Gadget Man – Why the World Needs InternetTV

gadget-manIn 2007 I became aware of a new show called The IT Crowd in the United Kingdom and a bunch of my geek buddies were highly recommending it. I found, ahem, alternative ways to obtain the show since it was not available in the United States at the time. My son and I started watching it and it became a much beloved show, and we had a really nice shared bonding experience over it (since he’s a geek too).  

Fortunately, today the show is available on Netflix in its entirety if you care to watch it. I wish Netflix streaming had been around then since I hated having to use those alternative ways to view the show back then but it was the only way to see it. 

We got quite a kick out of one of its main characters, Moss (played by Richard Ayoade). Looking for a video I’d mentioned to a client on YouTube, I stumbled across a show which I’d never seen before: Gadget Man, starring Ayoade. Turns out he’s just as funny and engaging as he was on The IT Crowd, and the British penchant for smart programming (vs. low-brow reality TV like so much of U.S. cable) makes this a very engaging show to view.  

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Is Your WiFi Weak? Get MOCA Boxes Now!

MOCAWiFi signal strength in my house has always frustrated me, especially now that we have our AppleTV upstairs, another in the family room, my daughter streams Netflix through her Playstation downstairs, my son online games with his XBox upstairs and I am the guy who gets the brunt of everyone screaming, “Dad! The internet is really slow!

Since I was not about to go back to the Stone Age and wire my house with ethernet, I tried every solution I could think of: Two Apple Airport Express devices as network extenders (they stream music too) and a Belkin repeater in our home theatre area. I even tried three of these powerful WiFi routers at various times but my signal strength never did boost enough to make much of a difference. All of our WiFi connected devices worked, but doing anything on them was still slow in some areas of the house and our TV streaming quality was almost always crappy (especially if we were all online watching streaming TV and on our iPads, iPhones or computers).


MOCA boxes are inexpensive.
A 2-pack at Amazon is $115

Over dinner one night with our brides, I began whining to my brother-in-law about my wireless troubles (he owns Audio by Design in Minneapolis, a high-end installer). He chuckled and then said to me, “Why not install MOCA devices?” I had NO idea what he was talking about and, after he gleefully pointed out he finally had something about technology he could tell me, he told me all about why MOCA was so good, how it was so much better than ethernet over powerline, and that using WiFi repeaters like I had done in my house simply weren’t effective.

Turns out that there is so much available frequency capacity in the coax cable that runs throughout most homes that it’s trivial to piggyback on it with an ethernet protocol. The Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MOCA) was started to leverage that available coax and man-oh-man…it works really well! (Read more here at Wikipedia).

It took me less than 10 minutes to hook up one box between my cable modem and the wall and the second one downstairs between my daughter’s TV and the wall (an ethernet cable then went to her Playstation for Netflix streaming). The next night she came upstairs and exclaimed, “Wow! Streaming is perfect Dad!” We then bought two more and hooked up our home theatre and our upstairs AppleTV and now we experience zero stuttering, buffering, slow connections or anything else.

Take a peek at this MOCA video to learn more about what it can do (and there are a lot more MOCA videos here):

TiVO and “Content Discovery”

For all the whining I’ve done about Comcast’s DVR, bundling of shows and more, I must admit being so delighted with my new TiVO — and especially with their iPad app — that it has materially changed the way we watch TV and how much we consume.

As I’ve said before, I’m embarrassed *for* Comcast that they have such crappy DVR technology. Though they continually promised that it would be replaced at some point, that never happened. I was either going to cut-the-cord and dump cable TV…or try something new. I thought I’d give it one last shot and bought a TiVO.

TiVO iPad app screen (click for a larger view)

TiVO iPad app screen

Wow. The interface is what I remember from my TiVO experience in the early 2000s but, of course, better. But I didn’t realize how amazing it would be until I tried the TiVO iPad app. Holy smokes! I can easily select a channel, scroll through two weeks worth of upcoming shows in seconds or choose one to record or get a “Season Pass.”

What I didn’t expect was content discovery. Because the interface is so well done, so easy to navigate through (and even use as a remote control to change channels or start recorded shows) I found about a dozen movies and shows to record the first night

It’s been like that ever since we got it a few weeks ago. Discovering good, quality programming that is mixed in with hours and hours and hours of crap (IMHO).

Makes me wonder: Why can’t Comcast deliver a DVR like this one? Or buy TiVO? Comcast has built out the infrastructure well but, when it comes to using it, all of their human interface and access technologies are a joke.

Let’s (Not!) Play Comcast Monopoly

ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION TV CONSUMERS? If you are, then you have GOT TO SEE the anti-competitive, monopolistic, anti-internet moves that Comcast is making. If you’re not, OPEN YOUR EYES AND START SCREAMING at your Congresspeople and Comcast themselves.

I didn’t fly off the handle and get really steamed today just because…it was this tweet from the guy that invented the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee, and it was a link to this page at Marketwatch. Seems that Level 3 Communications, one of the biggest backbone providers on earth, today released a statement about a MAJOR move by Comcast to put a big ‘ole “Collect $200” every time an internet TV company passes “Go!”:

On November 19, 2010, Comcast informed Level 3 that, for the first time, it will demand a recurring fee from Level 3 to transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content. By taking this action, Comcast is effectively putting up a toll booth at the borders of its broadband Internet access network, enabling it to unilaterally decide how much to charge for content which competes with its own cable TV and Xfinity delivered content. This action by Comcast threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access markets as the nation’s largest cable provider.

Are you serious Comcast? I truly hope that all the big kids with really deep pockets line up against you with their Howitzers. Maybe you’re itchin’ for a fight and methinks you’re gonna get one. Since you’ve got such little value-add or customer loyalty (I’d switch in a nanosecond if Qwest would get their sh*t together and drop fiber to my house which is only 1,000 feet away now) that I’d bet most people could care less if you tanked.

I’ve been writing about Comcast’s monopoly moves for a loooong time here and another site I run called Minnov8. See thisthis, this, this, this and this for more if you’re interested (and yes, there are even more posts).

Somehow this company thinks that THEY OWN the internet connection in to your (and my) house. That they get to control what comes over that pipe and that they should be able to charge Hulu, Apple, Google, Boxee, Revision3 or anyone who wants to deliver video content that somehow competes with what they offer.

I don’t care how much Comcast whines about the volume of streaming video bits that people are supposedly downloading. EVERYTHING COMCAST IS DOING IS ALL ABOUT PROTECTING THEIR MORE THAN $2B IN REVENUES FROM CABLE TV and not what they claim all the time: “Oh…it’s all about network management.” Again I call “bullshit” since Comcast is building out HUGE STORAGE CENTERS in Colorado, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Philadelphia so they clearly don’t want any of these other providers to get a foothold before they bring these centers fully online.

If anyone (especially someone representing Comcast in any way) tells you that this isn’t all about Comcast-protecting-Comcast they’re full of sh*t. Also, please oh please don’t comment with one of those, “But it’s good for the consumer” lines of crap. It’s not. It’s all about competition and let’s see if our paid-for new Congresspeople let the free market rein or if they protect their pals at Comcast.

You know what Comcast? I’ll bring over whatever bits I want to and I’ll pay you for your dumb pipe. That said, I really don’t want your crappy cable TV, your weak xFinity service or your on-demand that takes minutes to come up while your worthless and noisy previews run in the background. Your Scientific Atlanta DVR boxes are a joke and are worse than TiVO was 10 YEARS AGO; your on-demand pales in comparison to Netflix, AppleTV, GoogleTV, Boxee, PlexApp, Hulu…shall I go on?; and I’m sick of paying for TV that I don’t watch but have no choice in taking so you can promise households to ESPN and others.

Wow…I had no idea I was so pissed off at Comcast but there it is. What are YOU going to do or say or are you just going to lie there eating chips figuring someone else will figure it out?

Comcast’s Xfinity Fail

When Comcast announced their nationwide Xfinity initiative, I greeted it with skepticism and that has only grown over time. Their “Fancast” website, now dubbed xfinity tv, has surprisingly crappy quality and I’m on a 16mbps down/2mbps up internet connection through Comcast. It’s so bad that I would opt for my AppleTV, Mac mini running Boxee, or the Roku box downstairs in a nanosecond before I’d watch this poor excuse for HD.

As an old mentor of mine always said, “Whenever there is great flux, there is great opportunity” and mine is to explore cutting the cable like so many other people are doing. This Wall Street Journal article positions cable cutting as consumers cutting costs in an economic downturn, but I believe it’s because cable isn’t delivering, they’re jamming too many costs down our throat for programming we don’t watch anyway, and there are so many preferable on-demand alternatives that people are cutting cable regardless of whether they have budget woes or not.

In my view, it’s crappy service and experience making most of us want to cut the cable. In my neighborhood we probably have more HDTVs per capita than anywhere in the Twin Cities. Lots of 30-n-40 somethings, bunches of technoweenies, and a demographic right in the sweet spot of a vendor like Comcast, but their nationwide Xfinity rollout is causing us nothing but problems:

  • Digital channels that break up, becoming pixelated with audio dropouts making shows unwatchable (see “Comcast’s Oscar Fail“)
  • A digital video recorder with the worst user interface I’ve ever used, making the first TiVo 10 years ago feel cutting edge like today’s iPad
  • An OnDemand system that is painful to use due to the lag time and constantly running (and loud) “commercial” for movies that plays while you browse with no ability to turn it off
  • The changeover from analog to all digital occurring now (so Comcast can pack many more new Xfinity services over their cable) that takes away HD viewing on TVs without a digital box connected to them AND a whole house distribution system that simply “isn’t available in your neighborhood” forcing us all to hang a bunch of crappy little analog-to-digital boxes on every TV in the house.

The biggest problems? There are two…. Read More

Watching Tweevee: Old & New Media Use At The Same Time

If you’re engaged with multiple forms of media–both ‘old’ or traditional media like TV, newspapers and magazines or ‘new’ media like social networks, blogs and real time communications like Twitter–then you are probably one of a growing number of us who use both old and new simultaneously.

When I wrote the post, “MSNBC’s awesome Super Tuesday primary coverage” and started off the post with “This, my friends, is the future of television” I believed it then and believe it even more now. It’s just that the connections to traditional TV weren’t exactly what I expected when using the multimedia platform delivered by the gang over at MSNBC, and that emerging technologies would make TV watching a shared experience similar to the “old days” when many of us would hang around the water cooler at work the morning after some TV event or show and commiserate about it.

The crew over at the Nielsen Company just released a new report that is revealing more about how people are watching “Tweevee” (my made up name for a combination of Twitter use and TV watching):

Americans increased their overall media usage and media multitasking according to The Nielsen Company’s latest Three Screen Report (PDF), which tracks consumption across TV, Internet and mobile phones.  In the last quarter of 2009, simultaneous use of the Internet while watching TV reached three and a half hours a month, up 35% from the previous quarter. Nearly 60% of TV viewers now use the Internet once a month while also watching TV.

The rise in simultaneous use of the web and TV gives the viewer a unique on-screen and off-screen relationship with TV programming,” said Nielsen Company media product leader Matt O’Grady. “The initial fear was that Internet and mobile video and entertainment would slowly cannibalize traditional TV viewing, but the steady trend of increased TV viewership alongside expanded simultaneous usage argues something quite different.

It went on to talk about DVR use (surprise…more of us are timeshifting our video use!) and then in to online video consumption:

Online video consumption is up 16% from last year. Of note, approximately 44% of all online video is being viewed in the workplace.  The research shows that Americans watch network programs online when they miss an episode or when a TV is not available.  Online video is used essentially like DVR and not typically a replacement for watching TV.

Active mobile video users grew by 57% from the fourth quarter of 2008 to the fourth quarter of 2009, from 11.2 million to 17.6 million.  Much of this increase can be linked to the strong growth of smartphones in the marketplace.

Here’s the deal: No question in my mind that connecting socially makes it more fun to watch a live event (e.g., Academy Awards, Grammys, Super Bowl) and see what our friends are saying about it, almost like they’re in the room with us. But what’s more intriguing to me is that more of us are consuming information, connecting socially and engaging online while doing something else.

Is TV too boring? Is it the ability to share with our friends and acquaintances? Are we more capable of multitasking then we thought? Maybe all or some of those, but we’re also discovering that for every hour of TV watching we do, the increase odds we’ll die go up 11%.

One this is certain though, the way we connect with others and consume media has already changed forever.

Comcast’s Oscar Fail

Though the problem seemed to begin on Friday with our Comcast cable TV service, we didn’t much care until the family sat down to watch the 82nd Academy Awards and the video stuttering and audio dropouts were so horrifically bad that it was almost unwatchable.

Rebooting the device during a commercial break was a mistake since it took forever and didn’t fix the problem, so I grabbed my iPhone and did a search on Twitter for the word “comcast” to see if it could possibly be a network issue others were experiencing rather than my cable DVR failing.

I was stunned to see that there were dozens of people tweeting about the “stuttering” and “pixelation” of video and audio and it appeared that most of the problem was in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and the surrounding metro area (see SheilaBird; KeinKernMusic; DFRevert; CSWebGrl).

But in further investigation this morning, I’ve discovered that many of the people tweeting were in Illinois (e.g., JoshMeans) so this might’ve been a regional problem. During the Oscar telecast I reached out to Frank Eliason via Twitter (@ComcastCares and he’s Comcast’s “Twitter man” according to BusinessWeek) and he was, with his typical Johnny-on-the-spot follow up, checking into the issues but nothing has come of it yet. I’ve reached out to him this morning to ask for a statement about what went wrong, what Comcast did and is doing about it and he responded by asking for a DM with my email, so we’ll see what Comcast says about the issue and I’ll update this post if-and-when I receive something.

I suspect that this sort of “fail” is going to become more frequent rather than less so. Especially with more and more of us maximizing the use of our wired and wireless internet connections and with the cable companies trying to shove more services down a pipe that — while admittedly fat and robust with seemingly high capacity — is still a finite resource.

UPDATE 4:07pm: This morning’s post was one that’s received a fair amount of traffic today and in it I promised I’d update you, so here you go. Read More

Adobe Flash Roasts My ‘Chestnuts’ w/50% CPU Use

All the brouhaha about no-Flash on the Apple iPad, how great Flash is (by the Adobe folks) and how HTML5 will be the savior of us all is not lost on any of us in the tech community. So having experienced the resource needs of the hungry runtime known as Flash, I decided to do a quick-n-dirty experiment to see just how much CPU is used by the Flash runtime to play a video on my 2.33Ghz, Intel Core2 Duo, 4GB RAM, Macbook Pro.

Kara Swisher of AllThingsD interviewed Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch and posted the video today (in Flash, naturally). I thought it would be ironic to test the CPU use of Flash as a layman — a man who frequently has his “chestnuts” roasted from the nearly open fire of heat on the bottom of my Macbook Pro generated by the CPU being driven really, really hard by Flash — by playing his video in Flash and measuring its CPU utilization vs. a video played in HTML5 (on the YouTube beta site for HTML5 videos).

Bottom line? Flash uses on average 50% of my Macbook Pro CPU to play a video and HTML5 uses “in the teens” (15% – 19%). If you want to see more, watch this VERY rough and quick-n-dirty video (sorry about the cheesy audio) I did to show you why I’m pleased that, either Adobe make Flash awesome, or Apple NOT put it in to the iPad:

UPDATE: If you’d like to read one of the best overviews I’ve seen yet of the controversy — and whether or not the iPad even needs a Flash runtime for video or anything else — see this AppleInsider post entitled, “Inside Apple’s iPad: Adobe Flash“. It’s a three page article so be sure to read all the pages.

UPDATE 2: An Adobe Flash developer on why the iPad can’t use Flash

Storytellers, Filmmakers & You

Prisoner by dub72 @DeviantArt

Archaeologists suggest that the written word has been around for about 6,000 years. Before that knowledge was disseminated amongst humans through storytelling. If modern humans have been hanging around the earth for about 200,000 years, that means that for 194,000 years we developed a pretty robust capacity to capture the essence and meaning of critical information through the telling of stories.

I’ve been slowly but surely seeking out great storytellers who are leveraging the internet TV/video delivery capability to create, edit and publish their stories. Since I’m less interested in watching a couple of kids lip-synching or dancing to their favorite artist on YouTube, I’ve been gravitating toward higher quality sites like Vimeo and watching these videos really gets the wheels turning in my head, especially when I poke around within their over 5,000 HD channels, often watching while on the treadmill through my Roku box connected to a 26″ HDTV in the exercise room (a room which is used frequently here in Minnesota in the winter!).

Sometimes the videos are goofy. Often they’re visually stunning with no point other than experimenting with the technology. Other times they’re just too long and the storytelling is painfully dull. All that said, the gems I find most of the time make poking around the others worth the effort and I often wonder who the next George Lucas or Steven Spielberg will be from this batch of budding filmmakers.

Last night on the treadmill I came across this sweet little story made by a woman named Karen Abad for her grad school cinematography class. It’s less than 3 minutes long, you should watch it until the end to “get” the point, and then check out the other HD channels to see some more great stories.

Make HD Videos w/Apple’s Keynote

Being an effective communicator in today’s more virtual world means you must master the tools to do so whether it’s effectively using your webcam or having noise-free conversations via Skype.

Today we are, as Matt Mullenweg of WordPress and Dries Buytaert of Drupal have pointed out, media producers as well as consumers. They have publicly stated that anyone who hopes to be effective online today (both as individuals and as organizations) must recognize that we’re all in the media business and must use the tools available to us (and video is the most obvious way) to deliver higher value communications than we’ve ever done before.

To that end, I love seeking new tools and exploring new uses for the ones I own. I’ve put together some examples in the overview called “How to Use Apple’s Keynote to Make HD Videos” about using Apple’s Keynote (available in their iWork ’09 suite) and it will hopefully help you see how you too can create and deliver HD quality videos that better tell your product story, message or any video communication you need to post online.

Creating HD videos is an especially interesting use of Keynote since most video sites now enable you to upload and deliver HD quality videos (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo, VideoPress for WordPress) and HD quality is a great way to deliver product promos, your presentations or even creating intro slides for an HD video you’re creating in some other program.

Before you continue to the page that outlines how to deliver these HD videos using Keynote, take a peek below at one example of a video I did for our business and know that these types of video ads are MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE in selling products than a static product photo or a gallery below a static photo AND RESULTS IN HIGHER SALES (by 15-25% for us). It gives potential purchasers of our products a solid inside look at the $400 report and enables them to do so in 1.5 minutes which is a much better use of our website visitor’s time than expecting them to read dozens of paragraphs.

Here’s one video to start with but again, look at this page to see more videos as well as the “How to Use Apple’s Keynote” section: