Archive for January, 2012

 

Netflix or LoveFilm?

If you’ve been asking yourself that question, my article comparing the two is now live on RegHardware.

Broadly speaking, I think that I’m more likely to keep paying for Netflix after the end of the free period, but that’s because I tend to enjoy working my way through some of the ‘box set’ type material that they have, and I don’t personally think that LoveFilm has a great TV selection right now. If I were more into watching films, then I’d likely make a different choice – but during the week, I don’t tend to watch TV that much in the evenings, and for me delving into another episode of something on Netflix when there’s nothing more to watch will be a lot more likely than sitting down to watch a whole film.

The other factor is that the TV set I’m presently using – a Samsung D8000 – will have to go back to the PR folk soon, and my own set, a Panasonic V10, doesn’t support any of these services. But I can still access Netflix using my iPod touch and play it through the dock on the AV system, and I’m looking forward to trying out one of the Roku media players too, which will be slightly better solution.

 
 
 

BBC details of the Streetdance 3D broadcast

Regular readers will recall that at the start of the month, I wrote about the broadcast of Streetdance 3D on the BBC HD channel, and speculated about the method that was being used to provide support for 2D viewers.

In a blog post today, Ant Miller at BBC R&D reveals how it was done.

 
 
 

What can you watch with IPTV?

The first of my articles for RegHardware’s IPTV week has just been published. It gives an overview of what sort of content is available via the main IPTV services in the UK.

 
 
 

Inview ties up with Acetrax

While many of the video streaming services such as LoveFilm and Netflix are only to be found on the higher end TV sets from companies like LG, Panasonic and Samsung, Swiss firm Acetrax is looking to extend its reach still further.

The company – which offers content on a pay as you go basis, with material to rent or buy – has teamed up with Inview to roll out the service across set top boxes that support their new connected TV platform.

Acetrax, running on Inview's new connected TV platform

Inview is perhaps best known to some people in the UK as the providers of the EPG data that drives the Radio Times Extra (formerly Teletext Extra) and TopUpTV services, but they also have a connected TV platform rolling out, which is available royalty free to ‘tier 2’ equipment manufacturers who don’t want to have to create their own. Inview then makes its revenue as a share of that generated by content providers such as Acetrax.

Acetrax is going to be on that new platform, along with Grooveshark and some other services, around the middle of this year. A spokesperson for Inview wouldn’t reveal the names of the brands involved, but I understand that it’s likely to appear in FreeviewHD set top boxes and connected TVs from the house brands of major UK retailers, and similar brands around Europe. There will probably also be some SD kit that includes it too, though given the closing gap between the prices of SD and HD kit, I suspect all but those on the tightest budget will be looking at HD, especially with the Olympics coming up this summer.

The new platform apparently integrates apps and a recommendation engine with Inview’s 14 day programme guide, rather than splitting content services off into a separate part of the interface, as is common with most of the ‘smart TVs’ I’ve looked at recently. It’s only slated to appear on new equipment; most of the kit that has the existing Inview software isn’t equipped for IPTV anyway.

Inview TV guide

Inview's TV guide

Aiming at second tier manufacturers, Inview's platform will try to integrate IP services with the EPG

 
 
 

Using Netflix with a Yamaha iPod dock

I’ve been playing with Netflix, like a lot of people, seeing what the new service is like. In short – you’ll be able to read a longer article next week on Register Hardware – I like it. For the sort of things I want to watch, the £5.99 is a pretty good deal.

There’s one niggle; my own TV set is one of the first generation Panasonic VieraCast sets, which doesn’t even support AceTrax, and isn’t going to get an update for things like that, so there’ll be no Netflix. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a Samsung 8000 series set here for testing, which is a great bit of kit, but sadly it’ll be going back soon.

Is that the end of my Netflix usage? Perhaps not; there’s an iOS app for Netflix, and I do have an iPod Touch. I also have a dock for my AV amp, which I’ve used in the past to play video from the iPod through the TV, taking advantage of the free weekly downloads from Orange.

That works pretty well, though I do have to alter the settings in the AV amp to stop video processing, if I want the picture to fill the screen. The amp is a Yamaha RX-V667, and I’m using the YDS-12 dock.

The problem

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work so well with Netflix; when you plug the iPod (or iPhone) in to the dock, you get an on-screen menu that can be used to select movies and music on the iPod. If you’re playing content, like movie rentals from iTunes, that appears in the menus, that’s fine – when you select a movie, the menus go away.

Start up Netflix and start watching, and you get this, instead:

Yamaha Dock Menu

Yamaha's dock menu overlays the video from the iPod - not much use for Netflix

I tried in vain using the obvious options to get rid of this, checking all the settings in the menus, and using that ‘x’ at the bottom right of the screen. No joy. The sound and video play fine, with the dock menu sitting on top.

The fix

Googling turned up the answer, and it’s thankfully a simply one: Just press the ‘rec’ button on the AV receiver’s remote control, and the menu disappears, until the next time you plug your iOS device in. I don’t know why they chose that, instead of the ‘close’ icon on the screen, but at least now you’ll be able to use an iPod touch or iPhone with your Yahama dock to enjoy Netflix full screen, if it’s not built in to your TV set.

 
 
 

Using Prey on the iPod Touch

If you’ve not heard of it, Prey is a great little security tool, that’s designed to help you retrieve lost computer equipment. It runs on a variety of platforms, and is designed so that you can mark a device as missing on their website, and then receive reports when it connects to the net.

Those reports can include location information and, depending on the platform, even a photograph taken by the devices camera. It’s free for up to three devices, too, so well worth a try.

I’ve had it installed on my laptop for a while, but been unable to get it to work on my iPod touch. I’ve marked the iPod as missing, moved it around, and still not received any reports. The Prey web site explains that you need to make sure ‘Location Services’ are enabled on the iOS device, so that the software knows when your gadget has been moved.

On the face of it, this is a simple thing to do. But the instructions on the Prey website omit to mention on important thing, which turned out to be the stumbling block.

If you simply install the app on your iOS device, and then mark it as missing on the Prey website, nothing’s going to happen. You can check the Location Services settings in iOS as many times as you like, but you won’t see an entry for Prey in there. It’s never asked for a location, so it’s never going to be able to send one – I even moved it between home and office, until I realised this.

What you have to do to make Prey work on iOS, it seems, is to mark the device as missing using the Prey app itself, at least once, rather than on the website. Do that, and then you’ll be prompted on the iPod or iPhone as to whether or not you want Prey to know your location.

Tap to allow it and then, hey presto, Prey appears in the ‘Location Services’ section of the Settings app, and everything works as it should.

This might seem obvious to some folk, but I bet there are quite a few who simply wonder why on earth Prey just doesn’t appear in the Location Services list, and it never seems to send any reports.

Mark your device as missing using the Prey app once, and then it will appear in the Location Services settings

 
 
 

Kobo’s 30% offer – what can you buy?

I read quite a lot, especially eBooks, so my attention was grabbed by an email from Kobo, offering 30% off “select” books. That’s quite handy. But a look at the small print reveals this text:

“Discount code is valid for one time 30% off any eBook purchase excluding those from the following publishers: In the UK – Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster, Wiley, and Zondervan, and all respective subsidiary imprints.”

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s pretty much all the major publishers in the UK, isn’t it? Sure, there are some independent and smaller companies that aren’t covered by that. But I think it’s actually quite likely that the vast majority of books that many people might decide they want to buy are actually going to be excluded from the offer by that bit of small print.

And, of course, a lot of people won’t actually be certain who owns a particular publisher – they’ll just want the latest title by their favourite author.

I can’t help thinking that a fair number of people are going to be disappointed when they try to use the discount code. Wouldn’t it have been better to say “30% off some independent titles” or something like that?