Turn Your HDTV Into a Computer: Online Video Without Restraints

(See 4/13 update below and learn the secret to connecting your Wireless keyboard to an Acer, which you won’t find after an hour on Windows help).

You loyal WVFF readers will know that I’ve been predicting the “killer web-to-television online video viewing” device for several years (here’s me wishing back in January 2007 and here’s my verbatim from 2010 predictions):

“I see a $199 device that allows us to access the Internet right from our televisions. It’s a small PC, a remote-controlled keyboard and mouse, and it plugs into any television via HDMI or even less progressive connections.”

We’re pretty dang close finally — here’s a device that would have eluded me due to minimal marketing. Thank goodness for Billy at Best Buy (his employer didn’t stock it, so I bought one at NewEgg.com). It’s an Acer AspireRevo AR3610-U9022 Desktop PC (Dark Blue), and here’s an Amazon affiliate link for it for $330 (I’ve yet to make a dime yet on the stupid affiliate program).

For about $300 you can watch Internet video on your high-definition television and control it with wireless keyboard

First the “reality check”: It’s not $199, but there is a cheaper version (called Revo) for that price. Note that the Revo is a bit dumbed down, lacks wireless remote and uses Windows XP. I chose the AspireRevo because it has a remote included, offers Windows 7, and has more horse power. You’ll also need an HDMI cable to connect it to your high-definition television, a TV with HDMI input, electricity, and (duh) a wireless router with high speed Internet. Essentially this is a decent computer without a monitor.

You can now enjoy online-video viewing (and other PC activities) right from your high-definition television. You heard me right. Your overpriced television is now a monitor, so you don’t have to chose between “lean forward” control or “lean back” comfort. “Oh, Kevin,” you say, “I’ve already been doing this for years with my PC.” Well shut up because you represent .005% of the population.

Yes, peeps… it’s convenient online-video viewing on YouTube and Hulu without the “walled garden” associated with most “convenience” devices like Roku, AppleTV, Netflix and Ethernet/wireless enabled BlueRay DVD players (yes I own those too, and they have some advantages like easy install, customized content, and easier navigation). But none of these allow Hulu (to my knowledge), or give you the full YouTube functionality. And some are slowwwww.

Here’s how you get this Revo thingy going (in case you’re even more techno-phobic than me):

  1. You plug in the device to a source of electricity. Don’t get shocked.
  2. You put said device next to your computer, and connect it to your TV with an HDMI cable (you can handle that, right?). The cable isn’t included. So if you don’t have one laying around, get a cheapo at BestBuy or online (or do better by by surfing CNet’s Cheapskate. Those cables can get wicked expensive, and I’m not convinced the primo ones are worth it.
  3. You find a wireless signal (you do have a router that has high-speed Internet, right?). Hey, swipe your neighbors unless you live near me.
  4. Now you sit your ass on your couch or bed and use the wireless keyboard and mouse to surf the web. Go full screen and suffer some commercials and you’re free at last. Free at last! You can enjoy Hulu like it’s television (albeit more grainy than you’d like, but free).

You can do basically the same thing with an old PC or laptop, but Billy tells me that video streams poorly on older processors. That explains why we haven’t seen my dream machine for $199 yet. But on the positive side, this puppy is more fueled than $350 Netbooks, and if you’re after web-video on the television it’s a better approach (some Netbooks have an HDMI output, but you’d need a long wire and I hate Netbook keyboards. Here are the specifications for this baby (note I haven’t test driven it yet):

  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom 330 Processor
  • 2GB DDR2 Memory
  • 160GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive; Multi-in-1 Digital Media Card Reader
  • Integrated NVIDIA ION Graphics; High-Definition Audio Support
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); Includes Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

This is more computer than I need, but a fast machine that runs Windows will come in handy since we’re all Mac, and the MacMini version of this would be twice as expensive (wireless keyboard sold separately, and Mac is cruel with accessory pricing… I just bought a damned backup power chord for my MacBook Pro for f’ing $80 from Billy).

*** Update 4/7: After hours of struggling with Windows 7 to connect the remote keyboard and mouse, I found the simple answer… by finding a brochure I missed in the packaging, seperate from the other materials. Seems there’s a dongle hiding in the mouse interiror that must be plugged into the Acer. Otherwise you’ll spend HOURS on Windows help and online, to no avail. All the other parts of the setup were less than 30 minutes, but finding the HDMI cable (hiding plugged into my television pretending to be connected to something) and the cursed wireless keyboard/remote HIDDEN DONGLE was very frustrating, however. I also would give Egghead a poor score on customer service. Ordered it for FedEx on Friday hoping for Saturday arrival, and paid $37 for that. Immediately after that, I read the fine print: several days to process. So “next day” doesn’t mean “next day,” and even worst the customer service rep (who took 10 minutes to acknowledge me and another 15 to reply) told me he’d try to cancel the FedEx charge… and he didn’t. No more Egghead purchases. Stick with Amazon.com.

That said, I’m blogging from the television set. You’d be surprised how well this keyboard is working even from 20 feet… but it’s hard to read this text, which from here is about equivalent to 4-point type). Off to try YouTube!

Kevin is a poopie head

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discuss!

Battered User Syndrome: YouTube and Online Monopolies

Want your Gmail to replace your YouTube messaging? Sorry- but
here are some pretty thumb icons you can use to rate comments!

Who would have thought the market would be so beholden to YouTube’s inside-out design… half way through 2008? By now, I would have predicted that Web 2.0 would offer us endless options for customizing a video experience using someone else’s player. They can pay for the bandwidth and make ad revenue, but please allow us to customize, widgitize, and private-labelize.  You know- the open source, altruistic dream that borne Revver, and its open source API (whatever the hell that is).

Nope. Maybe that’s in the Web 3.0 upgrade. Not now. No soup for you.

Alas, market dominance means you innovate on your own terms. YouTube and Google were designed to solve a problem its founders felt, but the market didn’t quite know it needed. That works well when you’re in start-up mode or innovating, but can inadvertently spawn arrogance that hardcore users begin to resent. I’ve been an informal adviser to several smaller video-sharing sites, and found it very rewarding when those sites responded to our needs (or at least convinced us they were). Note: I disclose these relationships and they’re not paid — otherwise I’d lose my objectivity on them. And risk hating one less than another.

Now lately I’ve been confronted with some needs that are on the edge of YouTube’s functionality. So I did what any YouTube Partner would do: I went to both my dedicated YouTube technical liaison, Eric, and community representative, Brenda, to solve these issues. 
No I’m just kidding. They don’t take my calls either.

No, friends, we’ve got battered user syndrome.We don’t expect YouTube to fix itself. It’s tired after a long day of work, and we did spill its beer on the counter. So we’ll search for our own tools we can use on top of YouTube… despite it. The bad news is that we’re limited to offering this to people via channels we can control. The good news is that they solve problems that YouTube doesn’t see, doesn’t care about, or views as off strategy. The more bad news is that we don’t know what tools are safe or effective.

Suppose you had a cheese playlist and wanted to randomize it (like the Oreo contest entries) so each video gets a fair shot at being first. Or maybe you’re using the playlists as a free, copyright-violating jute box. Well you can’t do that. You’d want the Randomize YouTube Playlist script (mind you I’m not vouching for these things- I wouldn’t know what to do with them even if I could get past the porn ads and download them).

Then there’s the YouTube Search Script. I suppose that one allows you to customize search and embed videos based on parameters? Then there’s the “YouTube Script” which represents itself as a poor man’s custom YouTube (with that impossible promise, I’m guessing it’s a virus that turns your monitor into a camera and broadcasts your life 24/7 in Stickam). I am having fun playing with Overlay.tv (which is kinda like YouTube’s overlay tools on steroids). But I may do a promotion video for Overlay.tv… so more on that later. And don’t give me crap about promoting them because it’s like a skateboarder endorsing a skateboard brand. It’s cool. It’s why I pimp TubeMogul for free.

Anyway- share your own YouTube hacks below (not the zillion YouTube rippers, thank you). And don’t expect Eric or Brenda to call you back. Nope. Leave it to Web 2.0 to foster a monopoly where we love a website even when it beats us. We deserve the beating, though. We didn’t behave, and the website is under a lot of stress lately.

P.S. I dare someone to turn this post into a video blog and make it look like they’re not scripted. I’ll add a link here if you do. You gotta do it like Pat Condell… with articulation and enough emotion that you don’t look like you’re reading.

P.P.S. Domestic violence is not funny. Go get help, please, if you experience it. I am just using the analogy to exaggerate the learned helplessness we face with some technologies.

Metacafe Gives Viewers Wikipedia-Like Editing Control of Videos

It’s maddening when a creator tricks viewers with misleading thumbnails, titles, tags and descriptions. Until now, we’ve counted on the website’s search engine to solve that problem. But even YouTube’s Google-like sophistication still opens the door to tricks by Viral Video Villians.

Google learns from its users, and I imagine the YouTube search engine quietly gives primacy to videos that meet criteria we never see… such as open rate, duration of average view, related videos, and other metrics that YouTube can track to determine if the video is perceived as relevant or “good.”

Metacafe — without the funding or mother Google to help — has created a clever alternative. It’s giving edit rights to the viewer in true Wiki style. Just as anyone can edit a Wikipedia entry, Metacafe viewers can now edit the title, tags, description and even flag misleading thumbnails or duplicates (I flagged a “Farting in Public” ripoff just now). This is hard to explain, and a video is worth a million views. Watch Sherry in the video here to see how it works. I love this demo and not just because I make a surprise cameo.

I hope Metacafe doesn’t allow its creators to switch the hosts of it’s Metacafe Unfiltered series? Imagine how much better you could make this interview with KipKay, who has made more than $100,000 in advertising revenue on the website.

This begs a lot of questions. I can report a misleading thumbnail (the image you see representing a video before you play it), for instance, but I suspect human intervention is required, and perhaps that requires a few people reporting it. I can edit someone else’s video description, which introduces some risks of abuse initially (for instance, I could add my name to popular video tags but I’m sure it would erode a trust score and have little benefit to me). Ultimately the community will police the community, and that’s theoretically better and less expensive than editors or complex algorithms.


Wikicafe Beta: Hate Typos?The best bloopers are a click away

 

YouTube Goes High Definition: The “Secret” Hack Know As &fmt=18

The thing that put YouTube on the map was easy file sharing — quick uploads and fast Flash-based streaming. Lately YouTube is experimenting with high definition, which is a slight improvement from the typical squished Flash format.

Here are the key things you need to know:

  1. It’s in testing, and it’s not perfect. The audio sometimes fails to synch, and not all videos work in high definition.
  2. This isn’t HDTV. It’s just a higher resolution version of Flash.
  3. You can add the code: &fmt=18 to the end of a video’s URL to see if it makes it better.
  4. You’ll see some text below videos that allow you to toggle between high and low resolution.
  5. You can update your account preferences so you have the ability to default to high definition if you don’t mind the potential loss of speed.
  6. I’m not aware of any discrimination on this feature between “Partners” and everyone else.

Charles Trippy posted a video on this yesterday and SMPFilms in (“YouTube Hack”) announced the news as well. This perhaps prompted YouTube’s Blog to post” YouTube Videos in High Definition.”

Mike Abundo (Inside Online Video), of course, identified the hack on March 4, and provided this recent update. I saw the post, but found the improvement to be of nominal visual distinction.

Charles Trippy provided this nice post for Mac users to help them export their videos to take advantage of this higher definition.

I’m working on a video that explains this, and demos some of the before/after. It will also show people how to turn on high definition as a default via their account preferences. I’ll show the step-by-step for exporting better quality (the limit is now 1 gig for all).

Another source: Wired Wiki explains formatting in great detail

The Best Tool for Uploading Your Video to Multiple Video Sites

Nearly 9 months ago I begged for an alternative to uploading my videos manually to multiple websites. But shame on me. I’ve been uploading to dozens of sites for nearly two years, and we’re talking about nearly 500 videos. So that translates to several thousand times of doing the mundane “title it, describe it, tag it, upload, and wait.” Rinse, repeat.

Solutions have gradually developed, and all but one of these is free. So why have I waited until today to change this forever?

  1. Very few credible solutions have emerged in this space until recently. I’d even spoken with developers to create a custom web-based application that would focus on simplifying uploads and cope with site-specific criteria (monetization requirements). The potential here is enormous because content-creators would make that site a regular stop, which would give power to the tool to permit less popular sites to receive content.
  2. Most of my recent videos have been YouTube-specific and I’ve let my presence on other sites fade. Still, there are always a few that could have life beyond YouTube. And when I focused on Revver and Metacafe I made decent money for a short period. Ultimately my Revver and Metacafe dollars have dwindled as Revver views are low and few of my videos have hit the criteria for revenue-sharing on Metacafe.
  3. Ultimately I’ve distrusted non-credentialed “uploader” applications because of the risks I may take. Do they keep a copy of the video, and what rights might they assume on them? More importantly, the mystery company owns YOUR passwords of each video website. Do you want them being able to change payment preferences in your Revver, Metacafe or YouTube settings?

It’s time to overcome this fear.

I’m starting with what appears to be the leader in the space: TubeMogul. I neglected to mention them in a recent post that sited two players, and I heard from you WVFF readers and from the company.

So here’s the current landscape of players. I am not brave enough to try them all, and in some cases I list the “deal breaker” that turned me away.

TubeMogul

  • tube mogulPros: Hands-down winner of the space.  Registering and password process made me feel safe.
  • Cons: Limited sites supported:  YouTube, Metacafe, MySpace, Yahoo, Revver, AOL Video, DailyMotion, BrightCove. Interface was frustrating because the process of defining the sites to monitor is very different from identifying the sites for uploading. This required me visiting each of the sites for various information at different stages: e-mail, password, URL of my video page.
  • Note: The site asked if I wanted to store the passwords, so I’m hoping I won’t need to teach it again. The status feedback hasn’t yet changed on the videos I uploaded an hour ago.

Vidmetrix

  • Pro: Simple interface, good analytics, easy to add account to site via interface.
  • Con: Too few sites supported – deal breaker until developed. They are exclusively allowing Google Video, Metacafe, MySpace, Revver, Veoh, YouTube. Typos on site and lack of contact information also made me weary to try.

HeySpread

  • Pro: Nice interface from developer that seems legitimate.
  • Con: Deal breaker: You need to remember your passwords, because they’re used in the “session” but not databased. This may have been to quell concerns about sharing passwords, but it seems like I’m just as vulnerable for password theft whether it retains them or not. And it’s a huge inconvenience.

Veoh

  • Pro: By uploading on Veoh, you can also add Google Video, MySpace and YouTube to the sites that receive the video. This is, to my knowledge, the only video site that provides that unselfish functionality.
  • Con: Veoh is supposed to be a revenue-sharing site, but I haven’t made a penny on it in the months and months I’ve tried it. It’s frustrating to even try uploading directly to Veoh on that basis. Not a deal breaker but seems like a waste of time.

VideoPostRobot:

  • Pro:  Best diversity of sites. Supports: AOL Uncut Videos. Youtube, Google Video, Bolt, Putfile, Metacafe, Yahoo Video, MSN Soapbox, Myspace Video, Revver, Livevideo, Stupidvideos, Break, Brightcove, Grouper, Zippyvideos, iFilm, Veoh, Flurl, Blip.TV. $1 trial and downloadable application may simplify storing and using (although does present challenges for traveling uploaders).
  • Con: $19.95 is a deal breaker when there are free alternatives. Lack of company contact information and poor grammar on website makes me fearful to even try it.

Bottom line:

VideoMogul wins for easy upload features and strong statistic monitoring (its origins). The site is free, and fairly intuitive (although the user interface could use some simplifying). Ideally I’d like to set up my upload and monitor sites once, and then have a simple interface for each time I post or review statistics. I’d also value alerts for when a video happens to move. For example, if my Revver video got more than 100 views, my Metacafe video made it into the hermetically sealed “Producer Rewards” program, or I made my first penny on Veoh.

Ripping Videos from YouTube

tasty-apps.jpgA colleague of mine has developed a cool site (Tasty Apps) that hosts low-cost widgets and software for Macs. I love this new “FLVR” tool because it’s horrendously painful to otherwise download videos from YouTube.

For instance- I received 60 video responses to my “Save the Junk” video. I wanted to compile the best videos into this “Junk Winners” video. This would have taken me hourswith some of the free sites, but instead FLVR allowed me to download (aka “rip”) each one with just two clicks. First I click the image on my Safari browser window, then I click the thumbnail for download. Best of all, you can have several videos downloading simultaneously.  

I recouped the modest $15 cost in this project alone. It would have taken me hours using other sites (like KeepVid). No, he’s not giving me a cut for for promoting him. I just think this is a tool most of us need.

Verizon and Revver “Sittin’ in a Tree”

log.jpgMicki from Revver announced in Revver’s blog that Verizon and Revver have deepened their relationship. Later this year, subscribers to FIOS TV (which is limited to certain regions) will be able to watch Revver videos from the comfort of their couch. They’ll be free to viewers, and Revver and the creator will evenly split an undisclosed percentage of the total ad revenue generated through this channel.

Typically Revver provides the distribution platform with 20% of the advertising revenue, leaving Revver and the creator 40% each. I would venture to guess that this deal offers a larger percentage to Verizon even if Revver is staying true to the 50/50 share with creators. For instance, if Verizon sells the ad space then it could expect Revver and the creator’s cut to be smaller.

This opens up a powerful new distribution channel for Revver, who has a generous business offering but very little traffic to Revver.com. Without these upstream/downstream partnerships, the creator must generate his or her own traffic. I’ve told Revver before that I’d happily settle for a smaller percentage of the revenue if they could drive the total advertising revenue higher via new distribution channels. They’ve been trying to broker these deals, but I suppose they’re not easy ones.

I truly hope that the larger media companies will syndicate consumer-generated content from Revver and similar entities. From my perspective as a content creator, it makes life much, much easier. I don’t have time to upload my videos to 12 sites. And from the “big media” perspective (be it Verizon, Sony, Comcast, Disney, networks) it provides fast and painfree access to gobs of user-generated content, and saves them the peril of pissing money away dissintermediating online players.

Thumbs up to Verizon for sticking to its core competencies. The Revvers, blip.tv, Veohs, Brightcoves and Metacafes are there to help.

P.S. Hey Verizon… You stinkers sent me a note saying I could get FIOS TV, and then retracted it a week later. Get in my neighborhood. I wanna watch Revver from my couch. My butt hurts.

Submit Your Video to Many Video Sites at Once

laptops.jpgI’ve been long begging for a technology that allows amatuer videographers to populate multiple video sites with ease. You may like the popularity of YouTube and the money from Revver, blip.tv and Metacafe. But you can’t afford to miss sites like AOL Uncut, Yahoo or Google Video since they do deliver volume. I think I speak for most video makers that my LEAST favorite part of video is manually submitting it on sites. And I invariably forget one or two.

A number have people have confided in me certain new businesses that address that unmet need — I will not reveal specifics of these in respect to their need for secrecy. As you can guess, some go after subscriptions, others charge a flat fee, and others are targeting high-end publishers to charge a premium.

Marquisdejolie recently shared that Veoh uploaders can automatically populate their YouTube, MySpace and Google accounts with their videos. That’s brilliant. Something I’ve urged Revver to do for months.

This is how I see this market playing out:

  • The progressive, smaller sites will use this as a value-add to attract content. The larger sites (with maybe the exception of YouTube/Google Video) have no incentive to facilitate this.
  • Some software players will try to make a business model on this separately. You’ll register at a site, and they’ll take care of all the form requirements of the most common video sites. While I’d probably pay a modest monthly fee to avoid an hour of work each day, most will resist that.
  • Someone will build a free shareware application to do this. However the video sites might change their specifications or make this obsolete.
  • Ultimately there will be a hybrid free/paid tool. For free you’ll get, say, 20 uploads a month to various sites. For a minor ($10-$20) fee you can have unlimited uploads to a broader base of sites.
  • To avoid commoditization these tools will offer additional value-add functionalities. For example, they’ll get your video search-engine optimized, Digged, etc. And maybe they’ll discover additional value-add services that provide video junkies more time to focus on creating instead of posting and publicizing.

Top 10 Online-Video Predictions for 2007

sit.jpgI pulled out my crystal ball this morning, and I’m predicting the most significant online-video highlights of 2007.

I’ll be citing these selectively at the end of 2007 (only those in which I was right).

Okay I didn’t use a crystal ball. This video tells a better story about the process I used to arrive at these today.

  1. Online video and television collide then converge. We’ve seen small steps toward this, but they’re trivial relative to what will happen in 2007. We’re first going to see some territorializing between online-video players and larger networks and media distributors. Then we’ll start to see great partnerships between major networks and online video sites, as well as deals with Verizon, Comcast and TiVo that give online video creators much broader exposure.
  2. Consolidation of online video sites will increase exponentially. Eventually there will be only a small hand-full of sites (GooTube, AOL, Yahoo) where people upload videos, because those sites will gain critical mass and cut exclusive deals upstream. Almost every industry starts with hundreds of players, consolidates to a dozen, and finally matures with 2-3 major entities. Small sites will get acquired or fade. There will still be niche sites like Break.com and special-interest sites.
  3. amanda.jpgViral video creators will “cross over” to television. We saw Amandon Congdon make the leap from Rocketboom to ABC recently. People with talent, like ZeFrank, will land a short segment on The Daily Show or some other television show. Ultimately this will make ZeFrank’s bloated ego explode — something we hope occurs live on Good Morning America. A few name-brand stars will decide they can move online without the hassle of networks. I don’t see any of these succeeding initially, but as the audience for “online video” surpasses (in some areas) television viewers, it will be hard for them to resist.
  4. Many television shows will develop online manifestations. This will include “behind the scenes” shots, extended storylines, and interactions with the show. Some shows will invite submissions by amateurs and even cast amateurs to participate.
  5. Consortiums will form for economies of scale. Viacom/Fox/NBC/CBS are already toying with an anti-YouTube play. This is as impossible to resist as it is to achieve airlift. Other consortiums will succeed. I see groups of independent online video amateurs forming copperatives to market their content to networks, or networks organizing the coops. Shows like RabbitBites will have higher odds of moving to mainstream when connected with similar content.
  6. Select amateur video creators will begin to make a full-time living without “crossing over” to television. Metacafe‘s CEO Arik Czerniak recently told me he anticipates his top amatuer creators will make six-figure incomes in 2007. I think he’s right. I’d also watch for people earning high revenue via Revver if the company rapidly expands its viewer base through affiliate/syndicate partnerships.
  7. crystal_ball_juggling.jpgA major news story will break via live (or close to live) footage by “citizen journalists” holding cameras. Remember the impact of the Rodney King footage? Consider how more of these we’ll see now that so many of us are equipped with cell phones that record video. And eventually we’ll see live footage from a cell phone in a major news story — a robbery, hostage situation or natural disaster. If the reporters can address the nation live via satellite, why can’t the amateur videographer via a video-enabled cell phone? It will look like garbage, but it will be horrifically real.
  8. Marketers will get smarter about how they gain consumer mindshare through online video. The self-created viral videos will give way to more creative partnerships between brands and top video creators. These deals will be efficient for marketers, and highly profitable for video creators with low budgets. We’ll see increasingly fewer $250K viral video series created by agencies, and more low-budget, fun videos that were inspired by amateurs but get the media support of advertising budgets.
  9. lonelygirl15.jpgReal vs. fake will be a major 2007 theme. People don’t understand that some videos are designed to be “story telling,” and others are real footage. LonelyGirl15 was an example of a deliberate ruse, but many other “are they real or not” videos are endlessly dissected by comments. This will catch media’s attention, since they’ll enjoy raising viewer concerns about the integrity and validity of this threatening medium.
  10. The “big boy” sites are going to start sharing advertising revenue with select creators like some smaller sites (Revver, Metacafe, Blip, Brightcove, Lulu). That means Google, YouTube, Yahoo and AOL will finally realize that good content means eyeballs. And eyeballs means more revenue.