Coming soon – one click from SpiralFrog to iPod?

Today SpiralFrog announced a free subscription-based music service. Subscribers will be able to download music to their music playing devices, but will need to listen to advertising presented on the SpiralFrog site periodically, to keep the music authorized. It sounds like the downloaded music would be WMA files, using Microsoft Windows Media DRM.

A couple of days ago, Engadget pointed at FairUse4WM, a Windows Media DRM 10 and 11 removal utility with a user friendly interface.

This FT article says that iPod+iTunes has the largest market share for legally authorized music at 80%. At the same time, it notes the growing number of non-iPod MP3 and other music players coming to market. I suspect it won’t be long before there’s a one-click utility to remove the Windows Media DRM, transcode the WMA file to MP3, and import them into iTunes so subscribers can listen on their iPod or whatever device. It probably won’t be from SpiralFrog, though.

The upcoming Zune music / video players from Microsoft are likely to have similar issues, whatever their online media network turns out to be.

I think it’s great that the music publishers are trying different business models, in this case advertising. On the other hand, I find I use services like Pandora for casual listening and finding new music, then buy the actual CDs of music I want rather than purchasing from iTunes, just so I have a clean, portable DRM-free audio file that can be shipped around the house and across whatever device happens to be convenient. I’d rather just buy clean, portable bits, without needing the physical CD. Where’s the service for that? (Other than allofmp3.com).

More on SpiralFrog from BoingBoing, TechCrunch

Update Tuesday 08-29-2006 21:16 PDT – I see that Microsoft is working on patching WinDRM to block FairUse4WM. (Good luck with that.) And on the iPod front, it looks like jHymn has been getting updates so it can work with iTunes 6 to remove the FairPlay DRM, making those files portable to non-iPod devices.

Consumables and the decline of recording studios

Today’s Wall Street Journal (January 24, 2006) has a short profile of Paul Motian, an outstanding jazz drummer who was part of the Bill Evans Trio in the early 1960s. (If you haven’t heard of Bill Evans and have any interest in jazz piano, I highly recommend checking out their recordings).

What caught my attention, however, was this comment from Paul Motian on the decline of the recording studio business:

“A lot of recording studios are closing because people don’t use tape anymore, and that’s where the recording studios make their money. Everyone comes in with their hard drive, puts it on their computers.”

I still have a bunch of 1-inch 16-track master tapes somewhere out in the garage and remember spending a relative fortune on studio time and services, back in the 80s, probably the waning days of multitracking and overdubbing by hand on a mixing board. The Cars were wildly successful at the time and had opened a state-of-the-art studio at Synchro Sound, which was starting to use digital recording systems, but which far exceeded our band’s budget.

There’s still no substitute for good microphones, but these days digital mastering to hard disk is a big win over tape.

I’d never thought about the recording tape as being a critical profit driver for a recording studio, but in retrospect it makes some sense. When the only copy of your work is on a little strip of magnetic film shuttling back and forth on open reels, who’s going to buy cheap tape?

To unplug the cable, or not to unplug the cable, that is the question

no-cable-tv
Comcast just announced that they’re raising their monthly fee by around 7% starting in January:

The package price will rise by an average of $3.13 per month, or about $44.80 to $47.93. Prices vary depending on the community.

I already pay $49.61 per month (with tax) here in Palo Alto, so the new rate will be around $53 per month. The old rate seems too high for what little we watch in our household, and the new rate is worse.

“Comcast’s Bay Area market prices reflect increasing operating expenses,” said spokesman Andrew Johnson, “as well as investments that Comcast is making to improve the value of the service.” He cited improvements in customer service as well as more programming choices that have come through advances in technology and partnerships with new programming providers.

We haven’t noticed any service improvements, and had already been thinking about getting rid of the subscription. Last month our cable service went out for most of a week, and it didn’t really change our daily routine at all. Over the long weekend I also made some good progress on moving our DVDs and VHS videos onto the house server, so I had pretty much decided to reallocate something less than $600 per year to purchasing / buying video content and unplug the cable after December.

Another way to think of it is that for the same price, I can subscribe to Netflix, and also purchase 2 or 3 DVDs a month, and still end up ahead.

One sticking point is likely to be Emily’s cartoons on the weekends. Another is that nobody else in our household can get videos to play over the network reliably, which puts a big dent in the convenience factor.

In the meantime, the channel unbundling discussion seems to have come back to life at the FCC, although the a la carte services would probably be even more expensive.

Pandora is now free

I spent a lot of time digging up new music a couple of months ago during the pre-launch period beta tests of the Pandora music service. I put together a list of interesting music that I found, and ended up purchasing a number of new albums, and put off signing up for their paid subscription service until I finished working through the new music. I thought the fee was OK ($12/quarter or $36/year) but I simply had too much other stuff to listen to, so it would have been wasted money until the backlog cleared a bit (all the CDs I found from listening to Pandora in the first place).

Given my experience (liked the service, liked the music, put off signing up temporarily when the fees started), and the opportunity for affiliate referral fees from Amazon and others, this move to a ad- and affiliate-supported service could end up generating more revenue in the end.

In addition to many new features (bookmarking, station editing, playlist improvements, etc.), Pandora v2.0 includes a free, ad-supported version. Listeners have the choice to subscribe and stay clear of ads, or use the free service, which will gradually incorporate advertising. What does this mean for you? You can now come back and listen to Pandora as much as you’d like for free–and all the stations you’ve created remain intact.

At a referral fee of 6% of sales, it would take around $50 of CD sales to directly replace the old subscription fee. However, many more users who would turn away if even a small payment were required might try using a free service. And Pandora is the sort of service that creates demand for new music that those “free” users might be happy to purchase from Amazon (or iTunes). I don’t know what their conversion rates look like, but if they look anything like my behavior, Pandora is far better off working on bringing in more music-loving users than trying to collect subscription fees.

See also:

Star Wreck – In the Pirkinning

The cable guy actually did turn up last week, so we still have cable TV. In the meantime, there are many interesting, non-mass-media video projects online.
In The Pirkinning
A few days ago I got around to fixing Azureus on the house server so I could download Star Wreck – In the Pirkinning using BitTorrent. This is a Finnish-made take-off on Star Trek and Babylon 5, created by a group of motivated fans over a period of seven(!) years. (Wikipedia entry)

Digital video tools became drastically cheaper and better during the project, and the quality of the composited sets and special effects is impressive.

The movie is available (with English subtitles, too) free, under a Creative Common license.

See also: Rocketboom

iTunes video and the cable guy

no-cable-tv
The cable TV service at our house went out a few days ago. It’s hard to pin down exactly when, since we are atypical media consumers and often go for days at a time without television. The service tech missed his repair appointment window yesterday, so it’s going to be another day or two without network television. From time to time I consider dropping the cable service altogether. I never feel like I’m getting a good value, and some combination of DVDs and internet services seem like it will be a better fit “real soon now”.

On most school days, the television doesn’t go on at all, except if one of us is on the treadmill at home and happens to turn on the news. We don’t even use TiVo, although I occasionally try experiments with the home-built PVR du jour while wearing my “media technologist” hat.

The standard (analog) cable package from Comcast is around $50 per month. For us, this is probably 5 hours / week of cartoons, plus another 5 hours / week of mostly news programs. So, rounding up, call it around 50 hours per month of content. We don’t subscribe to any premium channels, and we generally don’t watch ESPN. My wife watches Korean dramas from time to time, but these are all on DVD or by video streaming (from Korea!). I could live without the cable news, since it’s usually just CNBC with the sound off.

This works out to around $1 per hour of cable programming, or $600 per year for mostly cartoons and CNBC.

I’m not too interested in watching video on an iPod, except possibly on an airplane or while travelling. What is interesting, though, is the possibility of getting online video distribution into the mainstream. iTunes has been fairly successful in popularizing legal online music downloads, and they may have more success than others in getting consumers to adopt a paid video download service.

$1.99 per commercial-free hour seems too high, though. I’m also not fond of the iTunes DRM system, having a household full of networked computers which come and go over time. I find I would rather purchase the CD and rip it to the server than deal with managing the DRM.

If the Comcast guys miss their repair window again, it may be time to try dropping the service altogether. The primary advantage they have at the moment seems to be incumbency, and the fact that it “just works”, except that it doesn’t.

I should probably hook up the antenna feed, though, which might give me an excuse to check out the local broadcast HDTV signal.

iTunes has video podcasting support

I wrote earlier today about my reluctant late-adopter status for audio podcasting, and now I come across an article about Apple quietly introducing video content to iTunes Music Store.

The quiet, fanfare-less launch of video podcasting (in fact, it’s not even clear when it was launched) is a bit surprising for the company, but there may be a reason: there’s not too many video podcasts out there in the wild. Furthermore, video podcasts are currently only playable on your computer, although it seems clear enough that a video iPod is on the way. If you didn’t believe it before, you should definitely believe it now.

I don’t recall if anyone mentioned video on iTunes at last night’s Search SIG discussion. Ev Williams (from Odeo) commented that a lot of what makes audio podcasting compelling doesn’t apply to video, in that audio can be consumed anywhere, and has an existing use model (drive-time radio), while video is typically consumed while sitting down in front of an increasingly large television at home. Eric Rice did show a live demo of video blogging on Audioblog, illustrating the possibility of large scale user-created video content in the future. I’m not sure who’s going to look at all the video, though. Perhaps the same people who are watching reality TV shows.

Once again, I’m well outside the demographic, since I barely watch any television at all these days. If I could get a commercial video podcast service to replace cable TV with, I’d probably subscribe now, though.

Notes from KINCON 2005, biotech thoughts

IMG_1647

Some notes from day one at KINCON 2005 at the Palo Alto Crowne Plaza. Today’s sessions were technology-focused. Although this has traditionally been a Korean IT-related conference, and mostly chips and displays at that, the biotech presentations were the most interesting.

The first session was on wireless technology, mostly aimed at services for mobile phones, such as ringtones and games. Korea is a good place to try launching these services, with 76% wireless penetration rate, and 90% of the handsets capable of running games and multimedia. My observation — it’s hard to do much in this space with the mobile operators trying to extract fees from the customers and 3rd party service providers (in order to pay back their spectrum license fees). At least two of the speakers commented that most of the fee paid by the customer is to cover the billing costs.

The second session was on consumer semiconductors. Everyone in this session is a fabless design house. The Xceive presentation on their fully digital TV tuner chipset is interesting. This is a completely silicon RF-to-baseband system, which apparently doesn’t require any external filters or shielding. They didn’t mention how much their first products were going to cost, but getting everything onto silicon means the cost is likely to trend downwards, rather than staying put as the existing analog tuner cards have. It also means that the physical packaging is much smaller, so it could go in a PDA or phone or be used to add a video input feature to an existing digital device. There are already a number of cheap video player widgets starting to turn up, sort of like video MP3 players, and having a silicon-only solution for RF TV-in is going to enable a lot of interesting combinations.

The third session, on biotech, was the most interesting. Fan Hsu from the UC Santa Cruz Genome project gave a general overview of proteinomics and functional genetics. Lewis Williams from Five Prime spoke about their process for screening thousands of candidate secreted proteins against specific cell functions, vs the old method of testing a single protein at a time. Stuart Kim from Stanford spoke about the need for a systemic view of protein function and the possibility of applying a broader engineering approach to modelling clusters of related gene expression. His project uses Affymetrix GeneChips or something very similar to test aging-related gene expression. I got the impression that it was something like the work being done at Perlegen a few years ago when they were doing their sequencing project, in that they were generating huge quantities of data, without a good method for organizing and modelling the results. Each test chip returns something like 5000 columns x 20,000 rows of results. The last talk was by Christopher Ko at Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, who hopes to take GeneChip-like technology from a research environment down to something more user friendly, perhaps even to the point where an individual could run a test at home, sort of like a home glucose monitor.

I noticed that a lot of people left before the biotech session started, perhaps because the usual audience for this conference was interested in “InfoTech” and not so much “Bio”. My observation here — the genomic and proteinomic fields are just reaching the point recently where the information technology and systems engineering can become really useful. Another observation, though — pharma and health care product development are massively capital intensive and yet have very high risk per investment. The size of individual investments makes it difficult to place a lot of bets and plan on the portfolio paying off. On the other hand, it looks like there should be many opportunities to make a contribution toward advancing the state of the art, since the availability of data and computational tools is relatively new.

This evening I saw the announcement for Maxtor’s latest generation of desktop hard disk drives, which will be 500GB per 3.5″ unit; similar units from Seagate and Hitachi are expected in a similar time frame. The entire human genome database apparently requires something like 3GB, and the annotations from various research projects bring the total up to 8-9GB at the moment. So the current and future generations of desktop (and notebook) computers will have more than enough raw storage to handle the data sets. Doing something useful with the data is another problem altogether, but the size of the genetic/proteinomic database is relatively finite — it isn’t going to get exponentially bigger — and the computational resources continue to get exponentially larger/cheaper/faster. Something good has got to pop out of this somewhere…

See also: Korea’s plans for Ubicomp City, Korea becomes the largest foreign investor in India

Yahoo Video Search Goes Primetime

Lots of action on the video search front lately. This post on the Yahoo Search Blog announces the official launch of Yahoo Video Search.

So what’s changed in 1.0? We’ve partnered up with some major content publishers to fortify our content offering, including MTV, Buena Vista (including the latest clips and trailers for The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), CBS News, Bloomberg (check out the latest news on the Federal Reserve), Reuters, The Discovery Channel, Scripps Networks (the good people who produce Home & Garden TV and The Food Network), VH1, and more.

However, great video search isn’t just about content from large publishers, it’s also about the long tail content from smaller publishers and individuals as well. To that end, we’re indexing the Internet Archive’s Moving Image Archive. One of the great things about the Moving Image Archive is that it encompasses a wide range of content — everything from the Prelinger Archives (a collection of over 48,000 “ephemeral films” from 1927 through 1987), to user-created Open Source Movies hosted by the Internet Archive, and other collections of video. (One of my favorites is the animated legos from Brick Films. Don’t miss seeing their version of Grand Theft Auto done entirely in Lego).

Practical IPv6 for the Home via Linksys WRTG54

via Joi Ito’s Web:

David Beckemeyer writes about an R&D activity at Earthlink which has implemented dual IPv4 / IPv6 access on modified firmware for a Linksys WRT54G wireless home gateway router.

The Linksys WRT54G is inexpensive, widely used, and is similar to many other home gateways providing NAT routing and wireless access. (It’s also popular as a platform hacking wireless router code, as it runs Linux internally). After loading the modified firmware, the router still provides IPv4 NAT functionality, but in addition provides a publicly routable /64 IPv6 network, and can directly route to other public IPv6 networks via the experimental Earthlink IPv6 routing service. You do not need to be an Earthlink customer to use the free service.

In general, IPv6 hasn’t been compelling to home users since it’s been obscure, expensive, and didn’t do anything useful for them. Even if one had a computer running IPv6 software, most home users are behind a NAT router. So providing a migration path via the low cost home routers could be a great enabler for actually starting to use IPv6 end-to-end network applications, and could help solve many of the NAT- and QoS-related problems observed in VoIP and video applications.

Here’s how it works: Simply get an account at http://www.research.earthlink.net/ipv6/accounts.html to get your own personal block of 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 IPv6 addresses; install the firmware onto your standard Linksys WRT54G router, and blamo, you have IPv6. With this special code installed on your Linksys router, your IPv4 works as normal; you’ll still have your NAT IPv4 LAN. But in addition to that, any IPv6 capable machine on the LAN will get a real, honest to goodness, routable IPv6 address too. It couldn’t be easier. This works for Mac OS X, Linux/UNIX, as well as Windows XP. You don’t have to do anything special on the machines on the LAN. They just work, as they say.

David adds in a comment on Joi Ito’s post:

We’re not really promising anything with this sandbox (see disclaimers). That said, we don’t expect to have to take these addresses back any time soon. If anything, the main factor that could cause us to have to shut down the testbed would be if the network load or other real costs assocuted with the IPv6 testbed hits the radar of the bean counters.

I’ll have to dig up a WRT54G and give it a try.

More searchable video at Google, Blinkx

Google Video has added indexes today for keyword searches on a number of commercial sources, mostly news. (via Battelle, SearchEngineWatch)

The search results page returns thumbnails and sometimes transcripts of the content, probably from the closed captioning. Sources so far include CNN, Fox, C-Span, NBC, ABC, PBS, Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, and a few others. The video returned in the search results isn’t actually available for viewing or downloading.

SearchEngineWatch also notes:

It’s worth mentioning that Blinkx.TV provides searchable access to content from some of the same sources including the Discovery Channel, Fox News, and CNN. Blinkx.TV also provides the option to limit by source and VIEW the full motion video on your computer.

Can’t tell whether the user uploaded video is indexed at all yet. Only got commercial content in a few quick queries, no video blogs (like Rocketboom) or video content that’s already out there via BitTorrent trackers.

Rocketboom!


Lately I’ve been looking forward to watching the daily Rocketboom video blog, and have struggled to explain both Rocketboom and video blogging in general to non-blog-reading, TV-watching folks, i.e. most normal people. So until I get around to writing a longer introduction to video (and regular) blogging for my non-blogging / non-blog-reading friends, just go check it out .

Rocketboom features Amanda Congdon reading headlines and incorporating other video blog postings on the internet in a news-style format. It’s a little like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show with a bit of Jane Curtin’s old SNL Weekend Update thrown in, mixing up random video clips.

I enjoyed this clip posted earlier this week, which features David Letterman-style page tossing at the end of each article, David Lynch’s (of Eraserhead, Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet etc) daily weather report from L.A., and a vintage black-and-white television ad for Wham-O frisbees.

Rocketboom looks like it’s sort of a group project at Parsons School of Design in New York, produced by Andrew Baron, who teaches there, so it’s not exactly one person, a camcorder, and a home computer on the internet. But it has relatively good production value and is quite entertaining, for very little investment on their part.

The State of Video Search

Been thinking a bit lately about dealing with video, converged media, and search, came across a couple of interesting pieces on video search and digital content in general, first one on John Batelle’s SearchBlog, which in turn references a longer article by Mark Glaser at the Annenberg Online Journalism Review.

Ourmedia, SingingFish, and Brightcove are profiled briefly, along with Google Video Upload, Yahoo Video, and Open Media Network.

From the Glaser article:

Howe estimates there could be 300 million video streams online, but Singingfish has still only scratched the surface with just under 20 million streams indexed. Singingfish also crawls adult content — literally anything that’s legal — and includes a “Family Filter” with pretty conservative rules for what partner sites or individuals can filter out (including sex education material).

Finally, Howe believes that there’s been a sea change at media companies when it comes to embracing video search. “There’s been a general recognition that they’re going to have to digitize their content, and if they’re going to digitize it, then they’re going to have to monetize it,” she said. “I think people have sort of gotten over themselves. They used to assume that people would just go to such-and-such site to find this wonderful content. Well, no, because people have so many options.”

Some related thoughts:

The metadata problem:
It’s going to be difficult to make Google-style searches for video work without lots of Flickr- or Technorati-style tagging and other metadata sources. This can work for communities of motivated individuals sharing an interest in a topic or body of work, or for a successful commercial movie or television program. But for hours upon hours of uncut home videos from DV camcorders or the more recent digicams, even the owner probably won’t have the time or interest to tag the content enough to make it usefully searchable for most applications. Another problem — people generally have to see the video content to apply tagging or other metadata — and it’s just hard to get the data there…

The distribution problem:
Today’s internet isn’t well suited to moving large data files to and from end user sites (i.e. homes and most businesses). Relatively popular content can make use of peer-to-peer technology like BitTorrent to recruit end users to redistribute the original content and spreading out the bandwidth demand to other parts of the internet, but this only works if clients participate and if the content is popular enough to develop a network of clients with cached copies. Kontiki appears to be building a different peer-to-peer content distribution system.

Commercial sites sometimes use content delivery networks such as Akamai / Speedera (currently in the process of merging) to move copies of media data such as video, audio, imagery, or multimedia (usually Flash or Java) closer to the expected network clients. The underlying source of the infrastructure funding is often the online advertising dollars spent in marketing campaigns by movie, television, music, automobile, and lifestyle products. This doesn’t mesh well with a grassroots model.

If grassroots video is to become widely used, it needs to become accessible. On a good day, the DSL line to my home manages 1.5mbps down and 384kbps up. If I want to share a few minute digital video clip from the DV camera, it could easily be hundreds of megabytes, requiring more than an hour to upload to either a peer-to-peer network or a content server. I could also recode the video to make it smaller, which is a common practice for video publishers today, but this requires knowledge, tools, and time.

Community tagging and metadata for video?:
Sites like Flickr allow a community of interest to build around tags representing common interests, and also allow a vocabulary of tags to evolve, along with a social network of people who find each others’ photos interesting. However, this presumes that people can actually see the content they’re tagging, which may be difficult for a while in the case of video. I’m assuming that Google Video Upload (and others) will probably do some basic tasks such as segmenting on scene changes, timecode breaks, and perhaps simple scene analysis. But without anything else to work with, search engines aren’t going to help much.

Enough for now…

Comparison Review of TV Tuner cards

This recent article at AnandTech compares several current PCI TV tuner cards, including

  • ATI’s eHome Wonder
  • ATI’s TV Wonder Elite
  • AverMedia M150
  • eMuzed Maui-II PCI PVR
  • Hauppauge WinTV PVR-250
  • NVIDIA’s dual tuner NVTV

The Hauppauge PVR-250 and the ATI TV Wonder Elite are relatively expensive but have visibly better performance in the various tests on the cards. These are all standard video input, so the image quality is also limited by the signal feed from the cable company.

I’ve been quite pleased with the Hauppauge PVR-350 I’ve been working with recently, which incorporates the same tuner and video encoder as the PVR-250. I’d be interested in seeing a comparison with the more recent PVR-150 at some point. I selected the Hauppauge over some of the alternatives on the basis of both video quality and the availability of software, since some of the other tuner hardware is essentially Windows-only. In contrast the Hauppauge hardware has extensive support under Linux, in projects like MythTV, FreeVo, MediaPortal, etc.

OMN Open Media Network – storage infrastructure

Perhaps another alternative to Google Video upload, or is this more like the photo hosting sites? I’d like to find a way to get my personal media data closer to the internet backbone, so it’s not strangled by the slow pipe into the house, but I also don’t want all of it publicly indexed and accessible. With the photo hosting sites, they’re mostly either affiliated with a photofinisher, and are looking for print and merchandise revenue, or they’re selling to space to people who just need image storage and bandwidth.

From John Battelle’s Searchblog

Mike Homer, of Netscape and now Kontiki, and Marc Andreessen, of Netscape and now Opsware, have launched the Open Media Network, a free platform for the storage and distribution of public video and audio content. I spoke to Homer about the new network, which uses Kontiki’s video serving system on the back end. The system is a mashup of sorts between Tivo and BitTorrent – it has a well considered interface and employes a secure P2P network for file distribution (it doesn’t actually use Tivo or BitTorrent technology).

Google Maps on TiVo HME

More fun with Google Maps and TiVo.

Hacking the Tivo – HME developer contest

Haven’t been looked much lately at developing directly on TiVo hardware vs trying ideas out on MythTV-style PVR platforms while experimenting with video, media servers, and TV-centric information appliances. A while back it looked like you could hack things into the TiVo, but it seemed that the main advantage of the TiVo was that it worked out of the box and it was relatively cheap compared to building your own, i.e. it was an actual product, not a development platform. Building a system from parts, i.e. MythTV on Linux or Windows Media PC, isn’t an end-user-friendly activity, but can give you Unix-like flexibility where everything is possible, but you may need to do it all yourself.

Saw an article about TiVo’s latest plug for developing applications on the TiVo, I should go take another look.

TiVo’s HME Developer Challenge is part of that effort. Consumers with broadband-connected TiVo recorders are still a small number–about 300,000–and so far only about 60 applications are available on the Internet. The deadline for contest submissions is May 1, and the winners will be announced at the JavaOne conference in late June.

“There’s a lot of interest around hacking TiVo boxes…this was a way to help people see TiVo as a platform,” said Arthur van Hoff, former principal engineer at TiVo responsible for the HME project. Van Hoff has even created a program allowing him to control his home-lighting system from his TiVo.

Airplane Video-on-Demand via wireless?

Link to News.com article here

I was just trying out the performance of different video encodings over WLAN yesterday, and had been thinking about scenarios where something like this might make sense, given that people are starting to carry around more powerful client devices.

Singapore Airlines already runs a great video- and audi0-on-demand service on their flights, but it requires essentially a full PC under every seat. Moving to a bring-your-own client entertainment format might not make sense for SQ, but would be a huge improvement for me on United or any other US-flag airline.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to clog up the shared bandwidth with high quality video, and you can’t really solve an “on-demand” bandwidth problem using multicast. I’m not even sure they could count on using 802.11g or a to get the higher bandwidth, as there aren’t that many 802.11a clients around, and a mixed 802.11b/g network won’t give you the performance unless you keep out the 802.11b clients. Going the other way, I don’t think people would be terribly happy with 150-300kbps “broadband internet” quality video streams on an airline flight, but I could be wrong.

Actually, I’d be pretty happy if United would just get power deployed to all the seats so I could run my own gear without needing a ton of batteries to get across the Pacific.

An airline entertainment company is working with Microsoft to provide videos to passengers’ laptops, according to a blog posted by a Microsoft employee.

In the blog, the Microsoft employee said that the unnamed airline entertainment company had recently spent two weeks testing whether it could use a set up a WiFi wireless network “inside the fuselage of a commercial aircraft while airborne.”

I’d like to read more about what they actually tried. The news.com article doesn’t link to the source, and it didn’t turn up in a quick search either.

MP3 encoding sounds terrible!

I rarely sit down and just listen to my music collection these days. Most of the time, any music I hear is on the radio, computer or CD player while driving, or working, or generally doing something else. My largest weekly block of music listening time is using an MP3 player during treadmill workouts.

So, it was interesting yesterday evening when I started noticing how bad MP3 encoded tracks sound compared with the original CDs.

I’m old enough to have actually purchased physical media (first vinyl, then CD) for nearly all the music I presently own. However, I have rarely gone back and played the actual CDs I’ve purchased for several years, as the first step after removing the wrapper is to encode them and put the bits on the file server. When my daughter was a little younger, duplicate CDs were being replaced weekly after being stepped on, spilled on, turned into art projects, and other mishaps. Other sets have been left behind on airplanes, rental cars, etc. Having everything on the server has allowed us to enjoy the music without worrying about physically destroying or losing the original.

Back when I started doing this several years ago, I remember trying a comparison of original CDs vs 128kbps MP3 and deciding that the encoded recordings would be good enough for general use, more or less replacing cassette tape. 192kbps and 256kbps encoding seemed extravagant — disk storage was much more expensive then, I was planning to encode all of my CDs, and the modest degradation in quality didn’t seem too bad.

I may have to revisit this, now that hard drive capacity has gone up, costs have gone down, and for some reason the “audio haze” added by the MP3 encoding has suddenly become more noticeable to me.

My old turntable and albums have been in storage for years, since our daughter was born. It might be time to set them up and give her a demonstration of what vintage vinyl sounds like. I think I might still have the old Mobile Fidelity pressing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon somewhere…

Thoughts on Google Video Upload (Beta) Launch

Lots of interesting Google topics recently. Yesterday, Google launched Video Upload, inviting uploaded video to be indexed on Google in the future.

This is fundamentally different from Google Search as it exists today, in that

  • Content needs to be explicitly uploaded to Google vs being spidered automatically
  • All indexed content has a claimed owner (need a Gmail account to upload)
  • Licensing information is built into the search metadata at Google rather than at the source

It’s unclear to me whether Google becomes the primary content server or if only metadata is served to video search clients, leaving the actual content delivery to the owner. Although Google currently makes a cached copy of web content, today’s searches are normally directed to the source URL rather than being served from the Google cache. Turning the Google infrastructure into a global media server seems like a plausible direction to consider, though.

This also seems to lay the groundwork for something like an Apple iTunes Store for video and other media, with content from both individuals and commercial organizations.

More details on the Google Video Upload FAQ

What is Google Video?

Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Currently, Google Video lets you search a growing archive of televised content — everything from sports events to dinosaur documentaries to news programs. In addition to televised content, we’re now accepting video from anyone who wants to upload content to us. Uploaded content will not be immediately available to users searching Google Video as this is just the submission stage of the program. But (if you’ll pardon the pun) stay tuned.

What is the Google Video upload program?

The upload program lets you submit videos electronically to Google Video, as long as you own the necessary rights (including copyrights, trademarks, rights of publicity, and any other relevant rights for your content). Just sign up for an account and use our upload tool to send your videos to Google. The program is still in beta so you won’t see your videos live on Google Video immediately.

To make sure that your video is submitted properly, please read below about preferred file formats and our approval process. Videos may not go live if they’re not approved or if we’re unable to accept the format.

Initial thoughts on contributing video:

  • From a commercial point of view, searchable video would be a great benefit, provided you didn’t lose control of the content.
  • From an individual artist’s point of view, this would be a huge win, since there are so few distribution mechanisms for short films and multimedia projects.
  • From a casual user’s (family videos) point of view, I’m a little unclear. There are clearly people happy to have their entire life published to the world in perpituity, but I suspect this is the minority. For my own photos and videos I’d like to be able to search, but not to have the content accessible to the world at large. So a personal version of this might be useful.

Comments at Slashdot, BoingBoing

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