Category Archives: Home Theater

Why People Torrent

Cartoon from The Oatmeal depicting why people torrent content illegally.

It’s clear why people torrent. But it took me a while to figure out why HBO does not offer HBO GO, their internet video streaming service, as a stand-alone option outside of cable, even for a high fee like $40/month. HBO’s co-president Eric Kessler said that they would never offer HBO GO for sale to non-cable subscribers.

The reason is that HBO is owned by Time Warner Cable. They want to keep the existing cable TV model going. Time Warner doesn’t want to become a “dumb pipe” for TV programming streamed from others.

An independent HBO would clearly find that it makes business sense to offer HBO GO for sale and bypass the cable/satellite providers. So Time Warner created a content/distribution cabal that unfortunately limits the options to consumers. Comcast purchased NBC for the same reason.

See Freepress’s ownership charts showing all the vertically integrated media organizations.

Comcast Lies

Not that it’s surprising to anyone who has worked with them, but Comcast regularly lies. They do whatever they can to perpetuate the idea that there is no such thing as over-the-air digital TV, which is available for free if you have a TV and a small antenna.

This Wednesday, Comcast changed most of their analog cable channels in the Arlington, Virginia, area to present the following message.

Comcast has been doing this around the country for years, shutting off analog cable and moving customers to Comcast digital boxes so that they can charge more for each TV in the house and upsell pay-per-view content.

So an Arlington client of mine decided to cancel their Comcast cable instead of going through the hassle of a cable box or cable card. Given that the client watches the major network channels, they are okay with just using digital TV over-the-air for free.

When we called Comcast, Sam (Comcast Employee ID HEI) asked how the customer would watch TV without Comcast. “Over the air for free,” I said. Sam said that even if that was possible, it wouldn’t last long since all over-the-air was going away. So Sam was outright lying to us. Sam asked why we didn’t want a Comcast box since we’d need some kind of box to watch TV. I said that digital over-the-air can be plugged directly into a TV without a box.  Sam said that he had no idea about that. He spoke with a tone of disbelief as if I was making it up.

Had I not been on that call, the customer would have been bullied into buying Comcast digital cable after being told that was their only option.

I find that most people have no idea about digital over-the-air, which in the DC metro area has about 20 channels. During the over-the-air TV conversion from analog to digital, Comcast mailed advertisements telling people to convert to digital TV from Comcast. This confused people into thinking that the digital conversion meant that you needed to get Comcast digital TV.

This is why I use the word “Comcastic” as a derogatory term. As in, “That guy just stole my wallet. Comcastic.”

Google TV Worst Product Ever

I like Google and knew that they were attempting something new and audacious with their Google TV. I knew that it had been horribly reviewed and that all the major networks blocked their content from the device. But it wasn’t until I opened my review unit of the Google TV Revue by Logitech that I fully appreciated what a disaster this product was.

It’s “Open”

Yes, Google TV is open, which I now see means that there is no consistency in App design and interface. There are no standards for layouts or buttons. Do I use a mouse or click buttons? Use whatever you want.. it’s different in every app and very confusing.

It Feels Like A Computer

At a few points, I got the message that an application was not responsive and asking if I wanted to force-kill it. That’s not something most people want to deal with on a TV.

It’s Low Quality

The Logitech Revue takes in the video feed from your cable box or DVR and then overlays its content on top of it. This way you can put the live TV feed in a corner box while browsing the web. The downside? The video is re-encoded and therefore degraded in this process. I wasn’t even looking for it, but noticed that the colors and shadows were far more muddy than they should be. I then switched back and forth on the same content and could easily see the problems introduced to the video feed. Audio? Your 5.1 surround sound is converted to stereo.

DVR Integration Fails

The whole idea of Google TV sitting on top of my TiVo DVR doesn’t work for me. If I search for content and the Google TV thinks it’s on live, it will attempt to change the TiVo channel for me. But if my TiVo responds, “Currently recording something else. Do you want me to cancel that other recording?” the Google TV doesn’t know it. It’s clunky and confusing. Just keep my boxes separate or fully integrated (Google TV built into my DVR).

No Content

There is remarkably little content for the Google TV. Most of the content felt like shells for the web pages. I had to click on the option to expand the video to full screen.

Google TV does have Netflix (what box doesn’t today?), Amazon, and Pandora, but many of the other applications either didn’t work or worked sporadically. This is on the latest firmware as of Christmas 2010.

Conclusion

Google TV might be an upgrade if you’re running a Web TV 2.0 box from 2004. But with Apple TV, Roku, Windows Media Center, and a host of “hacker” systems from Boxee, XBMC, and Plex, there are many alternatives now that do far more for less money.

I applaud Google for trying to move into the living room, but this box needs to be redesigned to be user friendly for non-engineers. It needs a consistent user interface and more content.

Google says that they’re continuing to develop Google TV, but Logitech has stopped making this Revue unit and the products planned for CES have been cancelled. Lets hope that Google takes this break in product development as an opportunity to rethink their approach to entering the living room.

3D Video and Nausia

The Consumer Electronics Shows (CES) just wrapped up in Las Vegas and one of the main themes was 3D video coming to home televisions. Along with this, the big movie Avatar is being shown in many locations in 3D.

3D audience

While 3D adoption will grow, there are some problems such as having to wear silly glasses and the “depth of field”.

Depth of Field Problem

About 20% of the people I know who saw Avatar in 3D said that they felt nauseous or got a headache. This is primary due to a “depth of field” problem.

When you look at a close up object in the real world, you focus on it and things in the background are out of focus. You then look at something far away and then can focus on that clearly.

In 2D movies, the camera focuses on what is important and other items are out of focus, especially when there is a wide depth of field.

In 3D movies, our eyes expect to be able to look at an out-of-focus area and have it come into focus, just like in real life. But if it was shot out of focus, this is impossible. Further, the shallower the depth of field (meaning the more that the foreground and background are both in focus) the more cartoonish a video can look. This is a reason that cartoons, because they have no depth of field, work great with 3D.

An article at Shadow Locked explains How to avoid getting a 3D headache while watching Avatar. You have to look at what is in focus. See picture:

Avatar Background Blur

3D Does Work in Many Cases

For cartoons and sports, we do not expect to see a depth of field. And typically James Cameron shot Avatar with little depth of field. But, to the extent that depth of field is an important tool for movies, it will limit adoption of 3D movies for many people.

Harmony Remote Favorite Channel Icon Image

Harmony One Favorite Channel IconsIf you’ve got a recent harmony remote such as the Harmony One and have hard to remember 3 or 4 digit TV channels, setting up favorites can be very useful.  Then you just have to select the channel on the remote and the right numbers are sent.  To make things even prettier, you can define icons for each channel.

A great place to download icons is iconharmony.com.  The interface is a little strange but you can search for each channel icon image you want and select it.  Once you have selected each image you want, you can download them all in one zip file.  You use the logitech harmony remote software to define your favorite channels and browse files to assign the icons.