Battle of the Set-top Boxes

WD TV vs. Rogers Box - Take 1

Ladies and gentlemen…

On the right, crushing the scales at 11 lbs., the current living room media player champ… The Rogers-branded Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300 SD.

And the challenger…

On the left, floating like a butterfly at a mere 0.67 lbs… Western Digital’s WD TV HD.

Let’s get rrready to rrrummmbbble…!

My Rogers Explorer 8300 SD is no longer available, it seems. However, an upgraded HD version costs $499.99 CAD to buy outright or $24.95 CAD/month to rent. It also sports a fancy HDMI connector.

The 8300 HD encodes encrypted MPEG streams from your cable company, and adds the ability to record programs to an internal 80-160 GB hard drive. You can also schedule recordings via the on-screen TV guide. Furthermore, you can select, purchase and watch exclusive pay-per-view content (like recent DVD releases) without the tiniest whiff of air passing between your ass and the sofa.

Vimio – The Mobile TV App Your Carrier Doesn’t Want You to Know About

A recent episode of The Digital Production Buzz Podcast had the hosts positively gushing over US and A start-up MobiTV, who are offering wireless subscribers in the Americas live television on their mobiles through their carrier for a mere $9.95 USD/month.

The service isn’t yet available for me, but I can get Fido’s official 3G streaming video option for a slightly less reasonable $15/month — and only using one of their locked handsets, of course.

Or I can pay nothing and install Vimio, which is exactly what I did!

Vimio Splash Screen

I first heard about Vimio from a fellow WordPress blogger. The company seems to be based in Ireland and possibly Sweden. Why is this important? Read on…

Why Are Broadcasters Trying To Break The Internet?

Photobucket
WTF?!1!

In the same way that DVD region-coding has no place in this, the age of Amazon, eBay and unlocked players, television broadcasters have no business trying to restrict their content on the web.

I can illustrate from my own experience with two examples of how they’ve tried and failed:

1. Crossing Streams – I do a lot of my morning newsgathering courtesy of reddit.com, an awesome social bookmarking site run by the good folks at WIRED. Often there’s a link to a poignant Daily Show clip from the night before. But because I live in Canada, when I click through to see the video — or even to their home page for that matter — I get redirected from Comedy Central in the US and A to The Comedy Network in Cana-duh. If you’re also reading this from north of the 49th parallel try it for yourself and see what I mean.

So what’s the big deal, you ask? The very same Daily Show clips are available on both sites, after all…

Well, why exactly is this even necessary in the first place? If ComedyCentral.com is smart enough to figure out that I’m from Canada, surely it can be programmed to include IP addresses from this country as well.

Could it be that there is country-specific advertising that these two networks want to alternately block or force me to see? Wow, that sounds familiar… Kind of like television!

Thing is, the internet has this thing called a proxy server, where a site can be fooled into thinking a user is from somewhere else, and for those pesky ads Firefox has a plugin called AdBlock Plus.

Half-time score: Internet 1, Broadcasters 0.

2. iFailer – BBC’s much-lauded iPlayer was launched on Christmas Day, 2007 to bring the Beeb’s vast catalogue of programming ” to a mass, mainstream audience.” But while streaming radio is offered worldwide, on-demand video is currently UK only, despite most of the very same programming being available on BBC America, BBC Canada and another 20 or so channels around the world.

I have a personal interest in the iPlayer because of a just-announced client for S60 smartphones, but even though my handset gets me online anywhere in the world, you guessed it — the mobile version of iPlayer only works in the original Nanny State.

Of course, I could easily get around this with a Slingbox hooked up to my TV and a mobile client on my handset — not only is it entirely legal, but I can watch any channel I want from anywhere in the world!

Final tally: Internet 2, Broadcasters 0.

Let me be perfectly clear on this: Broadcasters, do not mess with our internet; you will fail. It’s called the World Wide Web for a reason — if you’re not willing to show whatever it is that you’re shilling to a global audience then please get the fuck off and leave us alone. Thank-you.

Ten Years Later (Plus One)

Speaker's Corner, 2007

(Speaker’s Corner today — closed for renovation, or possibly forever?)

Well, I’m an idiot… Last year around this time Al Howell sent me a congratulatory text on the 10-year anniversary of our first Speaker’s Corner broadcast as The Devil’s Advocates. I quickly corrected him, thinking that we started our Satanic shtick in 1997, but I was wrong. So, um… Happy 11th Anniversary, Al!

Ten years ago today the Devils had already achieved some notoriety and were busy criss-crossing Southwestern Ontario playing mostly lunchtime shows in the cafeterias of Community Colleges and Universities, then at night storming the stages of downtown comedy clubs to critique the other acts on the bill, à-la Speaker’s Corner. The club act was a stroke of genius; because we had to go on at the end to deconstruct the acts that came before us we automatically headlined every gig we played. The college show format — straight-up improv and pretty much games — was born out of necessity, because we couldn’t possibly roll into another town and be expected to know all the local goings-on. This also proved to be valuable training for the 80 episodes of Improv Heaven & Hell we would start taping the following year.

IH&H was a fantastic experience and one of those rare, proud moments where Al and I were able to work with some of our closest friends and colleagues. The Devils, however, had gone from a TV audience of some 300,000 Speaker’s Corner viewers in Southern Ontario alone to a national Comedy Network audience only 60,000 strong. And so after two seasons we were done.

In the time since Mr. Howell has parlayed his talents into a successful writing career for Comedy Inc. and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, while I’ve bounced back and forth between sporadic bursts of international touring, directing, filmmaking, even drumming?! Looks like someone has commitment issues…

Rather than a long walk down memory lane consider this a quick glance back, and before eyes once again face front I’ll leave you with a bit of Devils trivia:

  1. Best gig ever – being paid an obscene amount of money by Microsoft Canada to unveil Internet Explorer 4 (!) at a downtown nightclub.
  2. Worst gig ever – Al will probably say Sault Ste. Marie (the second time) but I’ll give the nod to Centennial College Bell Campus (now the Centre for Creative Communications), only because there was a point during the lunchtime show where someone came up to us from the audience who we thought was a volunteer for an improv game, but in fact she only wanted to microwave her soup.
  3. Last TV appearance – on U8TV’s the Lofters (ugh). I remember looking at a laptop in front of me while we were on air showing some yutz in a chatroom repeatedly typing “Say my name out loud… Say it!”

The Fall TV Season: Does Anybody Even Care?

TV Guide 2007 Fall Preview

Maybe it’s a relic of a bygone age, where only a few television networks fought it out in the battle to win your eyeballs for an evening or even an hour. But the new crop of fall TV is still being reported on, and the news is not good.

Here in Canada it’s the same-old same-old… Until the hockey season starts there will be no Canadian-made TV breaking into the top-ten of primetime shows. Digital Home Canada has posted the list of what 18-49 year-olds in this country watched most in the first week of the new season:

  1. House (Global) – 1.93 million
  2. Grey’s Anatomy (CTV) – 1.42 million
  3. Survivor: China (Global) – 1.34 million
  4. Heroes (Global) – 1.14 million
  5. CSI (CTV) – 1.11 million
  6. CSI Miami (CTV) – 1.1 million
  7. Desperate Housewives (CTV) – 1.01 million
  8. CSI New York (CTV) – 963,000
  9. Prison Break (Global) – 920,000
  10. Family Guy (Global) – 827,000

To dismiss the problem and say that Canadian-made TV drama and comedy can’t compete because it sucks is a bit simplistic; I’ll go a few steps further and say that it’s fundamentally broken, and will continue to be until the CRTC grows a pair and puts and end to the free ride that domestic advertisers and broadcasters get via signal substitution.

South of the border in the US and A Reuters is reporting a 7% in viewership for the same market segment. So where is everybody?

Some, like yours truly, are holding out until later in the season when Lost and other guilty pleasures make their return to the small screen. Others, also like yours truly, have their attention divided amongst many more channels in the digital cable universe. I personally split most of my television-watching time between BBC World and (big surprise) G4techTV. Many viewers further split their viewing time between that, BitTorrents of shows from other markets, video podcasts and more… Just like yours truly!

How about you? Where do you get your TV fix? If you’re 18-49 there are probably a lot of desperate TV execs out there who are dying to know!