3D TV. Hype versus Reality

January 20, 2010

By Hype versus Reality I do not, at all, mean that 3D is all hype.  In fact the only thing I stand to question is the immediate value and quality of the 3D versus the immediate “buzz” that specially CES has created for it. 3D is a reality. It is here. Without the need for having those glasses that we wear to the cinema. But then there are a few things we need to keep in mind.

3D TV works almost like an optical illusion by sending two different images to our left and right eye. Which means that the “films” production process would be special too. Like anyother TV technology, converting the entire production chain to be 3D is going to have to go through its cycle. Remember, the HD broadcast discussions started in mid 1980s, and they became a reality mid 2000s.  There would be discussions on broadcast standards, usual fights over formats of storage (like we had with BlueRay) and what not. I am not aware of any standardisation discussions that may have started- I am sure they have though.

There is also an issue of technology adoption by the whole value chain of broadcast. Only about 30% of the TV content on-air is true HD at the moment- even on the HD channels. Technology adoption cycles have become much shorter these days, but the cost of this “switch over” needs to be kept in mind. Any broadcast and production infrastructure is expensive.

Secondly, there is two ways of getting this content. Much like HD. You can “upscale” the existing content to look like 3D, and there is originally produced 3D. You should be able to imagine the difference. There would always be “Avatars” of the world for a cutting edge 3D experience, but we need to keep in mind that unless “Desparate Housewives” becomes 3D, nothing much would have changed. You know what I mean?

Thirdly, the existing technology is best viewed at 0 degrees, i.e. from right infront of the TV. You can view it at other angles, but its not the same. The quality of the current screen is also less than that of a modern 2D HD screen.

Fourthly, where do you see the lowest hanging fruits for 3D? I think gaming and commercial public screens (for advertising in Malls, Trains, etc) would be the first ones to jump to it. Also, do we know how much storage the 3D content requires? Can we put it on the existing BlueRay? Or would we need another format? Or would we be able to stream3D online? I see another video compression format coming up!

I see massive developments in this area, and of course the need for a lot of work. You?

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Multi Screen Content

October 29, 2009

Now that we know that the battle of the screens isnt a battle anymore, how is life for people who create content is changing?

Creating multi-screen content has been a discussion for quite some time. We all realise that it is much more than just the screen formats or the quality/ resolution of the picture that differentiates the content on these 3 screens. But what we have very little of is the understanding of how audio visual content consumption differs on these 3 screens.

We can have a point of view on what type of content is better suited for mobiles consumption versus big TV screens. The obvious conclusions, my fear is, might be simlistic and around duration of the content. Bite or snack sized consumption versus feature length viewing, etc. But what happens when the first “direct to mobile” movie is released? The phenomenon obviously is a response to not just video consumption on mobile, but a certain type of consumption on mobile. There would also be obvious points of on big screen versus small screen versus very very small screen viewing. The bigger the screen, the better the detail and impact of visual effects.

Would there be any other differences apart from that? Or are we in a position to answer the question of “What type of stories are better told on one screen versus the other”?  Answers that would help us create content specifically for consumption on a certain type of screen?

Does somene has access to online video data, mobile video consumption data, and set-top box data for us to be able to do some analyses? Or any interesting insights to share? Please leave your comments.

VOD Closer to Reality

July 31, 2009

One more news for Microsoft this week. The launch of their VOD platform in the UK. Their PR department seems to be running their business these days, with one objective in mind: be in the news! (If nothing else, they would show up on top in Google search results!!).

Jokes aside, this is a significant move in the world of VOD. They have toyed with supporting other platforms through XBox consoles, but venturing into a platform of their own is a first.  They also have the scale to take this beyond the Computer screen into living rooms via XBox, and into portable of course. They also seem to have cracked one of the most important elements of this type of venture- a collaboration with GroupM. I am not going to comment on that deal, but having the backing of a major commercial player behind your platform is a critical factor.

The only other critical factor would be their ability to get content. iPlayer, C4OD, and iTV interactive might look at this as competition in short term, but truly they all know their content would be better off on a cross channel platform rather than being on properietary service. But it is going to take some time. Given that Kangaroo is almost dead, and Hulu might come in to the UK in October, they need to hurry up to pile up inventory of programming- both from the UK and perhaps source some from the US (which would be a tough battle given Hulu’s access to programmers at the moment).

One challenge that they world face is: How do they crack and standardise advertising effectiveness measurement on VOD? Good luck with that boys. It is a complicated area. Do not add yet another layer to it I would say trying to invent something of your own. Tap into an existing matrix.

So it is happening. Finally. Adobe has partnered with TV manufacturers to incorporate Flash directly into TV sets to enable video players, widgets and applications. A step forward towards really converging TV into a smart internet enabled entertainment platform. What is next? Operating platforms and standards for TVs? I have a feeling Windows Media Centre is a thing of the past unless they innovate fast. And for all you know Android might jump up to offer a standardised environment to the likes of Samsung. Touch screen TVs should also not just be restricted to CNN anymore, and will soon be in home. Anyone up for a Giant Android screen or a 50 inch screen iPod touch?

Only if Apple could put this all together in a neat and clean design, and not restrict us to a Quicktime format, we will all be very happy. But such is not life. We will have to live with a less ideal world before our dream screen comes to life. This is just the start of the convergence, and open-source, standardisation, and other such boring debates will have to wait for a bit.

A brief history of TV

April 16, 2009

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Something that I put together recently through different sources. I may have missed out on some major events in the history of TV. Please leave your comments and point me to those events,  and I will update this chart. you might need to download it to view it properly.  If you are not able to view it properly, send me a message and I can email it to you.

There is a reason Hulu is considered a “game changer” in the world  of online video and streaming television. The unique alliance of NBC and News Corp creates a cable operator of sorts – and aggregates content to deliver a unique place for consumers to start watching it. In the US.

There is similar news of some UK broadcasters coming together to create a VOD platform. I am sure other markets are taking similar initiatives.

In a world when every bit of data will be streamed over IP, do we think platforms such as these would have anything unique to offer? Or would such platforms become seemless backend cable operator type operations, delivering to TV sets of the future? In answering this question, one also needs to perhaps see what it is that really makes the video over internet popular? It is its ability to transcend beyond geographies that really delivers a web 2.0 experience that is the “buzz” today.

Now in this world, what really restricts the ability of platforms like Hulu to make a difference is the way TV software rights are managed. The programs are sold territory by territory, or to cable / satellite operators who pick it up for multi-territories. Even then, the prices are aggregated on a market by market basis. Couple that with how such program rights are sold for broadcast over the internet, and you have a matrix that is too complex to even begin to crack.

There is a need to change this model of TV or even Film program rights management. If one is to combat the piracy or onslaught of free digital distribution, the arbitrage in this trade has to end. What it needs to work around is a distributors ability to stream content across the globe, without restrictions and with potential to earn revenues from wherever in the world they come from.

When we hear the term DivX, what usually comes to our mind is a media player, or a set of Codecs that we shove into our QuickTime or Windows Media Player to be able to watch a certain type of media file. Did we ever think that this company would take a leap and begin to think about competing with the likes of Apple iTunes in Content Distribution? Well, they have.

They have just signed a deal with Warner Bros.  which gives them the right to digitally distribute their movies. This is in addition to their existing deal with Sony that distributes movies via a plethora of platforms using the DivX technology- including the game and mobile devices. These two deals now give DivX access to virtually half of the world’s movies!

The reason behind such firms backing DivX is their secure platform which prevents piracy. Besides, why should a studio restrict its distribution to one particular digital outlet? Warner also have a deal with Microsoft’s XBox to distribute their movies as well as with Cinema Now- a leading online retailer of movies in digital format in the US.

This is a development that is going to majorly challenge Apple’s closed-loop distribution of- Ipod/Iphone-Itunes-AppleTV. Why should a distributor or a digital retailer like ITunes (or Cinema Now) restrict access to a particular device? DiVX are likely to make the whole movie distribution eco system a bit more open. Although, their temptation to get a bigger share of the revenues via distribution to a proprietary device is quite visible in their DiVX Connected device. This device is a heaven for anyone who indulges in torrents every now and then for a bit of .avi fun!

Lets wait to hear how DivX front this distribution deal, and how much are they going to charge consumers for the movies. Apple’s ability to lead the pricing models for the digital content is quite likely to be affected here. Cinema Now sell movies from anywhere between 10 to 16 dollars. An equivalent of that price in the UK might not under-cut Apple’s current pricing… but then who knows. There is a great potential for DivX to take a leap into an advertising funded model here as well.

I say keep an eye on DivX!