Slingplayer for iPhone

From the about fricking time department, word has come from the TUAW that the much anticipated Slingplayer application for the iPhone has been submitted for approval with the overlords at Apple HQ. Slingplayer is a tool of many an expat used to ’sling’ back television content from a central location (i.e. their parent’s house) to their current assignment overseas. It’s also used by people in offices, geeks in college, and plenty of other folks who need to move their video content from one place to another (myself included).

When the iPhone first came out, we heard rumors that Sling would do an application, but that was off/on/only if jailbroken/on/off/on again, or something to that effect. There are already several other live TV apps for the iPhone that are out, but few that will have the functionality as basically getting your cable TV on your iPhone.

And this is the week I got rid of cable in the house. I think the Slingplayer is still in a pile of cables behind where the Comcast box once stood. Guess I have to rewire things.

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Using your cell phone overseas (how to do it cheaply).

Although I’ve not gotten a stamp in my passport in about 18 months, in recent years I’ve spent literally hundreds of days overseas away from the convenience of my landline phone and US-based mobile. I’ve tried a wide variety of means to stay in touch, but I think I’ve finally come up with a formula that makes a bit of sense. And since the New York Times is writing about the same thing today now is as good a day as any to share my thoughts.

In the old days, I would take an unlocked GSM phone and simply buy a UK or DE or HK SIM card upon arrival in a new country, giving me a local phone number where I could be reached. Unfortunately this did not help me with making calls back to the US, which usually required calling cards (that ended up being quite expensive). Pay as you go also was quite expensive on a minute by minute basis. For example, a week in the UK would easily run me £100 in phone charges. And added to this is the fact overseas Pay as You go numbers often disappear after lack of use of 6 months or so (which is now an issue).

Now my setup is much cheaper.

First, Skype. I have Skype, Skype Out and Skype In set up. I have a phone number in London and one in Hong Kong that people can call and it will ring on my computer if my computer is turned on. If my computer is not turned on, then it forwards to a number of my choice. I can also use my iPhone and Fring should I be without a laptop (rare). Note, both computer and iPhone require an internet connection, but since I usually have that in the hotel it’s not really a big issue.

Second, the unlocked phone is still around. I usually have that as the recipient of my Skype calls so I don’t have to pay the massive data roaming charges using my US phone overseas. I also like the freedom to call friends ‘in country’ without having to pay roaming. But now that I’m not using it as frequently the costs have definitely gone down quite a bit.

So now for international calls, I will use Skype in the hotel which is only pennies a minute, and for local in country calls I use my country-specific mobile phone. For calls from other countries to me they are routed to my ‘device of the moment’ so people can continue to reach me on my consistent Skype In number and not have to memorize whatever pay-as-you-go number I’m using at the time.

During my last week in London, my phone charges were £10 total. Quite a savings.

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Comcast has left the building

Well we had a bit of a grace period while they worked out just exactly how to disconnect things, but just a few moments ago the remnants of the CNBC feed disappeared into static. It’s kind of like a power failure–there is no more cable in the house.

We got by pretty well last night. We sat down and booted up Hulu to watch the NBC Show ‘Kings’ (which we actually kind of liked). Tonight it is Quantam of Silence — the first James Bond I haven’t seen in a theater since I was an infant (because we had a newly arrived infant that prevented me from getting out to the cinema). Tomorrow may be a better test when I’ll be relying on IPTV in total to keep abreast of the news.

The BBC is coming in pretty well. Here’s a picture of last nights 6:00 news streamed live into the house.

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No more Comcast cable as of today.

I dropped off the Cable Boxes this morning. It’s been a long friendship between me and that lovely pice of coaxial, but I realized if I’m truly going to get a taste of what else is out there, I’ve got to eliminate the ‘easy’ way of watching TV–flipping on the cable–and try the new new thing of IPTV.

It’s actually not going to be that tough, when you get down to brass tacks. I took a look at the list of channels that I have and separated the list into ‘Never Watched’, ‘Rarely Watched’ and ‘Watched Regularly’. The findings were somewhat interesting:

Of the 229 Channels, there are:

56 regularly watched channels, of which 30 were movie channels.

28 rarely watched channels, such as only when the Tour de France was on, or one specific show.

127 NEVER watched channels. I never ever switched over to these channels in the five years of having cable.

So my bill was $152 for 56 regularly watched channels, the majority of which were movie channels. I’ve already got a substitute for movies (Netflix, Redbox, Hulu and Joost) and the other main substitute, news, is being replaced by some online options, including adding the BBC 1-4 to my computer.

The hole where Comcast once was

The hole where Comcast once was

Because I was going to cut my TV service, I would lose the ‘discount’ on my Internet. The discount was $17, and Comcast basic analog service (over the air channels) is $18, so I just went ahead and said ‘give me the channels anyway’. I still will pursue an HDTV antenna to see if over the air HD is possible out here in the boonies.

So now the real test starts more or less tomorrow (it takes a day to cut off service and I’m sitting here drinking up the last few moments of live CNBC as the market rallies). The upstairs TV is now neutered as I haven’t got the new computer set up upstairs (I need to fish the Ethernet cable through 3 floors of the house, something the wife isn’t really keen on my doing just now). But we haven’t watched the TV upstairs in about a week or so anyway so we should survive.

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How to live without Cable TV and migrate fully to IPTV

So I’ve decided to do it.

A news junkie cutting the cable and going without the joy that little coaxial brings into my home.

But fear not, I’ve made alternate arrangements for my ‘tv’ viewing.

Here we go:

Hardware:

I have a Mac Mini in the garage that currently serves as a ‘development’ server for my websites. It’s coming out of the garage and will be connected via DVI cable to the TV in the house. The Mini is great for this as it has a very low electricity usage footprint, something like 30w or so. I may end up boosting the memory to 4gb if playback suffers, but we’ll see. I will likely reduce the image quality on the display to 780pixels or so, which is still pretty good but nothing like HDTV. Reducing the resolution means those small streams that show up as a tiny ‘box’ on my computer display will be somewhat larger and more lifelike on the big screen.

I have a ‘big dish’ outside that gives me access primarily to foreign television over the Ku band. This FTA ‘free to air’ system brings in 1000 channels or so, but most are not in English and it’s not like the stuff you see on your regular television. I also have an eyetv attached to the Mini for recording purposes. I’ll be able to record ‘over the air’ content that comes down, which should include the big networks and PBS.

Movies:

Joost, Hulu, Redbox, and Netflix are all in consideration. Of course most of the movies on the first two I’ve seen before (and don’t really need to see again) but Redbox ($1 a night movies) and Netflix ($9 a month) are offering up first run movies. If I get Netflix streaming working I’ll have a bunch of other content as well.

Shows & Software

Hulu is best for this. I’ll be watching a great deal through Hulu I suspect. Boxee will also come into play for some playback, mainly the podcasts I like to watch. I’ll be using the Boxee iphone remote for much of this, and the Mac Mini has a remote as well I can use.

Live content

I will be using Livestation for many of my live TV programs. This will give me some news channels to watch and occasionally some other content. I also will be utilizing a number of streaming websites that have video content. As I have a computer in the UK I’ll also be able to watch some content from the BBC, which should help feed the ‘news junkie’ monkey on my back.

HDTV

Really, there is not much of a substitute for this. But given the fact that Comcast seems to be degrading the quality of HDTV, I’ve started to notice the channels that once made my jaw drop are now looking little better than standard digital channels. If I throw an antenna up on the roof I may be able to pick up some HDTV over the air, but just like the switch from ‘full quality CD sound’ to ‘MP3′ I’m not entirely sure I’m going to miss HD content right off the bat. (I may consider a PS3 or something else with a Blue Ray so I can watch some HD stuff now and then.

Cultural change

By far the biggest problem is going to be the lack of ‘ambient’ television. For me to watch anything is going to require that I ’seek out’ a channel or programming and call it up through a variety of means listed above. It’s not going to be an idiot box that you just flip on and have the content there. It’s going to require a more active solution to find programming.

That might not be a bad thing. Everyone has at one time or another ‘watched something just because it was on’. I think that will be eliminated in my new IPTV world.

So the countdown has begun. IPTV only in this house starting next Monday. $152 in savings per month starting next Monday. We’ll have to see how much time we save once we start to use it.

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Cutting Cable TV to save money (and time)?

When I first set up my home office, I made sure that the desk was turned in such a way that I could watch the big tv that was in the adjacent living room. If something was interesting and I wanted to watch, I could just look to the side of the monitor and see what was playing. But recently, as part of a furniture rearranging, I started to think about how much TV I actually watch, and what ‘type’ of programming that is.

Basically, my TV watching breaks down into these categories:

  • Live. News and sports. I catch CNN and CNBC during the day, and watch college football and soccer programs from around the world, though not with the religious fervor I once did.
  • Programs. We watch very few programs. Battlestar Galactica (ending next week) and 30 Rock (though usually on Hulu).
  • Movies. I love movies. I have three movie channel packages (HBO, Cinemax and Starz) which not only gives me some great films now and then but also access to the On Demand library (which we probably use more often than making time for shows).
  • Ambient. Sometimes I just have the TV on to add noise. I watch CurrentTV and whatever movie happens to be playing. The other night I actually watched a full episode of CSI, just for the heck of it.

Cutting the cable will do away with ambient TV watching. I won’t just go to the TV to ’see what is on’ or to have background noise. That can be somewhat replaced by Internet programming and our FTA satellite (though that is a very limited selection). Live programming, such as sports and news, will also be drastically affected. I can get CNN online, sometimes, but CNBC does not appear to be online with any live regularity, unless I want to watch CNBC India. Sports will also take a hit, though that can be ‘dealt with’ via a wide variety of ‘grey area’ websites that allow you to stream live football over the Internet.

Programs and movies are two that can be easily replaced by the Internet. I think we can use Hulu and Boxee for the network shows, and I’m considering getting a Netflix account that will not only send us first run DVDs but also allow some streaming content to come into the house.

We will likely lose the ‘HD picture’ quality that we’ve become accustom to, but to be honest, with our TV now nearly 7 years old and with Comcast degrading their HD signal more and more, it’s not as awe-inspiring as it once was. Maybe I’ve gotten used to the HD picture or maybe it’s not there anymore. With a PS3 or some other Blue-ray solution we’ll still get some HD content in the house from time to time (but I should probably get a new TV).

So with the above factors, I’m considering the switch to be basically a ‘wash’. I’ll lose some features I currently have but replace a few features with free substitutes via the Internet.

So what’s the financial upside: Pretty interesting.

Our current cable bill is $152 per month (Internet is a extra and we will not drop that).

This includes:

  • $60 Basic Service
  • $20.90 Digital Plus
  • $5 Digital Sports
  • $15.95 HDTV
  • $34 for Movie Channels
  • $7.50 for HD boxes.
  • $10.56 in taxes.

That works out to $1828 a year for cable TV service, which sounds like a lot. I would guess we watch / have on the TV for 2 hours a day, so say 60 hours a month. Basically we’re paying $2.50 per hour watched for TV service. Cheaper than going to a movie at the theater, but not entirely sure if this is really needed.

To switch out I’d have to pay

  • $10 per month extra to Comcast for Internet but no TV service
  • $9 per month to Netflix for movies.
  • $500 for a new computer to hook up to one of the TV’s upstairs so I can do Internet over that TV.

$728 over the first year.

That’s still a savings of $1,100 over the course of the first year alone.

Will have to debate if that is worth it.

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Live TV on the iPhone – Some new developments

While poking around the app store yesterday, I came across a few new applications that have tremendous promise.

France 24 in the news section offer live streaming of the France 24 (think CNN of France). The buffering is pretty quick and the quality is not bad. France24 is a different take on some of the news out of Europe and this lets you watch them on your iPhone via wifi pretty easily. Free app and worth a download.

France24 is only on limited cable systems in the US, with service in Washington and New York that I know of. They had some great coverage of some stories like the Bettancourt rescue in Columbia and they also have some good culture shows from Europe that are worth watching.

TVU is p2p video streaming company that allows you to watch tons of content from around the world, some of which is probably not authorized by the copyright holder. The app is in beta and released, but will likely have a few new developments that will make it much more useful (such as widescreen, which I haven’t figure out how to use just yet. Lots of Chinese channels (as I’ve said before, the Chinese are light years ahead of the US on IPTV — light years). Amazing what developments can be done when DRM is not the first consideration.

We’re still waiting for livestation.com to come out with their app (in development) and I guess we are still waiting for the Slingbox app, promised for months and months (but no where in sight just yet).

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Real Networks gunning for Boxee?

Saw an interesting job opportunity with Real Networks in Seattle. They’re looking for an embedded LINUX specialist for work on a new content / media system that has previously been in ’stealth’ mode in Seattle. Seems they are developing an ‘all in one’ system that could handle audio, video, etc in a small device (kind of like the PenguinRadio I was working on for so many years).

Interesting that Codling has been mentioned now for almost 18 months. Wonder when they will get out a product that can compete with the Boxee system that is running ripshod through the media center crowd?

(At least they are using LINUX which is a nice plug for open source. Real dove into the open source community with the HELIX project to get their formatted music playing on other devices, but they remain under pressure from streaming mp3 and aac which is gaining more followers (the BBC is starting some AAC streams this week)).

Job Title: Sr. Linux Embedded Engineer

Position Type (FT or PT): Full Time – Regular

Area of Interest: Software Development

Location: Seattle (Headquarters)

Description: RealNetworks, Inc. is a rapidly growing, web based, digital music, online gaming and streaming company headquartered in Seattle, Washington, that provides the universal platform for the delivery of any digital media, from any point of origin, across virtually any network, to any person on any Internet-enabled device, anywhere in the world.

RealNetworks Inc., based in Seattle, WA, has recently formed a new consumer media platform team whose charter is to deliver “Codling”, a game-changing home entertainment system. Formed as a stealth startup within RealNetworks, the Codling team is being led by one of the founders of RealNetworks, Phil Barrett, and has already attracted executives from Amazon.com, Microsoft, Disney and Intel, and RealNetworks. The Codling team is creating a rich set of consumer media experiences that will make the industry stand up and take notice.

From the ground up, we are building a technology platform and content distribution ecosystem that will support a vast array of yet-to-be-announced content distribution models. Hollywood, NYC, Silicon Valley, and consumer electronics manufacturers *will* be knocking on our doors once we announce.

Would you like to work with high-tech and media legends? Do you enjoy the rush of working in an agile, consumer-focused environment? Are you passionate about digital video and consumer electronic devices? Do you want to touch the daily lives of millions of consumers around the world?

If you do, then the RealNetworks recruiting team wants to talk to you!

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Sirius XM Bankruptcy: Told you so…

Next target, rock and/or roll..

Next target, rock and/or roll..

When I published my thoughts on how the iPhone would kill Sirius / XM, I was linked in the Sirius XM financial messageboards (probably by some shorts). Needless to say some of the longs went after me screaming ‘this guy is a moron’ and some other harshness. Even today when I talk about how amazing it is to play radio on my iPhone, I get some radio purists come in an whine ‘but but but, HD radio is better because…’ or something like that. (It reminds me of the guy who told me mp3’s would never take off because they didn’t sound as good as CDs).

Anyway, SiriusXM are preparing to file for bankruptcy. Told you this would happen.

It’s not really the iPhone that is the killer, directly. It is the mountains and mountains of debt that were attached to Sirius. These guys borrowed BILLIONS to put their birds up in orbit. It just never made sense–NEVER MADE SENSE–to recreate the broadcast radio model up in space with a hugely more expensive infrastructure, not when a simpler hack together system is available to deliver more content easier (iPhone tethered to a car stereo). And with more and more 4G services being planned (wimax, LTE) I can understand why investors were running scared about satellite radio.

Sadly, a bunch of truckers are going to be really depressed. One of the strongest fan bases for satellite radio is long haul truckers who got their fix of news, information, music and even trucking stories no matter where they were in the USA. I suspect many of them are going to have some withdraw pains should the service shutter.

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