October 22, 2008

Boxee : The Killer App For AppleTV

Procrastinating earlier today, thumbing through the Twitter stream, I came across a link to Boxee. I clicked through to see what the deal was and was greeted with something I have personally been waiting for since AppleTV made it's debut.

When Steve Jobs announced AppleTV at Macworld 2007 I was initially really excited. Finally a chance to watch the gazillions of podcasts on my 61" Samsung HDTV from the comfort of my couch. I had Front Row already on my Mac, but had never used it because, well, my Mac is in my office and my TV is not. AppleTV promised the 'lean back' viewing experience for all the new media I had become partial to. Mainstream TV holds little interest for me outside of a couple of big shows (Lost, Heroes etc) and sporting events. I watch so much more internet content these days but being relegated to the discomfort of my office is a real turn-off, especially having been in that office for many hours already during the work day.

So AppleTV offered the TV experience for web content. Great. Or was it. Unless the content was in the Apple ecosystem there was little chance of getting any other media on the ATV. Quickly this became a point of contention for many who saw the ATV fall short of it's potential. Seemingly everyone who consumed online media wanted what the ATV offered, and more. There was huge demand. I did not take long for some very smart people to hack their way into the ATV OS and install third party apps to play other media, install bigger hard drives to store all this media, and some nifty SSH tricks for managing the whole lot. Trouble was, for the layman, the technically shy or retarded, this was an extremely geeky process to execute. Nothing I wanted to mess with, and risk bricking an ATV.

Fast forward to Macworld 2008 and AppleTV "Take 2" was announced. High Def movie rentals were now an option, something I could not even get from AT&T uVerse HDTV package. YouTube content had already been added, and now ATV could download, store and view podcasts without needing a Mac running iTunes. All great additions to an already slick product. But still, we were limited to content from the iTunes Store. Admittedly there is plenty of content in there to keep any video podcast junky happy for many years, but increasingly, the content I was tuning in to was out of the iTunes system. Videoblogs I subscribe to account for a huge percentage of my media viewing. Hulu was now online and serving content not available on iTunes. ATV still fell short of a truly Last Word Killer App.

Another option that is quite popular with online media fans is using a macMini running Miro (formerly Democracy). Miro can subscribe to and play any show with an RSS feed,which is almost every podcast, videoblog and web show on the internet. It's a great solution. Other than the fact that, like the ATV hacks, is still a bit geeky for everyday use. Basically the macMini uses your HDTV as a monitor, and thusly, interfacing with it is just like interfacing with a computer. This requires a wireless mouse and keyboard to control the Miro (and other) application. I would not be able to convince my wife and kid that this is the way forward to control our viewing experience, and if it this is just for me it's unlikely to ever happen.

Which brings us, finally, to Boxee. Like Miro, it can subscribe and play any media you might find on the web.1 But it lives inside the AppleTV, activated by a button added to the ATV user interface. This is created after a quick and (relatively) easy hack. A hack I myself would feel comfortable doing. There is a video on the Boxee blog that walks you through setting it up and it looks completely painless. Boxee pulls in content from Hulu, Last.fm, Flickr and much more which expands the AppleTV capability way beyond the iTunes ecosystem. And it is all controllable from the same remote used to control ATV, no other device to stand between you and your media.

The great thing about TV, regular old mainstream media TV, is it just works. You sit down on the couch, click the remote and content pours out of the screen at you. Changing channels is a simple one click process. New media, web media, online shows, whatever we want to call this next generation of audio-visual magic, it needs to be as simple as TV to take off into the mainstream. It's fun to be geeky and hack our gadgets, but most people wont accept that. If new media is to thrive, and get beyond the fringe novelty status2 then it needs to be one-click simple. Like TV.

From what I can tell, Boxee makes this possibility one step closer to reality. I signed up for the closed beta list. hopefully I will get an invite and be able to test it soon. It might just be the thing that will make me break down and finally get an AppleTV.

1. As far as I can tell from digging around the blog this morning. There is not a whole lot of info I could find as far as the exact mechanism for subscribing to content. so I am assuming a fair bit here. But it sounds like you can input an rss:// address to view content. I hope you can subscribe to it negating the need to enter that address each time.

2. Yeah I know, its not fringe, everyone you know is watching Hulu or Myspace or BoinBoingTV. That's the way it feels isn't it. But go ask grandma if she watched a Telly Savalas movie on AMC today or if she saw Dr. Horrible. I'll bet I know what she says.

Passing (The Emptyness)

A new short experimental film based on a poem I wrote 10 years ago. Thus, I am calling this a video poem. As the protagonist sits at a crossroads in their life, they pause and reflect on the inner turmoil, angst and doubt caused by the pschological effects of violent abuse. Time has not healed the mental wounds and the protagonist is unable to move forward in their life. Life is passing by, as he/she waits for some catharsis.

BG plate shot on Flip Digital Recorder
Footage from archive.org
Score composed and recorded entirely in NI Absynth

Designed in AfterEffects

October 14, 2008

Film : Project Pedal

I've been following the progress of this indie film for some time now through the production blog. Originally code named Project:Pedal, the film recently earned it's final, permanent name "For Thousands Of Miles". This latest trailer for the full length feature evokes for me exactly what it did for co-creator Amanda Walker who posted this:

"This is Larry. This is somewhere between point A and point B. Where ever it is... I miss it. I miss kneeling on-top of the van, working the crane, watching Larry push through the wind. Knowing that every mile meant something to him... something people wouldn't see passing by in their cars. Something subtle."


Teaser 003 from mike ambs on Vimeo.

The other co-creator of "For Thousands Of Miles" Mike Ambs has been a regular Twitterer, which is where I first learned of him and his project. Following the progress, the ups and downs, victories and triumphs of the ongoing project via the Pedal production blog I get the sense that what mike lacks in ego, he makes up for in passion and artistry. He paints the corners of the storytellers strike zone with a battery of pitches. A slow curve-ball to connect directly to the humanity deep within your heart. A fast-ball right down the middle to stimulate your visual senses with rich, beautiful photography. And then a change-up that offers you more personal insight about Mike and Amanda's long history than indie film fans might be accustomed to.

Mike comes across as the kind of guy I'd love to just go and have a beer or several with. His posts on the production blog reek of honesty and integrity. And he has genius artistic and storytelling ability.

Go take a look at the feature film website and make a point of catching up with the production diary and the "64 Days" making of series of films. It's great film-making by true independents following their passion.

Mike on twitter

Amanda on twitter

Design : MCA-I Awards Ceremony

I am designing a graphics title package for a local chapter of the Media Communication Association International. I was asked to do some pro bono work by a leader of my local chapter (the LA/OC branch). The logo was supplied as a vector file, but I was given free reign to come up with some interesting designs that broke away from the typical blue/purple swirling background loop and white Arial titles. Green was suggested as a more topical color, especially considering this years event would be held in California. I think it was felt California is a particularly 'green' state.

Taking the green and the nature of the organization into consideration, I picked three alternate background loops. The globe represented the international presence of MCA-I, the flowers were a kind of tongue in cheek nod to the flower power California 60's. The 3D graphic, the colored strands, represented the fabric of not only the multi-faceted organization and it's members, but also the many threads of media in the current digital landscape. Intertwined but woven as one.

These are the 3 sets of designs I submitted. The 3D strands, created in Cinema4D using the always lovely Danel shader, will grow out of the top corner. The background will be a continuous looping texture. The logo will reveal front and center, then fade back up to the top corner. The award recipients name will then appear. This will be run from a DVd player and projected onto a 20' screen.

TRT to be 20 secs.

MCA-I 40th Anniversary Awards Package

Design One : Globe & Logo

MCA-I 40th Anniversary Awards Package

Design One : Globe & Title

MCA-I 40th Anniversary Awards Package

Design Two : Globe & Title

MCA-I 40th Anniversary Awards Package

Design Three : Globe & Title


The final movie can be found here:

Final Movie