Static in the Video Age

Xmas means many things, and one of the things it means is that we watch It’s a Wonderful Life, and for years it meant we put in the old VHS tape that the wife has and let it roll. Last year I ended up getting a VCR out of the closet on Christmas Day and connecting it to the old HDTV and watching it in all its glory.

This year I got as far as getting out the VCR, and before finding all the right cables, I figure I’d check if there was another option.


The first thing I did was turn on the Wii and checked Netflix. It’s a Wonderful Life is not available for streaming, so that was a dead end.

I should also note that as much as I’m a technology nerd, I’m not a digital video consumption nerd. In the last few months I’ve watched about 200 episodes of Star Trek on my MacBook (usually while working in the office) but we don’t have a Blu-ray player or an Apple TV, and I’m the furthest thing from a home theater snob. I’d rather buy a DVD I can rip than rent videos online with limited usage and silly restrictions. I’m not a pirate, but I like to choose how I can use the media I buy. (All the music I ever bought from the iTunes store had the DRM stripped from it before I added it to my library.)


Netflix would have been the easy option, since I’ve already got a streaming account, but since it wasn’t available, I moved on to iTunes. It’s a Wonderful Life is available on iTunes, but the last time I checked on iTunes video rental, there were all sorts of crazy restrictions I didn’t want to deal with, so I never seriously looked at it.

I probably would have paid $2.99 to rent it so we could watch it immediately, but the options seemed to be $17.99 to buy the “HD” version, or $9.99 to buy the “non-HD” version. (It wasn’t filmed in HD, so HD, bah, whatever.) I thought about the lock-in to the Apple/iTunes ecosystem and figured it might be worth checking if Amazon had a better option…


Well, I don’t know if the Amazon option was better, but the film was available for $9.99, the same price as the “non-HD” version on iTunes. At this point I didn’t feel like doing a comparative analysis of the various online video rental systems and just went with Amazon, assuming it would be more open than Apple. There was a link or two about downloading, so I figured that was a good thing, and with one click, I bought it.

I ended up streaming it so we could just watch is ASAP, and we did, and the quality was good (well, better than an old VHS tape anyway!) and it all just worked.

After the movie I wanted to check on the downloadability, and discovered that Amazon has a player that is only available on Windows. Bloody Hell, what is this, 1999?

They also have a list of 350+ Amazon Instant Video Compatible Devices… none of which I own. The Roku player is on the list, and I considered getting one a few years ago, but after Netflix became available for the Wii, I forgot about it. I tend to use the Wii or my MacBook for most of the video streaming we do, so I never thought I needed a dedicated device.

So now I’ve got a video I own through Amazon, that I can’t download, but can stream. I’ve probably been an Amazon customer for 15 years, so I guess I should trust them, but It’s a Wonderful Life is over 60 years old. Will I be able to watch it 30 years from now? Should I even worry about such things? While buying music online went from a DRM mess to a more open world, I don’t know that video will go the same way… And yes, there is the pirating option, but personally I’m not a fan of that approach. Blame it on my desire to see things move towards openness.


iTunes, Playlists, Sharing, Recommending…

I was thinking about music recommendation sites/engines (which seem to be all the rage nowadays) as well as the proliferation of iPods (and iTunes users) and the fact that the Zune thinks it so cool because it does some sort of simple sharing (which is supposedly “social” in nature.)

So if it really is “all about the playlist” (I think Lucas Gonze said this once, so I’ll give him credit) why doesn’t Apple follow through… Here’s my thought:

If you’ve got an iPod, chances really good that you use iTunes. iTunes does playlists. It can even do things like make a smart playlist of tracks you have recently played, and feed them back to a service like, which can show you neat stuff like what you listen to the most, what your friends are listening to, who your musical neighbors are, etc. doesn’t really feed back to iTunes or your iPod though – here’s where Apple could step in…

Let’s say that your iPod feeds back to Apple’s iTunes Music Store the tracks you’ve played, and does the “people who like X also like Y” thing, but then also provided samples (low bitrate, 30 second preview, whatever) back to you as downloads in iTunes (heck, they could be automated, podcast-style) which then get synced to your iPod. So each day you sync and get something new, of which you might want to purchase.

This is just a rough idea, I’m sure Apple could create a good experience for sharing playlist data, and recommending music.

I know there are sites that do somewhat similar things for podcasts (AmigoFish, GigaDial) but they require some sort of manual labor on the user’s part. Automation and simplicity would be the key though, provide benefits to the users without forcing them to do any/much work.



DRM (Done Ripping Music)

I spent much of my time since Xmas attempting to explain how iTunes, iPod, DRM, and freedom all work. Together and against each other…

I used Senuti and CopyPod to move files from different iPods into different iTunes libraries. I did my best to explain DRM and “Protected AAC” files to family members, and I didn’t even get into the doomspeak of “if something goes wrong, you can lose all your music!” I kept it pretty high-level, and just talked about how to manage multiple iPods on multiple computers with one iTunes Music Store account.

I did find it a little sad that things are still more complex than they need to be. I still have vinyl records and cassettes that are over 25 years old which I can play on any compatible device. Now that’s my definition of “Plays For Sure!”

I also bought a bunch of blank CD‘s which will be used to strip the DRM, I mean, make backups, of any songs I’ve gotten from the iTunes Music Store. It’s always good to have a backup.