The personal website of Paul James

Month: July 2008

Tivo & Amazon team up to sell through your TV

I just have to share this with you, from the BBC dot.life blog.

“You gotta hand it to those bods over at TiVo land. First of all they invent a brilliant dvr for recording TV programmes that lets you skip adverts and gives you ultimate viewing power. Well now, they have turned that on its head and have incorporated a feature that lets you buy products you either see on a show or on a commercial all from your couch.”

Original item here

The tickets are booked…

image The tickets are booked for Batman: The Dark Knight. At the IMAX yet. I am beside myself with excitement, Batman being the only super hero franchise which appeals to me. And I have never been to the IMAX. It’s usually documentaries about fish or some such nonsense. Which always makes me feel uneasy anyway as well as boring me to death. So this will be extremely exciting. Three p.m on Sunday. I don’t want to be too excited in the evening at my age.

I like Batman because it is dark and gothic. I don’t much care for the old TV series or movies (Although I love Adam West who is hilarious in Family Guy and Eartha Kitt made a terrific Catwoman) and I have never read what are now so fashionably called graphic novels. However I do love Tim Burton and thank him for resurrecting Batman in such an interesting way in the Eighties. Roll on Sunday…

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The future of TV

image I’ve tried all the main TV platforms in my time, for normal terrestrial, analogue cable TV (I hated it), Sky, Sky Digital, Sky+, Tivo, Virgin Digital TV, Freeview and BT Vision so I have a pretty good understanding of the capabilities of each one and what they imagecan offer.

A couple of months ago, had you asked me what was the best TV Platform, I would have, without hesitation said Sky+, however all that has now changed!

imageSo what changed, well for many years I have known that on Sky with its multitude of channels I watched at most a tiny percentage of what was available, the mainstream channels etc. However as Sky grew, the trash channels grew, and no real value had been added to the line up in my opinion since it launched – Names of Channels may have changed, Film 4 may have become free to air, and listings were moved about – but nothing was really exciting me.

Then the unthinkable happened, the flat that I live in, something happened to the line for the Sky in… I managed the first week, had engineers out, had errors with the management company, and nothing, week two passed, week three passed – by this time, I had switched to a mix of online TV such as the iPlayer, 4OD, other stuff I can find, and Freeview. You know what, I wasn’t missing Sky at all, the shock had worn off, at most I was missing one decent film on the Horror Channel or TCM every week, but what I did find, was that I was finding better television on the Freeview Channels.

So I decided to find a better and cheaper alternative to Sky, and I found it hands down.

For me, the future of TV, will be several live streaming channels, much like your BBC1’s and ITV1’s, companies who invest and produce premium quality television, you then have companies who produce content, such as Kudos who makes Spooks for the BBC, the next piece of the jigsaw would be online content, but streamed to your set top box, this would include content for all partners, I hasten to add I wouldn’t add user generated content, but this would be in keeping, and a YouTube section wouldn’t be out of place, but I don’t like it! Advertising could be properly targeted through your viewing habits, location etc so revenue streams would remain probably increase, and there would not be a need to pay the, currently extortionate prices for content – or at least a massive reduction. For the end user, you would have archives of TV shows, a library of films, radio, live TV, and if they must, user generated content – if you were so inclined you could add live feeds for sites such as Justin.TV and webcams.

imageSo, there I was, stuck without Sky T.V. and this idea of how TV should be. Well then I came across BT Vision (And Virgin Digital TV, but that’s not in use at my main residence) – all my prayers were answers, well almost, I can see them being answered eventually with this system its lacking the live streaming, and I think it could include IPTV in the future.

So what was so good? Well, BT Vision, is effectively, Freeview with View on Demand, but its plugged into my broadband box, and makes good use of it. There are hundreds of shows available at a low cost (£6 for TV shows for example), it has a dual recorder like Sky+, it makes my old Tivo box look as old as it is.

I’m going to write a full post on the BT Vision box, but if your looking for to save money and think your up for breaking free from Sky, then I would highly recommend BT Vision.

Why I didn’t opt for the iPhone

When I tell people, I have got a new phone, I get asked is it the iPhone as people seem to think its the new all spangled mobile phone, and that I would certainly have one. Well I usually disappoint them, and say No.

But Why!

That’s a good question, for me personally, to upgrade to an iPhone would have been £20($40) cheaper so why did I go for a T-Mobile Touch (HTC Nike), with Windows Mobile 6?

Well, I suppose the first reason is that I have had HTC, Windows Mobile based handsets for about the past 9 years now, my second phone was a HTC Windows Smartphone that ran Windows CE from Orange (I’m thinking it was the C500, but that was another handset I had) – that phone still works, its actually still used by a friend of mine to this date (Out of interest, the first phone I got free from work, when I worked at Barclays – I thought it was fabulous, it was the Motorola Startac, which was very Star Treky as you could flip it open like the Star Trek Communicators, and I also tried a Nokia Matrix Phone but that didn’t survive a drop in the bath, and cost me all my contacts).

So I have a long history with the manufacturer, and OS builder, which some might say that is a good enough reason to stick with them, the handsets are usually built well (I tend to return one faulty handset per contract, which tends to be more of a fault caused due to shipping or my initial play with it, as appose to a hardware of software failure), and as I mentioned earlier, all the handsets still work well to this date, infact I still have 3 of them, well 2, a friend has one of them, and I also sold one.

But truth be told, I was ever so slightly torn between the two phones, and I had to seriously think which phone I wanted and I ended up going through the pro’s and cons of an iPhone.

To start with, I went to the iPhone Features Page to see what it had.

Home Screen

The Home Screen… Ok, its nothing special really, it shows a collection of icons, all of which take you to an app on the phone. I get a nice clear clock (your telling me you don’t use your phone a watch?) .

image image

Above shows the iPhone homepage on the left, and the HTC Standard Homepage on the right… Difference is, that the HTC Homepage is fully customisable, with a downloadable homepage creator. I could have a bright bring homescreen, or an homepage based on the iPhone if I wanted. So more customisation, something familiar, I decided this point didn’t go to the iPhone.

Is a phone, actually a feature of a mobile phone? If I was buying a laptop, that had a phone in it, then I would consider it a feature… But not on a phone. I’m bemused that Apple consider a Phone on a phone as a feature.

Oh and incase your wondering, I have similar contact managers, I can shout names at my phone and it start calling people, I can have Incoming Photo Caller ID, I can Video Call……

Good one, the iPhone does have better internal mail management. But I use gMail and Google provide apps for the Windows Smartphone, as do Windows, Yahoo and so on… So you can have a decent mail too, besides which, I prefer the online view for Gmail which is undoubtedly the best mail tool around at the moment, as such to me this feature doesn’t matter.

Another good one, the standard internet explorer on a Windows Smartphone isn’t the best, it serves its purpose though, I can read most webpage’s, including Youtube through it and it works fine. In addition, over the years I have used about 5 alternative browsers from Mozilla, Windows, SkyDrive and so on, and the web can be so much better, and from reviews I have read Skydrive is the best mobile browser at the moment. Its free, and I have it on my Windows Smartphone, so I suppose Windows Smartphone wins this one, although its not using Windows own Browser – but this goes to show how flexible the Windows Smartphone is.

I have a 1gig Memory card in my Windows Smartphone, it acts like a harddrive, and can be used in a pendrive converter and become my true portable office taking my office from the home PC, Mobile, and finally to work.

But! What is interesting, is that I can get a 8gig Memory card, and I am sure the capacity of these cards will grow.

Now back to the feature, Music… OK, I cant fit 8gig of music onto my Windows Smartphone, but I could very easily. I have Windows Media Player, amongst others which let me play any file type, from MP3, to MPEG video, add to that Real Player which lets me stream radio stations, and the Last.fm program for the Smartphone, and I can have anything I want… Much more that the iPhone.

Again, I each to their own, but Windows presents emails in 2 ways, one message one view, or one recipient one view, a little like a chat window. The iPhone offer the chat view, so I would say even scores here.

Got it, in fact I have the same one as used on iPhone.

  • iTunes

We’ve spoken about iPod, I could if I wanted sync my music folder with my phone and do it that way, or I could just visit a site like amazon MP3, or Tesco Music and download music cheaper?

Don’t get me wrong, I may be mistaken on this one but I am not very excited about the App Store. I have for years been able to visit sites and install software to my phone to enhance it.. It seems to me all that’s different is their is probably more cost, its written in a different code, and is called an App, and not a program file?

  • Calendar

Yawn.. Got 2.

Got it, had it way before the iPhone

Got it…

Got, Got and Got.

Got. (Actually, I tell a lie here, I have not got a calculator at the moment, but that is purely because I switched the ROM on my phone, and chose one that didn’t come with a calculator)

Add to that, I have a video camera, and can live stream to the web, turning my phone into a decent webcam as well.

Oh, and add to the above, I have Mobile Office, which lets me open any word document, PowerPoint Presentation, One Note, Email, PDF and so on, which I believe iPhone doesn’t support

Oh, I also have mobile TV…

So just from the feature above, I was not entirely won over, then I remembered, it comes with 3G the uber fast mobile network. Oh, hang on a minute, my handset comes with HSDPA which is faster, and is actually a mobile broadband network, which in turn means that I can plug my phone into the laptop, and have the phone power the internet, so I can browse, while taking calls – Its looking like a very mobile office if that’s the kind of thing you want!

The fact is, I have a pretty tame mobile phone now. When I was younger and more adventurous, I use to pimp my phone to the max, it I wanted a game to play on the train home, I would get what ever game I wanted, software was always easy and usually free to come by, and utilities, you name it, I can get it which in effect meant that my phone could take over as my PC, when my PC was in pieces which happened a lot when I was younger. Finally, to add the cherry to the cake, I can remotely take control of my PC, from my phone (Its very handy as a remote control for you PC) so I could be laying on the beach, while controlling what my PC was downloading.

So back to the purpose of the post, when it came down to it for me, the iPhone was offering nothing new, in fact I would have lost features, and much like the Blackberry, the iPhone didn’t cut it for me.

And before anyone asks if I even tried an iPhone… The answer is yes, and I got to play with one before it came out in the UK, as a friend works for o2, and was testing it, so I got a good play with it.

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Downtime… Error 502

imageHey all, I’m sorry about the recent downtime. I’ve reset my DSN and everything appears to be back up and running now.

I was playing about with some of my site settings a couple of days ago, and it appears I broke something without realising… ooops!

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I Got My New Phone…

A few weeks ago, I asked what phone I should get, well not one bloody person answered, so I made my own decision!

I decided to opt for the T-Mobile Touch Plus (also known as the HTC Nike), although its not an iPhone, and its the same old Windows Mobile 6 that I have been using for months, I decided it was the best option.

Why is it the best option? Well, for one the data package with T-Mobile is ultimately better than o2 are offering, I actually use to work for o2, and dropped my staff tariff to move over to T-Mobile as it worked out so much cheaper (in my particular case, I saved about £75 a month, with my mobile phone bills dropping from £120 with o2, down to £45 with T-Mobile. The phone also comes with mobile broadband which is really good when out and about with the laptop, and I hate to say it, but I’m an old stalwart, and knew the iPhone was not going to live up to my expectations especially since all the features that the iPhone offers are on my WM6 Touch.

The Best Legal Online TV Services

Braun HF 1, Germany, 1959I’ve wrote a couple of times about my Online TV watching, and not so long ago I wrote about zattoo. However one thing I always find when looking for decent TV online, is there is no guide to help you out.

So here goes, I’m going to share some of the tools and software I used for watching television online.

For years there has been video online, sites such as Youtube providing user generated content, and in the beginning these use to include shows too, but then with all the copywrite actions that took place much of this has calmed down now, and content makers are now slowly starting to adopt to the digital / computer age.

In China and the Far East, a lot of Youtube clones are knocking about, that carry a lot of content that shouldn’t really be there and are in breach of copywrite of some form of another, an example of these is Youku which has lots of TV shows and films if you know how to find them, given the website is in Chinese – I’m not going to go into detail on how to find this content, as I assume most of you know to use a decent search engine, and queries such as “Film Online” will often result in a site that agitates the videos available, and displays what’s on offer in English.

There is then obviously torrent sites, which are currently the subject of much of the legal fights that are happening around the Western World.

We then come to legal services, such as iPlayer in the UK and Hulu in the US are changing the way we watch TV, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if in the next decade or so, terrestrial Television is no more or is reserved for Local Channels, and that most content is viewed online via vast catalogues of content, and streaming channels are all pumped through a PC or Set top box, similar to the BT Vision offering which I love so much, although the content needs to increase and I still feel the cost of a film for a 24 hour rent is high.

Apple TV at the Macworld 2007Unfortunately, the utopian TV age isn’t here yet, and I don’t think the UK could support utopian TV without better a better broadband network, for example last night I was unable to watch streaming Television as my supposable 8Meg BT Broadband connection didn’t want it, and in addition to that the iPlayer v.s. Broadband Company’s arguments continue, with Broadband Suppliers asking content companies to stump up cash for better quality connections.

But less of the problems online TV faces, here comes a list of some of the best Online TV Resources available online at the moment. And my views on how they’ll evolve.

iPlayer

BBC iPlayerI don’t think, being an English blogger, I could have started to list decent TV software, without starting with the iPlayer.

I was an early user of the iPlayer, and sulked from day one, I have Tivo to record everything on there that I want to watch, so there was little chance of me missing something, and then issues with the software which included the nasty Kontiki software really put me off. However come Christmas 2007, and a dramatic new launch alongside the Dr Who Christmas Special with Kylie, the iPlayer had upped its game, and started embedding videos directly in the webpage. This was a good choice to make, and it worked. The iPlayer took off.

The content is the BBC’s own output, and doesn’t include any films or shows such as Heroes which is unfortunate, however that said I can get my Heroes fix on Hulu – where come September I’ll be settling down to series 3.

I find that I often visit the site, and end up leaving without seeing a single video, I suppose the reason for this being that it only has a 7 day catch up. I think if the BBC want to really build a platform to be rivaled they should include the back catalogue of content they own, and then it will be something truly exceptional. I suppose a lot of this comes down to the fact that the BBC is one of the few broadcasters in the UK, and I’ll watch it first live on TV, and a 7 day catch up doesn’t work for me.

The way I view iPlayer is that it is still in its infancy, and needs to grow up to become something bigger. The new joint venture that the Beeb is building with the other traditional broadcast channels, ITV and Channel 4 over here sounds promising, and I cant wait to see what they come up with – perhaps a new online / digital broadcast platform to rival that of Sky now that would be something?

The BBC could use this opportunity, to develop, build and maintain a new content delivery platform, mixing live TV broadcasts with catalogues of content – I’m thinking iTunes on speed. The BBC Trust should also approve of the spending, and development, because they could open up the platform, allow other channels to come onboard – eventually creating a platform for broadcasters to get there content out.

I’d say this is something with potential, however it needs to improve on content in my opinion.

 

ITV : Catch Up

ITV Catch UpThis goes to show how quickly the online TV market is changing, I started writing this post several weeks ago, and ITV Catchup has changed.

I have to say, I was going to be very negative about ITV, and moan about how slow and cumbersome it was.

However, they have since upgraded the platform they use, and by using Microsoft Silverlight, I have to agree they are now offering a good service, especially when it comes to content.

I would still like to see a better interface, and possibly some removal from the ITV.com website, as at present the catch up service doesn’t seem to have an identity.

4OD

This one recently got a saving grace, however not going to fully save the platform in my opinion.

My issue with this one is, and has always been the 4OD delivery manager, or Kontiki software which it is built on (this is the same software used for the iPlayer, however the with the BBC you don’t need to download the software and can watch all their shows online). The Channel 4 programmers have managed to make it worse, as its very very sloooooooooowwwwww, even on my machines which are both very nippy and fast computers, even if I do say so myself.

Again, there are issues with finding content, if you want to download a series, then you have to go to the homepage, find the show, select the episode, download the episode, confirm your old enough to watch it, and then start again from the home page… Not too bad if your talking 1 or 2 episodes, a nightmare you want to catch a series you missed

On the plus side for this one, they do have a good catalogue of content, and there is plenty to watch provided you don’t mind downloading the afore-mentioned 4OD delivery manager.

As I said, there was recently a saving grace with this one, and that is they have followed the BBC’s move, and made some content available directly online without the need to download software. although, problem being, you only get the 7 day catch up online, which is pretty lame given the problems that currently face Channel 4 (namely lack of funding, and its BB Summer which means no channel 4 for 6 months).

I Just Love Hulu, and I shouldn’t even have it in the UK! There are ways to obviously get to the content, you just need to know what to do.

Basically the easiest way to watch Hulu in the UK is to set up a VPN which in really simple terms, creates a pipe for your broadband to wherever the VPN company operate, you then access the site. This is also a good way to protect yourself when downloading from torrent sites, as your visible IP address and location are that of the VPN company.

Back to Hulu, its got a great catalogue of content, a nice browse and search function, and the quality is decent, with no software to download. Their is also a HD trial being run at the moment.

Hulu are apparently, trying to open to site up to the UK and other countrys, but the process is painfully slow due to copywrite laws etc (a little like why the iPlayer cant be viewed in the UK).

I know there are lots of other services out there, if you know of a good site, let me know in the comments and I’ll have a look and maybe review it.

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