Archive for July, 2010

Netflix chief DVD business to peak in 5 years

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Netflix’s streaming-video service will be frequently blocked from getting access to newly released films because the flicks might be locked up in exclusive agreements the studios have with pay channels such as HBO or other outlets.

Netflix, however, is already moving beyond DVDs. Its $99 set-top box for streaming movies came out earlier this month, generally to positive reviews.

The company also plans to experiment with pricing, including both increases and decreases.

Hastings said that through streaming, Netflix could grow to 20 million subscribers worldwide. But the company cautioned that it will be some time before its streaming-movie service, which is offered free to consumers, will pay off big.

He said the company is working with the disc makers to help make improvements.

Another interesting tidbit from Netflix’s investor day: Blu-ray Discs are more fragile than standard DVDs, according to Andy Rendich, Netflix’s vice president of operations. The next-generation movie discs are still a small part of Netflix’s business, Rendich said, but so far, the “break rates” are higher.

CEO Reed Hastings said during Netflix’s investor day here that he expects the business of renting physical DVDs to peak within the next five years. However, Netflix representatives later said they forecast that DVDs will remain strong for at least a decade.

It’s important to note that Apple has cut deals that allows iTunes to rent movies from the top Hollywood studios without worrying about these exclusive deals. But it’s early yet, and Netflix hopes that it can establish a foothold in the still-untested streaming-movie sector. To do this, Barry McCarthy, Netflix’s chief financial officer, says the company is uniquely positioned to help movie enthusiasts transfer their rental dollars toward Web services.

It’s going to be hard for “a free-standing service to compete until it has enough content,” McCarthy told the crowd. The sector is in transition, and “Netflix is betting that during this time, we can establish ourselves as a leader in the space,” he said.

Some of the hurdles Netflix faces in Web delivery are competition from video-on-demand providers, as well as Internet services such as those from Apple and The number of rival VOD players will likely grow, according to Netflix executives.

SAN FRANCISCO–Netflix is banking on the belief that streaming movies to people’s living rooms is the future.

Get a 64-bit HP Pavilion desktop for $599.99

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

That, my friends, is a pretty killer load-out. I didn’t even mention the 500GB hard drive that comes standard. Shipping is free, though you may have to pay sales tax.


Find more deals, coupon codes, and bargains on CNET’s

The HP Pavilion s3500t is a sleek, ultracompact desktop that you can configure to your liking at Hewlett-Packard’s online store. For an extremely limited time, HP is offering a $100 instant rebate on the s3500t
or $400 off with coupon code DT1158. You can use the latter only when your config hits $999–but getting there is half the fun.

If you’re in the market for a powerful media-center PC, here’s your chance to save some big bucks on a sleek, compact system. Note that you can’t apply the coupon (which expires after 900 uses, so act fast!) until you get to the payment page.

Starting with the base configuration, I selected Vista Home Premium 64-bit (!), the Intel E4700 processor, 4GB of RAM, the 256MB Nvidia video card with HDMI, and the Blu-ray player. To inch the total up to $999, I also added the HP 2.1 speakers with remote and HP multimedia keyboard with HP optical mouse. (Note: monitor not included.)

There's an embarrassment of riches inside this compact case.

Intel Centrino 2 mobile chips hit resellers

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

The 2.4GHz P8600 is also appearing as “backordered” at resellers.. The 2.26GHz P8400 is also listed at resellers.

Intel’s upcoming mobile processors are making a sneak preview at resellers.

The Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme X9100 “Extreme” mobile processor can be found at only a couple of resellers. It has a clock speed of 3.06GHZ and, because of its high clock speed, a high TDP of 44 watts.

The delayed silicon includes the “GM” chipset that includes Intel integrated graphics. This will be released in early August. WiMax silicon is also slated to come out later, though Intel is not saying when exactly.

The P9500 has 6MB of cache and a 1066MHz FSB.

Though the initial roll-out of the Intel “Montevina” Centrino 2 mobile platform was scaled back by Intel last month, processors are still slated for July 14.

New ultra-low-power processors will be released later this year, Intel said.

But mainstream processors are expected to appear on schedule.

The P series chips in general are expected to have lower TDPs than the T series.

This part will become Intel’s fastest mainstream (non-Extreme) Core 2 Duo mobile chip. Pricing ranges between $570 and $615 at resellers. Intel list prices will be different.

Intel’s new P series is also showing up at resellers. The P9500 has been posted on reseller Web sites for some time. The 2.53MHz chip has a thermal envelope (Thermal Design Power or TDP) of 25 watts, making it more energy efficient than current mainstream Intel mobile processors, which have a TDP of 35 watts.


HP's 6930p (photo) and Toshiba's Qosmio G55, among other laptops, are expected to use new Intel mobile processors.

Last month, Intel said that only “processors and some of the chipsets” will be available initially. Technical and certification issues with Intel’s integrated graphics and Wi-Fi silicon, respectively, will delay other Montevina silicon.

The 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo T9600 can be found at select resellers. This 45-nanometer processor has 6MB of cache memory and a 1066MHz front-side-bus (FSB), beating the current crop of processors that have an 800MHz FSB. The front-side bus carries data between the processor and the chipset.

We’re from Google and we’re here to help. Really

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Click here for full coverage of the Google Chrome launch.

So much for “Don’t be evil”? That’s probably a stretch, though I have the feeling that Google was so eager to push this product onto the Web that it failed to let its wiser heads add their two cents. Nothing here that can’t be remedied as you only need to turn off the auto-suggest feature to prevent Google from getting its hands on your personal data.

Earlier Wednesday, I sat down with Ina on our Daily Debrief segment for an extended chat about all this.

Meanwhile, Google has since backed away from its initial insistence on claiming the right to display and distribute any content transmitted through the browser. In a statement released earlier Wednesday, Google said, “In order to keep things simple for our users, we try to use the same set of legal terms (our Universal Terms of Service) for many of our products. Sometimes, as in the case of Google Chrome, this means that the legal terms for a specific product may include terms that don’t apply well to the use of that product. We are working quickly to remove language from Section 11 of the current Google Chrome terms of service.”

This didn’t take long. Just one day into Chrome’s young existence and serious privacy questions are getting raised. Sleuthing by my colleague Ina Fried turned up the following:

The auto-suggest feature of Google’s new Chrome browser does more than just help users get where they are going. It will also give Google a wealth of information on what people are doing on the Internet besides searching.

Provided that users leave Chrome’s auto-suggest feature on and have Google as their default search provider, Google will have access to any keystrokes that are typed into the browser’s Omnibox, even before a user hits enter.

I wouldn’t get too excited about any of this. Truth be told, however, the privacy kerfuffle around the Chrome Web browser was entirely avoidable–and it wouldn’t have slowed down its sales juggernaut either. Google can learn the lesson in advance of the next big product roll-out.

What’s more, Google has every intention of retaining some of that data even after it provides the promised suggestions. A Google representative told CNET News that the company plans to store about 2 percent of that data–and plans to store it along with the Internet Protocol address of the computer that typed it.

Shufflebrain Making a social-game company

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

As their self-imposed deadline approached, Scott Kim reported that he’d uncovered some predictive models based on calculus that helped solve the problem, and quickly, everyone on the development team played 20 games or so to test the new system.

For years, Amy Jo Kim has been a well-known and respected member of the video game design community, as well as the author of perhaps the best book ever written on building online community.

In the early stages, Kim said, they incorporated a system that was essentially like simplified chess ratings: Players would start with a score of 1,000 and go up or down, depending on their performance each time they played a PhotoGrab game.

Now, PhotoGrab is in the final stages of development, and Kim said ShuffleBrain hopes to launch it into public beta in October. And the young company is already at work on its second game, a memory game called WordStream that uses players’ Facebook and Twitter status updates.

The idea, says Amy Jo Kim, who’ll serve as ShuffleBrain’s CEO, is to bring an interactive social element to photographs, especially as more and more people take more and more pictures and post them online, and as people’s leisure time shrinks.

Further, because all the games are created by players, a significant hurdle–one that nearly tripped up the project–arose in developing a rating system based on games that have a wide range of difficulties.

That’s all set to change. Kim, along with her husband and consulting partner, Scott Kim, are in the midst of what might be their most ambitious project ever: Building their own game company from the ground up.

But for the most part, through years of working on other peoples’ projects–Ultima Online, The Sims, the virtual world, Rock Band, and many others, as well as consulting for countless companies–Kim has played a supporting role.

“What do we know, when do we know it?” she said. “How do we cope with a tremendous amount of uncertainty? Other systems have those properties, so Scott went out and looked at those systems. This was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my professional life, because (we had to ask) what if we can’t solve it?”

Ultimately, the idea behind ShuffleBrain’s games is that not only will individuals themselves play, but they’ll also issue challenges to their friends to play the games they’ve made, and even create their own contests using ShuffleBrain’s system.

For Kim and her husband, both longtime game designers, making games that “are good for you” has been a goal for years.

Further, the more you play, the “steepness of how fast (your rating) rises drops off, just like every other MMO I’ve ever played,” she said.

But one night, just a few weeks ago and not long before the game was supposed to be finished, they realized it wasn’t working.

But PhotoGrab is also a social platform that is built around the idea of encouraging photographers to upload groups of their own pictures and make their own games from them.

The team worked on the system, fixing it, tweaking it and trying to make it work.

Looking like it was working better, they took another day, invited five outsiders to test the system as well, and then “played and played and played.”

Finally, Kim said, “it felt right. And then we collapsed into a little puddle on the floor.”

At the same time, Scott Kim was looking at the mathematics–the probability and the statistics–of the problem. “He’s a quant guy,” Amy Jo Kim said.


Wordstream, the second game from Shufflebrain, tasks players with solving puzzles based on their Facebook or Twitter status updates.

So, for example, after playing for a little while with a few of the games already in the system, I uploaded five pictures I took last summer while visiting the Corvette factory in Bowling Green, Ky., on my CNET Road Trip 2008 project, and then spent a few minutes selecting small circular pieces of the photos for players of my game to identify.

“After being a consultant for years,” she said, “I really like having my butt on the line.”

Challenges: Scoring and rating
Kim said that one of the biggest challenges ShuffleBrain faced while creating PhotoGrab was designing a scoring system that would be challenging, yet which would reward players who do well without overly penalizing those who need improvement.

“Individual games are interrelated on the back end,” Kim said.

“It was a chicken and egg problem,” Kim said. “It doesn’t know if the game is hard or easy, and there’s not an accurate sense of skill (level).”


She said that at this point, they decided to give themselves two days to figure out if they could salvage the rating system–and thus, the game itself.

“It’s Concentration meets Wheel of Fortune,” Kim said.

“You don’t want to see a new player come in and see their rating go down,” she said.

For now, however, the Kims are still wrapped up in the vagaries of building the company, and knowing that the rewards–or the penalties–are theirs alone.

So the problem was that most people’s scores would go down from the get-go, a psychological barrier to playing more that the designers knew they had to overcome.

The problem was critical because the key to not just attracting players, but keeping them, was helping them find a way to feel that they were getting better in the ratings, yet still make it feel challenging.

I may have made it too hard, though: Once the game was ready, I tried playing it, and didn’t do too well. I chose elements of the photos that were too hard to identify on a time limit, but I did learn something in the process about what would make for a fun, yet challenging new PhotoGrab game.

“They’re engines of creation for other people,” she said. “They’re really a cross between games and Web 2.0.”

“One night,” Kim said, “it was 11 p.m., and we had put the kids to bed. It’s like 11 at night, and we’d been wrestling with the rating system. And we said, We have to throw it out and start fresh.”

“Games can bring you closer, and games are social,” Kim said. “It’s a brief blip in gaming history that games are single-player. Most games are social.”

PhotoGrab allows users to create their own games using their own photographs. This is the first game I created, using photos I took last summer at the Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky.

The similarity between PhotoGrab and WordStream–that the games are “engines” for players to create their own games–is precisely what ShuffleBrain is all about, Kim said.

PhotoGrab, the first game from start-up Shufflebrain, tasks players with identifying small elements of larger pictures. The game also encourages players to upload their own photos and make their own games.

Amy Jo and Scott Kim, the founders of Shufflebrain.

“We took some seed money, and we talked to a lot of older people,” Kim said, “friends and family, about what they wanted, and saw that looking at pictures of their family was a really core activity….(We asked ourselves), how can we make that a richer, deeper, more fun experience? So we’re launching PhotoGrab.”

Any Facebook member will be able to play PhotoGrab whenever they want, as it will be populated with plenty of public games created by others. But people will also be able to play games in small social groups, where, for example, they are challenged with games made from friends’ or family members’ private photos. Similarly, friends and family members can try to outdo each others’ scores at the games, and try to build the best overall game rating.

ShuffleBrain, of course, is a business, and Kim said she hopes it will make money through a combination of microtransactions, short advertising, and premium services.

For some time, investors had been approaching the Kims about starting their own social games company. These were largely people she had consulted for, or those who were acquainted with her work through other means.

Their start-up, known as ShuffleBrain, plans to announce the public beta of its first effort, a Facebook game called PhotoGrab, in a matter of weeks. On the one hand, PhotoGrab is a puzzle game, tasking players with matching small snippets of photographs with the full pictures they’re taken from–and doing so against a clock that’s quickly counting down. The more accurate the placement and the more snippets you can match, the higher the score.

As games like Nintendo’s Brain Age, which theoretically trains players’ brains by presenting them with a series of daily puzzles to solve, gained in popularity over the last few years, Kim said she and her husband began to get excited as they watched the ways their family and friends played games and spent what little time they had looking at family pictures.

“We like brain games, puzzle games, and I love music games,” Kim said. “We love those kind of games, and we think that those games are good for you…a positive force.”


The problem, she explained, was that the system was a mathematical algorithm based on the idea that the game would be the same each time, something that was pointedly not the case with PhotoGrab.

“We divided forces,” she recalled. “I said, I’m going to use all my skills at doing scenarios and player experience walk-throughs, all this stuff I’ve done for years and years to design great systems….What do I want the player to experience the first 10 or 15 plays?”

So, knowing that they wanted to do something involving photographs, something that was social and interactive and fun, they set out to see what people were interested in.


Apple working on software fix for MacBook Pro hard

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Owners of Apple MacBook Pro notebooks with 7200rpm 500GB hard drives have been complaining for months of clicking sounds followed by temporary stalling. According to Apple, a fix is in the works.

People have been reporting that they hear a beep from the computer shortly before the hard drive clicks and then the computer stops responding. The computer is unresponsive for 10 seconds or so and then begins to work normally again.

It does appear that the issue only affects the 500GB hard drives that run at 7200rpm.

“We are aware of the issue and are working on a software update,” Apple representative Bill Evans, told CNET News on Monday. He gave no time frame for the release of the software update.


There doesn’t appear to be any specific task that triggers the hard drive to enter its unresponsive state. Users on Apple’s support forums are reporting that it seems to be completely random and doesn’t matter where they are or what they are doing when it happens.

The hard drive issue does not require the user to force-reboot the computer, which would cause any unsaved work to be lost. Simply waiting out the unresponsive system apparently works every time.

VoiceCentral iPhone developer frustrated with Appl

Monday, July 5th, 2010

The mystery surrounding Apple’s approval process on the App Store is legendary. What gets approved or rejected on any given day can be a source of bewilderment for developers and consumers alike. But the company still surprised everyone when it rejected Google’s Voice app for the iPhone on Tuesday.

The response: “I can’t help you with that.”

Riverturn’s VoiceCentral has been available in the App Store for the past four months. The app integrates Google’s GrandCentral and Google Voice with the iPhone.

In a blog post on Riverturn’s Web site Tuesday, the developer paraphrased the call. At one point the developer asks the Apple rep if there’s something he can change in the app so it can be resubmitted to the App Store. The response: “I can’t say.”

The developer then asks, “if we can’t figure out the issue then how will we know whether to resubmit the app. And how will we know whether to invest in any other development efforts? Future apps could be impacted.”

Until this week, everything was going fine for the developer. He submitted the app and was approved by Apple. He released updates and they were approved by Apple. Then, all of a sudden and without warning, his app was pulled from the store.

(Credit: Apple)

What seems to be the most upsetting part of the whole situation is that the developer can’t get any answers from Apple. In a telephone conversation with the Apple representative who was tasked to inform him the app was being removed, the most common answer from Apple seemed to be “I can’t say.”

As if that wasn’t enough, The Unofficial Apple Weblog is reporting that the developer is now being flooded with refund requests from customers. The problem is Apple keeps its 30 percent commission, but the developer has to refund the entire amount to the customer.

The story doesn’t end there. Apple then proceeded to remove third-party apps from the App Store that it said duplicate features of the
iPhone. One of those apps is called VoiceCentral, and the developer is understandably upset.