Archive for February, 2011


You can’t borrow that eBook – it’s worn out!

Back in November, I wrote about why, if some publishers have their way, you may have to visit a library in person to borrow an eBook. You may perhaps have thought that the lunacy of traditional publishing when faced with new technology had excelled itself there, but think again.

A new policy from HarperCollins – not exactly a small player in the publishing world – means that libraries will have to replace eBooks regularly, as they’ll be worn out.

A year is the life of an eBook

In more detail, the new policy – reported in the Library Journal – is that new Harper Collins eBooks sold to libraries will have a licence (enforced by the Digital Rights system embedded in the files) that allows a book to be loaned only twenty-six times, before it expires.

After that, if the library wants to carry on lending the book, it will have to buy a new copy. At first glance, you might think “Well, so what? Don’t paper books wear out too?” Well, yes, they do – but if you visit any library, you’ll very likely find plenty of books that have date stamps showing they’ve been circulating for years, especially good quality hardbacks (and let’s not forget that the pricing policies of eBooks often means that they cost similar amounts to hardbacks).

Where does that figure of a year come from? Well, when you borrow a digital book from a library, typically the loan period is two weeks, and just like with real books, a library can only lend to one person at a time. If it’s a popular book that other people are waiting for – just like real ones, you can reserve them too – then that means that, potentially, those twenty six loans will be used up in just one year.

Of course, given the relatively small numbers of people borrowing from libraries now, it may well take a bit longer than that – but I think it would be naïve to imagine that as eBook borrowing becomes more popular, the publishers will make their policies more lenient. Certainly, the history of the eBook business so far would seem to suggest the opposite.

Does this affect the UK?

Despite the story first appearing in Library Journal, this isn’t a policy that’s just restricted to the USA. According to OverDrive, who run the digital systems used by many libraries, including quite a few local authorities in the UK that allow eBook lending:

This new policy affects all HarperCollins eBooks in libraries worldwide, and applies to all distributor/vendors (including OverDrive)

So, libraries that have popular eBooks now potentially face the requirement of having to pay once again for those eBooks every year. Even a book that isn’t borrowed so often may wear out in just a couple of years – and this at a time when library budgets are under particular pressure, both in the UK and elsewhere around the world.

Do publishers really understand libraries?

Magazines like The Bookseller, along with groups of users, are currently campaigning to protect UK libraries. Publishers, too, make all the right noises when you ask them about libraries.

But when a large company like HarperCollins tries something like this – and it won’t be at all surprising if others introduce similar terms – so soon after the industry’s bonkers suggestion that people not be able to download library eBooks in their own homes, you could be forgiven for wondering if they’re really just paying lip service to the idea of libraries in a digital age.

Certainly these sort of actions give the impression that they’re more worried about the potential loss of sales should people be able to borrow books too easily. Perhaps I’m a bit too much of an idealist, but I think – especially in harsh economic times – the publishers would do well to support anything that helps people to carry on reading, and learn to love books, rather than to put obstacles in the way, and make it more expensive for readers and libraries alike.

The price of books themselves is something I’ve talked about before – read this piece on Register Hardware, for example – so I shan’t go over that in detail. What I will say is that this seems like a tremendous failure of imagination on the part of HarperCollins, who have opted for the simplest solution – ask libraries to buy the book all over again – when technology could provide for far more nuanced solutions, like an incremental charge on each loan over a certain amount.

Or, indeed, they could finally wake up and accept that, just as a library owns a book outright when it buys a print version, they ought to be able to do the same with the electronic one.

More on this at BoingBoing and the New York Times.


Why can’t Twitter stop spammers?

Anyone who’s used Twitter will very probably have received spam; you only have to mention some things, like iPads, and you’ll get a load of spam bots sending you messages.

Personally, I’m pretty suspicious of the number of svelte looking women with odd names in my followers list; I doubt they’re all interested in my take on Digital TV, and expect to be spammed by them at any moment.

What surprises me most, though, is that Twitter doesn’t seem to do anything at all to filter out spam – and I think they need to get a grip on that.

Ok, some of the usual techniques might be hard; it’s in the nature of Twitter that people will use shortened links, so you can’t see what they are, and that the same link will be reposted by many people, so that’s not indicative of spam.

But, looking at many of the spam messages I’ve received – where someone has sent them to me as an ‘@’ message, it’s pretty obvious, and I’m amazed that Twitter doesn’t stop this.

These messages all come from people who have recently joined – in the last couple of days – and have zero followers, follow no other people, but yet have sent hundreds of messages a day to other people.

Can anyone honestly tell me there’s a rational way of using Twitter like that? I can’t think of one, or of any good reason why you shouldn’t stop a brand new account with no followers from sending hundreds of @ messages to different people, every day. I can’t even envisage someone brand new to Twitter firing off 400 messages with links a day to people they’re not following, just because they’re new.

Today I’ve had spam from someone who joined two days ago, and has sent 72 messages; another who joined today, and has sent 438, and another who joined today and has sent 445. All with no followers, and not following anyone else.

Sure, a lot of Twitter clients (but not all) have a report spam button, but I’m starting to get a bit tired of doing this for them – and I bet a lot of people just don’t bother, either.

Does Twitter really want to wait until their service becomes swamped before tackling spam?


Q&A: Why can’t I get Freeview HD

Steve Livesey asks

I recently bought a Samsung LE40C580 LCD TV from Amazon.  Now it was described as having FreeviewHD built in, but after tuning I am only get the usual Freeview channels.  It has the FreeviewHD logo on the box and DVB-T/DVB-C/DVB-T2 in the specs.

I checked on Freeviews website to make sure HD was available in my area (Lincoln) before buying, which it said had been since March 2010.

Do you have any idea why I am not getting the HD channels?  Do I need another new aerial?

There are a number of possible answers to this sort of problem, so let’s go through them in order.

First, in some areas, the Freeview HD signal is not being broadcast at full power yet, and so the coverage is not as good as it is for the standard channels. So, just because you can get Freeview doesn’t necessarily mean you can get Freeview HD. However, since the Freeview web site (which usually errs on the cautious side) says you can, we can discount this as the problem.

Next, in some areas, people haven’t always used the “recommended” transmitter, either because of very local issues, like a tall building in the way, or because they want a different local region. For example, where my mother lives in Winchester, you can point your aerial at either Rowridge on the Isle of Wight, or Hannington near Basingstoke; the recommended side is Rowridge, but some people get better reception from Hannington.

The coverage website tends to tell you what you can expect from the recommended transmitter, but if your original aerial was pointing at a different one, because of a tall building or – which is not uncommon – a different transmitter got Freeview first – you might not be getting the correct Freeeview HD signals.

And that’s the most likely case here; Lincoln is more or less equidistant between two transmitters, Belmont and Waltham, though Belmont probably has a better signal in most of the city. However, neither of these provides Freeview HD until later this year.

The March 2010 reference most likely applies to the signal from the Emley Moor transmitter, which is one of the ‘advance network’ Freeview HD transmitters; that means it’s one that won’t be at full power until later – so even if you do receive standard definition from there, the HD signal won’t be strong enough.

So, the answer in this case is likely to be that the Freeview website is suggesting you use Emley Moor transmitter, but failing to point out the lower signal strength of HD. The two nearer transmitters are scheduled for switchover this summer, at which time you will get HD service from them, so the best advice is to do nothing, and just wait. If your existing aerial is a ‘wideband’ one, then you do not need to have it replaced, but you may want to have to repositioned at switchover to point to the transmitter that will be giving you the best signal.

Besides the Freeview website, another good site for coverage information is Wolfbane, which will tell you the transmitter you need, and which way to point your aerial.

One last thing

One other point to mention, which probably isn’t relevant in this case, is that if you live in a block of flats with a shared aerial system, there may be additional work needed to get Freeview and Freeview HD. I’ll explain that separately in another post.


Gone Digital’s gone mobile

For those who want to read this blog on the go (and so I can keep things up to date more easily when I’m using my phone), I’ve installed the WordPress Mobile Pack.

You may see the mobile version of the site automatically, but you can also request it by going to instead of

I think all the internal links have been fixed so you won’t accidentally switch format going from one page to another, but please let me know if you spot anything weird.


How social do you want your TV?

Or why Panasonic’s Twitter client misses the point

Panasonic's Twitter Client

Now you can tweet from your TV! Panasonic's Twitter client, shown here running on a 2009 V10 series Freesat TV

I mentioned last week that one of the things that Panasonic talked about at their Convention this year was the rebranding of VieraCast as VieraConnect, and the addition of some extra services. One of the ones that they made a big fuss about was the new Facebook service, which complements the Twitter application that was rolled out last year on some VieraCast sets (apologies for the slightly ropy quality of the picture).

One of the things you can see is that, for reasons best known to themselves, Panasonic has decided that when you use Twitter or Facebook on your TV, you want to do it full screen.

I can see that might make it a bit easier if you’re wanting to do certain tasks, but equally, I’m just not sure that this is really the way that people really do want to use these applications on their TV.

Sure, social networking is about sharing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to share absolutely everything with the people in the same room as you; some people just feel a bit uncomfortable at having other people watch as they write messages, others might not want a message from certain people to be seen – and when Facebook or Twitter is taking up the whole TV screen, it’ll be a bit embarrassing when someone points and says “So, who’s ‘BigBoy69’ then?”

How to tweet on TV

What’s really missing from the social applications I’ve seen on TV so far is a very simple thing – limited social functionality, while you’re watching TV.

The reason I might want Twitter, for instance, on the television is not as an alternative to using the computer or mobile phone – both of which are considerably easier to control than a TV with a remote – but as an adjunct to those.

If I’m watching Question Time, for example, or the Eurovision Song Contest, I want to watch those programmes – but if the TV could also provide me with a ticker or scrolling list of tweets with the appropriate hash tag, either beside or below the picture, that would be a fun addition. Add an option that lets me retweet the finest bon-mots to my followers, and that’s it. All I need.

When I want to share my wonderful insights or caustic cattiness with everyone, I don’t want to reach for the TV remote, mess about with a numeric key pad, and take three times as long to compose a message as normal. I’ll just pick up my phone, or my laptop, and compose the message there. The TV shouldn’t be trying to replace the other ways I interact with Twitter; it should be an adjunct to them.

Most people I’ve mentioned this to (hardly a scientific survey, I know) feel the same; if you’re going to put Twitter – or any social networking – on a TV , please do it right, and think about how people actually use the service. Otherwise it looks like someone in marketing just thought “Yeah, Twitter’s popular, let’s build it in to our TV.”


Questions and answers

Just a quick note – as a result of this blog, as well as my work on, I have been receiving an increasing number of questions from readers, asking for help and advice. Some of you will have been waiting a considerable time for a reply.

I apologise for that, but I must stress that I have limited free time, and so can’t guarantee a personal response to every enquiry – and even if you can find my phone number, please don’t ring me up and ask for advice with your PVR.

I will, however, be making an effort to address many of the questions emailed to me in a series of posts here shortly – but please remember that the simplest way to ask a question is probably through the comments on here, or via Twitter, as long as it’s not too involved.



Panasonic Convention roundup

I spent two days this week at the Panasonic Convention, held in London’s Excel Centre. The Convention is an annual event where Panasonic shows off its new European product ranges to both press and dealers, and happens in a different city each year.

Amsterdam in 2009 saw the launch of the VieraCast service, and last year’s event in Munich featured the first FreeviewHD sets. So, what’s in store this year? Rather than do lots of articles, I’m just going to do a roundup here, with some of what I think are the most interesting points from the two days.

• VieraCast renamed VieraConnect, adds new features

• iPlayer very likely to come to VieraCast platform

• Commitment to Freesat appears scaled back

• New Freeview HD recorder with 3D BluRay support

• Freeview programme guide still uses much-loathed Guide+

• New TV sets don’t have CI+ software, but are capable of supporting it

So, let’s take each of those one at a time:

VieraCast becomes VieraConnect

Panasonic’s VieraCast system, which provides YouTube, EuroSport clips and a few other things for people in the UK  has been rebranded as VieraConnect, and will have a better range of services on it in future – the UK has been particularly poorly served by VieraCast, in my view.

Additions to the service include an app store (and a free SDK for developers will be available later this year), and new categories, including more social networking with a facebook client, and even games.

However, not all content will be available on previous sets; last year we saw some services, like AceTrax movies and Skype, that wouldn’t work on 2009 models as they lacked either support for cameras, or DRM. And it looks like games probably won’t work on older sets. Where possible, they’ll make things backwards compatible, but don’t expect to get everything that’s coming on an older product.

iPlayer very likely

After a fair bit of prodding with questions, one of the Panasonic team told us that he’s seen iPlayer running on VieraCast (rather than via the Freesat/MHEG model used at present, and which I thought Panasonic would rely on). It’s technically possible, and “very likely” to be arriving. The impression given is that the issues delaying this are not technical ones, but ones related to the necessary agreements that will have to be signed. So, if there are lawyers involved, don’t hold your breath – they take longer than engineers to get things done. But it’s now looking pretty likely.

Whether this will come to all VieraCast/Connect sets, I don’t yet know; that will depend on the DRM situation. I would hope that they’ll simply stream it in the same way the various other services do at the moment, but if they decide that DRM is essential then that will effectively rule out 2009 model year sets, which lack the necessary chips (which is why they don’t get things like AceTrax).

The impression from the comments yesterday is that they’re also talking to other broadcasters, about their catch-up services too.

Not so committed to Freesat?

One brief comment in passing was that the GT and VT series sets have Freesat tuners built in; these are towards the higher end of the range, THX certified, 3D plasmas.

All sets have FreeviewHD built in to them (and should, though I have yet to confirm, transcode surround sound, as it’s mandatory from April this year), but if it’s correct that only two ranges have Freesat tuners, that’s a considerable scaling back in the support for the platform, which used to extend right down to the lower end sets.

The press announcement for the new ranges doesn’t mention Freesat at all, so I shall seek further clarification on this. A further interesting point to note is that there were no new Freesat recorders this year – last year’s model was being displayed instead.

Panasonic DMR-BWT800

Panasonic's DMR-BWT800 is a 3D BD player/recorder with twin FreeviewHD tuners and DLNA server

New FreeviewHD + boxes

One of the most interesting boxes I saw was the new Freeview+ HD recorder, the DMR-BWT700 (there’s also an 800, which wasn’t on display, but presumably just has a larger hard drive; the press release doesn’t give sizes).

Update: the 800 indeed has a larger hard drive, at 500GB, compared to 320Gb for the DMR-BWT700.

These are twin tuner FreeviewHD BluRay recorders with 3D support. There’s full DLNA support too, including as a server, which means that if you have a Panasonic TV in another room, you’ll be able to watch recordings over the home network (and, according to the staff I asked, you’ll need a Panasonic TV, as there’s no support for DTCP-IP).

They also feature VieraCast, with Skype support, wireless LAN, and can convert 2D films to 3D on the fly.

GuidePlus is still there

The Freeview programme guide on this year’s Panasonic sets still features Guide Plus, the almost universally loathed EPG that forces advertisements in your face and generates more comments than just about everything else whenever I review one of their TVs.

The impression from Panasonic staff is that they know it’s unpopular, and frankly they don’t seem to happy about having to have it either, but it looks as if their hands are tied. If I can find out who’s responsible for inflicting this rubbish on otherwise decent TV sets, I’ll let you know, as it’s long past time they stopped messing about with it.

Want Sky Sports?

As with all digital TVs, there’s a common interface slot on the new VieraCast models. But, of course, that’s not enough if you want to watch Sky Sports via Freeview any more, as TopUpTV will be using CI+ modules. (See here for more details).

So I asked if the new sets support CI+ and was told that they’re capable of it, but it’s not enabled yet; that’s something that Panasonic will be keeping an eye on and they update the sets if necessary, which will depend on the perceived demand for Sky Sports via a CAM, I guess.

That’s the main news, from my perspective, from the Convention. As and when I get products to play with, keep an eye out for information here or at RegHardware.

February 2011
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