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!
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.
Pocketable camcorders have been selling like hotcakes ever since Flip Video (now owned by Cisco) popularized the category a few years ago with their original Flip. Since then, we’ve seen incremental upgrades and a whole lot of new players including Kodak, Creative Labs and of course, Sony. The feature sets continue to grow and now include 1080p HD recording, expandable memory, HDMI output and even optical image stabilization. But until this past week at CES, 3D was still an item on the to-do list. Now with Sony’s new Bloggie 3D (yeah, we’re not crazy about that name either) consumers can cram a Full HD camcorder in their pocket that not only shoots 3D if you want, but can also show you your recorded footage in glasses-free 3D using the built-in LCD monitor. Of course if you own a 3D TV you can watch it on that too ;-)
One fact that we failed to mention in the video below is that you can choose to upload your 3D videos to YouTube in “anaglyph” format – that’s the old-fashioned red & blue version of 3D. It doesn’t look as good as the modern version, but since you can find the Anaglyph glasses almost anywhere for pennies, your audience is guaranteed to be able to see your 3D footage in well, 3D. Even if it does end up looking like a cheezy 3D movie from the 50’s.
Well this just makes sense. I’ve never understood why you had to use a disc to get Netflix up and running on the Wii or the PS3 when both of these consoles support downloadable games/applications and have more than enough memory to run them. Starting today, go ahead and hit that eject button because the era of disc-based Netflix streaming is over. In Canada, PS3 owners have always had the disc-free option, but Wii users still needed the disc.
According to a blog post published today by Netflix’s VP of Product Development, Greg Peters, this change comes with an entirely new user interface as well:
In addition to removing the need for discs, we’ve developed a new user interface on both applications that significantly improves the experience. The new applications will allow you to search for content directly from the device and you’ll also be able to view an increasing portion of our content library with subtitles or alternate audio tracks.
But wait, the good news train isn’t stopping here – there’s more excitement for PS3 owners … “starting today you’ll be able to instantly watch some movies and TV shows in 1080p high definition with Dolby 5.1 channel surround sound.” Netflix said more devices would be added over time to support streaming digital surround sound – hopefully the brand-new Apple TV will be amongst the first to be upgraded.
These are both worthy developments for the recently-launched service here in Canada, however based on discussions I’ve had with people who have signed up, the real improvement that is sorely needed is an increase in the number of titles in the Canadian catalog.
One subscriber observed that there isn’t a single movie from Disney for instance, which is frustrating if you’re a parent of pre-teens.
Netflix has already committed to growing its catalog for Canadian subscribers, but there has been no announcement regarding how soon or how many titles will be added.
So Sync readers – especially those of you who have subscribed to Netflix, what do you make of these announcements? Have you tried the new interface and if so, is it the improvement that Netflix claims?
In the ultra-competitive world of TV distribution, particularly here in Canada, the big battle has been waged predominantly between cable and satellite providers. Cable companies traditionally speak of their advantage over satellite in areas like reliability, Video on Demand (VOD) and quick channel-changes. Satellite for its part makes claims around superior picture quality and geographic coverage.
Today however, the landscape has changed yet again, with Bell TV announcing that it has launched satellite-based VOD – a first of its kind in Canada.
Typically, satellite customers have been able to order scheduled Pay Per View programming, but the infrastructure needed to handle true real-time access to videos on demand hasn’t been available. Now, not only is VOD possible, the movies are being made available in what’s known as “Full HD” or 1080p, meaning that these movies are being streamed at the equivalent of Blu-ray quality. By way of comparison, all broadcast HD programming on cable and satellite is typically done in 720p – slightly less than half the resolution of 1080p. This is the first time 1080p has been made available in Canada. If you’ve been resisting the call of Blu-ray so far, Bell TV’s offering may mean you can forego that purchase altogether.
As of this announcement, the selection of available VOD content was slim – only 10 movies. However, if the selection of content on Bell’s IPTV product – Fibe TV – is any indicator, many more movies and shows should be available soon. According to Bell, new titles will be “made available every week.”
To access Bell TV’s VOD service (see their FAQ here), you’ll need one of their HD PVRs – either the 9242 or the 9241. To enjoy the full HD 1080p signal, you’ll need to have one of these PVRs connected to a 1080p-capable HDTV. No word yet whether Bell will extend the service to their PVR-capable 6131 HD receivers.
Update: As one of the commenters pointed out below, these receivers only show two HD options: 720p and 1080i. So how does one achieve full 1080p? The answer from Bell is:
The set top box automatically overrides the existing setting and outputs at 1080p. The output settings will include 1080p in the future when there is 1080p broadcast available.
Movies cost $6.99 per title for up to 48-hour access, and are available instantly by remote control on channel 1000 or by calling 1-866-68 ORDER.
Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada.