British Film Institute Open Archives Online

The British Film Institute (bfi) have announced a Website, screenonline, that provides access to a selection of their extensive archive of film and television footage. Each item is categorised and cross referenced, presenting an impressive extensive depth of information; including synopsis, cast listing, biographies, photographs; such as production stills and scripts.

The bfi have secured licensing for many video and audio clips from the productions, which will be accessible to every UK school, further education college and public library.

The bfi will continue to expand the material as it becomes available and as rights for clips are cleared.

screenonline site

3 Launch Cartoon Service

Three UK, the 3G mobile phone operator, has launched a cartoon messaging service today, a first in Europe.

US-based company FunMail will provide licenced cartoons such as Dilbert, South Park, Garfield and Peanuts. There are two parts to the FunMail Toons offering; enhanced messaging, aimed at Three customers who want to message friends, effectively with SMS on steroids; and Dilbert cartoons, delivered direct to handsets, selected from the best available.

The animated cartoons will be delivered using MMS and will arrive complete with music and sound. Given the flat colours and simple line drawing used, cartoons are easy to compress, ensuring they will be quick to download, while retaining their original look.

3 UK


Thomson Announce Portable Multimedia Player

Giant media group, Thomson, has announced the launch of a portable multimedia player that has 20Gb of hard drive storage and a built in colour screen which plays videos, show photographs and plays music. Sold in two guises, Europe (THOMSON LYRA Audio/Video Jukebox PDP 2860 – €749, ~£520) and USA (RCA RD2780 – $499.99), it will play back both MPEG-1 & MPEG-4 video and mp3, Windows Media Audio. It can also be upgraded to mp3PRO.

Depending on the compression used, Thomson claim the unit can hold up to eighty hours of video, which can either be played on its own screen  (3.5-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) LCD ) or displayed on a television set using analog composite leads. Alternatively the unit can either be used as portable computer storage, store up to 5,000 music tracks or 100,000 JPEG images. Images can be organized into slideshows to accompany the playback of music.

The content can either loaded via a computer (PC or Mac), using a USB 2.0 connection, or the unit can either record video; using it built in MPEG-4 encoder, and audio directly. When the unit encodes video content, forty hours of content can be stored.

Battery life is reported to last up to twelve hours when playing music but only four when playing back video.

The unit is pretty compact (5.31″ x 3.15″ x 1.06″, 13.5cm x 8.00cm x 2.70cm) and light (10.5 ounces, under 300g) and we suspect will seduce many enough to add it to their xmas list.

RCA RD2780

Apple QuickTime DRM Cracked

Apple iTunes Music Store (iTMS) has been a huge success, with over seventeen million tracks having been sold to date. When music is paid for and downloaded it is stored in a Digital Rights Management (DRM) protected format, AAC.

Jon Johansen, a Norwegian programmer, has written program, QTFairUse, which enables Windows users to save purchased music files without the DRM. It works by taking a copy of the raw data that QuickTime temporarily saves to disk, after it has removed the DRM, before it plays the music track. QTFairUse only grabs the raw AAC file, many further steps and programs must be used to make it playable. Currently this process is beyond highly technical users, and well near impossible for general computer users.

A number of publications have reported that iTMS has been cracked. It is important to note that this is incorrect; it is in fact a weakness in the Windows version of QuickTime that has been exploited. It is assumed that Apple would be able to close this gap.

Johansen came to the worlds attention when he distributed a program called DeCSS, that circumvented the copy protection scheme on DVD, so he could play DVD’s on his Linux machine, that did not at that time have software to play DVD’s.


VoIP Provider, Vonage, Raises $35m

Voice over IP (VoIP) has been discussed for a long time, but has now reached a point where the quality of voice calls rival traditional phone networks. By converting the spoken voice in to data packets and transferring them over an IP network, phone calls to anywhere in the world can be made at a near-zero cost. A number of companies have packaged the equipment and infrastructure required in to easy to use and understand monthly-charge bundles. One of the highest profile is Vonage Inc, based in Edison, New Jersey, USA.

Today they announced that they had raised $35m in Series B Venture Capital funding, raising the total amount they have raised to $65.3m. This round was lead by New Enterprise Associates (NEA).

They currently have 70,000 lines in service and say they are adding 10,000 extra a month and plan to use the newly raised money to expanding their service, increase their marketing. Chief financial officer John Rego said he expects the company to become profitable by mid-2004.

Traditional telco’s will have a major problem with revenue, particularly on high margin International calls, if VoIP becomes the norm, as they will only be able to gain revenue by supplying the broadband connection that VoIP requires to function. Mobile phone operator income could also be threatened if VoIP phones, like Vocera that we reported on in October 2002, that work on wireless (WiFi) networks become widespread.

While bundling companies like Vonage currently make VoIP easy to adopt, their income is not guaranteed either. It is possible to connect directly to another VoIP user and other organisations such as Free World Dialup (FWD) provide interconnection services free of charge. Interestingly FWD has 75,000 users, exceeding the 70,000 that Vonage currently has.


New Enterprise Associates (NEA)

Free World Dialup

TiVo Losses Narrow

TiVo have announced they have over one million subscribers after adding 209,000 subscriptions in the last quarter. 59,000 of these were purchases of TiVo equipment; the other three quarters were through their partnership with DirecTV.

Looking forward, they have altered their projection upwards to 1.37m subscribers by the end of year and expect to add over one million more subscriptions in the next fiscal year.

TiVo are still operating at a loss of $7.4 million, or 11 cents per share, on $22.7 million in services and technology sales. Despite beating the analysts expectation of a loss of 16 cents per share on sales of $17.7 million, TiVo stock dropped 12% on Friday.

As Rupert Murdoch prepares to take over DirecTV, there are concerns about TiVo’s supplier relationship with them as Murdoch has a strong business relationship with NDS who also provide Digital Video Recorders. Investors felt some comfort back in October when DirecTV Chairman and CEO Eddy Hartenstein joined TiVo’s board of directors and a promotional partnership with Fox was signed.

Detailed TiVo results [PDF]


First European “Over the Air” Music Download Service Launched

mm02, UK cellular provider, have launched the first European “over the air” music download service.

To use the service, prospective customers must buy a separate music player, the “O2 Digital Music Player” (O2 DMP), which connects to the online service through their mobile phone, either via an Infra-red port or a short cable. Once connected via GPRS, they are able to browse the selection of music, preview tracks and then purchase them. Previews are not charged for and take around 20 seconds to start to play, but when a track is bought, it is downloaded to the device, which takes around 3.5 minutes, the customer will be charged £1.50 (~$2.55, ~€2.15). While it does not look like good value when compared with what is the current industry standard of 99c, mm02’s Kent Thexton claimed the price “fantastic value for money, for less than the cost of most ring-tones customers can purchase and own an entire chart track”.

Siemens designed the DMP on behalf of mm02 and will also run the DRM-protected content aggregation and platform hosting.

The music is encoded using a CODEC called aacPlus, a combination of MPEG AAC and Coding Technologies’ SBR (Spectral Band Replication) technology developed by the German company, Coding Technologies. They claim the compression can reduce the size of audio files by up to half. Given the limited bandwidth available on cellular networks, it is important that the files are as small as possible.

A wide range of handsets are compatible with the service, meaning that at launch, more than 1.2 million O2 customers can access this service.

The music content is being supplied by BMG, Universal, AIM and Warner Music and it is hoped that up to 100,000 tracks will become available.

Once downloaded, the music is stored on a 64MB SD Memory Card that slots into the device. Tracks can be played back on the O2 DMP or transferred to a PC using the Memory Card but will remain locked with their DRM. The DMP can also play back MP3’s

mm02 are hoping for a good take up as in a previous trial of 300 UK and German customers, an average of five tracks per user per week were downloaded.


Coding Technologies – aacPlus

ATI Announce Home Video Server Software

Graphics card and chip maker, ATI have announced they will be releasing  new software, called Easyshare. It enables live TV and video recordings made on a PC equipped with an All-in-Wonder video card, to be distributed around a home network to any other PC that is equipped with ATI Radeon graphics card. The viewing PC will offer full DVR (Digital Video Recorder) functionality. The software will be available for free download from December 2003.

This move makes a lot of sense. We have long held the view that the mid to high end of the market will move to a setup with a media server located outside the lounge, say in the loft or cellar, and local playback units, be they near-silent running PC or, Digital Media Adaptor (DMA). Keeping the media servers in the lounge will not be practical for most people due to their noise and size. They will require considerable cooling, due to the large amount of processing power needed to compress the video; and fairly physically large, as they may need a number of tuner cards and hard drives in them to store content.

What will be important is the quality of the user interface and the ease of handling the library of content. We wait to see the software to see it ATI have conquered this.


BT Claim a Broadband UK Possible by 2005

BT announced yesterday that the UK could have 100% broadband coverage by 2005, “if industry and government pull together”.

At the same time, they announced the introduction of Trigger Levels for all telephone exchanges in the UK, bar six hundred of them. Trigger Levels are set by BT and are the number of people that they feel make it economic for them to equip the exchange for ADSL, will vary between 100 and 500 customers. They excluded six hundred exchanges that have fewer than three hundred customers each, including ten of them having fewer then ten customers. BT hopes that regional development agencies and local groups will help fund broadband in the excluded areas.

Earlier this month BT presented evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee, where they stated that broadband access in the UK is split 50/50 between ADSL and cable access. BT sell ADSL in two ways in the UK; retailing direct to customers and wholesale via 150 service providers, again split about 50/50. 25% of the retail market is well below BT original stated ambitions, but they presented this as positive items to the committee, in their own words “the highly competitive nature of the UK market is demonstrated by the fact that BT has the lowest share of the retail broadband market of any ex-incumbent.” The reality is, the total number of ADSL connections that they supply via retail and wholesale, equated to nearly all of the ADSL market and half of the UK broadband market.

In an effort to increase their share of the retail market, which has a higher margin that whole, they have announced that Gavin Patterson, previously Managing Director of Telewest’s consumer division, will be joining BT. He will not only look after retail ADSL, but is charged with “defending the company’s fixed-line business in an increasingly competitive marketplace”, quite a challenge when knowledge of Voice over IP (VoIP) and the cost savings it brings is just start to reach the consumer.

There are many advantages for BT if the number of broadband connections hits a critical mass. Clearly they would gain significant income from the wholesale and retail sides, but not least, that they would be able to offer content and services over these connections, including their long rumoured TV service.

Trade & Industry Select Committee: ORAL EVIDENCE SESSION on: The Development of Broadband in the UK

Xbox Games Respond to Spoken Commands

Two new Xbox games have been released that allow players to control some of the gameplay simply by speaking instructions.

Xbox Live players have been able to talk to each other during game play since the service was launched 18 months ago, but this is the first time Xbox players have been able to control the games functions.

Rainbow Six 3 and SWAT: Global Strike Team are by different games developers but both make use of the voice recognition features that are built into the Xbox developers kit (XDK), making these features available to any games developer. Voice recognition specialist, Fonix, is the supplier of the technology behind it.

Reviews of the games have spoken about how it initially feels strange giving commands to your TV, but when they get past this short-lived barrier found the game play significantly enhanced. It just feel like an natural extension and is particularly useful in games needing control of remote squad of people.

While it is not the first time voice recognitions has been used in video game play, the verdict is generally that this is the best implementation seen to date.

Recently there has been an expansion in the ways to interact with computer consoles. Sony EyeToy, which has been available in the UK for a number of months but that has just been released in the US, being the most notable by introduces players to new ways of interfacing to a game. By placing a camera on top of the TV and plugging it into the PlayStation, the player is able to move their arms, head and other parts of their body, controlling the computer-generated objects in the EyeToy games on the screen. EyeToy is a current favourite at the Digital Lifestyles office and we can see significant expansion in the use of this specific device, in areas such as keep fit training.

Both the voice recognition and the EyeToy are just steps away from the long-standard console interface, the games controller. We feel it is inevitable that additional ways of getting your computer or console to understand what you want or need will become normal, particularly within the home where keyboards and mice are both restrictive and clumsy object to have sitting around waiting to be used.


Sony EyeToy

Buy Sony EyeToy – Amazon US|UK

Buy Xbox Rainbow Six 3 – Amazon US|UK

Buy Xbox SWAT: Global Strike Team – Amazon US|UK