Amazon has finally made its way into your living room. Amazon Fire TV, a tiny streaming box for your home theater, was designed to offer a great and simple streaming experience. Two to four times more powerful than similar devices on the market, content playback on the Fire TV starts immediately, which means you’ll never again have to wait for content buffering. Built around the Amazon media experience, Fire TV also features third-party apps like Netflix, Hulu and Pandora. But the real difference-maker between the Fire TV and its competition is games. Amazon has teamed up with publishers like EA and Disney, and the thousands of games available now or soon can be controlled with the included remote, your smartphone or tablet, or with an optional $40 dedicated game controller. If you’ve been holding out on picking up a streaming device for your living room – or if you want to play some games in addition to streaming your media – Amazon’s Fire TV is now available for $99.
Aereo Inc.’s upstart TV streaming service has provoked a legal onslaught from broadcast networks. But even if it wins that fight, it still has to overcome more-pedestrian issues, like making sure it can pay for the electricity it needs. The service depends on tiny antennas assigned to each of its individual users, who rent them to stream broadcast TV channels over the Web. Each of those antennas, which Aereo warehouses in centralized facilities, uses five to six watts of power. On their own, that isn’t a whole lot-a typical set-top box rented by cable operators to customers can use four times as much, or more. But the power for a cable box is paid by consumers, whereas Aereo is footing the bill for every subscriber. And that is beginning to add up.
Read the full story at The Wall Street Journal.
Apple has a new trick up its sleeve as it tries to launch a long-awaited television service: technology that allows viewers to skip commercials and that pays media companies for the skipped views. For more than a year, Apple has been seeking rights from cable companies and television networks for a service that would allow users to watch live and on-demand television over an Apple set-top box or TV. Talks have been slow and proceeding in fits and starts, but things seem to be heating up. In recent discussions, Apple told media executives it wants to offer a “premium” version of the service that would allow users to skip ads and would compensate television networks for the lost revenue, according to people briefed on the conversations. Consumers, of course, are already accustomed to fast-forwarding through commercials on their DVRs, and how Apple’s technology differs is unclear.
Read the full story at JessicaLessin.com.
As we’ve heard for the past month, Apple and Time Warner Cable are close to inking a deal that would bring a TWC app to the Apple TV’s homescreen – for the first time bringing live TV broadcasts to the device. But some recent reports are bringing things into sharper focus, giving us some more insight into what the future of Apple’s service is going to look like. Earlier this week, the New York Times wrote that the app would allow “some of the company’s 12 million subscribers to watch live and on-demand shows without a separate set-top box.” Friday, Bloomberg adds that “while the deal would add a Time Warner app, that just means viewers won’t have to switch from Apple TV back to their cable box: They’d still need to subscribe to Time Warner Cable and wait around for a technician to install it.” The TWC app would likely be based on its existing iPhone and iPad software.
Read the full story at The Verge.
I love physical media. I love being able to display the spines of the movies, video games and books I own. There’s something comforting about having a shelf full of movies or games or books to look at. It might be the sense of endless possibilities. I could go over, pluck any one thing off the shelf, and have something to do for anywhere from 20 minutes to hundreds of hours.
It’s a feeling I don’t get when scrolling through my iTunes or when browsing Netflix. Sure, both of those places have more “stuff” than all the bookshelves in my apartment could hold, but they’re really just ones and zeroes making up words and pretty pictures. There’s no sense of “home” there. But what they lack in in “home” they make up for with convenience. And that convenience is so appealing that I find myself heading deeper and deeper down the digital-only rabbit hole.
Music: Digital-Only is a Go!
I gave up on (most) physical CDs years ago. Almost all the music I buy comes from Amazon or iTunes as a download … and that’s if I’m buying music at all. (Spotify’s eliminated the need to buy almost any music, but that’s a slightly different topic for another day.) I just felt weird buying physical copies of CDs, ripping them to my computer and then never looking at the CD again. I was only interacting with the music digitally, so why bother with the physical version at all? Why go through the extra work and why take up the extra storage room? Music has gone almost fully digital. There’s no turning back.
I wish I could do the same thing for books, movies and video games. I could, but I won’t .
Books: Infrastructure Brought Down By Pricing
Most of the books I buy come from used book sales. Probably close to 90 percent of the books I own have cost me two dollars or less. Reading on a Kindle is great – and I think I’ve moved past the book snobbery of thinking a physical copy feels better – but the prices aren’t comparable. If I want to catch up on an author, I could go to a book sale and pick up ten books for ten bucks. On Kindle? It would probably cost anywhere from $40 to $140. Kindle is far more convenient – especially if you’re traveling and plan on tearing through a ton of books.
Whether you go through Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Apple, getting the books you want digitally is (usually) extremely quick and easy. The system is nearly flawless. But cost-wise, it’s just not there. Amazon is trying to help us transition to digital with the launch of Kindle Matchbook on Tuesday. Matchbook lets you pick up a digital copy of physical books you’ve bought from Amazon for $2.99 or less. But of the dozens of books I’ve bought, only three fall under the Matchbook program, and even at $2.99 they’re not titles I want to re-visit.
Movies: An Issue of Quality and Extras
Blu-ray’s quality is still unmatched by downloads, and even though Netflix is now streaming at 1080p and will soon offer 4K streaming, the color depth just isn’t there. Watch the opening scenes from Drive on Netflix, then watch them on a Blu-ray copy. If you don’t think there’s a difference, you’re lying to yourself.
Physical copies of movies and TV shows also offer bonus features, like director’s commentaries, deleted scenes and more. But physical media is catching up in this regard. Vudu has begun doing it and Netflix is talking about it … it’s only a matter of time before this hurdle is cleared. I still don’t see a time when I head to downloads only, but I’m becoming more and more okay with Netflix. I’ve found myself only buying the movies I really like. (This is still a lot of movies, but hey, what are you going to do? NOT buy Monsters University?)
Video Games: The Final Frontier
But the biggest digital vs. physical problem of all lands in the realm of video games. With the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One planning to launch in the next month, we’re entering the first generation of consoles where digital-only is a legitimate option. At least, it’s an option in theory.
Both consoles are shipping with 500 GB hard drives. A few years ago, that was a lot. Today? That’s nothing. The cheapest laptops Best Buy sells – priced at $279 – come with 500 GB hard drives. Storage is so inexpensive and so readily available that it’s mind-boggling that the Xbox One and PS4 only come with 500 GB. The Xbox One will support external storage (though not at launch) and the PlayStation 4 (like the PlayStation 3) will let you put any size hard drive in it that you want, but that’s not enough. Seriously, Sony and Microsoft? You couldn’t put in a 2 TB drive?
You might wonder why I’m making such a big deal out of storage. Here’s why. The original version of Killzone Shadow Fall was 290 GB. THAT’S RIDICULOUS. It’s been scaled down (obviously), but it’s still a 50 GB game. The new Call of Duty game, Ghosts? Yeah, it requires a 49 GB install on PS4, even when running the game off a disc.
The storage issue with these new consoles is so bad and so blatant that Polygon wonders if it might be so big of an issue that the new consoles could actually fail because of it. I don’t think that’ll be the case, but eek. It’s not fun.
Video game publishers are ready to go digital. We are, for the most part, ready to go digital, too. But the bridge isn’t there, and the gap is too far for us to cross. Maybe next console cycle.
In another victory for Aereo, the controversial TV-over-the-Web startup, a federal appeals court on Tuesday refused to rehear an earlier decision allowing the service to continue in the New York City area. Aereo, which is backed by IAC Chairman Barry Diller, uses antenna/DVR technology to let consumers watch live, local over-the-air television broadcasts on some Internet-connected devices, including the iPad and iPhone. That capability provoked a lawsuit from TV broadcast giants including NBC, ABC, and CBS (the parent of CNET), which allege that the service violates their copyrights and that Aereo must pay them retransmission fees. Today’s decision lets stand a ruling in April in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied a preliminary injunction (PDF) from the TV networks preventing Aereo from transmitting recorded broadcast television programs to subscribers.
Read the full story at CNET.
Google has approached media companies about licensing their content for an Internet TV service that would stream traditional TV programming, people familiar with the matter say. If the Web giant goes ahead with the idea, it would join several other companies planning to offer such “over-the-top” services, delivering cable TV-style packages of channels over broadband connections. Chip company Intel and Sony are both working on similar offerings, while Apple has pitched various TV licensing ideas to media companies in the past couple of years. If launched, the Internet TV services could have major implications for the traditional TV ecosystem, creating new competition for pay TV operators that are already struggling to retain video subscribers. Existing online video players like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon offer on-demand TV, but the latest efforts are aimed at offering conventional channels, allowing consumers to flip through channels just as they would on cable.
Read the full story at the Wall Street Journal.