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MLB.TV review

June 28, 2010 7 comments

As I mentioned in another post, MLB.TV is a stellar model for video content on connected Internet devices.  Their business model is aggressive, but the product is excellent. 

Having used it for a good part of the 2010 season now, here are some thoughts on the various hardware platforms where it is available.

Note I have only the basic MLB.TV, not the high end version, so I do not have all the DVR functionality or choice of feeds.

Overall the product is very well conceived.  It has options to mask all scores so you can safely enter the app to pick up a game from the beginning without seeing the score or outcome.  You can start at any inning or go to the live point.

There are no ads, when the ad break comes you get a silent pleasant blue card while you wait.  According to an MLB presentation I saw last year at Adobe Max, they are restricted from rebroadcasting local ads into other markets (something not true on the similar DirecTV product or on MLB’s audio only product).  They also said they have not worked out all the details to consider inserting their own ads.  So for now at least, you get a nice ad-free experience in exchange for the $100-120 you paid up front.  (Hear that, Hulu?)

The Web

Rock solid.  Does just what you want it to.  Only one glitch I found while resizing windows the video did not resize when the video did, so about half the image was cut off.  I had to kill the window and reopen it to restore.  No big deal.

The iPod Touch

Video performance is an issue for me.  It crashes and stutters frequently.  Image quality is poor, possibly due to the limted processing power.   It could be related to the bandwidth available, however in the same location I didn’t have as much trouble with…

The iPad

Better.  The video performance is better than the Touch.  It still crashes occasionally and for the most part I find myself going back to audio only.  Also the app itself isn’t as good as the Touch app, it feels cluttered to me, not as intuitive, and it lacks a standings section for some reason. 

I am still skeptical of the iPad as a video device.  I rarely take it out of the house where I have a much better video device known as A Television Set (with a number of connected devices attached).  When I do rarely take it to the office, I prefer to listen to the radio versions of ball games so I can keep my eyes on my work (Hear that, Boss?).  I know some people are bullish on video on the iPad, and I don’t deny it can work for some, it just so far has not worked for me, and least for long form video.

The Roku Box

Simple.  If the Roku has a fault, it’s that it’s too simple, but it passes the Mom Test.  Just about anyone can use this thing, it just works.

I recently moved my Roku into my home office where I have a small TV next to my computer.  Since my main TV has an Xbox and a PS/3, the Roku has become a bit redundant, so it’s now demoted to auxillary room status. 

At one point this last weekend I had the White Sox on mute on the small TV via Roku, and the iPad running the audio of the Tigers game while I worked at my PC.  This was better than juggling windows on the PC itself. 

PS/3

Slick.  This is my favorite place to use MLB.TV.  The interface is responsive, the streams start fast and video quality adjustments happen seamlessly (without a pause like the Roku).

The only negatives are slight and can be blamed on the PS/3:  it was not easy to find the app in the first place to install it, and I’d prefer to use the center “select” button on my PS/3 media remote rather than the “X” button, but I’m guessing that’s a design requirement to be consistent with other apps on that device.

If I could only choose one device however, ironically it would be the one that generally performs the worst for video, the iPod Touch, because it’s always with me.  I mostly use it for audio only, because most of my eastern teams’ games are on while I’m still at work here on the west coast.

For home viewing of video, the one I’d keep would be the PS/3.

Primer, possibly the best geek movie of all time

May 13, 2010 3 comments

See Primer.  

It disappears from Netflix instant view at the end of this month (May 2010) so get on it already.  

I’m not going to write a detailed review because it’s already been done and it would melt my mind, but this is absolutely one of the most interesting films of the last decade and you must see it.  

Here’s why it’s a delicious geek-fest:  

Shane Carruth

 

– The creator is a geek.  One person, Shane Carruth, wrote, produced, directed, did the music and sound design, edited it over three years, and plays one of the two leads.  

– He made it made for $7,000.  

– The characters are geeks. It’s filled with very detailed dialogue that makes sense if you want to follow it, or just let it breeze by as exposition if you don’t.  

– It’s got an unconventional narrative style that pretty much demands you watch it more than once.   

– There’s a legitimate cult for this film that have filled the interwebs with theories and discussion, so much that they had to close the official forum to new users because it was getting to be too much to handle.  

There’s a lot of technology and crazy mind bending plot, but it’s ultimately a story about human frailty and friendship.   

Links and trailers   

Official Primer Site   

Wikipedia Primer site (SPOILERS)   

Art & Industry article   

Official trailer:   

Scene “The Box”   

Scene “You’re Talking About Making A Bigger One”  SPOILERS   

Someone actually went to the trouble of doing a Primer/Brokeback mashup.   

Categories: Reviews

iPad week in reviews – Part 3: There’s a charge for that?

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Continuing from iPad week in reviews – Part 2

One of the most interesting and apparent aspects of the iPad is how much you spend AFTER you get one.  Much has been written about the hopes of the content and publishing industries that the era of “the Internet is where you get stuff for free” is over.  Everyone sees what happened to the music industry in the last decade (which is that Apple took it over but at prices many feel are too low) and the question is how to avoid the same happening to movies, tv, print, sports and the rest.

Clearly coming out of the gate the play is to see what the market will bear by holding a firm line.  In this world, you have to pay for stuff.

Time Magazine

Time Magazine April 12, 2010 (time.com)

The $4.99 app is getting hammered in the app store reviews, people assumed they were getting a subscription or something like the FREE New York Times app that would be updated continually.

Instead, Time is taking the route of selling a single issue in a slick digital frame. There are very few ads, which somewhat justifies the cost, but that could also be simply that only a few advertisers bit.

The ads they did have were interactive in their way, although the video performance on the ad I tried was poor, it stuttered and quit and I lost interest quickly. That could have been due to my network, but it’s a problem.

I bought the first one out of novelty, I doubt I’ll buy another.

Major League Baseball

Also getting a lot of negative reviews on pricing.  I’ve already paid $15 for audio streaming of any game I want. (I follow the Tigers and White Sox but live in LA) I can get that on the web, but now to get access to the same content I’ve already paid for on the iPad, I need to pay another $15 for an app? And if I want it on my iPod Touch I need to pay again for it there?

And of course if I try to simply browse to the website in the iPad browser to redeem what I’ve already paid for, bzzzt, redirected! (somewhere deep in the terms of use I expect the lawyers snuck the language in to allow that, and it would have required Flash anyway which, oh coincidence, is not available on the iPad)

I did go ahead and bite on this because I can and I’m a fan, but it will be interesting to see how this stance plays out in the market. 

However I attempted to “upgrade” my audio only subscription to the video subscription rather than buying a new full price video subscription (which also includes the audio portion).  It’s not easy.  They clearly want to charge me a fourth time for something I already have, and to avoid that requires phoning them and waiting for the issue to be escalated.  It’s been four days so far and it’s still not working.  And I’m not the only one, see this post about struggling to upgrade GameDay Audio to MLB.tv.

App pricing

Apps are going for much higher rates than typical for iPhone apps.  $9.99 seems to be the norm, rather than $.99 as you see on the smaller platforms.

With Apple’s closed development platform, exclusion of Flash, proprietary everything and massive buzz making marketing, the play is clearly to hook users into a premium environment with few options and generate the necessary critical mass to make it the only tablet/reader game worth playing in.

Apple has been succesful so far with the iPhone and they’re on their way again with the iPad.  HP and Google are expected to enter the market with their own devices with open environments.  The question is whether they’ll be able to match the Apple buzz factor, create an app market, and gain significant market share.  The second question is do enough people really care, the tablet market is unproven and may only appeal to a niche audience.

What do you think?

iPad week in reviews – Part 2: Needs Improvement

April 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Continuing iPad week in reviews

Needs improvement:

The Web

Apple claimed the iPad would be the best web browsing experience you’ve ever had.  Intimate and up close.  Not so far.

It’s not a terrible experience, but I still find myself zooming in on things to make them larger so I don’t click on the wrong thing. 

Facebook in particular has very compact boxes with links so close to each other my finger obscures the target and I often hit the wrong one.  Also some of the text boxes on that site fail to invoke the keyboard, so whatever advanced html/css magic Facebook is using seems to fool this browser. 

It’s ok for casual surfing to look something up or as a type of eReading, but serious surfing mode brings me back to my hard keyboard and mouse in the lean forward environment.

I want a real mouse, sorry, I just do.  I’ll be the old fogey yelling at the kids to get off my lawn and demanding a right-click button until I die.

Netflix

NetflixIt’s great that Netflix is now in the mobile device game, they’re on just about every other connected device out there (Roku, game consoles, blu-ray players, and all the new TV’s) and they’ve done nearly everything right so far.  (Supposedly an iPhone and iPod Touch version is coming next)

In a rare stumble, their iPad app feels like a rush job (which is understandable) so I hope a revision is on the way.

They did little more than push their browser site out in an app, so it suffers from the same issues the browser does:  Text is too small, hitting the wrong link is too easy, and there are no rollover states… which would be ok if the site is designed for that, but Netflix requires rollover states for adding titles to your instant queue.  Without them you have to either play it directly and bypass the queue, or add it to your DVD queue and enjoy the side effect that it is also added to the instant queue.  (then you want to delete if from your DVD queue because you don’t want the DVD)

Also there’s no drag and drop in the queue manager, you still have to hit a small target then type in a number and submit.  Trying to drag like you can on the (real) web instead invokes the select/copy/paste mechanic, so it’s actually a worse experience than the web.

Finally the movement into and out of the full screen video is awkward.  Sometimes the audio continues playing in the background when you return and the screen you return to has an option to return to browsing but none to return to the video… then after a timeout it returns to browsing anyway.  The video player seems to display a “return to embedded mode” icon (two arrows pointing at each other) but that’s not the mode you return to, so it’s basically a mislabeled “exit” button.  It seems like they meant for the return screen to have an embedded video state, but then punted that and didn’t rework the UI after that decision.

What I want from Netflix is a wicked Instant Queue manager that gives me search and browse capabilities better than I can get with a remote control, with slick swipe and drag reordering.  I would use this from my sofa to manage content before I watch it on my internet connected TV.

This app is not that.

Typing

The keyboard is inherently limited, that’s a given, but there are behaviors within it that can be improved.

There are no arrow keys for one, and since there’s no mouse there’s only a pretty awkward magnifying glass tools that comes over from the iPhone.  It’s frequently inaccurate in my experience, I’d rather have cursor keys.

I tend to just delete backwards rather than struggle with the cursor, but then I found if you hold the backspace key down it shifts from deleting one letter at a time to one word at a time and almost instantly you can delete much more than you wanted to.

That’s when you need to “undo” and the undo is a very non-obvious shake of the device itself.

Seems like a lot to go through. This will keep me on my pc or netbook for writing.

Here’s a quick test I did, if you can make sense of it tell me in the comment section below:

I’m writing th is arti le using the ipad keyboard.  I will make no attempt to corre t my. Istakes. The autocorrect feature does some of the work, but obviously there are somoe oases.  Overall thourhg I’m getting better at it. Im ty ping as fast now as I would on a normal keyboard.  I hated it at first. Ut hVe gotten used it to after a week
S practice. It you type slower you’ll Get fewer mistakes, Nd the lact of some keys li ke aqhotes and a Ostrophes can be a problem,  also the shift keys and capitalization are often tricky.

Overall i think the theory of flat glass panels as in Ut devices may Abe flawed.  Its one of the star trek inventions that xpeople are trying to make come to Life. On st The next generation you often saw to ouch screen devices as keyboards and displays and I’m sure that influenced the growth of such devices in reality. But the fact that you need to loom at theta keys and not the words seriously ham Ers sth is. Y ou need to feel the key board with your fingers without Looking.

Until they can make these screen grow bumps you can feel blinding, they’ll be severly limIted.

IMDB

Meh.  Flatten the hierarchy — didn’t you read the designer spec?  Also it doesn’t resume at your prior state when task switching.   I try to like it, but I prefer the website to their app.

The Built-In Apps

The photo app is nice to use, but a hassle to sync.  Every single image needs to be “optimized” which takes a loonnnnngggg time. 

Mail is very basic and it doesn’t handle attachments well.  There’s no file system to save things to so you can only open them from the mail program itself.  (I would rather move pdfs into GoodReader, for instance, but you have to rely on GoodReader’s built in email client to do that)  And when you send a photo as an attachment, it renames it “photo.jpg”.  Why?  What if I’m trying to select from a hundred photos and send the best take to a collaborator?  Having the original name presevered would be helpful.

Memo is fine, though typing is what it is.

Contacts and Calendar seem to lack the magical page flipping animation everything was supposed to have according to Apple, but that doesn’t bother me that much.

What did bother me is that the calendar is just not as robust as you’d expect from a good calendar client.  I couldn’t set up an event to start on Tuesday and recur every day until Sunday.  It could only recur forever.  I can hear the Apple guys now, “just drag and pinch and swipe and create an event on each day, it’s fun!”.

I’ll never get tired of The Onion’s brilliant MacBook Wheel concept.  “Everything is just a few hundred clicks away.”

My iPad email signature reads “Sent from my MacBook Wheel” in homage.

It’s the Walled-Off Astoria

Not having a file system is a big annoyance.  I’ve heard Apple say in effect, “people are confused by file systems, they don’t want to create or worry about files, they just want to do stuff.”   I reject this.  Kids are savvy and get smarter all the time.  The world does not need to be led to the utopian Apple universe where files don’t exist.

There’s room for a simpler file system, sure.  I don’t need access to program executables or OS files, but a “My Documents” or desktop metaphor with folders that all apps can access would be perfectly comprehendable. 

Being forced to use iTunes to manage documents is an insulting hassle.  I’m a grown up, let me plug the device in via USB and mount it as a drive that I can drag files in and out of, from any computer, not just the one with my iTunes. 

Next up: There’s a charge for that? 

I’m looking at you Major League Baseball…

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

iPad week in reviews – Part 1: The Winners

April 11, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been a week of living with the iPad, and overall I’m surprised how much I really like it.

This is not the DROID you are looking for. (tested.com)

As I wrote last week, the iPad makes an effective eReader for pdf format scripts.  I’ve also downloaded some free and sample books in both Apple’s iBooks store and the Amazon Kindle app for the iPad.  Both are very usable.

I haven’t used a Kindle device at any length, so I can’t say how it compares, but being generally new to the eReader device space, I’m now a fan.  Will the iPad be the best device in this space in a year?  Who knows. 

So in no particular order, here’s the stuff I mostly liked…

iBooks, Kindle for iPad, GoodReader

Ereaders are a winner in general.  The iPad’s sexy sliding interface feels great. I find it very comfortable to read. 

The iPad has a glossy backlit screen that did make me have to adjust my seating and later close the blinds while near a window, but those are minor inconveniences for now.  Haven’t tried it outdoors, but I don’t expect to, my iPad is a homebody.

It is a cold metal device, so the $40 optional cover is nice if you’re going to cozy up with it.

So far no eye strain issues.

The New York Times

I like format better than a standard browser, less cluttered and much more pleasant.  No distractions to the pure reading experience.  However I would like to see them add a Facebook share button. 

First mover advantage will also really help the Times, already I’ve formed a habit that is pushing out Yahoo as my morning news source.  Other news sources coming out with competitive apps will be significantly behind.

Jury still out: Will they get any other advertisers other than the Chase Sapphire Card?  I’m not getting this card, so they’re wasting their ad dollars on me now.

ABC

Full disclosure:  I do work for The Walt Disney Company, although I do not work for ABC and did not work on this app.  My opinions are mine and do not reflect the position of my employer.

Very well done interface and experience.  Smooth and slick.

Jury still out: The longest I sat down to watch any video on the device was about fifteen minutes before I got distracted and wanted to do something else.   This applies to not just ABC’s app but video consumption in general on the iPad.  I still think the internet connected TV will be the platform to beat for streaming video delivery. 

Marvel

(Again, full disclosure, I work for Disney but have no connection to Marvel or this app.  My opinions are mine and do not reflect the position of my employer.)

Gorgeous.  A great combination of standard eReading with pinch/swipe image viewing/zooming.  A very compelling way to read.

I’m not a comic book guy so I only downloaded one free one to check it out.  Getting a second free book required registration, which I didn’t feel like doing at this time, but it looks great on this device.

It may not satisfy the true collector’s fetish of having the physical artifact, but it could create an all new and expensive fetish — which sums up the iPad business model (see Part 3).

Best iPhone apps that work blown up:

Meteors.  Best Asteroids Clone Ever.  Please make an iPad version.

Google Earth.  Would seriously kill with an iPad upgrade, but even the current version blown up is pretty amazing.

Next up, the “Needs Improvement” list. 

I’m looking at you Netflix…