commandN 251: Jeff and Lara talk SOPA & PIPA

January 26th, 2012

In the latest episode of my video podcast commandN, Lara and I talk about SOPA and PIPA, two bills with immense ramifications for people getting their entertainment content online.


commandN 242: Jeff & Lara talk Walmart Streaming

August 10th, 2011

In the latest episode of my video podcast commandN, Lara and I talk about Walmart entering the streaming video market. In yearly 2010 Walmart purchased digital entertainment provider Vudu and has recently integrated the service into its Walmart brand. Do you think Walmart has what it takes to compete with Netflix?


Apple TV [2nd gen] Review by Andre Barriault

October 12th, 2010

The latest version of Apple TV is making its way into living rooms across North America. Apple’s second generation set top box is making an impact with the unit flying off store shelves. But is the new Apple TV really worth purchasing (and what are the downsides of the Apple TV in Canada for now)?

appletv-gen2At C$119 (US$99), Apple has made the Apple TV the affordable solution for those who want a connected high definition device that streams digital content to the living room. The new Apple TV will act as your lifestyle hub, gathering iTunes content (music, photos and video) from computers within your Home Sharing space.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Apple TV is its size. The new Apple TV is roughly one fourth the size of the original unit. The smaller size makes it easy to add the device to a crowded home theatre unit.

Out of the box, the new Apple TV is extremely easy to set up. Simply connect an HDMI cable (not included) to your device and plug the power cord (no bulky power supply this time around) and you’re almost ready to go. The most complicated part is keying in your home network security password. You’ll be in digital bliss in less than five minutes.

Even though the Apple TV contains a meager 8GB of storage, all the content accessible on the device is either streamed from iTunes (locally or on the internet), Netflix (paid subscription required), or YouTube. At this point it’s unclear what the 8GB of internal storage will be used for, but one can presume Apple may eventually unleash its App library to the masses.

Content wise, the device bolsters support for H.264, MPEG-4, and Motion JPEG (all up to 720p) video files. For audio, Apple TV supports AAC (protected and non-protected), MP3, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV. In other words, if it works on your iPhone/iPad, it will be viewable on the Apple TV. It’s important to note that both iTunes LP and Extras are not supported on the latest Apple TV.

Another nice feature is the ability to access your Flickr library and Mobile Me galleries. Unfortunately, those are the only photo services accessible at the moment. You can always stream your photos directly from a PC on your network if you don’t use one of the supported services.

The standard iTunes store rental rules apply, you have 30 days to watch your content, and once the video is actioned you have 48 hours to complete your viewing. Apple currently charges $5.99 for new HD releases in Canada, which is a dollar more expensive than its American offering. Library content ranges from $1.99 to $4.99 for HD content, while you can rent standard definition movies for as low as $0.99.

Sadly, due to licensing issues, TV rentals are currently not available on the Canadian Apple TV (or in the iTunes Store for that matter). For me, the TV show rental component was the major selling point. I was pretty disappointed when I noticed the TV section was omitted from the rental interface. Hopefully, this is something that will be remedied soon in Canada.

appletv-backThe video rental process requires that you have a high-speed broadband connection in order to stream without issues. It’s unclear what the minimum bandwidth requirements are for rentals, but a speedy connection will definitely facilitate the streaming process.

I’ve encountered some buffering issues while watching the high definition stream of “Millénium 3” (a.k.a. “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”). The movie went into buffering twice during viewing, and in one instance, it took well over 20 minutes for the movie to resume. The content was streaming wirelessly over a 802.11g network on a 10Mbps connection.

I’ve realized that one way to avoid a similar scenario in the future is to download the rental on a computer and stream it from the PC once it’s completed. I haven’t encountered any buffering issues while using the Netflix movie streaming service.

The Apple TV comes bundled with a simple aluminum Apple Remote. The remote includes three buttons (Menu, Play/Pause and Center Confirmation) and a 4-way directional pad – a simple way for users to navigate through the on-screen menus.

For those who want more control, Apple has updated its free Remote app (available in the iTunes Store). The app allows you to navigate through the Apple TV menus using the touch surface of your favourite iOS device. The new app also lets you type search queries using your device’s on-screen keyboard.

One of the key features of the Apple TV will be AirPlay. AirPlay will enable any iOS 4.2-based iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to stream music, photos, and video from the device to the Apple TV. For example, you will be able to stream an HD video you shot on your iPhone 4 to the Apple TV without using a cable. The Apple TV will become the center of your digital lifestyle.

Since AirPlay requires iOS 4.2, you won’t be able to experience its usefulness until Apple releases the firmware in Nov. 2010.

The lack of app support is disappointing. Imagine being able to watch TV shows from the CityTV app, or playing Angry Birds on your high definition television set (using your iPhone or iPad as a controller). Apple is missing out on an important opportunity by not offering application support before its competitors (Google will be launching minimal app support on its Google TV boxes later this month). With over 250,000 third-party apps currently available in the iTunes Store, it would make perfect sense for Apple to offer cross-platform app support.

The biggest limitation to the Apple TV may be download caps used by internet service providers (ISP). Many users will be limited to the monthly usage allowance provided by their ISP, and it could end up being costly when this allotment is exceeded. Data usage monitoring will be a must for users with limited bandwidth consumption.

All in all, the second generation version of the Apple TV is a great addition to any home theater system. However it’s not a game changer and doesn’t threaten the current cable TV infrastructure, at least in its current form. Hopefully, Apple will let the Apple TV mature into more than just a hobby by allowing application support.

At C$119, it will be hard for consumers to find a better and cheaper way to watch streaming content on their TVs. The Apple TV is a device that not only lets your enjoy iTunes and Netflix content, but enables you to share your digital memories from various sources within your home network. If you live in the Apple ecosystem, do yourself a favor and buy the Apple TV – you won’t regret it!

Ed: I don’t have the new Apple TV yet but I’m just waiting for the iOS streaming update, I think :-) . My old, hacked aTV Flash Apple TV will still have a place in my system, though, as it allows me to get at a lot of other content on external drives.

Thanks to contributor Andre Barriault for the story! If you’re interested in contributing to, please email…



Apple TV, Streaming, and the Wireless DJ: Apple’s Fall 2010 Event

August 31st, 2010

appleevent2010Apple holds an iPod/iTunes-related event each Fall and this year is no exception. However, in addition to the inevitable stat reporting and iPod/iTunes upgrades, I think there’s finally a real possibility of a significant Apple TV update and some cool streaming advances (as has been reported in many other places).

I have a pretty clear idea of how I’d like the rumors I’ve heard to coalesce. My little hypothetical braid combines three things:

  • A new iOS-based Apple TV (iTV?) that gets content by streaming and omits a hard drive altogether;
  • A music streaming service that leverages Apple’s purchase of Lala, enabling your iTunes Library to exist in the cloud and be broadly accessible;
  • and, outside of the rumor mill, the increasing ubiquity (and usefulness) of iTunes (with an expanded request/streaming system for the iTunes DJ feature, which is quite cool but hasn’t yet gelled) and the iOS devices, ie. iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad (as an aside, the last two of these will certainly see FaceTime at some point soon – I’d say iPod Touch at this event and iPad at an update at Macworld 2011 in January).

Here is my vision:

  • Apple TV becomes iTV, a substantially smaller and very portable iOS-based unit that answers the call about the lack of video streaming output in the wonderful but limited Airport Express and fully realizes the power of the included audio streaming output capabilities of that device (which do exist in the current Apple TV to some degree);
  • An enhanced Remote Control app for anyone that has an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad for iPod/Video functionality that is optimized for the Apple TV and includes an expanded iTunes DJ service (from what now exists in the current iTunes) – note that people also carry a lot of music on these devices themselves;
  • An iTunes Library in the cloud for everyone, or at least some subset of one’s Library (and note that this requirement can be fulfilled simply by streaming the libraries on anyone’s iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, as well);
  • Now here’s the magic: assuming that streaming (and I’m talking music streaming more than anything here) is fully integrated throughout the iTunes/iOS ecosystem (and assuming that the rights can be managed – this is a far bigger IF than any technical hurdles), you now have…
    • a portable device (the iTV and perhaps subsequent third party docks, etc.) that you can take with you anywhere and hook up to speakers…
    • through which you can stream music from the cloud or any of your iOS devices…
    • with an integrated iTunes DJ request/cueing system (with restrictions to limit musical choices as desired by the system owner, e.g. no explicit, no country, etc.) that allows for anyone on the network to vote music up and down the next played list and contribute musical choices from their own iOS device (or even cloud-based iTunes Libary)…
    • enabling a live, local social network of people DJing music through their iOS devices and associated infrastructure (iTV, speakers, etc.) at parties, events, dances, and other gatherings.

overview-boxWhile I’m exited about the new technologies, hardware, and software features that will inevitably be announced, I see the above as something bigger in a way. There are few things that hold such a special relationship with the human experience as music does. Yet music still tends to be something dictated by one person (the DJ, the party host, the driver, etc.) to a larger group of people, many of whom are perfectly capable of sharing great music that others would like.

When I build a playlist, I’m always thinking of “music that others will like that I also like” so that the most people can enjoy it without my own enjoyment suffering (hence being able to put restrictions on some choices, as above) – but I’m always getting great new music from friends that I haven’t heard and spend lots of time hunting for new music on my own. Why not combine the two ideas in a wireless DJ iTunes/iOS ecosystem and bring music sharing to a new level for the enjoyment of all.

I’m even fine if a “Buy from iTunes” button needs to appear next to each entry in the DJ playlist, too ;-) . (As an aside, some of the above would work spectacularly well for Music Videos as well – and a portable Apple TV would be great for streaming those potential 99 cent TV rentals wherever you’d like, too)

What do you guys think? What would you like to see happen? Leave your thoughts in the comments!


iTunes Movie Rental Rules

March 17th, 2010

Our friends at Apple Movie Junkie have just posted a handy little post called “The More You Know: The iTunes Store Movie Rental Usage Rules”. Take a look there for more details on US rentals but in a nutshell:

  • 30 days to watch from download time;
  • 24 hours to watch from start of viewing (can watch multiple times);
  • Can move between devices but only play on one at a tiime;
  • and more.

apple-itunesmovierentals1The rules are actually pretty simple if you can sort out the difference between when you have 30 days (before you start watching) and when you have 24 hours (as soon as you’ve hit “Play”).

Strangely enough, it seems that in Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Germany, and the UK, you actually have 48 hours to watch from the start of viewing, which is great and a much more reasonable timeframe. So there’s one (and only one) way that some of the international iTunes Stores are better than the US one (with the biggest negative for me still being that the US has reams of free content that you just don’t get from other stores – maybe 1/week in Canada vs. 5-10/week in the States).


Apple Tablet: “Text” Podcasts & the Apple TV Connection

January 26th, 2010

Well though I know the dangers of attempting to predict what will blossom forth from the ever-changing tech industry, I feel the need to put into record a few [...] Continue Reading…


Boxee Beta Launches!

December 9th, 2009

Boxee, the cross-platform media center with social networking, has finally come out of “Alpha” stage.

Below is a video from the great Apple TV Junkie site, where they got to [...] Continue Reading…