On both a personal and professional note, I am happy to report that the federal courts have unanimously ruled to strike down the FCC's broadcast flag (that's a PDF) due to our lawsuit against them.
When people watch TV with a hard disk video recorder, they always watch the show delayed, often by hours or many days. They all watch it at a different time.
Earlier I reported on Peerflix, which is implementing a P2P DVD sharing system with similarities to some of my own ideas. I have tried it out a bit now, and learned a bit more. I also have updated experiences with Peerflix.
The web site is marked beta and still very buggy, which is bad, but my first try on the service was first-rate. I mailed off my first DVD, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,
on Wednesday to somebody in San Jose (who almost surely got it today) and got the replacement for it -- by strange coincidence another memory-related movie called Memento in the mail today. That is faster than most of the services, though people like Netflix could be this fast if they decided to take the same step and trust you when you said you mailed a disk, rather than waiting for it to arrive.
All this is good, but there's still a killer flaw in the idea of actually selling the DVDs. All DVDs will have a limited lifetime of high-demand. As demand drops below supply, somebody holding the DVD at that time will get "stuck" with it, though you can fix that by being fast on the draw in agreeing to be the one to mail any new requesters that do come along.
For the past couple of years, I've been mulling over an idea for a different kind of DVD "rental" company, similar in ways to the popular NetFlix. Now I have encountered a new company called Peerflix which is doing something similar. Is it annoying or vindicating to see somebody else run with something? :-)
So instead I will comment on Peerflix, which I am going to try out, and what I planned to do differently.
Ok, it's strange because I think one of the whole points of the hard disk video recorder / PVR is that you are not supposed to watch live TV any more, not supposed to channel surf -- but I keep coming up with ideas relating to it. Maybe I have a secret desire to surf again.
As many people know, with digital recording, the no-surf rule is enforced because it's harder to do. The digital delay introduces a long channel change delay, intolerable when combined with another delay (satellite/cable box).
I notice from this chart in advertising age (which requires an annoying complex if free registration form) that there's been a giant jump in the CPM (cost per thousand viewers) of a 30 second Superbowl ad. From 1968 to 1998 it hovered close to $10 in constant dollars -- or about a penny per impression.
Then there's a big jump (thanks in part to Fox and the dot-com boom) and now it's up to $25. But they're still paying, even though the $10 figure is more common for regular TV.
One thing I've noticed when you get a TV broadcast that has 5-channel sound, it that you get the voices on the center channel. Particularly with things like voice-overs, sportscasters etc. If you can mute the center channel, you can watch a game, for example, with no commentators.
But sometimes you do want to hear what they said, if there is something on the field you don't understand. If you have a PVR, you can rewind and turn on the center channel audio (though rarely is there a good UI to do this) but here's another idea.
I love hard disk video recorders because they surprised me by being much more than super-fancy VCRs. They changed the nature of the way people watched TV in ways I didn't expect.
Now I've been working with MythTV which is an open source PVR. I have a new program in development, and if any of the readers out there are using MythTV I wouldn't mind some folks to test it out before I announce it to the Myth community.
This program does many things, including two things that I think could change the nature of how TV is chosen.
Dan Gilmor notes that he is concerned about a new program called the "Silicon Valley 100" in which a marketing company identified 100 influentical silicon valley folks with plans to give us stuff in the hope of generating buzz. Dan worries whether people will disclose they got the stuff for free as part of this venture.
As I continue to play with HDTV, I found I had a horrendous time getting good output from my computer running the MythTV open source PVR into my TV. DVI, the uncompressed digital standard, just wouldn't work from the video card I had to the TV. The TV has Firewire/1394, which would allow me to stream mpeg-2 to it, and that would be really great, but as yet no software supports it because few TVs have such inputs.
I have been building an HDTV PVR with MythTV and the pcHDTV tuner
card. It's been a major adventure, not yet ready for prime time, but
it's lead me to have some thoughts about things you want to think about
in a PVR that particularly relate to HDTV.
For people of my generation, a great deal of history was seen on regular low-resolution TV. But a lot of it, up to the 70s or so (and often after) was shot on film, at higher resolution. Older generations saw some of this (once or twice) in newsreels at the movies.
So as HD sets become common, it would be great to see this old film footage of events like the wars, the Olympics, famous speeches, the moon landing and other space program material in high definition. I saw a DVD of the 1936 Olympics on a good screen and even that was surprising.
As I watch the Olympics on my Tivo, I'm having a hard time understanding how anybody could watch them without one. The number of events has become immense, and the coverage is 24 hour -- more than that, because I have both CBC and NBC coverage. (Plus CNBC, MSNBC and others, and I could buy TSN and Country Canada if I were desperate.)
2 years ago, I got so frustrated at Bob Costas blabbing over parts of the Olympic opening ceremonies that clearly were not meant to be blabbed over that I rush ordered a satellite dish to watch the rest of the Olympics on the CBC.
(Besides, you find out there are events at the Olympics in which Americans are not competing for medals!)
I've been a longtime user of the Tivo, and when my mother got an HDTV, I pushed her to get a PVR. In Canada, the only really workable option for her was to rent the HD-8000 HD PVR from Rogers, her cable company. No Tivo service in Canada, and she wasn't ready for a PC based PVR (And HD ones are still immature.)
Online discussion and collaboration tools are old now, dating back almost 40 years to PLATO, 30 years for mailing lists, 25 years for BBSs and USENET. Yet somehow I don't feel we've got it right yet, and in fact may be going in some wrong directions.
I beleive there are two central dichotomies that make the problem hard to solve.
The first is the distinction between "serial" material which is meant to be read as a stream (though perhaps referenced later) and "browsable" information meant to be read in a somewhat more random order.
In the 80s, as VCRs were becoming popular, I saw an interesting product that acted as a commercial eliminator for those who wanted to tape classic, black and white movies that were often on late at night.
The product simply detected when the signal went colour, and would trigger the pause button on your VCR. (In early VCRs this was not even infrared.) The commercials were colour, the movie was B&W and so you got a commercial free movie recorded.
We all love our Tivo or other PVRs (though my mother just got the Scientific Atlanta 8000HD which does HDTV but otherwise has a terrible UI. It's hard to imagine this was designed after people saw the Tivo or Replay.)
After you use your PVR, you get a large library. Deliberately recorded programs, or in the case of the Tivo "suggestion" mode, programs recorded at random that are similar to shows you have asked to record.