Posts Tagged ‘iPod’

Why Transcoding is Here to Stay

March 31st, 2007 No comments

Chris Lanier wrote the other day that he thinks that digital media players are missing an opportunity because they only support a limited set of file formats or codecs. I love Chris’ blog and read his posts regularly to keep up with what’s happening in the HTPC world. I’m a little surprised that I disagree with him, but in this case my opinion is very different.

The point that I think Mr. Lanier missed is that supporting a wider variety of codecs would push the price point of these media devices far past what most would be willing to pay for a consumer electronics box. Hardware decoding is relatively inexpensive because you can buy an IC from Broadcom (or someone else) that handles most of the video processing and decodes H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, etc. You can hit a $300 price point with a device like this.

However, if you want the horsepower to decode other codecs (especially at HD resolutions) *IN SOFTWARE*, you are going to be looking at high-end PC specs. Can you imagine if the TiVo Series 3 was based on the Core 2 Duo and had a nVidia 7950GT in it? It would definitely have the horsepower to decode just about anything you could throw at it, but no one would buy it when they could buy a fully functional PC for *LESS* that didn’t have a monthly subscription fee.

Transcoding is definitely where it’s at. I want the ability to manage my content from my computer and then make that content available to all the devices I own. Here is where the “support all codecs” on the media player argument is backwards in my mind. I want the devices to be functional and cheap. I want my computer to be the workhorse that can figure out how to make my content available to those other devices and be aware of all their limitations. I want to manage my content centrally too and have all this transcoding and compression happen in the background so I don’t have to deal with it.

I want to buy a HD movie once and then automagically have that content transcoded and resized to play on my iPod, Xbox, AppleTV, laptop, etc. I also want to download flash movies from the internet, divx home movies, and on and on. My media manager should be intelligent enough to know the MPEG block constraints of the iPod’s decoder, that my Xbox Elite is set to use 1080p over HDMI, that my AppleTV can only do 720p at 24fps or 540p at 30fps and so on. I definitely do *NOT* want my iPod to be capable of playing back 20Mbps H.264 content at 1080p because I don’t want to spend $2000 for a video iPod. I am willing to spend big bucks on my main computer though.

I have high hopes that someone will figure this out and create a seamless PC, TV w/extender, mobile solution that will let me enjoy my (legally obtained) content anywhere, anytime, anyhow I want to.

Free Vortex demo on iTunes Store

January 30th, 2007 No comments

I religiously download all the freebies from the iTunes Store every Tuesday. Today, there are a few new items, including a free demo of Vortex, an iPod game (if you’ve got a 5G video iPod). This is the first time that I can recall seeing a free iPod game on the iTunes store. Personally, I think it’s great. The previews on the iTunes Store give you a small clip of the game in action, but I’d rather play a couple levels before I decide to plunk down $4.99.

Also free this week…

Categories: Apple, Entertainment Tags: , , , , ,

Top 10 things we need from Apple’s iTV

December 27th, 2006 No comments

I’ve been thinking about what Jobs might have to show us at MWSF in just under two weeks now, and I’ve made my own list of features that the iTV would need to have to make it a killer product.

  1. Compatibility with MPEG-2, H.264 and VC-1. That includes all the variants of those codecs from video downloads on the iTunes Music Store, to personal rips, iMovie exports, etc.
  2. HD resolutions up to 1080p. There’s no reason not to support the best resolution possible when entering the game at this point.
  3. iTunes Music Store Integration. I understand that the iTV isn’t a full computer, but it would be nice to be able to preview and buy content right from the TV. If it’s to be stored on another computer in the house, then the iTV should talk to the other computer and tell it to download the content that was just purchased. It would also be nice to download it straight to the iTV and then copy to the computer later. It also needs to be treated as an authorized computer so I can play DRM protected files I purchased from the iTMS.
  4. iPod integration. I want to be able to plug my iPod into the iTV and have it give me a 10ft interface for my iPod content. I also want it to act as if I just docked my iPod into my computer (when it’s my own iTV) so it will sync over the network. When I’m at a friend’s house with an iTV, I want to show my home videos and play music from the iPod while it’s plugged in, like I could with an AV cable into the receiver. I don’t need to copy my music to my friend’s iTV or computer, I just want to be able to bring a photo slideshow of my kids (on my iPod) to my parents’ house and play it on their iTV without any hassle.
  5. Bonjour support. I want to plug the iTV into my home network and have it automatically discover my shared iTunes library and iPhoto albums. It should be a seamless out-of-box experience for Mac users. It would be ultra-cool if iTV would play nice with stand-alone TiVo’s and other Bonjour-enabled devices.
  6. New slideshow effects. The iTV should be able to autocreate slideshows from selected iPhoto albums and use a bunch of cool new transition effects that we haen’t seen on the iPod yet.
  7. New iTunes visualizations. Similarly, the iTV should have a bunch of extremely cool visualizations that we haven’t seen in iTunes yet. Make use of my HD widescreen set and blow me away with how cool it is to play music with my iTV hooked up to my surround sound receiver and HDTV. Make my friends jealous when they come over and we have music playing in the background during the party.
  8. Network support. I know wireless is a given, but I want draft-802.11n support now with the promise of a future upgrade to the 802.11n spec when it is finished. I guess this means I want a new Airport Express that also supports draft 802.11n. I also want gigabit ethernet.
  9. Mac integration. I want to be able to configure the iTV to pass along notices from my Mac (when I want) to pop-up new email notices, caller-ID from my phone line (if I have a modem on my Mac), task finished, streaming a DVD from the drive on my Mac to the iTV, and so on. Basically, I want Apple to reward me for owning both a Mac and an iTV and make me feel cool for doing so.
  10. Windows support. I know, I know, but for the iTV to be successful, most of these features should work with iTunes on Windows as well. Just like we saw the iPod take off when iTunes for Windows was released, we’ll see the same with the iTV if Windows users can also download movies from the iTMS and watch them on the iTV. Of course, Apple can use the cool integration features only available on the Mac as incentive for even more people to switch. Soon we’ll be talking about the iTV halo effect.

So that’s it. My wishlist for the iTV that would convince me to buy it. Did I forget anything? Tell me what you want to see in the iTV in the comments below.

Why Zune matters

November 21st, 2006 No comments

By most accounts, the Zune won’t have any impact on the MP3 market in general or on the iPod market specifically. I agree in that sales of Zune players are going to be so slow that it won’t register any impact on iPod sales. However, I still think that the Zune matters – and here’s why.

The most innovative feature in the Zune is the built-in WiFi support that allows you to share songs with other Zune users. Microsoft intended this as a way for people to easily share the music that they are listening to and built in some cool preview functions for DRM protected songs so you could still get a chance to listen to the song and decide if you want to buy it for yourself. I think it’s a safe bet to say that future versions of the iPod are likely to include a similar feature. Steve Jobs will probably wait until they can get the battery life up a bit before introducing a power hungry radio to the iPod, but it will come.

But Microsoft was wrong to think that the most common use of this feature will be to share songs with friends or random people on the train while riding in to work. The WiFi support is going to revolutionize the portable media device industry, but not through some kind of web2.0 social software phenomenon. Connecting to the outside world is going to open up the portable media device as a new advertising platform.

Think about it. If your media player can look for people that are sharing music, why not install a simple server that shares advertising messages into the subway station. Posters would tell you to check for a free download. These messages could be full multimedia experiences with music and video to bring you the latest info on Gap jeans, JIF peanut butter, or the new Mercedes sedan. Real Estate agents would be able to share a video tour of the house you are parked in front of while looking at the For Sale sign. Professional sports teams could offer video clips from the season or even game highlights seconds after you saw the play on the field.

The possibilities are really limitless, but it will happen. How do I know? Easy. I’ve never seen any good technology that could be used for advertising get passed up by marketing executives. What then will be the lynch pin to pull that will make all of this come together? Well, you only need a big enough market for advertisers to take notice. The iPod is the only platform that can come close. If Apple adds the WiFi features to the iPod, then they will also be well positioned to sell simple “share stations” that can serve up advertising and other messages to passersby that have their iPods set to look for others that are sharing content.

Categories: Technology Tags: ,