Category Archives: Sony

Sony’s CRACKLE making noise with free Internet TV service

While Netflix was busy battling HBO over exclusive content and providing an increasingly valid reason to cut the cable-cord, Sony’s Crackle just kept building.

Adding content, signing advertisers and launching on an array of devices including Xbox 360, Roku, Sony Blu-ray players, Sony Internet-connected TVs, Android, iPhone, iPad and more.

Its time out of the spotlight paid off. Now it’s clear that Crackle, which launched in the summer of 2007, is a contender.

Opting for an ad-supported model — the lifeblood of terrestrial radio — Crackle is free on all devices. It’s a proven formula: Free service = more users. More users = more ad dollars. Great method for generating revenue and users.

Other ad-supported services: Terrestrial radio and now Pandora and Slacker, Facebook and websites (see those banner ads? They’re paying the bills.) All ad-supported. 

Crackle’s fresh content and smooth interface makes it feel like mini-Netflix. Hundreds of movies, clips and made-for-TV content. Plus the only place away from DVD you’ll find Seinfeld, which features 10 new episodes episodes each month.

Movies, Clips and TV like Spider Man 3, Ghostbusters, 21, Pineapple Express, Year One, Talladega Nights, Cruel Intentions, Passengers, Joe Dirt, Vacancy, Stranger than Fiction, 8MM, Basic Instinct 2, TV shows like Seinfeld and News Radio.

Crackle reports nearly 300 movies. More than 100 TV shoes and around 50 original TV shows featuring made-for-Crackle content.

Sure the library’s not as vast as Netflix or even Amazon Instant Video, but it’s free and available on a growing number of devices.

Crackle is mysteriosly absent from PlayStation 3, even though Crackle itself is a Sony service. Crackle lists that it’s available on PS3, though only through the PlayStation web browser. It’s not currently available on PS3 in app-form.

Venture Beat reported today, however, that Sony is preparing to announce a new video service for PS3. Rumored to involve Internet channels or apps. (An idea we suggested more than a year ago.) The new service would likely include Crackle.

Some devices as of late now require the Crackle user to login with a username and passord. Which tells me Sony wants a more accurate count of users and active users for advertising.

Like Netflix or Hulu, Crackle users can add content to a queue or choose to subscribe to TV shows.

And its mobile and iPad versions are smooth and attractive.

Crackle’s almost ready for the big leagues. And its timing is near-perfect. Though it’s entering a crowded marketplace, not one has presented itself as a real Netflix competitor.

And I wouldn’t count anyone out.

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5 tech predictions for 2012

Introducing FIVE TECH PREDICTION FOR 2012.

5Tech12

5. Content producers skipping the middle man

Zimedium called it on May 8, 2011. In a post titled My predictions for Internet TV and the future of Cable.

“I’d watch for more studios and content owners to explore options for skipping the middle man and becoming the means of distribution for their content.” (See story May 8, 2011)

Louis CK did it seven months later — this December — for his special Live at the Beacon Theatre. Instead of distributing the video through Netflix or HBO, Louis CK put it exclusively on his website. All fans had to do was visit his site, pay the $5 price and download the special. So how’d it turn out? Well, in 12 days, Lois CK’s DRM-free video download made a cool $1 million. And it’s still going

Louis CK’s special is only the beginning. In 2012, more will follow his model. Entertainers, content providers, even premium cable channels.

4. Customized Ads… Tailored to your purchases, browsing habits, check-ins and interests

Ads customized to your interests. Google does it best. Hulu’s already doing it with in-show ads and its Ad Swap feature. You can select what you like instead of watching what Hulu thinks you’ll like. Facebook does it. Facebook displays ads based on what fan pages you like. Foursquare does it too, by offering suggestions based on where you check in. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley discussed the company’s Explore/Recommendation engine at LeWeb 2011 in early December 2011.

“We went through about two years of Foursquare where people thought that they were checking in for mayorships and points and badges. The check-ins weren’t just for the badges,” Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley said on stage at LeWeb 2011. Every time you tell us that you like to go to this sushi place, we get better about recommending you another place to go to. Every time you tell us that…you know a lot about this area of Paris or this are of New York, we know that you’re really familiar with that neighborhood. And we can suggest other things that you may not know about. Or we know when you’re in areas that you’re not so familiar about we can start offering things that help you out.”

Ads based on what you “like,” tweet, check-in, watch. Information you provide both voluntarily and data acquired based on your actions. Get ready to not hate the ads that interrupt your programming…at least not quite as much.

In 2012, Customized Advertising will be king. Whether you’re aware of it or not.

3. Video-game consoles becoming complete entertainment hubs

We called it an entire year ago, on Dec. 27, 2010. In a post titled When will PS3, Xbox, Wii incorporate Internet TV.

“…When will Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo enter the [streaming content] game themselves? Doing so would offer another bit of differentiation, another perk for owners of each console.

“Who will be the first to fully embrace streaming content or Internet apps?

“Because it’s going to happen, and whichever is the first to act will only begin the next trend in video games and possibly home entertainment as we know it.” (See story Dec. 27, 2010)

Xbox 360 introduced its revamped dashboard one year later, in early December of 2011. The new dashboard featured Internet apps including Netflix, Epix, SyFy, ESPN, Daily Motion, NBC News, Zune, YouTube and Live TV integration if you have the accompanying cable subscription.

In 2012, Xbox will roll out more apps and the rest will follow. It’s only the beginning. The future video-game console will be a complete media hub with dozens, possibly hundreds of channels and apps.

2. Entertainment on the Cloud

I hate the term “cloud storage.” Makes me think the cloud is only for backing up files. In 2012, the Cloud will become more than a backup service. Cloud for movies…music…pictures… and our movie libraries.

(I’m looking at my collection of DVDs and Blu-rays right now.) In 2012, our movie collection will extend to the cloud. Blu-rays already come with digital copies. How about a specially formatted “cloud copy”?

1. A BIG Netflix competitor

Through a few missteps in 2011, Netflix has enjoyed practically zero competition (or at least serious competition). Its maintained the largest number of video subscribers anywhere and built up its library of streaming content. Plus exclusive content on the way.

Zimedia predicts in 2012, one new company (or a service from a partnership of companies) will emerge as the biggest competitor Netflix has seen to date.

But it won’t be the death of Netlfix. In fact, few industries survive without competition. It’s good for business. It fosters growth, sometimes re-invention, and an improved user experience.

The re-branding facelift, when logos go under the knife

Pepsi, tell me what you don’t like about yourself.

For companies, re-branding with a new logo or fresh look provides a sort of facelift. (Really takes years off their life.)

Some get over-the-top PR, other re-brands slide in under the radar.

Zimedia has compiled a list of popular re-brands in the last four years, roughly 2008 to present. For many, it’s the first re-design in years.

Is there a downside to all this brand surgery?

Pepsi

Left: 1987 to 2008 / New Logo: 2008 to Present

Walmart

Left: 1992 to 2008 / New Logo: 2008 to Present

Best Buy

Left: 1987 to 2008 / New Logo: 2008 to present

NFL

Left: 1980 to 2008 / New Logo: 2008 to Present

Holiday Inn

Left: 1952 to 2007 / New Logo: 2007 to Present

Google

Left: 1999 to 2010 / New Logo: 2010 to Present

iTunes

Left: 2008 to 2010 / New Logo: 2010 to Present

Gap

Left: 1986 to 2010 / New Logo: 2010 to 2010. One week after introducing the logo, Gap returned to the previous logo

Starbucks

Left: 1987 to 2010 / New Logo: 2010 to Present

YMCA

Left: 1967 to 2010 / New Logo: 2010 to Present, with different color variations for different programs

Comedy Central

Left: 2000 to 2010 / New Logo: 2010 to Present

Wikipedia

Left: 2003 to 2010 / New Logo 2010 to Present

msn

Left: 1999 to 2010 / New Logo: 2010 to Present, though the old logo is still used as a “secondary” logo

DELL

Left: 1984 to 2010 / New Logo: 2010 to Present

Playstation 3

Left: 2006 to 2009 / New Logo: 2009 to Present

Discovery

Left: 2000 to 2009 / New Logo: 2009 to Present

Animal Planet

Left: 1996 to 2008 / New Logo: 2008 to Present

Red Lobster

Founded in 1968, Red Lobster introduced its new logo in 2011

Google Chrome

Left: 2008 to 2011 / New Logo: 2011 to Present

Petco

Founded in 1965, Petco introduced its new logo in 2011

Cinemax

Left: 2008 to 2011 / New Logo: 2011 to Present

StumbleUpon

Left: 2001 to 2011 / New Logo: 2011 to Present

Subtle re-brands are my favorite. Maybe freshen up the colors or soften the edges. Minor stuff. In and out in less than an hour.

We all need to reinvent ourselves from time to time. Re-evaluate our image and our focus. Brands are no exception. But there’s value, too, in brand recognition. Years of building a brand through products, advertising and generations of customers. Only to change things up in the fear of becoming stale.

There’s something to be said about an old brand. It’s got character, and it’s often packed with emotion and memories. Well-built brands are more than just a logo. And a botched re-branding can really look bad.

It’s not as easy as it looks on TV.

Just ask GAP.

Sources: The Logo Factory (thelogofacory.com), Brand New (underconsideration.com), IMDB

Top 5 tools for Mobile Productivity

Mobile is looking like Web 3.0 with the emergence of mobile devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook; the rise in smartphone usage; and the explosion of mobile apps. It’s not just for work. Mobile is taking over our lives. Work and play.

We’ve compiled the Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity, from the workplace to strictly entertainment.

Top Five tools for Mobile Productivity

1. Cloud Drives

Storage & Music

Standalone Cloud storage services like Dropbox receive most of the press. But Amazon’s variety comes with a music store.

Amazon is also a great place to store your music. Music purchases from the Amazon mp3 store can be saved directly to your cloud. And thus can be accessed anywhere and with a growing number of devices including smartphones and tablets. Start off with 5 GB of free storage. Just sign in, sign up for your free 5 GB and start uploading files for backup, storage or  to listen to your tunes without taking up space on your mobile device.

Hundreds of companies trust Amazon Web Services for their storage and hosting needs, including Netflix — which accounts for 25% of US Internet traffic — Yelp, Foursquare, PBS, Washington Post, Razorfish, SEGA, Urbanspoon, Tweet Deck, Airbnb, Harvard Medical School, NASA, Virgin Atlantic and more.

2. Google Apps

Calendar & Google Docs

It’s time to move on from Outlook, people. Google is the place to be. When I use Outlook for email or the calendar, it feels like I’m navigating a rotary phone…plus it’s tied to a machine. Google Calendar and Docs, as well as gmail, is tied to nothing; it’s all on the cloud. Access all of it on any computer, any smartphone, tablet or mobile device. Get calendar reminders on your smartphone.

With Google Apps (formerly Google Docs) user can save Documents, open Office products like Word and Excel — with or without Microsoft Office. When you save documents in the cloud — like resumes, presentations, pictures — they’re always with you.

Google’s smartphone apps — and native integration with most mobile devices — make all of your documents, calendar appointments and messages accessible anywhere with an Internet connection. Save documents, presentations or pictures as a backup or for instant access on any of your devices.

To get started, just sign up for gmail and click “Documents” at the top. [Note: if by the time of this post, Google has changed its navigation bar to a drop-down menu, just click the drop-down and find Documents.] Then start uploading files or Create a new document.

3. Smartphone Apps

There’s an app for that. It’s not just a saying. There really is an app for everything. News, Shopping, Books, Movies, TV, Social Networking, Checking in and just about anything else you can think of. Some of Tech Weekly’s favorites free apps for productivity and entertainment on the go:

  • Pulse News Reader – News from all around the web in one place
  • QwickMark QR Code Reader – Scan QR codes with this free app
  • ShopSavvy – Scan product bar codes to compare prices online and stores near you
  • Netflix* – all of Netflix instant streaming on your smartphone
  • Crackle by Sony – Free movies and TV on your smartphone
  • NFL Mobile – NFL News, Highlights and Live Streaming video
  • Amazon – Browse and buy everything Amazon on your smartphone
  • Amazon Kindle – Kindle’s library at your fingertips
  • Amazon mp3 – Listen to your library of songs from Amazon’s cloud drive
  • Slacker – Slacker Personal Radio on your smartphone
  • Foursquare – Check in to earn points, become mayor and unlock specials
  • Twitter – Follow your interests or tweet on the go with Twitter’s mobile app
  • Facebook – Update your status, check the newsfeed, check in or chat with friends
  • Shazam – Can’t name that song on the radio, just click Shazam and it’ll tell you
  • Flickr – Take photos and upload them to Yahoo’s Flickr
  • Yelp – Check reviews or find a new place to eat with Yelp’s smartphone app
*Subscription required for Netflix

4. MyFax

MyFax makes having a fax machine unnecessary. In fact, MyFax improves upon the old-school fax and then some.

No download necessary, just sign up for a MyFax account and you’ll be assigned a MyFax number. (You can pick the area code.) Once you’ve signed in, just click “Send a Fax.” Then enter the recipient’s fax number and attach the document you’d like to fax. Either scan the page to your computer and attach to the MyFax interface OR if the file is already on your computer, just attach. MyFax comes with some cool features including Cover Page Style; Status Flag for Urgent, Review, Comment, etc; and a Message Box. The recipient receives the fax in his/her fax machine, just like a normal fax.

Receive faxes right in your MyFax inbox as PDF or JPEG files. MyFax alerts you immediately via email. In fact, you can view the fax in your email inbox. If you’ve got email on your smartphone, you can view the fax right there. MyFax is a must for mobile work.

Send 100 faxes per month and receive 200 for only $10. Other options include Send 200, Receive 200 for $20. Or Send 400, Receive 400 for $40. Or an unlisted option of Send 50, Receive 50 for $5 per month. The plans can be changed at any time, though you’ll have to call MyFax to do it. Ironically, for an online fax service, you can’t change plans online. Though email is taking over, many businesses still fax documents. So ditch the fax machine and extra phone line and give MyFax a look.

5. Netflix

Netflix is the best thing to come to TV since color. It’s move to mobile only strengthens its hold on streaming movies and television content. And once you’ve got a Netflix subscription, it’s free on an unlimited number of devices. Use your one Netflix subscription on TVs, tablets, smartphones, etc. At home and on the road.

Until you’ve streamed Netflix content on a mobile device, it’s difficult to understand. A library of more than 20,000 titles available instantly with the tap of your finger. It’s as close to a dream as you’ll get.

To get started, just sign up for Netflix (streaming subscription starts at $7.99 per month after 1-month free trial) and download the Netflix app for your smartphone or mobile device. You’ll only have to sign in the first time after you download the app. From there on out it’s blue skies and smooth streaming.

Netflix is available on more than 700 devices including PCs; Macs; Internet-connected TVs; video-game consoles; Blu-ray players; Internet video players like Roku and Boxee; iPhone; iPad; Apple TV as well as Android and Windows devices…and more.


Life without cable, an Internet TV Guide

 INTERNET TV GUIDE [UPDATED OCT. 21, 2011]

I have been without cable TV service since April of 2010. One of the so-called TV cord cutters.

So for you, I’ll share my view (from the future perhaps). Here I’ve compiled a guide for those of us brave enough to live life without cable. In both written form and a chart for easier comparison.

Note: due to the complexity of these devices and the many different options, levels and subscription plans, some of this information may vary. For example, Xbox 360 requires no monthly subscription. But to access certain features, like its ESPN Internet App, an Xbox Live Gold Membership (roughly $3/mo.) is required. Additionally, Netflix starts at $7.99 for streaming-only, but an additional $7.99 for DVDs by mail, which I included below. I’m also focusing my guide on external devices, per se, and not TV sets that now have some of these offerings built-in, including wireless internet connectivity.

And now, a guide to Internet TV by Eric Zimmett.

[Click the guide to view full-screen.]

This guide is not meant to be a complete list of Internet TV services, but rather an overview of some of the best devices and services on the market. It does not include Internet-connected television sets, only external devices. As more services become available, and as current services change, this guide will be updated.

eab-internet-tv-guide-8-20111

CATEGORIES EXPLAINED: Unit Cost notes the cost of the device upfront, if there is one. Subscription lists the monthly cost to use the service. In some cases, it was an annual subscription. In those cases, I divided by 12 (thanks Math 004!) to put everything on a level playing field. Netflix notes whether or not the service has access to Netflix. A subscription to Netflix is still required. Hulu Plus notes whether or not the service has access to Hulu Plus. A subscription to Hulu Plus is still required. I-Net Videos refers to internet video found throughout the web like cbs.com, espn.com, etc and whether or not the device has free access to those videos. I-Net Apps notes whether or not the device includes its own set of internet apps like Break.com, Facebook, Twitter, USA Today, CNN, etc. Internet apps vary by device. Blu-ray Player notes whether the device plays Blu-ray discs. Rentals shows whether or not the service offers DVDs or Blu-ray discs by mail. Pay-per-view tells whether the service offers movies or TV shows on a per view basis instead versus by-subscription.

And now, the details…and “my take” on each.

Life Without Cable TV, The Landscape:

Streaming Services [content subscription plans]

Netflix* [subscription-based, streaming, plus DVDs and Blu-Ray discs by mail]

Users pay monthly for the Nextlix service, with a number of pricing options, starting at $7.99 for streaming-only, $7.99 for DVDs by mail. Netflix offers the largest catalogue of moves and a growing list of TV shows. No minimum contract length. No early cancelation fees.

My take: If you are going to go with only one subscription service, Netflix is it. The largest library, the best quality streaming plus DVD and Blu-ray by mail. Netflix has it figured out.

Hulu Plus* [subscription-based, streaming]

Users pay monthly for the Hulu Plus service. Cost is $7.99 per month. Hulu Plus offers the largest selection of TV shows and current season of TV shows. No minimum contract length. No early cancelation fees.

My take: If you are a Netflix subscriber, Hulu Plus is the perfect complement, offering you the new content, the current season that you don’t get with Netflix. Not nearly the quantity and streaming quality of Netflix, but Hulu is a great service.

Amazon Instant Video* [requires subscription to Amazon Prime, streaming]

Amazon Instant Video requires a subscription to Amazon Prime, which at first included only free 2-day shipping from Amazon.com. Amazon now lists Amazon Instant Video “free” with Amazon Prime membership. But since this isn’t a guide for the best free-shipping methods, Amazon Instant Video is about $7 per month (the price for Amazon Prime membership).

My take: Amazon Instant Video offers many of the same titles as Netflix (just not nearly as many). So if you’ve got Netflix, there’s no reason at the moment, other than free two-day shipping, to get Amazon Instant Video.

Internet-library streaming [connect with the internet’s library of videos, plus Netflix and Hulu Plus]

Google TV [purchase unit with Google TV built-in from Sony and Logitech, no subscription, streaming player]

One of the pricier options for streaming video, starting around $300. Sony and Logitech each make a box that when connected to your TV will open you up to the library of videos on the internet in addition to Netflix and Hulu Plus. When your set is hooked up to Google TV, the service creates a special page for every TV series, i.e. Men of a Certain Age, which lets you quickly watch any episode whether it’s on the web or cable (if you have a cable subscription). Note: Google TV also comes built-in to certain TV sets, but we’re focusing this report on external devices.

My take: Google TV’s biggest strength is merging Internet TV and Cable TV into a complete video experience. Since I am without cable, Google TV doesn’t really do it for me. But if you’re looking to get the best of both worlds, Google TV is definitely worth a look.

Boxee Box [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player]

Boxee Box by D-Link is a nice player. Like Google TV, it connects your TV to the internet and all the videos that come with it. In addition to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon VOD, etc.

My take: Boxee is a major contender in my mind (and in the running to be my next player). Boxee is clearly trying to set itself apart from the competition. Clever name. Clever box (check it out if you haven’t seen it). And a lot of great content. A couple noteworthy features: Boxee comes with a remote control with a QWERTY keyboard on the back, perfect for searching for a particular show or movie without having to navigate to each character with a remote control. Another advanced feature is Facebook sync (plus Twitter and Boxee Network), which displays what you and your friends are watching, allowing recommendations, etc. A little creepy, yes. But I believe this is an opt-in feature.

PlayOn* [no purchase required, free download, subscription-based, must have one of the following: Wii, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 or Google TV]

PlayOn is a cheap alternative to Boxee Box, Orb and Roku, connecting your TV to the internet through an external device like a Blu-ray player or video-game console – which gives you access to internet video from CBS, Comedy Central, TBS, Adult Swim, Spike TV, ESPN, CNN, PBS, Cartoon Network, YouTube, MTV, Pandora, Vevo, Revision3, SyFy, Food Network, TED and more, in addition to Netflix and Hulu Plus. PlayOn is a little more complex in that you have to download an application to your computer, then run the application and sync it with your compatible Wi-Fi device (PS3, Blu-ray, etc).

My take: I just picked up my subscription to PlayOn (free 14-day trial, about $3 per month thereafter) and I love it. Streaming quality depends very much on your connection speed, but for the price, you can’t beat the content it offers. It takes some know-how, as it requires not only a separate device to stream (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, etc) but also a computer and Wi-Fi network. But for the money, it offers great internet content to your TV.

Pure VOD (video-on-demand) [today’s pay-per-view]

Vudu* [video-rental service, pay per video]

Some people refer to all streaming video as VOD (video-on-demand) but I try to differentiate it from subscription-based unlimited streaming. VOD lets you rent or purchase movies (per title). Vudu is available on a number of devices including Blu-ray players, Video-game systems, and all the Boxees, Orbs and Rokus out there.

My take: Today’s Pay-Per-View. I’ve rented movies a few times. The service is easy to use, quality was good, depends again on your connection speed. Prices, however, were average, $3.99 per rental for SD quality, $4.99 for HD on most titles.

Blockbuster On-Demand [video-rental service, pay per video]

Similar to Vudu and Amazon Video On-Demand, available on a number of devices including Blu-ray players, Video-game systems, and all the Boxees, Orbs and Rokus out there. Blockbuster is trying to save itself by moving into the internet streaming biz. There’s just about 10 years too late.

NEW: Blockbuster was acquired by Dish Network in April of 2011. In September, the company introduced Blockbuster Movie Pass. First touted as a Netflix-killer, the official news was less than impressive. This service is now an add-on to a Dish Network subscription for an additional $10 per month. Big disappointment from the Dish/Blockbuster acquisition pairing.

My take: Have not tried Blockbuster On-Demand or Blockbuster Movie Pass. But I don’t think I’m missing anything.

Amazon Video On-Demand* [video-rental service, pay per video]

Similar to Vudu and Blockbuster On-Demand. Amazon VOD is available on a number of devices including Blu-ray players, Video-game systems, and all the Boxees, Orbs and Rokus out there. Amazon’s extended its services to the video realm. In addition to buying DVDs or Blu-ray discs on Amazon.com, you’re now able to stream videos instantly.

My take: Amazon could have something here. If it’s able to compete with Netflix and Hulu Plus with content, Amazon will be a contender.

Media Streaming Devices – the Big Players [each with its own set of internet apps]

Sony* [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player plus blu-ray player]

Upper-level Blu-ray players allow you to connect to the internet, often wirelessly, and stream video content from a variety of sources. Each company also has its own set of Internet Apps, including Netflix and Hulu Plus. Before buying a Blu-ray player, make sure it is able to connect to the Internet and access streaming video as not all players have this capability.

My take: I’ve got a Sony BDP-S570 Blu-ray Player. Blu-ray quality is excellent. Plus I can wirelessly stream movies, music and podcasts. Including Netflix and Hulu Plus (subscription required for those) as well as a selection of Sony Internet apps like YouTube, Blip.tv, Crackle, Dr. Oz, WIRED, Daily Motion, eHow.com and more, free.

Samsung [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player plus blu-ray player]

Upper-level Blu-ray players allow you to connect to the internet, often wirelessly, and stream video content from a variety of sources. Each company also has its own set of Internet Apps, including Netflix and Hulu Plus. Before buying a Blu-ray player, make sure it is able to connect to the Internet and access streaming video as not all players have this capability.

My take: Samsung is leading the way in the internet apps game, particularly with its Internet@TV. The company is really ahead of the curve (just introduced a Wi-Fi connected refrigerator with Pandora). Watch for more great things from Samsung.

Vizio [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player plus blu-ray player]

Upper-level Blu-ray players allow you to connect to the internet, often wirelessly, and stream video content from a variety of sources. Each company also has its own set of Internet Apps, including Netflix and Hulu Plus. Before buying a Blu-ray player, make sure it is able to connect to the Internet and access streaming video as not all players have this capability.

My take: Vizio players are usually lower in price than other models, like their TV sets, and they offer some quality apps. Vizio internet apps (via) include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Blockbuster, Amazon VOD, NBA Game Time, Flickr, Pandora, Rhapsody, Vudu, Twitter, Yahoo and eBay.

Apple TV* [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player]

Apple TV just redesigned its little black box (smaller, more portable?) but it still packs a big punch. Apple TV will get you Netflix and a few VOD options (pay-per-view) and YouTube, Mobile Me, and Flickr. The device also lets you sling media from an iPad to your TV.

My take: Like all Apple products, this thing is slick. Navigation and quality is smooth and top-notch. Recommended for Apple fans or anyone looking to add Netflix to the home and isn’t swayed by Roku’s large library of Internet video.

Orb TV [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player]

Orb is slightly more sophisticated than a few of the players in this guide, but that also means it’s more complicated. Orb connects you with the Internet’s library of video content, Netflix and Hulu streaming plus Sirius XM Radio but requires a little help from your computer (like PlayOn).

My take: Orb is a little more complicated than other devices, but offers some nice features. Comparable to PlayOn, just more advanced with a better interface and more features.

Roku* [purchase unit, no subscription, streaming player]

FOR MY POST ON ROKU, CLICK HERE.

No PC needed here. Roku is as simple as it gets. Like many players in this guide it connects wirelessly to your network. And Roku starts at just $59.99. Roku also offers one of the finer collection of Internet apps including: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, Roku Newscaster, CNet, Blip.tv, Break.com, Crackle, Facebook Photos, Flickr, Last.fm, NASA, Picasa, Revision3, TuneIn Radio and, actually, a ton of other applications.

Roku is the most advanced player I’ve used, incorporating premium channels like Netflix and Hulu Plus with free content from Break.com, Crackle and Newscaster. Newscaster displays up-to-date video content from the major news networks. FOX News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS and more. One such source, Al Jazeera, even streams live in the mornings. News 3, Channel 3000, is a local news channel in Wisconsin. It is the first local news channel offered through the internet and into your living room.

My take: For anyone even considering ditching the cable box, Roku is a must. Roku is one of the least expensive options for streaming video and video-on-demand, with its first player starting at $59.99. Roku just released the Roku 2 line but I’m partial to the last release.

Video-game systems [with access to Netflix and Hulu Plus. Wii is the only system without access to Hulu Plus]

Playstation 3* [purchase unit, subscription required for Netflix or Hulu Plus]

Playstation 3 is the ultimate home entertainment system, built-in wireless connectivity, Blu-ray player and gaming.

My take: The PS3 is a great Blu-ray player and one of the best Netflix players on the market. Users can also upload their own videos, music and pictures to the system for easy viewing on a TV.

Xbox 360* [purchase unit, subscription required for Netflix and Hulu Plus. Xbox Live Gold required for ESPN3]

Xbox 360 does probably the best job of incorporating video-on-demand. Great video-game console able to connect wirelessly to Netflix or Hulu Plus. Xbox also features its own small line of Internet apps including ESPN3 that come with its Xbox Live Gold subscription. ESPN3 on Xbox 360 is exceptional, featuring a ton of sports content updated daily.

In October, Xbox announced a slew of partnerships with “nearly 40 world class TV and entertainment providers coming to Xbox LIVE including:  Bravo, Comcast, HBO GO, Verizon FiOS and Syfy in the U.S.; BBC TV and radio in the U.K.; Telefónica in Spain; Rogers On Demand in Canada; Televisa in Mexico; ZDF in Germany; and MediaSet in Italy, that will begin rolling out to consoles in more than 20 countries this holiday.”

More on this Xbox news soon….

My take:  Xbox Rocks. The new content on the way is only going to make it more a home entertainment system. Though some content will require a pay-TV subscription. Xbox Live Gold Membership is required to gain access to ESPN3 but some apps are free. Kinect also offers another way to control some of these apps including Netflix. Though connect, users can navigate Netflix with hand gestures and voice commands. 

Wii* [purchase unit, subscription required for Netflix]

Video-game console able to connect to Netflix. Wii is the only video-game system on the market that does not support HD video, making the quality the lowest of the bunch.

My take: Wii is lagging behind a bit in the streaming game, with access to Netflix but still no Hulu Plus. Wii is now the only system with no Hulu Plus support. Netflix browsing on Wii is a little awkward, not quite as streamlined as Playstation 3. Though a recent update made this experience much better.

*I have personally used the services or devices noted in this report (and marked with an asterisk).

Sources: All of the websites for devices/services listed in this guide plus google.com, gizmodo.com

When will PS3, Xbox, Wii incorporate Internet TV?

Netflix and Hulu Plus have both taken advantage of the internet connectivity of videogame systems — Sony’s Playstation 3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii (still waiting on Hulu for Wii) — when it comes to streaming video content on our TV’s.

But when will Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo enter the game themselves? Doing so would offer another bit of differentiation, another perk for owners of each console. It might also further shift the demographics from what was once a teen obsession – playing videogames – to what is becoming a family pastime.

Of the current generation of systems, more than 162 million units have been sold. But neither is personally taking advantage of its online content or users.

Playstation has a subscription service, called “Playstation Plus” that offers game discounts, game demos and free offerings; but no streaming movies or tv episodes. There are options to purchase such episodes, like “A Colbert Christmas,” a special for the Holidays at $6.99. Colbert dubs it as the “Greatest Gift of All.” That’s about as VOD as it gets for PS3.

So Playstation obviously has a desire to attract monthly subscribers. That is the point to its Playstation Plus. One year will cost you $49.99, or you can try a three-month subscription for $17.99.

That works out to a little over $4 per month for the one-year plan. With both Netflix (for the streaming-only option) and Hulu Plus at $7.99 per month, if Sony were to include streaming videos its Playstation One membership, I’d have to believe more owners would take advantage.

[Vudu is a VOD service, acquired by Walmart in 2010. Vudu offers movie rentals, like an online version of a video-rental store. Today’s Pay-per-view. There is no subscription available. Vudu is also available through Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii.]

To this point, Playstation, Xbox and Wii have been sitting on the sidelines, watching other services take advantage of their systems. Fight back, I say! Game on!

Xbox 360 has a subscription plan as well, two tiers actually, in the same price line as Playstation Plus. Xbox is doing a better job with streaming features, as part of their plan includes ESPN content, streamed to your TV. I have a Playstation 3 and a Wii in my household, but no Xbox. I also have a Sony Blu-ray Player. And my Roku Digital Video Player is on the way.

  • Before we see PS3, Wii or Xbox 360 offering streaming movies or TV episodes, watch for systems to develop internet applications or apps. How about Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo apps, available via free download? That’s probably the first move for any system. Sony already has apps on its line of Blu-ray Players (free with purchase), as do every other manufacturer of Blu-ray or Media Players. I won’t even get into those… GoogleTV, Roku, Boxee Box, Sony, Vizio…all have their own set of  internet “apps” like Fandango, Amazon Video on-demand, Rhapsody, WikiTV, Vudu, Pandora, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Revision 3, the Weather Channel or Yahoo News, Sports, Weather (a sample of Vizio Internet Apps). Or take Roku, which offers many of the same apps as Vizio, but adds NHL, MLB, UFC, Mp3 Tunes, Break.com, NASA, Flixster. My point is, each media player is offering its own set of internet apps, all free with the purchase of a player. Why not offer these on the consoles themselves? Playstation Apps, Xbox Apps, Wii Apps… Nintendo’s Wii has a version of this, which it calls “Channels” on the main screen. (As far as I’m aware, the Wii Channels have remained relatively the same since their launch.) Xbox has its ESPN internet app/channel. But this is as close as any are getting to developing their own applications.

In addition to Movies and TV shows, these systems could offer rentals of their own games, possibly within the same subscription plan or on a tiered plan.

That would merge these two successful methods of video and game rentals: Netflix and Gamefly.

Gamefly is a game-rental service, currently available only by mail, no on demand. But the vidoegame systems are already capable of game downloads via the internet. You can purchase full games or game demos without a disc.

To be fair, Blockbuster recently announced a change to its by-mail rental service: they are now offering movies and games by mail.

If Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are do this, the time is now. By implementing streaming video and/or Internet apps and possibly Games on Demand (GOD?) to boot, they’d have a great shot at competing with services like Netflix and Hulu Plus on their consoles, and could really take a chunk out of game services like Gamefly and Blockbuster.

It’s been clear since Xbox (the first go-around) that videogame systems are attempting to become not only a source of gaming, but a part of our entire home entertainment system. Implementing Internet TV is the next logical move.

As of the second quarter of 2010, Sony has sold 41.6 million Playstation 3 units. Xbox 360 tops out at 44.6 in the same time period. And Nintendo Wii, 75.9 million. For a grand video-game total  (among PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii) of 162.1 million and counting…

Who will be the first to fully embrace streaming content or Internet apps?

Because it’s going to happen, and whichever is the first to act will only begin the next trend in video games and possibly home entertainment as we know it.

Messages to Microsoft’s PR firm Waggener Edstrom were not returned by press time. Sony Computer Entertainment US R&D could not be reached for comment. And Nintendo Communications PR, well, didn’t answer our phone call.

Links of interest
Netflix: http://www.netflix.com/Default?loms=abcd&mqso=80001347
Hulu Plus: http://www.hulu.com/plus
Gamefly: http://www.gamefly.com/Features/HowItWorks/
Blockbuster: https://www.blockbuster.com/signup/m/plan

UPDATE: Amazon has announced that its Amazon Prime membership (a little over $3/month for free 2-day shipping) will now include a library of TV shows to stream to your TV.