Roku users: second class citizens

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.


Roku has come out with a note on the Roku user forum about Netflix and HD quality:

  • Roku will be delivering Netflix in HD by the end of the year
  • Roku will be using Advanced Profile encodes which will deliver HD at substantially lower bit-rates than what Xbox is offering
  • The number of titles is up to Netflix but the library will be the same as or larger than the Xbox library
  • The UI will be updated to run in 720p and more covers will be visible on the screen at a time
  • And the release will include another major new feature that you’ll have to wait a bit longer to learn about

Though I was happy to hear that Netflix is finally rolling out HD content, I was astonished to read Netflix’s decision to roll it out for the brand new XBox, rather than the existing Roku users. Evidently, Netflix considers the early Netflix box users to be second class citizens, and would rather put its focus on the newer, shinier customer—the XBox user.

I had been recommending Roku boxes as a Christmas gift idea, but I can’t recommend the box any longer. Roku promised extra content, outside of Netflix, earlier thia summer, and has not delivered, yet. Roku also promised an SDK earlier this summer, and has not delivered it yet, either. Lastly, the company had promised that as soon as Netflix started streaming HD content, Roku would stream the HD content. As we can see, another promise undelivered, though this one does not seem to be Roku’s fault.

Considering that Netflix is an investor in Roku, one has to wonder what the heck is going on between these companies. In the meantime, promises are going undelivered. Until we’re given assurances that all of the earlier promises will be met, and that Netflix is still as committed to Roku users, as it is to every other box user, I can’t recommend the Roku.

Now, CNET is saying that everyone will get HD quality, but that the requirements are 8-10GB download speeds! (I’m assuming the author meant 8-10Mbps, not GB, but who knows…)

Netflix is calling this a “soft launch” since it is only rolling out such a small number of videos for HD streaming. The move mostly serves to stake a claim in the HD streaming market as opposed to being a full offering. Contrary to what others are reporting, HD streaming will be available on all streaming devices when it premieres with the New Xbox Experience. That means that the Roku, LG, and Samsung boxes will all be able to stream these HD movies, in addition to the Xbox 360. The PC and Mac based versions of Netflix, will not, however, be able to stream HD immediately. In addition, streaming in HD will require a large amount of bandwidth. Netflix estimates the requirement being in the 8-10 Gbps range.

Considering that 8-10Mbps exceeds the download speeds for a majority of broadband users, in addition to exceeding requirements for every other HD streaming server online, I have to wonder if this isn’t an error.

This whole thing has been badly managed. Press release by rumor rarely works well.


AppleTV update

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Now that’s the ticket…Apple has released its anticipated AppleTV update. I’m installing now, as I write this.

Among the changes are support for HD TV shows, of course, but also Genius playlists, as well as being able to put the machine into Standby mode using Settings, rather than having to hold and press the Play button. This is comparable with being able to put an iPod into Standby via a menu option rather than esoteric button/time combination.

Apple also added support for music videos. I have a couple, which I’ll have to move over to the machine, see how they do.

Other than that, no, Steve Jobs did not have a heart attack. I can’t believe how gullible the online world is, to accept the word of some anonymous commenter in a CNN any-hack-can-post site. Is “fact check” old fashioned? CNN’s any-hack-can-post site states with pride that the material is Unedited. Unfilterd. News. I guess two our three is good enough for CNN.

Interesting, though, how tightly Apple shares are tied into Jobs. He needs to take a lesson from Bill Gates and work to ensure that the company does survive his death. Well, unless Jobs wants Apple to be like the Viking Queen and immolate itself on his funeral pyre.


Game over?

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

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

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

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.

Social Media

Eureka: product placement and social media

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Eureka is a popular science fiction show currently showing on the Sci-Fi channel, on Hulu, as well as downloadable from Unbox, and iTunes in beautiful, and expensive, HD. Now in its third year, the show was faced with an interesting challenge at the beginning of the season development: this season’s shows will have a corporate sponsor. Not only will the show have a corporate sponsor, but the rule from high was that the creators were required to feature the product as part of the story line for one of the shows.

Last week’s show, Here Come the Suns was the show, and needless to say, the fans aren’t too happy.

Sensing a potentially explosive situation, the Eureka creators have embraced social media to an extent I’ve never seen with a television show. One of the writers has a personal weblog and talks candidly about the show (in addition to other topics). There’s also a Eureka Facebook account, as well as Eureka Unscripted a Tumblr account focused on the show, the decisions that go into the show, and other items of interest to Eureka fans.

One of the recent entries at Eureka Unscripted discussed the product placement in Eureka, including the very unusual corporate direction that one show has to focus on the product—a move not seen since the says when variety shows were sponsored by health tonics.

It all began way back in October 2007 when the Sci Fi Channel announced to the Eureka staff that 1) we would have an official commercial sponsor this season, one that was kicking in a lot of dough and would therefore 2) require tons of product placement throughout Season Three. We were also told that 3) ONE EPISODE in Season Three would have to incorporate a storyline in which the actual product HAD to save Eureka somehow, or at the very least, be INDISPENSABLE to Carter’s Act 5 solve.


If you’ve not seen Here Come the Suns I won’t give away either the plot or the product. The show should be appearing on Hulu in a couple of days.

Why such obviousness with product placement? Especially since an action like this is going to generate negative attention? One reason could be the new online publication models. When a product is integrated into a show, the product is going to show whether the show is televised on commercial TV, Hulu, or purchased as an episode through iTunes or Unbox.

Then again, production studios are having an increasingly difficult time making profits, what with viewers attention between grabbed by a plethora of entertainment possibilities. The days when you only had broadcast TV or a book are long gone, and so are the old advertising models.

Is this instance of product placement a sign of the future for shows? I hope not. Product placement can be quite discrete, and most people don’t have too many problems with it. However, incorporating a product into a show’s storyline crosses what used to be a pretty solid boundary and impacts on both the creativity and the integrity of the show. Fans feel betrayed, including those fans who spend $2.99 to purchase a supposedly ad-free episode of the show on iTunes, only to be served what could be seen as a theme-based infomercial.

However, the push-back would be more intense if it weren’t for the Eureka team’s use of social media, including the aforementioned Eureka Unscripted posting on the product placement. Now, instead of nameless, faceless executives screwing with a beloved show, we hear Erik who writes candidly on the issue, before announcing he and his wife have a new baby girl. It’s more difficult to get angry with someone who you feel connected to, even if the connection is tenuous, and via the artificial intimacy that social media can foster.

There’s also a sense that the Eureka creators are not terribly overjoyed about the sponsorship. A new character introduced this year is The Fixer, whose purpose in coming to Eureka is to seemingly squeeze profits out of research that previously existed to Serve the Common Good. Of course, it wouldn’t be Eureka if the character didn’t have ulterior motives, and ended being interesting regardless of her reasons for existence. The subtle message about crass commercialism versus purity of purpose, however, shouldn’t escape even the most betrayed-feeling fan.

Eureka’s third season is an interesting experiment. On the one hand, you have increased intimacy through social media; on the other, corporate encroachment on the creative process. We’ll find out if the experiment was a success if the show receives the OK for a fourth season. If Eureka does get a new season, one wonders what will be sold this time.

Dog food? Coffee beans? MIT? One can only hope the show isn’t sponsored by Ex-Lax.