Local Rhythms – Apple TV/YouTube Disappoints

shotinfoot1.jpgWith eager anticipation, I peeled the shrink-wrap from my new Apple TV and plugged it into the flat screen set.

Like everything Apple, it required almost no time to set up.

Sadly, it took just a little more than that for me to realize I’d been suckered.

Not seeing the value in paying for what I can Tivo free, I wasn’t all that hot and bothered when Apple announced their set-top device, since it only played iTunes clips. But news leaked recently that YouTube’s library of videos could also be streamed in wonderful high definition via the aluminum box.

So I ordered one.

And after a few days, I’m thinking about sending it back. Steve Jobs promised the Land of Oz, but instead sent me a castle in a snow globe.

YouTube is the new MTV, with pretty much any clip from every artist available via a few keystrokes. But it took forever to enter YouTube search criteria on Apple TV, and unlike the iPhone, it doesn’t remember a thing.

Worst of all, for every 10 requests I typed in, I got one hit.

Oh, YouTube will tell you they’ve got tons of stuff that’s Apple TV-ready. In fact, I contacted a company representative to find out where the good videos were, and that’s about all they would tell me. “We want to deliver the complete YouTube experience to every audience on every screen,” read the bland reply, which ignored every single question I’d asked.

It ended with a vague promise: “Our intent is to make all YouTube videos available.”

I felt like Tom Hanks talking to that carnival attraction in “Big.”

Problem is, right now there’s hardly a handful of clips ready, and way too many are vanity projects by nauseating poseurs hell-bent on being the next LonelyGirl15.

I want Apple TV to show me the new Brad Paisley and Velvet Revolver videos.

But here’s the thing – Apple charges 2 bucks apiece for those on iTunes. Would YouTube possibly hold back converting them to goose sales?

I tried to ask, but instead got the Amazing Carnac, in the form of a slick New York PR firm.

Remember – I do this so you don’t have to.

I’m telling you to save your money.

This technology may mature some day, but for now it’s a pig in a poke -albeit a very shiny pig.

 

What’s cool this weekend?

Thursday: Saylyn, Newbury Gazebo – There’s plenty of outdoor shows now that we’re in high season, and some of the best are at the water’s edge in Newbury. Saylyn is the area’s hometown reggae band, with a good vibe and an authentic sound. I gotta say, the best way to see them is out under the stars on a hot night. Fronted by two brothers born and raised in Jamaica, these guys are the genuine article.

Friday: Pete Merrigan, Sophie & Zeke’s – It’ an all-Pete weekend, with a set at the Newport Moose tomorrow, and his Sunday afternoon party on Murphy’s deck. Never mind the weather, whenever Pete tunes up and plays, the sun is shining. Look for dates from his All-Star Band in Sunapee Harbor in August and September. It’s Margaritaville North.

Saturday: Phil and the Fuzz, Oona’s Barn – I’m pleased to report that a cateriing business, Harvest Moon, had risen from the ashes of Oona’s. Better still, they’re throwing monthly bashes at Oona’s Barn on the Meetinghouse Road in Rockingham. Phil and the Fuzz have a bit of a Phish vibe at first listen – tasty stuff, especially combined with an evening that includes a full bar and a chance to re-visit Oona’s amazing cuisine, via former assistant chef Sarah James (Harvest Moon’s proprietor).

Sunday: Harvey Reid & Joyce Anderson, Ludlow Bandstand – The husband and wife team have played Carnegie Hall and the Conan O’Brien show, along with many spirited Flying Goose gigs. He’s a gifted picker, she’s a talented guitarist fiddler in her own right with a lovely voice. Together, they’ve lit up many a room over the years. Always a treat.

Tuesday: Marty Stuart, Iron Horse – One of country music’s great iconoclasts, he’s worked with everyone from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan. Tonight, he’s solo, which will give Stuart a chance to show off his amazing guitar chops. If you’re not familiar with him, you really should be. He’s living proof that you can’t pigeonhole a musical genre

Wednesday: Upper Valley Community Band, Sunapee Harbor – This local ensemble, ever-changing and bursting with talent, dates back to the turn of the twentieth century. Also playing Monday at Colburn Park in Lebanon, this is a concert band with members from all over the area, including a few Stevens High School kids. They play for the love of music, and a chance to share that love with other players.

 

 

 

Apple TV Gets A YouTube Boost

apple.jpgApple Inc. has had its share of miscues of late. The deafening hype surrounding the as-yet unreleased iPhone hasn’t quieted misgivings about the company’s first foray into mobile communications: inflated price, closed architecture, single source carrier (AT&T) and questions about whether it will even ship this month as promised.

The recent announcement of iTunes Plus, which promised music playable on any and all devices, is now mired in controversy. The industry blog ARS Technica reported that supposedly unprotected songs sold on the iTunes Music Store had customer information embedded in them, a move that in theory made it much easier for anti-piracy organizations like the RIAA to track them on file-trading sites.

That, coupled with the fact that customers who upgraded their software to purchase premium ($1.29 each) music were no longer able to buy cheaper versions of the same songs, turned what should have been a defining Apple moment into a nasty public relations headache.

Then there’s the little box that CEO Steve Jobs hoped would finally get Apple into consumer living rooms. Apple TV looked good on paper – a network device that can grab a video from any computer in the house, and stream it to a television in state-of-the-art widescreen format.

There was just one problem – it didn’t work with web sites, only iTunes, where episodes of most popular shows sell for $1.99 each. With no chance to watch Grey’s Anatomy on ABC.com or check out NBC’s Heroes with the occasional commercial break, Apple TV didn’t look like such a great deal. Jobs’ much-vaunted “Reality Distortion Field” was dissolving in a wave of bad press and bothered bloggers.

Perhaps Apple TV’s biggest omission was failing to tap into the zeitgeist of the web’s most popular video site, YouTube. Stranger still, it seemed a perfect match. Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple’s board of directors, and Google owns YouTube.

Last week, Apple TV’s prospects began to improve when the company unveiled a planned software upgrade, due later this month, which would provide the ability to play YouTube clips on the set top box. Along with that announcement, Apple’s web site began selling a 160 GB Apple TV – a model with four times the storage capacity of the original – presumably to hold all the newly available (and free) content

The Apple/YouTube deal is important for a couple of reasons. First, YouTube is fast becoming the preferred hub for the legal distribution of music videos. Last week, the company struck a deal with EMI, home to David Bowie, Coldplay and Norah Jones. This means that all four of the major labels are on board. Though MTV/VH1 owner Viacom’s intellectual property suit is still unresolved, Schmidt termed the action “a negotiating tactic” at the recent All Things Digital conference, hinting that an agreement wasn’t far off.

Secondly, a deal with Apple means the QuickTime H.264 codec, which maintains picture resolution regardless of screen size, will become YouTube’s streaming video standard. That’s the reason Apple executive David Moody only promised “thousands of videos designed for Apple TV” at launch, not the entire YouTube library. That conversion effort will take a lot more time, though all new videos will be offered in the new format. QuickTime videos are, of course, fully compatible with both the iPhone and iPod. However, no announcements were made about making YouTube content available on those devices.

The move affirms that Apple, for all its recent stumbles, still intends to be a revolutionary force in the entertainment world. As the iPod smashed the music paradigm, YouTube has re-shaped the television landscape. What started as a hybrid of low-rent “MTV Jackass” and alienated teen vanity vehicle has fast become the first on-demand video network of the Internet.

Google is, of course, the most popular web site in history. These elements, combined with Apple’s well-known hardware and design capabilities, could produce a recipe that does for television what the iPod did for music.

The PC in the Family Room

netflix.jpgTen years ago, slow dial-up access limited most Internet use to e-mail and text-based web browsing. Now, with over 56 million broadband customers in the United States alone, the experience of watching video online has moved from the computer screen to the television. A wide range of consumer choices have sprung up as a result. Here are just a few ways home computer technology is moving into the family room:

Hardware

Digital video recorders, or DVRs, are really just dedicated processors that do one task: organize and time-shift the viewing experience. Tivo is the most well-known, and later this year Comcast will add Tivo software to their set-top boxes, in addition to their existing DVR service, though it won’t be available locally right away. It’s also possible to use a home PC for the same task, connecting a Mac or a Windows Media Center-equipped system to a home television set.

But that’s a bit complicated for ordinary folks. At this month’s MacWorld conference, CEO Steve Jobs unveiled Apple TV, a set-top box with a 40 GB hard drive that streams movies and other content to digital TVs. It works with the latest generation of big screens, and is equipped with leading edge, high-speed 802.11n wireless. It’s also optimized for movies purchased from Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

Slingbox made a splash in 2005 with a candy bar-shaped unit that lets viewers watch their TV or Tivo anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the company unveiled Slingcatcher, which does the Slingbox trick in reverse, sending video from a computer to a television. It also features Clip+Sling, a video sharing utility sure to excite prospective YouTube impresarios.

Content

Following YouTube’s runaway success, full episodes of prime time shows like CSI, American Idol and Grey’s Anatomy are now online, albeit with must-see commercials. Many of the same programs are offered uninterrupted on iTunes – for a price, typically $1.99 per episode. MSNBC’s web site shows ad-supported highlights from their news shows, as does Fox News; CNN has the ad-free, subscription-based “Pipeline.”

The emerging market is online movies, with NetFlix, which disrupted the video store world, leading the charge. The company, which pioneered “no return date” DVDs, recently started letting customers with certain types of accounts watch up to 18 hours of movies online. Competition may eventually come from long-time rival Blockbuster, but they’re busy trying to cut into the NetFlix rent-by-mail business.

Seattle-base Reel Time Rentals recently launched a movie streaming service; their selection doesn’t rival NetFlix, but it is technically impressive, with surprisingly good sound and picture quality. With a few copyright deals, Reel Time could be a factor in the online rental business.