Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Wireless Media Display Experience

Generally speaking, this can be a very broad topic. Lately though, the subject has become very interesting, IMO, as the technology around Wireless Media Display has been improving. Andrew vonNagy provides some very interesting perspective on the shaping landscape, from the technology standpoint. What is really interesting is the experience and how it is evolving. While CES sets the stage for all the latest and greatest 'products' companies like Rovi (as an example) are quietly focusing efforts on providing a better overall 'Consumer Electronics' experience of what you want to see and hear and where. 

Pealing back a little on wireless media in the home, most consumers keep it (for lack of convenience) pretty simple. There is a source and a desired destination and WiFi in between. I will use my wife as an example, a typical consumer she is. There is a picture or movie on her iPhone, laptop, iPad or on my NAS that she wants to see on one of our large displays. On most days, the source determines the destination. While we are predominantly a 'fruit-based' product home we have some Android/Linux in the mix as well. As Andrew and others point out, AirPlay (or the DLNA equivalent for Apple products using AppleTV on iOS-5 or above devices) is by far the strongest product/technology in terms of simplicity, performance, experience in the market right now. So, getting media to show up on a display flawlessly in our house (from an i-device) requires a $99 hockey-puck device called AppleTV connected to a display.

What we all know and love about Apple products is that they just work. This comes with an ongoing price though. For most, that is great. But for the rest of us we want more, (and for less). While the $99 price point of the 'puck' itself isn't a deal-breaker other off-the-shelf aspects of AppleTV potentially are. Here are a few:
  • Pay for content. This is Apple's life-blood. Music, Movies, TV Shows, it ALL costs $$.
  • Limited (local) media playback support. Basically .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats
  • iTunes dependent for shared network content (media server)
  • Closed eco-system. (Netflix and YouTube are not an ecosystem) Hulu rumored
The 'mainline' Hulu buzz (now more like a baloon deflating) is the saddest of all. While it would add greater feature capabilities to an already great product it also threatens Apple's profits, putting $s first. If we have seen anything in the world of fast moving tech it is that THIS DOESN'T SCALE, accept maybe for Apple. To my wife's chagrin I don't see Apple inviting in all the key streaming content players and opening the architecture up to multi-protocol, multi-vendor platforms anytime soon. But...

There may be alternatives coming. One alternative right now that I have been enjoying immensely is jailbreaking the AppleTV. Many view the process of jailbreaking as too technical and risky. Truth be told, it is far easier to jailbreak on ATV2 ver 4.4.4 (un-tethered) then one may think. The great folks at FireCore bring us Seas0nPass. here is the simplified version of the JB instructions below: (full instructions here) (good video here, on Win)

  • Download and install the latest version of iTunes (check for updates through Software Update located in Apple menu).
  • Download Seas0nPass for Mac [10.6 or later] or Windows [XP or later].
  • A micro USB cable will be required to complete the jailbreak.
  • Disconnect any iPods, iPhones, and iPads from your computer.

Step 1: Unzip the ‘’ file and launch Seas0nPass.
Step 2: Select the ‘Create IPSW’ button to start the jailbreak process.
Step 3: The latest Apple TV software will be downloaded and used to create a custom ‘jailbroken’ software file.
Step 4:When prompted, connect your Apple TV using a micro-USB cable (leave power disconnected).
Step 5: iTunes will open automatically and start the restore process.
Step 6: iTunes will confirm the restore when complete – your Apple TV
 is now jailbroken. Please proceed to the ‘tethered boot’ section below.

*NOTE: I recommend using the full instructions above, it has pictures. ;) Also important to note is that you do not need the power cord connected for jailbreaking, only the micro USB. I had to wiggle mine around a few times to get the light to start blinking which signals you that the fun is about to begin. Check video if not sure.
Here is what you get with a jailbroke AppleTV 2 (v4.4):
  • AirPlay Mirroring: Now with video mirroring – wirelessly stream what’s on your iPad 2 screen to your HDTV.
  • Photo Stream: View photos recently taken on your iOS device and pushed to your Photo Stream in iCloud.
  • Trailers: A whole new way to browse and view hundreds of the latest theatrical trailers.
  • National Hockey League: Watch live games. View highlights, scores, and more.
  • Wall Street Journal Live: Watch up-to-date news, business commentary, and financial analysis from leading experts.
  • Apple has also added support for subtitles in Netflix and three new slideshow themes: Photo Wall, Flip-up, and Shifting Tiles.
Which plugins are supported on 4.4?
Couch Surfer (works) (works)Media Player (works)NitoTV (works)Overflow (works)Remote HD (works)Rowmote (works)RSS Feeds (works)Weather (works)XBMC (AWESOME)Plex (see these instructions)
Hulu (oh yes, on JB)
Now the experience gets more interesting. And the best part about going this path is that all the work is being done on your shiny black puck and there is no more frustration over content or source. You can now continue streaming (AirPlay) content via your i-devices (and even other devices) but now with support for more video formats and lots more choices. But wait, there's more..
OK, so I have saved the best for last. XBMC

I cant tell you how much I love this plugin. This is the X-Box Media Center code that has been around a while and was re-tooled via the open source community. It can be installed on many hardware platforms and even the D-link Boxee uses it as it's framework. Simply put, it rocks. Now this is a UI. With skins!

Adding the plugin is simple.
While powered on and HDMI cable connected to a screen:

  • Connect the USB cable from ATV to a laptop
  • Open up your terminal/ssh application and enter the following command to log in to your ATV2
  • ssh <device IP address under settings
  • You will be asked for a password, default password is: alpine
  • Continue to enter the following commands:

apt-get install wget
wget -O- | apt-key add -
echo "deb stable main" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/awkwardtv.list
echo "deb ./" > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/xbmc.list
apt-get update
apt-get install org.xbmc.xbmc-atv2

You should now have the XBMC plugin 'Eden' Beta 1 for ATV2.
Extremely simple. I was done with  the entire JB and XBMC process in less that 20 minutes. Well worth it!
With just two relatively simple modifications and one of many plugins I now have an extremely robust product that is capable of providing a rich experience in a very small form factor.
Some networking highlights form the many XBMC capabilities:

  • UPnP
  • DLNA
  • SMB
  • NFS
  • FTP
  • etc,etc
You can browse for your NAS and connect to it, or other devices, using a variety of protocols and enjoy your local media your way. For online movies the Icefilms plugin provides online streaming, although I am not endorsing this service. If your happy with Netflix and your local media as I am this setup mentioned here provides more than enough home entertainment. This also provides the essentials for growing your media center much larger.

I could go on and on. With all the options available and growing every day it is going to be very hard for Apple or any other closed system manufacturer to force non scaleable products and features on consumers. As personal media libraries grow faster now no one is going to like those libraries remaining tethered to a laptop or desktop PC running iTunes and go through the frustrating process of continuous iTunes updates. PC based media servers need to die. If they don't soon, its going to make the process for that much more difficult for the average consumer to migrate to a more flexible, scaleable wireless media experience.

Almost forgot, there is a remote App for XBMC for the iPhone and Android devices in the App Store or Android Market. 

Hope this has been helpful. Please let me know. I am diving in deeper and may write some more up.

Thank you.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

improving the technology of me

Wow, this year is shaping up to be a killer year for wireless and not just Wi-Fi. I entered this arena professionally as many tech-folks did in as a type of Systems Engineer (SE) around 95-96. While the tech was a blast, in good times and in bad, over the last 5 years or so I started to move towards “the dark side” sales and biz dev. I can even remember swearing I would never do it! Honestly, I just didn’t see those processes being conducted that well and I thought I could make a difference. I still love getting my hands dirty and do so on occasions but there are some phenomenal people out there getting it done, just take a look at any of the great blogs I follow and you will see what I mean.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I’ve seen out of the gate this year and maybe least talked about is the “strategy” businesses are taking and the pursuit for “wallet share” in the Wi-Fi biz space. So, *strategy* is pretty straight forward and I will come back to that but this wallet share stuff is/has taken center stage to a certain degree. Wallet share is another uber-used biz term that loosely translates to the seller’s perceived piece of the buyer’s actual pie, so for companies that are selling; bigger is better. But how is that done effectively where both parties “mutually” benefit? Well, that’s where strategy comes in, I guess. Wi-Fi has become a huge enabler and while the technology is doing its part in maturing businesses are franticly looking to differentiate their Wi-Fi or their solutions or their services for more wallet share. I kind of chuckle when I think about it, having recently left a large three letter manufacturer/VAR that was just getting into full swing with this initiative. While I agree with the business principles of this term I disagree with most practices of it. Being more on the services side now and basically in start-up mode, we really see the need to help partners and customers help themselves. Doesn’t that just make sense? If I’m your friend or neighbor and I knew everything about home improvement and you needed your house painted, should I come over and tell you the chemical compound of every kind of paint that you can and should use and the environmental impact it may have expecting you to want to hire me to paint your house because of how much I know, and then laugh when you run to The Home Depot to buy the paint to do it yourself? Ugh…  I have a little story…

Last year I got REALLY sick. I was in travel mode pretty heavily and while hopping trains in and around NYC when it was pretty cold out I came down with not one but three things that nobody ever wants. At the same time I had come down with swine flu, Pneumonia and bronchitis. I was as close to death as you can get. But when I started pulling out of it and during one of my doctor visits the doc told me that my cholesterol (LDL) was seriously off the chart (just north of 200) and I needed to get on Lip-a-whatever immediately. At 43 and being pretty healthy it just sounded so bogus. I mean the mess with getting sick and now this? Well, I made the decision to pass on the meds and told the doc that in 30 days I will finish being sick and will get my cholesterol back in check. He laughed a good laugh and asked me to reconsider. When I came back and he reviewed the results of the latest test with me that came in at around 110 he didn’t laugh. The next one was even better. He then said my PSA (it’s a prostate test they do with blood work, if your 40 or + and not getting it ask for it!) was pushing close to 2. This is like no-joke BAD. I was almost scheduled for a biopsy. Nooooo way. I said give me 30 days. He literally went off on me telling me not to play around with this. Long story short I came back and my PSA score had gone down to about a .7. This he said, “never happens”. This time he sat me down and wanted to know what I did so he could advise other patients. Nothing magical on my part was done just some common sense eating, supplements and plenty of exercise. The thing is I know my body (practically speaking, I am NO expert on health) and what I needed to try before just giving in and taking all the meds they said I needed. **PSA ALERT: I am in no way discrediting professional caregivers or medicine but simply sharing some personal convictions I had at that time, (I love my doctor!).

So the point of this story is this:

  • While we think we know what’s best for others or our customers it may not be what they want, need or even the best thing for them, for the long term.
  • It takes more than just great knowledge of a technology or product to seal any deal.
  • Time is irrelevant when making the right decisions. It’s what we do in that time that is.
  • Businesses may boast but people believe.  If we want people to believe in us as a business (or a professional) we need to listen and learn so that we may advise others, well.

Yes, some of this may sound a little cliché but I think it’s up to business leaders and professionals to instill a strategy of intelligently connecting, relating and truly understanding the needs and conditions of our partners and customers. Then with integrity and good character enact, or better yet, impart your knowledge and wisdom (yes, there is a difference) with humility to or with those you support and see what a difference that makes! I can tell you from experience, I have been referred to from “not the sharpest tool in the shed” to “the smartest guy in the room” and everything in between. None of that (really) helped me get anywhere or open a bunch of doors. When looking for a “strategy” or how to capture more “wallet share” try this approach.  I will close with that.

I’m very interested in your perspective? What do you think?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year! (now back to work)

I know, how many times will we hear it. Oh well,  another year another way... that's my motto. There is one thing each year that is certain for me and that is I can't keep doing things the way I did them the year before. So I am in re-assess mode this month and getting on board with blogs seems like a great way to start doing things differently. The very subject of blogging is tied to a much broader issue with me and that is Social Media vs Knowledge Management (circa 08). There seems to have been much debate over the techo-cultural relevance and evolution of the two but for me I see them both hopelessly intertwined in our digital pursuit for success. Now, how you use them in your own personal quest for success is what makes this industry so much fun.

I have learned a great deal over the last year, (heck, years) and I hope that I can contribute something back into the industry that has given me most of my gray hair (my girls get credit for the rest).
So, in closing of my short inaugural blog, I would like to thank all those out there that have been an inspiration over the years by sharing and being social in their knowledge transfer and I encourage others this year to jump in, the water is fine... Go ahead and Social Media Network Knowledge Management Transfer away.

As for the tech side of this I, like several of my comrades, have left large companies recently to join forces to create what we consider to be an "elite" advanced wireless services organization that will bring balance to the Wi-Fi universe for our customers. How you might ask? Well, that will surely be subject matter for latter blogs. My new role has me wearing several hats and I feel my engineering roots slowly drying up. A pundit I shall never be but I will continue to immerse myself in what I enjoy, and share. So please feel free to engage, ask, tell me something about what you see here... just don't pass it by.

Thanks for reading.