Tag Archives | digital media

Upper Deck Tries to Evolve the Trading Card With LCD Screens

I can’t say my finger’s on the pulse of the trading card beat, but Upper Deck’s upcoming Evolution football cards seem like a neat gimmick.

According to Switched, each “card” measures a half-inch thick, and includes a small LCD screen. A 60-second highlight reel rolls automatically when you open the cardboard flap covering the face of the card.

The Evolution cards arrive on April 12. No idea why Upper Deck is pushing a new kind of football card in the middle of baseball season, but whatever.

It’s funny, because as a childhood baseball card collector, I never associated the decline of trading cards with the rise of personal computers and the Internet. Baseball cards had their own problems, including the strike of 1994 and market oversaturation. I was in early middle school when the market boomed, and I specifically remember being soured by the glut of premium cards, which were expensive for kids my age.

But in hindsight, playing cards are just another example of physical media doomed by digital. The stats on the back of the cards are instantly accessible on a smartphone, as are highlight reels. The very idea of collecting and trading players has been replaced to some extent by fantasy sports. Even if the trading card market hadn’t become oversaturated in the early 1990s, it’d still be in trouble today.

Upper Deck’s new cards won’t change that, of course. They’re just another reminder that no dead-tree media is safe anymore.


Boxee Box for Your TV, Beta Software Unveiled

A rowdy crowd of 650 gathered at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn for Boxee’s highly anticipated unveiling of its set top box tonight.

Boxee creates open source software that brings on-demand content from the Internet and home networks to TVs, and while the software has just reached beta, it is enlisting hardware partners to embed it on their devices. (Until now, it’s been available for OS X, Windows, Linux, and as a hack for Apple TV.)  The $200 Boxee Box is the company’s first branded hardware device, manufactured by D-Link. It will become available in the second quarter of next year.

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“Girlfriend, Wife and Mother” Enjoying the PS3, Sony Says

playstation3Sony is boasting about its downloadable movie and TV show offerings on the Playstation Network, telling Video Business that revenues are up 300 percent from the same time last year.

There also appears to be a new demographic in play. “We’re getting people in the households who hadn’t yet interacted with their [Playstation 3] in the past,” Eric Lampel, the Playstation Network’s director of operations, said. “This is the girlfriend, wife and mother.”

He points to the film Bride Wars as an example, as it became a top-ranked movie download after its April 28 release.

I suspect a hint of marketing in Lampel’s statements. Video Business notes that a hefty amount of PSN’s movie offerings are action and animation flicks — not exactly fare for the missus — and Lampel concedes that the service is “very game heavy.” It is a video game console, after all. There’s probably truth in what he says, but I think the “everyone’s digging it” idea is a deliberate message.

Sony has ambitions to expand the PS3’s role. Lampel said PSN wants to be a major source for original, mainstream (as in, not nerdy anime?) programming. He speaks of broadening the console’s audience “not necessarily around gaming” and mentions HBO’s exclusive content creation as a model worth following. Can you imagine the Playstation 3 churning out edgy dramas and comedies? Perhaps it could happen through cooperation with Sony Pictures.

One thing I’ll add, alluded to Lampel’s quote about wives and girlfriends: If the Playstation 3 (and the Xbox 360, for that matter) are going to gain broad appeal beyond the stereotypical college male gamer demographic, it’ll take those dedicted gamers to reel in the outsiders. That means the original content has to be so good, it’s worth evangelizing. Let’s see what Sony comes up with.


Downloadable Games, With the Inconvenience of the Store

pspslimA solution for the digital download squeamish: Go to your local video game store, buy a boxed version of a digital download voucher, go home and use the Internet to install the same product that’s being sold cheaper to those who don’t want to leave the house.

Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera has word from a “reliable” insider — with a proven track record of breaking stories — that this will happen for the upcoming PSP game Patapon 2. Kuchera suggests that Sony is testing this retail download model to gauge whether it will work for other games, maybe even setting the stage for a UMD-less PSP.

Why would Sony hang on to retail at all with this release? Because as much as video game publishers would love to kill the middleman, they need that shelf space. Digital distribution doesn’t share equal footing with hard copy sales. Besides, cutting out Gamestop and other retailers could potentially force them to drop the PSP in retribution. Despite the strained relationship between publisher and retailer, no one wants to rock the boat.

As a result, we might have this bizarre solution in which consumers can pay $20 plus a trip to the store for a $15 game that they can download at home. You pay more for the luxury of an empty box.

Whether the rumor is true or not, I can’t imagine retailers lovingly embracing the idea in the long run because they’d be digging their own graves. Once enough retail shoppers realize they’re getting duped at retail, they’ll abandon the store. GameStop also loves the used game market, and won’t give it up without a fight.

Retail downloads might work in the present simply because of shelf appeal, but Sony and other game publishers can’t have it both ways forever. Eventually, they’ll have to commit to a download-only future — brick-and-mortar be damned, consoles can be distributed other ways — or commit to physical media and all the retail baggage that comes with it.


Is YouTube a Massive Money Loser?

youtubelogo1International financial services company Credit Suisse has burst Google’s bubble: Its analysts report that YouTube could be on track to lose $470 million this year due to outrageously high operating costs and a poor business plan.

Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube has a gross income of $240 million a year, but that its expenses far exceed that, totalling an astonishing $711 million. According to the report, about half of YouTube’s expenses come from meeting bandwidth demand, while the remainder derives from licensing costs, hardware, marketing, and other operational expenses.

The analysts determined YouTube’s bandwidth costs by assuming that 375 million unique visitors would visit the site in 2009, with 20 percent of those users consuming 400 kilobits per second of video at any given time. That works out to 30 million megabits being served up per second. That’s a heck of a lot of bandwidth to devote to videos of sneezing pandas.

However, Credit Suisse’s revenue forecast deviates from other reports. In March, Jefferies Co. said that YouTube would earn $500 million, and Screen Digest predicted $120 million in earnings earlier this week.

The Credit Suisse analysts’ proposed path to profitability is for Google to change YouTube’s business model to place an emphasis on premium content over user-generated content–like Hulu. NewTeeVee, a blog dedicated to online digital media, reported that Google is poised to unveil a site redesign that will do just that.

That would be the end of YouTube as we known it, but we are living in a new economic reality. YouTube built its business without ever having any viable way to become profitable in the short term, and it cannot continue to lose money just because its users are accustomed to receiving free entertainment. That just does not cut it anymore– shareholders won’t tolerate white elephants forever. Even Google shareholders.


We Have Some Winners!

Technologizer's Digital Media CentralAs you may know, the HP MediaSmart Server has been the exclusive sponsor of Technologizer’s Digital Media Central section. HP has been presenting “What Are Your 3?,” a feature which lets people upload and embed their favorite photos, videos, and songs, as well as vote on other folks’ media. And to make contributing more tempting, HP decided to give away MediaSmart Servers to participants whose media were top-rated by other visitors.

The contest is over, and I’m happy to announce the winners. Here they are (click on their names to see the stuff they submitted):

Jesse Tobler
Dennis Pasley
Jerad Heffner
Josh Martin

Congratulations to all four–and thanks to everybody who contributed.


Coming Soon: a Zune TV?

Zune LogoDespite a recent organizational shake up, help-wanted ads indicate that Microsoft may be taking its Zune brand into the living room, and expanding into new international markets.

Today, blogger Long Zheng’s watchful eye took notice of a job listing on Microsoft’s Web site seeking a software engineer to help its Zune team, “deliver great digital entertainment features into the living room, including on demand music and video.”

The job requires an engineer with experience developing user interfaces to deliver “rich online media experience delivering music and video from the cloud.”

The listing is dated just days after the company announced that it was restructuring the Zune product group into distinct software and hardware divisions. Microsoft’s goal may be to bring Zune services to third-party devices, CNET reported.

A separate job listing is seeking a database programmer to help Microsoft open Zune stories for other countries or regions.

The company has already made inroads into the living room with its Xbox console. Windows Media Center Edition has failed to make much of an impact. It would make sense for Microsoft to offer a Zune store through a future edition of the Xbox that would serve as a digital media hub. If nothing else, it would help the company compete in the living room with Apple TV, which analysts have projected could sell as many as 6 million units this year.

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So How Do You Get Your Entertainment These Days?

Technologizer's Digital Media CentralWhen it comes to media–digital or otherwise–you’ve got options. Lots and lots of them, from formats that have been around for decades to new services that may or may not amount to much over the long haul. At prices that range from nothing to kinda pricey. It’s an embarrassment of riches, so here’s a quick T-Poll to see how the Technologizer community’s getting entertainment (and news, and information) right now.

I haven’t taken the survey myself yet, but when I do, my answer will be, basically, “all of the above with a few exceptions, such as Blu-Ray, and in several other forms, too…”


Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Storage?

Inhabitat(A NOTE FROM HARRY: We’re pleased to continue Digital Media Central‘s guest appearances with one by Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat, a cool blog about design, technology, and sustainability.)

With the cost of memory cards and hard drives falling almost by the day we’re adding storage capacity faster than can we fill our hard drives up with stuff–even if we are creating more photos, MP3s, emails, videos, etc. than ever (think about how you take more pictures with your digital camera now that you have a 1GB card in there than when you were scraping by with just 64MB). Moore’s Law has been great for processors, but the cost of a megabyte of hard drive space has plummeted. In 1986 it cost about $50 to get 1MB of storage; 23 years later just over fifty bucks gets you a 500GB drive–$2.5 million worth of capacity by 1986 standards.

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