Cool Tech Reviews

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September 6, 2008

Unbox reborn as Amazon Video on Demand


Amazon Video on Demand logo Amazon has been testing a video on demand service since July and this week it became generally available as Amazon Video on Demand and absorbed the old Unbox video download service as well.

The finished Video On Demand service is now compatible with a wealth of device types: Windows PC’s, Macs, suitable TiVo models, Windows Media Center extender boxes (like the Xbox 360), the Sony Bravia Internet Video Link TVs used in the beta, and many portable media players. Amazon is offering a vast catalog of 40,000 movies and TV shows. Some are free, but for most of them the prices are:

All rentals expire 24 hrs after purchase and all offer a 2 minute preview.

If you aren’t interested in rental and streaming, you can still purchase and download movies as before using the Unbox application and they will always be available in your personal video library. Rentals will be there too (at least for 24 hours) in case you get interrupted while watching or want to watch on a different system than where you order.

Initial reviews indicate the Amazon Video on Demand service is quite usable albeit with some video glitches reported, so you might care to try some of the free videos before plunking down some cash. A bigger question if you are a TV fan is whether or not you might prefer the Hulu service which is free, but has commercials. (Hulu does offer some movies as well.)

Finally, my perpetual rant is that Internet video won’t take off until it is dead simple for the average consumer to use and use in the room where they have their TV set. Amazon Video on Demand goes quite a way towards solving the simplicity problem. As for getting that video into the room where the TV resides, Amazon does its best with the available technical options and is way ahead of most alternatives with the enhanced TiVo lashup which now supports streaming rentals.


Posted at 6:10 pm. Filed under Amazon, Brands, Companies, Hulu, Internet, Streaming video, Unbox, Video Downloads, Video on Demand

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June 27, 2008

Google releases Media Server


Google Media ServerYesterday, Google released the Google Media Server:

In the old days, we used to watch a simple device called a television. Nowadays, all the stuff worth watching and listening to tends to be stored on or accessed through a computer. To help remedy this, we are pleased to release the Google Media Server.

Google Media Server is a Windows application that aims to bridge the gap between Google and your TV. It uses Google Desktop technology such as Desktop gadgets for the administration tool and Google Desktop Search to locate media files. All you need is a PC running Google Desktop and a UPnP-enabled device (e.g. a PlayStation 3).

And then you can play all your PC media files (videos, music, and photos) on your TV as well as the unique features of displaying Picasa Web Albums and playing YouTube videos through your TV.

If you are having a hard time breaking the code, UPnP is the acronym for Universal Plug and Play and Google Media Server running on your PC is technically a UPnP AV MediaServer which can send audio-visual data to "UPnP media render hardware" (the UPnP-enabled device above) which also includes the Xbox 360, HP MediaSmart LCD televisions and various networked media players.

If you have one of the right gadgets you probably already know it, but this all seems rather needlessly complex:

Imagine a world where your computer, cellphone, games console, storage devices, media streamers and other hardware all play nicely together, so that, for example, music, photos and video can reach the television or Hi-Fi no matter where in the home it originates.

That world is one which the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), an industry consortium backed by big name consumer electronics, computer and mobile device manufacturers such as HP, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung, is aiming to create through support for the UPnP (Universal Plug ‘n’ Play) AV standard. For end consumers this means that any ‘DLNA certified’ device should, in theory, be able to share or access media on the same home network — a message that DLNA members have largely failed to communicate, which is especially sad considering that many people already own a number of compliant devices …

Someday, I suppose it will all work, but unless you have a Xbox 360 or a PS3 you’ll have to do your homework to get it all working.


Posted at 6:00 pm. Filed under Companies, Google, Internet, LCD TV, Music downloads, PS3, Television, UPnP, Video Downloads, Video Games, Xbox 360

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June 9, 2008

SanDisk cancels TakeTV and Fanfare


SanDisk’s attempt to crack the Internet video market with their TakeTV hardware and Fanfare download service has ended:

A terse note on the Fanfare Web site indicates that the “Fanfare beta has come to a conclusion, and the Fanfare application will be disabled as of 5/15/08.” As for the TakeTV hardware, a representative for SanDisk has confirmed to CNET that the TakeTV is no longer being sold. However, she went on to point out that existing users still will be able to use the product’s drag-and-drop feature for watching a variety of (non-Fanfare) digital videos on their TV. In other words, unlike those stuck with oversized paperweights when the Akimbo and MovieBeam services shut down, the TakeTV, at least, is still a usable product.

The problem was simple – customers were just not buying into the concept and in fact the Fanfare shutdown on May 15th was not noticed until June 6:

… had two things going against it:

1.) It was kludgey. You had to plug a USB device into your PC, download content, then put that USB device into another device that hooked up to your TV. Yeah, that’s easy.

2.) Lack of content. If you want people to buy a device that downloads TV content, you’d better offer lots of TV content. TakeTV’s Fanfare portal had deals with CBS, Jaman, Showtime, the Smithsonian, The Weather Channel and TV Guide Broadband. No ABC, no FOX — not even The CW. TakeTV had announced a deal with NBC, but it looks as though that never got implemented.

Not to mention the fact that SanDisk was facing heavy competition from better-known companies like Apple, TiVo and Xbox — all of which provided more content and an easier solution for downloading shows to your TV.

Sigh – all of the current alternatives for bridging the PC to TV gap are proprietary and/or kludgey and/or have limited content choices. Anyhow, strike Sansa’s TakeTV off the list.


Posted at 6:09 pm. Filed under Brands, Companies, Fanfare, Internet, SanDisk, Sansa, Video Downloads

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