Ala carte programming — who pays for what?

November 30, 2005

The FCC yesterday came out endorsing “Ala carte” programming from cable and satellite providers — as a way to give parents more control over the type of programming coming into their house.

The full statement of the FCC Chairman before the Senate yesterday is here (Acrobat document), but one section that caught my eye was this:
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The Retail Cable Ripoff

November 10, 2005

I am so incredibly tired of the current retail practice of selling over-expensive, dubious-featured, gold-plated cables, I could just scream.

It started a couple of years ago — suddenly, if you were in a consumer electronics shop, and bought a piece of gear, the only cables you could buy to go with it were these high-dollar “Monster” cables (or a similar knock-off) selling for 5 – 20 times the price of normal cables.

The gullible, clueless and those with more money than time bought them, and the rest of us went to Radio Shack, or a local “electronics” shop and bought ordinary cables that worked as well.

The computer stores soon followed suit; a couple years ago I needed a short USB cable in a hurry, and was stunned to find that there were essentially no cables at CompUSA for under $20 (and many products, such as printers, just quit including them.)
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HD PVRs – Rock and Hard Place

May 19, 2005

Thomas Hawk has some comments on my Dish 942 article.

Thomas writes:

These type of HDTV PVRs will be the competition for TiVo and Media Center going forward. It will be important that TiVo and Media Center are able to distinguish themselves in the HDTV PVR space in order to convince people that it is worth spending the money over what you can get for free (kinda free anyway) from your cable or satellite provider.

Absolutely — and there’s the rub.
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Gassy Internet

May 12, 2005

First it was DSL over phone lines, then Cable Modems and Broadband Over Powerlines—now Red Ferret Journal is reporting that a San Diego company wants to offer broadband access over your natural gas pipeline. We’ve now hit the point where if it comes to your house, somebody wants to offer data over it—I’m waiting for Jehovah’s Witnesses to start showing up at the door with oodles of DAT tapes neatly tucked into the pockets of their Saturday bests…

Nethercomm’s technology requires no modification to existing natural gas distribution infrastructures and can carry enormous amounts of data by simply making use of the entire spectrum buried within the existing natural gas pipelines. The technology delivers connectivity over the last mile of broadband networks without interference or degradation of other wireless transmissions. By not consuming or sharing costly spectrum, and not requiring installation of last mile cable or fiber, Nethercomm is prepared to make broadband substantially more affordable while increasing end-user bandwidth to unprecedented levels.

Dishplayer 942 Near Miss

May 12, 2005

I was all set for some prime HDTV PVR action last night — I was serious when I said that the latest DirecTivo software update was the last straw, and I went ahead and signed up for Dish.

It’s really a no-brainer, at least once I decided that the DirecTivo was an orphan stepchild and was never likely to get the full current Tivo suite of functionality.

I also wanted HDTV PVR support (for more than my locals), so that left me with Cable (not gonna happen), The HDTivo (too much $$ for too many bugs) and Dishnetwork’s Dishplayer 942 (still too many bugs, possibly, but far less $$ for a new subscriber).

Dish’s recent acquisition of another 10 HD channels from Voom’s demise made it even sweeter.
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FCC denies states ability to force unbundling

April 3, 2005

Apparently the FCC isn’t going to allow states to force telcos to provide unbundled DSL—which means that they can continue along their merry way, forcing customers to buy voice services (and I suppose whatever else they want to require) in order to get DSL.

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PageRank Simplified – What you need to know

January 20, 2005

If you get anywhere near search engine optimization discussions, you’ll hear the term PageRank.  There is both a lot of math and a lot of supposition regarding PageRank, but really only a few concepts that you need to know.
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Tivo — Dying young, but leaving a great-looking corpse

December 8, 2004

If there’s a tougher user interface to get right than an interface for an intelligent TV device, I don’t wanna meet it.  I was involved with a project trying to do content management on TVs back in ‘97, and the problems involved in coming up with something powerful that looks good and is as easy to use 10 feet from the TV as the TV itself are immense.  The project died (several times—there must have been a shortage of wooden stakes) for other reasons, but we never came up with anything half as good as the Tivo interface has been since day one.

Matt Haughey has a great interview with Tivo’s Margret Schmidt, the person responsible for making their interface happen.  If you’ve ever thought great interfaces “just happen”, you really need to read this to appreciate how much work and thought goes into making an experience that is truely intuitive and easy to use.

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“Transitional Fair Use”

December 1, 2004

Is it just me, or is everyone else getting sick of various new terms to thinly disguise an ever increasing loss of rights?

AllYourTV has a report on “Transitional Fair Use”.  This appears to be another way to make sure your fancy new DVR doesn’t have the basic utility that a Betamax once had.

“Viewers would be able to record an episode with their DVR, but there would be a time limit on how long it would be available for viewing. The executive was pushing for an expiration date that coincided with the premiere of the next episode. The consensus of the cable executived was that it needed to be between 2-4 weeks.”

One week, or 2 – 4 weeks, this just sucks.  I routinely let stuff accumulate longer than that.  I nearly gave up on West Wing this season, and had five episodes queued up before I decided I’d go a little further with them (the Camp David heart attack thing annoyed me.), and I’m glad I did.  Hell, I’ve still got a Frontline from back in May sitting there…

What’s worse, Tivo seems to be going out of their way to knuckle under to this kind of crap from the content producers, so we can probably assume that our equipment will be “enabled” (more like “disabled”) to enforce this at some point.

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Download Mangers Rock…

November 11, 2004

I vaguely remember download managers, back in the bad old dial-up days.  At that point they were usually tools to resume downloads if your connection died before it all trickled in (a not too uncommon occurance).  I’ve ignored them since then.

The other day I happened to run into Speed Download 2, a download manager for OS X.  For some reason, I looked at it long enough to figure out that it actually rocks for broadband users.  By opening up simultaneous connections, it downloads large files much faster than normal—right to the edge of the connection speed, if the pipeline in between can be driven that fast.  For a test, I downloaded an hour-long MP3 from the BBC site, and it managed to come in at about 4 megabits per second—which isn’t bad on a cable connection rated at 3 megabits.

Speed Download 2 plugs into FireFox and Safari and intercepts downloads of filetypes (well, MIME types, actually) that you choose.  By default, it includes all of the common compressed formats.  It took about 2 seconds to add MP3 to the list.  When you click to download one of these file types, Speed Download is launched and takes over the download instead.  It also provides a nice little download management front end, prioritization and queuing, restarts, history, etc.  It even will automatically share a download folder via Rendezvou for you.

Very nice, and well worth the $20 registration fee.  Check it out. 

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