The Future of Content, Part IV: The Home of the Future

I’d previously claimed that in a few decades, TV as we know it may become a thing of the past. But it’s possible that what may really become a thing of the past is the desktop computer.

Already laptops serve many of the same purposes for a lot cheaper and with a lot more portability, with desktops’ only advantage being the ability to play video games, where they’ve long competed and lost to console systems. But we’re fast redefining what it means to be a “computer”. As the iPad proved, today’s “phones” are really miniature computers, and many of today’s “TVs” are also starting to redefine what that is.

Last night I posted that our house finally got HD earlier this year. Since then, we’ve added a Sony Blu-Ray player with Google TV functionality to our repertoire. HD will not change the way you see TV appreciably; Google TV (and its competitors like Apple TV) definitely will. Google TV’s main feature is the ability to search for programs using a text-message-like keyboard, but that’s just the start of it. It comes with a version of Google Chrome, allowing you to surf the Internet on your TV. It also can support a wide variety of the same apps that run on an Android phone. On the same TV you watch March Madness on, you can also send tweets and update Facebook, catch up on your favorite blogs, watch some YouTube videos, even download movies and TV shows from Netflix.

Someday, I predict that every home will have something that looks like a TV but is really a computer, capable of running apps, playing games, and connecting to the Internet. Much of what falls under the domain of “watching TV” now will instead involve a trip to YouTube or hitching onto some sort of stream. Everything will still be available in crystal-clear HD quality, assuming it was made with that quality. The TV, desktop computer, and video game console will effectively be merged into a single unit (video game consoles are increasingly adding Internet access and other smart-TV-like functions). It will be the most powerful form of computer, supplemented by portable tablets and smartphones. Laptop computers will be retained by employers and educational facilities for the productivity software, but that may change if cloud-based solutions like Google Docs prove popular, since they can conceivably run on the “TV”.

This explains why Microsoft is overhauling its venerable Windows operating system to match its johnny-come-lately Windows Phone system. Mobile OS’s are fast becoming more important than old-fashioned desktop operating systems, as evidenced by Google TV’s patterning itself on Android. The business world may soon approach an inflection point as the old-fashioned keyboard and mouse undergo a revolution. Mouses may even come to be seen as quaint and old-fashioned as touchpads on laptops and smart TVs and touchscreens on smartphones and tablets supplant the mouse’s old breeding grounds, the desktop computer.

The television industry is not particularly friendly to this shift; Web sites affiliated with television networks have blocked access to their content from Google TV and its competitors. (Cable companies are also lukewarm, perhaps because they don’t want to cannibalize their current “on demand” offerings.) Given that they’re obviously not blocking their content from any other browser, the only explanation I can think of is that they’re worried no one will have a reason to watch their regular, linear channel, with its greater number of ads, if they can watch the same thing on the same device through another avenue; like everyone else I called out in Part I, the television industry is being dragged kicking and screaming into the inevitable future, not wanting to give up their current business models. But in doing so, they may be digging their own grave, for within a couple of decades, the very avenue they’re trying to block may be the regular channel.

My One-Month Review of HDTV

I finally joined the twenty-first century earlier this year: our household finally got HDTV. Specifically, we got it the day before the Super Bowl, but couldn’t get actual HD service until the day after, meaning there was a period of less than 48 hours where we had to watch TV in pixellated stretch-o-vision, a period that just so happened to include, oh yeah, the single biggest reason to get HD in the first place. Oops.

I have to say I was never as swept off my feet by HD before as some people might have claimed. I was impressed at how certain graphics looked in HD when I happened upon various public displays of it, but I never felt the picture quality was such an improvement that I couldn’t bear to watch in SD, though as more and more channels (especially those showing sports) have gone letterboxed in recent years I could tell the writing was on the wall. To me, HD is just another way of saying “big”, as in, it keeps the effective picture quality of a big TV about the same, maybe a little sharper, as my old SDTV of half the size. If anything, I can say that I would never want to watch SD on an HD set.

But even though graphics were the thing that most impressed me about HD before, now that I’ve had a month of up-close-and-personal experience with it, I’ve gotta say… I’m not that impressed with the state of HD graphics.

Part of it is that a lot of graphics on a lot of channels are still designed for SD. They leave a lot of awkwardly-used space on the sides of the screen if their channel isn’t letterboxed, and they make the type too big if it is (which can affect even SD viewers). But a potentially bigger issue is that a lot of times, text in HD is just too sharp. It creates an odd air of artificiality that can come off as jarring, especially when it’s against raw video as a background.

Maybe I just need to get used to it, but I’m not sure that I totally agree with xkcd that we only see higher-quality video as somehow more fake only because of what it’s been used for. I think there definitely comes a point at which higher quality starts to become oddly artificial, perhaps even falls into an uncanny valley. At the very least, I would think any use of Helvetica on television should probably die pretty quickly.

Not that the opposite problem doesn’t exist; it’s one of my beefs with the March Madness graphics, but I’ll get to that at a later date. Also, while my own mockups of my own sports graphics concepts have often used black-on-white only because of my lack of creativity with colors, I now find it a rather stark contrast when I see it on ESPN and TNT’s basketball coverage. I’d say any use of solid blocks of color should probably be re-examined.

Finally, I have long bemoaned the lack of respect broadcast television receives, and how cable’s unfair advantages threaten the usefulness of free over-the-air television. When I grew up, there were broadcast channels and cable channels (and premium channels and pay-per-view channels), and they were all very well defined. But now… now I get the sense that HD really dissolves the distinction between broadcast and cable for the uninformed viewer, to a greater extent than before, even considering the effect of local stations and how iffy their graphics can be. Part of it may be that broadcast channels can have odd differences in quality from any cable channel on my cable system in SD, which disappears in HD. But if nothing else, it helps me realize how someone might not care so much for the declining state of broadcast.

My Sleep-Deprived Bracket

You can tell, because I became enamored at the prospect at something happening that’s never happened before in the national championship game, something that would doubtless send ratings through the roof. I’m running myself ragged trying to finish up classes. Honestly there aren’t that many teams I’m enamored of in this year’s tournament, and many of the ones I am enamored of I have going down. This bracket basically predicts a repeat of when Duke won the national championship a couple years ago basically by being the last team left standing when the carnage cleared. I’ve actually done something I’ve never done before: submit multiple brackets.

The problem with having the NCAAs and NIT broadcast by two different organizations.

This is a day late, but I wanted to stretch out The Streak while keeping the Kickstarter feature on Monday:

So as I mentioned Friday, truTV had a “Hardcore Brackets” show that revealed the full 1-68 seed list of the teams in the tournament. Not only that, it also revealed the “first four out” of the NCAA field. Those teams were Oral Roberts, Miami (FL), Nevada, and Drexel.

You would expect the “first four out” to also make up the four #1 seeds in the NIT, right? Wrong. NONE of those four are #1 seeds in the NIT. Miami is a #2, Drexel is a #3, and Oral Roberts and Nevada are playing each other in a 4/5 game. ORU, which appeared to be the very first team knocked out of the NCAAs, is a 4 seed, barely getting a first-round home game, and Nevada isn’t even that lucky.

For some reason, ESPN’s “Bracketology” show never mentioned the seed list that was being revealed simultaneously, and the NIT Selection Show seemed to dance around ORU’s bubble status. NIT committee chair C.W. Newton’s interview with George Smith was heavy on vague platitudes and light on actual insight; Newton claimed that there wasn’t much difference between the NCAA and NIT committees, but was never asked why his committee diverged so much from the NCAA committee in their assessment of the first teams out of the NCAA field.

To be fair, it seems the committee never took a vote on the last team in the field before St. Bonaventure’s win in the A-10 final stole that bid, and the teams that would have been included in that vote would have also included Mississippi State and Seton Hall, so it’s entirely possible Seton Hall (which did get a 1 seed in the NIT) would have won that vote, but still, Nevada goes from being potentially the last team in the NCAA field to not even hosting an NIT game?!? What the hell is going on here???

The OOTS Effect, Part IV

  • Has the OOTS/Double Fine effect worn off? I ask not only because of the number of projects that have lost momentum, but there really aren’t any notable new projects this week – can I really get excited about The Classic Crime or Shell Game raising 5o grand in a week? There is the weird case of the ZBoard, which raised over $100,000 in the past week, yet seems to have already slowed down considerably by now.
  • Double Fine is getting a late push in its last 24 hours and could end up doubling the second-place Elevation Dock. That’s a record that could stand for a long, long time. More projects have lost momentum: the LowLine made about $12,000 in the past week, while FTL made less than $10,000 and Atomic Robo: Last Stop made a little more. A Show with Ze Frank finished at $146,752, just short of tripling its goal, so it lost a lot of momentum (about $20,000 in the last week), but still finishes at #8 in the Film and Video category until FrackNation finishes. However, The HuMn Wallet doesn’t seem to be losing any momentum, raising $30,000 in the past week. And the David Lynch Documentary raised another $40,000, suggesting $200k is in reach. Meanwhile, Second Class Citizens Documentary finishes in fifth place in the Film and Video category, but is likely to be passed by FrackNation at least.
  • The success of Erfworld Year of the Dwagon is becoming astonishing. It enters its final three days at over $66,000, raising just over $10,000 in the past week. It probably can’t catch #2 in the Comics category, but until pretty recently a Comics project raising over $60,000 might have seemed unthinkable. Yet Diesel Sweeties got enough of a late push that it wound up passing Benign Kingdom, and the $60,000 mark, for what’ll eventually be fourth in the category as well.
  • Finally, back in OOTS-land, based on previous updates, about 16.9% of all the pledge rewards should be in the mail by now.

A modest proposal to all bracketologists:

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but truTV will be airing a special “Hardcore Brackets” show after the selection show on Selection Sunday. And on this show, for the first time ever, we will learn the actual order that the NCAA ranks all 68 teams in the tournament.

I know a lot of you like to measure just how accurate you are each year, so I would hope that you recognize the new opportunity this presents you. As such, I call for as many of you as possible to release your own S-Curve rankings when publishing your final bracket if you do not already do so.

I THINK I caught everything in the flash this time. Naturally, I’ll probably turn out to have missed something really obvious.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized aquatic dwellings.)

Andrew Hussie seems to be making a habit out of ending each sub-act of this act by making it look like the protagonists of this act are complete red herrings when it comes to the main plot of the comic.

This time, though, I’m not sure how he can get out of it. Jane didn’t manage to prototype her Sprite, no thanks to God Cat, and doesn’t even seem to have entered the Medium (though she does appear to be transported somewhere). At that point, a massive invasion force descends upon the planet bearing familiar markings, interspersed confusingly with “years in the future” flash forwards showing the planet being flooded. The only way I can see to get out of this is either time travel, or a psycheout – in some way indicating that most of the events of this flash didn’t actually happen. I suppose he could get all four kids into the Medium while avoiding the invading or occupying forces, but there’s a certain finality to this flash, like anything following up on it directly would have to take place after the invasion already succeeded, and certainly not moments after it starts. (Maybe it’s the subliminal messages towards the end.)

(Incidentially, this invasion force suggests to me that this universe’s Betty Crocker is not the Condesce from the troll universe we’re familiar with, if only because it’s hard to see how she could have acquired such an invasion force unless she and that force were native to this universe. She certainly couldn’t have brought it with her from the old troll universe – she’s the last survivor of that universe’s troll race, other than the twelve we’re most familiar with.)

One question this flash raises for me is the role of the two-person session being planned by the two trolls who have been keeping contact with this new group of kids. Are they, in fact, of this universe, agents of the invasion out to mislead our heroes (and the readers) into thinking they’d be successful? Conversely, might that session represent the actual session that John and company will find themselves placed into, for good or ill?

Another thing I’m thinking about that suggests that almost all of Act 6-2 could be rendered non-canon if these kids aren’t red herrings is that, re-reading parts of the comic earlier, the notion that Roxy would be Jane’s server player seems to have been predestined, even though the events of Act 6-2 seemed to swap Roxy out for Dirk (and later his auto-responder). Perhaps the chain that would have led to Jane entering the session in this sub-act was always meant to fail. Perhaps the copy Roxy hacked from Crockercorp was defective, and this was their real plot against Jane.

Also, would it be possible to look back over the events of the past sub-act and find a plan in God Cat’s actions that might hint at the events to come, if we do continue from the end of this flash?

The Sports TV Wars: Looking to Canada and the America’s Cup

Good for them, I guess? I’m happy the America’s Cup is back on television, but I don’t have much to say about it other than what I said in my CAA post. Well, that, and that I guess NBC isn’t entirely losing the battle for smaller events to ESPN.

There may be bigger news brewing north of the border, where there are three major media companies; one decided to opt out of the bidding for the Olympics, while the other two, CBC and Bell (which owns the broadcast network CTV and works with ESPN on TSN), have joined forces and repeatedly low-balled the IOC, rightfully not seeing the need to bid high with no competitors and no guarantee that NHL players will attend future Olympics. That could open the door for Yahoo to force Canadians to go to their site to see the Games. It’s still a middleman, but considering what I said not that long ago about sports entities potentially seeing the future on the Internet, it’s still a development to watch, especially considering the conviction of the blog mentioned therein that Yahoo may be the best positioned of anyone to take on ESPN.

Sport-Specific Networks
6 8.5 4.5 2.5 0 1.5

Who called it in the title of his post on the previous comic?

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized karma.)

As much as I’ve complained about the OOTS comics that I’ve read in real time since I started reading it as such, I’d have to say Vaarsuvius has probably been the best part of the comic in that span, for the ongoing tragedy of her moment of weakness.

V may well have regretted signing her deal-with-the-devil before, but until now she could at least claim the problems with it related entirely to her and her own hubris. She accepted a deal from fiends that was, in fact, successful at saving her family, but then destroyed her relationship with that family so she could use the same power for whatever plot-furthering purposes she could, except she never could. She accepted it because she was desperate to prove that arcane magic could solve all her problems, and she came out of it learning of the value of other people’s contributions, as well as knowing what her own role is.

But she also accomplished one major, though entirely unnecessary, thing, and curiously, despite it being the pinnacle of her time under the Splice, she never seemed to be too broken up about it until now. She regretted the Soul Splice, not the Familicide. The forumites knew what it said about her, the fiends knew what it said about her, but curiously enough, V himself doesn’t seem to have grasped the enormity of what he’d done until he realizes that humans were killed. One-quarter of the black dragon population? Their scales aren’t all shiny, so their destruction was just and necessary. For all the lessons she’s learned, V hasn’t yet learned the lesson she hasn’t had reason to, but that lies at the heart of the entire comic, regarding the arbitrary nature of the alignment system.

Regardless, now we can continue the story of her time under the Splice I started when she accepted it. The Splice may have started as a typical Faustian deal, though for unusual reasons, but Rich managed to turn it into something entirely his own. V almost lost sight of why she accepted the deal in the first place, becoming drunk with power and heedless of the consequences of his actions, manipulated by the spliced souls to be sure, but still entirely in control. Everything that happened in the second paragraph happened, but V is now learning the flip side of those lessons: that ultimate arcane power, wielded without caution, can have unintended consequences. Immeasurable innocent blood is now on his hands, and she may never be able to repay the debt from that moment of weakness.

On the other hand, the bill may soon be coming due on the debt from the Splice itself…

The OOTS Effect, Part III

  • Ladies and gentlemen, meet the most direct beneficiary of the Double Fine effect yet: FTL. It’s a game that attracted a considerable amount of attention even before coming to Kickstarter, which means it shouldn’t have been surprising that it doubled its $10,000 goal within a day. Less than a week later, it may be past $70,000 by the time you read this, with most of a month to go.
  • I didn’t talk about the LowLine project last week because it was barely a weekend old, and it took a full week to meet its lofty $100,000 goal, but with five weeks left at that point it could climb into rarified air. FrackNation has been going for most of a month and only just recently met its goal, but when that goal is $150,000 (already in the top ten listed projects in the Film and Video category) and it has another month still to run, that project could hit rarified air as well. A project that had already hit that territory but had seemed to have stalled at around $155,000 is the Second Class Citizens Documentary, which received an unexpected jolt last week of a nature I haven’t been able to determine, other than being named a Kickstarter Staff Pick but I suspect that might be older. Also keep an eye on the David Lynch Documentary that raised nearly $50,000 in its first of six weeks.
  • Double Fine itself enters its final week at $2.4 million. The HuMn Wallet is over $142,000 with a full month to go, but some projects featured in this space in the past seem to be having trouble maintaining their momentum; MATTER seems to have slowed down considerably, barely topping $100,000 – still the first listed Publishing project to do so. Idle Thumbs has lost almost all its momentum and sits at around $115,000, as has the Ramos alarm clock, which is even more barely over $100,000 than MATTER.
  • What impressed me about the Double Fine project as much as anything else is that, even now, it sits at only six times its $400,000 goal. It’s amazing enough that Tim Schaefer and Co. set a goal that would put them in the top ten all-time Kickstarters, even more so that they would still blow through that goal in substantially less than 24 hours. I’m pretty sure that’s the highest goal to be successfully reached in Kickstarter history. Instaprint has set an even more lofty goal of $500,000, and their progress is probably more realistic for projects with that high a goal – they raised over $30,000 over the weekend, but that’s only 6% of the goal. But they did do their research and gave themselves a long time span to raise their money, through close to the end of April.
  • Another webcomics project benefits from the OOTS effect! Well, an animation based on a comic by a guy who used to do a webcomic, anyway! Atomic Robo: Last Stop raised nearly $45,000 in its first week, blowing through its $12,000 bare minimum goal, and it still has five more weeks to go. In actual webcomic project news, Diesel Sweeties has officially made it four of the top five comics projects that are webcomics-related projects from this year, while Erfworld has a chance to pass Benign Kingdom for the (relatively) prestigious #3 spot in its last week. That would mean, when you go to Kickstarter and look at the overall “Most Funded” page, under Comics, two of the three projects displayed will come from webcomics that are or were once hosted on the Giant in the Playground site.
  • Speaking of which: By my reckoning, nearly 70% and probably more of all the people who pledged to the OOTS drive should have received surveys by now (the 70% figure should have gotten them by Thursday). The first rewards should start shipping by the end of the week, while Rich has begun working on artwork for the coloring book, and the final tally of reward stories stands at: at least partial backstories for O-Chul, Therkla, Elan, and Belkar, two follow-up stories to the limited-edition book, a parody of a D&D setting, AND another (likely-to-be) parody starring the Cliffport Cops.