, as far as I can tell. If I duplicate it and sell it on Ebay, post it on the Internet, or give a thousand copies of it to my friends and family as Christmas gifts, I've walked outside the boundaries of "First Sale" doctrine and into boundary of illegality.

Personally, I don't particularly mind DRM if it protects copyright holders from unlawful duplication. The key word here is "unlawful", and I do have a big beef with it if it prevents me from doing lawful transfers of copyrighted material that I own. Making a DVD that I can watch on airplane is not an unlawful transfer of copyrighted material, particularly if I remove it from my Tivo in the process.

This is my defining line and where I disagree with Tim's statement, "The mere presence of DRM indicates a failure to deliver end user value." I think the mere presence of DRM can indicate a genuine need to protect copyright holders and at a macro-level, help end users by creating incentives for creative people to create new products. Unfortunately, most DRM goes beyond valid protection of copyright and encroaches into the rights of copyrighted material owners, and that's just plain bad DRM. Unfortunately, there is little incentive for copyright holders to create good DRM, so we're stuck with the bad stuff.

Posted on October 28, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Blockbuster promises faster delivery times

Blockbuster, who has painted a big red bullseye on NetFlix by offering a competitive service, has introduced a new distribution system which should make getting DVDs in the mail faster. NetFlix competitors have have been popping up all over lately with Walmart, Blockbuster, and soon likely Amazon, all vying to get into NetFlix's turf. Blockbuster, flipping through it's own list of competitive advantages, may have found a way to convince people to switch services.

I've been a NetFlix subscriber for a couple of years now, and I'm in love with the service. Over time, I'm sure I lost more money in movie late fees than I did when the Internet bubble popped (although it would be close call), and NetFlix has a slick service that avoids those fees and reliably sends you three movies at a time via the mail.

The downside for some people is the lag between sending in a movie that has been viewed and receiving a new one. It can take 4-5 days, even in my case as I'm less than 100 miles away from a distribution center. For those people in GodKnowsWhere, Alaska, I'm sure it may take a little longer.

Up until now, the competing factors have been price and name brand, both of which has been handled pretty well by NetFlix. Blockbuster is trying to shake things up a little and is doing a smart move here by using it's advantage of having 1000's of stores and using them as ad hoc distribution centers. We'll see how it all plays out, but if they are successful, it could cut the time down consirably. Not to disparage all local Blockbuster employees, but I've run across a few that have been less than stellar, so we'll see if indeed they are capable of achieving error free, faster results.

At the end of the day, Video on Demand may make this a quaint old debate like the merits of 8-Track vs. cassette, but for now, it will be interesting to see how the market changes.

(Hat Tip: TVPredictions.com)

Posted on October 28, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Review: Hughes DirecTV HDTV Tivo (ExtremeTech)

Extremetech has review of the new DirecTV HDTV Tivo from Hughes, and the results were mixed. In particular, they had this problem:

The TiVo automatically senses when an HDMI cable is plugged in, and disables the component output. But I ran into a major problem when I tried to connect from the HDMI port to the DVI input on my Panasonic plasma. Nothing came out. I swapped cables, then connections, and even tried it with my DVI-enabled LCD desktop monitor. Nothing.

DirecTV's fine technical support had the answer—but it wasn't good. I had apparently won the home game of HDMI roulette: Somewhere between 10% and 15% of all HD DVRs made by Hughes ship with a bad HDMI port. Lucky me. After briefly trying to convince me to use component, DirecTV offered to send me a replacement. One small problem though. They still haven't figured out how to fix the HDMI port problem, which means another turn of the wheel. As of this writing I haven't received the replacement yet, but I've got a 15% chance of it being bad too. Isn't it great when you can replace your QA department with your customers? Thanks Hughes and DirecTV!

Even if you do get a good HDMI port, early returns on web discussion boards are not positive. The port seems fragile, with many users reporting color loss and other problems.

The review had some positive things to say, but if I needed to connect via HDMI, I'd probably wait a little to get it all sorted out.

Additional Info:

TVHarmony Product Tracker: Hughes HR10-250 HDTV

Posted on October 28, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 27, 2004

Review: BeyondTV (Toronto Free Press)

Snapstream's BeyondTV 3.5 got another good review. This time it is from the Toronto Free Press.

Additional Info:
TVHarmony Product Tracker: BeyondTV

Posted on October 27, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Seven Tivos - One TV

Brad Nelson doesn't need a Tivo tattoo to prove his loyalty to the company.

He has 7 Tivos connected to a single TV which can record 14 programs simultaneously. He's a big hockey fan, apparently, and records practically every game that's available. The kicker is the computer program he wrote to parse through the box scores to identify which game was most exciting, so when he's ready to watch a game, he can grab the best one.

I can't tell if Tivo is fueling his hobby of hockey or hockey is fueling his hobby for Tivo. Regardless, Tivo needs more guys like Brad Nelson.

Posted on October 27, 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Scientific Atlanta DVR Sales Up

Sales of Scientific Atlanta DVRs are way up this quarter, according to this article from AP. They shipped 397,000 DVRs the quarter ending Oct 1, which is typically a slow quarter for consumer electronics. In comparison, Tivo shipped 288,000 units in their quarter ending July 31st.

With a two month lag between the two datasets, it's not an accurate comparison but it goes to show there is more than one pony in the race to gain marketshare.

(Hat Tip: TVPredictions.com)

Posted on October 27, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 24, 2004

Home Media Serving 38% of Homes

Via eHomeUpgrade, the CEA just released this press release saying that 38% of online users use one of their computers as a media server for digital content. Here's the important graf:

In an afternoon panel session on Monday, "Media Servers - Fact or Fiction" Wargo revealed that 38 percent of consumers currently own a media server, either with a desktop or personal computer acting as the server or a dedicated media server. CEA Market Research defines media servers as devices that store of all a consumer's digital content (music files, home video, digital images) in one location, allowing it to be viewed or listened to from multiple locations in the house.

The survey found that close to 19 percent of consumers indicated they plan to purchase a media server in the next two years. Of those, 49 percent noted they would be somewhat or more likely to purchase a server if a professional could install, set-up and maintain their server.

It looks like digital content in the home is starting to get some traction. The number of users who said they'd prefer a professional to install it means that the industry needs to create products that are a whole lot easier to understand and use.

Posted on October 24, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

JavaHMO 2.0 Beta 3.0 Released

Via Tivoblog, it looks like the JavaHMO 2.0 is starting to firm up. They just released Beta 3.0 with a lot of bug fixes included.

JavaHMO is a free replacement for Tivo's Home Media Option, which is part of the OS for Series 2 Tivos. It adds a ton of features to your Tivo including internet info like the local weather, internet radio steaming, and the like.

Posted on October 24, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 22, 2004

CinemaNow and Downloadable HDTV Movies

Via eHomeUpgrade, CinemaNow announced that it will add HDTV downloadable movies to its product offerings.

This is an excellent time for these services to gain traction in the market. With HDTV sales up and no standard developed to put HDTV on next generation DVD players, this is a good time to push the service because people are looking for content and options are few and far between.

Posted on October 22, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Review: Archos GMini 400 (TomsHardware)

Tom's Hardware reviewed the new personal media player, Archos GMini 400, and they gave it a big thumbs up compared to the iPod. It's got a 20GB drive and it's tiny (4.2" x 2.4" x .7"). It's cheap, small, fast, and has a host of features that can't be found on the iPod.

Here's what this baby can do:

  • Play music in MP3, WMA, and WAV format
  • Record voice notes in WAV format
  • Play movies including DivX, MPEG4 format
  • Display images stored on the disk and via it's built-in compact flash reader
  • Play games (Mophun™ game engine - typically in cellphones)
  • 10 hour Battery life (5 hours for video)

With its tiny 2.2" LCD screen, it's probably not the solution for the screaming kid in the back of the car, but as for that screaming adult on a business trip, it makes more sense since you can hook the thing up and play movies in your hotel room.

Tom's Hardware review was glowing, and given the specs and feature set, I can see why.

Additional Info:
Amazon.com Price: $357.99

Posted on October 22, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Digeo Moxi

After reading this article, there is yet another company to keep Tivo nervous at night is a company called Digeo, that is funded by Paul Allen. It's currently rolling out a new product called the Moxi Broadband Media Center that acts as an HDTV PVR, HDTV receiver, set top box, and interactive television. In Laurence, they are partnering with cable operator, Sunflower Broadband. At $795 and a $7.95 monthly subscription fee, it's a pretty good deal for those Kansans that can get it, and it has some really interesting features.

This intrigued me:

"This is really an SUV, a powerhouse," Knorr said. "It does everything."

It will have some features not offered by TiVo, such as a scrolling ticker at the bottom of a screen. Knorr explained that users would be able to personalize the ticker by putting running sports scores, or stock market quotes or even news feeds on the ticker. Clicking on the ticker with your remote brings up more information.

"Customers with a Moxi box can control that on any channel they want," Knorr said. "It's kind of a hybrid between the Internet and TV."

The boxes also will integrate into other services, such as pay-per-view and video-on-demand.

The ticker sounds pretty useful if your wife is watching "must see" TV and you want to keep track of the ball game.

There's more. Digeo sells a $79 Moxi Mate (PDF link), which sounds like a feminine hygiene product, but is really an extender kit which allows you to control and watch shows from another television. It also sells something that has been needed on Tivo for years; a user an expansion bay called Moxi Plus (PDF Link) that makes it possible for users to easily add additional hard drive space, media readers like flash, or even a DVD recorder.

There is no telling how well the product all works from a web page, but from what I've seen so far, it sounds like a winner.

Posted on October 22, 2004 | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 21, 2004

Addressable Television

Jeff Jarvis of the BuzzMachine, Fred Wilson of AVC Blog, and some others had a lunchtime conversation on the future of video access. I like the term "addressable television" to describe the ability to get television content in a similiar fashion as getting web content. The area of disagreement is which technology is going to "win".

Here are the contenders as the group saw it:

  • Video on Demand (VOD)

  • TV delivered via phone lines (IPTV)

  • Video on the Internet (Streaming)

  • Downloadable Internet (BitTorrent)

Many of the crowd there found the BitTorrent model compelling, citing the history of the music industry and napster as likely to be repeated for video. I tend to agree that to a certain extend, this is already happening, with people avoiding copyright law and putting up content on the web, and the roadblocks from moving video streams from a DVR to the internet are quickly eroding.

Here's the basic point:

I think the advent of the media-centric PC will cause this trend to accelerate. If my family room is driven by a PC with a DVR, set top box, and web browser built into it, connected to cable for both programming and high speed data, and then connected to a nice big flat panel display, the option to watch a show via live TV, VOD, DVR, or Bit Torrent is just a click of the remote. And when its that easy, why will my girl's choose to watch One Tree Hill via DVR when they can just as easily get it via Bit Torrent?

Then there's the issue of what you didn't record. Take the whole Jon Stewart Crossfire thing. I didn't DVR that show. I don't Tivo Crossfire. I don't watch Crossfire. But I love Jon Stewart and when I heard he slammed those guys live, I went to Bit Torrent and downloaded the show and watched it. Apparently a lot of other people watched it that way too.

While I agree that is a compelling, I think there are hurdles to make this vision work in the long term. I think they will be overcome, but for a large percentage of the population, VOD, especially if it expands to becoming a centralized DVR, is likely going to be the easier solution.

First, I think the battle will ultimately be played out on HDTV. The cost of HDTV is getting lower each day, and more and more people are buying HDTV-ready sets. More and more content is being delivered in HDTV format, and it won't take too much time before people demand HDTV streams as a viewing preference. HDTV content will ultimately have a "broadcast flag" making reproduction more difficult for people, and the size of the files will increase. Granted, most people will accept lower quality video than audio (eg mono vs. stereo), but I still think it is an issue.

Second, I view video's relationship with people different than the relationship people have with music. People listen to music over and over again, but in general, video is a single use commodity for the most part (I have a 3 year old daughter so I can tell you there are exceptions to that rule). This changes the calculus slightly in that the pain to download a video has to be less than the pain to download a music track, or it doesn't seem worth it.

Third, there is a shelf life issue. Music is fairly easy to store and since people listen to it over and over again, it has a long shelf life on a networked computer. A lot of video content has an expiration date and while compelling at a certain moment of time, quickly diminishes in utility and will be tossed away in the dumpster of time. The Jon Stewart/Crossfire video may be easy to find, but try and find one from two weeks ago.

All these issues can be overcome, but content providers have an excellent opportunity to create their own services before the suffer a napster-like meltdown. The Comcast article makes it clear they have their own stake in making it successful. At the end of the day, it's going to take more than litigation and the clear path is an iTunes or Netflix model for charging for content.

Jeff Jarvis makes some excellent points as well, but I'm not ready to embrace his vision of Citizen's TV:

New tools and citizen producers will reduce the cost of producing TV to a comparative nil and there goes the barrier to entry to video.

: What excites me most is that reduced cost of production. That's really what drove weblogs: history's cheapest publishing tool reduced the barrier to entry to media and allowed anyone to produce and distribute text content. Now this will come to video. I've said it before (warning: I'll say it again) ... A half-hour of how-to TV that now costs X hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce can be done quite respectably -- and probably with more life and immediacy -- for a few thousand dollars. New content producers will pop up all over (just as they did in blogs) and now they can distribute their content freely (thanks to BitTorrent). That is where I want to play.

While I agree the production costs of video will drop, I still think it be a while before people outside the artistic fringes start creating their own video content worth watching. I think video production will still in general be more difficult than audio production, and that hasn't exactly taken off.

I do think video convergence is the "next big thing" and is undoubtedly going to be re-shape a lot of the industry in the next few years. There's a compelling need to have "addressable television", and PVRs are just the tip of the iceberg.

Posted on October 21, 2004 | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Comcast and Its Vision

Via the TVPredictions.com newsletter, I found one jewel of an article describing the fiture of cable. Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, had some candid comments on the company's strategy for the future when he spoke to students at Wharton. The future as he described it boils down to three letters: VOD (Video on Demand).

Earlier this year, Comcast unsuccessfully tried to acquire Disney in what some analysts thought was a move for Comcast to diversify out from the cable business. Roberts, on the other hand, says it's the wealth of content that he can add to his Video on Demand services that made them such an attractive acquisition candidate.

The article states:

In his talk at Wharton, Roberts made it clear that he believes his company's future hinges on video-on-demand. That, he argues, is why the Disney bid made sense. On-demand allows customers to choose not only what they want to watch but also when. It also lets them control their viewing via functions such as pause and replay. Satellite TV, cable's biggest competitor, offers abundant programming but not two-way communication.

Roberts stated further:

"Television today is a one-way experience. It seems totally clear to me that the personalization of television is the future. Everybody wants to do what they want, when they want. And we happen to have a platform for that, where our competitor, satellite, doesn't. So all of our energy is to give our customers, on demand, the ability to get as much content as possible."

Does the "what they want, when they want" sound familiar? It should if you've been watching the new Tivo advertising blitz that uses a similiar refrain as its mantra. It's clearer than ever that cable operators have their own centralized vision of the future, and that Tivo is more a competitor than a partner.

There is also a glimpse on the difficulties facing the Netflix/Tivo deal in acquiring a large library of content. I think the success of this deal largely rests on the ability of Netflix and Tivo to get enough titles online to make it worth getting the service.

Comcast, which will have five times more subscribers for its VOD service even if Tivo makes it's forecast, has had difficulties licensing content. Roberts says:

"We go to movie companies and say, 'We've got this great on-demand in five million homes, and it will be ten million by the end of this year.' And you know what they say? 'The problem is DVD sales are so good right now that we can't tick off Wal-Mart.' The single largest revenue source for Hollywood is Wal-Mart. How did they get themselves in that situation? And they say, 'I know, I know. We have got to stop giving it to Wal-Mart. They squeezed us on the price last quarter, but we have got to make budget.' That's what's happened with the music business. They were making all of this money on CDs, and one day Napster just took it away."

There is a lot more to the article, so put it on your reading list if your are interested in the mechanics of the industry.

Posted on October 21, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 20, 2004

Interview with Tivo CEO

Engadget had a good interview with Tivo CEO, Mike Ramsay. He mentioned the corporate focus on receiving more content from broadband sources (via the internet instead of the cable) and mentioned the Netflix/Tivo deal. I agree that there is a lot of content on the Internet that would be handy to have in my living room, beyond the obvious downloading of movies, including movie times, maps and directions, weather, and the yellow pages. JavaHMO is ahead of the curve on this one, particularly when you look at his todo list.

Related Links: Tivo and the Mustard Lesson

(Hat Tip: TivoBlog)

Posted on October 20, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Television Sets off Rescue Signal

A man in Oregon got an odd knock at the door at his apartment, only to find himself standing next to men in Air Force uniforms and police officers. Apparently, his Toshiba television, with built in DVD and VCR, was emitting the same frequency that satellites monitor for distress signals, and a day that innocently began watching Arthur on PBS started a worldwide manhunt into motion.

The result was a stern warning:

Now, he has been instructed to keep his TV turned off or face fines of up to $10,000 per day for emitting a false distress signal.

I'd take it as a spirtual sign that it's time to upgrade to HDTV.

Posted on October 20, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hauppauge PVR350 Price Change?

It looks like the Hauppauge PVR350 might be lowering it's price from $199 to $149, at least on the Hauppauge online webstore. The store webpage currently has this comment next to the PVR350:

New! Lower price: $149.-

Unfortunately, if you select the "Add to Shopping Cart" button, it still has the price at $199, so you might want to wait until the dust settles if that deal floats your boat. Alternatively, you can buy a PVR350 and receive a free MediaMVP, which is a good deal as well.

The interesting aspect of the PVR350 is that it not only encodes MPEG2 streams as they are captured, but it also has a TV-out which will decode it on the fly as the well, greatly reducing the CPU needs and letting you use an older, less powerful computer.

Thanks for the tip, reader CT!

Additional Info:

TVHarmony Product Tracker: Hauppauge WinTV PVR 350

(Hat Tip: Reader CT)

Posted on October 20, 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Another Sub-$100 MPEG2 Capture Card- Avermedia 1500MCE

Not to let Hauppauge be alone in the sub-$100 MPEG2 TV capture card market with the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR 150MCE, Avermedia introduced the UltraTV 1500 MCE TV capture card with an MSRP of $79.99.

These are great days for consumers.

Posted on October 20, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 18, 2004

Review: Mac Eyehome Media Center (Atmaspheric)

Much of this site is devoted to Windows and Linux based PVR technology, but we also have had a long love affair with the Macintosh. So it shouldn't be surprised that we turned absolutely gleeful when we found this review by Atmaspheric Endeavors on the Eyehome Digital Media Player.

It sounds like a great product for Mac users and fully integrated with Apple's iLife software (eg iTunes, iPhoto, etc) as well as the Mac-based PVR EyeTV.

Posted on October 18, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GBPVR .22 Released

GBPVR continues to evolve with each new release:

  • Custom tasks now return the window to the correct state.
  • Directly launching with -livetv parameter no longer results in ActiveMovie window when in fullscreen mode.
  • Horizontal/Vertical zoom and offset settings in config.xml now work when playing video with VMR7/VMR9/Overlay.
  • Now has option to wake machine to perfrom EPG update.
  • Fixed a bug that would sometimes stop you from deleting a capture source.
  • You can now change the duration in seconds of skip button. The default is currently 60 seconds.
  • You can now configure GB-PVR to perform manual skips in seconds or minutes depending on your preference.
  • Now showing current time in TV Guide. This is configurable in the skin files. See blue skin for example of how to turn it on.
  • Added "stop" button to net radio screen.
  • More button lists now wrap around making for easier/quicker navigation.
  • Improvements to multi-tuner conflicts. This also includes better tuner conflict management with live tv tuner usage, and changing allocated tuners if necessary. This also resolves an issue that could lead to recordings not taking place.
  • When watching live tv, you can now push the yellow button to return to the previous channel you were viewing.
  • Now able to use comskip for automatic detection of commercials. If comskip is found in the gbpvr directory, it is automatically run at the end of each recording to detect commercials (at low priority). Comskip is separate third party application available for free download from http://forums.freytechnologies.com/forums....d=1251. During playback you can press "0" followed by the skip forward or back keys to move between the detected commercial break points. After downloading comskip and placing it in your gbpvr directory, you'll need to edit the comskip.ini and enter the correct 'frames per seconds' etc depending on your location in the world.
  • Plugin developers can now use the PluginHelper.ShowMessage() method to display on-screen messages. Plugins could be developed for CallerID etc. Its a little ugly looking on the screen at the moment, but it works.
  • The Recording Service has been altered to be able to record files shows with multi-byte character sets (tested on hebrew). Previously it would create the directory, but fail to create the video file.
  • Minor changes to Direct Recording Source / GO7007SB / Tuning Assistant to correctly cope with localized naming conventions used in some parts of the world.
  • Added a couple of tweaks to the MVP FF/RW functionality. This should resolve an issue that would cause GBV-PVR to return to the main menu during fast-forwarding on the MVP.
  • Now automatically handling daylight savings for zap2it users. I've removed the timezone setting in the config app. GB-PVR is now using the windows timezone settings.
  • Added a Scart RGB option to the XCard settings.
  • Fixed a really annoying bug that would sometimes cause scheduled recordings not to record after viewing live tv.
  • Its now also possible showing Close Caption information for the regular Intervideo mpeg decoder. Previously this only worked for the NonCSS version.
  • Improved tab order in config app.
  • New GBPVRTray.exe which can be used to give you visibility of what your capture devices are doing. This replaces the tray icon that was part of the recording service in the last release. Also enables you to easily restart the recording service.

(HatTip: Build Your Own PVR)

Posted on October 18, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Undocumented Limitation of Tivo DVD-R

The blog, "The Future of Television" stumbled upon a significant limitation to the Tivo DVD-Rs in conjunction with the Home Media Option which allows Tivos to be connected via a network. While the new Tivo DVD-Rs can create DVDs from the content stored on the unit itself, they cannot record content from other Tivos that may be networked together.

TFOT had an interesting solution for a university professor who wanted to record all the major nightly news stations at once and analyze the content of their newcasts. The idea was to buy several Series 2 Tivos and a single Tivo DVD-R unit, and burn a DVD every night combining all of the streams. Unfortunately, that's when the limitation brought the project to an abrupt halt.

Tivo representatives explained that the encoding on Series 2 units are different than on the DVD-R's and that that Tivo doesn't have the horsepower to do the transcoding to burn the DVD. From what I read, the same limitation applies to two DVD-R units which makes that reasoning a bit of a head scratcher, but that's a far less likely case and I doubt it would be common enough to work in that feature.

Networked Tivos would have been the first solution to come to my mind too, but in retrospect, given the focus on a single show per tuner card, a preferable solution probably would have been one of the software based PVRs like BeyondTV, GBPVR, SageTV, or MythTV that all support multiple tuner cards. In fact, BeyondTV's technology demo, the Medusa, would have worked perfectly, with no monthly fees to boot.

(Hat Tip: PVRBlog)

Posted on October 18, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 15, 2004

Video Projector Technology

I've always been interested in video projector technology ever since a friend of mine turned his driveway into a drive-in movie for a summer dinner party. Since the price is coming down on these things as fast on these things, having your own home theater is now in reach people who earn less than Bill Gates.

Tom's hardware has a good primer
for selecting a video projector. I'll paraphrase the advantages and disadvantages of the technologies but it's well worth reading the whole article if you are technically inclined.

  • DLP Technology
    • Advantages
      • Brilliant, colorful, clear image
      • Good contrast
      • Light output high (low loss with fewer mirrors)
    • Disadvantages
      • Possible rainbow effect in lighter areas
      • Price
  • LCD Technology
    • Advantages
      • Less expensive
      • Newer models now have better light output
    • Disadvantages
      • Black colors don't come out black
      • Crystal matrix can be seen at close distances
  • D-ILA Technology
    • Advantages
      • Blacks are darker
      • Good contrast
    • Disadvantages
      • Expensive
      • Noiser fans due to high heat
  • CRT Technology
    • Advantages
      • High resolution
      • Good fluid motion
      • Best rendition of black color
    • Disadvantages
      • Big and bulky
      • Works in fixed location only
      • Difficult to setup and calibrate

Before purchasing a projector, I'd highly recommend reading the whole article because there are a lot of consideration even if you select among the possible technologies.

Posted on October 15, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

TivoToStay in Q4

Gizmodo has the scoop:

Oh, and I finally got TiVo to commit to a release date for TiVoToGo: Fourth Quarter (okay, I suck at interrogation). Their Q4 starts November 1st, so that's probably as soon as we could expect it. One important point, though, is that the initial implementation will be copying files to laptops and burning DVDs of recorded shows, using Windows Media Player to manage the DRM and a certain DVD burning software (I don't recall what it was specifically, but I presume they'll provide it)—no portable video players for now, although it is in the cards. But burning DVDs! That's not TiVoToGo; That's TiVoToStay.

UPDATE: More from Engadget:

We also talked to Tivo, who were kind enough to give us a demo of TiVo ToGo. The functionality comes in the form of a free automatic update to any and all TiVo series 2 boxes; just add the TiVo Desktop application to your computer, get the two on your home network, and you’re ready to roll. TiVo gives you an account-specific key for DRMing the shows between your TiVo box and your computer, but no dongle, no fees, and no hassle. We like. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) the video files are indeed encrypted, and they said any time a television network asks TiVO to disallow this feature, or if they enable any kind of copy-protection on their broadcasts (like, by implementing Macrovision) TiVo is going to readily oblige the request. So we have a feeling there’s probably going to be like, three channels that won’t demand this of TiVo at the time of launch (and those would be the three obscure satellite channels who haven’t even heard of TiVo). But at least you can burn the files to DVD for playback later if you’re running out of space or just like to archive. TiVo ToGo is due before the year’s end, as will be the hacks that make this thing way more awesome and useful than it already is

(Hat Tip: PVRBlog)

Posted on October 15, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2004

Replay Radio

A couple days ago, I pointed out Radioshark, a product that records radio programs similiar to Tivo. Here's an article pointing out another product that actually records internet radio shows called Replay Radio. From what I've seen, it sounds pretty cool.

I'm planning on doing a review of these two products to see how they work. Having used a PVR for a while now, I find myself in need for a similiar solution for radio. It sure would make my commute easier.

Posted on October 14, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More news that PVR users skip ads

Another research company has come up with the same result that PVR users skip television ads. To be redundant, I think here's where they are wrong.

Posted on October 14, 2004 | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tivo and the mustard lesson

Forbes has an article online talking about the difficulties facing the PVR market. While much of it was a re-hashing of information indicating that it's a tough racket to be in, two items were particularly interesting to me.

First, I never realized that 70% of Tivo users come from the DirecTV partnership. Given that the partnership appears to be rocky, that number is very disconcerting.

Second, I was interested in new Marketing Tivo bigwig, Matt Wisk's quote:

"[DVRs are] not the company's ultimate game plan," says Chief Marketing Officer Matt Wisk. He says TiVo is working directly with content producers, such as documentary makers, to package and distribute programming directly to consumers.

First, that doesn't sound like a company wanting to play nice so it can gain partnerships with satellite and cable operators. The Netflix/Tivo deal, which competes with the lucrative sat/cable provider Video On Demand service, already showed that weeks ago, so it's not a breaking story. If anything, I think they came to that realization that partnerships weren't workable a year or two too late, and now they are behind the curve. However, it's important to point out that while there might still be a slight chance to build a relationship, the love is pretty much gone.

More importantly, I find the "DVRs are not the company's ultimate game plan" less than comforting. I'd hate to be a Ford shareholder and here a spokesperson say, "Automobiles are not the company's ultimate game plan". Arguably, DVR technology is the only competitive advantage they have, and if that isn't their game plan, it's going to be a tough row to hoe.

I'm sure I'm over-reacting to a bit of Marketing spin. I, like many other Tivo users, would love to have additional services and features added to their Tivo box, "ultimately" making it more than a box that records shows. This is a website devoted to convergence and I'm a big fan of getting new non-PVR features integrated into my Tivo box. It gives Tivo owners additional value and I'm as excited as the rest when new updates come out.

What I worry about is what I call "corporate revolving-world vision", a common occurrence in companies that have initial success. It's easy to get caught up in the company culture when you live it day and night and it's enticing to believe that your technology has a bigger scope than it actually has. It's even easier for it to occur if you have a set of devoted fans, asking for features that extend the product's reach.

For an example of the "revolving-world vision", a successful company that sells mustard might very well come to the conclusion that mustard is the reason people eat hotdogs, and maybe if their product is really great, there may be an element of truth to it. If the world revolves around mustard, the corporate theory goes, and people eat other foods in greater quantity, then the company can grow its revenues by expanding into other food groups. Unfortunately, it's only one delusional step away before they start selling mustard as an ice cream topping and wonder why people aren't buying it. The mustard lesson: don't try to be a new food group if you are really a condiment.

I do think Tivo is more than a condiment, but from my perspective, their competitive advantages are clearly that they were first to market and have superior DVR technology. Listening to music and viewing photos from your Tivo is great, but there are other products that are cheaper and do it better. The Netflix/Tivo deal could be a great additional service for Tivo, but at the end of the day, I don't think people will be buying Tivos so they can use the Netflix/Tivo service.

The first to market advantage is being eroded by the cable and satellite operators investing in their own products, and the industry analysts are right that it is easier for the cable providers to sell them their home brand than for Tivo to sell it in retail. It may not currently be as good, but it's cheaper and easier. In the long term, the first to market advantage is good for brand recognition, but not much else.

That leaves their superior PVR technology. That sets them up nicely to be a premium brand as long as they don't take their eye off the ball. One only needs to look at products like MythTV and BeyondTV that there is a lot of innovation in the marketplace and the technology is moving quickly. Tivo users can point at some of the crappy products put out by cable and satellite operators, but over time those products will improve or integrate one of these competitive products. Tivo needs to continue to innovate, or they'll lose that advantage too.

I'm sure Tivo will continue to innovate, but I hope they undertand the mustard lesson, and spend their research dollars wisely. A good decision gives them a fighting chance; a bad decision is going to sting.

Posted on October 14, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2004

Microsoft MCE 2005 Officially Announced

With the help of Queen Latifah, Bill Gates officially announced the release of Microsoft Media Center Edition 2005.

Link Roundup:
PVRBlog.com's take
Michael Gartenberg from Jupiter Research' mini-analysis
PCWorld's first impression
CNet's Review
Tom's Hardware's deconstruction
(Hat Tip: Lost Remote)

Posted on October 13, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hauppauge Officially announces new products

Even though a friend purchased a Hauppauge 150MCE card last weekend online, Hauppauge officially announced 5 new capture cards today in conjunction with Microsoft Media Center Edition 2005.

The products are:

Out of the bunch, I think the 150MCE is the big winner. At $70, it's going to make products like SnapStream's Medusa a lot more affordable.

Posted on October 13, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Conversation with Mark Cuban

News.com had an interesting conversation with Mark Cuban, dot-com bazillionaire, Dallas Mavericks owner, and HDNet founder. He discusses HDTV and his predictions of the future.

It's well worth it to read it all, but on this we completely agree:

Where are we in terms of consumer demand and price affordability for HDTV sets?

We are in Internet 1998. Not everyone has it, but everyone knows that it's inevitable that they will.

Posted on October 13, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Harsh words on the Broadcast Flag

The Boston Globe has some harsh words in regards to plans to regulate devices that record HDTV and the notorious "Broadcast Flag".

The Broadcast Flag is a signal that a television channel can send down with an HDTV stream telling capture devices that this stream cannot be recorded. The FCC has required all capture devices produced after July 1st, 2005 to respect the flag and not record programming with the broadcast flag set. Capture devices can record the program at a lower quality setting.

Will it have an impact on PVR technology? Absolutely, says the article. They point out the technology innovation that occurred around recorded music and MP3. With a similiar requirement (e.g. only allowing recording to be in mono, for instance), it's doubtful we'd have all the products we have today including software jukeboxes, IPods, and online music stores.

Since recording television programming for personal use has been ruled a legal activity for over 30 years now, I do find the broadcast flag requirements bad public policy. I can understand why the movie and television industries want it, but that doesn't make it right. Based on the sales and price trends for HDTV and PVRs, this will undoubtedly have a big impact, and if the broadcast flag rule isn't reversed, it will be a bad one.

Posted on October 13, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Nielsen Rating Adjust To PVR Trend

According to this article in Forbes, the growing number of PVR users are starting to effect the Nielsen Rating system. Nielsen Media, which runs the rating system will react to the trend by creating a separate measure based on recorded viewing.

Currently, Nielsen monitors 5,000 families across the US with an electronic device that records the time and channel that is currently being viewed and asks participants to record who is actually doing the watching. In addition, several large markets have 20,000 additional monitors that only record time and channel information.

PVRs put a monkey wrench into the operation. For instance in Austin, TX, 12% of viewers use PVRs, an unusual amount considering the 4% national rate of usage. Since those people watch shows on their own personal schedule, it can have an effect on the ratings and demographics of the audience. Forrester Research predicts that 45% of households will have a PVR in five years and upwards to 20% in the next couple years.

Starting in April, Nielsen will change their service reflect this trend. They will report live viewing trends as usual, but in the following week, they will report live plus recorded viewing rates.

The article points out that over time, this may have an effect on the scheduling wars that go on every fall. Since television advertisers look at ratings to determine where they spend their money, two shows in the same timeslot may prove to have better ratings than first reported, and thus change the landscape of who wins the prize advertising contract.

Times they are a'changin!

(Hat Tip: TVPredictions.com)

Posted on October 13, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jupiter Research PVR Forecast

Industry analyst company, Jupiter Research forecasts that 80% of PVRs used in the US will be from cable and satellite operators by 2009. Currently, 61% of PVRs come from cable and satellite providers.

Michael Gartenberg, Vice President and Research Director, of Jupiter Research had this advice for Tivo and PC software PVRs:

"Consumers have learned of the value of exclusive DVR features but they lack information about how standalone device's features differ from cable or satellite offerings. There is hope here for the standalone and PC providers. Forty-one percent of consumers do not have a preference as to where they would get DVR technology or who would provide service. This provides a growth opportunity for the first DVR provider that educates the market correctly."

(Hat Tip: TVPredictions.com)

Posted on October 13, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 12, 2004

New IPod To Display Photos

Thinksecret has some interesting rumors on the new 60Gig IPod, the biggest of which is that along with music, you'll be able to view photos on it's 2" color LCD screen.


  • Comes with a 60Gig Hard drive

  • 2" Color LCD screen

  • Synchronizes with iPhoto

  • Able to store 20,000 tunes and 25,000 photos

  • Album artwork will be displayed as a track is being played

  • Audio and Video connections out

  • MSRP $499

It sounds like it will hit the market very soon. That's plenty of time to convince loved ones of the perfect Christmas gift.

Posted on October 12, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Review: Radioshark (Idealog)

Idealog has a interesting review of Radioshark, a USB connected radio with software that allows a user to schedule recordings in advance. At a street price of $60-$70, it's an inexpensive way to record your favorite shows.


  • It works on both PC and Mac
  • It is seamless for IPod users putting the resulting files in the proper location for transfer
  • The sound quality is similiar to radio quality
  • The shark-style antenna does a good job at reception
  • There is no electronic programming guide

I've been looking for something like this for a long time. My commute is fairly long and I sometimes yearn for shows that don't broadcast while I'm in the car. At $60, it's sounds like it's worth a try.

The downside to this product is that there isn't a PVR-style guide to tell you what's on, so I think the "Tivo for Radio" moniker is a bit of stretch. Perhaps "VCR for Radio" would be more apt, but not quite as cool sounding.

Additional Links: Walt Mossberg's review

(Hat Tip: byopvr.com)

Posted on October 12, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gateway Connected DVD Player Dead?

PVRBlog can't find the Gateway Connected DVD Player anymore on the Gateway product website. Does this signal the end for it as a gateway product?

I have used one for a few months now, and while it does a decent job, there are a couple of issues that have annoyed me. The response time to open the DVD tray right after you power up the unit is very slow and can be annoying to the impatient. DIVX playback is a little flakey at times, especially on the synchronization between sound and video. All in all, it's been a good device with those exceptions and I'm sorry to see it go.

It looks like the original supplier, GoVideo still has their branded unit for sale, but I believe that there were slight differences between the two products (the remotes, maybe?) that prevented one from using the GoVideo firmware on the Gateway product or vice versa.

Posted on October 12, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 11, 2004

Ask PVRBlog

One of the best websites for PVR news, PVRBlog has created a spin off blog to help users with their PVR questions. With all the different hardware and software products out there, there are many people left scratching their heads trying to figure things out. As a response, PVRBlog has new service for getting a question answered. It's called Ask.PVRBlog.com and you can submit your PVR questions to the site authors, and they, long with helpful commenters, will give you the answer on the website for other people who find themselves asking the same question.

It sounds like a great new resource and I'll be adding it to my links section in the near future. I'm going to be revamping the links a little to add a help section, and I'll be including Ask.PVRBlog.com along with BYOPVR.com's very lively and helpful forum section.

Posted on October 11, 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack

NYTimes on MCE

The New York Times has an interesting article (free subscription required) on Microsoft's Media Center Edition, including many of the reasons why it hasn't been adopted more in the home. While Microsoft claims an impressive 3% of computers come with MCE installed, the majority don't even realize it when they buy it and few ever hook it up to their television.

Microsoft is resting some of its hope on Microsoft Center Extender, which MS has licensed to Linksys and HP among others. It still will be pricey (the article claims an initial $250 street price), so we'll have to see how well it it pays off.

(Hat Tip: Lost Remote)

Posted on October 11, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Flat Screen Prices Predicted to Drop

Flat screen televisions will be dropping significantly by 2006, according to this Time article. By 2006, a 37" LCD TV will likely cost $2000, a 42" plasma TV will cost $1000 by 2007, and a 37" LCD TV will cost $1000 by 2008. The reason, say analysts, is upcoming over-production in the Far East.

If it does follow that schedule, I'll be asking what took it so long. While there are plenty of technology hurdles to manufacture LCD screens to such large sizes, but given the market potential and thirst for revenue in the Far East, I'd be surprised if prices didn't drop faster.

(Hat Tip: TVPredictions.com Newsletter)

Posted on October 11, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 10, 2004

Yet another Tivo To Go sighting

ObviousDiversion.com found another ad for Tivo To Go. This one in September's Real Simple magazine, although sadly, Plywood Shack Monthly appears to be out of the loop when it comes to advertising future Tivo products.

Posted on October 10, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 08, 2004

Review: Apex MP-2000 PVP (CNet)

CNet has a quick review of the Apex MP-2000 personal media player. Apex is the company that brought you the $29 DVD player last Christmas selling season. The MP-2000 sports a 20Gig hard drive, a 3.5" LCD screen, and a 7.5 hour battery life for music, 3.5 for video. At a street price of $310, it's not a bad deal.

CNet wasn't too impressed with the user interface (unless "mundane" means something different than I think it does) and even downright grumpy about the user manual. However, they mentioned that it supported a lot of formats including Divx, it's got snappy performance, and the unit itself is small and light.

(Hat Tip: Engadget)

Posted on October 08, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Induce Act Shelved For the Moment

The Induce Act, which could potentially hurt PVR technology vendors like Tivo, was shelved today by Orrin Hatch, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairmain. For now, consumer advocates and PVR and P2P technology companies can give a sigh of relief, although there are plans to pursue the bill during the next session.

Stay tuned to this after the presidential election dust settles.

(Hat tip: Lost Remote)

Posted on October 08, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Time Warner Cable DVR Snafu

According to WNBC, the 75,000 Time Warner cable customers in Manhattan with DVR service are not to happy at the moment. It appears that Time Warner auto-updated the DVR with a new software release, but along with all that auto-updating goodness came a bug which freezes video playback for 3-4 seconds at a time. According to one subscriber, Patrick Menton, "It can happen maybe eight to 10 times during a program and it's very aggravating."

Time Warner Cable has acknowledged the problem and are working diligently with the vendor on fix. Their time estimate is that they will have a fix perhaps in the next two weeks. In the mean time, I guess DVR users will have to come up with some sort of playback freeze drinking game to reduce their frustration.

Posted on October 08, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BeyondTV 3.5 Released!

With a lot of anticipation building up in recent days, Snapstream released BeyondTV 3.5 on schedule today. It has several new features including:

  • Support for multiple tuner cards so you can record multiple programs from multiple sources simultaneously
  • The ability to distribute BeyondTV throughout the house via their $39 BeyondTV Link software
  • New and improved scheduling features including the ability to search for shows by keyword
  • Support for personal video players like the Creative Zen
  • Better European support

To show off BeyondTV's new 3.5 features, Snapstream created Medusa, a standard P4 computer with 6 tuner cards attached. While it's a little on the extreme side for even some of us do-it-yourselfers, the Medusa is able to record 6 shows simultaneously without the CPU cracking much of a sweat (ie cpu usage stayed at 22%). They also illustrated a more likely example of two programs being recorded simultaneously in the backroom, while four users streamed different live tv using the BeyondTV link.

For $69.99, Snapstream has put together a powerful product at a really affordable price.

Posted on October 08, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2004


In the "for what it is worth" column, I found this online retailer (note: I've never used them so I can't vouch for them) selling the PVR 150 MCE for $69. It's the first time I've seen this item for sale anywhere, although I haven't been looking too hard.

According to Hauppauge.com, this unit will not only work with MCE but Windows XP as well. Once it gets better support from PVR software vendors, I think a $70 tuner card with MPEG decoding is going to be a big hit (although for Hauppauge, it will likely cannabalize their PVR 250 sales).

Posted on October 06, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Review: MCE 2005 (Thomas Hawk and GamePC)

Here are two good reviews of Microsoft's Media Center Edition 2005:

  • Thomas Hawk is underwhelmed and disappointed
  • GamePC gave it a better review, saying there were some issues with DVD playback (ie it doesn't come installed with DVD codecs) but that it is "the best home theater product currently on the market"

Posted on October 06, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MSN TV 2.0 Launched

Via eHomeUpgrade, Microsoft's MSN TV 2.0 officially launched. Microsoft describes it as an Internet and media player and it can stream some "premium content" from the Internet, as well as from another PC. It's MSRP is $199, but there is a monthly subscription charge as well.

I guess if I squint the right way, I can see it useful for people who don't already have a computer or connection to the Internet, but for someone who already has broadband, I'm not sure why I'd want to shell out $10 a month to use this thing. If they added a tuner card and MCE, that would be one thing, but it doesn't seem like there is much there there.

Posted on October 06, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Zanware In Wall PC Controller

Since my wife just loves it when I cut holes in our drywall, Mavromatic.com points out this handy device that makes my dining room dimmer switch just plain boring in comparison.

According to Zanware, it's fully customizable and has these features built-in:

  • HomeSeer Control -- Control devices, trigger events, access e-mail, and other HomeSeer features.
  • Media Control -- Play MP3s, videos, play lists, browse your computer's hard drive and play media.
  • Internet Content -- Play Internet Radio, webcasts, webcams, RSS news feeds, local weather, and more.
  • Sensors and Utilities -- Temperature +-.5c, light level in LUX, alarm clock, timer, calender, and more.
  • Easy Install -- Mounts in a 3-gang UL box. Single wire install with Cat5 cable and Power over Ethernet.
  • Extendable -- Write your own modules in JScript. Add new menus with XML.
  • IR Receiver -- Works with any universal remote control (included). Control home automation via remote.

For $330, it's sounds like a pretty good deal for those so inclined.

(Hat tip: Engadget)

Posted on October 06, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MCE 2005 Ships Next Week

Microsoft's Media Center Edition 2005 will ship next week, according to CNet. The biggest features include support for multiple tuner cards, support fo HDTV tuner cards, the ability to burn CDs and DVDs via the remote, and improved video and audio playback quality. Along with MCE 2005, it sounds like Micrsoft will also release the Media Extender product, which will allow one to use the PVR attached to another television.

MCE currently can't be purchased separately from a PC, so you'll have to fork over the cash to buy a pre-built system with MCE included. I'm not certain whether MCE 2005 will be a free or paid upgrade for MCE 2004 users.

UPDATE: It looks like you can by MCE 2005 without purchasing a PC according to GamePC.com.

Additional Links: XPMCE.com
(Hat Tip: Engadget)

Posted on October 06, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 05, 2004


A few days ago, I mentioned Microsoft's threedegrees.com, a private P2P application for sharing content like music for the teenage crowd. Grouper, a startup from Mill Valley, CA, does it one better by providing video, as well as other features that may appeal to the over 14 crowd.

The idea is pretty simple: wouldn't it be great to have your own private bittorrent with your family and friends for sharing stuff? Well, Grouper appears to do exactly that. You can post your family photos, videos, etc and give them access to your select group, all with the added speed and reliability of a distributed P2P.

The downside for me is no Mac support. After working for Apple in a past life, half my family use Macintosh. Om Malik reports that a Mac OS X is forthcoming in the next 3-5 months, so I'll wait for that to come out. In the meantime, I'll try to convice my sister to come out of the dark ages of Mac OS 8.5 so she can use it too.

Hat Tip and nice review at Om Malik.

Posted on October 05, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monster PC CPU Power Consumption

If you are trying to build a silent HTPC for your living room, power consumption is a major concern. Power consumption equals heat and heat equals noisy fans, so the lower the power usage, the quieter your system can become.

TechReport.com did some testing on high-powered CPUs like the Athlon 64 (90nm) and the Pentium 4 3.4Ghz (90nm).

Here were their results:

The bottom line: the AMD Athlon 64 used less power and produced less heat, particularly during heavy processing.

(Hat Tip: SilentPCReview.com)

Posted on October 05, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Steve Ballmer pontificates on convergence and DRM

Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer discussed his views on convergence technology and DRM technology in a press briefing in London.

There isn't much newsworthy about his comments but it's pretty clear the MS strategy is to use the DRM (digital rights management) technology they've created to build partnerships with the RIAA (music) and MPAA (movies) and then leverage this technology and partnerships to become the standard on devices. Having standards help consumers by allowing devices to play together nicely, and having a MS license on each device would be nice from Microsoft's perspective as well.

There are some problems with both the demand and supply side of that strategy. On the demand side, if the restrictions are too great, people will bypass it to fulfill their needs via some sort of open standard. Consumer electronics is a difficult market and companies look to provide niches, and likely, there will be providers who will provide products that support the open standard.

On the supply side, some partners like the MPAA are more willing to partner with Microsoft, but there are other large players that are unlikely to want to play ball like satellite and cable operators who view Microsoft as a threat. Those guys might be just as likely to throw their weight behind behind a different standard, or partner with some company that isn't as threatening like Apple.

(Hat Tip: eHomeUpgrade)

Posted on October 05, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Portable Playstation Delayed?

I had previously mentioned my excitement about the new Portable Playstation not only to re-live my youth via emulated Galaga, but as an inexpensive device to watch video. According to Joystiq, it looks like we'll have to wait a little longer given the problems they are experiencing with battery life.

(Hat Tip: Engadget)

Posted on October 05, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tivo to Go Coming Sooner than Expected?

Perhaps it will be out soon given ObviousDiversion.com found it already being advertised in a Good Guys insert in the Seattle Times.

(Hat Tip: Om Malik)

Posted on October 05, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 04, 2004

NasLite Review

Since my windows file server had an unrecoverable crash last week, I've been looking for a good inexpensive solution for storing all our video content. I recently found NasLite 1.x, from ServerElements.com. NasLite is a very simple file server linux distribution that fits on a single floppy. If you have some old computers laying around, NasLite can bring them back to their old glory.

NasLite lets you take any old computer (486DX and above) and turns it into a simple file server. Since file serving takes up very little processing speed as opposed to network speed or hard drive speed, almost any old computer will work. It just needs support for PCI and IDE, and since it uses a floppy to boot, you can toss your CDROM drive and attach 4 disk drives to be served. You need to place a Ethernet card on the PCI bus, but NasLite supports many of the common brands out there.

Almost miraculously, NasLite can cope with new large hard drives that typically can't be supported by older machines. NasLite bypasses the bios and talks directly with the drive, so that old Pentium machine can serve a terabyte of video without much of a fuss. Once I got the floppy created, it literally took less than 5 minutes to set up the system.

Naslite has three variants which can serve up data in three different ways. For Windows users, Samba is the way to go since it will make your Naslite server look like a typical windows server. If you are using Linux, you could also use NFS, or if you prefer, you can set up the server to use FTP. You can administer the server using telnet (or directly from the machine itself) and it also comes with a web server so you can access the logs for errors and usage.

There are definitely limitations to the software. There are absolutely no security features so anyone can add, view, or remove data from the server, making it is a lousy solution for businesses. NasLite only supports ext2 file format (don't worry if you don't know what this is) which means if the server goes down unexpectedly, the next time it boots it will check each disk for errors easily taking a couple hours if you have 4 large disks. It also serves up the drives as four separate shares instead of one big one, so you'll have to structure your video library accordingly. Finally, NasLite uses some older technology and you are limited to a file size of 4gig or less, which can be a problem if you are storing large MPEG2 video files.

I had a few problems setting the thing up. The biggest trick for Windows users is creating the bootable floppy. Naslite uses a floppy format that can pack in 1.7Megs into a 1.44Meg floppy, but even though I googled up some suggestions that certain tools would work to create the floppy, I had little success. I ended up booting my computer with Knoppix, which is a bootable version of Linux that fits on a CD, and then creating the floppy that way. You have the option of ordering a floppy or you could pay to download a CD creator app, both of which are very reasonably priced options.

If you do use Knoppix, click on the terminal icon on the bottom bar and type the following (assuming you want the smb version):

cd /tmp
wget http://www.serverelements.com/bin/NASLite-SMB.img.gz
gunzip NASLite-SMB.img.gz
fdformat /dev/fd0u1722
dd if=NASLite-SMB.img of=/dev/fd0u1722

I had some problems with NasLite finding my Ethernet card, and I believe the problem was that the card wasn't in the first PCI slot. If you have a problem with NasLite finding the card, I'd recommend juggling the PCI cards to make it the first one.

I found my oldest computer a little slow for my taste. My network is all 100Mbit, and with my Pentium Pro 32Meg system, I was able to download movies at 500KB speeds (5Mbit) which is adequate for serving one large video feed, but I wanted to make sure I could serve at least two movies simultaneously and 5Mbit is pushing it.

I tried NasListe on a Celeron 500 system with 512Meg of RAM, and was able to get much better speeds: 3MB (30Mbit). I think the difference between the two systems was likely memory instead of CPU, but I didn't look into it any further. Upload speeds are about the same, although it bounces between really fast and really slow and it looks like it doesn't do a good job caching, but from reading their forums, it looks like they are working on a better solution.

If you have an old computer lying around, I'd highly recommend NasLite. It can give that old clunker a new life, and with hard drive prices so low, you can build a terabyte server for next to nothing.

Other Links: Michael Horowitz's NasLite Review and Tips

UPDATE: Based on comments of Stranger, Windows users can try RawWrite Win to create the floppies without using Knoppix. It's worth it since downloading the 700MB Knoppix CD can be time consuming.

Posted on October 04, 2004 | Comments (4) | TrackBack

BeyondTV 3.5 Out this Friday

PVR Software vendor, SnapStream, is going to release a new version of BeyondTV this Friday with support for multiple tuner cards. I've been anxious to try 3.5 ever since AnandTech released this preview.

(Hat tip: BYOPVR.com)

Posted on October 04, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Win a HTPC case

If you haven't already, now is a good time to go through the free registration at BYOPVR.com since now you have a chance at winning a cool $179 case from Alchemy.com.

is one of my favorite websites. It not only has a great news section, but also an active forum, a good review section, and a user blog section that has some useful ideas on how to setup and use various PVR products. BYOPVR has helped me out of a jam once or twice trying to get some PVR software to play nice, so along with Mr. Google, it's one of the first places I look to help solve a problem.

Posted on October 04, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hauppauge PVR150 Rumor

BYOPVR.com points out some interesting rumors about a low cost Hauppauge PVR 250, a video capture card with MPEG2 encoding. The Hauppauge PVR 250 is the conventional choice for building your own PVR since most Windows and Linux PVR software support it and the MPEG2 encoding takes a lot of processing off of the CPU. The 150 will be a lower cost version of the 250.

Here are the rumored specs:

  • 1 ?Philips? 125 channel cable ready TV Tuner

  • 1 Conexant CX25843 A/V Decoder

  • 1 Conexant CX23416 MPEG Encoder

  • 1 TV input

  • 1 S-Video

  • 1 RCA Composite

  • 1 1/8 Stereo mini jack

  • 1 IR port

If true, this would make building a multi-tuner PVR all that much cheaper. I'll definitely be buying one of these once to augment my system.

Posted on October 04, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

JavaHMO 2.0 Beta is out

JavaHMO, an alternative replacement for Tivo's Home Media Option, has just released its first beta for the 2.0 version. JavaHMO 2.0 is a major upgrade and includes a lot of new interesting features that aren't included in Tivo's original version.

(Hat tip: Tivoblog)

Posted on October 04, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Crossbar AVCast System

Tivoblog has a good writeup on how to share your Tivo between two televisions using a $99 kit from Crossbar that packs the Tivo signal on to a an unused channel and transmits throughout the house. The kit also includes something called an IrCaster for letting you control the tivo with your remote from another room as well.

The downside is that two people can't watch different shows at the same time, but it's great inexpensive solution for someone who wants to use the same tivo (or other device like a DVD player) on multiple tvs.

Posted on October 04, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 01, 2004

SA 8000HD DVR (Atmaspheric)

Atmaspheric Endeavors has some good things to say about his new Scientifc Atlanta 8000HD High Def DVR / set-top box.

Posted on October 01, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Review: MX-3000 Remote (HomeTheaterBlog)

Got an extra $1000 laying around for fancy home theater remote? HomeTheaterBlog has a review of the programmable MX-3000 Remote from Home Theater Master.

For a $1000, I don't think this would pass the Wife-Need-To-Have test, at least in our household. My advice: buy it when you are still single.

(Hat Tip: Gizmodo)

Posted on October 01, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Netflix/Tivo Partnership Official

It's no longer a rumor now.

(Hat Tip: TivoBlog)

Posted on October 01, 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack