Friday, May 30, 2008

We're Not Related

I was asked the other day if I'm related to Loren Feldman of 1938 know, the sock puppet guy. "Feldman" is the "Smith" of Judaism--there's a lot of us out there, and with the exception of our immediate families, it's highly unlikely that we're related to each other. So, unless he can trace his family back to southeastern Ohio, we're not related.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Game Changer?

Yesterday, Netflix and Roku announced the Netflix Player. This device, priced at $99.99 and about the size of a paperback novel, can stream the portion of the Netflix catalog that's available for immediate download (approximately 10,000 out of 100,000 movies and television shows) to any television. The player has composite, component, S-Video and HDMI connections. It supports both SD and HD, although Netflix only offers SD streams at this time. It has both wired and wireless (802.11g) Ethernet connections.

The least expensive Netflix plan that provides unlimited downloads is $8.99/month, going to $15.99/month (the only difference between the plans is the number of physical DVDs that can be out at any one time--one for the $8.99 plan, three for the $15.99 plan.)

The reviews of the Roku Netflix Player so far have been positive; the biggest drawback is the relatively limited selection of movies available for instant streaming. However, this is an issue that I think will be resolved over time, as more studios see Netflix's service as a variation of VOD, at least for catalog material.

In the past, I've believed that the chances for third-party set-top boxes have been slim, but this Netflix/Roku box could be a game-changer. The price is so low that the player is almost a throwaway item; as one reviewer pointed out, if you watch 25 movies, the incremental cost of the box is only $4 per movie. The box already supports HD, when Netflix makes it available.

The Netflix/Roku player is a test case for whether or not a managed network is really needed for IPTV. The "standard definition" of IPTV includes a managed network with controlled Quality of Service and Quality of Experience. If Netflix and Roku can deliver acceptable performance "over the top", on the public Internet, it makes it hard to justify huge capital equipment expenditures in order to deliver IPTV over a closed network.

For example, in the U.K., BT is using VOD as its primary "value-add" for subscribers to its IPTV service, since the company relies on the over-the-air Freeview service for broadcast channels. Freeview, however, is launching its own over-the-top VOD service, similar to the Netflix/Roku service. If it works, where does that leave BT?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Maker Faire: A Bagel of a Show

I was excited about attending last weekend's Maker Faire...frankly, more excited before I got there than after I left. One review of the event that I read likened it to a science fair, and I think that's a good comparison. To me, it was very much like a county fair, and I don't like county fairs very much. To be sure, there was something for everyone, whether you like greeting cards, woodworking, electronics, knitting, software, flamethrowers, home-built aircraft or even those EepyBird guys with their Diet Coke and Mentos, but that was the problem. There was no "center". The only organizing theme was that everything there was homebuilt, but then how did that explain Disney's display of robotic toys that will be built by the millions in factories in China?

Apparently, I'm not the only one who felt this way. According to John Markoff of The New York Times, Tim O'Reilly, the founder of O'Reilly Media, the company that put the Maker Faire together, was having his own concerns about "cognitive dissonance": "When I saw Mr. O’Reilly he seemed to be in the process of trying to figure out what he had created and how it had gotten so far out of hand. 'The vibe is definitely ’something is going on here, but you can’t figure out what it is,’ he said."

I think that Maker Faire needs more focus. It goes beyond organizing the exhibits better so that related projects and vendors are together. It really means better curating the show, and making necessary decisions about what to include and not include (just as the editors of Make Magazine, from which Maker Faire sprang, have to make editorial decisions every day about what gets into print.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

A few kudos...

I've been "off the air" for a while, while I was finishing work on MRG's biannual IPTV Forecast and client presentation. They're finally done, so I can catch up with a few topics that I've wanted to write about.

When I was in London not long ago for IPTV World Forum, I found out the hard way that the charger for my new Remington cordless shaver was 120 volts only. Two days before my trip was over, my shaver ran out of power, and I had no way to recharge it and no place to get a replacement charger. I ended up having to buy a replacement shaver (the cheapest decent one I could find was another Remington.) While I was in London, I emailed Spectrum Brands, the company that owns Remington, and complained about getting a 120 volt-only charger on a product that was clearly designed for travel use.

I expected them to, at best, send me a dual-voltage replacement charger, but instead, they asked me to return the entire shaver, replaced it at no charge with a new cordless shaver with a dual-voltage charger, and compensated me for shipping the old shaver back to them. I'm still stuck with the cost of the cord shaver that I purchased in London, but I'm very happy with their response. (By the way, I originally purchased the cordless Remington for travel, since I use a (very expensive) Braun Pulsonic at home, nearly lost it in travel once and didn't want to risk losing it again. The Remington, which costs less than 1/3rd the price of the Braun, gives me every bit as good a shave.)

Also, I want to give a shout out to Nespresso. If you're not familiar with the name, it's a line of capsule-based coffeemakers and coffee sold by Nestle. They're very popular in Europe, where I and my fiancee (Caylia) first came across them. Caylia teaches music in the public schools in Marin County, CA, and she has to get up very early to get to class. As you might expect, she needs a lot of coffee to get going. The Nespresso machines are great, in that it only takes a minute or so to make a cup of coffee, they can make both espresso and coffee, and they're very easy to clean and maintain. Also, the capsules aren't cheap ($0.50 or so), but they're a small fraction of the cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So, I bought her a Nespresso machine for the holidays.

Now, I haven't been a coffee drinker. Typically, I'd have a cup every week or so. However, when I tasted the coffee from her Nespresso machine (one of the best cups I'd ever had,) she went out to Macy's and bought me a matching machine. I now have a cup of coffee every day, and I'm hooked. (Caylia typically has three cups a day, but she's not jumpy at all. Really. You can trust me on that.)

One final endorsement, if you want to call it that: I've started using the Zemanta plug-in for Firefox to help me create my blog entries. As I've been writing, Zemanta has been identifying links and tags for terms that I've been using, such as IPTV and Nespresso. With a couple of clicks, Zemanta inserts some or all of the links and labels for me, automatically. If you have your own blog, give it a try.