Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tired of Crummy YouTube Videos

Everyday someone forwards me a link to another pixilated and grainy video on YouTube.  Most of the content are clips from previously copyrighted material, but the most annoying feature is the quality of the Flash-based video displayed.  In this day in age of high-definition video, why must we accept postage stamped size, poor quality video?  Because Adobe's Flash video leads the market in Internet-based video over Microsoft, Apple, Real, and DivX

This market lead has led Adobe to believe that they can launch yet another media player to compete against all of the other leading players and new ones like Joost and Democracy.  The Adobe Media Player is yet another video RSS aggregator that will include DRM and advertising.  So how will Adobe differentiate it from all of those other players?

Their only differentiator is the huge amount of web sites already using Flash video.  With the Adobe Media Player, web sites using Flash video can advertise through the player providing other outlet to their sites.  Adobe will line up all of the usual content providers to seed the player/aggregator with content.  But the question remains; do we really need yet another media player?

I have all of the above mentioned players on my machine and I use all of them because not one of them can satisfy all of my needs.  iTunes manages my podcasts and some of my music.  RealPlayer is my primary music library manager.  Democracy Player is my video podcast aggregator.  The only time I use Windows Media Player is when I download WMP-formatted content; otherwise, most web content is played from the web site with the embedded QuickTime player.  I would really like a single player that can do all of those functions so I would not have to chew up all of my disk space and CPU cycles running all of those separate players.

So that brings me back to the Adobe Media player.  How can Adobe differentiate their player from the rest of the fray?  From the announcement last week, I see no features or capabilities that would cause me to download and install yet another media player, and I believe that most users out there will feel the same.  The Adobe loyalists that use CS3 including Flash to design web sites will be the ones to use it.

Download DivX

Adobe has promised high-definition Flash video in its media player, but why bother when there is DivX.  DivX is the clear winner in high quality video over even MPEG-4.  I try to view and download content in DivX format whenever possible.  DivX produced high-definition Internet video before all of the others started jumping on the bandwagon.  This little San Diego company has a great underground following with some mainstream content that they publish through their Stage6 web site.  Visit Stage6 and you will see large, high-definition videos that are worthy of display on your computer or your $7000 plasma TV.  I often use their CODEC's with the RealPlayer to play and manage video.  I create home videos for playing on my computer, web site, or DVD with the DivX codec in Roxio's Easy Media Creator.

The problem with DivX is that it is not as ubiquitous on the web or in DVD as other media formats although many DVD players, TV, recorders, and cameras now support the DivX format.  DivX is challenged not by technology, but by a sound marketing strategy.  They have made great inroads in the consumer electronics market, but they failed to make significant penetrations in consumer content, web video, mobility, and IP-TV/Internet TV.

What markets are left for DivX?  They missed the boat to be the format for high-definition DVD.  Microsoft is leading in IP-TV deployments, and Adobe's Flash dominates the Internet.  That leaves them relegated to yet another video format to fight out a niche content creation market for those people that want exceptional quality video in a small package.  There is a long-shot that they could be utilized as a next generation mobile content format should they seek partnership with their neighbor Qualcomm.  As displays on mobile devices grow and have greater resolution, customers are not going to be content with the graininess from the 3GPP format currently in use.  DivX certainly has a shot to position themselves as a next generation mobile content format. 

Although a mobile strategy has the potential to propel them beyond the $100 million revenue chasm, I do not see the talent within the company to achieve that goal.  DivX will continue on their respectable revenue growth trajectory from software sales and licensing revenue and remain under the $100 million mark for the next few years.  Consumers will have to settle with poor quality Flash video with islands of DivX clarity and portability.

Disclosure: This article is linked to the DivX site where they offered to send a serial number for a copy of DivX Pro although I already have these capabilities through Roxio Easy Media Creator.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Transformation of the Written Word

This is an excellent video on how the printed word continues to change how humans interact.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

One Number Does It All from GrandCentral

If you are like me you have too many phone numbers where you can be reached. One for the home, office, cell, and maybe a home-office number or a personal cell phone (humorous video). You never know where someone will call you or where to call someone. Most of the time you reach voicemail and not a real person.

For years telcos and equipment providers have been praising the virtues of fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) as a way to always reach someone. It will allow us to have one number no matter what device we use. Calls can find us no matter if we are at home, work, in the car, or on the yacht. My wireless and VoIP provider has yet to offer me this service. Yeah they have call forwarding and simultaneous ring, but it is a kludge for a true one number service.

Now there is a company that offers true FMC and they are not even a real phone company. GrandCentral offers true FMC to any phone through a single phone number. You can unify up to 6 numbers. Currently the service is free because it is in beta, but once it is released they will offer two numbers for free then charge for three or more numbers.

GrandCentral allows users to import their contacts and assign rules on where to route the call depending on who is calling. That way you can have your mother in-law go right to voice mail or an important client ring all phones. There are coarse settings for time of day. You can group contacts and have all contact of that group call certain phones with specific greetings.

GrandCentral brings back a feature that has gone the way of the answering machine: call screening. Users can listen to a caller as they are recording a message and decide whether to answer the call. Imagine how many people will start using call screening as their primary filter.

With GrandCentral you have one voicemail box that sends messages to any desired e-mail address and even send SMS alerts. Messages can be retrieved through GrandCentral's excellent user interface, any phone, or e-mail inbox.

Ever want to record a call or a portion of a call? Perhaps you are in the car and a client is giving you his address. You can fumble for a pen and paper to write it down while driving 70 mph or hit "4" on your phone and record the address for later playback.

One of the best features that I enjoy is the ability to transfer a call from one phone to another mid-call. Just hit "*" and select the phone to transfer the call and keep on talking. I often transfer calls from my cell phone to work phone when I arrive back in the office.

GrandCentral can even flag calls as spam and either send them to voice mail or play a recorded announcement. For a product in beta of its first release, it is very feature rich and stable. I have not had a single glitch with it in the few weeks I have been using it. I wish that I would receive more calls through it, but I have been somewhat reluctant to tell all of my associates of yet another number for me.

Although the service has several valuable features now, I would still like to see a few new features as they grow the product:

  1. Synchronized address book with Outlook or other contact managers. Importing is only a temporary solution.
  2. Greater granularity on how to handle incoming calls. I would like to see better time-of-day rules.
  3. Integration with Skype. Integration of Skype contacts may also solve address book integration issues. I would love having incoming calls see if I was present on Skype then ring it according to my rules. Imagine managing the GrandCentral inbox through Skype. Maybe I will have to wait for eBay to purchase GrandCentral before seeing those features.

Integration with Skype would make GrandCentral even more attractive to eBay. I can see many eBay merchants adding a "call me" button to their web site or eBay auctions because it allows them not to post a specific number.

Combine all of these great features with a well implemented user interface and it is no wonder that the company has been receiving rave reviews from David Pogue of the New York Times, CNET, NPR's Future Tense, Fox, and many other publications. GrandCentral has brought us the promise of fixed/mobile convergence without even being a phone company so why can't your phone company do the same?