Monthly Archives: August 2008

Slingplayer 2.0 Beta Launches

  

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Wow, I had no idea the folks at Sling were readying a new version of their player!  I went to download the sling player on Sunday night and found a surprise – a beta of Player 2.0

 
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What’s so cool about this?  Two things, as far as I can see.  First, finally, the Sling Player has a pause button!  That’s right, you can see it down at the bottom of this image..  and I’ve blown it up here:

 
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Finally, I can skip over commercials when watching the sling player, rather than using the slow remote control capability.  But with that said, I could certainly see some improvements.

 

First, how about a user-definable buffer?  The buffer is just an hour, which makes no sense.  What if I want to sling a football game, and then watch it later? 

Second, why can’t I save my buffer?  At least for locked local viewing?

And third, how about a 30 second skip button?  That would be awesome.

 

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The next cool thing – they’ve added a program guide, that’ll let you tune your remote cable or SAT box by what’s on, which means no more slow-mo navigating the on-screen guide.  Powered by Zap2It, the guide loads quickly, and is easy to navigate.   Click on a show, and you’ll be immediately jumped to that channel (if you’re using the IR blaster – I’m not because my DirecTV HR-21 has RF remotes, but with RF enabled there’s no IR ability…  FAIL to DirecTV, but that’s another story).

   

Of course I want more.  Why can’t I schedule recordings?  Click on a show in the future, and have the Sling automatically connect, record and save.  That would be even more amazing.  And if they can do that, why not put the local box into slow-mo, and then record in slow-mo over the Internet, but then speed it up to real time so that I collect even more bits over a slower connection.  Why not?

 

There’s more too.  But suffice it to say that as a Sling User I love the new features.  But like anything, Sling, when you give me a taste, I just want more, more, more!

Oh, and you Mactards are just going to have to cry in your lattes.  It works on Windows only.  Check it out on the Sling Media Download site.

The 21st Century Version of Walt Disney’s Frozen Head

So I’m going through all my email after vacation (as anyone who tried to email me knows, I like to at least partly unplug during vacations), and ran across a doozy.

Apparently we now have an ability to “Leave Your Mark. Save Humanity”, through “Operation Immortality”. Basically it’s an opportunity to upload and store a sequence of your DNA and shoot it off into the stars (or at least the International Space Station). The person who emailed me (who will remain anonymous), was inviting one of my co-workers to be included in this chance to send a “message to the universe”.

So if, say, we blow ourselves to pieces because we can’t agree on which god is the right one, then some future race of super beings is going to find us, and clone us from this stored DNA.

Right. Let’s imagine all the things that have to go right for this to happen after we destroy the earth.

1: Aliens have to find the DNA
2: They will have to have some sort of “reader” that will read whatever the DNA sequence is stored on (the person emailing me wanted the DNA delivered on a USB stick – what if the aliens opted for the “Firewire” fork instead?).
3: The aliens will need to be dumb enough to clone back a race that managed to obliterate itself because it couldn’t agree to disagree.

Yup, it’s the 21st century version of cryogenics. Now I know the real business model for 23 and me!

jim

Flawed Video Distribution Strategy Destined for Failure

dormstorm fail When I first heard that Broadband Enterprises was promising 20 million views across five episodes of its "Dorm Storm" show, I was flabbergasted (and just a bit jealous).

For you math challenged, that averages out to 4 million per episode.  I’ve seen the numbers, and I know that it’s really, really hard to get even a quarter of a million views per episode over the course of an online video series, so those total numbers for the HP underwritten series, seemed to be the web video version of Operation Market-Garden.

But then, thanks to an insightful article from Tilzy.TV’s Jamison Tilsner, I discovered how they were planning to deliver those amazing view counts:  they’re pushing the videos into banner ad slots across thousands of web sites.  That means that if you stop by a favorite site, instead of an ad for the University of Phoenix, or Windows Vista, you’ll get an episode streamed into that ad spot.

It’s not a unique strategy.  Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane’s latest show Cavalcade will be distributed, via Google, into ad slots all across the Internet too.

Is this a breakthrough in video distribution, or just another dumb idea.  If you saw the headline, you’ll know where I stand, and here’s why.

I spent much of the last ten years running Internet sites.  I launched ZDTV’s web site, and then moved on to Ziff Davis to resuscitate the web presence for PCMag.com, ExtremeTech, eWeek.com and many more sites.   What I learned should be no surprise with anyone with a TiVo:  standard ad units are easily ignored by most consumers.

If they can skip them, the will.  If they can run ad blockers, they’ll do that too.  But even if they don’t block the ads, human beings seem to have this selective attention capability (which probably originally evolved to help us pick the prey or predator from the weeds) that essentially helps us tune out those ad units.

Pick any site you visit regularly.  Pop it up on your browser right now.  Did your eye just slide over the ad units on the page?  Bet it did.   Evolution basically turned our brains into ad-unit irrelevancy engines.  That’s why an increasingly strident series of ad types flood the net, from prestitials to video.

And yes, those MPU ad formats (the big almost square ones) have recently become a graveyard of video ads.  Microsoft’s running its Vista surprise campaign videos everywhere, as are many others.  But these are the exact same places that Dorm Storm and Cavalcade are playing.

And that’s the problem. We’ve been conditioned to interpret those rectangles of screen real estate as ads – and to ignore them.  When a video autoplays in one of those slots we naturally tune it out – or feel terribly guilty when we’re sucked into watching it. 

Oh, and I learned something else too:  autoplay ads suck.  Blindsiding web surfers with videos that autoplay is the web equivalent of farting in an elevator.  It’s just wrong. 

So that’s why I’m so skeptical of these attempts to juice video plays by inserting them into ad streams.  Sure, they’ll report these "autoplay" numbers as if they were actual video views.  But they’re not.  It’s as if they pumped the video through that huge video billboard on Highway 101 and counted every commuter as a viewer.  That’s not an impression, it’s an illusion.

It’s not only wrong, but it’ll generate lots of ill will as well.  If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and poops like a duck, it’s a duck.  And from where I sit (and for most web surfers), stuffing video content into ad units is just ducked-up.

Hey Game Developers: Where’s the FAIL function?

zelda fail There’s a conceit practiced by modern-day game developers that I think is just wrong, wrong, wrong.  It’s that gamers will start playing, and then just keep playing, day in and day out, until they either finish the game or stomp away in frustration.

But that’s not how it works in real life, at least for gamers who actually have a real life.

Photo: Shadow Viking

I love epic video games.  But I don’t always have the time to play them straight through until completion.  Occasionally I have to go to work, play with my family, pay bills, coach basketball, or some other RW task.  Sometimes those things can conspire to keep me from a great game for days, even weeks at a time.

Then when I come back, there’s that sense of fog.  Of questioning.  Of "WTF do I do now?"

It’s the same feeling I get when I read a great Sci-fi/Fantasy book that’s part of a longer series – but the sequel has yet to be published.  Good multi-book authors always include a plot summary at the top of subsequent installments, whether it’s explicit, or implied in the first chapter(s).

But the vast majority of games don’t do that at all.  And it’s frustrating as all heck. 

Take the latest Zelda game from Nintendo, Twilight Princess.  I stopped playing a few months ago, can’t remember why.  But I’m on vacation this week, and thought I’d pick it up again.  But I’m clueless as to what to do next.  Sure, there’s always Thelma’s Bar, but it’s useless.  And yeah, I could look up a walkthrough, and try to compare what I have (three mirror shards, ball and chain, etc) and compare them to where I need to be.  But even those are imperfect – I’ve tried.

So here I am, wanting to finish a great game, but stymied by the game’s inability to tell me what I need to do next.

Some games get it.  Paper Mario, for example, has a wizard who can tell you what to do next – for a few coins.

Why doesn’t every game do that?  It should. Because if gaming wants to move beyond the hard-core it needs to embrace a changing gaming rythm and flow.  Because not everyone who *could* enjoy that game will have an uninterrupted flow of hours and hours across days and days to play your game.  And with complicated plot twists, a multitude of quests and wide-open worlds, more and more of us are going to need that "FAIL" function that will help us get back into the game.    Broaden your audience game developers, and realize that not everyone games like you do.

Internet Video, "the platform" and Gemini Division

 

I don’t always agree with Mark Cuban, but I’m a big fan of his Blog Maverick blog.  However, he’s right on with his latest post, The Platform is the Message, about how video-based content, whether its a movie, TV show, sporting event or Internet-based, will hash out.

I’ve been saying for a long time that Internet-based video is a brand new medium.  It’s not going to replace popular TV shows, sitcoms, even reality TV.  Instead it’s going to find its own way, with new types of video content being created that either aren’t viable on traditional TV, or require the interactivity and community involvement of the Internet.

Mark points to the Olympics as the reason why sports belongs on TV and on big screens.

 

Without question, people want to watch big events on their big HDTVs. There is a reason why 30pct of homes and quickly growing now have HDTVs…..they like to watch them. With a 73" HDTV from Mitsubishi down to about $2200 bucks, its easy to see why and the pricing of all HDTVs continuing to fall, its a trend thats not going to end anytime soon. Watching an event like the Olympics, just about any sporting event and even big shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars benefit.

I agree, and it’s why I spend hundreds each year to watch my favorite football and baseball teams on my big-screen.  Sure, I sometimes pipe them into my home notebook via a slingbox, but it’s not the same.  Convenience *sometimes* outweighs quality, but not always.  Hulu is great for catch up viewing, but wouldn’t you really rather watch, say, Survivor or Jon Stewart in full-on HD?

 

Programmers will create content differently for every platform, from cellphone, even to movies. In the movie world , its pretty simple to see that big movies, with big special effects look great and sound great in theaters. Same with 3D. Thats an experience even a 73" HDTV cant recreate fully

It will be interesting to see how well Gemini Division does.  My friend Daisy Whitney thinks that the success of Internet Video is riding on it, but I disagree.  Early reviews of Gemini Division are coming back negative, but I’m not concerned.  Gemini Division is a perfect example of taking what ought to be a real TV show, and squashing it into an inappropriate medium. 

It’s not just TV reinvented.  It’s something new.  I’m not smart enough to say what it is, but chances are it’ll be more like Diggnation than Gemini Division!

Welcome to the 21st Century, Louderback.com

I know, I know. This site had gotten a bit long in the tooth. OK, yes, anything still using Front Page has to be considered a dinosaur in the nuclear age of Web 2.0.

But thanks to lots of ribbing from friends and co-workers — and a wonderful design and development effort by Andrew Mager — I’ve finally entered, at least, the steel age of web sites.

Just in time for blogs to be replaced by micro-blogs such as Plurk, Tumblr and Twitter. Oh well, at least it’s an advance.

Seriously, expect more interesting things to pop up here that have little or nothing to do with my day job. And thanks again to everyone who pushed me to this momentous step!

jim