Fairfax embraces Catch Up TV
By Adam TURNER
Now you can watch old TV shows on Fairfax's newspaper websites, although I'm not exactly sure why.
I was looking at the Sydney Morning Herald's website today and I noticed a link to Summer Heights High screening on SHM TV. Clicking on a link, I found a list of about 60 television shows - mostly taken from the ABC. Other highlights include The Gruen Transfer and The Librarians, plus a few documentaries. The service is mirrored on The Age, Brisbane Times and WA Today.
Considering how impressive the ABC's iView service is, at first I couldn't see why you'd bother watching the same clips on a newspaper website. The picture quality isn't as good as the iView site and, to add insult to injury, you're forced to watch a 15 second advertisement before you can watch the show.
Closer examination reveals that the Fairfax sites offer old episodes that aren't available on iView any more. For example, all of Season 1 of the Gruen Transfer. So it's not really even a Catch Up TV service, unless you're trying to catch up on something you missed years ago.
Fairfax Digital has been experimenting with several new content and delivery models lately. I think the new iPhone app shows promise, but I'm not sure exactly what streaming ABC repeats achieves. Advertisers might have shown interest but, from an end user's perspective, it smacks more of desperation and than innovation.
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Does time-shifting stop channel-flicking?
By Adam TURNER
Want to cure an obsessive channel-flicker? Buy them a Personal Video Recorder.
There's debate in Australia right now as to whether we'd prefer HD simulcasts of our SD digital TV channels, or whether we'd prefer to sacrifice those HD simulcasts for extra channels (which will screen some HD content). Actually it's a moot point because the decision has already been made - this weekend another two networks are abandoning their dedicated HD channels, 7HD switching to 7mate and 9HD switching to Gem. It leaves only SBS with a HD simulcast of its main channel.
Colleagues such as Trevor Long put forward a good case for ditching the HD simulcasts. I respectfully disagree with Trevor, but it seems a lot of people share his view. I think the argument of quality versus quantity comes down to how you watch television.
If you tend to flop down on the couch and switch over to live TV, you'll probably love the extra channels. Once Ten's channel Eleven launches next year you'll have 16 different channels to choose from (assuming you get a community channel on digital). Such choice rivals the basic pay TV packages. Like pay TV, you'll mostly come across repeats.
If you tend to flop down on the couch and switch over to your PVR's library (as I do with my TiVo), you probably don't care too much about the extra channels. You don't flick channels looking for something to watch, instead you watch something you recorded earlier using a Season Pass. Something you actually want to watch, rather than whatever happens to be on right now. With the death of the HD simulcasts you probably won't find your favourite shows in HD any more and you'll be forced to record the SD broadcasts - which don't look as sharp if you own a big HDTV.
If you own a PVR, after a while you realise you never watch live TV anymore unless it's sport. Even then you tend to start watching 30 minutes late so you can fast-forward the ads. Most PVRs delete the buffer if you change channel while time-shifting, so you need to break the habit of channel-flicking. It's a smart precaution to record shows even if you're watching them on a slight delay, to ensure a channel-flicking incident doesn't see you jump back to the live broadcast.
So enjoy your repeats of Here's Lucy and Bewitched, but I'm going to continue bitchin' about losing the HD simulcasts of my favourite shows.
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By Adam TURNER
Nine HD faces the firing squad to make way for Gem, leaving SBS as the only major Australian network with a high-def simulcast of its main channel.
Details of Nine's new digital-only channel emerged this week - a new "warm and classy" channel aimed at the ladies, unless the footy is on. The extra channel comes at the expense of Nine HD - just as Seven (7mate), Ten (One HD) and the ABC (ABC News 24) sacrificed their high-def simulcasts to bring us extra digital-only channels.
The golden age of HDTV was short-lived for Australia - although the quality of the high-def broadcasts varied so widely that there was little for videophiles to get genuinely excited about. Now the only programming you're likely to find simulcast in HD is footy or cricket, which is understandable in a sports-mad country like Australia.
If you're not a sports fan, you'll just need to pray your favourite shows turn up in high-def in the hotch-potch offerings on Gem and 7mate. Considering you're likely to find them in different time slots, now might be the time to invest in a HD PVR and abandon live TV completely. All hope is lost if your favourite shows are on the ABC or Ten, which have dedicated their HD channels to 24-hour news and sport respectively.
It seems Australians will need to wait at least three years to see if they get their HD simulcast channels back when analogue TV broadcasts cease at the end of 2013, freeing up valuable spectrum. Meanwhile there's an opportunity for Foxtel to push its high-def offerings hard, winning over people who've spent good money on a HDTV only to be robbed of HD free-to-air programming.
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iPhone Game Center voice chat - killer feature or crazy idea?
By Adam TURNER
Automatically enabling Voice Chat when gaming with strangers doesn't sound like a great idea to me.
I've been testing out the iPhone's new Game Center features, which include Auto-Match and Voice Chat options with games such as Cro-Mag Rally. Auto-Match allows you to race against strangers via the internet. Voice Chat lets you talk to them. Combining the two by default sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Of course PC and console-based games have featured voice chat options for years, but it's probably not the kind of thing you could enable by accident. You'd generally need a headset, for starters. Cro-Mag Rally switches on the iPhone's Voice Chat automatically when both parties are connected to wifi, even if they're strangers playing via Auto-Match. There's no pop-up message to alert you to this. Nor can I see an option to disable it, although there is a mute icon in the game which kills the mics on both end.
Obviously not everyone has discovered the mute button, as I've raced against strangers who were oblivious to the fact that I was listening to them talk to their friends in the room. I can only imagine how the conversation might have played out if I'd cursed them aloud for beating me.
Considering the foul way people tend to behave online under the cloak of anonymity, I don't see how anyone could think that automatically enabling Voice Chat when gaming with strangers would be a good idea. Especially with games that kids might be playing. Surely Voice Chat should be switched off by the default, with the option to enable it if you desire. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple insists developers introduce such changes.
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Sorry old Apple TV - no iOS4 update for you!
By Adam TURNER
Apple spits in the eye of the faithful by abandoning owners of the original Apple TV.
Say what you will about Apple, it's pretty good at offering updates for old devices. For example, the iPhone was one of the first smartphones where the release of a new model saw the old model automatically receive most of the new features via a software update. Even MacOS does a pretty good job of supporting old Apple machines where possible. With a few glaring exceptions, it's generally only hardware limitations that stop old Apple devices inheriting the latest software features.
Apple TV owners have enjoyed the same kind of love from Apple - until now. I've got the very first 40GB model Apple TV, an ex-display unit I picked up from an electronics store last year in order to hack for a magazine feature. After sitting on the display stand for several years, it was still running the 1.0 firmware release. It happily updated to 2.x and later 3.x without any hassles. But now if I want to enjoy any of the new software features, I need to buy the new hard drive-less Apple TV - an upgrade I'm not keen to make.
I'm yet to hear a good technical explanation as to why the old Apple TV won't get the new OS update. The old Apple TV ran a variant of MacOS 10.4 on Intel hardware. The new Apple TV is believed to run the iOS4 mobile operating system and contains iPhone/iPad's new A4 chip. Apple doesn't like to talk about the man behind the curtain, so we'll need to wait for people to pull the new Apple TV apart before we know exactly what's happening under the bonnet.
When changing hardware, Apple generally releases at least one overlapping version of the software. MacOS 10.5 ran on both Intel and the old PowerPC hardware, while Mac iOS4 runs on both the current iPhone/iPad's A4 processor and the old ARM processor in the early iPhones. I find it hard to believe Apple couldn't find a way to support old Apple TVs for at least one more firmware release, providing at least some of the new features of the new models. To be honest there doesn't seem to be many new features in the new Apple TV, apart from those which compensate for the lack of onboard storage.
Steve Jobs has fired up the reality distortion field and is trying to convince us that having onboard storage in the Apple TV is a pain and we're better off without it. What a load of rubbish. To me, the Apple TV is all but useless without the hard drive. Apart from size and price, there's no actual advantage to the end user in stripping out the hard drive. Apple could have kept the original Apple TV and dubbed the new model the Apple TV mini. Instead Apple is killing off the old units because they don't fit with Cupertino's business model. The truth is that Apple is the only one better off without a hard drive in the Apple TV - as my colleague @neerav put it "they've made a classic box to hoover money from your wallet for transient content".
What's really annoying is that it seems the new Apple TV includes considerable onboard storage - Apple Australia's Fiona Martin tells me you'll be able to rent several movies at once without the need to re-download them every time you want to watch them. So it's a fair assumption there's at least 10GB of flash memory buffer storage onboard - Apple just doesn't want us to use it. How very Apple.
The new hard drive-less Apple TV marks Apple's great leap forward into the cloud, but it's a great leap backwards for end users.
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