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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Sony Reader

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I love new toys.  It had been a while (at least two weeks) since my last one.  I was sitting next to Howard Morgan at a meeting catching up and he asked me if I had gotten a Sony Reader (PRS-500) yet.  Both of us are voracious readers and travelers – picture me lugging at least three books with me wherever I go.

Howard said the Sony Reader had changed his reading life.  I bought one online that afternoon (Sony uses Intershop software for their ecommerce – man – I’d forgotten they still existed.)  I read my first book on it today – Simple Genius by David Baldacci. 

It was awesome (the book and the Sony Reader.)  I loaded it up with a couple of David Halberstam books and I’ll leave the pile of hardback books behind on my seven day trip next week. 

I had an early ebook device (I can’t remember who it was from) and it was “ok” but too big, too heavy, the battery life was too short, and the screen wasn’t quite right.  The Sony Reader seems to nail it all and after spending four hours with it this afternoon, I’m looking forward to my next book on it.

I’ll check back in after a few more books and tell you if I’m still loving it.

CinemaNow Is Outstanding

Comments (61)

They joy of having an “IT guy” (aka Ross) around is that he willingly expresses his opinion whenever given the chance.  Since he plays around with even more stuff than I do, one of the ways I learn to is listen to him rant and rave about things he’s played with.  A few weeks ago, it was his lousy experience with the iTunes Music Store for video.  That post generated some useful comments – especially around DRM.  Ross fired off another rant – this time a positive one about his experience with CinemaNow – along with a general response to the comments on the previous post.  Again – I’ve lightly edited to fix spelling and grammar, but left the IT guy essence intact.  Ross follows…

First, I’ll respond to some of the comments on why I support DRM. Let me be clear, I support DRM in concept – that concept being that you should be able to purchase something and use it anywhere you want. Your iPod, your smartphone, your TV, your computer, whatever. You should not be able to share that file with anyone else, period. That’s how DRM should work, and if it did work that way no one would really have any reason to complain. However, DRM does not work that way, which is why all current DRM technologies are flawed. Fred Wilson put it well saying that it’s all about “dial tone” – you pay your monthly fee to get your pipe of media and that’s it. The rest should be transparent.

The other comments that stuck with me were about the about the quality of music on iTunes and that while I’m savvy enough to have a serious media room setup that I didn’t know going in that this would suck. On the first point let me clarify that I think the quality of music purchased through iTunes is excellent. It could be better, but it is good enough for my iPod and good enough for most people’s uses. What I mean by good enough is that most consumers will notice zero difference between an iTunes file and a ripped MP3. Most consumers just don’t care and they don’t have the ears that I have (and I was a music major in college so I have pretty tough ears.)  Regarding knowing going in that this would suck – I should have known.  I figured it would, but I fell victim to a sudden bout of optimism and I wanted to go into it without any preconceived notions.

Ok – enough old stuff – let’s get to my point for this week. Yesterday Melanie and I were out of movies. We’d sent back our Netflix movies earlier in the week and were expecting more to show up on Saturday. For the first time Netflix failed us and we had nothing new to watch. Being lazy (c’mon – give me a break – I’m an IT guy) I didn’t want to drive to Blockbuster so this gave me the perfect opportunity to try out CinemaNow to watch a movie. While Melanie was, uh, less than thrilled about this idea (after our iTunes mess) but she agreed to give it a try. I ran to my PC and started setting up a new account.

Setting up a new account was.  Within two minutes I was ready to purchase a movie. We started looking through them and found the first problem, a very limited selection. We eventually settled on Junebug (which was not a comedy despite the claim that it was – but it was very good.) I proceeded to purchase it ($3.99 seemed steep to me) and download it. My home theater is built around a HP z545 Media Center PC connected to my HD projector (720p) and then connected to my high end Onkyo receiver for 7.1 surround sound. This was going to be the real test – could we watch a movie, downloaded over the net on this system, and have it look great?

After purchasing the movie it started to download. After this began I got a count down timer letting me know that the movie would be ready to watch in 30 seconds.  That’s smart – progressive downloading – we weren’t expecting that – so we let it download the entire movie while we got ready.

Ok, so now it’s time to watch. It’s downloaded, I’m ready to go, Melanie’s ready (as are our dogs) so let’s hit play. Guess what – it didn’t play! It needs to download some security update for Windows Media Player. I’m thinking, “damn it, not this again!” 10 seconds later the download is done and it’s starting to play. Not only does it work, but it looks outstanding – very close to DVD quality.  During the entire movie I didn’t see a single compression artifact, the video didn’t skip, and the sound was perfect (but it was NOT Dolby Digital 5.1 – something had to fall short.)

Overall, I was delighted.  CinemaNow has this figured out and knows how to deliver something of real value to the consumer – congrats guys, you’ve won a customer. Now, get the price down or offer an unlimited or capped subscription and I’m 100% there and dropping Netflix. Oh, and add some more movies while you’re at it (studios listen up, this is how consumers will get movies in the future.)

Apple AirPort Express

Comments (192)

When I was in Aspen in December, I once again found myself sitting in a house with Internet access (via DSL) but without wireless.  This time there were only three of us competing for the Internet cable but that was two too many.  We all had wireless adapters in our computers so we grumbled to each other that there must be a better way.

I was determined to find an inexpensive, portable, easy to set up Internet wireless base station.  My primary computer is a Windows box so I went through all the logical network gear vendors.  Everything I saw was big, bulky, or stupid looking.  For some reason I wandered over to the Apple site and took a look at the Apple AirPort Express with Air Tunes.  It was love at first sight – perfect size, the functionality I was looking for, and a fair price.  I jumped over to the Amazon site and with 1–Click I bought it hoping it would work.

I installed it tonight.  It took 15 minutes and had only one issue – the CD-ROM installer choked during the install on my Windows computer because I had a “new version of iTunes.”  While that’s a stupid error, it was easy to fix by going to the Apple site, downloading the latest version of AirPort 4.2 for Windows, and installing again.

The setup was trivial and completely obvious.  The only tricky thing to know is that if you want to have an encrypted network that both Macs and PCs can access, you need to use WEP, which requires exactly a 13 character password (yeah – good luck – it took a little while to come up with a 13 character password I could remember.) 

While I’ve only tried this at home, it worked exactly as expected.  As a result, the Apple AirPort Express with Air Tunes gets Toy of the Month status.

IBM X41 – Still Great Three Months Later

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Another day, another question to answer that was stuck in my “answer this question on your blog” someday folder in Outlook. 

When I got my new IBM X41 tablet in September, I wrote a glowing review of it.  I recently was asked if I still like it – three months later I’m still loving it.  Laptops usually last me six months, so let’s see how I feel on April 1st.  Ironically, I’m not using it as a tablet much (occasionally when I’m lying on the couch reading while listening to music, I’ll flip it into tablet mode so it (a) takes up less space and (b) I can monitor my email without having to move around each time something arrives in my inbox.  However, as a standard, hardworking laptop, it’s great.

Roku PhotoBridge HD – Bummer

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So Brad was pretty bored by my first two reviews so I figured I’d tackle something a bit more complex this time around, the Roku PhotoBridge HD. In short the PhotoBridge HD allows you to stream audio, video, and pictures from PC’s connected to your network to your television/home theater – all in high definition, or at least that’s the idea.

I got my PhotoBridge back in June while I was recovering from surgery. I was excited to get it as I’d been following this class of product for quite a while. I specifically wanted the PhotoBridge as it was the first (and only at the time) device that would stream video in HD – something that was key to me to use with my new plasma TV.

However, I was painfully disappointed.

I had one primary goal for the PhotoBridge – to allow me to stream DVD’s in their native resolution from my PC to my home theater – allowing me to build a mini-jukebox of DVD’s that I could watch at any time (like my TiVo). It failed, miserably. There are several reasons why, the biggest being that the PhotoBridge is not ready for prime time. As I suggested on their forums (which are thankfully very active) it should be called a “reference platform” since the one key thing they did right is run embedded Linux on it. As a result of this and the fact that they have released an API (albeit a very limited one) there are several third party software applications that almost get it there.

Almost.  The main reason I gave up was that in the end it wouldn’t support subtitles, DTS sound, DVD menus, true fast forward/rewind (it only had 30 second jumps), and was extremely buggy. The interface is terrible, the remote is lousy, the software is limited, it locks up constantly, and you have to jump through hoops to get basic things to work. One positive – photos look amazing on an HD set – really awesome. However, while I love to play with toys when it comes to my home theater I just want things to work. After 40 hours with the PhotoBridge (upgrading, reinstalling, reading, posting, reading, installing, tweaking) I punted and sold it on eBay. Up next, the Buffalo Linktheater Hi-def Mediaplayer (should be here this week).

As for the PhotoBridge I give it a strong pass, that is unless you feel like playing with something that in the end will never live up to the marketing hype. Very disappointed.  … Ross

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