Saturday, January 30, 2010

USB TV Tuner: No Cable Replacement

It’s time, I think, to get rid of my cable TV service. It’s over-priced and under-used in my house. These days, I can find most of the shows I like on Hulu or iTunes, anyway. Most, but not all. And there are times when I want to watch live TV. I like the Super Bowl, for example. And I want to watch the season premiere of Lost when it happens — not a day later, when ABC gets around to posting it online.

That’s why I thought a USB TV tuner might be the perfect solution: I could hook it up to my computer and view HD content on my shiny new 20-inch monitor. I’d pay only once — the upfront cost for the TV tuner — and could kiss cable bills goodbye forever.

As it turns out, though, paying cable bills might not be so bad after all, if the few days I’ve spent testing Hauppauge’s WinTV-HVR 1950 USB 2.0 Hybrid TV tuner are any indication. This $149 device has plenty of potential — and in the right circumstances, could prove useful — but it didn’t work well enough in my house to make me think about cutting the cable.

The WinTV-HVR 1950 is actually a small box, slightly smaller but thicker than a CD case, that connects to your computer via USB 2.0. It can capture analog NTSC and digital ATSC channels, as well as ClearQAM (unencrypted cable) channels. You also can connect external video sources (like DVD players) using the tuner’s S-Video and composite video inputs.

Hauppauge recommends connecting an external antenna when scanning for over-the-air channels, but, unfortunately, the company does not supply one with the device. Even a small, portable antenna, like the one included with the company’s WinTV-HVR-950Q I tested a few years ago, would have helped. When I connected the tuner in my home office and scanned for ATSC channels, it found zero. My computer is next to a window, and there are no tall buildings in my neighborhood to block transmission, but when used without an antenna, the WinTV-HVR 1950 was not able to pick up any channels.

When I tried the tuner on my laptop, in a downstairs room in my house, I had better luck, and was able to pick up a handful of over-the-air stations. Still, if you want to use this product on a desktop computer that’s in a fixed location, you’ll need to purchase your own antenna. Unless you happen to have one sitting on your roof, that is. The user manual notes that a roof-top antenna will deliver the best picture, but let’s be serious: who has a roof-top antenna these days? And who’s willing to hook one up just to use a TV tuner with their computer?

Not me. That’s why I switched to scanning for ClearQAM channels. To do so, you need to connect a cable line-in to the WintTV-HVR 1950, so you’ll, presumably, need a cable subscription. You could get by with paying for only the most basic service, I suppose, but doing so defeats my stated goal of going without cable entirely.

But the tuner did find plenty of ClearQAM channels; after scanning for just a few minutes, it identified more than 600 channels. That number was made even more overwhelming when I started watching them on the included WinTV software, and found that the way they were numbered made absolutely no sense. The HD broadcast of what is usually Channel 2 appeared as Channel 12203. Channel 4 was channel 63.10451. Only a few of the stations had names with them; most were represented as only a baffling series of numbers.

None of the channels had any programming information with them either, all of the shows were labeled “Unknown.” That means that if I wanted to record them using the WinTV software, which is actually pretty slick, I’d have to do so manually.

The good news is that all of the channels I was able to watch, both the ClearQAM stations and those that I was able to receive over-the-air without an antenna, looked great. HD picture quality was excellent, and even standard definition programs looked relatively clear. That’s why I think that Hauppauge’s USB TV tuner does have potential. If your computer is portable, or in an area that gets good reception, this device could prove to be cost-effective. But for the rest of us, Hauppauge needs to include an antenna. Until then, I guess I’m stuck paying for cable.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to Shut Windows down in the blink of an eye

OK. I think most of people do not know this method. They can actually shut down their Windows XP in a blink of an eye. No I am not joking! And the fact is you don't need any software's or updates or anything to do this. I'll show you step-by-step.

[Note: This method only works in Windows XP]
1. Click Crtl + Alt + Delete on your keyboard.

By doing this you will get a Dialogue box.

2. In this dialogue box click Task Manager.

3. Close all your programs.

[Read Carefully Now]

4. Click on the Shut Down Menu.

There is this List showing "Stand by" "Hibernate" "Turn Off".........

5. Press and hold the Ctrl Key [Control Key] on your keyboard and click on "Turn Off" [note: do not release the Ctrl key from your keyboard]

click on turn off by pressing and holding ctrl key on your keyboard

OK. That's all !

Its safe to turn off your UPS

There you go. The computer is already shut downed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Your Guide to Cutting the Cord to Cable TV


Anyone who gets cable TV or satellite in the U.S. has noticed a pronounced trend over the years: their monthly bill keeps going up. Sure, you can get lots of channels, plus HD channels and DVR functions, but those usually cost extra. According to research from Centris (PDF), the average digital cable bill was nearly $75 last year, and the average monthly satellite TV bill was $69.

What's causing those bills to skyrocket? A lack of competition among cable and satellite providers, and the rising costs of programming. The most recent programming dustup happened when News Corp. demanded carriage fees from Time Warner Cable, and settled before any channels were dropped. Time Warner is planning an upcoming rate hike. Like other traditional media, TV networks (both cable and broadcast) are being squeezed by lower advertising income, and think they can just keep raising the cable bills indefinitely.

Unfortunately for the cable TV industry, they've picked a bad time to raise their rates. Centris found in a separate report (PDF) that due to the economic meltdown, eight percent of U.S. households were likely to cancel their pay TV in the third quarter of '09, and nearly half of households contacted TV providers for discounts or cheaper packages.

Thanks to the rise of Netflix, Hulu and hardware like the Roku box and Apple TV, cutting the cord to cable TV doesn't mean cutting yourself off from your favorite shows and channels. While past experiments at bringing together the web and TV (such as WebTV) have failed, the recent recession has pushed people to pursue their own convergence projects that enable them to watch web content on their TV. Depending on various living room setups and viewing habits, making the changeover from cable to online TV can be complex and maddening. But you're sure to save a bundle of money.
Hardware and Services

The first thing to do when cutting the cord is list the shows you watch regularly, and your favorite TV channels. Next, do a little online research to find out whether those shows appear on the channel's streaming sites (such as,, etc.) or on Hulu or YouTube. Many shows on pay channels such as HBO don't appear until much later, and usually must be bought via a service such as iTunes.

In addition to what's available online, you might be surprised at the quality of over-the-air broadcast channels since the digital switch-over last year. Many newer TVs only require an antenna to get local broadcast channels, while older TVs need a converter box, which runs from $40 to $80. Plus, some of the programming includes HD content. To find out which digital channels you can get over the airwaves, input your location at the AntennaWeb site.

(Note: Broadcasters recently announced at CES that they would be offering "mobile DTV" so that people could pick up digital broadcast TV on laptops, smartphones and tablets.)

Below is a rundown of some of the more important elements to enjoying TV content via the web. You won't need to get all of them but you can mix and match those that will get you what you need. Most cable quitters find they can get about 95 percent of the TV content they used to watch on cable via the various services below.


This is the box most cable quitters seem to like. It connects to your TV and your computer network, let's you watch Netflix streaming movies, and offers some free and pay options for additional content. It costs $79.99 for SD and $99.99 for an HD model.

It's basically a front-end device to iTunes, letting you download movies and music and play them through your TV. Problem: No TV tuner or DVR functionality.

Digital converter box
If you want to get the digital over-the-air stations in your area, you'll likely need an antenna for newer TVs or this box for older TVs. Cost: $40 to $80.


This small box connects your TV to an external hard drive, letting you play movies, TV shows, photos or music you have downloaded. The standard WD TV is about $79, while the WD TV Live that lets you watch Net content is $119.

eyeTV hybrid
It's a TV tuner for a Mac, letting you watch digital over-the-air channels on your Mac, or even on your iPhone with an extra $4.99 app. Cost: $149.95.

Game consoles
Netflix will let you play movies through your XBox 360 or PlayStation 3. There are also a wide variety of TV tuners and other devices that can turn game consoles into home entertainment systems.

Note: If you prefer simply connecting your computer directly to your TV set without any other hardware, you can do that, too. Here's a great video explaining how:

How To Connect Your Laptop To Your Television on Howcast

Services and Sites

The granddaddy of the DVD-by-mail services, Netflix has also become a huge entryway for people who want to dump cable and get TV shows later when they're available on DVD. Netflix also offers unlimited streaming of some movies and TV shows, which works well with a Roku box or other Netflix-ready devices. Cost: $8.99/month for 1 DVD plus unlimited streaming, with various higher cost plans for more DVDs.

The free U.S.-only TV show service is a joint venture between NBC Universal, Fox, and Disney. You are forced to watch commercials before and during TV shows and movies. While it has been an especially popular service for those dumping cable, there has been chatter that Hulu might charge for content at some point. Cost: Free (for now).

Apple's poorly named digital media buying service started out selling music downloads. Then it added a podcast directory, and now sells TV shows and rents/sells movies. Downloading TV shows at $1.99 per episode can get pricey, though there are discounted "Season Passes" and some limited free TV show offers.

The most popular video site on the web also can be accessed through various devices in order to view its content on your TV. These devices include the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and TiVo.
amazon on demand.jpg

Amazon on Demand

Amazon on Demand
Trying to compete with Netflix and iTunes, Amazon offers quick downloads of various TV shows at similar prices to iTunes. They are playable on Macs or PCs, or on devices that connect your computer to your TV.

Free software that helps you organize TV and movie content on your computer. Currently in beta, the Boxee software will soon come on a special Boxee Box from D-Link for under $200.

Windows software that lets you play Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. from your computer on your TV via a PlayStation 3, Wii or XBox 360. Cost: $39.99 after 14-day free trial.

Popular free file-sharing software for people who trade TV show and movie files. You'll need to search your own conscience to decide whether to download copyrighted material from sites that utilize the torrent system.
Sample Setups

Here are a few sample setups of people who get TV content without subscribing to cable.

Roku + Netflix and Amazon

Who: bloggers

Setup: Roku box that plays Netflix and Amazon content; digital TV converter box.

Quote: "Since we need to be more proactive and select shows from Netflix or Hulu, we read a lot more reviews and tend to sit down and watch complete movies rather than just switching around hundreds of channels."
eyetv setup.JPG

Dan Milbrath's setup with eyeTV

eyeTV + Mac Mini

Who: Dan Milbrath, product manager, San Francisco

Setup: eyeTV hybrid to get broadcast channels on a Mac Mini; projector for movies; Netflix.

Quote: "I'm intrigued by on-demand, online TV options like those being offered by Amazon and iTunes but I think the pricing is still a bit too steep. $1.99 for a one hour episode of 'Mad Men' is about double what I think they should charge."

AppleTV + PlayStation 3

Who: Leo Prieto, founder of online community, Santiago, Chile

Setup: AppleTV with iTunes and Boxee; PlayStation 3 playing BitTorrent content, podcasts.

Quote: "I spend less than $30 a month on content, and it's all stuff I decided to watch (and not just 'what was on' or 'what I remembered to record on my DVR'). I also have Boxee on the Apple TV installed, which lets me access lots of public and free podcasts or web shows that aren't available on Apple TV (all free and legal)."

Hulu + laptop

Who: Carla King, author and tech editor, Pt. Richmond, Calif.

Setup: Laptop watching Hulu; uses projector for some movies on Netflix or iTunes.

Quote: "The availability of content of all kinds on the Internet is a terrible distraction for me from tasks at hand and health in general. Whereas before I could cancel my magazine subscriptions and choose not to buy cable TV to keep myself on task with personal and professional goals, I find that today I need to develop my willpower to the utmost."
What's Missing

For many people, the biggest barrier to canceling cable is the loss of live sports. While has a package of games you can stream online, and CBS has offered a popular March Madness on Demand stream, many other leagues have been slow on the uptake. Plus, there are often restrictions and blackouts with some online season pass deals. For example, the NBA League Pass Broadband does not include nationally or locally televised games. So if you're living in Boston, you won't be able to see Celtics games online if they are also on TV at the same time (whether they are home or away).
Leo Prieto.jpg

Leo Prieto

The same goes for other live events, such as awards shows. "Mainly, live TV content is impossible," said Leo Prieto, who gave up cable in 2005. "And most of that live TV content isn't available to download on iTunes later. For example, the Oscars or some sports event. In that case I have to go to BitTorrent and get the show afterwards. I would love iTunes or YouTube to offer live content."

Multimedia reporter Sean Mussenden is also living the cable-free life, and says he believes TVs will eventually come with direct Internet capabilities. He had an interesting take on how his discovery of programs changed without cable.

"When you rely on cable, the easy access to thousands of shows tends to limit your willingness to explore further," he said. "But there are far more options for informative and/or entertaining content beyond cable. Not having having cable has made me more willing to explore. For example, at the moment I'm really enjoying watching talks on and MIT's OpenCourseWare. I don't think I'd have discovered either of them if I still had cable."

In many cases, people who have canceled cable still get to see their favorite TV shows, but often much later than those with cable. If they can deal with being a bit behind, and don't mind the tech hassle of setting up a Net-to-TV connection with gear, they're often happy to save money and watch what they want.
More Reading

If you want to read more about cutting the cable TV cord, check out these sites and stories:

Cable Freedom Is a Click Away at NY Times

You Don't Need Satellite TV When Times Get Tough at

Cancel Cable and Save with Free Internet TV at Digital Trends

Ways To Watch TV Without Paying An Arm And A Leg For Cable Or Satellite at Bible Money Matters

Turn On, Tune Out, Click Here at WSJ (paid subscription required)

Cancel Cable TV by Paul Kedrosky

Cable TV's Big Worry: Taming the Web at NY Times

Who Will Win the Cable Wars? Not You. at Slate

Broadcast TV Networks Want Your Money at The Atlantic

More Fees For Broadcasters Could Hurt Cable Networks' Growth at Dow Jones

Why the Roku Netflix Player Is the First Shot of the Revolution at NY Times

Netflix Agrees To Warner's New Release Delay In Exchange For More Streaming Rights at PaidContent


Have I missed any important elements to cutting the cord? Have you cut the cord and if so, what's your setup? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and I'll update my story with any gear or services I missed.

UPDATE: There has been a lot of commentary on this story when it was linked on the PBS Facebook page. I thought it was worth addressing a few of those comments here:

> Michael Lindemann said, "Interesting that no one mentions cable Internet access as being an upshot to cable access. Interesting article, but it misses at least one key point: The fastest and most reliable way to get home Internet access is through the cable company! In my area, the cable Internet subscription is bundled with the cable service at a discount." That's true. For many people who cut the cord to cable TV, they still are likely to end up paying for Internet service from the cable company.

> Prashant Shah said, "The missing option in the article is the public library, where I've always found not-so-recent shows. Newer shows you need to wait a bit, but then I'm in no hurry." True enough. The public library in many communities offers up free borrowing of TV shows and movies on DVD. The selection can vary from library to library, but the price is right: free, as long as you return them on time.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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33 comments so far, Add Yours

Shawn Bouchard said:

January 8, 2010 10:43 AM

Great post Mark! Thanks for putting all these resources together in one place. I use EYE TV and Apple TV but haven't cancelled my cable subscription just yet since our 4 year old would really miss the kids programming and I would miss live sports. I agree with Dan Milbrath's note about pricing for tv shows. Considering this content is available for free from other sources I'd like to see costs lowered. Alternatively, I'd be interested in a Network pass that would enable me to download all the shows I like from a particular network/IP owner. So, if I wanted to subscribe to everything HBO produces it would auto download to my Mac/Apple TV.

Mark Glaser said:

January 8, 2010 12:07 PM

Thanks, Shawn, glad you liked the piece. I think the next step will need to come from content producers such as HBO to decide if they want to continue the model of getting paid for premium cable and DVDs, or whether they want to go direct to consumers via Net distribution. Cable co's say content prices are getting higher, but that seems to go agains the trend of content production and tools getting cheaper and democratized.

peggy treiber said:

January 8, 2010 12:49 PM

there's for live sports, too

John Johnson said:

January 8, 2010 12:59 PM

Very nice article.
I'm not sure if this is what Mussenden means by "direct internet capabilities," but there are TVs available now with Netflix and other capabilities built in. Check the Netflix site as a starting point.
Another point of interest is, from what I've experienced, the ad content when watching online is much less than when watching over the air, or on cable. Maybe 2 minutes for a 20 minute show, versus 10 minutes over the air.
Unless its recorded on my MythTV so I can skip commercials, I can't bear to watch regular TV now with its inane commercials.
One final note: I recently called Charter to cancel the video portion of my cable package (Very basic cable TV + Internet = $72/mo). They gave me a deal whereby I have the same services as before, but $10/mo less. Interestingly, the price was the same with or without TV.
It's definitely worth anyone's while to call and tell them you're about to bail and let them work to keep your business.

Tim Halle said:

January 8, 2010 1:27 PM

A couple of downsides here: The quality from netflicks and amazon download and hulu and for that matter everythig else Ive seen is crap. So until such time as we get something close to a consistant 19.4 Mb/sec or enough speed and storage to load up a 25 gig movie, this isnt an option I want. Of course there's good old terrestrial ATSC.
Furthurmore, I see the Comcast merger as a tacit acknowledgement that the jig is up with the standard approach to cable TV and that the future belongs to content owners and people with fast pipes. What really concerns me is that the cable lobby just might get their "High speed lane on the information superhighway" and thereby (for example) Comcast owned NBC content looks just fine but content from other broadcast outlets (especially independant ones) looks like crap or that Comcast (and Cox and Cablevision and the rest of them) require fees from distributers for access to their high speed pipe. From everything I've ever seen of the cable business, this is exactly the kind of thing they'd try to do.

anthonydpaul said:

January 8, 2010 1:31 PM

True, live content is one thing missing. However, the second is content you otherwise wouldn't discover.

For instance, a classic movies channel shows films you've never heard of and would never search for, but they have been hand-picked by someone who knows their stuff. Another example is the concept of channel-surfing, annoying so some, but a way of jumping into the middle of something you don't know the name of, but think is interesting enough to stop on and sit through before going back to watch the first half.

Both of these have become natural ways in which we sort through content. Replacing that with a grocery store of sorts assumes A: we know what we are looking for, and B: our tastes are similar to the populace if we want to be able to use ratings as a compass.

There is a big future in having content on demand, but there is also something to be said for live streams of non-live content people can tune into and put their trust into the VJ for.

Joseph Hayes said:

January 8, 2010 8:22 PM

I've rarely had quality issues with Hulu or Netflix, and when it does happen a quick reload usually fixes the problem. I just have two connections to my TV: a PC, and a $40 antenna in the garage that's hooked up through my former cable-TV wiring. Instant access, better picture than I ever got from Bright House, and since I have to have Internet access anyway, free TV!

rick kelley said:

January 10, 2010 2:48 AM

Being an expat living in Ireland, I've adopted many of the suggestions in this article in order to consume some of my favorite US programming. What would prevent me from cutting cable or satellite cold turkey is the quality of streaming video on my 46 inch tv. For example, watching Slingbox or Hulu content that goes from my Laptop to my TV, there's a significant quality loss... and certainly none of the content is in HD.

I would think internet right to the TV might recoup some of the lost quality, but you're still dependent on fast enough web speeds.

Any advice on how to improve that level of quality from web to TV?

Mark Glaser said:

January 10, 2010 9:31 PM

Thanks for the question. One thing I should have mentioned and should update in the story is that there have been some uneven experiences for some people in getting shows online. A lot depends on your gear, your connection quality and connection speed. Those are all improving but they still can vary greatly. For best quality, you're probably best off having a higher speed connection and going to sites that have servers in your country.

Phoebe said:

January 11, 2010 9:34 AM

I agree with anthonydpaul that beyond identifying the TV shows you already watch, you would ideally also be able to find new movies and shows you'll enjoy as part of a cable cutting set-up. I expect discovery services (like that are separate from any delivery service and help you choose what to watch from the universe of options, then connect you to watch where you prefer (Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc.), will become increasingly important as the number and size of web content sources increases.

Greg said:

January 11, 2010 12:12 PM

This is all great resources, but there is only one that eliminates your cable and your need for a dvr, and that's You can record whatever you want and it's stored online where you then can watch via your PC or phone.

Andres Peluffo said:

January 11, 2010 12:46 PM

I live in Argentina and most of the offers (Netflix in my Xbox, Hulu, are not working here. Anyone knows something better than torrents or something like that?

James Woods said:

January 11, 2010 1:20 PM

LOL, cords and cables are so 2008! LOL


Joe said:

January 11, 2010 1:40 PM

I cancelled cable 6 monnths ago in favor of Netflix (with roku box) and an OTA antenna. I have a 52" 1080P LCD TV. I have been very impressed with the picture quality out of the roku box. It is just a hair shy of the picture I get from my antenna and always worlds better than the standard def picture I got from the cable company. The only caviat to netflix streaming is that you need to have a fast connection to get a good HD picture. The picture will look really bad if you have a slow connection. On my cable company's 5-meg service, I have never had any issues with picture quality.

Bob said:

January 11, 2010 1:52 PM

Ugh. and ustream are useless for live sports. I've tried both of them. Once you actually find a working stream (since the guide is cluttered up by SPAM and garbage links) you have to rely on the stream continuing to function. I tried the Ravens & Patriots game yesterday and the ustream link pooted out about 5 minutes into the 1st quarter. Lame.

And for a lot of us out here in the boonies, an antenna just won't cut it. I have FIOS, but with an antenna we only get about 5 channels in English - the rest of them (another 5 channels) are all in Spanish.

Bittorrent is ok, but it's so 0-day.. and forget shows that are on HGTV or TLC. My wife is addicted to "Hoarders" and "Intervention" along with a few other shows that are on channels underserved by the bittorrent community.

Peter said:

January 11, 2010 2:26 PM

Thanks for the link to my article about how to watch TV without paying for satellite or cable! For a lot of the people mentioning the lack of quality here, you'd be surprised at how good the shows/netflix/hulu/etc look when streaming over the xbox 360..

JulieAnn said:

January 11, 2010 3:23 PM

@Mark This is spot on! However, for those who aren't ubertechs or don't want to live with the frustrations, we might need another option to bridge the gap. TV A La Carte.

It is time for a consumer led movement to bring competition and transparency back to the industry. Hundreds of folks have already signed up in San Francisco. No reason why other cities should be stuck with the same old status quo.

Also, there's a poll revealing which channels cost more... CNN or Fox News? Comedy Central or the Disney Channel? One thing missing is a reason why the average cable bill is $120 per month! Join the movement.

Rex said:

January 11, 2010 5:20 PM

I never did understand why I should be paying for cable or satellite TV at all.

Given that 20 minutes of every hour of TV programming contains commercials, the content providers should be paying the cable and satellite carriers to take their material to get those commercials in front of my eyeballs.

Joe said:

January 11, 2010 7:43 PM

We used to rent a DVD maybe once every couple years. So we had no interest in Netflix. It was our deep dislike of Cox Communications (nonstop telemarketing, hard sell tactics, rate hikes, etc) that lead me to discover Netflix about 18 months ago.

I've read a lot of complaints about their on demand content being all old junk. But I think its at least as good of a mix as cable. Plus they're up to 17,000 or so titles. Plus its available on demand. Plus its commercial free. Plus we're paying less than 1/4 as much as we did with Cox. Plus they send us DVDs for free.

Cox never mailed me DVDs for free.

We are on the 2 DVD plan, so that's one for the kids and one for the grown ups. It is SO MUCH BETTER than cable. It took a little adjusting to get used to, but we love it.

If cox offered a much-better-than-basic package at under $10/month that might give me something to think about. Suffice it to say, we won't be going back. We might buy another Roku box some day though...

J-bob said:

January 11, 2010 8:25 PM

There are plenty of free to air channels available over satellite including sports channels and PBS, if you own an FTA receiver and know where to point your dish.

Ted Barington said:

January 11, 2010 9:32 PM

You're missing out on more global tv stations. If you want mainstream tv then yeah you can go with cable but other smaller channels or more international channels can't be had for free through cable companies, at least not without paying an arm and a leg.

Whereas services like have few live stations that you can actually watch for free, of course it won't necessarily appeal to everyone but if you're not worried about experimenting than you can get a good deal (for the price of $0 you can't really complain).

Pau1 said:

January 12, 2010 2:51 AM

enjoyed the article, and enjoyed the comments even more.

My two cents (and worth every penny) to cover options that are more "free" than $79+

I recommend readers interested in freeing themselves from a paid subscription service investigate xbmc, boxee, and media portal (in my order of preference).

xbmc is a fantastic media portal player that covers every aspect of media (including music and photo management) that i am interested in outside of traditional broadcast TV.

yes, it is a bit on the technical side to tune to your preferences, but setting it up, using it, and obtaining the "wow" factor takes just a click of the mouse on the setup program.

runs on windows, mac, linux, and xbox.

Patrick Gunderson said:

January 12, 2010 7:22 AM

You noted for live baseball. For football, you can buy games at midnight the day after they are played via's Game Rewind

Jim said:

January 12, 2010 7:33 AM

Currently have the ROKU with Netflix, OTA antenna hooked up to my 60" projection tv & have been without cable/satellite for a year now. Have had to go to the pub occaisionally if I wanted to catch a sporting event that wasn't broadcast OTA. Ironically, met my local chapter of my alumni association by accident as a result. ROKU continues to add additional "channels" to their line up (MLB, Amazon, Pandora, etc.), and now has ESPN360 which has some events available for online viewing. Have three gaming systems set up also, the Opera browser on the Wii allows me to watch some video as well. My one drawback is living close to the airport, sometimes the air traffic scrambles my digital signal, quite annoying. But the Netflix streaming has allowed me to catch up on several tv shows I missed the first time around, DVDs tend to collect dust now.

anon said:

January 12, 2010 11:36 AM

What about windows media center? with a tv tuner hooked up to the over-the-air broadcast it makes perfect sense. As well as organizing media on the pc and the prospects of plugins for additional functionality.

Oski the Bear said:

January 12, 2010 5:23 PM

I'm really upset with the way comcast has treated me after being a long time customer. I've decided to cancel cable TV and build a media PC where I can download and watch movies anytime I want. Since I live on the west coast, I can watch tv shows at least an hour before it's shown on cable here.

Bye bye cable...

John Piel said:

January 13, 2010 8:49 AM is the best website for analyzing your local over-the-air tv reception options.

You didn't mention the DTVPal DVR, an excellent, dual-tuner DVR for broadcast television that requires no monthly fees.

Since Vista, windows has offered their media center software as part of the operating system (along with free channel guide services via Zap2It.) I love my Home Theatre PC- what's better than free HDTV?

Constance said:

January 13, 2010 3:32 PM

Thanks so much for this article. I will be forwarding it to my friends. As women there really is not much in the cable packages we care about and we are sick of subsidizing men's sports. Some of the most offensive content is the "women's content channels" where it is impossible to figure what is more offensive, the shows or the advertising. Tivo helps alot but I look forward to cutting the cord.

Constance said:

January 13, 2010 3:36 PM

Check out this website, you can see how much your cable bill would be if you had cable choice. Of course that won't happen because some of the media cartels advertising venues would have zero subscribers.

Beverly Smith said:

January 13, 2010 4:09 PM

I have all along refused to pay for TV-- cable, or otherwise. In the beginning TV programs were always free. You might need an antenna, but you had access.
Now we are being bombarded in from every direction to connect to something with a monthly CHARGE!!! The FCC Director has made a LOT of dreadful changes which are not in the interest of those of us with low incomes!!!
Up until this last change to HD and satellite, I was getting at least 10 good channels. Since the change I have had nothing but trouble, even with paying for an HD box and an antenna!!
EVERYTHING is aimed toward charging a fee to everyone and his or her brother for watching ANYTHING. You suggest just one way around it, but.....
What about those with limited incomes???? What is available for them?

Don't mean to sound harsh, just truthful.

Beverly Smith

CW said:

January 13, 2010 9:05 PM

Here is another way cutting the cable helps me. I have kids in the house and if I subscribe to cable a lot of inappropriate content is force fed into my home. Reading about all this unwanted garbage on unwanted garbage channels and then parentally controlling it is a large waste of my time and of course still leaves me paying for the crap that wastes my time. So it would be a tremendous savings of my time if I could cut the cable and only have the shows I select available to the kids.

James said:

January 14, 2010 10:49 AM

For sports ESPN360 is pretty solid and Yahoo sports covers many CBS stuff as well. PLus CBS does basketball live during the tourney. But really ESPN 360 is a great free resource.

Eric Elia said:

January 18, 2010 12:23 PM

Great roundup, Mark. I'm thinking Mac Mini, ota HD antenna, EyeTV and a NAS backup for my own setup.

I think however that you are oversimplifying the "decision" that HBO and their peers has to make about cable distribution vs. direct or 'over the top.' Large programmers are receiving multi-billion dollar checks from cable MVPDs, that in turn creates predictable revenue to fund programs like The Pacific, that require feature-film level budgets. The shift you describe, despite consumers asking for it, has significant economic ramifications. Good complement to this piece on the economics behind the industry from Will Richmond here:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

IPhone saves life

Man Buried in Haiti Rubble Uses iPhone to Treat Wounds and Survive
U.S. filmmaker Dan Woolley was shooting a documentary about the impact of poverty in Haiti when the earthquake struck. He could have died, but he ultimately survived with the help of an iPhone first-aid app that taught him to treat his wounds.

After being crushed by a pile of rubble, Woolley used his digital SLR to illuminate his surroundings and snap photos of the wreckage in search of a safe place to dwell. He took refuge in an elevator shaft, where he followed instructions from an iPhone first-aid app to fashion a bandage and tourniquet for his leg and to stop the bleeding from his head wound, according to an MSNBC story.

The app even warned Woolley not to fall asleep if he felt he was going into shock, so he set his cellphone’s alarm clock to go off every 20 minutes. Sixty-five hours later, a French rescue team saved him.

“I just saw the walls rippling and just explosive sounds all around me,” said Woolley, recounting the earthquake to MSNBC. “It all happened incredibly fast. David yelled out, ‘It’s an earthquake,’ and we both lunged and everything turned dark.”

Woolley’s incident highlights a large social implication of the iPhone and other similar smartphones. A constant internet connection, coupled with a device supporting a wealth of apps, can potentially transform a person into an all-knowing, always-on being. In Woolley’s case, an iPhone app turned him into an amateur medic to help him survive natural disaster.

Say what you will about the iPhone. This story is incredible.

Apple Sees New Money in Old Media


With the new tablet device that is debuting next week, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs is betting he can reshape businesses like textbooks, newspapers and television much the way his iPod revamped the music industry—and expand Apple's influence and revenue as a content middleman.

In developing the device, Apple focused on the role the gadget could play in homes and in classrooms, say people familiar with the situation. The company envisions that the tablet can be shared by multiple family members to read news and check email in homes, these people say.

For classrooms, Apple has been exploring electronic-textbook technology, these people add. The people familiar with the matter say Apple has also been looking at how content from newspapers and magazines can be presented differently on the tablet. Other people briefed on the device say the tablet will come with a virtual keyboard.

Apple has recently been in discussions with book, magazine and newspaper publishers about how they can work together. The company has talked with The New York Times Co., Conde Nast Publications Inc. and HarperCollins Publishers and its owner News Corp., which also owns The Wall Street Journal, over content for the tablet, say people familiar with the talks.

New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger declined to comment in an interview Wedensday on its involvement in the new device except to say, "stay tuned."

Apple is also negotiating with television networks such as CBS Corp. and Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC, for a monthly TV subscription service, the Journal has reported. Apple is also working with videogame publisher Electronic Arts Inc. to show off the tablet's game capabilities, according to one person familiar with the matter.

Apple's strategy contrasts with how other technology companies are approaching media. Notably, Google Inc. offers content to consumers largely free on properties like its video-sharing site YouTube, making relatively little distinction between clips from users and that of professional media companies. Web sites like Twitter and Facebook also provide outlets for user-generated content.

Mr. Jobs has a longstanding strategy of devising new ways to access and pay for quality content, instead of reinventing the content. Apple's iTunes Store, for instance, became the world's largest music retailer partly by making it easy for people to buy music, most of it from major record labels, by the song instead of by the album. Its digital media receiver Apple TV was also designed so people can buy and rent movies and television shows.

Mr. Jobs is "supportive of the old guard and [he] looks to help them by giving them new forms of distribution," says a person who has worked with the CEO. "What drives all of these changes is technology, and Apple has an ability to influence that."

Apple's divide with Google over how it views media content also drives the wedge deeper between the two companies. Apple's iPhone, for example, currently closely integrates Google's mapping and search technology, but a person familiar with the matter said Apple was in serious discussions with Microsoft Corp. to incorporate its Bing search engine into the iPhone as the default search and map technologies. Microsoft declined to comment.

Details of how Apple charges for the content on its tablet couldn't be learned, but people familiar with the company's thinking say Apple could change conventional payment structures. One person familiar with the matter said the company was discussing with the New York Times how it could charge for news through iTunes. It's unclear how people will access content wirelessly off the tablet.

An Apple spokesman said the company "doesn't comment on rumors and speculation." Mr. Jobs didn't respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Jobs's effort to repackage and resell more media content is not without obstacles. He has already faced resistance from television companies and cable network providers over Apple's desire to license just their best content rather than all of it.

Many music executives complain that it has become a powerful gatekeeper between the labels and customers. What's more, the iTunes Store's music downloads haven't grown fast enough to offset the decline in CD sales for music companies.

On Monday, Apple sent out an invitation to a media event on Jan. 27 "to see our latest creation." The tablet, which Apple currently plans to ship in March, will have about a 10- to 11-inch touch screen, people familiar with the situation say.

Apple's tablet foray faces several obstacles. Analysts say demand will depend on its price, which some believe will be about $1,000. Apple must also convince consumers the product is worth buying in addition to an iPhone and a laptop computer. And Apple faces competition from cheaper netbooks and other devices such as Inc.'s Kindle e-book reader.

The tablet's success will depend "on how this product can fit into the user's daily life... and whether you have enough content to make it important enough to use it," said Henry Lu, senior vice president of Taiwanese computer company Micro-Star International Co., which failed at selling a tablet computer a few years ago.

In the academic arena, Apple could face hurdles wooing universities if the tablet doesn't meet their needs or isn't compatible with other computing devices that students are using.

Amazon had been hoping to target the market with its 9.7-inch screen Kindle DX e-book reader, for example, but schools said the device wasn't sufficiently interactive and lacked basics such as page numbers and color graphics.

One person familiar with the matter said Apple has put significant resources into designing and programming the device so that it is intuitive to share. This person said Apple has experimented with the ability to leave virtual sticky notes on the device and for the gadget to automatically recognize individuals via a built-in camera. It's unclear whether these features will be included at launch.

Apple's content-related efforts heated up in the fall. In October, Apple sent representatives to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the industry's largest trade fair, according to one person familiar with the matter.

At the same time, Apple pitched media companies on a "best of TV" subscription service to television networks under which customers would pay a monthly fee for on-demand access to programs from a bundle of participating TV networks, giving consumers another way to readily access TV content.

At a meeting in New York with one network in October, an Apple executive said the company was specifically looking to access four to six shows per channel, said one person familiar with the meeting.

Apple has also been planning a revamp of its iTunes music service by creating a Web-based version of it that could launch as soon as June, say people familiar with the matter. Tentatively called, the service would allow customers to buy music without going through the specialized iTunes program on computers and iPhones.

People familiar with Apple's plans say a central part of the new strategy is to populate as many Web sites as possible with 'buy' buttons, integrating iTunes transactions into activities like listening to Internet radio and surfing review Web sites.

In November, Apple hired Tracy Augustine, a former executive at textbook publishers Cengage Learning Inc. and Pearson Education Inc., as the director of worldwide education. Ms. Augustine is responsible for "driving global strategy and revenue for the education online store for students," according to her LinkedIn description. Ms. Augustine didn't respond to a request for comment.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

E-Mail? Free. Internet? That’ll Cost You.


EVERYBODY wants to be connected, and most major airlines in the United States have made bets that in-flight Wi-Fi Internet service will be a profitable sideline, or at least a worthwhile brand enhancer.

As the year started, about 700 commercial airliners were outfitted with Wi-Fi by Gogo, a product of Aircell, which is by far the leading provider of airline Internet connections. That is roughly a quarter of the domestic mainline fleet, excluding regional jets.

The number reflects robust growth for a service that started on an American Airlines plane in the summer of 2008. Gogo is now being offered (or will soon be offered) on eight airlines: American, Delta, AirTran, Virgin America, United, Air Canada, US Airways and Continental. (Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, has been working with another Wi-Fi provider, Row 44, to install a Wi-Fi system on its fleet.)

But no one knows how viable the market for in-flight connectivity can be, given that many passengers, particularly younger ones, resist paying for a Wi-Fi connection. The airlines with Wi-Fi connections have been charging up to $12.95 a flight, depending on the length of the trip, to cover their costs.

Most airlines decline to provide the so-called take rate, or percentage of passengers who choose to pay for the service. But from what I’m told, it has been running at 5 to 7 percent, and is spiking on some flights, like Virgin America’s routes between San Francisco and New York, which attract a lot of business travelers who work in technology industries.

In mid-December, Continental Airlines made a move that further clouded the picture. Continental, which had lagged competitors in embracing in-flight Wi-Fi, announced that it would install Gogo on its fleet of 21 Boeing 757-300 aircraft early this year.

But at the same time, Continental indicated that it was hedging its bets. Continental has also been installing a live in-flight television system, which is now available on 48 of its later-model 737s and is planned for its 757-300s by the end of the first quarter. Those are the same 757s, incidentally, where Continental has decided to install Gogo Wi-Fi.

Continental says it is experimenting with the market. The television system DirecTV offers 95 channels of live television and eight programmed channels, for about $6 a flight. (It is free in first class.)

The DirecTV system also offers a service — free to everyone — called Kiteline, which uses a tiny slice of the broadband spectrum for passengers to send and receive e-mail messages and instant messages. This bare-bones connection does not allow surfing of the Web. But it is free, whereas Gogo’s full-broadband service is not.

Continental’s question is, Will passengers who already have the option of watching television pay for a full broadband connection, or will they be satisfied with the limits of a free e-mail connection?

“Our goal is to try to understand what customers want, and what people are willing to pay for connectivity — which is something that customers are going to be looking for in air travel,” said Jim Compton, Continental’s executive vice president for marketing. “But what does connectivity itself mean?”

There is a lot of money riding on such questions. Aircell and its airline partners say they believe that demand for Gogo will keep growing, especially given the spurt in sales of Wi-Fi-enabled BlackBerrys and other smartphones, which are more convenient to use in cramped airline coach seats than full-size laptops.

“It is dependent to an extent, over time, on hand-held devices,” said Ron LeMay, Aircell’s chief executive. He said that after a sluggish period in the first half of 2009, Gogo was expanding rapidly again.

In the second half of 2009, he said, usage grew “over 10 percent a week, although admittedly a number of those sessions have been promoted sessions” — by which he meant promotional offers for Gogo by other companies marketing to airline passengers.

But he added that paid sessions and revenue had been growing recently by “over 5 percent a week.” Gogo is now looking for more businesses to subscribe to extended plans for traveling employees, rather than depending solely on single transactions in an aircraft cabin. He also said that regional jets, which are increasingly flying longer distances, could be a growth market.

It costs up to $100,000 a plane to install Gogo. Initially, Mr. LeMay said, Aircell paid those costs, but last year the model was changed to require airlines to pay for installation.

As to Continental’s long-term plans, we’ll see how the experiment works out.

“We’re certainly interested in far more than 21 airplanes, but what they’ve committed to at this point is 21,” Mr. LeMay said.

Who's Sorry Now? Nearly Everyone


Jane Angelich carried the guilt around for more than four decades. Years ago, she had been cruel to someone and had never acknowledged her actions. Often, she thought of the person she had hurt and wondered: Had he ever forgiven her?

Finally, she decided she could carry her burden no longer. So last winter she went online and looked up the person she had mistreated. Then she apologized for telling him to "drop dead" when he called her house back in 1961.

They were both 10 years old at the time.

"When something is nagging at you for 48 years, you need to clear it up," says Ms. Angelich, 58 years old, a pet-products company chief executive in Novato, Calif. "That was the meanest thing I ever did to anyone."

Along with helping people reconnect with old flames, childhood friends and even long-lost relatives, the Internet is giving rise to a newer phenomenon: the decades-late apology. The Web allows us to converse by email, a form of communication that often makes us braver and more impulsive—and occasionally even more thoughtful—about what we say. There are even Web sites, such as and, dedicated to facilitating our quest for absolution.

Michelle Joyce holds her brother's old Cub Scout knife. He recently apologized for chasing her with it and pretending to attack her when she was 6 years old.

And among all those people we are finding from our past online, there is bound to be someone we wronged somehow, right?

In reporting this column, I heard tales of people asking forgiveness for everything from failing to return a library book to dating a college roommate's ex-boyfriend. One man apologized to his brother-in-law for telling his sister years before not to marry the man. Another told of contacting a university that had admitted him 13 years earlier and apologizing for never filling out the questionnaire they had sent him asking why he chose not to attend. "I just wanted to set things right," he said.

Not all tardy apologies come through the Web, of course. I heard from one woman who had picked up the phone to say she was sorry to her sister for confronting her about her weight gain, another who had called her mother to apologize for being resentful over being raised without a father, and a former employee who called her ex-bosses to apologize for writing a book trashing the company after being laid off.

Last spring, out of the blue, Michelle Joyce's older brother presented her with his old Cub Scout knife and said he was sorry for chasing her around the kitchen and pretending to attack her with it when she was 6 and he was 10.
Journal Community

What would you like to apologize for, years or decades later?

Mike Gerard, Ms. Joyce's brother, says his apology was inspired by a book that encouraged readers to think about the unresolved events in their lives, no matter how small. "As you get older, you realize that you spend your whole life trying to protect your younger sister, and that was one time I let her—and myself—down," says the 38-year-old former Army Ranger, who lives in Bixby, Okla.

Ms. Joyce, 33, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., and books corporate seminars for a living, says she didn't think the incident warranted an apology and felt bad to learn it had troubled her brother for years. "But I was touched that it meant that much to him to make it right," she says.

All this raises the question: Just because there is someone from our past we could apologize to, should we? After all, how effective is an act of contrition—whether proffered over the Web or otherwise—that comes many, many years late?

Consider my friend, who recently received a lengthy email from a guy she dated in college, apologizing for the way he treated her at a bar one night in 1987. He said he had always regretted his behavior. She says she had no idea what he was talking about.

(At this point I'd just like to say that if you are a man I dated—I won't mention names—and you think you owe me an apology: I promise you I will remember why. So feel free to beg forgiveness.)

Rachel Golden was unmoved when she found herself on the receiving end of a belated apology. After a good friend from high school got married five years ago, she sent a gift to the bridal shower because she couldn't attend. She never received a thank-you note, and she was not invited to the wedding. In fact, she never heard from the friend again.

Flash ahead 3½ years. One day Ms. Golden received a message, via MySpace, from her former friend: "I hope everything is well. Sorry about the shower. Here is my phone number."

Ms. Golden didn't reply to that message—or the next one she received six months later. "It wasn't only the lateness, although it was astronomically late," says the 27-year-old publicist, who lives in New York. "If she had been more sincere, if she had at least told me what had happened, it would have helped."

Ms. Golden's friend, Simone West, says she couldn't afford to invite all her friends to her wedding and that she had so much going on in her life at the time—wedding planning, honeymoon, moving apartments, new job and a new baby—that she didn't get all her thank-you notes written. "I didn't realize Rachel was so upset," says Ms. West, 28, a hairstylist in New York. "If I had, I would have taken the initiative to apologize way before I got in touch on MySpace."

Of course, some apologies—for things like theft or backstabbing a colleague—are serious and really should be made. But we live in a self-help culture, where therapists, 12-step program guides and talk-show hosts are forever reminding us that forgiveness and gratitude are the way to happiness (and sobriety). Many times, a long-overdue apology, much like a confession, does more for the person offering it up than it does for the one receiving it.

When an old high-school rival of Kathy Somes contacted her through last March, Ms. Somes, 46, apologized for her behavior years ago, which included putting gum in the girl's hair, shooting her with a rubber-pellet gun and blowing a trumpet into her ear during band practice.

"I didn't really care if she accepted my apology or not," says Ms. Somes, an investment analyst in Kirtland, Ohio. "I felt better." (And, she says, her classmate did accept her apology.)

Jane Angelich, who told her fifth-grade crush to drop dead in 1961, agrees. She explained in her email to him that she hung up on him because she didn't know how to talk to a boy at the time and was embarrassed that her mother was listening. He replied to her apology, she says, and said he did not remember the incident. "It was good to know, though, that luckily he wasn't scarred for life," she says.

Still, there are times when a little contrition can go a long way (like on a deathbed)—and sometimes it really is never too late to say you're sorry.

Laura Shumaker learned this last year, when a former classmate of her autistic son apologized to her for teasing the boy years earlier, when they were both in middle school. Although the young man, who is in his early 20s, hemmed and hawed, it was the acknowledgment of his behavior that mattered to her.

"I cried all the way home," says Ms. Shumaker, 54, a writer who lives in Lafayette, Calif. "In life you don't know what's behind the surface and why a person behaves a certain way, so you have to be forgiving."

So what do you do if you are overcome with the urge to apologize for something you did ages ago? Here are some tips:

• Make sure you are apologizing for the sake of the other person and not yourself. (The woman I interviewed who apologized to her sister—a year later—for mentioning her weight gain says her sister got upset all over again and accused her of "reminding her that she was fat.") If your motives are selfish, don't bother saying you are sorry.

• Resist sending an apology via a social-networking Web site. It's too flip. Use the phone. Or at least write an email, which demonstrates a little more thoughtfulness.

• Ask how your actions affected the other person. "The best gift you can offer is the willingness to finally hear exactly what the other person felt like as a result of your actions," says Karen Gail Lewis, a marriage and family therapist in Cincinnati.

• Be sincere. Explain why you did what you did, and why you are apologizing now.

• And—at the risk of sounding like your mother—try to apologize in a timelier manner next time. My 21-month-old nephew Zach did it last weekend, after throwing one of his toys at me. If he can do it, you can too.

Why the need to reboot after updating Windows?

By Susan Bradley

Not so long ago, Microsoft promised that fewer Windows patches would require restarting the system to complete their installation.

Microsoft clearly hasn't delivered on that promise, so PC users need to take steps to ensure that they don't lose data due to unexpected post-update reboots.

Let's face it, we all hate rebooting. At best, rebooting requires that you start your work session over. At worst, if you've set Windows to update automatically, any open documents may close without giving you a chance to save your information.

In 2005, Microsoft started talking about a new restart manager to be built into Vista to ensure that fewer operating-system and application updates would require a reboot. In an Eweek interview at the time, Jim Allchin, former Microsoft co-president of the Platform Products and Services Group, boasted how much this technology would change the game.

But Microsoft's promises of fewer or no reboots were a lot of hot air. For example, let's look at Internet Explorer, although the same idea holds for any software you update.

When you update IE, the new software is written to disk. Any old code (such as dynamic link libraries or DLLs) already active in system memory usually remains untouched. Only when you restart do you flush out all the old code and load the new, updated software from your hard drive.

This is why in my experience, virtually all IE patches still insist on a reboot. Without a restart, you're still running the old code that contains whatever flaw the update was designed to correct.

And don't think that using Firefox gets you a pass on these updates: You have to update Internet Explorer because Windows uses IE for many other purposes. Thus malware can still reach your system through IE whether you open the program or not.

Predicting whether an update requires a reboot

Patches whose installation requires a restart are normally released by Microsoft only on the second Tuesday of the month (Patch Tuesday). However, Microsoft also distributes updates on the fourth Tuesday of the month. This is where the water gets muddier.

The descriptive text accompanying these updates states only that a reboot may be required. In these cases, some machines will need to reboot to complete the update installation, and some won't, but there's no good way to tell in advance.

Even Windows 7 is annoyingly vague in stating its update-reboot requirements. On my Win7 test machine, I reviewed several recent randomly chosen updates to determine whether the patches demanded a reboot. Each update used the vague wording that it "may" require a restart.

* KB976098 patches Win7's Date and Time applet and didn't need a reboot, even though the update indicated that it "may" need one.

* KB890830 for the Malicious Software Removal tool also didn't need a reboot but stated that one "may" be required.

* KB974431 is a monthly compatibility update normally delivered on the fourth Tuesday; it did require a reboot.

* KB975467 and KB974571 are security updates that forced a restart to complete their installation.

* KB976325 is an Internet Explorer 8 patch that — to my amazement — didn't require a reboot, although both the update itself and the related MS security bulletin MS09-072 warn that one may be necessary. (See Figure 1.)

Windows Update restart warning
Figure 1. The message accompanying some Windows updates warns that a restart may be required, but there's no good way to tell whether one will in fact be necessary.

Confused? As Ms. Palin would say, you betcha. The uselessly vague fudge-phrase "may need to restart" leaves you guessing. What's the story, Microsoft? I asked the company to clarify but haven't yet received a response.

Until we have clear word from Microsoft as to when reboots are truly required, it's generally wise to reboot after installing any Windows patches. It's the only way to be sure that all old code is flushed out of active memory.

Note that Windows XP lacks the restart manager and thus doesn't support "hotpatching." That's why reboot nags are so common on XP machines. However, even Windows 7 fails to live up to Jim Allchin's no-reboot promise.

Autosaving avoids data loss from forced restarts

You can do two things to minimize accidental loss of data due to files closing unexpectedly during a forced reboot. First, set your automatic-update options to either "download but do not install" or "notify me when updates are available."

Second, configure your applications to save files automatically.

Office 2007's "AutoRecover" function autosaves open files every 10 minutes by default, but you can reset Word, Excel, and other apps to automatically save your files more frequently. To do so, click the Office button and choose Options, Save. Make sure Save AutoRecover information every xx minutes is checked, and then adjust the time between autosaves to your liking. (See Figure 2.) You can also change the autosaved files' location so they're easier to find if you need to restore them manually.

Microsoft Word 2007 Autsave options
Figure 2. Use Word 2007's AutoRecover (autosave) features to ensure you don't lose data due to a forced reboot.

To change your autosave settings in Word 2003, click Tools, Options, Save. Make sure the Save AutoRecover info every option is checked, and then adjust the number of minutes. (See Figure 3.) As in Word 2007, you can also change the folder storing your autosaved files; in Word 2003, this option is found under the File Locations tab.

Microsoft Word 2003 Autosave options
Figure 3. Word 2003's autosave settings are found under the Save tab in the Options dialog box.

Is this sufficient protection? Not for me. I've gotten into the habit of clicking the Save button (or pressing Ctrl+S) every few minutes while I work. I also save all open files before stepping away from my PC, even if I expect to be gone just a few minutes.

If you use Windows 7, be extra-observant on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, when Microsoft releases most updates. Watch for a "shut down and install patches" prompt in place of the normal shutdown prompts around those days. If you get the prompt and want to postpone the patch installation to a later time, shut down by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete and choosing the direct shut-down option on the resulting screen. (See Figure 4.)

Windows 7 no-update shutdown
Figure 4. Press Ctrl+Alt+Delete to shut down Windows 7 without installing downloaded updates.

With each passing year, we seem to spend more of our workday maintaining our systems rather than actually using them. I hope someday the people at Microsoft will realize we want to spend more time doing our work and less time doing theirs.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

MagicJack's Next Act: Disappearing Cell Phone Fees

MagicJack's next act: Making cell phone fees disappear? Carrier applause not expected

By PETER SVENSSON AP Technology Writer

The company behind the magicJack, the cheap Internet phone gadget that's been heavily promoted on TV, has made a new version of the device that allows free calls from cell phones in the home, in a fashion that's sure to draw protest from cellular carriers.

The new magicJack uses, without permission, radio frequencies for which cellular carriers have paid billions of dollars for exclusive licenses.

YMax Corp., which is based in Palm Beach, Fla., said this week at the International Consumers Electronics Show that it plans to start selling the device in about four months for $40, the same price as the original magicJack. As before, it will provide free calls to the U.S. and Canada for one year.

The device is, in essence, a very small cellular tower for the home.

The size of a deck of cards, it plugs into a PC, which needs a broadband Internet connection. The device then detects when a compatible cell phone comes within 8 feet, and places a call to it. The user enters a short code on the phone. The phone is then linked to the magicJack, and as long as it's within range (YMax said it will cover a 3,000-square-foot home) magicJack routes the call itself, over the Internet, rather than going through the carrier's cellular tower. No minutes are subtracted from the user's account with the carrier. Any extra fees for international calls are subtracted from the user's account with magicJack, not the carrier.

According to YMax CEO Dan Borislow, the device will connect to any phone that uses the GSM standard, which in the U.S. includes phones from AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA. At a demonstration at CES, a visitor's phone with a T-Mobile account successfully placed and received calls through the magicJack. Most phones from Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. won't connect to the device.

Borislow said the device is legal because wireless spectrum licenses don't extend into the home.

Despite Risks, Internet Creeps Onto Car Dashboards


LAS VEGAS — To the dismay of safety advocates already worried about driver distraction, automakers and high-tech companies have found a new place to put sophisticated Internet-connected computers: the front seat.

Technology giants like Intel and Google are turning their attention from the desktop to the dashboard, hoping to bring the power of the PC to the car. They see vast opportunity for profit in working with automakers to create the next generation of irresistible devices.

This week at the Consumer Electronics Show, the neon-drenched annual trade show here, these companies are demonstrating the breadth of their ambitions, like 10-inch screens above the gearshift showing high-definition videos, 3-D maps and Web pages.

The first wave of these “infotainment systems,” as the tech and car industries call them, will hit the market this year. While built-in navigation features were once costly options, the new systems are likely to be standard equipment in a wide range of cars before long. They prevent drivers from watching video and using some other functions while the car is moving, but they can still pull up content as varied as restaurant reviews and the covers of music albums with the tap of a finger.

Safety advocates say the companies behind these technologies are tone-deaf to mounting research showing the risks of distracted driving — and to a growing national debate about the use of mobile devices in cars and how to avoid the thousands of wrecks and injuries this distraction causes each year.

“This is irresponsible at best and pernicious at worst,” Nicholas A. Ashford, a professor of technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of the new efforts to marry cars and computers. “Unfortunately and sadly, it is a continuation of the pursuit of profit over safety — for both drivers and pedestrians.”

One system on the way this fall from Audi lets drivers pull up information as they drive. Heading to Madison Square Garden for a basketball game? Pop down the touch pad, finger-scribble the word “Knicks” and get a Wikipedia entry on the arena, photos and reviews of nearby restaurants, and animations of the ways to get there.

A notice that pops up when the Audi system is turned on reads: “Please only use the online services when traffic conditions allow you to do so safely.”

The technology and car companies say that safety remains a priority. They note that they are building in or working on technology like voice commands and screens that can simultaneously show a map to the driver and a movie to a front-seat passenger, as in the new Jaguar XJ.

“We are trying to make that driving experience one that is very engaging,” said Jim Buczkowski, the director of global electrical and electronics systems engineering at Ford. “We also want to make sure it is safer and safer. It is part of what our DNA will be going forward.”

Ford’s new MyFord system lets the driver adjust temperature settings or call a friend while the car is in motion, while its built-in Web browser works only when the car is parked. Audi says it will similarly restrict access to complex and potentially distracting functions. But in general, drivers will bear much of the responsibility for limiting their use of these devices.

Computer chips and other components improve every year while dropping in cost, allowing carmakers to introduce more sophisticated devices. Harman, based in Stamford, Conn., and a maker of such systems for cars, has created a pair of high-end multimedia systems due out this year that use full-fledged PC chips from Intel and Nvidia. Such chips once consumed too much electricity to be used in cars.

“We have always looked at the PC market with envy,” said Sachin Lawande, the chief technology officer at Harman, which works with Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota and others. “They’ve always had these great chips we could not use, but now that’s changing.”

A complex new dashboard console from Ford, which it plans to unveil Thursday, brings the car firmly into the land of electronic gadgets. The 4.2-inch color screen to the left of the speedometer displays information about the car, like the fuel level, while a companion screen on the right shows things like the name of a cellphone caller or the title of the digital song file being played. An eight-inch touch screen tops the central console, displaying things like control panels and, when the car is not moving, Web pages.

The system has Wi-Fi capability, two U.S.B. ports and a place to plug in a keyboard — in short, many of the features of a standard PC.

The automakers’ efforts are backed by companies that make chips for PCs and that want to see their processors slotted into the 70 million cars sold worldwide each year.

“Cars are going to become probably the most immersive consumer electronics device we have,” said Michael Rayfield, a general manager at Nvidia, a chip company that on Thursday plans to announce a deal with Audi. “In 2010, you will sit in these things, and it will be a totally different experience.”

The giants of the industry contend they are giving consumers what they want — and the things that smartphones and the Internet have trained them to expect.

“Customers are expecting more and more, especially business people who expect to find in the car what they find in their smartphone,” said Mathias Halliger, the chief engineer for Audi’s multimedia interface systems. “We should give them the same or a better experience.”

The muscle of the computer industry adds powerful new backing to efforts by carmakers to introduce new technologies as a source of profit. Once they promoted advanced stereos, but now navigation and integrated phone systems are the hot items.

“Carmakers assume, as most consumers do, that most cars are alike in terms of line quality and safety, and all the old attributes,” Art Spinella, an auto industry analyst with CNW Research, said. “Now the way to distinguish yourself is through higher tech.”

“But they’re totally ignoring one of the key issues of the future of driving, which is distracted driving.”

Awareness of that issue is growing. Even in 2003, when fewer people were multitasking in cars, researchers at Harvard estimated that motorists talking on cellphones caused 2,600 fatal accidents and 570,000 accidents involving injuries a year.

Charlie Klauer, a researcher at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, says motorists face a much greater crash risk when looking at a screen, even if it is just a simple GPS map. She says the overall danger for drivers will rise as screens deliver additional streams of data.

The longer a motorist looks away from the road, “the risk of crash or near crash goes up exponentially — not a linear increase, but exponentially,” Ms. Klauer said. “So when you start introducing things like e-mail, Internet access, restaurant options or anything like that, the risk goes up.”

Regulators worry about the developments, too. Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, said the companies involved were on the wrong track.

“The idea they’re going to load automobiles up with all kinds of ways to be distracted — that’s not the direction we’re going, and I will speak out against it,” he said.

The companies contend that they are creating helpful systems that display crucial information. And they are quick to point out that more computing power could mean better safety technology as well, like sensors that try to predict dangerous driving situations.

Ford and Audi say they extensively tested and tweaked their systems to cut down on the amount of time that drivers spend looking at screens. Brad Stertz, a spokesman for Audi of America, said that this testing was voluntary.

“Because a lot of this is so new, there’s not a ton of regulatory testing that’s required, like would be required with crash testing,” Mr. Stertz said. He added that the company was also hoping to avoid legal troubles, saying, “It could be a legal issue if someone gets into a car accident and the cops blame the car company for a system that’s too elaborate.”

Darrin Shewchuk, a spokesman for Harman, said his company was working on safety technology like voice systems for listening to and composing e-mail messages. But he said that “generally speaking, the safety testing is really the responsibility of the automakers.”

Friday, January 8, 2010

HOW TO: Download YouTube Videos to Your Desktop

DISCLAIMER: As some of you have pointed out in the comments, downloading personal copies of YouTube videos is not supported by the YouTube Terms of Service, which states:

“You may access User Submissions for your information and personal use solely as intended through the provided functionality of the YouTube Website. You shall not copy or download any User Submission unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the YouTube Website for that User Submission.”

We want to stress that most of these tools do violate the ToS and that if you use them, you do so at your own risk. Also , if you’ve been tempted to download for a better browsing experience on the big screen, don’t forget YouTube has already got you covered on that with YouTube XL.

youtube logoIt’s been a while since we looked at ways to download YouTube videos to get local copies of your favorite vids, and we thought it might be time to take a look at which options are still left standing and what new apps are worth checking out.

For those of you new to the concept, you’ll need to know a couple of things. Many of these sites and tools simply grab YouTube (YouTube) videos in their native Flash format (FLV). To watch these files on your desktop, you’ll either need to get yourself an FLV player or convert the files into another format you can watch in your media player of choice (or on your iPod/iPhone, cell phone, or wherever the videos will ultimately end up).

Some of the listed tools include FLV players or file format converters along with the video download functions. Choose your poison according to your needs and patience level — if you do a lot of downloading it might be worth your while to check out the more full-featured apps.

And now, on with the list!
Web-based services


Downloader9 – This plain and simple free site lets you paste in a video URL from YouTube, Metacafe, DailyMotion or Myspace (MySpace) and generates a download link for the FLV file. As with many of these bare bones options, you’ll have to rename the file to something.FLV and have your own FLV player to watch the vids.

KeepVid – KeepVid is a simple and free utility that’s not quite as slathered with ads as some in the free downloader playing field. Just paste the URL of the video (works with YouTube as well as several other video sites) and you’ll get an option to download it in either FLV or MP4 formats — the extra format option is a nice touch here, too.

Vixy – Vixy offers YouTube downloads in the following formats: AVI (DivX + MP3), MOV, MP4, 3GP and MP3. It’s easy to use and not as obnoxiously ad-laden as some of the options further down this list (it’s also survived since our previous feature on the subject).

Easy YouTube Video Downloader (Easy YouTube Video Downloader) – This one’s actually a Firefox (Firefox) extension that adds a download button option to the YouTube interface itself. Conversions are available to MP4 and 3GP, with HD quality options displayed where available. – This freemium service supports YouTube downloads in the following formats: AVI, MP4, MOV, 3PG, 3PG2, WMV, FLV, EXE, ZIP and MP3 (paid plans only for MP3). You have a limited number of daily download credits under the free plan, with unlimited downloads and more file formats available under the $7 a month Downloader plan. They also provide a white label custom player service as well, which we reviewed back in February.

VideoDownloadX – This site made our last list and is still around. The plus side is it’s completely free. The downside is it’s so heavily ad-supported you have to tread carefully to avoid accidentally clicking on an ad, and you have to manually rename the files with a .FLV extension. You’ll also have to provide your own Flash FLV player to watch the downloaded videos.

SaveTube – Another simple paste and download tool in the vein of Downloader9 or KeepVid, SaveTube works fine but, like VideoDownloadX, is a minefield of ads to navigate.

VideoGetting – This one is free and supports conversion into multiple formats (WMV, MP3, MP4, MOV, 3GP, AVI, MPG, MPEG), but you’ll have to tolerate annoying pop-ups and ad traps to use it.

Windows Applications


Orbit Downloader – This desktop app downloads videos from several sites including YouTube, plus offers downloading from streaming music sites like Pandora (Pandora), imeem, Myspace, etc., giving it a unique edge over some of the rest of the pack.

Moyea YouTube FLV Downloader – The free version of this app simply downloads YouTube vids as FLV files, while the paid app lets you convert them to MP4, 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG, MKV, FLV, MP3, MKA, WAV, AC3, and M4A.

Vixy – The online tool Vixy we mentioned above in the web section also has a client available for download if you want to go the desktop app route.

VDownloder – Another survivor from our first round look at YouTube downloaders, VDownloder is a free app with support for a number of online video sites including a handful of (ahem) adult sites. It supports video search right from within the app and can save to AVI, MPG, MP$ (iPod/iPhone), PSP, 3GP, Nokia, VCD, SVCD, FLV and MP3.

Videoslurp – This attractively-named free app includes a built-in browser to find the YouTube vids you like and download them in one click. There’s a web-based online downloader version of Videoslurp also, but we couldn’t get it to work (if anyone else has luck with it, let us know in the comments).

Desktop YouTube Downloader – This $10 app has a 15-day free trial and comes with a bunch of features, including a built-in FLV player so you can watch videos without needing a separate Flash player or waiting for a file conversion. If you want the file conversion, this app covers that too, and can save the video to MPEG, WMV, iPod/iPhone or 3GP cell phone-typical file formats. It can also extract the audio track and save it as an MP3 or WAV file.

Mac OS X Applications


TubeSock – This cross-platform app can both play YouTube videos and download them. Conversions are available to MP4, H.264 and MP3 formats, targeting the iPod/iPhone and Sony PlayStation Portable specifically. It also features a bookmarklet script for Safari (Safari) or Firefox that can automagically queue videos to TubeSock as you browse. The app is $15 and will only convert the first 30 seconds of video in the trial.

Vixy – The online tool Vixy we mentioned above in the web section also has a client available for download if you want to go the desktop app route. This one will work with both Intel and PowerPC Macs.

TubeTV – This freeware app provides search and browse tools as well as downloads and conversions. You’ll need to install the excellent Perian open source component to handle the conversions. If you’re a Mac user and don’t already know about Perian, it’s a great Swiss army knife-like codec utility that can also help solve a lot of compatibility problems trying to play back video files with Quicktime.

This is by no means a comprehensive list — we left out a number of sites and apps with nearly identical features to the items on this list. And though we included a few freemium and paid apps, we avoided some of the more costly tools in favor of the free and cheap in this set.

There’s also sure to be some apps and sites we just don’t know about yet — so if you have a favorite tool for downloading YouTube videos to your desktop, let us know in the comments! If you’re listing a paid app, be sure and tell us why it’s worth paying for.

3D Television

It’s no wonder the 3D hype machine is out in full force. With the success of James Cameron’s “Avatar,” it's been a very good year for the format.

And starting Thursday, gadget makers, TV networks and movie studios at Las Vegas’ annual Consumer Electronics Show will ramp up the biggest home-entertainment technology push since high-def was foisted upon the populace a decade ago.

The message is clear: the next wave of entertainment lies in 3D television.

But what if the industry throws a 3D party and no one shows up? Though there could be product in the home by spring of this year, the hurdles in programming and infrastructure mean the format has a long way to go before it sees any kind of widespread use in the home.


In the month leading up to CES, a number of key 3D TV announcements were made:

* The Blu-ray Disc Association adapted unified standards to avoid a Beta/VHS-type format war.

* ESPN announced a dedicated 3D channel to kick off June 11 with World Cup Soccer.

* Discovery Communications, Sony and Imax announced plans for a dedicated 3D channel full of nature and science shows.

* DirecTV also will be trumpeting an all-3D channel.

Meanwhile, 3D-ready TVs already have started flooding the market – even if there’s nothing yet to show on them. So far, the only announced 3D Blu-rays are DreamWorks' "Monsters vs. Aliens," which will be bundled with select Samsung 3D-ready sets, and Sony's plan to release "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" this summer, along with its Blu-ray player.

Indeed, if the slow, cumbersome adoption of Blu-ray has taught us anything, it’s that mass uptake of expensive home entertainment systems is hardly a given, especially amid the worst Consumer Confidence Index since the Great Depression.

Consumers who just plunked down dough for nifty hi-def flat-panel TVs might not be willing to upgrade again so soon to the new 3D-ready monitors. The same for those early adopters, who in the last year purchased new Blu-ray players but will still need a newer, shinier one if they want to experience 3D.

(The Blu-ray Disc Association is set to announce at CES just how its new 3D standards will affect legacy 3D equipment.)

Just as challenging are the myriad technical issues involving such fun words as bandwidth and standards.

It’s one thing for ESPN to announce it’s going to put together a 3D channel, but quite another for the various satellite and cable carriers to step up and create the infrastructure needed to import the content into the home.

In fact, cable carriers are still struggling to accommodate the girth of HD within their pipes.

“Cablevision offers 834 channels, and only 120 of them are in HD,” said consumer electronics analyst Richard Doherty. “They had to really push recently just to add 20 (HD) channels.”

With 3D consuming twice the bandwidth of the typically robust HD channel, you do the math -- the wires are only so thick.

“We are still getting over the hurt of paying for HD equipment,” Fox Sports chairman David Hill warned at a recent 3D Entertainment Summit.
“There is no way the broadcast industry is going to step up and pay for the 3D infrastructure without a good fairy coming into the office to write us a check.”

Certainly, there’s impetus to make this all work – especially from the studios’ point of view.

Half of the highest grossing movies in North America last year were released in 3D. As studios release more and more of their product in the format, having 3D in their primary profit center is essential.

And, despite DVD’s recent downturn, that profit center is still the home.

“North of 50 percent of the revenue on a major film comes from home entertainment,” Greg Foster, president of filmed entertainment at Imax, said during a recent Digital Hollywood panel. “If that is not available on 3D, your primary revenue source becomes something that is not quite as strong as it was.”

Added Technicolor chief marketing officer Ahmed Ouri: “Studios are looking to amortize their 3D. Blu-ray is an immediate solution.”

It's also an immediate solution for the hardware manufacturers.

TV makers have watched the margins on flat-panel HDTV sets shrink to almost nil, with price points falling well below $1,000. With the entry-level price point for 3D-ready flat panels set at around $2,000, margins will once again be thick -- especially if you can offer "Avatar" in the home as a selling point.

And for cable networks and carriers eager to maintain their distribution system from the erosive forces of the internet, 3D TV represents a kind of last chance.

Sure, young, early-adopting consumers can shut down their cable and satellite services and still watch “Mad Men” and “True Blood” on their computers. But they can’t watch Portugal play Spain in the World Cup in 3D on the internet.

“Two years ago, people were still saying 3D TV probably won’t work,” Sony CEO Howard Stringer said in a conference call Tuesday, in support of the company’s joint initiative with Discovery and Imax. “The momentum of 3D in the last six months alone has been quite striking. And even though there are not hundreds of movies (in 3D), there’s a kind of rolling rhythm to this.”
Next in the revolution -- more 2D-3D conversions, no glasses and even an image right in your lap
By Carolyn Giardina
Published: January 07, 2010

In a record-breaking year at the box office, TheWrap graded seven movie studios on their 2009's. Find out who made bank, who merely survived, and who lost their shirts despite the bonanza.

While the new 3D Blu-ray players and flat screens are hogging the spotlight at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, technologists are already preparing for the next stages in the 3D revolution.

Down the line, that means taking off those bulky glasses … and even holograms (imagine watching Princess Leia's hologram beg Obi-Wan for help in “Star Wars” -- as an actual hologram).

But the first step: Providing more conventional 3D product to consumers – especially with providers like DirecTV, TK and TK devoting entire channels to the format.

On that front, the conversion of existing 2D programming to 3D is getting a lot of attention, especially as advancements push the price down. And for good reason: Not only would a flood of conversions provide instant content for 3D-ready homes, but it would breathe new life not into everything from recently released movie hits to classic TV series, such as “Star Trek” or even "CSI."

The technology has already been used to convert library titles such as “Toy Story” and “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,” as well as Disney's upcoming “Beauty and the Beast” re-do.

“There is a lot of heat in this space,” said David Wertheimer, CEO of the Entertainment Technology Center at USC. “Virtually all of the companies that have great libraries are going back and doing projections on which titles might lend themselves to conversion. It is a very active area of discussion.”

The technique is also considered an option for new productions. Disney’s “G-Force” was the first new title to be made in 2D, then converted.

Challenges include pricing and quality. A year ago, conversion estimates ranged from roughly $50,000 per minute to more than $100,000 per minute, depending on the complexity of the content. As additional companies entered this market, pricing started to drop -- although rates still vary greatly as not all methods are created equal.

“You can automate the process, but to make it look really good, it is an artistic process,” Wertheimer told TheWrap.

Conversion techniques also have to create quality 3D that is comfortable to watch.

“The trend is that we are breaking the $20,000-a-minute range,” Joshua Greer, president of 3D provider RealD, told TheWrap. “Sub $10,000 or $5,000 -- we can unlock new content at those price points.”

All that may change.

JVC recently unveiled the prototype for an automated conversion box. If it actually reaches the market, JVC aims to sell the system for about $50,000. Total.

This mean that for an investment of $50,000, a network like ABC or Fox could inexpensively convert all its programming to 3D.

And that's just the beginning. In the not-too-distant future, it might be possible to finally remove the glasses.

Philips was instrumental in getting this dialogue started. Back in 2008, the manufacturer demonstrated the prototype of a 3D TV that didn’t require the use of glasses -- but earlier this year it made a surprising decision to abort further development. “Philips probably would have stayed in the game if they thought it was just around the corner,” said USC’s Wertheimer.

Most insiders generally agree that this technology is at least five years away from a consumer rollout -- but it is coming.

Marty Shindler, principal of industry consulting firm the Shindler Perspective, told TheWrap: “As 3D TV set penetration grows, those companies making TVs will start perfecting glasses-free products.”

“We’ll see it first for signage,” RealD's Greer said. “Right now, the content needs to be produced differently.”

Looking further into the 3D crystal ball, some experts conclude that there’s no question that not just glasses-free viewing -- but holograms -- are the future.

Offering an early glimpse at the potential, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Japan demonstrated a moving hologram at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters convention.

Among 3D watchers, it was one of the exciting and most-discussed exhibits.
NICT intends to try to interest the broadcast industry in holograms for home entertainment -- although a company spokesperson admitted that this is probably a decade away.

“I think holograms will happen, but it is way out there,” Shindler said. “Just the regular 3D TV market is going to take a long time.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Groups Plan to Launch 3-D TV

Groups Plan to Launch 3-D TV
At Least Four Networks Would Offer Shows,Video-on-Demand Movies in the U.S.


At least four new 3-D television networks are in the works, as entertainment and electronics companies look to push 3-D movies, TV programs and sporting events into more American homes.

The new networks are part of a larger effort to surmount a chicken-and-egg problem that has long bedeviled 3-D's expansion into the home: how to convince consumers and media companies to invest in a technology when there is both little content and few people with the equipment to watch it.
[3DTV] Discovery Channel

The Discovery-Sony-Imax venture would feature series, such as 'Atlas 4D,' above, covering sites from the pyramids to the Great Wall of China.

DirecTV Inc. is planning to launch two 3-D channels and a 3-D video-on-demand service in the U.S., according to a person briefed on the project. The channels and service, which could be announced as early as Wednesday, would offer movies and other content, the person said.

A DirecTV spokesman declined to comment on the plans.

The DirecTV channels would join two 3-D television networks announced Tuesday. Discovery Communications Inc., Sony Corp. and Imax Corp. said they were forming a joint venture to launch one using their movies and TV shows in 2011. Meanwhile, Walt Disney Co.'s sports-TV unit, ESPN, said it would launch a network later this year that will air matches from the upcoming World Cup soccer contest, as well as from other sports.

Is the next big thing for home entertainment be 3D television? Sam Schechner discusses the scramble to provide content to match the technology.

The efforts come as a flurry of electronics companies plan to unveil new 3-D-enabled TV sets at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas, and as Hollywood spends more to make movies like "Avatar" for the multiplex. ("Avatar" is distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, which is owned by News Corp., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.)

"You have all this capital being driven into the creation of this 3D content," said Richard Gelfond, chief executive of Imax. Studios "want to find a way to make back that money in the home," Mr. Gelfond said.

The new networks will face a significant hurdle as few people have the equipment to watch 3-D at home. In 2010, only about 1% to 2% of the 35 million flat-screen TVs that will be sold in the U.S. will be 3-D-enabled, estimates Riddhi Patel, an analyst for iSuppli Corp.

The companies behind the new channels believe they can help drive adoption. "I don't think there's a more powerful platform than sports to demonstrate what 3-D can do," said Sean Bratches, ESPN's executive vice president of sales and marketing.

The new Discovery-Sony-Imax joint venture could offer 3-D movies and TV series from Sony, nature and science series from Discovery, and 3-D movies that Imax has long shown in its big-screen theaters, the companies said. Unlike the ESPN channel, which will be available only when events are aired, their channel will be on the air 24-7.

Already, ESPN and the joint venture say they have had very early discussions to put the new 3-D services on channel lineups of major U.S. TV distributors. A spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable Inc. said the company had had preliminary discussions with some of the ventures.

"We've always been on a mission of having our programming be closest to real," said David Zaslav, chief executive of Discovery. "If there's demand for 3-D, the distributors are going to want to have it."

"We are very interested in developing 3D content for our platform and our customers," Derek Chang, DirecTV's executive vice president of content strategy and development, said in a statement supplied by a spokesman.

Both ESPN and Discovery were big early proponents of high-definition TV technology.