Xbox Live sells out initial 150k units in a week

There have been rumblings of problems with the Microsoft Xbox Live, broadband multi-user gaming service that was launched about a week ago, but they’ve sold out the initial 150,000 $50 units within a week.

They’re also trying to bring a more ‘street’ feel to the product, trying to emulate the big success Sony had doing the same to the PlayStation. MS is building on their current sponsorship of the Vans Triple Crown Series, which covers skateboarding, wakeboarding, surfing, snowboarding, BMX and freestyle motocross.

Vans, the hallowed skateboard brand, are allowing MS to create Xbox Lounges at eleven Vans Skate parks around the US, so the ‘Kids’ can take a rest from skateboarding, pick up an Xbox controller and … err … play virtual skateboarding on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 and three other non-skateboarding games.

MS see the importance of broadening the awareness of online gaming by getting people to recommend it, and to this end Xbox Live will be available at all but two of the sites, only as those sites don’t have broadband connections.

Couch viewable computers

After writing yesterday about lack of households who have their computers connected to their TV, I was prompted to take a look around the technology that may be coming to your lounge soon, allowing your media to be viewed or listened to from different sources.

Intel solution is their Digital Media Adapter (DMA). Containing an Xscale processor and its own interface program displaying on the TV that allows the user to browse images, audio files and video stored on their PC or Media Server via a simple handheld remote control. This is then fed through to the TV or HiFi unit. The DMA and PC can be connected either by cables or wirelessly.

Sony’s RoomLink is currently for sale in Japan and will be having a US spring release at a targeted $199 that appears to work on the same principle. Interestingly RoomLink will only pull media from Sony Vaio computers.

I noticed an illustration of the power of the US media companies in the piece – the US release will not be able to stream DVD video between devices, as the Japanese version does.

What’s not clear is whether Sony is using the Intel’s DMA. If you can drag yourself through the overview video, the style of which is what you might call dry, you’ll see the Sony “Vaio Media” server. Of course it might just be coincidence.

This looks very much like a first step, bridging technology that will fill that gap until TV and audio equipment are produced network enabled. Given the wrangling over digitally held video content, that might be quite a gap.

Movielink by proxy

Rob Pegoraro has written a spirited review of the new Movielink Internet-delivered film service that’s backed by the media powerhouses Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros.

After hitting problems straight off and forced to use a recent MS browser, he not hugely impressed. As it’s not truly Video On Demand (VOD), it took 3 hours 25 to download the movie on his home DSL and, as he points out, it’s quicker to pop down to the local video store.

I think he’s slightly unfair about the delay in getting the films. I imagine, if it is going to be used, it’s going to be more like a Tivo-like DVR – you make your selection and watch it later that night or any time in the next 30 days. It’s more likely to be competition for NetFlix but they clearly easily win on breadth of content, currently. That could vanish if the studios feel more secure about releasing material on the Internet.

I was concerned about his reports of video breaking up in the fast sections, but it’s reported that this will be improved in the next six months.

With these draw backs, I can’t see it being used in its current form by anyone other than computer enthusiasts and journalists writing reviews.

I’m sure the people running the Movielink have all read Tom Peters and believe in the marketing power of being first – and as nothing outside the movie world exists for them, they probably think they are the first.

But Tom, as all his close personal friends call him, also talks about quality and that seems to be missing in pretty vital areas – the breadth of selection and video quality.

Does it really matter at the moment? After all, not many households have their computer connected to their TV’s and without that, huddling around a monitor in a strange part of the house, frankly isn’t an enjoyable family viewing experience.

They’ve got to get into the lounge. The real opportunity is for companies with Internet connected DVR’s, like the SonicBlue ReplyTV, to make it a slick, easy to use, couch viewable experience. Given the large amount of bad blood between SonicBlue and the media, I would imagine the more forward-looking DVR companies are speaking to Movielink.

In case you wondered why I’m piggy backing on someone’s review – I would have written my own review but thanks to Movielink’s “GeoFilter” and by an accident of geography, I wasn’t able to. Anyone accessing the site coming from an IP address outside the US, of which I’m one, will be met with a fantastic piece of upbeat American corporate lingo that just shouts NO (our licensing doesn’t permit)

Thank you for your interest in Movielink. We want you to take part in the powerful Internet movie rental experience that Movielink delivers, but …

ZigBee – The everywhere PAN

In the current flurry of new wireless networking, we have a new player on the block – ZigBee, the new PAN (Personal Area Network) protocol.

It’s been designed to be very low in power consumption and for most of the applications being targeted, its 2 AA batteries should have a life of 6 months to 2 years, but that does vary by application. One of its secrets is that the devices will only communicate when their application deems necessary.

With it’s maximum data rate is 250kbps, compared to 1 Mbps for Bluetooth but as we know, modems speeds are around a fifth of this, so it’s not painfully slow and many applications for devices don’t need loads of bandwidth.

Range is expected to be ~30 meters in a typical home, compared to ~10 meters for unamplified Bluetooth products.

ZigBee networking capabilities include 254 devices per network, compared to 8 for Bluetooth networks. There can also be up to 100 co-located networks.

With its small stack size (28Kbytes), which is about 10th of the Bluetooth – so the computing spec required to run it will be lower.

The entire bill of materials for a radio module is expected to initially be $6.00, coming quickly down to $2.00 to $3.00. Significantly lower than any other wireless network technology.

Products are expected to be available in middle of 2003 and it’s projected that over 400 million units will be produced per year by 2006.

Low cost wireless control within the home has a chance of becomes a reality.

Innovation … from BT?

I was more than surprised to see some ‘connected thinking’ (excuse the management speak) from BT today.

I’ve always said that one of the barriers to the general public taking up of broadband is that fact that they’ve never seen it, and why would you want something that you’ve never see. The same applied to the early days of Sky’s satellite delivered programming. Additionally the terms that are used to promote broadband, such as always-on are pretty meaningless to people with no experience or technology background.

BT payphones has decided, for a limited period, to give FREE broadband access at their new blue kiosks which are scattered around some sixty nine high streets around the UK.