Sunday, April 23, 2006

Roth is fired; Opie and Anthony to replace him; CBS Radio continues to lose credibility

Last Friday, April 21, was David Lee Roth's last day in Howard Stern's old timeslot. CBS gave him four months to fill the shoes and equal the ratings of a radio-industry veteran of over 20 years who was consistently number one in many of his markets and drew millions of loyal fans nationwide.

According to an exclusive interview (bottom, "Farewell to Free FM") with Roth by Steve Langford of Howard 100 News, David's show was cut off 20 minutes early on Friday and ended only with music. Roth stated to Howard 100 News that his career in radio was not over and that he would be "stopping by SIRIUS sometime soon." Additional quotes and background audio clips are available on Stern's SIRIUS web page under Howard 100 News Special Reports.

Short-sightedness isn't really a surprise given the focus on immediate returns that corporations can't seem to get away from these days. Pure stupidity and hypocrisy, however, are another story. The purported replacement show for Roth is none other than Opie and Anthony (O&A), the very duo that CBS Radio fired over four years ago because they broadcast the sounds of what was allegedly a couple having sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. I can't wait to see the spin put on this rehiring move to appease sponsors, the religious right and other conservatives who will almost certainly make a stink about this.

Opie and Anthony were hired by XM in 2004 after being fired by CBS. Their show is supposed to be "one of the top 10 most listened to" programs on XM, but curiously the show doesn't even have its own page on XM's web site. So now CBS Radio will supposedly broadcast a three hour version of O&A's XM show, which will of course be censored, in Roth's time slot. That should make for some great radio -- O&A will have an incentive to clean up (read: make boring and less "outrageous" as they are billed on XM) their show so listeners will be able to follow the show on terrestrial radio, plus terrestrial listeners will hear only an incomplete version of the entire show. Every day. Sounds pathetically boring. This isn't good for the XM subscribers either because even though they will hear the "uncensored" version of the 3 hour CBS simulcast, they will undoubtedly hear a watered-down show due to O&A trying to work within CBS's and the FCC's content restrictions.

How sad is it when the executives of the dominant radio medium, terrestrial FM radio, think they have to go to a competing upstart content provider for material they are counting on to make back top ratings? What a complete lack of thought on their part. You can't tell me there is no one else at CBS radio who can do a decent morning radio broadcast. Who says the only way to make big ratings is to copy Howard Stern? Give someone a chance to innovate.

Interestingly, this pairing of terrestrial and satellite radio will also be promoting XM Radio, a company that provides a service CBS Radio is apparently afraid of losing listeners to. Promotion of satellite radio and the corresponding alleged loss of revenue due to it is exactly what CBS is now suing Howard Stern over. Maybe CBS Radio is hoping it can use it's marketing muscle to promote XM enough to make SIRIUS a minor player. Whatever its motivation, this move by CBS Radio reveals its knee-jerk decision-making process, short-term thinking, and real fear of truly original broadcast content.

Related posts: Sacramento drops Stern; Stern still has it; Adam Carolla on Free FM

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Why the PS3 launch will disappoint gamers

Sony's "anti-hype" has been deafening. If one is to believe everything one reads and hears, the PS3 will play the highest definition movies available, play games in "true HD," provide the best online gaming experience (for free!), all by Fall 2006. It also seems likely to be unavoidably expensive. Ken Kutaragi, President of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) has actually said:
PS3 is “for consumers to think to themselves ‘I will work more hours to buy one’. We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.”
More funny and strange quotes by Kutaragi are available here.

Enough with the "leaks," "slips" or "mistranslations" of information -- here are my predictions for why the PS3 launch will be disappointing for gamers:

1) PS3 will not play games in 1080p;

At least not at launch. It's true. Practical limitations of hardware and bandwidth make this impossible with any current equipment that exists. At the current time there are no broadcast sources of 1080p material, and consequently there are very few consumer-level TVs that can even accept 1080p input despite the fact the TV may theoretically be capable of displaying it.

Bandwidth is related to framerate, and with fast-moving action like sports and videogames, more is better. More to the point more frames faster is better. 60 frames per second (fps) with a progressive scan display is what you need for a smooth and flicker-free image. When it comes to HDTV at 1080 lines of progressive scan resolution, a source capable of 60 fps output simply doesn't exist yet. There isn't even an agreed-upon broadcast standard for 1080p60. If you can believe it, Ken Kutaragi has actually stated that the PS3 will be capable of running games at 120 fps. This is absolutely ludicrous. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that the Cell processor and its associated 8 "synergistic processing engines" may be capable of processing that amount of data, but the PS3 will not be the machine to have the end-to-end architecture capable of delivering that much data that quickly.

2) PS3 will not be a gaming machine;

Sony is positioning the PS3 to be a universal media box at the center of home entertainment. It is merely a vehicle to bring Blu-Ray and the Cell processor into the maximum number of households. At launch the focus will be on high definition movies using the Blu-Ray disc format, and, oh yeah, did you see these games over here?

3) PS3 will cost at least $499;

Consider the realities of the hardware: a brand-new Blu-Ray drive, a brand-new Cell processor, separate graphics chip, 60 GB hard drive, built-in wifi and Bluetooth plus everything else to tie it all together to make it work as a single console. Give me a frigging break. I think $600 would be the max Sony would try to charge, as that's been established as the "3DO-launch-disaster-break-point," but given all of these components I don't see how PS3 could retail below $499. New Blu-Ray DVD players alone are estimated to start at around $1,000.

4) PS3 will offer a poor online gaming interface;

Notice I said interface. Sony can probably pull off a good gaming experience once a player has connected to a game, but actually finding a game and finding a reliable server is another story. Microsoft has established its Xbox Live service as the gold standard of online gaming interfaces. Even before the Xbox 360, Microsoft showed how it could and should be done. And it's not just the interface -- MS put a lot of time, effort and money to make its Live servers and player-matching work really smoothly. Hopefully Sony has taken notes, but until I see proof I'll be skeptical.

5) There will be few games available at launch;

PS3 develpment kits will go out this summer. Time is the critical factor. High quality development and high-definition output require time, effort and a budget that most developers simply won't have in order to make Sony's scheduled holiday launch window. There may be a few in-house and first-party titles at launch but I'd be surprised if there's much more.

6) PS3 games will cost at least $60;

High development costs + proprietary Blu-Ray media = expensive games.

7) Three words: proprietary media support.

Proprietary media support in and of itself isn't new to gamers -- Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Sega and others gaming hardware manufacturers often use this technique to try to prevent piracy of game software. What will be frustrating for gamers is how PS3 will be restricted as a machine outside of gaming.

Blu-Ray is again the culprit here. Anyone see a pattern? And it's not really Blu-Ray, it's what will be on those discs -- burdensome Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption. Deciding on a standard for the use of DRM with Blu-Ray to enforce intellectual property (IP) rights is one of the reasons Sony has had to delay the PS3. The use of such DRM is one of the reasons Sony has the backing of the majority of film studios for the Blu-Ray standard. Sony itself owns Sony Pictures, a huge media and production company, and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, an enormous record label conglomerate. They have tons of IP to protect as well as a reputation to maintain after pushing so hard to have studios commit to using Blu-Ray for future media distribution. As a media company, Sony's reputation will ride on its ability to deliver high-definition content in a secure format.

Unfortunately for consumers, "security" for media companies means "restrictions on use" for consumers. This doesn't just mean restrictions on copying DVDs, it means restrictions on what types of devices a particular piece of media can be played on, how many devices that media can be played on, how many times that media can be played and possibly the quality of playback of that media. Don't think that these companies wouldn't just love to charge you for every single and different type of use you want to make of their property. They would and they will because new DRM technology allows it. This will be frustrating and confusing for consumers. It will be interesting to see how Sony attempts to balance making the PS3 a universal media box with protecting IP rights.

An alternate outcome

It's possible that Sony will surprise everyone and deliver on its claims, but here is what you will need to make that happen: Sony PS3; Sony HD video cables; Sony 1080p television; and games, music and movies on Sony Blu-Ray media.

Oh, and a wheelbarrow full of money because all of it will be brand-new. I think this outcome is unlikely. I look forward to this year's E3 where hopefully Sony will reveal more about its plans for world domination.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Google calendar beta

Just released yesterday: gcal

That's what I've named it, anyway. A C|net article is here.

Cool stuff. It's supposed to integrate with gmail, but the implementation seems incomplete at this point. From within gmail there is no visible connection to gcal, but from within gcal I can send invites to events using my contacts list from my gmail account. I guess it's a beta release, but so is gmail itself, so I don't know what the deal is.

The calendar itself is clean, simple and easy to use. Very much like google maps, you can simply click on a day, type a few details and the engine parses your phrase and makes an appointment. It gives you a lot of control over appearance and functionality, plus your calendar data can be shared with others and output in Apple's iCal format or the more universal XML. It can even import events from other calendaring software such as Outlook.

The calendar supports event scheduling and invites and will send you reminders via email or text message on your cell phone. Your calendar data is searchable and you can manage the sharing privileges of your calendar globally or by event. If made public, your data will show up in the results of anyone's gcal search.

You can add other people's calendars to yours so you can see their appointments or events. Lots of potential here if particular venues or retail stores set up gcals. It'd be cool to be able to overlay particular movie times, concert dates or release schedules for new games or music right on your personal schedule. Looking forward to some cool applications and hacks using the gcal API.

UPDATE, 4/17: Ah, yes, now the mini-menu above the Gmail logo in the top left corner has appeared and opening an email with scheduled events prompts a clickable link in the right margin to add the event to my calendar. Clicking on the "Add to Calendar" link opens up a new small window with the event details prepopulated. You can then add any additional info and save.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Weekend good times

Went over to my friends Eric and Katherine's place this weekend for Eric's birthday. Good food, good drinks and great company were the order of the evening. Those pics are fairly well into the night -- I'm in the first picture in the blue jacket and I'm working pretty hard on that water. I'm pretty sure Chad was saying something interesting at that moment.

I was gently but repeatedly (I keed, I keed because I love...) reminded by these good folks that it has been awhile since I've updated my blog. Indeed it's been about three weeks, which is entirely too long. I'm teetering on the edge here of breaking my unspoken personal rule (D'OH!) of not mentioning blogging in my blog posts, but rest assured things will be picking up around here.

You can see part of the shirt I was wearing that night. It's a new acquisition and the design was a runner-up* in's Pixelante t-shirt contest. Profits from the sale of the t-shirts benefits the Get-Well Gamers charity. Pixelante is a term coined by Miami attorney Jack Thompson to describe gamers who, in his words, are "sociopaths with mouses." I won't give Mr. Thompson any more pixels than is necessary to understand the context -- he's a self righteous holier-than-thou blowhard who makes inflammatory remarks to stir up publicity for himself and his causes. He has campaigned to have music and music videos censored (2 Live Crew, Ice-T, Madonna), filed a complaint with the FCC that led to Howard Stern being taken off the air in Orlando, Florida, and has made reckless connections between criminal behavior and the playing of videogames. He is the attorney who filed the lawsuit in Alabama alleging that the playing of the Grand Theft Auto series of games led to the murders of three people.

So the shirt is a jab at him and all that he "stands" for. A Wired article provides a bit more context.

* For those unfamiliar, as I was, is the online store for the t-shirts and is a pretty slick and efficient outfit. I placed my order around 1:20a Thursday morning and the shirt was in my mailbox by Friday afternoon. They don't have a "bulk" or "slow" shipping option (the cheapest is priority 2-3 day shipping) but the few extra bucks are worth having a reliable shipping method. They even have USPS Priority Mail envelopes preprinted with their logo. I was very impressed.