Posted on September 11, 2012
After years of experimentation, I’ve finally got a satisfying computer-to-TV set up. Now, watching Internet videos on my TV is as easy as watching them on a computer, only I get to sit sixteen feet away from the screen which I manipulate with a mouse and keyboard on the coffee table in front of my sofa. The viewing experience of movies over the Net is now indistinguishable from Cable TV. The principal Internet movie advantage is that the videos are available whenever I want them thereby emancipating me from a broadcast schedule. Moreover, the Internet has a far greater abundance of videos although recent-release movies are generally not legally among them.
This post describes my configuration in layman’s terms.
When attached to televisions, computers must also connect to the Internet. Generally this is accomplished with a wireless (WiFi) home network. WiFi is available in a number of standards, but dot-11n is the best choice for video. My WiFi router is in a home office adjacent to the living room where I do most of my TV watching. Thus, the WiFi signal in the living room is sufficiently strong to provide a good experience. If I were to try and watch Internet videos in more distant rooms, WiFi repeaters would likely be required.
My flat panel TV is a discontinued Hewlett-Packard model with three HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) sockets. They are a key feature for good computer-to-TV viewing. Most current model flat panel TVs include such sockets as pictured (although they’ll normally be labeled “HDMI In”.)
The principal HDMI advantage is that it transports both video and audio. Other sockets on older TVs normally do either one or the other, thereby requiring multiple cables to transport both picture and sound.
I’m using Apple’s MacMini for three reasons. First, since it is only about the size of a cigar box it is unobtrusive. Second, the boot-up time is much shorter than Windows thereby making Internet Video a more appliance-like experience, similar to conventional television. Third, relative to Windows, Apple computers are less likely to be targeted by malware.
Since MacMini’s have HDMI sockets, the hardware set-up is straight-forward; plug in the power cord and connect the MacMini to the TV with a HDMI cable. The MacMini automatically sensed my WiFi network and prompted me to enter the pass code. It spontaneously used BlueTooth to detect my remote keyboard and mouse, although initializing the MacMini required a corded mouse.
Display Settings Frustration
The most frustrating part of the set-up was getting the output of the MacMini to display properly on the television. Essentially, the image-footprint of the MacMini was about an inch too big around the edges. Unfortunately, that little inch was hugely consequential because it was impossible to see the menu bar along the top border of Apple programs. It was hidden behind the plastic frame of my TV.
Metaphorically, the image “footprint” of the MacMini was too big for the “shoe” defined by the physical dimensions of my TV. After about an hour on the phone with the Apple help desk trying various resolution adjustments, I was told that the problem was my television. They wanted me to buy a new TV.
I went to BestBuy to look at TVs and actually contemplated buying one, but there was a nagging doubt that it would solve the problem. A few days later my 26 year old son stopped-by for a visit. Within minutes he fixed the problem by adjusting the Mac Mini’s “Underscan” slider within “Display Options”. While he didn’t know the meaning of the term “Underscan”, he concluded, “It was the only other option to try, and presumably it was there for a reason.” While I kicked myself for not thinking the same way, it is important to note that Apple’s help desk also failed to suggest the option.
The terms “underscan” and “overscan” are obsolete and intuitively useless to most of us. They date to a time when the chief electronic display was a broadcast TV in which images are “painted” across the screen electronically in nearly parallel lines. Older readers may remember the days when television images would sometimes flicker and couldn’t be photographed by film cameras without the appearance of dark lines. A camera lens catches such dark swaths while the human eye interpolates a component part of the overall screen image.
The “test pattern” below illustrates “underscaning” in a context applicable to my computer-to-TV set up. The green area represents the size of my TV display, but the MacMini was providing an image the size of the pink border. By using the “Underscan” slider within the MacMini display settings, I proportionally reduced the computer’s “overscan” represented by the pink border, to the size of the green area. Thereafter the menu bar became visible on my TV, enabling me to navigate the computer normally.
Terms like “underscan” and “overscan” are unnecessarily geeky. If the slider adjustment were simply labeled “Adjust Display Borders” with “Larger” at one end and “Smaller” at the other, there’s a better chance that I would have figured out how to fix the problem without phoning Apple’s help desk, which didn’t know the answer anyway.
Despite the frustration for needing to learn new arcane concepts like “underscan” and “overscan”, such efforts are likely going to remain a requirement for making computers do our bidding. Nonetheless, it is disappointing that Apple’s help desk failed to suggest the “underscan” adjustment.
Except for sports programming and a couple of TV shows like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad”, I’m pretty close to discontinuing Cable TV service. While Cable operators faithfully believe sports programming is their “Ace in the Hole”, the Internet is also unexpectedly challenging that assumption. Specifically, Meet-Up groups enable spectator sports enthusiasts to watch their favorite teams in sports-bar settings with groups of fans similarly devoted to the same teams. It’s a good way to make new friends and better enjoy the games – and it does not require Cable service at home.
Posted on August 6, 2012
Only about a year ago many industry observers falsely concluded Netflix was pioneering the chief video entertainment business model of the future. The service economically permitted users to stream popular movies and TV shows over the Internet. Since then it’s become increasingly evident that the legacy content providers aren’t going to let Netflix license their catalogs at attractive rates. Simultaneously, it’s likely they’ll simply price much of their content beyond the Netflix budget. Most recently, the company’s second quarter financial results underscored such points as the combined DVD-rental and streamed-service subscriber count declined.
In sum, Netflix is looking more like a video version of profitability-challenged Pandora Media, than a trail blazer toward a lucrative streaming video future. Pandora is the leading Internet Radio service whose margins are squeezed tightly by unavoidable music royalty fees. Despite continued subscriber growth, at $10 Pandora’s stock is trading below its year-old IPO at $16.
In our analysis, innovations at YouTube are better indicators of a future video entertainment scenario. That’s because YouTube gets most of its content for free, yet is able to share advertising revenues with the content provider. Especially promising are YouTube Channels.
There are three types of YouTube channels.
First, everybody who registers with YouTube – typically to upload their own videos – is (often unwittingly) creating a personal channel. If Joe-the-Plumber uploads a video, by default he also generates a personal channel. Anyone subscribing to his channel will get a feed of (1) every comment he makes, (2) all the “likes” he clicks, and (3) every video he uploads. Normally such channels are boring and reveal more about Joe’s viewing habits than the typically infrequent uploads disclose about his videographer skill.
Second, some YouTube users restrict their comments and “likes” to an alternate user-name. Thus, the channel of the prime user-name only includes the owner’s uploaded videos. Some such channels are popular and can be tracked at VidStatsx.com. An example of a posting on one of the popular channels is provided here. While amateur features are obvious in the example, it also shows talent that is likely to only get better.
Third, YouTube is investing $200 million into scripted programming for one hundred channels. In recent years new types of studios have formed to create such videos. Examples in include, Maker, Machinima, Mahalo, and Vuguru where pioneering producers have been reported to take jobs for as little as $1,000 a month.
Yet YouTube viewing has been growing. As the chart below documents YouTube viewing doubled over the past 18 months whereas Hulu’s traffic has been flat.
In our analysis, the preceding chart validates Clay Shirky’s “Theory of the Long-Tail”. Each of us has personal interests that cannot be satisfactorily addressed by mass media because the audience size is too small. But the Internet enables fractionally small audiences to find content germane to their special interests. And an abundance of aspiring actors, producers, and other film workers means that such programs can be produced economically. A vast number of aspirants shut out of Hollywood will flock to a new generation of studios making scripted programs for YouTube. Some of them – probably only a small fraction – will produce works that can drain audiences away from shows produced by legacy programmers.
Posted on July 23, 2012
It’s increasingly evident a growing number of Cable TV subscribers want to discontinue Cable service. They object to the high monthly fees required for fixed “packages” of video programming. Instead, they want to save money by watching only their favorite programs from a combination of (1) broadcast television, and (2) fee-based Internet services such as NetFlix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
Although broadcast television is free to individual TV-set owners with their own antennas, reception is often unsatisfactory in dense urban markets like Manhattan. About sixty years ago the problem was circumvented by the erection of community antennas, typically on the rooftops of large apartment buildings. In point of fact, today’s Cable TV companies are evolved forms of community antenna operators who were originally known as the CATV companies from the acronym for Community Antenna TV. Read more…
Posted on January 31, 2012
Before “cord-cutting” became a popular term we predicted almost five years ago consumers would use the Internet to bypass conventional Cable TV. Later when Wall Street dismissed the practice as an urban myth in 2009, we concluded Cable operators may ultimately divest CATV service in order to concentrate on high-speed Internet.
Presently, “cord-cutting” is the Pay TV industry’s foremost concern. Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, and Amazon.com are pioneering alternate ways to acquire popular programming over the Net as opposed to Cable systems. Equally important is “Long Tail” content on YouTube and other Internet video sites. “Long Tail” theory implies that while we share interest in popular content, we also have more narrowly defined interests shared with viewer-groups too small to justify mass market distribution. But the Internet shatters such limitations enabling video content to be made available for vanishingly small audiences. Arguably, cultural programming has already migrated to the Net. Read more…
Posted on December 7, 2011
Today’s podcast is a twenty-five minute interview with Steve Coran who is a co-founder of Rini Coran which is Washington law firm dedicated to wireless FCC work. We discuss two topics: (1) incentive auctions for TV stations and (2) TV Band White Spaces.
TV Station Incentive Auctions
Steve estimates it could be three years before TV station auctions actually take place.
Background. At the behest of the FCC, Congress is considering bills to permit selected local TV stations to auction their broadcast spectrum. The likely buyers are cellular operators like AT&T and Verizon. Presumably, most of the auction proceeds would go to the U.S. Treasury, but a minority fraction would be retained by the selling station.
Typically the seller would use the proceeds to continue broadcasting by sharing spectrum with another local TV station. Digital technology enables traditional analog TV channel band to broadcast multiple streams of digital programming. Selling stations could arrange to share their portion of the auction proceeds with a non-selling station in order to get access to the spectrum needed to remain a competitive broadcaster. Most viewers would be unaware that two competitors are sharing a single TV channel because cable systems would assign each a separate ‘channel’ on the programming guide.
Posted on November 11, 2011
Any video on the new iPhone-4s, can simultaneously be displayed on your television. It’s a process known as “mirroring”, and it’s going to fundamentally change how we use our televisions. For example, through-out the day you may sample full length videos that you’d prefer to watch on a TV screen. Perhaps a friend told you about the video and showed you where to find it on the Internet. Perhaps she sent you a link via email. Whatever, the iPhone-4s lets you watch it on either the smartphone screen, or your television.
Here’s how it works.
First, you need an iPhone-4s. (Mirroring also works with an iPad-2 that has the IOS-5 operating system software.) Read more…
Posted on November 8, 2011
The company provides broadband Internet service to 2,500 subscribers in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming. Instead of connecting subscribers with cable or telephone lines, Vistabeam provides service through its network of fixed wireless base-stations linking to inexpensive transceivers typically mounted on subscriber rooftops. It sort-of echoes an earlier era when television was received that way instead of via cable, fiber, or satellite. In short, Vistabeam is a typical rural Wireless Internet Service Provider.
While the uninitiated may assume Wireless ISP service to be slow and unreliable, Vistabeam is actually competing quite effectively with DSL and cable. The company offers speeds of up to 12 mb/s. As Matt notes, the typical Wireless ISP base station a dozen years ago had a capacity of 1.5 mb/s, whereas stations commonly available today can handle 150 mb/s. As with landline providers, Vistabeam is witnessing a marked increased in Internet Video consumption from YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix, among other sources. Yet its wireless system can handle the increased demands. Read more…
Posted on October 30, 2011
Future televisions will be nothing more than wireless display stations. No longer will they be the control center for our home video entertainment. In a Slave-to-Master role reversal, hand-held units shall become the gateways.
Let met explain.
In the future, we’ll access content on portable devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, and choose to display programming on whatever screen is spontaneously most convenient. If we’re in a restaurant for lunch, we’ll likely select the smartphone screen. While sitting in a comfortable upholstered chair with a tablet computer, we’ll likely use the tablet screen. But if were in the TV room, we’ll simply instruct the applicable smartphone or tablet computer to display the video on the television screen.
It’s already happening for those with home Wi-Fi networks. Characteristically, Apple is leading the way. Read more…