Embedded Netflix will have humble beginnings

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Jeremy Toeman and Dave Zatz weighed in yesterday on the Netflix announcement that it will be partnering with LG on what it hopes will be the first of “100 Netflix-capable boxes” (putting its aspirational numbers significantly behind the thousand gPhones that Eric Schmidt is pursuing).

Jeremy notes the challenges of bringing a “fifth box” into the living room. It’s true that the standalone home network/broadband content access device has struggled for a number of reasons that I’ve explored in depth elsewhere. The alternative is easier said than done, though. Jeremy writes:

The “smart” marketing of the (rumored) $799 HD/Blu-Ray player will simply label it as having Netflix “built in” or something like that.

Right idea, wrong Trojan horse. The problem is that no amount of smart marketing will dramatically expand the market for a $799 dual-format high-def disc player, which is being hampered by nearly as many problems as Internet set-top boxes. There are standard-definition DVD players, of course, but that market has been completely commoditized.

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Slinging. Now in high-definition

Just when you thought your 3G network could comfortably handle low-resolution video, Sling Media has finally gone hi-def. Of course, it intends to position this primarily for moving content around the home to PCs and other televisions (once the SlingCatcher hits next year), but the timing couldn’t be a better fit for my presentation of high-def beyond the television as part of a presentation that I’ll be giving at CES. Sling must have a fair percentage of users that use the streaming function within the home or a strong belief that those numbers will increase once the loop is closed. It seems it’s not just for expats and road warriors.

This is also the best looking Slingbox to date. The company has definitely stepped up its industrial design from the early days of the funky Chunky bar.

iShift will make Internet radio recording big… literally.

Time-shifting terrestrial radio has been around for a while. with standalone products from PoGo Electronics, purveyors of fine windup remote controls, the unfortunately capitalized radio SHARK Mac and PC accessory from Griffin, and the new MP3 player filling station from PopCatcher, taking another stab after the TraxCatcher never came to market.

But now a new wave of Internet radio time-shifters are coming to market. There’s the imminent Slacker Portable and the definitely not portable iShift Internet Media Receiver (check out the introductory video with the pornotronica soundtrack), which  packs an 80 GB hard drive. Who needs to record 1,300 hours of Internet radio? in any case, this living room-sized component will be able to sideload its storehouse to the iPod and other MP3 players and uses an Internet recording service from Timeless Radio which looks competitive with the iRoamer service launched a few years back by Aussie firm Torian Wireless.

The MP3 filling station concept, whether it uses FM, Internet radio or some other source, stands to simplify the process of loading up a portable music player.

Adding HD-DVD to the 360 makes sense

Microsoft Xbox HD-DVD player

Rumors are circulating that Bill Gates will announce in what may be his final CES keynote that Microsoft will add HD-DVD to the Xbox 360. Microsoft has presented arguments against doing so in the past, offering that game players should not have to pay for a technology that they don’t need. At the same time, though, Microsoft has gone upmarket with the the 360 Premium configuration, and the addition of a larger hard drive contributes no more to the Xbox gaming experience as an HD-DVD drive would. Microsoft has already reduced the price of the external drive; an integrated one would be a logical next step as the component costs have come down.

There’s also the factor of how many external Xbox HD-DVD drive buyers would have preferred to have the internal drive rather than add another box to a crowded home theater, or how many are resisting purchasing an external drive for that reason. Furthermore, while the tie ratios of Blu-ray movie titles to the PlayStation 3 can be debated, there is ample evidence that many PS3 buyers are purchasing at least a few movies, and the HD-DVD camp simply can’t ignore the high volumes of the PS3 Trojan horse. Integrating an HD-DVD drive into at least one 360 Premium configuration is an opportunity for Microsoft to put its machines where its mouth is.

How to see spots

image A few weeks ago, I tried out the StarTech Wi-Fi Finder, which is nearly identical to an earlier product put out by prolific networking vendor ZyXel. Both look like extra large thumb drives with an LCD and display hotspot names as well as their channels. They have internal batteries that are recharged via USB and can actually also work as 802.11g network adapters, which might be helpful for a desktop as it’s been built into notebooks for some time. A third product in the vein from TrendNet, also released some time ago, added some embedded flash memory to the mix.

The granddaddy of the LCD-equipped hotspot locator is Canary Wireless’ Digital Hotspotter and it looks like the company — which has branched off into embedded wireless modules — will soon be taking the wraps off the pictured Digital Hotspotter 2..If nothing else, it seems to up the style of the original. What I’d really like to see in this category is a product that could confirm not only whether an access point was open, but whether it was actually providing Internet access by pinging some server somewhere.

MovieBeam’s final cut

The reports turned out to be true. Despite Movie Gallery having both my email address and a direct digital link to my MovieBeam box, I received the official confirmation that the service was shutting down via quaint snail mail — quaint enough to arrive two days after the service was slated to be terminated. Moviebeam.com finally reflects the service’s defunct status.

There were still a few movies listed on the service for a while, but then the device began an unusual self-destruct procedure where it started erasing the titles featured on the service. I could just hear cries of “Dave… my mind is going.” in the background.I thought it somewhat poetic that the last film listed on my box was the Nicholas Cage movie Next.

00190543[1] Word on the street seems to be that — unlike the hard drive in the defunct RCA Akimbo box — the MovieBeam receiver’s hard drive is unfit for reuse due to use of an encryption chip (clearly developed before the current green trend) so it looks like the only souvenir I will keep from the product is its antenna that I’m going to try to reuse as a picture frame.

However, it’s not nearly as cool as the little Newscatcher pyramid that I still have from the vintage 1997 AirMedia Live push service.

At Starbucks, the song doesn’t remain the same

Since the end of the iTunes song giveaway at Starbucks, I’ve noticed the addition of performance videos in promotion of James Taylor’s One Man Band live album. I’ve also seen more consecutive songs by the same artists from the same album, such as the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss duet album Raising Sand.

In my experience since the launch, the performance of the Tunes integration has been somewhat inconsistent. I intermittently get messages in iTunes saying that it cannot connect within the Starbucks and then the song list suddenly appears (and then disappears later). This seems unrelated to Wi-Fi as my connection stays active even during these period

All this leaves me wondering more about the system that Starbucks uses to drive the Sony LCD TVs in its stores. Is a PC mounted behind the screen? Is the application Flash-based? How often are new playlists downloaded?

My cousin now hearts Macs

WorksFor most of the time I’ve been aware of his platform proclivities, my cousin Alan, a cardiologist, was not much of a Mac fan. However, he recently purchased a MacBook Pro and is loving it. I think he is an interesting case study for how Apple is attracting more Windows users.

He first bought an iBook for his wife, a computer novice. Then he had interest in a way to run two computationally intensive Windows-only medical programs on a Mac. After debating Parallels and VMWare, he chose the latter. The result, he says, is just "amazing"; the programs are running well in VMWare’s "unity" mode which allows the running of Windows applications in the context of the Mac operating environment. He also praised the program’s automatic configuration for Windows XP.

He’s not blind to the Mac’s faults and still prefers the way Roxio dealt with rewriteable DVDs and CDs so he’s using that Wndows program under VMWare as well.

E-ink watches have staying power

image The potential of electronic ink as a watch technology was dramatically demonstrated when Seiko showed off its $2.200  Spectrum bangle available only in Japan back in 2005. A similarly priced sequel is in the offing.

Nevertheless, a Hong Kong-based company called Art Technology is offering a more traditional design at a far more affordable price of $250 under the Phosphor watches brand. Still, I have to agree with this Gizmodo review that these initial faces fail to exploit the technology’s potential. The Phosphor Web site characterizes its current offerings as "the first in an entire line of next generation watches" so I am looking forward to future releases.

Segways stay up. And so do their prices

Sorry, Woz, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it to Segway Polo camp this summer, but this weekend’s broadcast match reminded me that this month marks the sixth anniversary of the once highly anticipated Segway HT. One reason the device hasn’t broken out much past the tech elite, law enforcement and tour groups has been that its price remains at more than $5,000.

Part of that is likely due to low volumes. According to an article cited in the Segway’s Wikipedia entry, Segway had sold fewer than 25,000 transporters as of September 2006