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Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft CES 2011 keynote

Steve Ballmer was on stage tonight for his traditional CES opening keynote. Here are some of the highlights:

Netflix for Kinect is coming in Spring 2011. Hulu Plus for KINECT is coming too.

avatarKINECT: This looks pretty cool. The idea is that KINECT watches you and translates the face recognition and facial expressions it sees into an avatar, that you can use to chat with friends online. avatarKINECT is coming this Spring for free for Xbox Live Gold members.

There are now 30 million Xbox Live members, and a new member joins every two seconds. Microsoft has sold over 50 million 360s worlswide. Over 8 million KINECT sensors were sold in the first 60 days.

Fable Coin Golf is joining Halo Waypoint and Crackdown on Windows Phone 7.

Copy & Paste and app performance improvements are coming shortly. Sprint and Verizon will get Windows Phone 7 devices in the first half of 2011. Windows Phone 7 now has 5,500 apps, with 100 being added every day. There are also 20,000 registered developers for the platform. No sales figures were given for Windows Phone 7, make of that what you will.

Microsoft is selling 7 copies of Windows 7 every second. Windows Live has 500 million users and Hotmail is still the largest email platform in the world. A selection of funky new laptops and tablets were then shown off, which you can check out in the gallery below.  Microsoft had nothing significant to announce in the tablet space, that part of their strategy looks to be sorely lacking.

The next version of Windows will run on Intel, AMD, ARM, TI OMAP, Nvidia Tegra and Qualcomm architectures. We saw the 1080p Ironman trailer running on the next Windows on a Tegra System-on-a-Chip and it was buttery smooth, with the ability to instantly seek within the trailer.

There’s also a new Surface PC with a technology called Pixelsense that turns every pixel into a sensor. Surface is still just for commercial uses, but as soon as I can get one in my living room as a coffee table I’ll be a happier gadgetlover.

Neil Berman


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Jan 5, 2011 Posted by | CES, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hulu Plus and the cost of coming second

When Netflix launched its online streaming service it was anyone’s guess as to whether it would catch on. For years now the Berman living room PC has been our primary source of couch media. Between Windows Media Center, Netflix and more recently Hulu and Fancast, our TV needs are fully served. But we still haven’t adopted Hulu Plus.

Around a year ago when we found we were gobbling 90% of our Netflix food online and only a snack through the mail, we cut down from two DVDs per month to one. The online selection has become enormous, with movies such as Ironman, the new Star Trek and Wall-E available through the pipe. We’ve also consumed all eight days of 24 over Netflix this year. It’s little wonder that recent stats suggest 20% of all US peak internet traffic is Netflix streaming.

So when Hulu Plus came along offering content WITH commercials for a dollar MORE a month than Netflix, I wasn’t really interested. We were already in the Netflix ecosystem; all our large screen devices (Windows Media Center, iPad, laptops) support Netflix and most importantly in the living room Netflix works with a simple remote control on Windows Media Center or the Xbox. In my household Hulu Plus was paying the price of coming to market a late second. Sure, Hulu Plus offers different TV content to Netflix but its overall library is weaker, due to its relative lack of quality movie titles. Hulu is also coming out with a remote control interface, but it’s not in production release yet.

It looks like I wasn’t alone. Rumors are circling about a possible 50% Hulu Plus price cut, which can only be a result of a lower than expected adoption rate. At $4.95 per month the service would definitely be more tempting than the current $9.95, but the most frustrating part of the Hulu experience remains i.e. the ever increasing amount of commercials. Ad breaks on Hulu have rapidly increased from an acceptable 30 seconds to around 2 annoying minutes, and I’m sure that duration will continue to increase. With Netflix being commercial free, Hulu Plus will always have a hard time convincing consumers to pay for an ad-supported service when much of its content is available on its free site.

I’m guessing therefore that the real objective of a lower Hulu Plus subscription price would be to remove the free service altogether when subscriber numbers reach critical mass.

Neil Berman

Oct 24, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Software | , , , , | 1 Comment

The new Battlestar Galactica is now on Netflix streaming

Why are you still reading this…it’s BSG marathon time!

Oct 2, 2010 Posted by | Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , | Leave a comment

Apple TV channel apps

For the last couple of weeks on TWiT, Leo Laporte has been proposing an interesting idea about the Apple TV. Prior to Apple’s press conference last week many people were expecting the new Apple TV to launch with apps, similar to those on the iPhone and iPad. Leo went further, suggesting that those apps would include individual channel apps, so for example we would watch ABC programs through the Apple TV ‘ABC app’ just like on the iPad.

Apple TVFirstly everyone should watch/listen to or download TWiT; it’s great. While Leo certainly gets it right a lot of the time, and the idea of individual network apps is a logical extension of the model that exists for ABC on the iPad, I’m not sure it holds for Apple TV. The fundamental app model does hold, and I definitely agree that we will see Apple TV running the App Store one day. But I don’t believe we will get to the stage where individual networks have their own apps on Apple TV. It just doesn’t work for the channel-hopping armchair consumer and if there’s one thing we know about Apple, it’s that the company cares deeply about the user experience.

It just about works on the iPad because we are still figuring out how best to devour content on that device; while aggregators like Hulu Plus and Netflix work best on the iPad, the ABC app is free unlike the others. However armchair viewers want a simple remote control with a simple program guide. Having to navigate multiple apps with different interfaces won’t convert them away from a cable set-top box.

In time I think even the ABC app will fade away as cable company aggregators push that content to the device, and I mean currently non-existent aggregator apps from the likes of Time Warner Cable for use by their subscribers. The cable companies will not give up their revenue streams without a fight and I think they’re more likely to develop their own streaming aggregators for subscribers than allow the TV networks to go it alone.

I would dearly love to see the ad-supported online content continue to flourish, but I fear we are enjoying a heyday that will disappear when the cable companies enter the online streaming market more forcefully.

Now go and subscribe to TWiT, TWiG, MacBreak Weekly and all the other ones!!

Neil Berman

Sep 7, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where next for Kindle?

Down and across. That’s the answer for those who like to read the end first.

Down: The price of the Kindle hardware looks to be in a race to the bottom with the Nook and every other eBook reader out there. I’d say that’s just fine for Amazon, and I reckon the Kindle’s selling price is almost inconsequential to the e-tailer. Kindle is all about wrapping the consumer up in its online store, after all Amazon is perfectly happy for you to read Kindle books on your compatible smartphone or computer. The overriding priority is probably to ensure that consumers choose Kindle over competing ecosystems, and in the standalone eBook reader market I’d say that means selling the Kindle hardware as cheap as chips if necessary.

The iPad has created some downward pressure since its perceived value as a multi-function device is significantly higher than that of the Kindle, which is designed to do one thing well. It’s nice that Kindle 3 will have a Webkit internet browser and some other candy on the side, but its core competency is presenting books from a huge library, which leads me to…

Across: Well, “Smooth” might be a better word. One of the things that makes companies like Netflix attractive is their smooth and partially predictable revenue stream, due to their subscription model. I think Amazon may move to offer an x-books-at-a-time tiered subscription model for Kindle alongside the existing buy-once model. This would be perfect for pulling bookworms into an unlimited plan, while Kindle newbies could experiment with a one or two books per month plan. Plenty of similar models exist for digital content distribution; Zune Pass, Rhapsody and of course the aforementioned Netflix.

Perhaps the most compelling example is the cellphone contract model. Consumers buy a cellphone for a fraction or sometimes 0% of its full MSRP and the hardware cost gets recouped by the carrier over the life of the contract. Whether Amazon would follow a contract or no-contract model is a pointless discussion since this whole article is pure speculation but, if you’re waiting for a $99 Kindle, I think it will come. Heck by my logic it may end up even cheaper than that.

Thanks to Eytan and Charlie for helping to trigger my thoughts about this.

Neil Berman

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Aug 3, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Netflix iPad app security

I’ve often wondered about the security of some iPhone OS apps.  Compared with using a browser where it’s clear if your session is being encrypted with HTTPS, it’s often not apparent if iPhone OS apps are transmitting data securely.

So with Netflix coming to the iPad and transmitting account details to Netflix’s servers out of operational necessity, some people have been concerned about the implications of using the app at a public WiFi hotspot.  I put this question to Netflix directly and here is the answer supplied by their VP of Corporate Communications:

“Netflix account information for the iPad is sent over https — so Netflix members are assured of the same level of security that as with the PC Website.”

Good to know.

Neil Berman

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May 5, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , | Leave a comment

Netflix & Windows Media Center meet, and it’s instant romance

Netflix Media Center 3Microsoft hinted about this one way back at CES in January and after a long wait it’s finally here.  Windows Media Center now has direct Netflix integration and I’m lovin’ it.

The Netflix icon appeared in my Movies section this week and clicking it led to a one minute installation followed by instant gratification.  Not much more to say apart from that it integrates seamlessly into the already superb Media Center interface.  Will other platforms ever try to catch-up with what is so far and away the best media library experience out there?

Here’s the gallery.  A warning for those of you not in the USA, this gallery may make you extremely jealous.  Sorry about that, and here’s hoping Netflix goes international!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Oct 21, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Guides, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, News, Reviews, Software | , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft Pre-CES Keynote

p10304161Steve might not have come on stage last night in a blazing storm, but his Keynote was packed with content, a frankly hilarious Xbox song from Tripod but unfortunately no Zune phone.  Here’s a summary from the front row…

  • Windows 7 Beta available now to MSDN and TechNet subscribers.  Due to be available to everyone on Microsoft.com on Friday this week.  I’ll write about it as soon as I find a spare PC…
  • Halo Wars (strategy game) and Halo 3 ODST (similar to current Halo 3 but with new storyline) were announced.  See Halo Wars screenshots on today’s earlier post.
  • Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger and Photo Gallery have been packaged into Windows Live Essentials and will be preinstalled on Dell PCs, together with Live Search
  • Live Search will also be installed on Verizon Windows Mobile phones
  • Microsoft sees continued development and take-on of seamless communication between PC, TV, phone and the internet cloud
  • A partnership with Facebook now pushes Facebook updates to your Windows Live profile
  • Windows 7 cool features demo’d: Play To allows you to stream media to play on any device in your Homegroup or stream from them.  Snap to side allows easy comparison of windows side by side.  Multitouch looks pretty awesome for map and photo manipulation, but is not in the Beta build.
  • Kodu Xbox 360 online community game creator was demo’d and looks like a lot of fun.
  • Netflix queue control from Windows Mobile phones is coming soon.
  • Internet Explorer 8 will hook-in with Hotmail to provide add-ins such as restaurant finders, whose results can be inserted directly into emails.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, News, Software | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mac users finally get Netflix instant viewing, caught thanking Microsoft

Netflix is now offering instant viewing to Apple users…and the Mac version, unlike the Windows one, is powered by Microsoft Silverlight.  Today’s Apple experience is defined by the strength of its multimedia offerings and its increasingly bitter negative advertising campaign towards Microsoft.  So it is perhaps the ultimate irony for Mac users that to enjoy Netflix’s industry leading video player we have to rely on downloading Microsoft’s Silverlight first.

On a related note Xbox 360 owners who are Netflix subscribers are the first to get Netflix HD shows.  Since current 360s all have Dolby 5.1, 1080i/p HDMI and Media Center extensibility for live TV streaming that makes the now-oh-so-cheap Arcade version a $199 bargain imho.  And it plays games.  If you’re quick you can get the 20gb hard drive for very very little from Microsoft too.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Nov 3, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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