Posts tagged ‘online video’

November 14, 2009

Intel, ARM and the Netbook

I have been gung-ho about the new application areas that the Atom processor managed to penetrate/create – low power, “low cost” and pentium strength processing capability in the embedded domain. Most important was x86 compatibility, which meant I could write code on my regular notebook and instantly deploy it on an Atom device. Smart segmentation of the market by Intel.

Netbooks that are based on the atom processor have undoubtedly been the surprise segment for almost everyone in the industry. Asus needs to be commended for being the first to push this in the market and have been deservedly rewarded. According to Forward Conepts – ” The 3G Netbook category is going to demonstrate 124 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) reaching 34 million units in 2014 and a 45 percent 3G/LTE attachment rate” . There is little doubt (save in Steve Job’s mind) that this is going to be a huge opportunity.

Its not just netbooks but other devices that have begun to use the Atom processor – nettops like the Asus eee box and the Acer Aspire Revo have appeared on the scene. With internet video being the next  frontier there is a glut of devices trying to bring this video from the internet to television. Imagine the speed with which you can now build the app and deploy it on one of these boxes.

ARM devices about a year back were still underpowered and were confined to either smart phones or other embedded tasks. It was not that some of these ARM based SOCs couldn’t decode HD video. In fact many of them could. It was a problem of internet compatibility. The internet has grown on Wintel platforms – websites, browsers and applications were all built to cater to this segment. Adobe’s Flash had also grown to be the platform of choice for graphics and video on the net. When intel launched the atom this was their big differentiator- compatibility with the web. Over 75% of all internet video is built on Flash.

Flash 10 is a MIPS hungry platform and requires OpenGL ES 2.0 and OpenVG 1.1 support. The ARM SOCs were not ready with this support. Intel rode the wave and reaped the benefits of the early mover advantage…with significantly high margins (Intel’s last earnings call pegged margins for 4th quarter this year to be in the high end of the normal range which intel defines as 50-60%). The flip side of this was that Atom based devices were priced much higher than ARM based ones. Many vendors didn’t have a choice and just went with the price or decided to go for sub-optimal implementations based on ARM.

Intel’s honeymoon may soon be over if the ARM based silicon vendors are to be believed. Adobe started the Open Screen Project to work with silicon vendors to port Flash 10 & Adobe’s AIR to their SOCs. This is beginning to come to fruition now with a few players announcing support for Flash.

Marvell, Broadcom, Sigma Designs, Freescale and most recently Qualcomm have announced Flash support. The most significant amongst these announcements seems to be Qualcomm’s see (Qualcomm demos Adobe Flash 10 on ARM-based netbook). Not only do they support full high definition flash but have also upped the processor clock to 1GHz. ARM parts have the big advantage of being very miserly on their power consumption and this can be a significant differentiator in the mobile space. This includes smart phones, netbooks, smart books, tablets and the like.
More importantly companies like Qualcomm have longer standing relationships with operators who are a crucial piece of the value chain when it come to mobile broadband delivery. The fastest way for mobile broadband to grow is to subsidize the device in exchange for guaranteed monthly subscription fees.
Qualcomm announced it is sampling its first chipsets for dual-carrier HSPA+ and multi-mode 3G/LTE recently. According to Qualcomm its smarphone chipset dubbed MSM7x30, supports high-definition video recording and playback, has dedicated 2D and 3D graphics cores and is optimized for Web usage. Qualcomm can hence become a formidable rival to Intel in this next generation of devices that go beyond the PC.

Of course Intel is not going to take this challenge lying down. On June 23rd of this year Nokia and Intel announced a deal where Nokia will license 3G and HSPA technology to Intel (see Intel, Nokia exchange wedding vows). And in October this year there was this announcement – AT&T Nokia booklet 3G pricing & release date confirmed. This netbook is powered by an Atom Z530 and has a 3G modem. Its available for $299 if you sign up for a $60 per month data plan or $599 unsubsidized.

The last chapter in this saga is far from over. Exciting times ahead for this space and it can only be good for the consumer.

As always, stay tuned….

February 6, 2009

The unseating of Tivo

The Myka TV Torrent Box

The Myka TV Torrent Box

Every once in a while from the world of tech pops a ground breaking device. The Slingbox, the iPod and the iPhone immediately come to mind. But before all of these came Tivo. Tivo identified a pain point with analog cable and fixed it with a cool UI, intuitive program guide and most importantly recording features that not only allowed customers to watch programs when they wanted but also smartly skipped the annoying commercials. Before long, Tivo enjoyed a cult status.

Late 2006 saw Google taking over YouTube for $1.65B. While it didn’t seem obvious to some of us then, in hindsight it does seem like a fantastic move. Today more that 10% of all internet traffic is attributed to YouTube. Last year saw the birth of Hulu which stood out from YouTube by breaking away from the popular UGC (User Generated Content) and focusing on studio content from NBC and News Corp (Fox). They host all their popular TV shows (full length) on this site, to be streamed on demand. The personal video recorder on the web was suddenly born. This then led to the birth of set top boxes like VuDu, Roku and the likes that allowed you to watch the same streams on your large screen TV instead of on your PC. Tivo too has joined the bandwagon now by announcing support for NetFlix, Amazon Unbox and CinemaNow (Haven’t heard of Hulu support on TiVo yet).

There is still one fundamental problem with this approach. While the world is shifting to HD broadcasts, bandwidth limitations create a barrier to large scale adoption of streaming HD content. According to the Hulu website the minimum bandwidth requirement to view HD content is a 2.5mbps internet connection and this for a 720p resolution. Note that NBC’s regular broadcasts are at 1080i. Even with 720p there is 1.5mbps requirement. If streaming has to truly replace broadcast TV, the viewing experience has to be identical – no breaks, stutters, pixelization and ideally little or no latency.

However, increased bandwidth requirements imply increasing cost to the customer. In addition in countries like India where over 90% of  “broadband” is at 256kbps these shows are practically unwatchable. [Note that Hulu and many others still don’t allow you to view content outside of the US…but I believe (validated by text on the Hulu site) that its only a matter of time before they ink the legal agreements with the content owners to allow worldwide streaming.]

However there is a new model emerging that allows you to watch TV in HD without any of the breaks & stutters associated with a low bandwidth internet connection. Welcome to the world of video torrents. This when combined with TVRSS makes for a very powerful modern day PVR. Subscribing to a TVRSS feed allows you to get notified every time a new episode of your favourite program is uploaded. The RSS feedreader then picks up the torrent file associated with the program and the bit torrent client downloads the file from several seeds hosting the same file on their PCs/NAS boxes. Your show is downloaded  into your hard drive and will be ready for uninterrupted viewing at your convenience. TVRSS is not restricted to the 200 channels that your cable TV company broadcasts (which was Tivo’s forte) but in effect covers almost all media channels the world over. Here is an interesting article on how to set one up at home.

The recent announcement of the Myka box makes this setup a whole lot easier. I now see devices like Myka unseating Tivo (unless TiVo incorporates these features) and truly breaking the shackles imposed by cable and satllite TV companies.

The internet has changed media distribution forever and there will definitely be a fresh look at business models given the new distribution channel. Note that the internet is a very powerful distribution channel given its ability to target its viewers and collect metrics and viewing patterns when compared to one way broadcast channels.

Will Myka be the new Tivo? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Stay tuned….