Sunday, January 29, 2006

Some Details about the Upcoming Release

We thought it might be interesting to discuss a few of the things we have planned for the next release and start collecting some feedback. As we mentioned in the past, the upcoming release is all about RSS/Atom with enclosures. This XML format is used on the Internet to publish podcasts and vlogs (unlike audio publishing feeds which are collectively referred to as podcasts, there are several terms used for video publishing feeds including vlogs, video blogs, video podcasts, vodcasts, and more). The plan is to add the capability in TVersity to read all RSS versions (0.9 0.91/0.92/0.93/0.94/1.0/2.0) and Atom (including the iTunes extensions and the Yahoo MediaRSS extensions), and allow one to subscribe to such feeds from the TVersity GUI. Each such feed subscription will result in the content published by that feed to be added to the media library, which from that moment and on will be kept synchronized with the feed automatically.
Enough with technical stuff, let’s discuss some of the great stuff it will allow you to do:

  • Any Audio blog (Podcast), Video blog or Image blog can be subscribed to via TVersity and all its content becomes immediately available for playback on your TV (or other UPnP devices such as mobile phones, PDAs, etc.). Each time you refresh the media library it gets updated with the new feed so you always have access to the latest media published. Few examples of the stuff you can subscribe to are:

  • In fact you can subscribe to any of the hundreds of thousand of podcasts and thousand of vlogs on iTunes or any other podcast / vlog directory.

  • You can subscribe to your RSS feed on Flickr (automatically created by Flickr for each account) and have your Flickr photos available for viewing on your TV and other devices. Whenever you update your Flickr collection, all you need to do is refresh the Flickr subscription in the TVersity GUI and immediately you have those updates applied to your media library. In addition to that you can get from Flickr an RSS feed for every tag or search query you care about and subscribe to them as well.

  • Yahoo has a service, which makes the results of any search query you make against their video search engine available as an RSS feed. Let’s assume you like to track videos on the web related to Uma Thurman, you can of-course search the Yahoo video search engines with the words “Uma Thurman” and get a list of relevant videos but even better you can use the service we mentioned to get an RSS feed of the search results and subscribe to this feed via TVersity. From now on you can access on your TV the latest results that such a search yields and play those files at will.

  • Webjay is a playlist community; it allows people to create playlists from audio and video URLs and share them with others. Each such playlist is available as an RSS feed and by subscribing to it you can access its content via TVersity. You can even use Webjay as a playlist-editing tool and create new playlists and subscribe to them via TVersity. These playlists can be shared with others via Webjay or simply by sending them the RSS URL of the playlist. You can even save the RSS feed as a file and just share this file so that changes made on Webjay won’t affect you.

  • Playlists of online content are great but what about playlist of content located on your home network? TVersity will also process RSS files located on your hard drives and treat them as playlists. These playlists can contain media files, media URLs, folders and even other playlists (M3U, PLS, RSS). This will give you the ultimate flexibility in assembling different pieces of your media library and combining them into a collection that can be easily accessed and played on your TV. Later versions will also allow one to edit playlists from the GUI, in this next version however it will be required to edit these files using an XML editor or an RSS editor.
In summary, we think this next release will improve dramatically one’s ability to access Internet content from the devices she cares about and in the same time enable the creation of playlists for videos, images and other media type (happens to be one of the most requested feature by our users). This is it for us, now we want to hear what you think, please be sure to drop us a note in the forums or in the blog and let us know.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Going back to being a development blog and nothing else

Recently we started blogging some market analysis and insights and all of a sudden we had more of that stuff than development news. So we had to either change the designation of this blog or separate it to two different blogs. We decided to go with the second option, meaning that the market analysis will be published from now on at - our new blog for mediaholics. If you like TVersity and the promise it brings to the digital home and to digital living in general, you will like reading, see you there and don't forget to drop us a note and let us know what you think about the new blog.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Additional fixes for V0.9 are now available

We have recieved additional great feedback for V0.9 and based on this feedback we decided to release more fixes and improvements. Download this latest release if you are having issues with V0.9. For a full list of changes, please refer to the release notes on the TVersity website.

"Mobile Me" by Apple

After sticking our neck and making a prediction about the next big thing for the iPod, boy were we happy to see all the hype surrounding the "mobile me" trademark applications by Apple. For those that missed it here is a quote taken from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Earlier this month, Apple filed four trademark applications for the term "Mobile Me," covering a broad array of possibilities, including "digital music," "cellular" and "telecommunications."

So obviously this re-ignited the engines of the hype machine and lots of speculations were made, most of which were about a cellular phone. While we agree that a cellular phone with digital music capabilities is a logical evolution for Apple, this is not the next big thing for the iPod. A cellular phone will always be first and foremost about voice calls while the iPod will always be first and foremost about music so these are obviously going to remain two separate product lines for a long time. Therefore we would like to stand by our original prediction and say that the "mobile me" thing is about adding wireless networking capabilities to the iPod and possibly also adding or improving the PDA like features that the iPod already has but were never emphasized such as the calendar, contacts manager, etc.

And while we are at it, what is the next big thing after Wi-Fi? A phone maybe? I am not going to make another prediciton at this point however if I were Apple I would skip the whole cell phone thing and stick with IP networking. What many people do not realize is that VOIP does not stop at revolutionizing the landline market, but rather the next big frontier for VOIP is the cellular market. Yes, as Wi-Fi starts covering whole cities and with Wimax being just around the corner, think how much money can be saved by on-the-go VOIP? I know one company that has a peanut butter like name and was recenlty acquired by the largest online auction company, that is patiently waiting for this day. A day that will no doubt be the Jelly that goes with this peanut butter, but Apple is here to spoil the party. Apple, in my opinion, is positioned even better than Skype to take over this new market (I think "mobile me" is a pretty good name for this market, don't you?). Very smart people are leading Apple and it looks like they already figured all this out, and if I am right about this one, then it will be Apple share that hits $1000 5 years from now, not google. But hey this is too much predictions for one months, enough is enough.

Monday, January 09, 2006

CES 2006 and the UPnP standard

One of the most interesting aspects of the recent Consumer Electronic Show for TVersity was the state of the UPnP standard and how well it is received in the market. What we found exceeded our expectations and we left the show far more excited about the future of UPnP than we were before, however we also found several reasons for concern.

Here are some of the interesting trends we spotted:
  • UPnP AV is no longer standalone; One unsurprising trend is that digital media adapters, which were very hot in CES 2005 were not so hot this year. In fact I can think of not more than half a dozen new DMA models and they were all introduced by established players in the market who also introduced other products in which UPnP AV was merely a feature. On the other hand UPnP AV functionality got integrated into many different devices and has shifted its role from the basis for a new product category to an enabling feature of existing categories such as DVDs, TVs, Phones, NAS devices and so on. All the companies that released new DMAs (such as DLink, NetGear, Buffalo, and Zensonic) had also released networked DVDs or NAS devices and emphasized those products and not the DMA.
  • UPnP AV in DVD players; Networked DVDs were almost exclusively based on UPnP AV. Some of you may know that there are two other proprietary solutions that are considered alternatives to UPnP. One of them has been created by Syabas (can be found in devices from Asian companies like IOData and Buffalo) and the other was created by Kiss and can be found in devices from Kiss (now owned by Linksys) and some other less known local European brands that licensed their technology. While in 2005 it seemed like Europe is divided between Kiss and UPnP and the far east is controlled by Syabas, with UPnP leading only in America, it is clear now that 2006 will be all about UPnP. Syabas, essentially admitting the inferiority of its solution, has added UPnP support to the middleware it sells and so new firmware versions for devices like the Buffalo Linktheater and the IOData Avellink essentially make them UPnP compliant. Moreover companies like Buffalo have made the switch from Syabas middleware to UPnP only middleware (e.g. in their Linktheater Mini and their NAS devices). At the same time, Kiss, despite its acquisition by Linksys, has not been able to spread their proprietary solution and to the best of our knowledge there was not even a single announcement in CES of a new company that is planning to release products based on the Kiss solution. Kiss however has demonstrated in CES that their latest models are compatible with Windows Media Connect, i.e. with UPnP AV.
  • UPnP AV in every TV; We were astonished to see how many new gadgets have built in UPnP AV support. We must have seen two dozen TVs with built in UPnP AV support, this includes names like Toshiba, Sony, Samsung, Philips, HP and many more less known brands. The rumor is that Apple will announce tomorrow a plasma HDTV with built in support for Intel Viiv, which is also UPnP AV based.
  • UPnP AV in phones and mobile devices; The Nokia N80 phone was a very pleasant surprise, not only that it is UPNP AV compatible but it works with TVersity as was reported to us by the Chief Designer of the Symbian Platform Development in Nokia (he also told us he was using TVersity at home and he was pushing Nokia labs to start testing their releases against TVersity!). We haven't seen any other phones with UPNP AV support but since we have had many visits recently to our web site by Motorola and since Samsung has already introduced UPnP support in Televisions we won't be surprises if by the end of 2006 the top three Cell phone companies will all have models supporting UPnP AV. Furthermore Nokia told us that they were seriously considering UPnP support for the Nokia 770 (which is a Linux based WiFi and bluetooth enabled, pocket size tablet) and we heard a rumor that Sony was planning to add UPnP support to the PSP.
  • UPnP AV Devices are going HDTV; All the new TV and networked DVD product announcements were for devices that support HDTV. This included support for HDTV codecs (with MPEG2 being the basic most codec and H.264, WMV-HD and Divx-HD as the more advanced ones) and HDTV connectors such as HDMI and component video. In this CES, HDTV was a must have and essentially all devices (except handheld ones) had to have HDTV support.
  • Storage is going UPnP; One very obvious trend was that every player in the NAS devices for the home and small office markets has now built in support for UPnP. This includes names like Buffalo, Netgear, IOMega, Linksys, DLink, Maxtor, etc. This is also an indication that UPnP Media servers have now two distinct markets, one is the embedded market and the other is the PC/Desktop/Server market. Although we do not have official numbers, it looks like TVersity is the leader in the PC/Desktop/Server market while other companies (like Mediabolic and Twonky) compete in the embedded market. This is not to say that we have no competition, if anything 2006 will bring much more competition simply because UPnP is gaining popularity, however we do feel that there is no other technology out there today that can match TVersity in its features, and that consumers come to acknowledge that and many of them make the switch from the media servers they got with their UPnP enabled product to TVersity.
While everything so far has been very positive to the UPnP standard there is also a serious concern as the standard has now many flavors which could essentially evolve into proprietary solutions. The flavors we identified so far are:
  • Intel Viiv; Intel has announced their Viiv platform, which although is based on the DLNA guidelines (some additional interoperability guidelines to handle issues not properly handled in the UPnP AV standard), it seems to be destined to take its own course and as I am sure Intel would love to see evolve into its own de-facto standard.
  • Windows Media Connect or Disconnect? Microsoft has released at the end of 2004 the first version of Windows Media Connect which was fully UPnP AV compliant with some necessary extensions to support WMDRM. However a year after, at the end of 2005, they released the second version which had no real new features other than the vague headline of "support for XBox 360". Those of us that cared wanted to know if the XBox 360 was UPnP AV compliant and unfortunately we now know that the answer is NO. We spoke in the show with the CTO of Twonky and he told us that they were able to add support for the XBox 360 through reverse engineering and that the Xbox is designed not to work with any other UPnP media server other than Microsoft's Windows Media Connect. Is anyone out there surprised?
    We are however happy to say that we had a very good conversation with the CTO of Twonky and we both feel that the two companies, being the real champions of open standards, should remain on friendly terms despite the obvious competition.
  • Apple is rumored to release a Plasma TV based on Intel Viiv; We will know if it is true or not tomorrow, however we mention it here since Apple is sure to either create its own flavor of UPnP or come up with something else altogether as it has done so far with its proprietary solution for streaming audio from iTunes to the Airport Express.
Clearly, the UPnP AV standard is catching on and yet its success could also be its demise as companies like Microsoft, Intel and Apple may each try to take advantage of the interoperability it offers to promote their own interests while introducing their own proprietary extensions and keeping them unpublished, in order to block others. If you care about open standard and wish to see an open ecosystems in which innovative solutions from small companies and even individuals can prosper just like solutions from large companies (which tend to be innovative in terms of business models and new revenue streams and not in terms of benefits to the consumer...) then do your very best to encourage consumers to refrain from solutions that deviate from the standard and make sure that neither Windows Media connect nor Viiv become the new names of UPnP since this will be their gain and the loss of all of us the consumers.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

And the next big thing for the iPod is...

So far this blog was used exclusively in order to make new release announcements and since these were also emailed, I doubt anyone was reading it. In an attempt to change that I am going to start sharing our views and analysis of the market, where it is going and how it is all related to TVersty. I am also going to allow comments to be posted to the blog so that you can tell provide some feedback.

Right now I am in Vegas waiting for Bill Gates keynote at CES, and so I finally have some time to do some blogging about … Apple. Yes, Apple the only company absent from CES, and yet the company that is able to generate more buzz than the entire CES show and all its exhibitors. I know I for one care about Apple plans for 2006 more than I care about Microsoft and Intel’s plans combined, simply because Apple is the only company that has been able to demonstrate the real meaning of convergence while others have been mainly talking about it and spending lots of marketing dollars with no real progress. Speaking of marketing, this CES is the beginning of a new marketing campaign for Intel, the VIIV campaign which was announced a while ago but is really starting only now (big billboards with VIIV and the new Intel logo, Leap Ahead, instead of Intel inside, were welcoming everyone at the airport at Las Vegas), I wonder if VIIV will catch on or not but this probably deserves its own post, so let’s get back to Apple.

It is well known that Apple is keeping its plans as a complete secret until an actual announcement is made by Steve Jobs, and this time, with Mac Expo just around the corner, is not going to be any different. Since it won’t be another week before Steve Jobs shares with us his company plans, I find it too tempting not to join others in the industry and use the time left till the show, to make some predictions about Apple’s plans for 2006. Now, I am a long-term guy so I have no intention to try and guess what will Steve Jobs talk about in this coming Mac Expo, however I am going to try and guess what he has in store for the iPod in 2006 as a whole. If past experience is any indication, there will be several press conferences this year in which Apple reveals just another piece of the puzzle so when the upcoming Steve Job’s speech in Mac Expo will seem to have nothing to do with what I am about to say, do not be too harsh with my predictions, wait till the end of 2006 and then make up your mind.

Without further delay let me get to the point, up until a few months ago when video support was added to the iPod, video was the hottest feature expected by the pundits with almost everyone agreeing that it is just matter of time till it’s added. Now that it is a done deal and the iPod can play video, it is time to come up with the next great frontier for the iPod and if we can all agree then we can all go back to speculating when it will be added instead of what it is. Of-course unlike video support there is nothing obvious that everyone is talking about and so I do not expect everyone to agree with my prediction and yet I think I can at least convince you not to discount this possibility and to give it serious thought. Clearly small improvements such as a bigger screen, longer battery life, thinner form factor, and a fresh design (cooler than ever), are all going to happen in 2006. But what is the next BIG thing, something that will turn the iPod into an even greater gadget, something so wonderful that it will make Microsoft spend even more money trying to buy the entire industry in an attempt to catch up with Apple.

And the Oscar goes to…wait a second I can’t seem to be able to open the envelope provided to me by the academy…ok, ok I know it’s enough going in circles so here it is, the Oscar goes to wireless networking. Whether it is bluetooth, WiFi, wireless USB or all of the above, the next big thing for the iPod in my opinion is to become a part of the network, the home network, the Internet and the all encompassing network of the entire universe – also known as the Ansible (oops this one is not yet invented, I guess it will be announced in CES 3006).

Now that I spilled it out and it’s out in the open, it is time to defend my prediction. So, why on earth does the iPod need to join the network? I mean isn’t it supposed to get a 120 Gigabyte hard drive this year and thus allow you to carry whatever you want, eliminating the need to be connected (expect when synchronizing). Well, the huge storage concept works great for audio but if you ask me it won’t work so well for video. You see, unlike many, I think that video like audio will be very successful for the iPod and like audio most of the media people store on their iPod won’t come from the iTunes store but rather will be things like recorded TV shows, DVDs, illegal downloads, etc. And for recorded TV shows, which will probably be the most important element in the success of the video functionality of the iPod, a wireless connection is very important since it will allow synchronization to happen automatically when the iPod is within range of the home network. This “minor” improvement is very important since newly recorded TV shows become available every day, where with music one needed to synchronize their iPod only once in the beginning and then when they bought a new CD or song (probably once a month for the average Joe and once a week for the music enthusiasts).

Of-course seemless synchronization while important cannot justify by itself adding WiFi support. The real great thing enabled by a wireless network connection is the ability to stream music and video from the home network or from the web, without needing to synchronize anything and to incorporate this streamed content with the iTunes store such that impulse contextual purchases can be made from the iPod without going through a computer. I can for example, visualize recording a TV show and while it is being recorded the show is also being streamed to my iPod in some other part of the world where I am enjoying coffee in some hotspot. With respect to music, I can visualize many new CD quality commercial free radio stations that are made available for the iPod for free simply because the iTunes store can now be accessed from the iPod and so impulse purchases can be made as one listens to the radio (yes Sirius and XM should be very worried since their business model is under a serious threat). And if all that is not compelling enough then what about all the video content available today freely on the Internet, I am not talking about vlogs (which are already integrated with the video iPod), I am talking about the networks and the studios webcasting lots of great stuff on the Net. This stuff is not downloadable so it can’t be used with the current video iPod but once the iPod is network enabled suddenly I can watch MTV or Bloomberg TV live on it from any part of the world (which also remind me of a prediction I read that satellite TV capability will be added to the iPod, once the iPod is network enabled who needs satellite TV?). Now I know you are going to say that the quality of this stuff is still not adequate, well this is the beauty of it all, the quality is not good enough for the big screen, but on the small iPod screen it will look like hi-definition TV!

So where is TVersity in all that? TVersity from its very inception has made it a goal to allow one to create her own personalized lineup of channels and to access it from TVs and from mobile devices. Yet, we do not support any mobile device yet, do we? The reason for that is the inability of most of these devices to access the home network or the Internet. Once this ability will be added, these devices just like digital media adapters will not be able to handle many of the media formats and of the streaming protocols out there and we intend to solve that problem for these devices just like we did for networked DVDs and DMAs. This will make our solution more complete as we will all get one step closer to having universal access to our media. Here is to the future and a happy 2006 to aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall!