We have reached the point in January when we stop saying “Happy New Year” and start saying “How long till spring?” The nice thing about the Weekly Tech Views is that if you find yourself slogging through one that’s the literary equivalent of a dreary, miserable winter day, you know it won’t last two more months (hey, I think I found a new slogan!)
Amazon is rumored to be releasing a smaller, portable version of their Echo “personal assistant.” The new device is code-named Fox. It is supposed to be less expensive than the current version, unless you count the emotional cost of a renewed onslaught of “What Does the Fox Say?” gags.
What Is This “Phone” You Speak Of?
HTC will start taking pre-orders for their Vive VR Headset on February 29th. When a reporter asked if they were afraid that the new focus on VR might cost the company smartphone sales, everyone had a good laugh, there were scattered murmurs of “yeah, smartphone sales,” and then they continued live tweeting the announcement on their iPhones.
They Need To Learn To Text Into The Skid
Ford will start testing self-driving cars in winter weather, following in Google’s footsteps. This, of course, makes complete sense. Driving conditions and hazards vary greatly from June in San Francisco to January in Minneapolis. It’s necessary to test in all conditions before proclaiming them safe for everyday use.
Which raises the question, why aren’t humans held to the same standard? If a sixteen-year-old has a birthday in August, he or she may never drive in rain, let alone snow, before being handed a laminated permission slip to pilot 2,000 pounds of metal next to me on the freeway. I say all testing takes place December through February (with special dispensation here in northeast Ohio, where, in non-El Nino years, facilities can be used Columbus Day through Father’s Day). Less than two inches of snow on the ground? Closed for a “No Snow Day.”
During non-testing months, offices will be converted to rehab centers treating the estimated 95% of testing agents affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Live in southern California and never have to drive in snow? Lucky you. But your license gets imbedded with a chip that cars recognize, and when you visit New England at the holidays and try to start your rental car, it just laughs at you.
Call Me When It’s Knight Rider-Ready
Tesla’s latest update includes the Summon feature, which enables the car to park or unpark itself, as long as the driver is within 33 feet. Cool tech. But look, it’s not bringing your car from the parking garage down the street to the front door of your office building. Really, how many situations are there going to be when you’re within 33 feet of your car but unwilling to take five more seconds to walk the rest of the way? Sure, there are the times when you’re in a desperate fight for survival with a psychotic international spy who has spent years tracking you down and used some exotic variant of jujitsu to disarm you and knock you to the ground and has a gun aimed at your head and is about to finish you off to avenge that nasty business in Helsinki in ’03. And you activate Summon and your car hits him from behind, allowing you to turn the tables and strike another heroic blow for democracy. But that’s, what, three or four times a year?
Would You Like To See Hotels In The Area While You Find A Lawyer?
Google Maps for Android has added Driving Mode, a feature that will guess where you’re headed and plot a course.
“Why does it think we’re going to Marcie’s house? I haven’t been there in over a year, since she got drunk and hit on you at the Christmas party.”
“Uh, yeah. Weird.”
“Wait… this is your phone.”
Our Algorithm Says We Spent A Boatload Of Cash And You Are Going To Watch It
Netflix is stepping up its efforts to stop users who access out-of-region content by pretending to be in a country they aren’t. While this means no more Turkey’s House of Kurds and Germany’s Der Devil for those of us in the U.S., VPN users have united in vowing to voluntarily stop circumventing the region-blocking efforts, saving Netflix the time and expense of implementing new controls, if the company would just please stop with the Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six promos taking up 85% of our screens.
No, You Can’t Call The Costumes Soft-Wear
There’s a new musical comedy opening on Broadway in April. Not news, you say. There’s a new musical comedy opening in New York every half hour, you say. Also, you say (I sense you’re starting to get irritated now), that’s not tech news.
AH-HA! This musical is called Nerds, and it’s about the rivalry between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. It’s got holograms! And the audience can use an app to interact with the set! What’s most surprising about this venture is that they’d try another tech-related musical so soon after the disaster we all remember from last season, the ill-fated recounting of Steve Wozniak’s career, Woz Side Story.
[Warning: If you did not grow up with a mother who believed Edison invented the phonograph with the sole intention that the West Side Story soundtrack be played eight to ten hours per day, you are approaching dangerous, gibberish-filled territory. Skipping the remainder of this story is highly recommended.]
Try as we might, who can forget songs like…
Woz’s ode to the Apple I’s MOS Technology 6502 CPU–I’m 8-Bitty:
(“I’m 8-bitty / So 8-bitty / I’m 8-bitty, this ditty, don’t lie…”)*
The Graphical User Interface anthem–UI:
(“UI… UI… / Who needs the command line? / UI makes using DOS really dumb…”)*
And, in what was supposed to be the big showstopping number, Steve’s prophetic look at the World Wide Web–The Net Song:
(Once on the Net / You’ll be on it all day / Poking friends that you’ve met / Buying stuff on E-bay…”)*
Still, let’s not write off Nerds. Holograms right many wrongs.**
* On the off-chance you’re still reading, these are to the tunes of “I’m So Pretty,” “Tonight,” and “The Jet Song.”
** I told you to stop. Why didn’t you listen?
That’s all for today. I think I’m going to go lie down for a bit; for a minute there I thought I made a musical theater reference in this tech blog. Can you imagine the Venn diagram of people interested in both? Ha!
Foursquare has a new CEO and a lower valuation. So what makes us keep using social service and once we stop can they ever convince us to come back? Peter Wells and Tom Merritt discuss. Plus Amazon aims to do to shipping what it did to the cloud.
The W3C is considering restrictions on who can set standards regarding DRM in HTML. Will this free your Web or chain it up? Allison Sheridan and Tom Merritt discuss. Also, one, two, three and to the four, Snoop wants to throw his XBox One onto the floor.
*Note: The original version of this file cut off the last two minutes. Apologies.
During episode 2665, we mentioned the BBC research labs confirmation of HEVC compression. During the discussion Scott guessed correctly that Andy Beach would be able to explain this more for us. And Andy obliged. Here’s his response in full.
Like summoning a genie you say “bitrate” or “compression” three times and i appear!
I was literally already jotting down notes as I listened. here’s my thoughts:
The savings side viewed by the BBC team arent astounding – they are actually what was expected out of the codec – even taking the perceptive testing the did. What I am happy about is how quickly we’re getting to those numbers and seeing them in public press.
Let’s take a quick hop back – even back when H.264 was announced as an idea, the goal was to improve upon the current video defacto codec (at the time MPEG-2 part 2 i think) by 50% savings of bits to perceived quality. That was back in 1999 or 98. The spec was completed in 2003 and it was another two years before we really saw people start to take an interest (and really another 2 years before we started seeing real adoption). H.265 on the other hand was first ratified in 2013 (and version 2 which is what most would consider the viable useful version of the codec was only ratified in January of 2015) and here we are right at the start of 2016 and not only have we been seieng demos at shows like NAB for a year or two, but we’re already seeing early adopters like BBC with confirmation of what we expect to see from the codec.
I’m hopeful that we start seeing some software based (encode) support in the market this year (apps like VLC already include H.265 support) and next year a wider announcement of Hardware support decode support. It is the HW decode support that will become a blocker to adoption as it will be required for things like mobile handsets and tablets to take avantage of H.265 and the only really way for someone to get the true value out of encodes targeted to big 4K screens (Because of the nature of video compression, highly aggressive encodes are very resource intensive to decode – if all decode is SW based, its hard to optimize the content down to those very low bit rates we want – adding HW decode support enables improved battery life and performance on mobile and allows bigger screens to really crank those rates down while still keeping a decent quality).
But Andy, does this mean my H.264 archive is useless? Not at all – we’ll continue to see it used and supported for a number of years. Too many devices are out there that already support it and at this point it does what it does really well. Like new TV adoption, we’ll see H.265 support creep out slowly through a variety of expected names (think olympics, superbowl, netflix, etc). Effectively, anyone really wanting to do streaming 4K content will be an earliy H.265 adopter. As they teach us all lessons for how to do large operations at scale with this codec, we’ll see others migrate over. If I were to put on my guessing hat (aka analyst) I’d say between now and late 2017 is early adopter world. Then we’ll see wide expanding support from early 2018 to 2021 or so and by then the market should be well saturated and we’ll be discussing its successor.
What else? There are two obstacles that stand in H.265s way – well maybe three if you count itself and its royalities as an problem to deal with. If the numbers are too high, neither content producers or technology companies will be able to make it a viable solution.
The other major technologies in the works though are Google and their VP9 codec and the AOMedia Alliance. If you talk to Colleen Henry, she’ll tell you VP9 is already the greatest thing int he world and you’d be an idiot for using anything else. The test results I’ve seen put VP9 as a ver close second to H.265 in most cases (and maybe in front of it in a narrow few) but the reality is studios just have a hard time trusting Google and I’d be surprised if they’d willingly adopt it as the “go to” codec. also what DRM capabilities VP9 will support have been unclear and all broadcasters and studios will require (demand) the ability to protect their content or control the licensing and viewing. the AOMedia is a group of big technology companies (amazon, microsoft, intel and the like) who have all loosely gotten together and are working on a spec that would be similar to H.265 but royalty free. From what I’ve seen, it does look like they are potentially using VP9 as the starting framework here, but its unclear how much the eventual product would look like the current one. It’s also fairly early days and honestly this seems to me like a gambit (read as threat) to keep the MPEG-LA (licensing group of MPEG group) at bay when negotiating (meaning “charge us that and we’ll just build it ourselves!”)
Well, that was super long winded, so let me try to summarize a podcast friendly sound bite:
The numbers were good and what we would have expected.
Its great to see big companies like BBC already going down the H.265 path and it Indiates it may see quicker adoption than its predescessor.
Hardware decode support will continue to limit wider deployment and use, but expect to see more and more announcements for it in the next 18 months.
Just because H.265 is the new hotness, don’t expect H.264 to dissapear overnight – it’ll be around for a good long time.
Keep your eye on Google/VP9 and AOMedia/whatever they come up with as potential competitors to H.265
Did I miss anything? Feel free to ask questions, as you know, i love this stuff!
Nielsen released their 2015 numbers and streaming is way up while sales are down. So is that good or bad news for music? What does it mean for you the listener? Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont discuss.
Surprising nobody, the top New Year’s resolutions for 2016 are 1) getting in shape, 2) getting organized, and 3) reading more bastardized tech news. Showing up today for the Weekly Tech Views is a great first step. Congratulations on your commitment!
You Don’t Often See Accountants Cry Like That
Speaking of New Year’s resolutions, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made his. In a post to Facebook, he challenged himself “to build a simple artificial intelligence to run my home and help me with my work.” He declined to add the statement prepared by his accountant, which announced that “any bold proclamations made more than thirty days prior to January 1, like, say, pledging, on the day my daughter was born, to give away $44.5 billion of my personal fortune to charity, do not qualify as New Year’s resolutions and are not binding in any other respect. I mean, I’m still gonna to donate to charity, but $44 billion? You can’t hold me to that. I was high on new baby fumes.”
Do You Know How Many F-Bombs That Is?
There is talk that Twitter will be doing away with its 140 character limit, possibly expanding to as many as 10,000 characters. That deafening rustling sound you hear is thousands of customer service reps, tasked with fielding Twitter complaints, hurling resignation letters onto their bosses desks.
The Tweet Awakens
On the plus side, 10,000 characters means it will only take me two or three tweets to fully express my “compare and contrast” theories about BB8 and R2D2.
Yeah, Well, My Wife Keeps Saying I Should Get That Tattoo Anyway
Microsoft’s fitness tracker, the Band 2, can integrate with automaker Volvo’s On Call app, allowing users to remotely start, heat, or lock their vehicle (should that vehicle, of course, be a Volvo). On the fitness side, future updates are expected to record how far you drive, and if the round trip is less than two miles the Band 2 will submit an entry to your workout log reading “Tsk-tsk-tsk.” If the Band’s GPS indicates the trip was to the corner convenience store and you spent time in the potato chip aisle (it’s a really good GPS) the Band 2 will burn I’M NOT WORTHY into your wrist and disintegrate.
It Leaves Their Hands Free For Texting
Faraday Future introduced a concept car featuring, among other things, a helmet that delivers oxygen and water to the driver. Sure, this starts out as a boon to racecar drivers dealing with 120-degree temperatures inside their car, but before you know it, it’s coming standard in the family minivan, the tech has improved to include a food delivery system, and suddenly thousands of people with I’M NOT WORTHY burned into their wrist are getting Red Bull and Cheetos pumped down their throat without the third world inconvenience of having to reach over to the gaping Extended-Family Size snack bag seat-belted on the passenger seat.
Why I Won’t Be Wearing The Microsoft Band 2
In even more fitness tracking news, Fitbit now has a smartwatch, the Blaze, which can automatically recognize the activity you are performing and record it. It also claims battery life of five days, but if it’s dependent on how much activity it has to track, I’ll bet I can go Thanksgiving through Super Bowl Sunday without recharging. Unless the software has to work particularly hard to record the “eating cookies” activity.
New Tech, Same As The Old Tech
One of CES’s biggest surprises was the absence of Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd for the announcement that–at this Mecca for cutting-edge technology–Panasonic and Kodak presented brand new, mind-blowing devices called, respectively, a turntable and a Super-8 video camera!* What times we live in!
Guess It’s Back To Far Cry 2
Oculus started taking preorders for the Oculus Rift VR system, setting a $599 price tag. There is also a package which includes the Rift and an “Oculus-ready” computer for $1499. This does not bode well for my hopes of getting a truly immersive virtual reality experience from the integrated graphics in my six-year-old Compaq laptop.
“Making A Murderer” Sounds Legit
Netflix launched in 130 additional countries, leaving only China, Syria, Crimea, and North Korea on the outside looking in. This, of course, is contrary to reports out of North Korea which insist that not only does Netflix exist there, but that the Supreme Leader invented it and stars in House of Cards, Wet Hot American Summer, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Jong-un.
* A turntable is a music playing device, like your phone, but instead of the inconvenience of tapping a button on your phone’s screen to get one of your stored 3,000 songs to play, all you have to do with a turntable is place a large grooved vinyl disc (a record) onto a spindle, start the turntable spinning, then carefully (so as not to scratch the record and ruin it) place a needle on the vinyl’s surface. With expert placement, you can choose any of up to six songs per side! What a turntable lacks in portability (the clothing industry has not yet cracked the manufacturing process necessary to create pockets that will comfortably hold even the smallest of record players), it makes up for in crackle, clicks, and hiss!
Similarly, a Super 8 camera is a video recording device, like your phone, but instead of having to remember to switch your camera app from “photo” to “video,” all you have to do with a Super 8 is insert a film cartridge (read your manual for specific loading instructions), remove the lens cap, manually focus, and pull the trigger to capture up to two-and-a-half minutes of memories per 50-foot roll of film! To view your artistry, simply set up a film developing lab at home, or take the modern no-hassle route and send your film to a developer. You and your friends will be enjoying the results in just a matter of days!**
** Odds-on favorite for longest footnote of 2016.
And we have kicked off 2016. Welcome to the future! If you are looking for one more resolution (or looking to replace a broken one with something more reasonable), pledging to spread the word about the Weekly Tech Views among your tech-minded friends would certainly be a commendable goal.
And for a last look back at 2015 (through poorly-prescribed lenses), why not check out The Internet Is Like A Snowblower (And 200 Other Things I Got Wrong About Tech This Year). Only $2.99, andnow with an average Amazon review of 5 stars! Yes, it’s from a total of one review, but let me have this, huh?