Tag Archives: Blu-ray

Dear Roku, Best Buy is not Doing any Justice for your Brand.

I decided to update my IPTV at home. A newer TV and Over The Top (OTT) system. I have run Boxee for a while, but wanted to get the Roku Box. I heard that Best Buy had the Roku box, so I made the trek out to the store.

That was a bad idea.

I was on the east side of town, so I stopped into the East side location. I figured the Roku would be somewhere next to the Google TV display. It wasn’t – In fact, I could not find it anywhere.

I did something I try not to do – envoke a Best Buy employee. I never have any luck with these guys, so I avoid them. However, since I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I had to walk up to one. And the following conversation is why:

Hello. I am looking for the Roku box

Yes. They are over here (we walk to where the supposed Roku is). Here you go. It comes with Blu-Ray.

Excuse me? Roku does not have a Blu-Ray Model.

This one is. You can get Netflix.

I am sorry, but that is not a Roku box. Just because it connects to Netflix doesn’t make it a Roku.

Oh… Well, we are out of Roku players (pointing to the other shelf)

When will you get more?

We only got one. I don’t know when the next one is. However, we have a great line of internet connected players (pointing down the row).

This conversation really pissed me off. The guy  was quick to say that a Roku Box was some Blu-Ray from Insignia for $99. At first I didn’t think of it, but a couple days later I was in Best Buy on the West side and the exact same thing happened.

The Best Buy employee tried to tell me that this Blu-Ray player with Netflix was exactly like a Roku. Once again, I was annoyed and told him off. I walked out of the store, putting down what I was planning on purchasing.

Both stores only received 1-2 models of Roku. Both stores sold out in an hour and couldn’t tell me when the next batch was going to be here. Both employees also said that another device was “Just like the Roku”.

Certain Blu-Ray players do have applications. You can get Netflix and Vudu – along with other cool options to the player. However, this is not a Roku.

I started thinking about this: With the news announcement that you can get a Netgear branded Roku at Best Buy, I wonder how many people ventured out to get this. I also wonder how many ended up getting something else?

I have never been felt so misled by an employee in a long time. The last time I was, it was a Radio Shack employee trying to sell me a CD player stating it had MP3 support. Over 10 years later, I walked out of a store feeling just as annoyed.

The worst part about the Roku at Best Buy is it’s overshadowed by Google TV. The humongous display might make people change ideas for IPTV.

I ended up purchasing the box online, although I thought it would be nice to have a Blu-Ray Roku Box. Nonetheless, I think I will be avoiding Best Buy for a while.

Twonky Mobile Server

It’s always fun when technology intersects, and it becomes possible to do something cool that was previously not possible and/or was never thought of.

Such is the case with my Sprint HTC Evo smartphone. Sure, it’s a pocket computer. Sure, it has WiFi. As such, sure, it’s a network device with a potential node on my home network.

Rewind. What was that last bit again? My phone is a network device with a potential node on my home network. Let’s see – what can I do with network devices – share resources, share drives and therefore share files.

Enter the free Twonky Server Mobile for Android. Twonky Server Mobile is a free piece of software available in the Android Marketplace that shares audio, video and photos from the phone to UPnP and DLNA certified receiving devices on a home network. This includes software such as Boxee and UBMC among others.

I had a copied a number of videos to my Evo’s 8 media card so I’d have them available to watch if and when I had time. Hummm – with the Evo’s WiFi turned on and connected to my home network, if I ran the Twonky Server Mobile software, would I be able to see Twonky Mobile Server as an available network share with my Western Digital TV Live Plus boxes? If so, how would it work?

I’m happy to report that the free Twonky Mobile Server for Android works flawlessly. Simply start the app and there’s nothing else to do on the phone. Twonky Mobile Server shows up as an available server on the network, and the audio, videos and photos show up and play with UPnP and DLNA certified receiving devices such as WD TV Live Plus boxes.

Twonky also offers a small array of inexpensive server software products that make it possible to easily share audio, video and photo media from your Windows or Mac computer via UPnP and DLNA to certified devices such as Playstation 3, many digital photo frames, many Blu-ray players, and other devices and softwares.

Buffalo External USB3 Blu-ray Writer Review

Having won the format wars, Blu-ray is the hi-def standard; USB3 ports are appearing more regularly on motherboards and 3D is definitely flavour of the month.  So it’s not entirely unsurprising that Buffalo has brought out an external drive that brings all three together.

The BR3D-12U3 Blu-ray drive was released back in September and brings together all the latest technologies into a good-looking external drive.  With a USB3 connection, it has 3D playback support for 3D movies and 12x write speed for both single and dual layer disks.  The full technical specs are here and the RRP is £199.

Buffalo kindly lent GNC a drive to test for a couple of weeks and, frankly, I liked it, probably because it matched my PC case.  However, let’s be a bit more objective.

The drive comes in the usual red coloured Buffalo-style box.  Inside, you get the external drive itself, a power supply, a USB3 cable, a quick start guide and a software CD.

The external drive is black and I think it looks good as far as computer peripherals go.  The case is a fairly hard plastic and the top surface has a shiny speckled surface which is attractive.  The other surfaces have a different matt finish which is plainer but not unattractive.  The front panel has a blue LED that lights when reading and writing.  There’s a green power LED at the back that perhaps ought to have been blue as well.

The PSU comes with UK and European plugs and connects into the external drive at the back.  There is no power button.

If you haven’t seen a USB3 cable or connector, you might be a little surprised. The A connector (that’s the bit that plugs into the PC) looks fairly normal, but the B connector (that’s the external drive end) is a bit different – it’s kind of like two connectors piggy-backed on top of each other.

The Buffalo drive was tested on an Ubuntu Linux 10.10 PC and an HP laptop with Windows 7 Home.  Neither of these actually had USB3 ports or 3D graphics cards, so some of the advanced features couldn’t be tried out.  Regardless, this was still a pretty capable drive.

Windows 7

Windows 7 instantly recognised the drive when it was plugged in via USB2 and put a new drive into Computer.  At this stage, any attempts to play a Blu-ray disk were met with errors as there was no media player installed that could decode Blu-ray disks.  Buffalo have helpfully included the ubiquitous CyberLink suite of programs to get round this.

The CyberLink installation went smoothly enough but it could have been clearer.  The laptop already had an older version of the CyberLink software and instead of saying that a previous version was installed, it simply says, “Do you want to uninstall CyberLink Product X”. This is a bit counter intuitive when you are trying to install the software.  Once I’d overcome that hurdle, it was plain sailing, though it takes a good twenty minutes to get everything loaded up.

The CyberLink suite is made up about six different components – one for playing movies, one for working with music, one for video editing, etc.  I tried out the movie player (PowerDVD) and the disk burner (Power2Go)

The Blu-ray films all looked deliciously detailed in comparison to DVDs and the playback was smooth – no problems here at all.  There were a few issues with the main menu, though.  In “Toy Story”, the animated background seemed to display over the menu so it wasn’t possible to see the options.  I was able to play the film by pressing Enter, but you’d have no hope accessing any other content.

The software also has two modes, “Classic” and “Cinema”.  The former plays the film within Windows 7, whereas the latter gives it more of a video player feeling.  The Cinema mode felt much more polished than the Classic with more attractive menus and preferences screens.

The data module (Power2Go) worked as advertised, allowing files to be dragged from the filesystem before being burned to the disk.  Helpfully, it has a thermometer style display showing you how much of your 24GB had been used.  If you’ve used any of these type of tools before, you’ll be right at home.

Apart from the issue with the top menu, the CyberLink suite seemed to work well enough, but it does prompt frequently to register and upgrade (at a cost).


Buffalo doesn’t provide any Linux software but using the drive with CDs and DVDs was trouble-free anyway.  DVD’s played well in VLC and there were no problems burning to DVD-R or DVD-RW.  Blu-ray disks were seen as data devices as there’s currently no Blu-ray players for Linux (AFAIK).  However, Brasero recognised BD-Rs just fine and wrote to a single layer disk without trouble.

Using dd to copy data from a Blu-ray disk gave an average of around 14 MB/s for 43GB disk.  Don’t forget that the drive was connected via USB2, not USB3.


As I mentioned at the beginning, I really liked the hardware.  However, I felt it was a little let down by the CyberLink Suite – if you are paying the best part of £200 for what is a high-spec device, you want the bells and whistles, not nagged into upgrading.

Regardless, movie playback was sweet, with the detail you expect from Blu-ray and I didn’t see any stuttering in the films I watched.

The recording or writing features worked well too, though I wasn’t able to test the high speed writing, partly because of an absence of USB3 ports but also the fastest media I could get my hands on was only 4x.

Overall, I’d say a solid and good-looking device and if you are in the market for an external Blu-ray writer, it’s definitely worth considering.

Thanks to again to Buffalo for providing the review unit.

Should You Pay For Content?

I was listening to a podcast where the hosts were chatting back and forth about the newly offered Hulu Plus, where for $10 dollars a month, you can get Hulu on a wide variety of devices including smart phones and over-the-top Internet TV boxes. Hulu is also offering a somewhat wider, but still incomplete back catalog archive of shows. One of the hosts was saying he wouldn’t pay for content, he wanted it “for free.”

Whether we realize it or not, we are all paying for content, either directly or indirectly. Even if we have only a TV antenna and watch only the local TV channels, we are still paying for content indirectly via advertising. When we buy consumer products of virtually any kind, part of what we pay goes for advertising, which pays for content creation.

If we are paying indirectly only, someone else is deciding for us as to the quality of the programming content. We can either consume that content or not, but we still pay as consumers buying products. We have very little indirect control over what gets put on the air. On the other hand, if we pay for content directly, then we have far greater control over the quality of the media we are consuming.

If Hulu can offer value for the money, then it will succeed What they have to do is figure out what people are willing to pay for. Perhaps that value revolves around putting highly-sought-after content on as many devices as possible. Perhaps it revolves around coming up with the absolute best back catalog of old TV shows. Imagine having instant streaming access to every TV show ever produced in every country in any language, and every movie ever produced anywhere in any language. Something like that would be well worth paying for. Imagine a site such as IMDB.Com that lists every movie and TV show ever made, except as a subscriber you could instantly stream it – now you’re talking. Hulu, anyone else out there – are you listening?

I personally would be willing to pay for a service such as Hulu, except for one small glitch. There are no back catalog shows on the site at the moment that really excite me. Network drama shows can sometimes be quite good, but my tastes are somewhat different.

When I had Dish Network, I was watching a few selected shows on only 3 channels – Discovery, TLC and History. I can get most of these shows if I really want them at some point via Netflix. To my way of thinking, Netflix is a much better value. Netflix has a far wider variety of content, plus they also offer the handy rental service of DVD’s and Blu-ray discs.

The verdict is currently out whether Hulu will be able to figure out what value it needs to best serve its customers. If people are paying Hulu money directly, then Hulu had better quickly figure out exactly what those customers want and do its best to deliver it to them.

Hey Hulu, here’s an idea to try. Offer first-run streaming movies, but do it the Hulu way. I would be willing to pay for a first run movie streaming for a nominal pay-per-view fee, say $5.99. Vudu is offering streaming first run movies, but you have to have a big fat Internet connection to be able to use Vudu. The Vudu service demands way more bandwidth than my Internet service can currently deliver.

Here’s yet another idea for Hulu – offer exclusive, Hulu-only content consisting of well-produced material revolving around the “Entertainment Tonight” type of concept. Do exclusive interviews of movie and TV stars. Do exclusive interviews of directors. Give people real value for their money. Make your customers want to not only see you succeed, but motivate them to help you succeed.

Do Paywalls Ever Make Sense?

PaywallThere was a recent article at Arstechnica.Com describing how The Times in the U.K. ended up cutting its web traffic in half by simply requiring registration so that viewers could read their articles. Prior to this, the articles on the site were freely available. The registration requirement is in anticipation of their future paywall plans.

I have to admit that I’m one of the people who left their site more than once when I clicked on a link and was presented with the registration requirement. I’ve done the same thing on other newspaper sites as well. Will people pay for online news?

At its essence, news is often glorified gossip.

There are plenty of successful paywall sites. Here are three sites that incorporate paywalls that I personally find worthwhile enough subscribe to: Netflix.Com,  Rushlimbaugh.Com and FHU.Com.

Netflix began life as a DVD rental service and most recently added a very popular streaming service as value-added subscriber benefit behind a paywall. The Netflix streaming service helped convince me to sign up and become a customer, as well as the availability of Blu-Ray discs. If Netflix had DVD’s only, I wouldn’t be a subscriber. Streaming and Blu-Ray make me willing to open my wallet.

Rushlimbaugh.Com puts the site’s massive and growing archive behind a paywall that includes access to the Rush Limbaugh podcast version of his radio show where they perform the courtesy of cutting out all of the network ads. Being able to receive the ad-free podcast of the daily Rush Limbaugh radio program is why I subscribe. I rarely sign into the site and go behind the paywall. I want the ad-free daily podcast, so I pay, even though I could get the program for free by listening on the radio.

FHU.Com also puts a massive and growing archive of radio programs, books and video behind a paywall. I want access to this material, and since it’s a charitable organization, I am willing to donate to gain access behind the paywall and support them.

I don’t envision myself ever paying for access to a newspaper website. I have never subscribed to a printed newspaper. I used to subscribe to a number of printed computer, stereo and photography magazines, but somehow that lost its appeal a number of years ago and I let the subscriptions run out.

For a paywall site to be successful, it must have something behind that wall that people want access to. They must offer something of value that revolves around the essence of what they do best.

CyberLink’s 3D Blu-ray PowerDVD CES 2010

CyberLink PowerDVD Ultra with 3D Blu-ray capability is expected in mid 2010. What this means to consumers is that you will be able to watch 3D movies on your laptops.

Personally I question how good that experience will be, only time will tell.
If you are in the market for a new PC, you may want to ask about the capability, especially in high end systems.

Interview by Andy McCaskey @ SDRNews.com

CES 2010 Content Sponsor: Try GotoAssist Express free for 30 days! The perfect IT Toolbox! For this special offer, visit GotoAssist.com/techpodcasts

Why Blu-Ray is still doomed!

bluraylogoI know there are some good things about Blu-Ray, and have been impressed by the quality I have seen on Blu-Ray movies on a friends PS3.  Those of us skilled at pattern recognition will continue to avoid this doomed platform though.

With the recent announcement that Sony has dropped the UMD standard on the new release of the Playstation Portable (the PSP Go) we get to see yet another example of my oft repeated advice.

Never invest in a Sony controlled data storage medium!

Sony have tried to play in various storage markets before with completely Sony owned technology, and I cannot think of a single one where they eventually triumphed even when they started out technically superior.  To be fair to Sony I do not think they have specifically been bad at maintaining their technology it is simply harder for proprietary technology to keep up with open standards.  This is exagerated when you are working in an OEM environment where your customers are highly motivated to break your monopoly.

Sony used to be able to artificially extend their technologies by having really good equipment and bundling the technology in.  Now with Sony no longer having a quality edge on most of their conpetition it is harder to do.

Beta tape was much better than VHS but eventually was overtaken and disappeared.

DAT (Digital Audio Tape) was an alternative to CD’s which hung around for a long time in professional music circles but never took off in the consumer market.

AIT was a successor to DAT designed for the low end data backup market.  Despite being late to market it was making inroads on the similarly closed source DLT.  Then DLT was open sourced and wiped AIT out.

Minidisc never really made it outside of the Sony umbrella, and very little music was actually released on the format.  Once the other MP3 players moved from CD to hard drive or solid state minidisc died a quick death.

MemoryStick only survives by being the only option on many Sony products.  No other manufacturer uses the product and it is behind in capacity and more expensive.

The dark plastic “CDs” that PS1 games used to come on that even the PS2 struggled to read and ended life before the platform it was designed for.

Now UMD joins the pile of Sony data platforms defunct much quicker than any comparable open standard.  If you have bought content on a specific medium, I think it is reasonable to expect that you will be able to buy a new player for that content for at least the next decade, and that the cost of those players would go down over time.  This has generally be possible with any other standard in the past, but almost never with a Sony platform.