TiVo name a new president

TiVo has named Martin Yudkovitz as president. Previously he was at NBC for twenty years and leaves there as an executive vice president, so they’re clearly hoping that his address book will help them gain further acceptance with the US broadcasters.

“Yudkovitz will be responsible for driving deployment of TiVo through satellite, cable and advertising partnerships. Tivo said he will also focus on helping television networks and other content makers develop paid programming for its DVR service.”

Apple Announce iTunes Online and New iPods

As previously rumoured, Apple announced two music-related products yesterday – the new iPod‘s and their iTunes Music Store service. The iPod is essentially an upgraded, thinner version of the current machine that holds up to 30GB. It comes with a new docking cradle and the same unit will work on both Mac and Windows (later in the year).

The iTunes Music Store is the really exciting part. It sounds like it’s simplicity itself, as they provide 30 second, full quality previews of each track and buying is easy as they’ve licenced the Amazon 1-click system. The initially 200,000 tracks available provided by the big five record companies (BMG, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal and Warner) and are individually purchasable prices at 99 cents a track. They’re stored in AAC format but users will be able to burn unlimited CD’s for personal use and will be able to copy to unlimited iPods Old and New, and to three different Macs. Interestingly downloaded music is sharable between machines on the same wired or wireless network – and by using streaming rather than copying they will placate the music industry. Sadly, due to the licencing restrictions from the music companies, the service will only be available in the US – at least initially.

Video: Steve Jobs launches new iPod’s and Music Store service – watch it

Apple secrecy on unreleased products is legendary, so it was amazing to see that all of the details of todays announcements were disclosed on slashdot back in December. I wonder if the poster is still working at Apple?

Moves afoot in electronic music distribution

Real Networks have announced its intention to acquire Listen.com for around $36m in cash ($17.3m) and stock. They’re gaining the music assets (they have around 320k tracks on their service), their technology, subscribers (however there may be) and openings to their distribution agreements with a network of more than fifteen companies.

Listen has been around a long time and I’ve always been impressed with their virtual radio station service. There can’t be huge amounts of subscribers as in the statement they detail the level of Listen losses at $1-2m per quarter. It looks like Real is strengthening itself for a fight and on that front …

There’s further talk about the Apple online music service that is slated to launch on 28th April which will only be open, initially at least, to users of Apple computers. Apple only has 3% of the computer market but this worked in their favour when try to get access to the big five record companies content for the service. The music companies felt they weren’t exposing themselves and their content to the whole World, allowing them to “dip their toes in the water” of a different, non-subscription model.

I think it’s interesting that the proposed launch date is just one day before the Vivendi meeting, where they were rumoured to be making their intention to bid for Universal. Possibly co-incidence — potentially a great way of getting free press for the service.

Update: XBox Live progress

It’s been a little over a month since Microsoft launched Xbox Live in Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) and they have now reached 50,000 units.

The North America service was launched in November 2002 and they make up the vast majority of the current 350,000 Global users, who are playing more than three million game sessions per week. Amazingly the US users are spending an average of 2.5 hours per day Live gaming with the peak gaming times being during television prime time.

There are currently 11 Xbox Live-compatible games and 2003 will see the launch of more than 50 Xbox Live-enabled games, but it isn’t clear if the games will be including online playing or just the less interesting, but popular, content download. A while back “MechAssault“, from Microsoft Game Studios, had more than 172,000 downloads during the first week of availability — more than half of the registered users.

The new Xbox Live games for release over the next two months are as follows:-May 2003

  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Lucas Arts) – Multiplayer and Downloadable Content
  • Godzilla (Infogrames) – Downloadable Content
  • MotoGP 2 (THQ) – Multiplayer
  • Phantasy Star Online (Sega) – Multiplayer
  • Burnout 2 (Acclaim) – Online Scoreboards
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Activision) – Multiplayer and Downloadable Content

June 2003

  • Midtown Madness (Microsoft Games Studios) – Multiplayer and Downloadable Content
  • Midnight Club 2 (Take2 Interactive/Rockstar) – Multiplayer
  • Brute Force (Microsoft Games Studios) – Downloadable Content

Blue-laser DVD recorder on sale in Japan

Sony started selling the first blue-laser DVD recorder, the BDZ-S77, in Japan on 10 April at a cost of ¥450,000 ($3,760/£2,380).

Conforming to the Blu-ray standard, it’s capable of recording two hours of high-definition video at maximum quality, or four hours of standard-definition digital broadcasting or up to 16 hours of lower quality analog terrestrial, all in MPEG-2 format.

By using a blue laser, which has a shorter wavelength than the current red laser standard, it stores information more densely giving at least 23Gb on each disk (¥3,500/$30/£18), around five times the capacity of a standard DVD.

As ever, there are going to be competing standards for HD DVD recordings, three others this time, but Sony is the first to release a product.

PS2 DVD update

Sony is planning to release an upgraded version of the PlayStation2 in Japan on 15 May, increasing its DVD playback capability.

A while back Sony released a DVD recorder that writes both of the major competing formats, DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW. Interestingly, the new PS2 will also support both of these, as well as the picture-enhancing “progressive scan” playback and a built-in IR port for the remote control.

Combine these with the 75% reduction in fan noise and it looks like it’s becoming a better entertainment centre.

Given the PS2 now has a broadband adaptor, this could/should open up the market for enhanced DVD’s that provide additional content depth via the Internet.

Apple May Buy Universal Music (Update:Hoax)

Update: Some clever wags hoaxed this.

Major, major, major news if it’s true. The LA Times and others are reporting that Apple computers have been in discussion with Universal for several months and plan to make a $6Bn offer to the Vivendi at their board meeting on 29 April. Universal accounts for about 1/4 of all CD sales and is the biggest player in 63 territories around the World. As The Register points out, there may be some complications as Apple reached an out-of-court agreement with Apple Corp. (the Beatles music label) not to enter in the music business in 1990.

I was aware that Apple was working on a super secret project, so much so that people that were hired to work on it weren’t even told what they were working on – I guess this may have been it.

If this deal comes off, it will give the music industry the shake-up it’s been needing, forcing the four others major labels to provide reasonably priced, easy to download music.

If it happens, I foresee mass panic in the music industry.

BBC do synchronised media as it should be done

I noticed today that the UK BBC has a broadband offering available at www.bbc.co.uk/broadband. The site looks like it may still be in testing, as it’s pretty confusing with a lot of ‘click here’ text and quite a few links that don’t lead anywhere useful.

That aside, there are some really interesting pieces on it, in particular the Iraq Crisis Special Coverage. It’s a good example of a collection of video and other material that really provides depth to the subject.

The synchronised media is well executed as is illustrated with Road to War/UN adopts 1441 piece. As the video plays, a link appears at the bottom on the right hand side about a ¼ of the way into the video. When this link is clicked, the video that was playing is paused, a screen-grab thumbnail representing it is placed to the right of the video playback window and the full-length footage started to play in the main video playback window. Clicking on the thumbnail takes the viewer back to the point that they left off in the main video. As the main video is coming to its end, a new link appears on the bottom right, taking viewers to a click-able map of Iraq that it overlays the main video area.

This is the kind of work we did at LemonTV using Real and SMIL but, because of the vagaries of streaming video, the delivery over the Internet weren’t as polished as the BBC are now achieving.

I found it very interesting that they are using Flash to deliver the synchronised media including the video. Until now, the BBC has exclusively used Real to delivery its audio and video material, but given the normal poor delivery of the BBC streaming, and streaming generally, I’m glad they’re looking at other areas.

Here’s a quick list of advantages I see for them in using Flash over Real

  • Faster starting videos by using progressive download
  • They’re in total control of the format and the player
  • Copying the video is hard
  • They can pause video and bring in other video quickly
  • The interactivity can be incorporated in to one display area
  • No re-skilling to SMIL, they can use current Flash talent
  • Standard web serving – no need to pay for extra streaming server licences
  • Possibly there may be less bandwidth used

If this is a taste of what’s going to be coming out of the BBC, all power to them.

[BTW, if you’re trying to view the broadband content from outside the UK, you’re going to hit a problem – according to the BBC FAQ, it’s not available to non-licence payers.]

Download free music – legitimately

OD2 are running another “Digital Download Day” which confusingly runs from today, 9th April 2003 until 15th April. Users signing up for it will be given £3, 5 Euro or $5.33 credit to download or listen to 150,000 songs that will be available from all five major labels – Sony, Warner Music, EMI, Universal Music and BMG.