Game over?

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From GigaOM:

There are other participants, some that are well known, like HP with its HP MediaSmart Connect, or TiVo. And some are upstarts, like Vudu, Zv, Verismo and Sezmi. But the future belongs to Amazon, Netflix or Apple. It’s still too early to tell which one will win the race to your big-screen TV, but they all have the right combination of size, recognition and content to get there.

The move to stream video to your TV from the Internet it too new to declare a winner. For instance, of the set top boxes the author of the article mentioned, he forgot a major one: your PC.

When the prices of computers drop into the 400 dollar range, and even Apple sells the Mac Mini at a reasonably affordable price, expect to see more computers hooked to TVs. Through our computers we can not only get iTunes, Unbox, and Netflix WatchNow, we can also access,, Hulu, and a host of other video streaming sites.

The opening shots in this battle have just been fired. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

Internet Media

AppleTV Rumors

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Rumors abound this weekend that something is up with AppleTV. TUAW first wrote about the AppleTV signs coming down, and erroneously mentioned about machines being pulled. The site later made an update that the machines haven’t been pulled, and conjecture in comments is that the signage change is because of one year licensing and old publication material. Still, another rumor mentioned a webcast related to the AppleTV on Tuesday. Comments in Gizmodo mention AppleTVs on clearance at Target, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Target is making way for new products.

There has been speculation for some time now on a new AppleTV that combines the old AppleTV streaming and direct purchasing capability, and features of the Mac Mini. Speculation runs the gamut from a new box with Blu-Ray, to a merge between the Mac Mini and the AppleTV with Blu-Ray thrown in. I think one thing we can safely say is that whatever happens to the future of AppleTV et al, it won’t stream Netflix’s WatchNow.

The rumor that most interested me, from MacBlogz, was that a software upgrade for AppleTV is in the works enabling direct purchase of HD TV shows through the machine. Now, you have to purchase the shows in iTunes on the computer and then transfer them to the machine.

I tried posting a note on these at the official AppleTV discussion forum. It was pulled in ten minutes and I received an email from Apple, slapping my hands and telling me not to post “rumors” and “speculation” in the forum. Considering that rumor and speculation form the heart and soul of Apple marketing, I would think the company would welcome increased exposure for both, but it would seem it likes to play coy within its own environments. Mustn’t smudge the shellac.

I do find this latest round of Apple buzz to be less than endearing—necessary updates to hardware should not be handled within the same PR stream as new products or innovations.


State of Video

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A lot seems to be going on in the world of online video.

NBC and its affiliates have returned to iTunes, and brought quasi-HD quality with it. Welcome back to Eureka and Heroes, and in a much better quality than previous TV shows. ABC has also started rolling out shows in HD quality.

The move was paired with the release of iTunes 8, which hasn’t necessarily been a smooth upgrade when paired with the AppleTV. The syncing between iTunes and AppleTV has generated some problems, and you can only purchase HD TV shows on iTunes—they’re not available directly on the AppleTV.

Joost is now web-based rather than requiring a separate player. I’m trying it now, and the quality isn’t too bad; about what you would find with Hulu and other lower resolution videos. No HD-like quality yet, but hopefully in time.

The streaming is a little rough, but that could also be a problem along the pipe. One advantage Joost has over so many other online video services is that it provides content for people in most countries, not just the UK, or the US. Of course, we all don’t see the same content.

Still nothing yet from Roku as to when we can expect the additional content for the Roku player.

In the meantime, the first town to go all digital, Wilmington, North Caroline, has not imploded yet from the change, so there’s hope for the rest of the world. The local news stations I pick up using an HD tuner have started to man phone lines during news broadcasts in order to answer questions about the conversion. It’s still going to be interesting times when the switch is turned on.


Comcast adding caps

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According to DSLReports, Comcast is instituting a cap on its broadband customers. The cap will be 250GB a month, with one “freebie” month, where you can go over this amount without repercussion.

As caps go, this is one of the more reasonable. However, I expect to see other broadband companies following suit since one of the major players has now made a cap move. Eventually, this will most likely end up in front of the FCC, Congress, or court, as these companies will be forced to provide detailed operation information in order to assess whether they really have a congestion problem, or if their actions are anti-trust. This will also lead to questions about how much these companies reinvest profits back into infrastructure.

I also don’t see how caps are going to overcome problems with congestion, because people could use most of their bandwidth allotment during peak times. Wasn’t that the purpose of caps? To reduce congestion?


The Truth on Broadband Congestion

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GigaOM has been spending considerable time lately covering issues of broadband congestion and possible broadband capping—not without some overt hostility expressed by regular readers, who seem to think the issue is one of “selfish” users impacting on the quality of broadband for all. Previous entries are Yo FCC! Are You Doing Anything About Metered Broadband and Warning Sign: Metered Broadband Already a Hassle.

Today, Stacey Higginbotham points to a new report by Free Press that addresses the reality of broadband congestion, as well as providing good alternatives to the caps that current ISPs are considering using.

According to the PDF report, how much congestion there is in broadband is open for debate. For instance when Bell Canada started application throttling it admitted during an investigation of its practice that there was “almost no congestion…”. I would not be surprised to see the same with networks here, including ATT with its talk of the use of caps being “inevitable”.

In addition, the report also provided some very real, effective solutions that are much better than capping—including throttling during peak usage, whereby a person’s bandwidth speed would be reduced to a certain level during congested hours. This is a superior solution because, as the report expresses eloquently, caps will impact on everyone’s use of broadband:

Compared to limitation pricing, limitation throttling also makes better sense for ISPs. Limitation pricing (especially with low caps) will modify the behavior of almost all users. With everyone watching the meter, this pricing model will inevitably lead even casual users to spend less time online or to avoid applications that use high amounts of bandwidth—the very applications that are response for the increases in the perceived value of broadband access of customers.

This pattern of changing behavior will inevitably cause the marginal customer to question the need for the connection in the first place, leading to a possible slowdown in the growth of new customers for ISPs.

The report also covers the issue of caps in other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, and Canada, but explains that much of the traffic in these countries is asymmetric, with traffic one way. This is more expensive than what we’re facing in this country, where we produce most of the online material we consume. As it is, most other countries also have much more competition among providers than we do in the States.

In addition to capacity issues, the report discusses the US’s declining position as technical “leader” in the world, a position that could only be degraded if we were to throttle an essential resource like the internet.

At issue is not that broadband companies are becoming overwhelmed, but that the same companies providing broadband are beginning to perceive that online video offerings such as Netflix WatchNow, Hulu, iTunes, and so on could become an eventual threat to their bread-and-butter operations: offering entertainment packages. Capping broadband use to prevent competition is against the law in this country. If this is the situation, when reason fails, the courts will then need to become engaged. I have to think the ISPs know this, and such knowledge will give them pause.