Category Archives: Digital Home

Will Apple Re-invent the TV too?

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If reports from Engadget are correct,  Apple could be soon “re-inventing” the TV too. The new Apple TV could be announced on the next  Steve Jobs keynote on June 7th, together with the iPhone HD (not according to Engadget)

New Apple TV highlights, according to Engadget:

  • Very small device, with only power and Audio-Video ports. No display
  • Based on iPhone OS 4
  • A4 CPU, capable of displaying 1080p HD video
  • 16 GB of flash storage
  • Wifi-n
  • Price $99

Speculating on what it could also do:

  • Runs all iPhone and iPad Apps on the AppStore, plus an specific SDK for Apple TV Apps
  • Includes a Safari browser with HTML5 support
  • Plays any content from any iTunes library at home
  • Extend iAds to video
  • Can be controlled with a new iPhone-iPod Touch Remote App, that allows remote Multi-touch controls of the TV screen
  • The new iPhone HD (the one previewed by Gizmodo based on  a prototype)  will sell with a dock station to connect to a TV screen and behave just as the new Apple TV
  • Does not support Flash

Can you imagine all that for $99? Is the ultimate set-top-box finally arrived? Is GoogleTV dead-on-arrival ? Can you imagine the App Store model also on TV? Netflix, YouTube, all existing video apps, all games!, and all HTML5 online video that is coming…

Will Apple re-invent the TV too, based on the same iPhone OS that reinvented the phone and the tablet?

1984 might be closer than we ever thought…

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Finally, the iPad

Finally it’s here. The much rumored Apple Tablet came to life as the iPad.

The iPad is an iPhone “on steroids”. Same look, same great multitouch user interface, but a bigger screen make web browsing, reading ebooks, gaming or watching video so much better.

The price, starting at $499 is a great (good) surprise, and it aims at killing the revolution of 2008: the netbook.
Amazon Kindle, is the other suspect under threat, with the only advantage of the e-ink “not-hurting-your-eyes” for heavy readers (as well as cheaper ebooks…)

The only missing thing ont he iPad: lack of flash will not let you enjoy Hulu and other online video. Else, it could have even been a great potable Set-top-“pad” (not quite set-top-box) to bring online video to the TV set, as a secondary use.

Now, let’s wait for what Google and partners will bring to counter-attack later this year…

iPad: MultiScreen Beyond the Three Screens

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If the rumors about Apple’s upcoming “iPad” are true, prepare for the next revolution after the iPhone. Jeremy Horwitz says the iPad could have a 10.7″ screen with an iPhone 3G-like design, runs iPhone OS, will come in two flavors with and without 3G, 720p resolution and with all media, gaming, eBook and web functionality of the iPhone.

As the rumor goes, Apple would announce it in January 2010 and ship in May-June.

Why would the iPad be revolutionary?

Ever heard about Multiscreen? So far the media industry talked about Multiscreen referring to “the Three Screens”: TV, PC and Mobile. Even Nielsen, the reference company for audience measurements, publishes its quarterly ” Three Screens Report”, tracking media consumption on TV, PC and Mobile. The latest report coincidentally highlights the increase in ¨multitasking¨, that is, web browsing while watching TV (57% of consumers does it at least once a month).

An iPad would be a device ideal for “multitasking”, where the multiscreen concept shifts to multiple screens at the same time, enriching how media in consumed. Expect some apps to turn the iPad into a Multimedia Remote Control, where you can navigate through the Program Guide (EPG) and choose what to see. Zapping could be done on the iPad, previewing the channels without annoying all the family changing channels on the main TV. Broadcast of live Sports events are also ideal to have the iPad as a secondary screen to access stats, classification, players profile, replays  or multiple view angles, with simple finger controls. Not too mention interactive TV applications, with much richer interaction on a tablet than on any current form of remote controls.

The iPad is also an ideal portable screen for video, for web browsing, for home automation remote control and as the eBook reader that Amazon must be scared about.

More on the iPad:
Rebooting the Book (One Apple iPad Tablet at a Time) – O’Reilly Radar
IPad Rumors Abound! Apple To Announce On January 19! Device Shipping In May! – TechCrunch
The coming tablet wars – TechCrunch

Aspire Revo: The Ultimate STB?

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I came back from Taipei, and instead of an Asus Eee Box I dreamt about, I got a much cheaper box with much better specs: the Acer Aspire Revo. For around  180 Euro this is what I got:

  • Intel Atom 230 1.6GHz
  • 2GB DDR2 RAM
  • 250 GB HDD
  • nVidia ION Integrated with HDMI
  • Wifi b/g/draft-N
  • 6 USB ports, 1 eSATA, 1 SD-HC card reader, 1 Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Wireless Keyboard and Mouse
  • Linux RevoBoot

A pretty good price for what is inside this box. The Linux RevoBoot is not a serious distro. It is just provided to be easily replaced by whatever OS you plan to install.

I did install a Windows 7 RC on the HDD, and an XMBC Live on a SD-HC card. By pressing F12 at start up, you can choose which OS to boot from. Connected to a 50″ LCD screen through HDMI at 1080p, it looks pretty cool as a STB.

In order to enjoy HD video payed from this box, it is important to know that the Media Player software needs to be capable to use the hardware video acceleration, that is, able to off-load video decoding tasks to the nVidia ION GPU. The Intel Atom 230 processor by itself will not be able to decode HD smoothly without losing frames.

As of today that means that:

– On Windows, the media player must support DVXA (DirectX Video Acceleration):
Windows Media Player supports DVXA ONLY for Windows Media Video. A popular player like VLC, does NOT support DVXA. Boxee for Windows does not support DVXA either. I did installed Media Player Classic – Home Cinema, which supports video acceleration for h264, the codec normally used in Matroska popular HD video downloads.

– On Linux, the media player must support VDPAU (Video Decode and Presentation API for UNIX), which is the case for MPlayer ot MythTV, and specially by the XBMC Media Center and Boxee, the favorites media centers of the Linux crowd.

Unfortunately Flash does NOT support HW acceleration, and that means that most online video does NOT play totally smooth on the Revo.  Adobe and nVidia are said to be working on it.

All in all, a good box to attach to your LCD TV and control with the wireless keyboard and mouse from the sofa. Great performance as a Media Center for your media library, but with shortcomings to enjoy online video on your TV.

This is the main drawback of boxes like the Revo and the Eee Box with an Atom processor that has trouble playing Flash video encoded in h264. A Mac Mini, woudl not have that problem, but it would cost 3 times the price.

Another thing to note is the poor Wireless-N performance of the Revo. If you do not have Ethernet wiring to your living room, you’d better budget for HomePlug adapters instead of a Wireless-N router upgrade.

The Ultimate STB!

I will be in Taiwan in a few days, and I do not plan to leave without one of these boxes. I already posted about it. The newest Asus Eee Box is a great product. Small-form that can be (VESA) mounted on the back of the TV, quiet, low power, Wifi-n for true multimedia without wires, HDMI and SPDIF output…  and it is much more affordable than a Mac Mini.

I have not found any cons yet. And what’s more, see the video clip for the Eee Stick, the killer accesory to control the Eee Box from the sofa.

Install the Boxee version for Windows XP, or simply “tune-in” into http://www.youtube.com/xl for your Online Video experience on the TV.

DVRs Go Mainstream, but for how long?

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The Silicon Alley Insider Chart of the Day (above) shows the great curve of DVR (Digital Video Recorders)  adoption in US, where almost one in three households already have one. This poses a threat to the advertising model of broadcast TVs, as DVRs are commonly used to fast-forward ads.

DVRs are clearly growing, but for how long? Take the analogy of answering machines. In the 80s and 90s, everyone had an answering machine at home. Then Voicemail Service arrived, managed by the telco, and now answering machines are not sold anymore.

Similarly network PVRs, or even further, Catch-Up TV, make the DVR at home irrelevant. Why program the DVR to record a show, when you can have it from the Catch-up catalog when you want and where you want, accessible from a laptop or a mobile handset?

And the good news for telcos and content owners: with a Catch-up TV service, you take back the control of ads.

It is the Hulu model taken to the three screens (TV, PC and mobile). If you have Hulu, why would you want to record a show in your DVR? why would you want a DVR at all if the content is always there available?

Boxee: Hulu’s Dilemma

Boxee is getting so successful that many of its users are seriously considering to stop their Pay-TV subscriptions.

Boxee is a cool open source software for Media Centers based on Mac or Ubuntu. This software transforms a Mac Mini, Apple TV or any Linux small-form PC into a social network  set-top-box. With a great user interface, Boxee enables you to enjoy on your TV not only your media library but also online video such as YouTube and Hulu, as you interact with your buddies.

Hulu -the joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp- offers a sensational online catalog of  TV shows from their parent companies and others, that has made their user growth in 2008 stunning.

Such is the success of the Boxee-Hulu combination that Hulu’s content providers have requested Hulu to be removed from Boxee,  in an attempt to stop cannibalizing their traditional revenues from TV ads and Cable networks.

Again the traditional Innovator’s dilemma in front of a disruptive threat. Innovate first and cannibalize yourself? or wait and risk to be eaten by others with less to lose?

NBC and News Corp might worry about Online TV in the short-term, but in the long-run it will ony bring good news:

  • CPM of Online TV should be higher than traditional TV. As marketers say, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”. Online TV ads can be targeted to specific viewers.  Interactive responses can be measured. That should  reduce wasted ads, and therefore advertisers will be ready to pay more for an Online TV Ad.
  • Online TV might display less ads per show than traditional TV, but ads are at least seen.  A way to avoid all the wasted ads wiped out by DVRs and Tivos.
  • Online TV can enable Content Providers to sell subscriptions for premium content and VoD directly to the user without any Cable intermediary.

If Hulu is able to build a stronghold in online TV, they will capture all the benefits of a richer online TV in the long-run.

The ones to worry about Boxee are the Cable and IPTV operators that will need to ad significant value to avoid being by-passed by over-the-top solutions such as Boxee, and dumped by their customers. There is time. Boxee is great, but still for Mac or Linux geeks, a minority.

“The question is not whether Telcos want to be a dumb or a smart pipe. They are already a dumb pipe. The question is do they want to be something else on top?”

Max Foresite – Telecom, Internet & Media Analyst