RIM shoots… and scores on their own goal

NHLPA member and New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron demonstrates the fit of his goalie mask in a video created using a BlackBerry PlayBook


Update, Monday February 27: RIM and/or the NHLPA appear to have fixed the problem described in this post and all of their videos now look as good as the ones included at the bottom of the article. Thanks to reader Kyleigh for pointing this out!

Original post:

This is PlayBook 2.0 week, the week when everyone who owns a PlayBook gets the opportunity to upgrade their OS to a version that finally brings the 7″ tablet up to snuff with the other tablets on the market. High-fives all around right? Well, yes – and no.

Given the celebrations, it would definitely seem to be the right time to get the word out about the PlayBook with a marketing effort that speaks directly to consumers. And if it could highlight one of the great features of the PlayBook – like the fact it can shoot 1080p HD video from both the front and the rear cameras – something which it’s biggest competitor, the iPad 2, still can’t do -so much the better.

It was with this goal presumably in mind that RIM launched its partnership with the NHLPA – the folks who represent the professional hockey players of the NHL. The partnership has led to a new website where fans of the game can come to watch up close and personal videos of their favourite players, all shot using the PlayBook.

But this is where things take a nasty turn. The videos are horrible.

I’m not referring to the content. I daresay that NHL fans would happily watch any video that gave them a glimpse inside the private lives of their hockey heroes which the short video clips certainly deliver.

I’m talking about the actual video quality. They look like they were shot using a VGA-quality webcam and then streamed over Skype using a heavily throttled connection. The frame-rate appears incredibly low – I’d guess somewhere around 15FPS (video needs to be at least 24FPS in order to look smooth) and in many places the audio goes out of sync with the video.

In one of the videos, New York Rangers goalie Martin Biron shows off his new mask. He dons the mask and proceeds to shake his head vigorously side-to-side to demonstrate how well it fits. At least, we assume that’s what he’s doing. But if it wasn’t for the shaking sound produced by the neck-guard rattling, it would be impossible to tell: his masked face simply blurs a little -it’s like watching a high-speed train pass one foot in fr0nt of your face.

When you consider that the PlayBook is actually capable of some fairly decent video capture, it’s hard to imagine how these videos ended up looking so bad.

If I didn’t already know better through using a PlayBook to shoot video, watching these clips would not convince me to buy. In fact quite the opposite. Which is really a shame because OS 2.0 really is an amazing upgrade. From the new Mail, Contacts and Calendar apps which are all now native to the OS, to the clever social integration which lets you compile a contact’s professional, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn info all in one handy location – this update finally delivers on many of the promises the platform made when it debuted last year.

A part of me actually wonders if this ultra-low-fi video was intentionally created. Each clip starts with a very jerky animation of the NHLPA’s logo followed by a BlackBerry PlayBook. Unlike the videos that follow, you can tell this was a stylistic choice and not some limitation on the part of the designer. But why? Why create a series of videos that make your product’s capabilities look so inferior? For despite the PlayBook’s advantage in the resolution of its twin cameras, many viewers will wonder if the iPad 2 produces a better result.

I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the intent was not to focus on the PlayBook’s video quality but just to generally get people talking about how cool the tablet is. But in the campaign’s inaugural week, the video is the only feature we’re given to discuss.

Or perhaps this is merely another indicator that RIM still needs to work as much on its marketing activities as it does on its products.

Check out some of these YouTube videos that have been shot with the PlayBook and decide for yourself if the NHLPA’s behind-the-scenes footage is a good testament to the device’s capabilities.



  1. Mike B

    You were expecting Fellowship of the Ring Simon? Truly the web has hatched another wanna be expert at everything technical. Amazingly enough you are another self assessed expert with zero accreditation who loves to spout and pontificate. Did you not think this was a marketing thing and not to expect anything amazing. Have you watched any Apple commercials of late or ever..none are created using apple apps or software. The Playbook in its infancy still is more robust than the iPad was when it was first hatched. Not hard to imagine that Apple has a lead and will maintain that lead.
    As for your alleged expertise in video… which apparently you have none… you critique the posted quality of the videos assuming that the quality is entirely the fault of the Playbook rather than the encode . There are thousands of amateurs out there and I dare say there might even be a few hockey players so there is no guarantee that someone knew what they were doing when they posted. Have you ever shot anything with a Playbook and looked at the quality out of the device??
    Yes RIM does need marketing help that is for sure. APPLE is cult like .. people will buy anything with a lower case i in front of a device. Doesn’t mean it is actually good. Maybe you can offer your services as a marketer and all round expert on technology to RIM …Better yet post a video of yourself prognosticating and see how many people will watch your video.
    A cure for insomnia is what I would call it.


    • Simon Cohen

      Hey Mike, can’t tell if you’re being a troll or not, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and answer your comment at face value :-)
      I do not profess to be a video expert – far from it. But I am very familiar with the video capabilities of the PlayBook and other tablets like the iPad 2. I’ve shot video with almost all of them.
      When you say “Did you not think this was a marketing thing and not to expect anything amazing.” I’m confused. Because you’re right, this *is* all about marketing – specifically PlayBook marketing. RIM *should* be putting out something amazing.
      My point was that the PlayBook *is* capable of very good video (thus the examples I posted at the bottom) so I don’t know why the videos shot by the NHLers on this site are so poor. You might be absolutely right that there was a problem with the encode – but if that’s the case, don’t you think RIM would want to fix that? After all, you and I might know that the quality was possibly compromised by a third party, but to most viewers it will simply come across as “that PlayBook sure has bad video quality”.
      By the way, you’re right – I’ve had a number of people tell me that my Sync Up segment on CTV News Channel Tuesday nights has helped them get to sleep :-)
      Not quite the compliment I was looking for, but I’ll take what I can get!


      • MikeB

        Yes you are not a video expert that is for sure. Most people are not but those people don’t have blogs. You cannot simply draw a conclusion of how good the originating quality of a piece of video is simply based on how it plays on YouTUbe or its equivalent. Witness the various qualities of any performance from a dvd or live tv show. One version of the same video looks and sounds like crap yet someone else does a better job and posts the same video and it looks decent.
        The video quality is clearly an issue of the NHLPA based on the response from their rep and as I pointed out in my first posting.
        It is very easy for someone on the internet with a blog or a reporter to feign expertise when in comparison to the general public they do know more. Just keep one thing in mind… it is consumer electronics and is mostly about simple gadgets . Consumer reports does an excellent job for comparing all items and their opinion I trust not the usual blog hog.


      • Simon Cohen

        Mike, not quite sure why you’re still on this rant. This is a pretty black and white story. The NHLPA posted videos that were shot with PlayBooks. They made a mistake in the encoding and uploading process that resulted in really terrible looking video. My point was that, if you’re a company that wants to show the world how good your product is at capturing video, you should make sure that the videos you use to demonstrate that capability are as good as they can possibly be. The NHLPA didn’t do that when their site launched but have since remedied the problem and now the videos are a much better match to what the PlayBook captures. End of story. Why do you insist on characterizing my article as that of a blogger “feigning expertise”? Anyone could have watched those videos and come to the same conclusion. I just happened to be the first person to write about it.


  2. Lee Mathews

    Just curious, Simon, was the Biron video actually shot with a PlayBook? The site says it was uploaded by Marty himself….Maybe he’s still using an old Curve. :)

    Whatever the case may be, you’re spot on. They should’ve made sure the quality was much, much better.


    • Simon Cohen

      Hmm – can’t say for sure, but the whole point of their site was that they had equipped their top NHLers with PlayBooks for the purpose of recording glimpses of their personal lives. Either way, it doesn’t put RIM’s products in a very good light. All of the video clips I watched suffered from the same choppy quality and sync issues. What’s really odd is that I’ve shot video with a PlayBook and I don’t know how I could have made it look that bad if I had tried!


  3. Kyleigh

    I’m anything but a video expert, but when I watched the video it didn’t have any of the problems you described. The video wasn’t choppy and there definitely weren’t any sync issues. To be honest, the video quality was about the same as the ones you posted above. I suppose it’s possible that there was a problem in the encode and RIM has fixed it in the past day or so. Does the quality still look that bad if you watch the video now?


    • Simon Cohen

      You’re right Kyleigh, looks like they’ve re-encoded the videos – they look *much* better now! Thanks for the eagle-eyes. Simon.


  4. Dermud

    I don’t step into these discussions but could not resist this one. We, da misses and I, each have a playbook that we gave each other for Christmas. Just got back from down south for a vacation where we very easily carried our playbooks around with us. We shot a lot of video and many many people were impressed along with us. To be able to tote a device that does so much so easily (fits in most womens purses) and to instantly record a video and share it on the spot with others is excellent. The comments I heard/got were “wow, that video is excellent, what device is this” (Rim should pay for my vacation Hahaha). But this to me is the purpose of the camera on the playbook. A device you will have with you cause its an everyday device and will do a “very acceptable video” which anyone who lives life can appreciate! If it were professional grade video I wanted, I would have that clunky thing with me, just like my friends had, that they laid down and had stolen, all because it was another thing that just another single purpose device that had to be lugged around in case it had a purpose. I was impressed by the I-Pad, but playbook is a clear winner, it is very easy to transport and provides the entertainment, the office and an abiliy to capture the moments you have on the go.


  5. Rob

    I’ve had a Playbook for almost a year, and the video is amazing, especially when shooting in good light. The NHLPA videos are not representative of the quality of video the playbook can take. For $200 the Playbook is a great tablet.


  6. Casey Rovinelli

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for posting the update to this article. We ironed out most of the bugs in the video player over the weekend and are glad you noticed!

    While the videos looked great in testing — when we went live we were seeing excess jitter + some dropped frames on the site. This was a partially a result how we positioned the video player underneath the “comments / related video” tabs. This caused everyone’s video player to work overtime (which caused the jitters) and triggered our video player to flip over to a lower resolution (which made the videos look terrible).

    We’re still working with Brightcove to tweak the player. But, we agree that the new player is much better. You can also see all the video’s over at YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/nhlpa).



    Director, Digital Marketing