These days, the definition of “video on demand” or VOD doesn’t end with getting your content when you want, it also includes where. The movie industry has felt the pain of change as more and more movie fans find contentment in staying at home to watch their movies. A trend that according to Nielsen EDI has harshly struck at theater ticket sales, bringing them down 21% to $88.7 million (through September 25th) compared to the same period last year.
According to consumer trend-watcher Faith Popcorn, contributing factors include high ticket prices, even higher gas prices and the fact that many people are just too tired to sit through an entire film. As a result, many people are opting to watch at home rather than invest the time, money and energy to go out.
Another contributing factor is the rapid proliferation of LCD and plasma screens that continue to get cheaper and cheaper. Recent reports show Panasonic expects US plasma TV market to reach 1.6 million units in 2006. LCD TV shipments were up 123% in 2004 Chinese digital TV production will grow another 37% per year thru 2010. 2.8 million plasma TVs were sold worldwide last year with 1.1 million sold just in Q4.
This production explosion results in more affordable price tags here at home. A year ago at this time a 50W-inch plasma TV was $7,000 and today it’s down to just $3,999. The average retail price on 42W-inch plasma model has fallen below $2,000 on certain models, and 50W-inch models are following close behind, with some as low as $3,000.
This is all great news for consumers and the armies of companies supplying and supporting the digital home market. Lower cost technology results in wider spread adoption. But again, the digital home is about delivering extraordinary entertainment with exceptional quality when and where you want it.
TV on Your PC
To meet this new demand for digital-quality content anywhere — anytime, several new technologies have been introduced. Media extender solutions, such as the Microsoft Xbox 360 (estimated retail of $399.99) will play your collection of movies and music through your TV and stereo system more easily using Windows Media Center PC. However, storing your oversized media files on the same system as all your other important files can clog up the hard drive and cause serious delivery delays. To resolve this issue, you could invest in an Iomega file server (160GB for $499) giving you access to all your photos and videos across your entire home network as well as over the Internet too. But, this can be costly and a little challenging to set up.
You could combine ORB’s free software with a TV tuner card from ADS or Hauppauge (around $130), and by means of a user name and password, you can access your music, photos, video, or Webcams from any Internet connection. And if you have a Windows Media Center PC with a TV tuner card, you’ll also be able to watch live and recorded TV via your mobile phone, PDA, or laptop. The downside to this solution however, is that if anyone switches off the home PC connected to the TV tuner card, you’ll loose remote access to all your content. That could be inconvenient.
Another fairly inexpensive solution is Sling Media’s Slingbox. For just $250 you can watch the latest episode of “Lost” anywhere in the world on your laptop or PDA. Just connect the Slingbox to your TV, cable, satellite or TiVo set-top box and your home network, then log on to your network and watch your favorite program. The only potential problem with this solution is that the video viewing screen is small and video quality is similar to MPEG 1.
TV Goes Tiny
In recent months, Dish Network and Apple have both launched handheld TV/video solutions. The PocketDish display developed by Archos prices at $330 for a 20GB model with a 2.2-inch screen, $499 for 30GB unit with a 5-inch display, or $599 for the 40GB version and 7-inch display. PC and Mac compatible, the PocketDish connects directly to your satellite receiver letting your record your favorite programming at no additional cost, for view anywhere convenience. Video quality is about as good as real-time analog recordings however, and the screen can appear somewhat washed. The new Apple iPod offers 30GB or 60GB capacities ($299 and $399 respectively) and a 2.5-inch color display.
Sony responded to growing market demand with a network base-station that can stream live television and other video content either through a home network or across the Internet to remote PCs. Called LocationFree TV, the base station (about $350) connects up to two TVs, DVD players, or digital video recorders. Using Wi-Fi, the Sony solution then streams your programming to your choice of a $1,500, 12-inch, portable LCD monitor; another PC in your home; to a designated wireless hotspot; or to a $250 PlayStation Portable handheld.
TV Where You Want It
One other option, due to hit the market this spring, is NewSoft America’s Presto! WVR (Wireless Video Relay). Ideal for those who aren’t ready to give up their dream of a 50-inch Plasma screen TV that doesn’t hang on the wall looking like it’s on life support, Presto! WVR utilizes 802.11a/b/g technology to broadcast video content for wireless viewing from anywhere in the home or even poolside. For an expected SRP of just $249.00, WVR includes one hardware transmitter/receiver about the size of your hand and a copy of the software receiver for use in multiple Wi-Fi enabled PCs or notebooks (additional hardware receivers sold separately).
The technology behind Presto! WVR provides seamless wireless viewing capability, an enhanced MPEG transcoding process and a Dynamic Transport Stream Control Mechanism (DTCM) to automatically correct signals received under unstable environments to ensure smooth reception a high-performance DVD burning kernel so users can edit their content on their notebook or PC and burn to DVD for even greater view anywhere convenience. Presto! WVR users can also access the Internet while watching commercial DVDs or television via a new bridge function embedded in the sender box.
The software also lets users schedule program recordings and take advantage of it’s time shifting capability. WVR supports MPEG 1 and 2 recording with and option for MPEG 4, and provides WEP encryption/decryption to keep the neighbors from accessing your wireless broadcast without your authorization.
These days, although going to a theater to “experience” a movie still has appeal, bigger-clearer Plasma and LCD screens, shrinking personal video displays, dropping technology prices and of course, this age of wireless has re-defined how and where we “experience” our content.