The long rumored set-top box for Netflix movies has finally arrived: Roku's Netflix Player. At $99 it doesn't look like too bad of a deal and along with a $17.99 Netflix account, it'll allow you to watch an unlimited number of movies and tv shows instantly through the device. Of course, the selection at Netflix for instant streaming isn't their complete library, but it's a decent chunk of my personal queue there. I'm curious about the picture quality and speed to get movies streaming from the time you select them for viewing, hopefully they struck a good balance between picture quality and filesize. As a Netflix customer myself, I've gone ahead and ordered one and will post some screenshots and impressions on the video quality once it arrives. [via uncrate]
It's been a long time coming but it looks like the TiVo Rewards program is finally shuttering in a couple weeks. I just got my last reminder email and I spent my last 5,000 points (screenshot above is from my email).
Overall, it was a great program for someone like me that turned dozens of friends onto the device. I got a lot of nice stuff back from TiVo in return -- a couple iPods, a nice set of Bose noise-canceling headphones, and I used the points to get several free TiVo boxes for members of my extended family as birthday/xmas gifts. It's a bummer they shuttered the service but it was nice while it lasted.
Thanks to last Fall's update to the TiVo OS, there was an undocumented way to telnet commands to your TiVo that Dave Zatz describes in this post. It was a bit of a hack and not much more than a proof of concept but it looks like a few enterprising developers have created TiVo remote control apps for linux and the iPhone.
While nothing compares to a real TiVo remote in terms of functionality and ease-of-use, having an iPhone backup might be nice in the off chance you lose your remote or it's in need of repair. Cooler still is the idea of automation applications that could take advantage of of the telnet port and do away with the buggy IR blasters. I could imagine a future version of the Slingbox that could issue command over the network and confirm with a TiVo OS directly that the action took place, rather than set up an IR blaster and hope it changed the channel correctly.
Seeing people build whole apps based on discovered hacky interfaces reminds me that there is still indeed a healthy hacker culture around TiVo boxes and that if TiVo wanted to make some bold moves and document this kind of thing and any other APIs developers could use to control/tweak their TiVo devices, we'd see a nice array of innovative applications and products spring up to further enhance the TiVo experience.
Microsoft has been in a ton of news lately: they lost their takeover bid of Yahoo in an attempt to garner a better internet strategy and two stories this week pointed out their embracing of Digital Rights Management (DRM), even when such measures can be hostile to their own customers.
The first story is the shuttering of their MSN Music service. It was an attempt to take on the iTunes Music Store and offer paid music downloads. After a couple years of service, they've decided to close down the service but in doing so, they'll turn off the servers that authorize your music tracks so if you ever update your operating system or buy a new computer, your old purchased music files will not play. You would have to buy the songs again using the newer Zune store.
The second story is about NBC shows coming to the Microsoft Zune media player, but with one feature NBC wanted added to the device: the copyright cop. If you buy a NBC show and transfer it to your Zune, a small application will check your Zune for "pirated" shows and movies that weren't purchased from the Zune store, and delete them. It's rumored that this is why the NBC/Apple partnership ended at the iTMS and they removed shows -- because Apple refused to build in this kind of capability.
My takeaway from recent news regarding Microsoft is that they're making a lot of short-sighted decisions in an effort to please large copyright holders, in an effort to build partnerships with studios, but they're forgetting their customers. The iPod and iPhone are fairly locked-down devices and the iTMS sells almost entirely DRM protected content, but it's more popular because the devices and purchasing is easy to do and there's a level of trust between Apple and their customers that Apple isn't going to pull the rug out from under purchasers of music.
Aside from operating systems where they clearly dominate, Microsoft plays second fiddle in a lot of their other businesses. I'm sure there are people on the Microsoft campus that know and understand when MS makes these kinds of customer-hostile decisions to shut down purchased music and delete your content that you will continue to lose customers to other companies, but if MS wants to gain marketshare in any of these fields, they'll have to rethink their strategy. That Microsoft called their version of DRM "Plays For Sure" is the icing on the ironic cake.
(photo from my tour of the Microsoft booth at CES in 2005)