SH Sean Harding/blog
Lady, be good to yourself!
Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

A few years ago, I was browsing Powell’s and I came across this beauty of an old cookbook. It’s a 1937 edition of My New Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (1938 printing), complete with many clippings and hand-written recipes. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, and it’s fun to try to guess the stories behind the scraps left by the previous owner(s).

[b] school
Monday, January 28th, 2008

For those of you who are wedding photographers (or aspiring wedding photographers), I really recommend you check out the [b] school blog. Becker is sharing a bunch of great info about being successful in the wedding photography business through short free video lessons. Even though I’m not shooting weddings anymore, I’m watching them and learning stuff. Go take a look!

Anyone up for a tiki party?
Monday, January 28th, 2008

Can’t you just taste the Mai Tai now?

Video download services? They ALL suck.
Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Almost everyone who cares about such things agrees that video downloads will eventually be the most popular way for people to get movies at home. No more going to the video store or waiting for Netflix. No more trying to get a horribly scratched disc to play. Instant gratification. The holy grail. I certainly believe in it. The thing I disagree about is whether we’re there yet or not.

Clearly, there are some services that do the job for some people. I know folks who are think Comcast’s On Demand is the best thing since sliced bread. I’ve heard people rave about Netflix’s Watch Now. But for me, all of the current offerings come up short in one way or another (usually more than one). There are a number of things that I need from a video download service before I will use it as my primary source of movies. Unlike others, I don’t really care about 24 hour viewing windows (though I wouldn’t disagree that more is better). I also don’t get too worked up over DRM or being limited to watching on one device. Here’s what I care about:

  1. Audio and video quality - First and foremost, it has to look and sound good. And by “good,” I mean HD quality, or at least as good as a well-mastered, nicely-upscaled DVD. Most of the services that claim “DVD quality” simply aren’t. With the increasing availability of Blu-ray and HD DVD, these services really need to be offering real HD. Ideally, 1080p.
  2. Reasonable hardware value - Price is important (I’m unlikely to pay $5,000 for a movie box, regardless of how great it is), but this isn’t all about price — it’s also about value. The more of the other points the device hits, the more I’m willing to pay for it. And things like the XBox 360 are unattractive to me because they require me to pay for functionality I will never use (games in the case of the XBox).
  3. Fast download speed - The primary benefit of video downloads is instant gratification. If it takes six hours to download a movie, that does not qualify as “instant.” I want to be able to start playing a movie within minutes of selecting it, not hours.
  4. Excellent usability - This encapsulates a few issues. First and foremost, I want a good user interface for finding movies and controlling playback. You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but apparently it’s not (I’m looking at you, On Demand). This also includes how easy it is to get the movies to the TV (the only place I want to watch movies) and how well it integrates with my A/V setup. A service that requires watching on my computer or having a computer in my entertainment center fails out of the gate. Annoying hardware (On Demand again) also is a big negative.
  5. Wide selection - I don’t necessarily need every new release the day it’s out (unlike others, I’m ok with the iTunes 30 day delay). I also don’t feel like I need a deep selection of unpopular movies (the kinds of thing that get one rental every two months at Netflix). But I do want a big enough selection to always be able to find something I want, and I want a mix of new and older stuff. And the majority of the selection should be available in the best quality — 50,000 SD movies and 10 HD movies doesn’t qualify as a good selection.

I don’t think any of those things are unreasonable. None of them are technically infeasible. Yet from my perspective, none of the services out there hit the mark yet. Here’s my view of several of the contenders:

  A/V quality HW price D/L speed Usability Selection
AppleTV ? ?
XBox 360 ?
Netflix Watch Now
On Demand
Netflix STB ? ? ? ? ?

“Quality” is a bit subjective, and my ratings on a lot of this is based on second-hand information. Apple claims “HD” quality for some of the new AppleTV movies, but I’ll believe it when I see it, so I left that as a question mark. I also couldn’t find anything that says how long it will take to start viewing HD movies on the AppleTV, so “download speed” gets a question mark there too. The “selection” rating is based on selection at their best quality. So Watch Now, which has bad quality for all of its movies, got a green light while Vudu, which has almost as many movies but only a tiny number in HD (their best quality) got a red light. Flawed? Maybe, but it’s my table so I call the shots.

See that last one? The Netflix Set-Top Box? All those question marks? Those are the signs of potential. The Netflix box hasn’t yet proven itself to be inadequate. Netflix still has the chance to finally get this right. Will they? I’m not holding my breath.

The developments in this area are happening really fast, so I’m sure things will continue to get better. But I’m guessing it’s going to be at least a year or two until there’s something that really satisfies me. In the mean time, I’ll probably pick up a Blu-ray player to tide me over.

Let the flaming begin.

What a way to go
Thursday, January 10th, 2008

They said no one ever died in a blogging accident, but based on the numbers I’m seeing, it’s suddenly become much more common…

< Newer posts | Home | Older posts >