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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Netflix/Roku Alliance ... USC's Anytime/Anywhere Content Lab ... More with Spielberg and Lucas

- The WSJ, Wired, and TechCrunch all have news and reviews of a new $99 set-top box from Roku, which will deliver movies from Netflix. From the Journal:

    At $99.99, the Netflix set-top box is priced like a DVD player and is as simple to hook up to a television. A high-speed Internet connection can either be plugged into the box or the device can pick up a wireless signal.

    Netflix's new set-top box, made by Roku, will stream movies from Netflix's library directly to customers' televisions.
    Similar Internet-to-TV devices made by Apple Inc. and Vudu Inc. cost $229 to $295.

    "We think this is something that offers a big value at a low cost," said Reed Hastings, Netflix's chief executive officer.

    The Netflix box, made by Silicon Valley startup Roku Inc., is the first of several devices that will pipe Netflix's streaming service to TV sets. South Korea's LG Electronics is expected to include the streaming capability in a Blu-ray DVD player that it plans to debut during the second half of this year.

Wired writes:

    Choosing content to watch is done on your computer, using the familiar Netflix interface. Anything that’s available for instant viewing can be added to the player’s queue -- in fact, the box checks your DVD queue and adds any available content to the Roku player automatically. The upside is that browsing the amount of content on Netflix is much easier on a computer than TV; the downside is that you’ll find yourself wanting your laptop by your side.

    What's not to like? Well, the choices are still limited. Netflix has 100,000 DVDs available, but only 10% of them can be procured for streaming. Also, fast forwarding and rewinding is a bit of a chore, given the limitations of video streaming, although the player smartly displays a visual time line of scenes to help with navigation.

$99 seems to me to be a decent price point for a set-top box... though there's still the issue of setting it up, which can be intimidating for many.

- Jon Healy of the LA Times pays a visit to the Anytime/Anywhere Content Lab at USC, where they assess new entertainment technologies for the home. From the post:

    David Wertheimer, the ETC's executive director and a former digital guru at Paramount, said that while studios focus on their product, the lab concentrates on the user. The hope, he said, is that its work will show studios and tech companies how to "meet in the middle and provide new kinds of products" that appeal to the next generation of consumers. In addition to interviewing USC students on campus every week about their media consumption habits and attitudes, the ETC brings about 20 students into the lab to talk to its board and try out some of the gear it has assembled.

- Entertainment Weekly has a nice, long Q&A with Lucas and Spielberg. From it:

    How much did George nag you to shoot film-free, with digital cameras, the way he did on the Star Wars prequels?

    SPIELBERG: All through three years of preparation. It's like he was sending these huge 88 [millimeter artillery] shells to soften the beach, y'know? He never swears at me. He never uses profanity. But he calls me a lot of names. And in his creative name-calling, he topped himself on this one, trying to get me to do this digitally.

    What did he call you?

    SPIELBERG: I guess the worst thing he ever called me was old-fashioned. But I celebrate that. He knows me like a brother. It's true, I am old-fashioned.
    LUCAS: I think the word ''Luddite'' came into it. In a very heated discussion.
    SPIELBERG: I said I wasn't, I was Jewish! [Laughter]
    LUCAS: The end of it is, I said, ''Look, Steve, this is your movie. You get to do it your way.'' And in the end, I didn't force Steven to do it. That doesn't mean I didn't pester him, and tease him, and get on him all the time.
    SPIELBERG: It was all 35-millimeter, chemically processed film.... I like cutting the images on film. I'm the only person left cutting on film.
    LUCAS: And I'm the guy that invented digital editing. But we coexist. I mean, I also like widescreen and color. Steven and Marty [Scorsese] have gone back and shot in black-and-white [on Schindler's List and Raging Bull, respectively]. I don't get on their case and say, ''Oh my God, this is a terrible thing, why are you going backwards?'' I say, ''That's your choice, and I can appreciate it.''

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