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ACORN TV: Compression Issues Abound



My wife and I signed up for the free 30 day trial subscription to Acorn TV but couldn't make it a few days before turning off our account and being done with it. We even uninstalled the app from our system.

Why?

While we like to explore television from other countries of the world, we like to see a great picture when we do. We understand that some old shows are in SD and have yet to be up-resolutioned into HD. But when a show is only a year or two old and originated in HD, yet is so full of compression artifacts, pixelisation and stuttering, we quickly look elsewhere for our entertainment.

I tested our Internet connection when it was happening and it fluctuated between 25mbps on the worst days, to over 65mbps on the best days. Either speed is more than enough to handle HD.

We watched Acorn TV's HD-originated series "New Worlds" and found that it was highly compressed, so much so that the artifacting and pixelisation of the picture was egregious during simple dissolve edits, and truly terrible when scenes involved rain, light effects, gradients, or other scenes that are tough on poorly encoded feeds. Banding in the gradients and having whole areas of the image "freeze" across frames due to image dithering, are all hallmarks of poor encoding.

You may have better luck. We'll wait until they hire a real compressionist, it's clear that they have someone who does not really understand the process. There is a real craft to great compression and it takes time to learn. Clearly Acorn TV has yet to understand that lesson.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Apr 4, 2016 at 3:47:00 pm cablecutting




As I've mentioned before, my wife and I really like learning how other cultures look at the world and learning a bit of their history, as well. One of the easy ways we've found is to explore their television programming.

For a few years now, one of the cultures we have been spending some time in, is that of Korea. We tend to like watching the Korean historical dramas, not the more recent stuff, which we find pretty banal and trivial. But there are some wonderful episodic series that explore dramatized people and events in Korean history. Sure, some add characters that are fictional to spice the dramatic flair of the story, making it more adventurous for today's audiences. But often, they play things very close to events as they happened.

One of our favorite distributors featuring Korean programming is DramaFever. While some might point to other areas of their catalog, we find their strong suit to be in the historical dramas. We have been watching them for years now and enjoy them for the very reason that they are unlike American television, in a very refreshing way. 

DramaFever has a website, as well as apps for your smartphone, tablet or computer, and boxes like ROKU, Apple TV4, Amazon Fire TV, XBox or Playstation.

We just finished a 24-part series, "The Princess's Man," which both of us really liked. Very well done and which we started watching after discovering it on HULU -- who has an entire DramaFever section -- but the show was pulled from Hulu's current line-up before we could watch all the episodes, and so we went to Dramafever and searched on the title.

We were able to watch the last five episodes using the app on our STB using the free DramaFever app. While "The Princess's Man" did not show up in the list offered, when we searched the title, all 24 hour long episodes were there.

We also tried to use our web browser and cast it onto the screen using Chromecast, but they had blocked that. It does allow the top-tier subscribers to cast their content onto their flatscreens from other devices, but we weren't ready to pay for a year's subscription to do that.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Apr 1, 2016 at 1:23:00 pm cablecutting




CUTTING THE CABLE: Covers ROKU, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast & Others is now available at Amazon.com.

While the obvious mission of the book is to teach readers how to save money on their cable TV bill, the book also gives readers an immersive journey into the rapidly changing world of television entertainment and gives readers an insider's view into all that is happening, and why.

I hope that you will find the book useful, learning to save money and also greatly expand your entertainment universe.

PLEASE NOTE: The book is complete and is already in the Amazon system but will be delivered to those who pre-order on April 11th. Why the wait? When Kathlyn and I launched Creative COW back in 2001, it went live on April 11, 2001. April 11, 2016 marks the 15th anniversary and it just seemed right to honor that momentous day, 15 years ago.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Apr 1, 2016 at 10:53:00 am cablecutting




One of the surest ways to save on the high cost of cable if you are an Apple TV 4 user, is to get a good digital over-the-air antenna to pull in your local channels. (We use a $50 MOHU Leaf indoor digital antenna. We're in a very mountainous area and so we use the amplified model.) We don't have a big outdoor antenna and we use a simple indoor antenna that gets us over 20 local channels, even in our heavy wooded mountainous surroundings.

We get all of the major networks and independents, other than CBS. But CBS is not worth staying on cable for and many of its best programs can be found at the CBS website, or at services like Netflix, Amazon, and others. CBS Sports has a free app for Apple TV 4 and they were even showing Super Bowl 50, live on their website and app, absolutely free.

DO NOT get one of the cheap $10 or $20 antennas, as most of them cannot scan in the sub-channel or side-carrier frequencies. Many channels today broadcast in the sub-channel frequencies and cheap antennas often miss the sub-channel stations. For example, in my market area, a free sci-fi service, COMET, broadcasts on WTTO which has a feed on 21.3. Some digital antennas will only scan channel 21, for example, and would miss COMET at 21.3. (To learn if COMET is available in your area, please visit http://comettv.com/ and toward the bottom of the page, you can enter your zip code.)

Now that you have taken care of the local independent channels and networks, the Apple TV 4 can fill in some of the holes left from cutting the cable.

Build a battery of great free apps on your Apple TV 4 and duplicate those apps on your iPhone and iPad. Make sure to grab Tubi TV, Crackle, popcornflix, OVguide, Pluto, PBS, Smithsonian Channel, and others that look interesting.

On your computer, build a web folder in which you put shortcuts to your favorite network sites because many are now making their content available on their websites. Mirror those shows onto your television screen using Apple AirPlay. You can also add that folder to your iPhone and iPad and watch web-based content there, as well as mirror it to your television using AirPlay.

A $20 a month Sling TV package will take care of many of the most desired cable channels like AMC, ESPN, HGTV, History, A&E, etc. Visit www.sling.com for details of their channels and packages. There are no contracts and you can test the system before joining.

If you must have HBO, you can add it for $5 a month at Sling TV, rather than pay double or more as you would with most everyone else.

Put the $100 a month or more that you will save into other things you'd much rather be doing than giving it to the cable company.

Happy saving!

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 14, 2016 at 1:31:00 am cablecutting



Whenever new things come along, they nearly always attack the low-end of the market first. Why? It's the least defended market segment and the one that well entrenched companies will sacrifice while they focus
their attention on their most profitable customers. That is good business.

The problem comes in when aggressive new companies learn to expand their now successful appeal to their initial low-end market, expanding that market by manageable and systematic bite-sized chunks that chew off just a bit more of the market with each new foray up the market strata. The day eventually comes when these new companies supplant their predecessors, who were once the giants -- giants who fatefully hid behind the "higher end wall" of their own profitability until the wall that was their comfort, one day became their prison.

A good example of this is seen in television itself. When cable first came along it was tiny, mostly unwelcome and the vast majority of customers saw no reason to pay for something that had been free for decades. It took many years, but one day the broadcasters themselves were being bought by the very companies who had only decades before, been mere distributors of their programming.

Broadcasters and film studios and others, have watched cable companies become some of the richest companies in the world, as they distributed and marketed the very programming created by the studios and broadcasters. As is often the case, the middleman made most of the money.

I am sure that had to be the burr under their saddle, especially when the day came that Comcast announced it was buying NBC/Universal. That had to be a wake-up call to the industry. They
couldn't do much about it because the studios and broadcasters had lost the direct contact with their customer. Few were using antennas and most customers were now fed by cable.

That has changed and now the internet and very sophisticated compression/decompression algorithms (codecs) give studios and broadcasters a chance to learn from the cable companies and reach out directly again to their customers.

Today, some studios and broadcasters are taking the fight direct to customer and are willing to give their content free to the customer, settling for the direct commercial revenues earned by advertisers wanting to watch their programming.

You see this on two fronts:

First, major film studios like Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures are leading the chargefrom the major studios. Paramount has partnered with an investment group to put 20,000 titles from the Paramount library into free on-demand viewing under the name of Tubi TV. Sony Pictures is putting many of its productions into free on-demand viewing under the banner of Crackle.

Why hide? The answer is simple: they do not want to devalue their trademarks by mentally associating their brand names with free content, but they do want to take steps to build their owndirect customer base -- one in which not only do they earn ad revenues but also over time build an outreach to
market to the very customers who enjoy their content. It's a win-win for both the studios and the customer.



Some free channels you'll find on Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV 4, etc.


The hiding and free content isn't just limited to film studios. First in for major broadcasters is Disney/ABC who hides behind the name Free Form, where Disney/ABC gives away many of their shows to an on-demand audience. They are joined by another early adopter, Warner Bros. Television, whose programs are now trickling out for free under the CW Seed moniker.

Joining these early adopter networks are "aggregators" like Pluto TV, a service whose efforts catalog many web-based video services and serve them within a single interface.  One of Hollywood's film distributors is behind OVguide, a service that includes free movies, episodic television, documentaries and other programming.




As these bite-sized chunks are bitten off and more and more of the audience watches free movies and television shows on-demand on their phones, tablets, computers, and on systems like Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and others -- they chew off more and more of the market, until one day like the cable companies themselves, they will transform the very market itself.

Cable cutting is helping drive this phenomenon but to be truthful, it is a minor player compared to the Gen Xers and Millennials who prefer all their content to be on-demand and at their beck and call.

Today, I noticed that YouTubeRed was advertising the first-run new release of a major film that will be premiered on YouTube, not on the big screen nor on any of the major networks. But seeing that YouTube already has more viewers than any network I can name, the move is less a surprise than it is an "about time" recognition of what is already far
too obvious in the market.

It's a brave new world for studios and broadcasters and in it, content is king. The traditional means of
distribution will give way to a more direct-contact model. Paramount, Sony, Disney/ABC, and Warner Bros seem to already be recognizing that change. Many more will follow, they will have to or they will find the biting chewing away their part of a onetime major part of the market.

This is a fundamental and far reaching change. It puts the customer in amarket in which middlemen will find it harder and harder to justify their high cost of entry to get the same programming that the customer can get for free with a bit of effort.

How much will convenience prove to be worth is the question that customers will have to learn to ask themselves.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 13, 2016 at 3:03:00 pm cablecutting



We have just purchased and installed the new Apple TV 4 and have begun getting to know it. It's clear that this is a new environment and so there are not as many apps as there are for Roku or Amazon Fire TV. While you may read claims that say that Apple TV 4 has over 2600 apps, Kathlyn and I have been digging through the App Store and not even a search turns up far too many of our favorites.

But if you have a big investment in Apple products and you use the Apple iTunes Store for much of your media purchasing or renting, do not let the shortage of apps dissuade you from going with an Apple TV 4. The number of apps is sure to change quickly as Apple TV 4 is only a few months old now and already it has some of the great free cable cutter channels like Tubi TV (Paramount Pictures), Crackle (Sony Pictures), popcornflix, NFB One, Pluto, PBS, Smithsonian Channel, Free Form (Disney/ABC) and a number of others. The offerings will grow fast, you can bet safe money on that.

So far, we have been able to build a free TV package on our Rokuthat includes 113 apps that we actually use. On the Apple TV 4 we have been able so far to find 29 apps. Again, expect this to change rapidly, as Apple TV 4 is a completely new Apple TV system that is unlike any of the company's Apple TV models that have come before. Apple has never supported open apps before and while I do believe they are
overstating their case when they discuss the number of plug-ins available, there is a comforting elegance to its apps that longtime Apple users will appreciate.

As I suspected, the apps in the Apple TV 4 Store are very well done and they all work using the same kind of restrictive Apple developer uniformity that makes for much less confusing performance than some of the apps we have found and use on the Roku and Fire TV devices.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 13, 2016 at 12:40:00 pm cablecutting, appletv4


One thing that people spend a lot of money on, which in many cases is not a good use of money -- because they are paying for duplicated features they likely get from other options -- is buying Smart TVs.

Smart functions built into the TV are very expensive and add hundreds of dollars to the cost. You often do not need them because you get the same functions in Blu-ray players, Rokus, Apple TVs, Amazon Fire TV and many devices.

Major brands like Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, and others, make big mark-ups on their smart TVs. More economy brands like Visio and others, will add around a hundred dollars or so to the price tag. 

We bought a 50 inch basic flatscreen TV made and branded by TCL. TCL is one of China's largest companies and they build sets for many other companies who then market them under their own name. It was a non-smart TV and was nothing more than a 50 inch monitor with so many I/O ports that it was amazing: three HDMI ports, TV/Cable/Antenna, Component, AV, USB, and even a serial port if you wanted to hook up an old computer to the TV. It cost us about $325 on the Amazon Deal of the Day. (I signed up and watch for deals like this.)

TCL makes a Smart TV that is just a built-in Roku and nothing else and it is a great buy if you are sure Roku is the way you want to go.

I just ran over to Amazon just now and I found this Sceptre non-smart TV that sells for far less than a same sized Smart TV. If you plan on getting or already use smart devices, why pay for them twice?

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 13, 2016 at 12:04:00 pm cablecutting, smarttv, roku, TCL


The Roku Sci-Fi Station

I haven't yet found this station on either Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV -- if you have, please comment below -- but Roku users who enjoy science fiction and fantasy will like this great free channel.

Sci-Fi Station is full of recent release newer films, not the old sci-fi that you might expect from a free service. It hails from the people at OVguide and they seem to have a lot of recent Sony Pictures fare for you to explore.

Many if not most of the movies were made in the 2000s and tend to be far better films (in my opinion) than most all the other free sci-fi channels.

Check it out if you use a Roku.

Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Mar 13, 2016 at 11:33:00 am cablecutting, roku, sci-fi, science fiction, sony pictures, OVguide



We are about to turn off the last of our Dish Network package because we have added a digital off-air antenna through which we now get our local networks for free.

We got one of our two Roku devices by paying our Sling TV bill in advance for three months. When that 90 day period runs out, we will likely turn off our Sling TV package for a few months, restarting it when the college football season begins again, and HGTV has had a chance to get more new episodes into their coffers. ESPN/ESPN2 and HGTV tend to be the main channels we watch in the Sling TV package. But we have been getting so many other channels and services now, that we are not really watching Sling TV.

When we turn off the Dish Network account and later temporarily turn off Sling TV, our total monthly television bill will be less than $19 a month. When we move the $10 a month we've been paying Dish Network for our local channels and allocate that $10 to Netflix, we'll be up to $29 a month.

When college football season begins again, we will restart the Sling TV package, which will add $20 a month to the bill. Because there are no contracts, when football season ends, we will likely turn off Sling TV after the five month college football season because football is my only real sports passion. The ability to move money around and turn on and off services that you are not under contract with, is one of the great advantages of the world of cable cutting.

There are so many free channels we are finding, that we seem to be having a great time discovering new channels and services, checking out a lot of great programming -- especially science and nature, films, news, new technology, etc. -- that in the end, we will likely settle in at around $49 a month for it all. That is about a third of the cost we were paying for our 250 channel cable TV package that gave us 235 channels that we never watched because it seemed that nothing was ever on when we went to the channels.

We have built a cluster of over 100 channels on the Roku that we do watch. We have so far found about 25 channels on the Apple TV 4. On the Amazon Fire TV we have found about 50 channels. Throw in network websites that we can use Google Chromecast to mirror to the TV screen (or that Apple and Android users can achieve using AirPlay or screen mirroring), and there seems so many great services that are now available outside the world of cable TV.

Another great advantage of cable cutting is that most of what you see are on-demand services, so the shows don't start until you get there and click on them. Showtime is up to you.

Cable cutting is a far different world that what you get with cable TV. It isn't for everybody but for us, we are thoroughly impressed and are having a great time saving about $1,000 a year.


Creative COW Magazine: It'll be five years, come December 19th

It seems like only yesterday but on December 19th it will be five years since we first officially and publicly announced our plans to launch Creative COW Magazine. Five years already? Time flies. At the time, it was an insane gamble but the last five years have proven it to be a risk worth taking.

When I first came up with the idea for Creative COW Magazine, Creative COW was struggling and barely making it month to month. I was handling much of the site design and maintenance, was our only salesman, and added to these duties were a myriad of other jobs that needed to be done every day. Kathlyn cautioned me that if it failed, we would have to pull the plug on the site and walk away. But I knew that if the COW was ever going to truly compete against the likes of Videography, TV Technology, Studio Monthly, Broadcast Engineering, DV, Post, Millimeter, Film & Video, Video Systems and many other magazines -- whom many industry advertisers took far more seriously than they did, Creative COW -- we'd have to meet the magazines on their own playing field.

Yes, I was aware that the magazine business was in real trouble and that many magazines were struggling. But I also knew that there was a reason that they were struggling and it had nothing to do with the cost of paper or the fact that the world was indeed changing -- something I am all too painfully aware of, I assure you. The reason that I felt they were losing audience was that they had lost their focus as to whom they really served.

Want proof?

At a time when many publishers are failing, Creative COW Magazine along with USA Today and the Wall Street Journal -- as well as others too numerous to name here -- are growing and prospering. Why? Because they make something that readers WANT to read.

At a time when the audience is looking for answers and ideas to help them in volatile markets and a rapidly changing world, the only answers that many publishers can come up with, is to take short-cuts. Some of our competitors have fallen to the point of running a single "feature" story and filling the rest with press releases and calling it a magazine.

We work very hard on Creative COW Magazine and Tim Wilson and I are always on the phone discussing ideas, looking at what people are talking about, what we think the members of Creative COW are interested in -- and from there, we begin the process of designing and crafting each issue. I don't use the word "craft" loosely. We don't slap down whatever we get and call it an issue. There is an enormous amount of work that goes into every phase of each issue of Creative COW Magazine: planning, development, and finishing.

Sure, some issues are clearly better than others, but I can honestly say that I cannot point to a single issue of which I am ashamed or embarrassed by. We have been fortunate to have many of the best and brightest working industry pros take our calls, work with us to craft stories about their projects, their tools and their workflows.

We have watched the audience and advertisers vote with their interest and their support. We are grateful for it and know that in order to keep it, we can't take short cuts and make the kinds of compromises that have relegated many of our competing titles to the ash heap of history because they became irrelevant to those they once served.

I once had the Editor-in-Chief of one of the top-ranked magazines in cinematography come up to me at a trade show and tell me that, "You guys have set the standard for the industry and are the team to beat." Her words, not mine. She asked how we got away with not making the kinds of compromises that she was forced to make, compromises and concessions she was forced to make to curry the favor of advertisers. I looked at her and asked: "Would you like to know the truth? I'll tell you but you may think it harsh." She said she'd like to know, so this is what I told her...

"When advertisers have told us that in order to get their business we have to do a write-up on them in our magazine, we simply ask them point-blank: 'Let me see if I have this right. You want us to make the same kinds of compromises and do the same kinds of stories that have largely crippled those magazines that survive and have killed many others -- compromises that have made them largely irrelevant to their audience and have destroyed their credibility -- and you want us to do that. Did I hear you right?'"

She told me in response: "You don't really do that, do you?" I told her that not only do we do it but that she better start doing it too, if she wanted to save both her job and her publication.

Our audience would expect nothing less from us than to get it right. Tell the truth. Tell the story. Serve the audience. Don't sell us out.

So that's what we did and what we do.

It's been a tough five years. The beginning was really tough, as we started this with no investors, no money in the bank other than just enough to cover the bills. It was all a gamble. A major gamble. One sizable misstep and we'd have been just another magazine in the ash heap of history -- and the COW itself would have been there, as well.

So, thank you more than you know for being our guide, we watch you and we listen to you and we make the magazine in answer to the kinds of things we see you asking about and discussing. You truly are our rudder and set the course that we will follow.

We jokingly and lovingly refer to you as The Body Bovine and you are our navigators in the perilous waters of today's rapidly changing marketplace. Without you, we'd have ended up on the rocks, long ago, and these five years would have never happened.

The best always,

Ronald Lindeboom
CEO, Creative COW LLC
Publisher, Creative COW Magazine


Posted by: Ronald Lindeboom on Sep 30, 2010 at 8:00:29 amComments (7) Business, Creative COW Magazine

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