Roku 3 – Very cool Internet TV appliance

I’ve been evaluating the Roku 3 set-top box – I’ve been familiar with this company for several years and they’ve hit a home run with the latest incarnation of their box that gives the AppleTV something to worry about.  Very compact form factor – I have it mounted to the back of my Samsung TV which makes wiring it in very simple.  It uses a wireless protocol to talk to to the remote control (as opposed to IR) so no “line of site issues.”  The box also piggy-backs program audio to the remote control – there is a headphone jack on the remote control – plug in and you can listen to TV audio directly via standard headphones!  It has all the latest “Over the Top” OTT providers like Netflix, Vudu, Amazon, Epix, etc, but it goes one step further in that it provides aggregated search across all the Providers.  Looking for the latest movie? – perform a search and Roku will give you deep links into each service so you can easily find programming.  The price – right at 99$ from Amazon.

Roku3 Interface

Quick Stats:
Movies and TV: Netflix, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Vudu, Disney
Sports: MLB.TV, NBA GameTime, NHL GameCenter, UFCTV, MLS Live, SEC Digital Network
Music: Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Cloud Player, Slacker, Rdio, Vevo, Mog
Internet: CNET, TED Talks, Revision3, TWiT, Vimeo, Picasa, Flickr

My only complaints:  No YouTube channel and limited video codec support for “home video”

2013 Already??

Welcome back!  I’m in the process of revamping the site and adding some new entries.  There will be more interesting things to look at down the road.  Below is some stuff from WAAAAYYYY back when.  Come back and visit anytime.


ODST makes the Game Console decision easier, but still undecided!

With the announced price reductions of the PS3 and XBox 360 to right around $299 each, its a great time to buy for the Holiday season. I’m a fan of both quite honestly. The PS3 is by far the best Blu-ray payer out there and has got some great exclusive games. That said, the revamped 360 interface is very cool and very user friendly, it appears to handle updates/patches in a better fashion, and has a better movie experience with Netflix integration. Then, there is this:

A live action Halo 3 spot produced by MJZ with Visual effects and Post Production by Asylum (Terminator Salvation, Benjamin Button, Pirates of the Caribbean II and III). Its been a while since I’ve spent time in an FPS, and Halo 3 ODST looks like an insane game.

So, help me out – which console and which games for Christmas and why (and don’t say both – lets have a little commitment here!).

3D TV in your home? Maybe, Maybe not . . .

If you’ve been to a “3D” movie lately you know what a huge difference it can make to the quality of the viewing experience. Given a choice, many of us are opting for the 3D version of a film and we’re willing to pay a little more to see it. In some cases the 3D version of a film can command 2 to 3 times the revenue of the 2D version. The problem is the “big screen” theatrical experience doesn’t yet translate at all to the little screen in your home.

If you have experienced a 3D movie in your home and you aren’t 7 years old, you probably shook your head, chuckled a little bit, pulled the cardboard glasses off your face, wiped the Cap’n crunch crumbs off your nose and changed the program. The glasses you wore to see the 3D effect were most likely of the the “red-blue” variety. Technically known as “Anaglyph Stereovision,” the left-eye and right-eye views are “tinted” – one Cyan (blue-like) and the other Magenta (red-like). The like-colored glasses you wear “cancel” out the corresponding-colored view in each eye so each of your eyes only perceives a single image. Your brain then puts both images together to create the stereo effect. 3D has been enjoyed this way for decades.

1950s 3D Movie

Anaglyph 3D works on just about any display type including print and the glasses are dirt cheap (and fit nicely in cereal boxes or magazines). That’s why the current generation of home-viewable 3D content (DVD, Blu-ray, etc) is done in this format. However, there are myriad drawbacks to this approach – not the least of which is a relatively poor 3D effect overall on low resolution displays like plain old standard definition TV sets. The natural color of the image tends to get tinted because of the color encoding. Some movies use slightly different hues to colorize each image view requiring different glasses. There is also evidence to suggest that men and women perceive anaglyphic 3D differently (kind of like we perceive “volume level” differently).

. . . data from the US research showed that nearly 70% of females would prefer to see depth with the cyan on the left, and 80% of males would prefer to see depth with the cyan on the right.

No problem – just ask your wife to flip her glasses over the next time she feels nauseated watching an Anaglyph 3D movie.

That said, the industry has progressed. I have seen High Definition 3D on a consumer TV screen that would make your jaw drop its so good. 2D HDTV pales in comparison. The technology does exists today. Using newer techniques than anaglyph, left-eye and right-eye views can be displayed in full color using advanced interlacing (displaying both left-eye and right-eye images at the same time using half the screen for one and half the screen for the other) or sequential display (displaying the full left-eye and right-eye frames one right after the other) techniques. Both cases require glasses (for the best experience), but these work just like the ones at the theater. On the TV front, Mitsubishi, Samsung and others have been selling “3D-ready” HDTVs now for over a year and there are upwards of 2 million already in U.S. living rooms. You may even own one (and not know it).

So what is the hold up? 5 reasons (and there are probably more):

1. There still isn’t enough content. Hollywood Studios have and will continue to produce a strong slate of films in 3D, however the vast majority of what we watch is good old broadcast TV. 3D is expensive to produce, especially for live events like sports. Sure there have been some major events “broadcast” in 3D, but these were major events (BCS Championship, etc) were viewed primarily in digital 3D-equipped theaters. Until our daytime, prime time, and sports events are are available in 3D, consumer demand will probably remain low. Chicken and the egg right?
2. The industry can’t agree on how to get it into your home. Transport is a real problem. There is no agreement on the best way to encode and move the extra 3D material over the wire, or over the air to your house, or even the best way to put it on Disc. Without an agreed upon standard, Consumer Electronics manufacturers are loathe to start building receiver and decoder support lest we find ourselves in yet another format war. Not to worry though, the same companies that brought the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD debacle are working on it for you.
3. “Something” needs to “decode” it. A PC, a Game Console, a Set-top box, eventually your TV, but something needs to receive the digital signal and decode it into its left-eye and right-eye views for display. The decoders that process digital video in most devices today just aren’t powerful enough. Remember the “3D-ready” TVs that I mentioned earlier. They just display decoded 3D video. They actually require an external decoder box – a PC today – to decode and process the 3D material.
4. Most of us would have to buy new TVs. The vast majority of us don’t have 3D TVs – in fact we’re still paying off the 2D HDTV we just bought over the Holiday last year. You could hedge now and buy a 3D-ready TV, but you may end up waiting a while and needing a lot more equipment to make it work (see 5).
5. New Format 3D glasses can be expensive and will get just as lost as the remote control does today. The remote control is hard enough to keep track of – adding more accessories to the viewing experience will only make things worse (fashion statement aside). Depending on the type of display technology used, a single pair of glasses can cost upwards of $100 or more. Not an option for my family of 5.

So where will 3D emerge and gain a foothold in the home? My prediction is PC gaming to start. Because of the nature of the way games are displayed, modern graphics cards can actually produce the stereo imagery on the fly. This means that virtually any game you buy could be enjoyed in 3D if you have the hardware. nVidia already provides drivers for their graphics cards to support stereo display and sells a kit to upgrade a standard PC. Add a 120Hz monitor from Samsung and you’re all set. As more desktop systems become 3D-enabled, we may begin to see a larger market for 3D content through Movie download services like CinemaNow, Amazon, iTunes and others. This also opens up the possibility of 3D-enabled applications – think Google Earth but in stereo!

In parallel I suspect Game Console manufacturers will also look at how to provide support for decoding 3D from download, or in the case of Sony, from Blu-ray disc. The Blu-ray disc association is hard at work on standardizing 3D encoding. Don’t expect it anytime soon over traditional TV services like Comcast or Dish Network – they’ll have to replace all of their set-top boxes first.

As for the “when” we’ll see mass availability of 3D tech? My best guess is closer to 5 years than 3 before there is any kind of real availability of all of the pieces of the puzzle, including content, and that is IF consumers really start clamoring for it (cue cricket noises).

TRON Legacy VFX “Trailer” released

Not sure I would call it an official trailer per se, but this super cool VFX scene from the upcoming TRON remake/sequel (not sure which yet) was released today. Here is a link to the 1080p version of it (Quicktime). The film will be released in 2D and 3D.

Link to the Official Web site

Download, Enjoy!


Star Trek Holodeck redux

Some fantastic compositing and animation work, not to mention a nice storyline in this piece visualizing how future virtual environments might be built and used. This is from Bruce Branit who was also behind one of the Internet’s very first viral video “405.” I’m a fan (and not just because he uses Lightwave 3D for his animation). Enjoy when you have 9 minutes to spare.

World Builder from Bruce Branit on Vimeo.

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A positive Holiday season for Blu-ray

During CES, the Blu-ray Disc Association released sales numbers for the Holiday season and they look fairly positive:

  • Nearly 1,100 BD titles now available
  • 24 million discs sold in 2008; compared to 5 million discs sold in 2007
  • The panel also addressed the main concerns that folks have about Blu-ray – the cost of players and titles, and alternative means of downloading HD movies to own over Broadband:

    The comparatively high cost of Blu-ray players and movies continues to keep many consumers from jumping aboard. However, the panel cited the increased number of players whose price dropped below $200 this holiday season. “Low end pricing will go lower,” said Richard Doherty of Envsioneering.

    As for the competition posed by digital downloads, the panel believes that cost and availability of high-speed broadband will prevent streaming media from surging ahead of Blu-ray.

    As for me, I’m still a fan of the PS3 if you’re dying to get a player. The street expects the price to drop. Even Microsoft has weighed in on rumors that the PS3′s price will drop below $399 in the next few months. Unfortunately for Sony, this will mean a further loss on each unit which cost around $448 each to build. Ouch!

    Nokia N96 Bruce Lee Edition

    Num chucks rule! Fantastic Video Ad for the N96 “Bruce Lee Edition.”


    Real “Minority Report”-style User Interface (think “Mime trapped in a box”)

    This is a very cool working demo of how human-computer interaction might look moving forward using “gesturally driven displays”. This one actualizes some of what was envisioned in the movie Minority Report. More info can be found at Oblong Industries Web site. I love the plain-English overview explanation found in the first couple of paragraphs on the Web site:

    Oblong Industries is the developer of the g-speak spatial operating environment. The SOE’s combination of gestural i/o, recombinant networking, and real-world pixels brings the first major step in computer interface since 1984; starting today, g-speak will fundamentally change the way people use machines at work, in the living room, in conference rooms, in vehicles. The g-speak platform is a complete application development and execution environment that redresses the dire constriction of human intent imposed by traditional GUIs. Its idiom of spatial immediacy and information responsive to real-world geometry enables a necessary new kind of work: data-intensive, embodied, real-time, predicated on universal human expertise.

    “…dire constriction of human intent imposed by traditional GUIs.”

    Priceless. Here is a look at it:

    g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

    Be careful with Blu-ray this Holiday season

    At the 2008 CES in January of this year, Blu-ray celebrated its “win” over HD-DVD in the so-called High Definition DVD format war. You could argue that it was good for the consumer that we now have a single high definition format, and I would argue (personally) that the best format won. So why haven’t I purchased a player yet? Why am I not buying new Titles in this format? Probably for the same reasons you aren’t:

      1. Sure the quality is much better than standard DVD, but for the average consumer, standard DVD is plenty good. The newer DVD players do a great job up converting the display to HD sets and many consumers are hard pressed to tell the difference.
      2. The equipment and discs are expensive. Players are, for the most part, north of $200 dollars. Discs are costly as well. Even at prices you’re shelling out $26 bucks for Iron Man (with a retail cost of almost $40).
      3. Interactive features and new menuing schemes aren’t enough of a differentiator. No doubt about it – if you have played with the Blu-ray menuing system or seen a disc that is BD-Live enabled – you know how much better the user experience is from standard DVD, however, these enhancements don’t yet appeal to the mass market.
      4. Why buy physical media when it is getting easier and easier to get HD movies from online services?

    It is number 4 that I want to delve into a bit more deeply. While I’m not a huge fan of standalone VOD appliances like Roku or Vudu, some recent announcements from Netflix have turned my head. Engaget broke the news a few days ago that Netflix would begin providing movies in High Definition streamed to the Xbox 360. We’ve seen several announcements from Netflix over the past year as they have begun integration with consumer devices including Blu-ray players, TVs and a recent announcement of support on Tivo Series 3. Now we’re talking. If I’ve already invested in a high end gaming platform and have broadband to my house, there is no reason anymore for me to own a player for movie rental.

    But what about owning an HD movie? With the Vudu service, you can purchase HD movies today, but they only “live” on your Vudu box. iTunes sells SD movies today (HD is only available for rental), but I predict it won’t be long before you can purchase the HD version of a movie to add to your iTunes library. Point is, there are “for sale” services emerging now, which will let you purchase the high definition version of a film, without requiring you to purchase the physical media (the disc).

    Now, I don’t want to get in to a debate about what “HD” means when it’s delivered online vs. on a Blu-ray disc. I concede that “Internet HD” isn’t at the same quality level as Blu-ray HD, but I refer you to point 1 above. If it’s good enough . . .

    So, here is what I expect this holiday season. Blu-ray players will see a cost reduction just in time for the Thanksgiving weekend along with select Titles. The industry needs to see a huge boost in sales, otherwise there is a real risk that Blu-ray acceptance may just limp along a la Laserdisc in the 80s (remember those things?).

    My advice is wait. Wait to see how things pan out over the Holiday season. Save your money. There would be nothing worse than sinking cash into a new player and Titles only to have the industry stop producing them for lack of consumer acceptance, and go exclusively to a download/streaming model over the next year. If you do want to buy a Blu-ray player, consider the Sony PS3. While it is more expensive, you can obviously do a lot more with it than just watch Blu-ray movies.

    I believe that physical media will eventually go away – maybe not next year, but certainly within the next few years as broadband penetration and entertainment devices find their way into everyone’s homes. Now, if we just had a slick way to manage all of that downloaded content to all of those devices . . . :-)



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